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

44 thoughts on “Religiosity Still ≠ Mental Illness

  1. 1

    Thank you for posting this- I’ve had the same feelings for a while but have difficulty enunciating them.
    Also thank you for posting the transcript- I have a few issues when it comes to interpreting audio information, and I find vlogs really difficult to watch.

      1. This is not in the ASCII range but in its big brother superset, Unicode: “≠ U+2260 NOT EQUAL TO”. Probably not present in your keyboard but, like any character you don’t use often, copy&paste is the way to go. For easy searching and selecting from the huge bounty of characters in Unicode, I recomend what’s on offer in

        (Also, great video in a great blog — thank you!)

    1. 3.1

      As someone who knows a number of people with mental illness, such statements trivialise the suffering of genuinely ill people.

      p.s. you’re a fucking asshole

      1. Post scriptum messages are really only necessary when a definitive end has been made to a message, such as:

        A being leagues above you in intellectual scope.

        P.S: I know you are, but what am I?

      2. If, as studies have implied, intellect correlates positively with height, I can only presume that you, good sir, have hairy feet and an affinity for pipe-weed.

        1. Do you keep a copy of The Silmarillion underneath your fedora? Was it relegated there by your copy of Atlas Shrugged which you now keep in your breast pocket at all times?

          1. Hobbits are however featured in some of Tolkien’s works set in the late third age of middle earth. For light, entertaining reading, I recommend “The Hobbit”.

          2. Why is every scot I meet a wilfully obtuse pseudo-intellectual?
            you’d think a country with a proud historical involvement in the enlightenment would have higher intellectual pedigree

          3. At last! I have spurred you to express yourself in a manner inconsistent with your previous star-trek “data” persona. I will call this newly discovered mood “sarcastic”. Perhaps this is the opening of the floodgates? Perhaps soon you will discover a whole new range of expressing yourself, running the gamut from “snide” all the way to “aloof”. We can only hope, but I applaud you on this first step, not matter how small it may seem.

            As for an actual response for your question- I think I’ll decline. The last two scots I spoke to were pretty racist as well as trenchcoat-swaddled wannabe libertarians and I’d rather not tempt a hat-trick.

  2. 4

    You are confused. You conflate “normal” with a lack of mental illness. The fact is that the human brain is not wired for logic or accuracy, or consistency. Some of these flaws are relatively inconsequential, like the blind spot that is present in each eye that we can only experience by specialized techniques. Our brains edit out the blind spot and while your brain making you assume you don’t have two blind spots is not the same as your brain accurately representing reality.

    The same is true for pricing. There are very good reasons why prices end in $.99 and not one penny more. The reason is that the human brain is not accurate in estimating the linear world of money. Just a penny under $5 gets registered as reasonable while $5 even triggers resistance.

    There is a reason if you buy a espresso machine you are likely to find models varying in price very little and one model offered that is much more expensive. The retailer isn’t really expecting to sell very many of those expensive machines. That isn’t why they are there. The reason they are present is to make the lower priced models, which very well may be overpriced, seem like much more of a bargain. The same goes for the expensive bottles of wine and liquor at the package store. Put a vastly overpriced item next to a more modestly overpriced item and the lower priced one seems like a bargain.

    The point here is that the human brain is inherently defective. These are known flaws used against consumers to enhance profits. These known cognitive flaws are the product of defective brains. As far as we can tell all human brains are defective and having a defective brain is normal for humans.

    Religion is the nearly universal consequence of brains that are optimized for story telling and spotting patterns, not accuracy of observation, memory, logic, or reason.

    Remember what religion is: it is the belief in a supernatural being and realities based upon a series of stories. None of which are backed by credible evidence.

    Imagine there was no religion. A friend comes up to you and tells you that he has a personal relationship with a supernatural being of infinite awareness and power. You ask him to show this being to you and he says that he can’t You ask what evidence he has and he says that he has none. You ask how such a being can be detected and he has no answers. All he knows is that this all-powerful, omnipresent, omniscient being exists even though he has no way of telling you how he knows. You have every right to feel skeptical. When pressed he claims that the key to having this relationship is faith. When you ask what he means by faith he eventually rolls around to relating that faith, belief in the unseen, belief in thing for which there is no evidence, is a virtue in and of itself.

