Religion

Why I think Christians are delusional

Still sniffling and sneezing, but felt like sharing this today anyway.

Someone was unhappy that I said “Christians are delusional” in a recent post. For the time being, I deleted that sentence. But I’d like to explain why I think Christians are delusional, and not just the fundamentalists, either.

Here are a few things that Christians believe that count as delusions in my book. (Please note that these items cover most sects or denominations of Christians, including the mainline or liberal Protestant denominations.)

  • The Bible is “God’s Word” (Virtually all denominations and sects, including mainline/liberal Protestants)
  • The Bible is infallible; God wrote it himself and every single word is the absolute truth (Fundamentalists, many Evangelicals, Pentecostals, etc.)
  • The Pope in infallible, even though some Popes overturn what previous Popes said (Catholics)
  • Jesus’ mother was a virgin, Jesus came back from the dead (99% of Christians in all groups, including mainline/liberal Protestants)
  • God created the universe in 6 days and the earth is, at most, 10,000 years old (Fundamentalists)
  • God created the universe in 6 metaphorical days (many Evangelicals and other groups)
  • Dinosaur fossils are fake and they were put in the ground by God to test our faith OR people lived along side dinosaurs about 6,000 years ago (Fundamentalists)
  • God gives you the ability to speak in “heavenly” languages in prayer and sometimes someone else can translate your words into a message from God for the church (Pentecostal and related groups)
  • Telletubbies are gay and “God hates fags” (wackjob Fundamentalist extremists)
  • American and Polynesian peoples descended from a single Israelite (Mormons)
  • Satan, or the devil, is a real being who can hurt you (Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Catholics and many others)
  • When you eat dry bread in church, it turns into the flesh of Jesus in your stomach (Catholics)
  • The Bible describes appropriate moral behavior (most Christians in all groups, including mainline/liberal Protestants)
  • Some people will go to heaven and others will go to hell after they die (99% of Christians in all groups, including mainline/liberal Protestants)
  • Miracles include God healing cancer, warts, and other physical ailments (Pentecostals, Word of Faith groups)
  • Miracles include Jesus and Mary appearing in toast and making statues cry (Catholics)
  • The Trinity: that is, there is one God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, a unity of three (large numbers in all groups, including mainline/liberal Protestants)
  • Magic underwear will protect you from harm (Mormons)
  • Lying to kids about contraception and safe sex is a good idea (Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, Catholics, and others)
  • Jesus will come back and take all the Christians to heaven in The Rapture, leaving all the rest of humanity here to suffer in a thousand year period called The Tribulation (Fundamentalists, Evangelicals, many other groups)
  • You can talk to God and he listens to you and, sometimes, answers you (99% of all Christians)
  • God sends messages to you through scripture, dreams, or “a still, small voice” that will help you make decisions and decide if you are in “his perfect will” for your life (high percentages of all Christian groups)
  • All humans are sinful because a talking snake convinced Eve to eat an apple, and we need salvation because of our innate spoiled nature (Original sin and the need for salvation is a basic belief of all Christianity, although the talking snake and apple part may not be taken literally by all groups)

Shall I go on? Not right now… I think you get the point. There is absolutely no evidence for any of these claims. (I made up the 99% but I think it’s fairly accurate. Substitute some other reasonably high percentage if you prefer.)

Granted, there are some Christians, such as John Shelby Spong, who don’t believe in the divinity of Jesus, the virgin birth, the physical resurrection, miracles, and so forth. Many of these Spongite Christians are even non-theists, who define “God” as “the source of all love” or “the ground of being” (whatever that means). I think these people are delusional to think that they are Christians, since they don’t believe in any of the tenants of that faith from any denomination or sect. I think the word Christian means more than just being in Jesus’ fan club.

I’ll grant you that not all Christians are the bigoted, hate filled nut jobs that are portrayed in the media. Most Christians are nice people and they want to do good in the world and they see their Christianity as a way to do that good. Progressive or liberal Christians also are accepting of gays, and place a strong emphasis on social justice, instead of using their time to condemn others. This is to be commended. But they almost all believe in some form of supernatural mumbo jumbo that, in my book, qualifies as a delusion.

So, does that cover the bases?


PS. A definition from the Merriam-Webster online dictionary. The issue was that I was not using “delusional” in the correct way. I think I was. I’ve bolded the definition that is most closely related to my use of the word.

