It has come to my attention that amongst the non-relgious communities (particularly online) some of us seem to think that being an atheist guarantees that you are the smartest being in the universe and being a theist guarantees stupidity.

There are so many problems with this mentality. To start off, it enfaces a stereotype that atheists are arrogant know-it-all elitists who regard a theist (no matter the mildness of their beliefs) to be worth no more than a molecule of dust on the ground. Obviously we all know this is an inaccurate stereotype. 

Next there is the simple fact of reality that faith nor lack of faith will never guarantee a person of any level nor lack of intellect. There is after all such a thing as being so intelligent it literally drives one a little insane. Then of course there is the simple fact that there are religious scientists for example Georges Lemaître who proposed the very first principals of what later became known as the big bang theory. 

I have been debating religion, the corruption of religion and atheism on the internet for a very long time.  I myself used to be what you would call a "militant atheist". I absolutely detested religion to such an extent that I entirely blamed all the bad in the world on religion itself. I viewed religion as the source of all evil and I'm not the only non-believer who has ever thought this. The world would be better off with no religion at all I used to think. Now in saying that part of me still thinks the world would be somewhat better if people just lost interest in religion, maybe it would. 

But what I have noticed between militant atheists and fundamental theists, is a level of extremism. And that is the real problem here. The problem is not religion, the problem is not atheism; but extremism as a whole. Any form of extremism is dangerous. And this extremism (whatever is form) is developed by obsession over a belief, idea, attitude, and sometimes misguided information. Extremism with atheists comes about very different to theistic extremism. With a fundamental Christian for example. They believe the bible literally to such an extent that they see themselves as warriors for God and will do literally anything to honour the name of God. There minds have been so twisted and warped into fully immersing into this belief system that they really believe they are doing the right thing. They believe its right to tell women they have a place, they believe its right to condemn or convert atheists, they believe its right to attack / discriminate against homosexuals. This is because they have become obsessed and have resorted to extremism. If they were not obsessed, they would not become extremists and would use their religion as a personal belief system in order to feel happy in life etc

Now extremism in atheists does come about very differently, but the core problem of obsession is still there. A lot of atheists are former theists. I've met a few atheists that have never been part of a religion (all online, none offline). But for the most part, most atheists were theists who renounced their faith. Now because of that there are a number of atheists who have had bad experiences with theists. I was subjected to a certain degree of homophobia when I went to Catholic school. We were punished in Catholic school if we did not attend mass and I viewed that as very fascist.  Lets just say the attitude of some egotistical theists gets in our heads, we get very irritated and develop a hatred for religion and even the religious. Some atheists even go as far as calling themselves anti-theists. Now granted atheists are less extreme than the fundamentalist theists. Its very rare that you will meet an atheist who despises theists so much he/she wants every theist exterminated from the face of the earth. Joseph Stalin (as mad as he was, and even though he did have psychological problems) was one of such atheists. This was largely due to how he was treated by the religious as a youth. One might even argue that it was indeed the religious extremists in his institutions that pushed him over the edge. Never the less he hated religion and did what he felt was necessary to solve the problem of religion by banning it. For those of us who know the history of the Soviet Union, know that didn't exactly work out. And now it seems Russia has traded one form of extreemism for another as the current leader of Russia undergoes some very anti-gay laws inspired by the beliefs of the Russian Orthodox Christian Church. 

I guess the point I am making here is not only that extremism has more than one form or another, but also that the existence of extremism is being used to generalise a group; be all theists or all atheists. Not all atheists are anything like Stalin and for that matter not all Christians (or other theists) are like Adolf Hitler.  Both atheists and theists are guilty of generalising each other and making assumptions based on the most extreme of our communities. It is vitally important to acknowledge that not every theists is a scriptural literalist, there are many ways they can interoperate their holy books. It still doesn't persuade me to believing in it, but at least I understand that not all theists think I'm evil on two legs. There are even Christians who just accept what Jesus specifically said in the bible. This is how gay Christians balance faith and accepting themselves for who they really are. 

And from a social perspective we just need to learn to live with each other. If one was to add up the population of theists in the world and compare it with the population of atheists; we would still come up as a minority. And as a minority, we are going to be in positions where we are working, studying, and even become friends with persons of faith. If one was to cast aside persons of faith due to identifying as an anti-theist, well lets just say you might have to experience a very lonely life. 

As a humanist, for me what comes first is treating other human beings with dignity and the same respect I expect. I'm more interested in a persons characteristics in regard to how they treat others rather than their beliefs or non-beliefs. And I'm not saying all atheists are like this, there is number of us who are; so don't take this the wrong way.

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The psychological definition of a delusion is a rigid system of beliefs with which a person is preoccupied and to which a person firmly holds , despite the logical absurdity of the beliefs , and a lack of supporting evidence . To date , this is by far the most accurate description of religious beliefs I have encountered . Delusions are symptomatic of several mental disorders , including paranoia , schizophrenia , bipolar disorder and major depression . You would be correct Keith , in your assumption that I do consider religious belief to be a form of mental illness , though not a psychosis . I would categorize it in the camp of neuroses .

There is not a professional psychologist in the world who you regard a religious or spiritual person and mentally ill. If they did, the mental institutions would be more over-populated than the prisons. 

I will grant you that many of not all of their beliefs defy reality. But how can we really come to the conclusion that this necessarily makes them insane. The have a view point, sometimes several viewpoints about the world based on faith. Is it really any different from being wrong about other topics, issues and subjects? 

