Nothing in this blog can be believed. If you think that anything in this blog is true or factual, you'll need to verify it from another source. Do you understand? No? Then read it again, and repeat this process, until you understand that you cannot sue me for anything you read here. Also, having been sucked into taking part in the mass-murder of more than 3 million Vietnamese people on behalf of U.S. Big Business "interests", I'm as mad as a cut snake (and broke) so it might be a bit silly to try to sue me anyway...

Thursday, January 05, 2006

do religions cause mental illness?

Blame GreenSmile for this post. It's all his fault. (I assume he's a he but I don't know why. I vaguely recall some clue he dropped somewhere but I forget where.) Anyway, I digress...

In the post Jesus was a communist I made the (unfounded?) assertion that adherents (of a religion) are in dire need of psychotherapy.

Well, GreenSmile has obviously felt the need to refute my assertion and has sent me a link to an apparently serious scientific paper by Ben Cullen in which Cullen purports to do just that. But I am not satisfied that it does, nor that it addresses the question in a comprehensively-enough way.

Curse you, GreenSmile, you are making me think way too hard! Grrrrrrr...

The problem with Cullen's paper is that it operates in a very narrow section of the spectrum i.e. parasite ecology. (And even within this I think I can detect the whiff of sophistry.)

I'm not going to go into detail here (read the document if you want details), but Cullen argues that religions which are transmitted vertically i.e. handed down from parent to child, "ought" be symbiotic and co-dependent (benign) in their relationship with their followers and "ought" not to be parasitic (disease-like). Ergo, according to Cullen, religion is not a disease. He cites recent parasite ecology research for the correctness of his assumptions.

The flaw in Cullen's reasoning is, I think, contained in the assumption that the symbiotic or co-dependent nature of the relationship between a religion and its followers is therefore a benign one. Really? Are the abuser and the abused, although heavily co-dependent, in a benign relationship? Ditto, the brainwasher and the brainwashed? Ditto the controller and the controlled? I don't think so. Just because the relationship is not terminal to either party does not make it benign or healthy.

An interesting sideline to this is that Cullen is trying to use a branch of the theory of evolution to obtain a stamp of approval for his creationist leanings. Oh yeah? Really? Excuse me!!!

And then there are all of the questions which Cullen does not even begin to deal with:
What defines mental illness?
What defines sanity?
What defines psychosis?
What defines reality?
Is religious practice/ritual often a form of mass (or self) hypnosis?
Is the act of deliberately brainwashing people to become total bigots not also the act of tampering with their perception of reality and therefore tampering with their mental health?

Oh no, I did not find Cullen to be a convincing read at all...

Is that the best you got, GreenSmile? :-)


Blogger GreenSmile said...

I just reviewed my porn collection to make sure... I am male. and straight. and apparently more focused on hips and posteriors than breasts...but i digress as well ;)

Last things first: its the best I have SO FAR but I only came across it accidentally yesterday in Science & Politics...I'd been wary of puting forth my own thoughts ["shy with his own opinions?...yeah, right!" I hear you all muttering] on this matter as I could piss off a lot of people with not much gained. It is, however, just the sort of bee to put in a mad bear's bonnet.

Glad I con'ed someone into reading Cullen's paper...if ever there was reviewer who could not be stampeded into buying some notion about religion, it would be you, Dodgy.

You have exposed Cullen which is a service. And you are right that the relationship is not entirely benign. To my mind it is the fog in which such belief systems hold their adherents that is the most damaging but that is just me talking. I strongly agree with you that Cullen has got the answer to his own question wrong. If he only considers parent-to-child, he is also missing the powerful mechanisms that inhere from our being social animals.

You have aimed a shot right at the heart of the matter by questioning whether the host-parasite relation of mind-religion is benign. But I respectfully disagree that its a yes/no answer. First, as epidemiologists explain, the most widespread pathogens are among the least virulent to their hosts [who must live long enough to be vectors as well as hosts]. Second, consider the unifying and calming effects some relgions have on populations held in thrall to those religions...populations that, at least in bygone eras, had no science to turn to for answers to questions that seem to spontaneously haunt many minds. [To illustrate by contrast, consider what sort of works could be achieved by a society whose members were no more amenable to regimentation than your own truculently independent self!]. Third, well, the third comment at this post is my third point: The potential for a host-parasite relationship is logical to me and those are never completely benign.