Delusion:

1: the act of deluding : the state of being deluded 2 a: something that is falsely or delusively believed or propagated b: a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary; also : the abnormal state marked by such beliefs

writerdd

Donna Druchunas is a freelance technical writer and editor and a knitwear designer. When she's not working, she blogs, studies Lithuanian, reads science and sci-fi books, mouths off on atheist forums, and checks her email every three minutes. (She does that when she's working, too.) Although she loves to chat, she can't keep an IM program open or she'd never get anything else done.

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38 Comments

  1. I am bias. These are some of the things I believed until I became an Atheist:

    1) If I didn't attend Mass on Sunday, I would be cursed the rest of the week. Every bad thing at school/work would be a result of not attending church.

    2) Saint Christopher is the only person who can stop a plane from crashing.

    3) The reason my IPOD froze up was because I had Richard Dawkins' The God Delusion on it. (No sh–. This was only about a year ago.)

    4) My sweet, wonderful faithful adorable dogs, although they were peaceful, loving and without predjudice, because they could not claim Jesus as their savior, would not join me in Heaven (that sucks out loud).

    5) My friend Belinda, married her high school sweetheart in 19 79. He beat her multiple times. Because she divorced, she was excommunicated.

    6) No matter what you do 6 other days a week- serve the poor, care for the sick, feed the hungry- if you eat meat on Fridays- you're doomed to Hell, young lady!!!!

    I really don't consider myself a fundementalist. I grew up Catholic and went to Catholic school for 10 years. I went to Mass regularly and almost married a Catholic man. He broke my heart, and instead I fell in love with a metallhead atheist boy scout who eventually became my adorable husband. My mom still is employed by the church (they gave my husband and I the church for pennies for our wedding). The only thing I can say is: it's a real mind-f— sometimes, this religious stuff, man. But, at the end of the day, I'm proud of myself and all I have learned.

    Maybe Christians are delusional. I certainly feel sometimes like I was delusional and irrational at many times in my life. I am still a crazy beatch a LOT of the time, but the comfort that I have is that the power to change lies within me, and I don't need anyone or anything else to change. Just me. And I really like that freedom.

  2. Actually, that’s spelled the way I intended it to be. I am not sure what the dictionary says, but Christian churches very frequently use the term “tenants of faith” as this Google search shows. It could be a misuse/misspelling, or maybe it’s a weird subculture word that is used in churches, but that’s the way I always heard it in church.

  3. My favorite delusion is the “metaphorical days.” Most christians that don’t dismiss the scientific age of the Earth outright say “who knows how long a day is to God?” Well, I seem to have misplaced my Bible so I’ll paraphrase but I believe it says that God called the period of light day and the period of darkness night. Given that the Earth is roughly4.5 billion years old if that would make each complete cycle around 650 million years. Now I could be wrong, Lord knows I have been before, but I’m pretty sure that 325 million years of night would pretty much extinguish all forms of life.

  4. Since I'm the one who objected, let me renew my objection. This is the definition of "delusion" which Donna believes is closest:

    a persistent false psychotic belief regarding the self or persons or objects outside the self that is maintained despite indisputable evidence to the contrary

    That's not a bad summary of the scientific meaning, and that's precisely the definition, and it's the one that I think doesn't apply!

    The key word here is "psychotic". If a belief isn't psychotic, it's not delusional. Informally, if it's not a problem, it's not a problem.

    There are many people who hold false beliefs. Some of these are defended despite strong evidence to the contrary. But if it's culturally or subculturally normal to believe it, and it's not causing a problem from a mental health point of view, then it's not delusional.

    The sorts of people who hang out on Evolution Blog or Pharyngula will, of course, respond with their own ideas of what causes a problem from a mental health point of view. These people are not mental health professionals, and are not qualified to make a diagnosis. Those who are would never claim such a thing of an entire group; it is a diagnosis which can only be made of an individual, and inside an appropriately clinical doctor-patient relationship.

    I realise that the term is being used metaphorically, and not clinically. In this case, I renew my objection that Deepak Chopra is also using the word "quantum" metaphorically. Chopra admitted this to Richard Dawkins in one of his television programmes, and Dawkins still (quite rightly, I think) objected.