    What we have here is delusion, and defense of delusion by characterizing the ability to believe in the delusion as a virtue.

    Every confusion, delusion, mistaken belief, and inaccuracy of thought is the result of a brain developed to keep us alive and able to reproduce in the far distant past. Quick reaction were far more necessary than accuracy. We needed stories to form cultures and to establish common understandings for effective communication. We needed to be able to see patterns to take advantage of, or avoid, situations. Our brains are systems selected for being merely adequately in terms of accuracy and logic. We can, with effort and training, learn to correct for or avoid the worse of the known inherent mental defects but we are struggling against the only marginally adequate brains we have inherited. Given a chance we really would be better off starting over with a redesigned brain. But evolution doesn’t work that way.

    1. 4.1

      I concur! The ubiquity of an error does not make it correct. The evolutionarily induced flaws in the human brain are no more virtuous than our tailbones, or the hairs on the backs of our necks.

    2. 4.2

      While what you’ve said may be true, it doesn’t have much bearing on what Lux was saying.

      Yeah, sure, in a culture without religion, religious faith may appear delusional, but in a culture where religiosity if by far the norm, it is plainly not (peer pressure etc).

      ergo- religion is not a sign of mental illness in a religious culture.

      ALSO- as before, equating a commonly held belief (where uptake is largely due to strong cultural factors) to mental illness is rather offensive to people with mental illnesses (it implies that they ‘choose’ to have these illnesses, and trivialises them).

      1. Your premise precludes the concept of an objective reality, and instead presumes that the universe defers to human consensus. This is supercilious foolishness of the highest level. If ten thousand men proclaim that a thing is so, it does not necessarily mean that it is so. Nor a billion men, nor five billion, nay not even if all men proclaim it to be so. If there is such a thing as reality, and human thoughts can accurately or inaccurately perceive it, then the only meaningful description of delusion is a belief which does not reflect that which is. All else is sophistry, enforced upon mankind by those who seek to control us.

        The common cold is unquestionably an illness. The fact that most humans have had it at some point in their lives does not make it less so.

        Democracy is a creation of man, and a remarkable one, worthy of preservation, but to assume that the heavens will change their orbits, or the electrons cease their abstract dance at the mere utterance of the majority is a flawed assertion.

        1. Okay, psychological phenomenon don’t occur in a vacuum. Rather the opposite, actually. Every social interaction impacts and changes the way you think, and if there is a TON of positive reinforcement for your untrue belief, then you’re way more likely to maintain that belief.

          This isn’t a discussion about what is real and what isn’t. The fact that many people believe in God doesn’t make God real. However, the normalcy of that belief disqualifies it from being delusional, since a delusion is fabricated by your brain and originates there, rather than originating from an outside source which is consistently reinforced by social norms.

          I’m not at all saying that many people believing in a religion makes that religion true. It just makes it not a mental illness. That’s the discussion we’re having.

          1. Wouldn’t that interpretation of delusion encompass Newtons laws? After all, he worked them out mentally, using the mathematical tools he created, and at the time of his learning them, most people did not believe them. He did not derive them from observation, but rather pure reason.

            For that matter, what about people with gender dysphoria? They are not always mentally ill (well to a disproportionate extent they are, but that might be due to other factors, such as stigmatization) but by your definition, aren’t they delusional?


          There is OBVIOUSLY a difference between delusions and logical conclusions. There is also OBVIOUSLY a difference between gender and delusions. I haven’t defined “delusional” here.

          These questions aren’t being asked in good faith. If you genuinely think that *I have at any point implied* that gender and unpopular scientific discoveries are delusions, you need to reread everything I’ve said. If you don’t understand the distinction, look it up.

          1. I apologise. You said that “psychological phenomenon don’t occur in a vacuum” however both Newton’s work and gender dysphoria both did occur in a vacuum, they would not fit underneath what you mean by the term psychological phenomena, and thus, would not be mental illnesses of any kind. Upon re-reading your earlier statements this much is clear.

