Religiosity Still ≠ Mental Illness

Sometimes it’s easier to talk than to write, so I did some talking in a video.

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People within the atheist movement have a nasty tendency to refer to the behavior of the religious as “crazy” and “delusional.” Unfortunately, some people with respectable platforms willingly and knowingly propagate this type of misinformation and vehemently refuse to use more correct (NOT ableist) terminology. My first video on this subject was not exceedingly well-articulated, so I decided to tackle the issue again.

And I also decided to go ahead and transcribe it for you, in case I’m unclear or if you just don’t like watching videos for some reason!

Me: Hello, Internet people!

I decided to finally make a video following up the one where I was talking about religious fundamentalism and mental illness, and why they’re not the same thing and why you shouldn’t treat them as the same thing.

I want to start this off with a PSA: If you don’t have a mental illness and if you aren’t a professional within the field of psychology or some very closely related field, you should not be making statements about whether or not something is crazy or whether something is delusional or whether somebody is afflicted by a mental illness. Because there’s no way for you to know that and you’re not a professional and you should not be making judgment statements based on things that you’re clearly not very well informed about.

So, in my last video, I was really talking about choice–that’s the kind of big difference, for me, between being a religious person and being a person with a mental illness–is that you choose to engage in religious activities and not in having a mental illness. I do agree somewhat with some of the comments on that: that that’s a little bit of an oversimplification of the issue.

There are parts of the world where you don’t really have a choice about whether or not you adhere to a religion because you can be put to death or put in jail for having those beliefs [or not], but in the United States pretty much the biggest ramification is: social outcast. You can lose members of your family, which is a big enough ramification for some people and a big enough consequence that they don’t do it–they don’t defect from their religion at all, they don’t name it when they have doubts. That’s a legitimate concern and it’s unfortunate, but doesn’t really take away from the fact that the internet now exists and you can have access to information aside from what you were taught.

It’s also been pointed out to me that if you’re indoctrinated as a child, you have significantly less opportunity to branch out and change the way that you think because of the fact that your psychology is so malleable when you’re a child. You can be changed enough that you’re not capable of making a choice to get away from your religion later on in life.

Some people also pointed out that being exposed to this as a child can cause you to develop mental illness (I think somebody said). Which I would grant to an extent, because like I said, when you’re a child you’re very malleable and if you’re being engaged in any kind of brainwashy-cultish sort of stuff (some religion, Christianity, sort of borders on that), it can cause you to develop a higher propensity for getting a mental illness later on in your life or having those kind of symptoms.

But that’s true of other things when you’re a child as well. If you’re abused in a secular sense, if you’re a victim of physical abuse when you’re a child, that can also increase your chances for developing depression and those kind of symptoms when you’re older. But by itself that’s not the case.. (Well you know whatever. I don’t know what I’m saying. I’ve tried to do this like 6 or 7, 8, 9 times and it keeps fucking up, so i’m just kind of saying stuff….)

Anyway! The mental illness rate among religious people is actually a little bit lower than it is among the general populace. So, those two things aren’t mutually inclusive by any means. Religious people are not mentally ill and mentally ill people aren’t religious, necessarily. Probably the reason that the rate is a little bit lower among religious populations is that there’s that community sort of benefit; that psychological benefit to having people in a like-minded group around you to provide support and to bolster your beliefs and help you when you’re starving and things like that. So, for those reasons (probably) the rate of mental illness is actually a little bit lower among Christians in the United States than it is among the general populace in the United States. So that’s something to chew on if you have a tendency to call religious people delusional.

Having a wrong idea is not delusional. and I wanted to go ahead and read from the DSM on this because the dictionary definition of “delusional” is probably a little bit more broad and can encompass some religious beliefs, but I want to just go ahead and read this bit:

[Paraphrasing]: ‘Delusions are fixed beliefs that are not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. They’re deemed bizarre if they’re clearly implausible and not understandable to same-culture peers and do not derive from ordinary life experiences. The distinction between a delusion and a strongly held idea is sometimes difficult to make and depends, in part, on the degree of conviction with which the belief is held despite clear or reasonable contradictory evidence regarding its veracity.’

So the reason that believing in god–especially in the United States–is not considered “delusional” is that it’s really common and it’s a very easily acceptable belief. You’re actually considered crazy if you DON’T believe in god in the United States. I’ve been called crazy for not believing in god. So, it’s more socially acceptable here and because of that fact, it can’t qualify as delusional because there are too many factors reinforcing your participation in that particular belief for it to be an outlier, such as delusions are kind of required to be.

An interesting example of this that I found in October is: a man in India sacrificed his 8-month-old child to a goddess for some reason or another, and a lot of people in the United States were calling that “crazy” and “delusional” behavior. If it’s considered socially normal (not “normal”–I’m not saying that people in India think that killing infants is normal, please don’t say that I’m saying that) but if it’s more culturally accepted by your religion, especially, that you can sacrifice an 8-month-old child and get any kind of positive benefit from it; if that’s a culturally accepted idea then it can’t qualify as delusional. Because the idea in India of what’s right and what’s wrong is different than the idea in america of what’s right and what’s wrong. And they would say I’m crazy for wearing pants, for example. (I am wearing pants.)

The cultural context is actually a pretty big factor in determining what qualifies as crazy behavior, so it’s not even strictly definitional from one place to another.

The biggest thing though–the biggest reason that you shouldn’t call religious people “delusional,” aside from the fact that you’re probably wrong: is that you’re throwing all of us under the bus; all of us who actually live with mental illness. (I have depression and anxiety to a lesser extent.) I’m not in the same category as a religious fundamentalist–or, I’m not in the same category as a person who chooses to have their child circumcised because of their religious beliefs. And it’s really not fair in any way, shape, or form to put normal (“Normal”) people with mental illness in the same category as people who make a decision to participate in a religious ritual, whether or not they were raised in it or whether they chose it as an adult–if they were “born again.”

It’s really just ableist and you’re probably not a professional, and you probably can’t speak to the issue if you’re making those kind of conflations. It’s a false equivalence: they’re not the same thing. Stop calling them the same thing if you’re not somebody who actually knows what they’re talking about. That’s pretty much all I had to add on the subject and I’ll see you guys later!


Sorry that I kind of jump around while I’m talking. I have ADD and haven’t been taking the meds this week because it makes it practically impossible for me to eat a reasonable amount of food throughout the day. x.x Makes it difficult to complete a train of thought in a way that makes sense. Happy to clarify in the comments if you have questions!

Religiosity Still ≠ Mental Illness