    Now, on to some of the specifics. Leaving out fundamentalists and self-styled evangelicals leaves the list kinda short. It's even shorter if you leave out conservative Catholics.

    Let's take the first one: The Bible is “God’s Word”.

    Yes, it's true that pretty much every Christian will agree with this, but pretty much everyone has a different idea what they mean by it. Even a mainline Christian theologian will be quick to point out that this claim, in the fundamentalist or self-styled evangelical form, is found nowhere in the Bible itself, and phrases like "Word of God", when found in the Bible, never refer to the Bible as we know it today.

    Others in this list, such as "Jesus’ mother was a virgin, Jesus came back from the dead", seem to come not very close to the definition of "delusion", even if you leave out the (key) word "psychotic.

    How much "indisputable evidence to the contrary" is there? Surely it's the same as the amount of indisputable evidence for it!

    Yes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That only applies to claims, not to beliefs, and I think it belies an attitude that Christianity is a set of propositions to be accepted or rejected. If you accept them all, you're a Christian, and if you reject any of them, you're not.

    To the extent that this was ever true, it's certainly not mainline thinking today, or at the very least, the set of "mandatory beliefs" has shrunk dramatically. I think it was Rowan Wilson who pointed out last year that disbelief in the "virgin birth" shouldn't be a barrier to being a Christian. Sounds good to me.

  5. One more thing. Donna wrote:

    I think [Spong and his ilk] are delusional to think that they are Christians, since they don’t believe in any of the tenants of that faith from any denomination or sect.

    Spoken like a true (ex-)fundamentalist.

    One of the most popular passtimes of fundamentalists (no matter what religion they're from) is deciding who's "in" and who's "out". Hell, Jack Chick doesn't even think that Catholics are Christians! With all due respect, what makes him wrong and you right, apart from the demonstratable fact that he's barking mad? (That's a clinical psychiatric term, BTW. Hope that didn't go over anyone's head.)

    Once again, it comes from a belief that Christianity is defined by a set of propositions to be accepted.

    Interestingly, the Emerging Church movement prefers the term "Christ-follower" to "Christian", which I think is meant to emphasise the "Jesus’ fan club" aspect. These people would probably also use the phrase "spiritual, but not religious".

    Incidentally, most of the people I know tend to say of the creation myth, "it's not about how and when, it's about who and why." I think this makes more sense that "six metaphorical days"; it's all of the teleology and none of the facts.

  6. do you believe then that people that hold any religious beliefs, such as Buddhists and Jews are not allowed to call themselves “Skeptics”?

    And would you say that a belief in a seperation of say a spiritual belief or faith (faith being defined as “belief in something with no evidence” perhaps) and science is not possible, as in say, a person should be chosen for a job in science (say a Physics professor) based on his atheist belief.

    What of agnostics that believe that something of a spiritual nature can not be tested so choose to be open minded (or perhaps just more tolerant? I’m not sure about the agnostic label as 99% of atheists claim that’s a cop out – hey I made that up too!). Are agnostics just chickens?

    Should a major push of skepticism be an intolerance of religion, as a major stumbling block of society toward an enlightened atheist society? Should the role religion plays on a psychological level be considered, as in should religion be studied at all to see WHY people believe, and what they need to replace that belief. I think that in the Soviet Union the cult of Stalin and other leaders served almost as a replacement for religion (which oddly is having a resurrgance). What should replace religion, or can it be replaced?

  7. I remember a movie,

    One character was a Russian “hit-man”. I know, there’s no such thing but it’s a MOVIE.

    Too show how evil he was, he would ask his victims ifthey believed in God. Then he would count to ten to see if Jesus would save them, then he would shoot them in the head.

    Now,

    If he did that 20 times, and the gun jamed only for the Christians and not for any Athiests, before or after, I’d become a Christian.

    Until then, you’ve GOT

    That’s what I think being an Agnostic is.

    Call me a coward if you like :)

    rod

  8. I take issue with some things Pseudonym is saying.

    The key word here is “psychotic”. If a belief isn’t psychotic, it’s not delusional. Informally, if it’s not a problem, it’s not a problem.

