Why religious belief isn’t a delusion – in psychological terms, at least

Source: The Guardian

Religious beliefs are typically incompatible with scientific evidence and observable reality, but aren’t considered to be delusions. Why not?

Conservative Party MP Jacob Rees-Mogg receives Holy Communion during the funeral of Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor at Westminster Cathedral, London, Britain, September 13 2017. REUTERS/Mary Turner
 There’s nothing to be concerned about, in the psychiatric sense, when it comes to someone using religious beliefs to explain awful behaviour and views. Photograph: Mary Turner/Reuters

If someone told you, in all seriousness, that they talk to invisible beings who control the universe, you’d probably back away slowly, nodding and smiling, while desperately looking for the nearest exit or escape route. If this person then said they wanted to be in charge of your life, you’d probably do the same, but more urgently, and with a view to finding the nearest police officer.

And yet, this happens all the time. Arch Brexiter, unlikely Tory leadership candidate and human Pez-dispenser Jacob Rees-Mogg recently blamed his extreme and unpleasant views on his Catholicisim, which was seen as a valid excuse by many. Current placeholder prime minister Theresa May has made a big deal about how her Christian upbringing makes her suitable for the role. And despite the lawful separation of church and state, every official and wannabe US president has had to emphasise their religious inclinations. Even Trump, whose enthusiasm for maintaining the noble traditions of the presidency can be described as limited at best.

That’s interesting in itself if you step back; many people have attempted to pin mental health diagnoses on Donald Trump (unwisely, in my opinion), but his more-recent claims to be a representative of an all-powerful invisible deity who created the Earth in six days have been dismissed as just cynical pandering. Does that not seem … inconsistent?

Well, it shouldn’t be, because as they say, “You talk to God, you’re religious. God talks to you, you’re psychotic.” That’s a line from the TV show House MD, delivered by the eponymous acerbic medic played by Hugh Laurie. But variations of this comment have been made many times over the years. However, while it is seemingly intended to highlight the double-standards inherent in accepting someone’s religious views as fine while dismissing similarly unscientific claims as signs of mental disturbance, there is a valid reason for this apparent inconsistency.

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