Friday, July 07, 2006

What makes a delusion?

I don't grok religion. I don't know why, it just slides right off my brain like it was non-stick coated. I don't mean I don't understand certain religious beliefs, I mean I don't understand why anyone has those beliefs. Generally, religious people have the religion they grew up with, which says to me that it's an emotional thing, a comfort thing. In other words, people believe and behave the way that they do because they are used to believing and behaving that way.

I think we can all agree that the Heaven's Gate cultists were nuts. They killed themselves so their souls could go to another planet on board a UFO that was hiding behind the Hale-Bopp comet, for crying out loud. But are the Raelians similarly nuts? The head of that religion believes a 25,000 year old alien named Yahweh communicated with him directly in an encounter he had with a UFO in 1973. The beliefs of the Raelians really aren't all that much more outlandish than the beliefs of Scientologists, with their beliefs in extraterrestrial past lives.

As of 1999, 47 % of Americans believed that the Antichrist was already walking the earth (a Jew, of course, according to Jerry Falwell) and 45% believe Jesus will return in their lifetimes. So, basically, half of all Americans think the end of the world is imminent. Are these beliefs really any different from what mainstream fundamentalist Christians believe? The Heaven's Gaters believed that their souls were rising up somewhere to be taken to an extraterrestrial paradise. Falwell's crowd thinks that they will be taken up into a supernatural paradise. What is different between the beliefs of the Gate-ists and the Rapture-ists? Is it just the ubiquitousness of their belief system?

Religion requires belief in shadowy, ill-defined worlds of things that can never seen, never be experienced. Things that aren't actually there. Some of these beliefs, apparently, are things to be respected; some are not. If my friend comes to me and says, "Dude, I totally saw a unicorn last week," I am expected to disbelieve him. If he says, "Dude, Jesus totally rose from the dead two thousand years ago," there are those that say that, if I do disbelieve him, I will be punished for all eternity. Yet, ultimately, why are these two things different? If anything, the latter case is worse. I can judge my friend's character based on how well I know him, and whether he has a tendency to say outrageous things, so I should be able to judge whether it is reasonable or not to believe that he actually did see a unicorn. When he talks of Jesus, he's just repeating something he was told by others. All religion is hearsay.

My sister is finishing up her psych rotation, and told me a story about a woman that is absolutely convinced the voices in her head will not stop unless she returns to the small town of her birth and marries the priest that baptized her. Obviously she belongs in the psych ward. But why don't the majority of Americans that believe in angels belong there right alongside of her? If I told you that there was a leprechaun in my garden, you'd lock me up. If I told you an angel had visited me in my garden, there are a lot of people that would sit down and politely ask what he had to say.

There's a lot more spinning in my head, but I'm going to end this now before I ramble on and bore you, gentle reader (too late). More later.

12 comments:

David said...

You're making the mistake of trying to combine "religion" with "logic." The two don't mix, as I've seen for years with my ultra-religious relatives. You can't discuss religion with them, because, as you point out, all the talking points are vague, insubstantial historical quotes from a book of questionable provenance. The only religion that even hints of logic is Buddhism, but... anyway, you're just making yourself crazy trying to make sense of it. It's just a huge, mass-hypnosis-type security blanket for people. It makes them feel better. It doesn't have to be logical.

Narc said...

Yes, I suppose you're right. But I still just don't see what makes the irrational belief in unicorns nutty, but the irrational belief in Balaam's talking ass sane?

Is it just politeness? Is it just a kind of "If you don't call my religion nuts, I won't set your house on fire" detente?

Anonymous said...

You should read a book called "Extraordinary Popular Delusions and the Madness of Crowds" -- I read it in college and it covers a lot of this stuff. Humans, I think, have a deep need to believe in something bigger than themselves and some ordering force to the universe. The force of religion has waxed and waned throughout history and different civilizations. Once a religion has fallen out of favor, it's okay to see it as a collection of fantastical myths ("Oh those silly Greeks, believing that Athen sprang from Zeus' head. How goofy" "Looking a bird intestines to tell the future, isn't that quaint") but at the time they are, as widely held beliefs, inarguable.

MFN

Anonymous said...

Another thought:

You should post this query to yall. I don't know where else you're going to find a bunch of people who will be polite with each other and include a couple of fundamentalist xtians, a presbyterian minster, an orthodox jew, several practicing catholics, and a bunch of people that think religion is total bunk. I think we may also have a wiccan, but I'm not sure. Anyhow, I think the discussion would be great. I feel like if you preface it by saying something like "I know this is a sensitive topic but I also know that I can count on yall not to revert to 'you're going to hell!' vs. 'only simpleminded idiots believe in a higher power' I'm actually really curious about this." If you're not willing to, I might do it and just say a friend and I were having this conversation and I wanted to know what yall thought.

Again, MFN

Lisa said...

1. Extraordinary Delusions is available as an etext.

2. Of course there are no leprechauns in my garden; they're too scared of the pooka.

3. Do not drink the Kool-Aid.

Narc said...

1. Hmm. Looks like I'm going to have to do some reading.

2. Heck, I'm afraid of your pooka. Poor 6" tall Timmy the Leprechaun must be shaking in his size 0.1 boots.

But you know what a pooka is. I think I like you. Who are you?

3. But it's so sweet and tasty!

Lisa said...

Who are you?

Just another person holding down a barstool at Mike & Molly's on Friday nights (and holding down the Irish music session there on the first Sunday of the month).

Narc said...

Welcome. Pull up a barstool.

Secret Rapture said...

My inaugural address at the Great White Throne Judgment of the Dead, after I have raptured out billions!
Read My Inaugural Address
My Site=http://www.angelfire.com/crazy/spaceman

Narc said...

What makes it ironic is that you didn't intend to prove my point.

From the ranting on your loony, moonbat, all-but-incoherent webpage:

I can make anyone an instant 100% accurate prophet. What was the one thing that everyone knew in the Roman Empire at the time Jesus was preaching in Galilee, even without newspapers? They all knew that in the Roman Cities, especially Rome itself, they were having fabulous orgies. The automatic consequence is that Rome was going to fall. And we have had even better, more astonishing orgies starting in the late sixties. The only thing that slowed it down somewhat was AIDS.

Yeah, the only thing that stopped all those orgies in the 1960s was AIDS. Which wasn't discovered until the 1980s.

And then this bit, from the section that was invisibly titled "Mysogony:"

They know that manhood is the ability to stick it in a woman no matter how ugly she is

Wow.

Seriously, dude. Up. Your. Meds.

Secret Rapture said...

My response to your critiques.

1. I said, 'starting in the late sixties.' I've now clarified my intent: 'starting in the late sixties, and continuing to the present.'

2. Yes on misogyny, but with provisos. I stated that abuse and battering is never permitted. But there has always been only one religion - her - the Whore of Babylon. I'm out to put all the women under a spell - hypnosis. I've never been PC -politically correct. If my agenda to put the women asleep strikes you as mad, so be it.

Narc said...

Oh, hypnosis? And all of the women in the world you say? Well, that's just so much more rational. Maybe you might want to shift your focus just a bit and start a worldwide stop-smoking campaign or something.

Seriously, though. Whatever pills you're taking (or not taking), you need more of them.