    This is not at all consistent with the explanations of psychosis that I’ve heard over the years, which say that psychosis is psychosis whether it is troublesome or not. Wikipedia’s statements are closer to what I’ve been taught:

    “[M]ost people have unusual and reality-distorting experiences at some point in their lives, without being impaired or even distressed by these experiences. For example, many people have experienced visions of some kind, and some have even found inspiration or religious revelation in them. As a result, it has been argued that psychosis is not fundamentally separate from normal consciousness, but rather, is on a continuum with normal consciousness. In this view, people who are clinically found to be psychotic, may simply be having particularly intense or distressing experiences (see schizotypy).”

    In other words, just because the psychosis is subclinical, i.e., not distressing and not considered to require treatment, doesn’t make it not psychotic. Psychosis, like blood sugar, can be pathological or normal.

    Since the term psychotic, in the definitions I can find, refers to “a distorted or non-existent sense of objective reality,” I don’t see the problem with the definition writerdd is employing. Appealing to a technical definition (that employed by clinicians) of a mundane word is not only disingenuous, but in this case it is actually false, i.e., clinicians do not actually define the word the way Pseudonym says.

    So it seems many Christian people really do have:

    – Persistent beliefs
    – which result from or in a distorted sense of reality
    – which are about persons or objects outside themselves
    – that are indisputably false

    Pseudonym seems to want to pick at “indisputably false” like an itchy scab:

    “Yes, extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. That only applies to claims, not to beliefs….”

    Uhh, no – beliefs are claims assented to as true.

    To adopt Pseudonym’s example of that which appears “not very close” to the definition of delusional: when it comes to the virgin birth, it is indisputably true that today, women who give birth have had sex.* Someone believing in an exception is not suddenly to be judged to be in touch with reality just because they have a “belief” rather than a “claim.”

    In this case, their belief is an implicit factual claim, one which indisputably contradicts all available evidence. The belief is indisputably false, i.e., the adherent can muster no valid evidence in support of it and could see that all available evidence is against it, if only –

    – wait for it –

    they weren’t deluded.

    * I’m familiar with modern technological exceptions, but I’m also aware they don’t make the virgin birth story plausible.

  9. Moore’s the point, here: “Delusion” is NOT a technical term adopted and used wrongly by the masses (see: theory). It is a common usage word which was later defined a certain way for the purposes of technical jargon. When we use it by the common definition, we’re right to do so. When professionals use it by the technical definition, they are also right to do so… but when someone says that the common use definition, which predates the technical definition, is somehow wrong… Well, that’s just not right.

  10. My current email sig…

    Christianity: The belief that a cosmic Jewish zombie who was his own father can make you live forever if you symbolically eat his flesh and telepathically tell him you accept him as your master, so he can remove an evil force from your soul that is present in humanity because a rib-woman was convinced by a talking snake to eat from a magical tree. — unknown

  11. Um, Spong knows he’s outside the normal boundaries of Christianity, that’s why he wrote a book called “A New Christianity.”

    In my opinion, he’d be better off not trying to cling to the old terminology since what he’s creating is completely different. He uses the word “prayer” when he means “meditation” for example. He uses “God” when he does not beleive in a creator or diety.

    Basically he’s an atheist (or maybe a pantheist) who seems unable to let go of the outward trappings of Christianity; perhaps because he spent his whole life as a Christian minister and is not willing to say he wasted so much of his life on bullshit.

  12. Are religious people delusional? OF COURSE THEY ARE. To argue against this is the definition of silliness, as defined in DSM-IV. Let’s think outside the box here – if I were to tell you that I know people that have a sometimes homicidal belief in an invisible ghost that does super-magic and controls every aspect of life without directly controlling it…well I think you would agree that it’s time to look into some serious pharmacological help. At the very least, they would be considered delusional. Now, semantics aside, that is what every major religion in the world believes. You can dress it up in whatever pretty fluffy robes you would like, but when it boils right down to the nitty-gritty the underlying theme is the same. Now, we are ALL delusional on some level. I buy lottery tickets thinking I MIGHT win – totally delusional. Writterdd defends atheism by attacking religion, possibly thinking “THIS one will convince them, then we can all unshackle from these bonds of religion and get down to really understanding the universe.” – also delusional. Every single one of us, with the exception of Improbable Bee and maybe several politicians, are human. Therefor, we are predisposed to believe that there is some order to things. Sometimes that predisposition leads us to the conclusion that there is some deity that made it all. Now, with a total lack of evidence to support that view, some look further and try to find ANSWERS.

