Are religious people delusional?

Are religious people delusional? Aug, 1 2023

Understanding the lens of faith

Let's start things off by dissecting a complex topic, the lens of faith. Now when I say the 'lens of faith', I mean the way in which people who are religious view the world, the assumptions they hold, and the justifications they provide for their beliefs. As I sip my morning coffee, with my parrot, Benny, watching curiously, it’s easy to see how our perspectives shape everything we see and experience. Benny sees the world from a completely different lens, literally. Did you know that parrots can see colors that humans can't? It's mind-boggling, isn't it? Speaking of which, religious people similarly have a different color spectrum, of faith. It's not that they're delusional necessarily, it's more of a mindset or perspective that guides how they interact with the world. Benny, not looking particularly amused by my exploration of faith, decides to fly over to Rover, my loyal Boxer dog who also serves as a makeshift perch. Ignoring the impromptu bird-dog interaction in my living room, I must press on.

A deep dive into the concept of delusion

What does it mean to be delusional? It's a term often thrown around casually, much like when my dog, Rover, swats his tail around, oblivious to the path of destruction he leaves in his wake - coffee mugs, Benny's bird toys, and occasionally the TV remote. However, for our conversation, we need to understand delusion in a formal, clinical sense. Delusion is a firm belief that remains even when there is strong evidence against it. Now, Benny, for instance, holds firm that the spot on his perch closest to his bird toy stash is the best place in the world, even though it sometimes means a trail of bird toys on Rover's head. But that's just Benny's quirk and hardly qualifies for a clinical label.

Now, we do like a bit of humility and open-mindedness, right? But when it comes to religious beliefs, there's a fine line. A believer's steadfast conviction isn't necessarily delusional because religion often operates outside the sphere of empirical evidence. Hence, it's unfair to label someone as delusional just because they carry firm beliefs about their religion. Particularly, when these beliefs bring comfort, security, and a sense of community. You wouldn't call Rover delusional for believing he can bark the mailman away, would you? The mailman still shows up every day, but Rover lives in his world of triumph, convinced of his protective prowess.

Rationality, perception and religion

Now let’s discuss rationality. Rational thinking involves making judgments or creating ideas based on reason and logic. When Benny squawks at 7 AM sharp every morning, my sleep-addled brain shoots out a furious ‘why!’. But then a glimpse at the sunrise peeping through the window explains his excited cacophony. Logical conclusion, isn't it? Sun is a source of joy for Benny. He is not squawking madly at some unseen entity with questionable existence.

Religion, however, isn't always logical in nature. It often entails concepts such as faith and belief which don't reside strictly within the confines of rational thought. For instance, if you've seen Benny, you would notice a bright feather sticking out. It's Benny's lucky feather, or so I like to imagine it is. Many religious beliefs could be equated to Benny's feather, inconspicuous yet deeply personal. Whether you consider them rational or irrational is often a matter of personal perception.

When does faith cross into delusion?

Well, it's no easy task to distinguish between faith and delusion. Imagine trying to explain to Rover why chasing his tail endlessly doesn't quite make sense. It's a complicated affair, isn't it? Similarly, to draw a line between faith and delusion requires careful analysis. However, what we need to understand is the impact of beliefs. If persistently held beliefs cause personal distress or significantly impair social and occupational functions, then it might be a concern.

A personal anecdote comes to mind. The lady who lived next door in my previous neighborhood was deeply religious. I respected her faith and often admired her dedication to her beliefs. However, her conviction soon started taking a toll on her daily life. She began neglecting her family and job due to compulsive participation in religious activities. Eventually, her religious fervor started causing more harm than good and seemed reminiscent of a delusional disorder.

Finding the balance

In the end, it all boils down to balance, much like how Benny and Rover have developed their unique ‘bird-dog balance’, despite their obvious differences. Harnessing faith for comfort, guidance, and fostering connections can be beautiful, while fanaticism or extreme forms may lead to harm. I think we all, religious or not, can learn from Benny and Rover. Their peaceful co-existence, despite being from vastly different species speaks volumes about acceptance and mutual respect.

It’s essential to realize that labeling religious people as delusional isn’t right. It’s about understanding and respecting individual perspectives while ensuring these perspectives don’t cause personal or societal harm. After all, isn’t that what makes life interesting - to see the world through different lenses? Life would be quite dull if we all viewed things in the same way. And let’s face it, I’d personally get quite bored if Benny stopped watching the sunrise in awe each morning or if Rover suddenly stopped believing in his ‘mighty bark’, wouldn’t I?