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In the discussion thread: Religion a mental illness? [View all]

Response to Warren Stupidity (Reply #30)

Mon Apr 28, 2014, 04:08 PM

43. The distinction isn't really that arbitrary

The number of people who believe in demonic possession is not insignificant, and the causes of that belief vary across cultures. Where this belief is most prevalent -- the third world -- the "diagnosis" of demonic possession is made on incomplete information (a poor understanding of the cognitive and natural sciences), and misplaced trust in authority (chiefly, religious authority).

Meanwhile, people who live in ostensibly "advanced" societies sometimes accept the possibility of demonic possession because that is what they have been instructed to believe by authority figures. In short, it is a symptom of gullibility.

Ignorance and credulity aren't necessarily indicative of mental illness, as ignorant and credulous people generally function "normally" within society. Aliens, bigfoot, ESP... plenty of people believe in bizarre or strange things without living substantially impaired lives.

Besides, holding a general belief as to the possibility of demonic possession isn't quite the same as holding an intense belief of personal persecution by a demonic entity. A person who, without encouragement from authority and with access to complete information, believes their child to be possessed is probably delusional, especially if that belief is accompanied by emotional responses typical of people with delusional disorders (emotional overinvestment, secretiveness, overt hostility towards criticism of the belief).

Don't get me wrong. I make no quarrels about my anti-theism, and I do think religious upbringing plays a role in the development of religious delusion; but I've been trained in the behavioral sciences. While not a clinician myself (social psych is my area of expertise), I've seen enough cases of psychosis to tell the difference between a mentally ill person, and person who believes stupid shit.

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