    See, the difference between science and religion is this: In science, if you prove a theory wrong, then you are right. In Religion if you prove a something wrong, you are a heretic. How can a greater understanding be demonized? Because religious people suffer under that particular delusion – believe our way or you are a heretic. Of course you don’t hear “heretic” a great deal any more, so heretofore they shall be known as scientists, atheists, and liberals. So let it be written. And it is. Praise be to me.

    P.S. I was raised and fully indoctrinated into the Catholic church. Communion, catechism, confirmation, the works. I even almost drank the kool-aid. Luckily for me the revelation came when I realized I only went to church to ogle at the girls. Ah days of misspent youth…

  13. Writterdd defends atheism by attacking religion, possibly thinking “THIS one will convince them, then we can all unshackle from these bonds of religion and get down to really understanding the universe.”

    Actually, no. I am completely preaching to the choir on this blog and I have no delusion that any religious person will change their mind because of what I write here.

    As far as I can tell, belief is involuntary, so I do think it’s good to put information out there that might shake someone’s deeply held, yet unexamined beliefs. You never know what might trigger a crisis of faith.

    I do hope that maybe one or two will find what I write in my book useful to help them escape. But I’ll probably never know, and I expect it will mostly be read by people who have already had similar experiences or those who are unbelievers and are curious about how someone like them could have ever been so deluded by religion for so many years.

    That’s not to say that everything I believe now is rational or that I never make emotional decisions, etc. As you say, we’re all human.

  14. Pseudonym
    “Others in this list, such as “Jesus’ mother was a virgin, Jesus came back from the dead”, seem to come not very close to the definition of “delusion”, even if you leave out the (key) word “psychotic.
    How much “indisputable evidence to the contrary” is there? Surely it’s the same as the amount of indisputable evidence for it!”

    Well, no. There is no evidence FOR the virgin birth. There are only claims. A virgin birth has never been documented in humans. But many great leaders have claimed a virgin birth as a way of showing how special they were.

    There is no known mechanism for a virgin birth to take place, especially when you are talking about a male child. Since the female lacks the genetic material, a Y chromosome, to make a male baby. I have heard that there may be some theoretical mechanism for a woman to give virgin birth to a female child, a clone of herself. But this is has never been documented either.

    So, NO evidence for it ever having taken place.
    Genetic impossibility as evidence that it do NOT take place.

  15. “do you believe then that people that hold any religious beliefs, such as Buddhists and Jews are not allowed to call themselves “Skeptics”?”

    They are obviously not being skeptical about some things. They are believing without evidence…assuming in the latter case you mean Jews in the religious sense and not in the ethnic sense, of course.

    Of course, you eventually run into the “no such thing as a true Scotsman” problem. Nobody is skeptical about absolutely everything. It is neither practical nor desirable.

    For me, the line exists at the willingness to recognize one’s own irrationality and pull back from it or accept it for what it is when it is pointed out to you.

  16. Some say fossils are the devil’s handiwork. Nice job Lucifer! I love your work at the Museum of Natural History!

    The bible says that you can stone your children to death if they talk back. What moral?

    The Jesus blood cloth thingy in Italy have been proven to be a fake, made around 1200. Those suckers are still believe it’s magical. Delusion!

  17. Catholics do not believe that everything every Pope says is infallible. It’s doctrinal that ONE TIME, one Pope said something infallibly, and other Popes might do so in the future.

    Now, Mormons do believe that their Prophets speak what God tells them, and Prophets have changed LDS doctrine quite radically, notably about plural marriages and the status of African-Americans.

  18. What is papal infallibility? I looked it up, but these are so much mumbo jumbo, that it’s hard to figure out what it’s supposed to mean:

    The First Vatican Council has defined as “a divinely revealed dogma” that “the Roman Pontiff, when he speaks ex cathedra — that is, when in the exercise of his office as pastor and teacher of all Christians he defines, by virtue of his supreme Apostolic authority, a doctrine of faith or morals to be held by the whole Church — is, by reason of the Divine assistance promised to him in blessed Peter, possessed of that infallibility with which the Divine Redeemer wished His Church to be endowed in defining doctrines of faith and morals; and consequently that such definitions of the Roman Pontiff are irreformable of their own nature (ex sese) and not by reason of the Church’s consent” –Infallibility at the Catholic Encyclopedia [1913]

