The Course of Reason

Stop Calling Religion a Mental Illness

October 11, 2011

“Religion is a mental illness.”

You’ve probably heard this phrase, or variation of, used by a fellow non-believer.  You could be like myself, someone who has, unfortunately, used a similar expression.  I’ve come to realize how wrong and immature this is.


It presents an overly-simplified view of why people believe.  To call it a mental illness is a vast and insulting oversimplification.  I recommend reading God’s Brain for a good explanation of why people believe.  Suffice to say, referring to belief as a mental deficiency is just another way in which some atheists attempt to feel superior to others.  Something I have touched on before.

Referring to something as a “mental illness” is usually a way to divert attention from the real reasons someone acts in a certain manner. When news of a terrorist attack was emerging from Norwary the first reaction was, this must be the work of Muslims.  When it became apparent that our biases were getting the better of us, we learned that the killer was a Christian.  Rather than having a discussion about the dangers of Christian extremism, many were attempting to claim that the man must have had a mental illness. Why would they do such a thing?  They did not want to mention that a combination of religious faith (the one popular among Americans and Europeans) and social conditions in Europe led to this horrific act.

Calling something a mental illness is a scapegoat.  It’s also insulting as hell.

Mental illnesses do not require further ostracization.  Consider how easy it is to speak of a physical illness.  You know you will get instant sympathy, much to your benefit.  However, when talking about a mental illness, you can never be sure as to how the other person will react. People don’t always know how to deal with it, even when their intent is well-meaning.  It’s a great challenge and we shouldn’t be left to feel as if we are deserving of insult for having a mental illness.

So let’s wise up.  Religion is not a mental illness.  To say so is to discount other explanations for faith and put down those who have mental illnesses.

This post originally appeared on the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo blog.

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About the Author: Chris Burke

Chris Burke's photo
Chris Burke holds a Bachelors in Environmental Studies: Honours Environment and Business from the University of Waterloo. Next he will be working towards a Masters of Environmental Studies in Sustainability Management. He's an active member of the Atheists, Agnostics, and Freethinkers of Waterloo student group. In his spare time he enjoys reading and playing music.


#1 Jocta Anoracle (Guest) on Friday October 28, 2011 at 7:30pm

When the 'critical thinking' part of the brain is corrupted by indoctrination that forces a child or fool to believe a "Ghostly-Apparition" "created" the World and everything in it about 6,000 years ago; and, adulthood does not awaken them from the inferiority complex a/o trauma that caused their distorted 'fairy-tale' view of the world; they remain a serious threat to themselves and rational people, because of their "faith's" demands!
Our U. S. Supreme Court is corrupted by the majority who will never vote against anything that is opposed to or critical of their 'Religious; beliefs!
And I call this "insanity"!

#2 doncopler on Saturday November 05, 2011 at 12:27am

Describing religion as a mental illness probably is counter-productive. Dawkins' description of religion as a virus of the mind is better.




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