I suspect you may want to respond with how some of them may behave based on false ideals. But to assume that a person is going to behave badly just because they happen to have beliefs you don't, is a vast and unrealistic generalisation. It would be like a person assuming that all white or caucasians will eventually want to have African Americans put into slavery again. There was a time in the past when many white people felt it was right to do such a thing, they felt to be a superior race of humans and it wasn't always for religious reasons. As a white man, I can tell you right now that I view all races, groups, labels, non-religious etc as equals. 

There was a time when I used to cringe at the site of a crucifix necklace, but not now. I look past this, and take into account that these are human beings. They have some different views and opinions; that doesn't mean I have to vilify them. 

Not even one professional psychologist in the entire world? Not one?

How do you know this to be true, or it an assertion based on faith?

As for the straw men with which you tilted, why not ask me for my views rather than to imagine my position?

My issue with irrationality is more general than that of religion. Decision making without rational basis is.....irrational. One cannot expect that there will be useful outcome from irrational decision making, but rather simply chance. Would you, for example, prefer that your surgeon base your care decisions on verified evidence and rationally verified practice?

Would you not be interested to know how he/she might balance a belief in life altering concepts which have no demonstrated basis?

Yes, while a blind pig may ocassionally find an acorn this is simply chance and so not something on which to rely.

As for the specious slavery statements: it may have escaped you but the supply of slaves out of Africa was provided by Africans to a great degree. Color of skin is not a predictor of morality, kindness, intelligence or much else other than resistance to sun burn.

Basing anything on faith is irrational by definition. Faith is belief without evidence.

It would be unethical practice to regard a person to be mentally ill because they are religions and it would not be regarded as professional, rather unprofessional I would say. 

You answered none of my questions.

My point was not that theists are mentally ill but rather that they do not provide any means by which I can differentiate between their claimed revelations and the imaginations of someone who is not operating "normally".

If I were to dress in a chicken suit and claim to by laying eggs, this might cause you to question whether I was indeed capable of laying eggs. Given such a fantastic claim, would you not require evidence before accepting the claim?

What would be a likely conclusion as to my mental state were I to offer only that I had faith that I was laying eggs?

Why would it be unethical?

It would go against social norms but would be ethical to evaluate people's religious beliefs as delusions.

I think a serious study would find that we could rate people as mentally ill proportionate to their belief. Those who are only mildly religious and decent are probably just a bit quirky. While most extremists should probably be placed in a mental institution.

You are correct in that we don't have enough space for all those who should be locked away. But that isn't a good reason to just dismiss their irrationality as something that is okay.

I would prefer it if we could educate the religious and help them lose their delusions. But they are supported socially by other religious people as well as the non-religious who mistakenly believe accurate psychological evaluations would be unethical and unprofessional.

The vast majority of the mentally ill are not , nor do they require institutionalization . They are able to function quite adequately , and productively in civil society . Most religious believers fall into this category .

I really couldn't have said it better myself. Every Belief I have about how the world should operate only attacks theism in such a way as to prevent it from oppressing anyone. I have absolutely no problem with someone having different beliefs than me, just so long as they don't try to force those beliefs on to anyone else. I realize that sounds pretty hypocritical of me, but it works. Freedom of religion does not include freedom of oppression or discrimination.

Well said.

I dont even identify myself as an atheist anymore because of the strident "I KNOW I am right and you're Wrong!"atheists that give the term a bad name. And it really pisses them off when you refuse to accept the label. Good.

It is just another label to box us in and lump us all together.

No thanks.

I think you've nailed the issue, Amanda.

From my perspective, the fundamental difference between Atheism and Theism is: While an Atheist may or may not act based on a rational premise, a Theist always acts based on an irrational premise.

From there, whether Theists offer something which is true is simply a matter of chance so their judgment/assessment cannot be trusted by anyone.

After stewing over this question I feel that another example might better explain my perspective on religion than does the lady in the fire story.

How about this:

A very pleasant young couple move into a small anywhere city which is typical of the mildly deteriorating social commmittment, focus in irrelant past times such as gambling and sports, less focus on family. After only a short time it becomes obvious that this young couple have formed the nucleus of a change in which people are joining them to offer assistance to the disadvantaged, are encouraging others to move away from spending so much time and resources on irrelevant activities. Families are doing more together and seem to be thriving.

Things seem to be improving in the city so much that the young couple are given charge of the city's social assistance initiatives. Their activities are given tax free status and direct official support. They are given extraordinary powers to act. Other parallel initiatives gradually fall away in the face of the higher committment.

All is so much improved! But then, the health services notice a gradually increasing level of treatment resistant TD in the city and begin quarantining those affected however this does little to decrease the infection rate so frantic searching for the vector is undertaken.

Some checking reveals that the city from which the young couple moved has a very high infection rate with high death tolls and that this infection had been traced back to that young couple. After a raging controversy, people began to shun them, following which they picked up and moved to the new city.

When this is reported to the public, demands are made that this couple be placed into quarantine but they and their supporters refuse, justified by the amount of good being done. Some assert that even if the deaths are directly attributable, the quality of life before death and the quality of life experienced by the general population is enhanced to more than compensate.

Doesn't this young couple have the freedom to go where they will and to associate as they will? Doesn't the good they are doing justify....?


"a Theist always acts based on an irrational premise."

Thats an unfair generalisation and not at all accurate for all theists. Not all theists are fundamentalist, or scripture literalists. An atheist who has a radical hatred of religion can very easily behave irrational, their judgment can be clouded by hatred. 

"...whether Theists offer something which is true is simply a matter of chance so their judgment/assessment cannot be trusted by anyone..."

So basically anytime a theist says something of intellectual merit, its a fluke? I simply cannot accept that assumption. Its a vast generalisation. There are plenty of theists who are very intelligent, very scientific too and have thought out their arguments very well. I would call your argument an example of what I am talking about. 


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