    Infallibility belongs in a special way to the pope as head of the bishops (Matt. 16:17-19; John 21:15-17). As Vatican II remarked, it is a charism the pope “enjoys in virtue of his office, when, as the supreme shepherd and teacher of all the faithful, who confirms his brethren in their faith (Luke 22:32), he proclaims by a definitive act some doctrine of faith or morals. Therefore his definitions, of themselves, and not from the consent of the Church, are justly held irreformable, for they are pronounced with the assistance of the Holy Spirit, an assistance promised to him in blessed Peter.” –Papal Infallibility – at Catholic Answers

  19. blue collar scientist:

    This is not at all consistent with the explanations of psychosis that I’ve heard over the years, which say that psychosis is psychosis whether it is troublesome or not.

    I don’t have any special expertise in this matter apart from having been once the next-door-neighbour of the head of psychiatry at a certain major hospital. (Probably not fair to give any identification.) He would occasionally rant about people misusing the word “delusional”. Still, my word is only as good as any other non-expert’s.

    It seems to me that the best approach would be to get an expert’s opinion.

    “[M]ost people have unusual and reality-distorting experiences at some point in their lives, without being impaired or even distressed by these experiences. For example, many people have experienced visions of some kind, and some have even found inspiration or religious revelation in them. As a result, it has been argued that psychosis is not fundamentally separate from normal consciousness, but rather, is on a continuum with normal consciousness. In this view, people who are clinically found to be psychotic, may simply be having particularly intense or distressing experiences (see schizotypy).”

    This is specifically talking about experience, not belief. You can make a case that reality-bending experiences are a mild kind of hallucination or delusion, but not being clinical, aren’t a problem or may even be beneficial. I’m cool with that.

    Since the term psychotic, in the definitions I can find, refers to “a distorted or non-existent sense of objective reality,” I don’t see the problem with the definition writerdd is employing.

    Even if you take that line (and I would like an expert opinion on this), what writerdd is saying is that Christian beliefs (or possibly claims) are delusional, not religious experiences. This definition does not contradict my main point, that merely having a belief which is wrong (even demonstratably wrong) is not, in and of itself, delusional.

    Moreover, the Wikipedia page that you pointed to quotes the DSM definition of “delusion” in its entirety. Note the second sentence in particular:

    A false belief based on incorrect inference about external reality that is firmly sustained despite what almost everybody else believes and despite what constitutes incontrovertible and obvious proof or evidence to the contrary. The belief is not one ordinarily accepted by other members of the person’s culture or subculture (e.g., it is not an article of religious faith).

    While the definition singles out religious belief, by the same argument, mere belief in UFOs or 9/11 conspiracy theories isn’t delusional if you’re in a subculture where such beliefs are normal.

    This definition, which is verbatim from the manual that clinicians use for diagnosis, explicitly states that normal beliefs are not delusional. No, I’m not a psychiatrist, and yes, this stuff should be applied only by experts and with care, which is why I think we should still get an expert opinion. But nonetheless I submit this as strong evidence that my position, that mere religious belief is not delusional, is correct and not nitpicky.

    Pseudonym seems to want to pick at “indisputably false” like an itchy scab:

    This, by the way, is secondary to my main point. I’m kind of regretting bringing it up, now, because I knew when I wrote it that someone would concentrate on it.

    Uhh, no – beliefs are claims assented to as true.

    A claim is an assertion or a demand. A belief is a psychological state. They’re not the same thing at all.

    I believe that my wife loves me, but I don’t advance it as a claim. I don’t care if you believe it or not. Moreover, I am not willing to perform any controlled double-blind test that would definitively prove this (even if such a thing were possible), as it would be hazardous to our relationship.

    As I mentioned, the Archbishop of Canterbury is of the opinion that non-belief in the virgin birth should be no barrier to Christianity. In other words, he’s dropping it as a claim, even if he’s not dropping it as a personal belief (though he might be also doing that for all I know).

    Donna wrote:

    Um, Spong knows he’s outside the normal boundaries of Christianity, that’s why he wrote a book called “A New Christianity.”

    In my opinion, he’d be better off not trying to cling to the old terminology since what he’s creating is completely different. He uses the word “prayer” when he means “meditation” for example. He uses “God” when he does not beleive in a creator or diety.