    3. 4.3

      I think you are bang on excepting the first two sentences, assuming your use of “delusional” is not clinical. I don’t think Lux is confused at all, nor is there any conflation. “Normal” (neurotypical) is by definition the lack of mental illness. Normally imperfect brains are still normal.

      And I would agree with That Guy that your post doesn’t seem to address the original post really, but maybe you simply missed wrapping it up into whatever point you were addressing. Maybe it was regarding the use of the word delusional, since I don’t take you to be actually arguing that religion is a mental illness (or that all humans are mentally ill, given your points about the human brain).

      Personally, I have no problem with people using words like crazy (this word: I can’t even imagine using it to describe a mental illness) or delusional, assuming I don’t smell some armchair psychological diagnostics in the air. It’s incredibly stupid and inaccurate as well as ableist to mock some foolish belief or behavior by saying it is due to a mental illness. But the other thing is, if words I choose seem to be hurting someone because they feel my use of, e.g., “crazy” is having a jab at them for having a psychological/neurological disorder, I would stop doing it. (And apologize or walk away, or whatever is going to work for that person.) Because it sucks hardcore being mocked (or feeling like you maybe are being mocked) as weak or lesser or whatever for having a mental illness. FTN

      1. ^This, except that even though you may not think of crazy and/or delusional as being related to mental illness, they still contribute to stigma. Just like kids playing video games saying “fag” still hurts gay people even if the kids don’t think of it that way.

    4. 4.4

      I think you’re not understanding that the definition of “delusional” is more specific and refers to a particular quirk of the brain and not just the general tendency toward fallacious thinking.

      1. I think that is the case with most casual use of the word. I admit to use “crazy” or “delusional” in a metaphorical sense, not because I think that someone is clinically mentally ill, but simply out of laziness. I strive to do better.

        1. I do it sometimes, too. Actually I use “crazy” pretty liberally partially out of reclamation. It’s difficult to weed out harmful language when it’s been normalized, but definitely more important to reduce the stigma against marginalized groups.

  3. 5

    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, your background in psychology, cognition, or behavior is?

    to my mind, this issue works both ways. sure, it’s not helpful to otherize those who think differently. It’s also just as bad to ignore when those who think differently so commonly employ denial and projection as defense mechanisms to deal with apparent cognitive dissonance.

    neither is helpful.

    any freshman psych student can point out the regularity with which the extremely religious employ psychological defense mechanisms. It’s not saying that religion is the cause in and of itself, per se, but that trying to maintain a faith belief system necessarily causes dissonance which often leads to entrenched use of such defense mechanisms.

  4. 6

    In most Countries, religion is not considered to be a delusional act, however, evidence suggests that religion can be an Obsessive Compulsive Disorder ( even in parts of the United States ) . In effect ; the ” OCD ” is perpetuated by a conjured dependency to a collective ritual ; where this faith exceeds logic ,, ( also a catalyst for discrimination ).
    I am also aware of the placebo affect in that hope in faith can be a wonderful ally to those in despair so in many ways religion can be of great benefit . Religion has also been very slow to transition and remain relevant with discriminatory terms & archaic attitudes that challenge science & mental illness , unfortunately , at the expense of the individual.

    1. 7.1

      So if you occur to get an off loaf of bread,

      I think that online translation is not always a good tool; it often supplies the wrong word (‘occur’ ought to have been translated ‘happen’ in this case, and bread is usually described as ‘stale’ rather than ‘off’) and sometimes renders something into gobbledegook (the rest of your comment).

      Could you please re-post your comment in your native tongue? There is likely to be someone who could translate it so it makes sense. Thanks.

  5. K

    Ableist? Who the fuck cares, religiosity is crazy and so is my autistic father who has the finesse of a monkey on PCP, can’t articulate for beans, and stomps around because he can’t control his fucking temper and consequently makes my mother’s life difficult. Fuck the mentally ill AND the religious.

  6. 9

    I believe you miss the objective here ” K “. Blog sites such as this, should be more about constructive comments and finding solutions from shared experiences. Despite the problems you face , raising the white flag & attacking at the same time, helps nobody.

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