January 06, 2006 3:04 AM  
Blogger GreenSmile said...

or, since I really do prefer to keep it brief:

Religions don't cause mental illness...they ARE a mental illness.

[takes cover, bolts door, slams the steel shutters closed.]

January 06, 2006 4:50 AM  
Blogger Ron said...

The 'transmission' of religion, particularly of the extremes forms, from parents to children should be treated as child abuse and punished accordingly.

"Religions don't cause mental illness...they ARE a mental illness."

No need to take cover, you only wrote the truth.

January 06, 2006 9:37 AM  
Blogger Gerry said...

GS, it is always a delight to be bantering with you. You generate such vivid images (hips and posteriors)... ;-)

It's not just Cullen, I see sophistry in almost everything. I don't know why that is...

To be fair to religions, I have to agree with you that religions also have positive influences. The same is true for the Mafia (another classic vertically transmitted virus)...

Then we have the non-violence movement, very much a horizontally transmitted virus - is it therfore malignant? Similarly, are email petitions malignant because they transmit horizontally? No, I think we can bury Cullen in his own excrement now...

Is religion a virus? Yes. But more to the point, what in human interaction, isn't potentially (if not actually) viral in nature?

For example:
Political parties/ideologies.
Peer group memes (in a word, society.)

What is NOT behaving like a virus?

January 06, 2006 10:04 AM  
Blogger Gerry said...

Ron, to achieve your dream, you'll first have to break the firm grip religion has on the legislature and the government. Then there's the religious freedom issue built into the very core of our constitutional thought. The engineers of the 'secular' state very carefully made sure there can never be a true separation between church and state. We were sold a lemon...

But I'll say it again, the answer is not in trying to change the religions but in converting their followers.

"Don't change beliefs. Transform the believer." Jack Rosenberg

January 06, 2006 10:18 AM  
Blogger GreenSmile said...

Mafia equated to the church: I had to laugh but then again, why wouldn't two great innovations in social control from the same culture bear some resemblance?

re: your list of other schemes/memes that can have host-parasite relation ship with mind, creating a community of the susceptible:

political parties : YES

Science : bad science yes, but much of science takes place outside the mind..we now have computer programs developing new mathematical proofs and creating novel electronic circuitry...things which can objectively be demonstrated to work or fail. I let science off the hook though it is a faith of sorts. I expect an argument on this...bit of a judgement call.

advertising as a discipline for manipulating minds? NO, it is part art and part science but does not bind any community together in some belief scheme but rather is a tool for propagating those schemes.

gossip: not really because it is too random and though it creates its own little shared realities it is too local and does not spread widely.

media: no, only the means, not the end.

Sexuality: no, its mostly hardwired.

peer group memes: of course and, depending on your definitions, most of the items I allow in the set of viral ideas are, generically, just that, peer group memes.

January 06, 2006 12:01 PM  
Blogger MuppetLord said...

Re: Religion as a virus. There is a good section in the book Snowcrash by Neal Stephenson about religion being a virus.

January 06, 2006 10:48 PM  
Blogger Gerry said...

GS, when I mentioned science, I meant that it too was a religion in every sense of the word and therefore it had to be a virus as well.

Advertising. I think it is viral in nature. Ditto the media. I think we see this virus thing diifferently, GS.

Sexuality. What I meant was that the conversation about the morality regarding one's sexual orientation tends to be viral in nature.

Am I too far ahead of my time or too far behind? I dunno...

Muppetlord, yes, but exactly what do we mean by "virus"?

January 06, 2006 11:24 PM  
Blogger MuppetLord said...

Virus - like a cold or flu virus. It makes you ill until you can fight it off. Perhaps some people are immune to it...others are not. Different variants have differing effects. You can see the links.

January 07, 2006 11:18 AM  
Blogger Gerry said...

ML, I think for the purposes of our discussion here, this meaning, from Wikipedia serves well: Virus is used ... as a metaphor for other parasitically-reproducing things, such as memes...

And this really takes us nicely to the next post in this blog... :-)

January 07, 2006 6:03 PM  

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