    Here’s the problem I have with this:

    The Medieval Catholic Church bears very little resemblance to the church described in the Bible (Acts and the epistles). Yet we have no problem with describing the Medieval Catholic Church as “Christianity”.

    What liberal Christians believe (and Spong might not be a good example, but IMO even his positions apply) has more in common with mainline Christianity than Medieval Catholicism had with the early church. Even Spong believes in God, he just believes that the word denotes something slightly different.

    I think that there are two fallacies in play here.

    The first is that there’s a single thing called “Christianity”, and some kind of Boolean-valued function which can be applied to a belief system that will tell you if it’s “Christianity” or not. Normal English linguistics doesn’t work this way even about simple words, let alone complicated ones.

    It disturbs me especially because deciding who’s “in” and who’s “out” is a favourite passtime of fundamentalists. I think that it’s dangerous to accept that premise.

    The other is more of an impression, but bear me out here. The impression that I’m getting is that Spong is being defined as not “Christian” precisely because of an implicit axiom that Christianity is “wrong” or “delusional”. Therefore if anyone holds a belief that isn’t obviously “wrong” or “delusional” (even in the unscientific informal sense), it can’t be Christianity.

    Maybe I’m misinterpreting, but I often see an undercurrent of unscientific thinking from my fellow skeptics (hell, I do it too) when on the topic of religion. On any other topic, we think critically. On this one topic, we get into definitional debates, talking about stuff that we’re not qualified to talk about, cherry-picking evidence, anecdotal evidence, proof by single example and arguing in slogans.

    I don’t want to single anyone out here (apart from myself, obviously, since I’m only an expert on me), and I was never a fundie, but I get the impression that some remnants of fundamentalist thinking stay with people even when they dump it. The idea that Christianity is a Boolean-valued function might be one exampleof a vestigal unquestioned assumption.

    Just a thought.

  20. I think Christians are just better at suspending their disbelief that I am. There are probably stories that I believe are true but that actually aren’t. As long as the stories that other people believe in don’t convince them to do something harmful (like flying a plane into a building, burning women at the stake, or restricting scientific research because it questions church doctrine) then why call them delusional?

    It is different than pointing out a specific error of judgement or erroneous opinion.

  21. Mostly I think I say stuff like this because I’m pissed off at myself for being so gullible and wasting so many years of my life when I was younger, and I know it’s still happening to so many people today.

    Actually, I was a totally quiet, content atheist until Bush got elected and then 9/11. Now I’m just pissed off most of the time. After almost 8 years, it’s really starting to wear on my nerves.

    I also have a different persona online than in person. I’d never tell my Christian friends or family members that they’re delusional to their faces. I do think it’s true though. And they might not tell me that I’m going to hell to my face, but I know they think it’s true, too.

  22. Donna:

    Actually, I was a totally quiet, content atheist until Bush got elected and then 9/11. Now I’m just pissed off most of the time. After almost 8 years, it’s really starting to wear on my nerves.

    I can understand that. The date in question turned a lot of theists into fundamentalists, a lot of nominal non-believers into atheists, and a lot of atheists into anti-theists. Unfortunately, it’s also made a lot of moderates appear wishy-washy by comparison.

    As of now, it’s hard to have a rational discussion on many topics, political and religious, because everyone has picked someone or some group to blame. Of all of the (non-life) damage caused by 9/11, this will probably be the longest lasting effect and hardest to undo. The good news is that people seem to be waking up to this slowly, but the damage is going to take generations to undo.

    For me, the biggest and hardest lesson that I learned from 9/11 and the Bush regime is that there is no such thing as “the good guys”.

  23. Pseudonym makes a good point, that just as Christianity doesn’t have a Boolean definition, the term “delusion” doesn’t either. If an individual has a belief that is shared by people in his group, from a DSM IV perspective that person may not be “delusional”, in such case the Pope isn’t “delusional” because his beliefs are shared by a very large number of Catholics, in fact he defines what all those “good Catholics” actually believe.

    On the other hand, in skepchick-land, the Pope is very much a raving loonie.

    I think the DSM IV is attempting to make a distinction based upon how a person’s meta-cognitive facilities are functioning. A person is not delusional if they believe a lie that they are told by taking it at face value. But if they spend considerable time evaluating the basis and still believe something in spite of considerable evidence to the contrary that they have considered, then they are delusional. This is the essence of doublethink.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doublethink

    The world view of most religions is completely filled with doublethink. But doublethink and delusions are about beliefs, not about behaviors. Some Christians maintain that Christianity is about behaving the way that Jesus did, but then they saddle all of those behaviors with delusional beliefs.

    It isn’t “delusional” from a DSM IV viewpoint if you have to engage in doublethink to survive. The purpose of the DSM IV is to perform a differential diagnosis to allow for differential treatment of the mental disorder. If the “disorder” isn’t in the individual, but rather it is in the larger society that the individual is forced to live in, the DSM IV can’t supply a differential diagnosis that leads to a differential treatment. It isn’t a mental disorder to do what you must do in order to survive, even to be delusional and psychotic. “It is no measure of health to be well adjusted to a profoundly sick society” (Jiddu Krishnamurti).

  24. This is the essence of doublethink.

    Doublethink is an interesting phenomenon, but I don’t think that most religious belief counts. As Orwell proposed it, doublethink is to deliberately lie while simultaneously believing the lie. Invoking “that’s metaphorical” or “non-overlapping magisteria” might be psychological tools for survival, but I don’t think they are “doublethink” any more than koans are.

    Incidentally, if you know something about logic, this paper by Graham Priest (JSTOR access required for full article) is a good read. It’s surprisingly readable for a philosophy paper, in fact.

  25. I think that doublethink is simply the extreme version of the suspension of disbelief that religious belief requires. My guess is that that is the reason people don’t examine their religious beliefs, so that they don’t have to either abandon them or engage in doublethink.

  26. “My guess is that that is the reason people don’t examine their religious beliefs, so that they don’t have to either abandon them or engage in doublethink.”

    Not to get into a chicken and egg argument here, I tend to think that people engage in doublethink so they don’t have to examine their beliefs.

  27. I think that doublethink is simply the extreme version of the suspension of disbelief that religious belief requires.

    Again, this is getting into a definitional discussion, and here be dragons, but I think that’s a misunderstanding of what “doublethink” is.

    I think what you’re talking about is more correctly interpreted as intellectual ambivalence: Rather than believe contradictory things, refuse to commit to a belief.

  28. Thanks for noticing that some of us “Christians” take the John Shelby Spong approach. But, i’m not sure you made a case that we are also delisional simple because we call ourselves Christians. It is merely a label. I use it because it is through that tradition that I found inspiration. I don’t agree with the dogma or the silly supernatual beliefs. That ancient worldview was not the original intent of the movement.

    We are fighting fundamentalism and ignorance also. I love everything else about your blog.

    – Skeptical Christian

  29. mike 1, I agree. But I also feel the need to be snarky sometimes….

    I do wish people like Spong and yourself would find a better label. By calling yourselves Christians you add yourself to their ranks and give them more clout.

  30. writerdd,

    You’re “snarkiness” is ok with me. I get it. I toy with letting go of the label, but then I remember that we had it first dammit! It was those pesky Romans that stole it and made it all dogmatic and belief centric.

  31. yes.

    “and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch.” Acts 11:25-27

    Originally, it was a group of palestinians protesting the roman occupation and the temple’s cooperation with rome. They were politcal activists like Jesus and many of them faced the same fate. It had nothing to do with ancient beliefs in supernatural things. However, being that they were ancient people, they did believe in supernatural/superstitious things. They really couldn’t help that. They believed that because it was the friggin 1st century and EVERYBODY had superstitious beliefs. I feel we can keep thier ideals for a just society and political protests agianst imperialism without keeping their supernatural beliefs.

    At some point, people dropped the goals of political protest and keep only the superstition. Yes, that was delusional, but it was exactly what you you might expect since the religion became the state religion of the roman empire. You can’t have a religion bent on imperial subversiveness become the main religion of the empire. Can you? Unless of course you could change it to be about silly beliefs and superstitions.

  32. Donna:

    I do wish people like Spong and yourself would find a better label. By calling yourselves Christians you add yourself to their ranks and give them more clout.

    I don’t think there’s much chance of that. Spong is one of the most disowned people in mainstream Christianity.

    Maybe this is an Overton window thing; John Shelby Spong makes Rowan Wilson look positively liberal by comparison, instead of merely modernist mainline.

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