This is interesting at so many levels, but I thought you might find it pertinent to the ongoing discussion of whether or not we should assume that a person is good because they are very very religious, or check our wallets frequently and wear body armor when near them because they are very very religious.

Michael Brea is a bit actor who has had roles in TV shows you may have heard of (“Ugly Betty” being one of them). He was heard by a neighbor chanting religious phrases at his mother and demanding to know if she believed in god while he hacked at her with a ceremonial Freemason’s sword.

The police arrived and found Yannick Brea alive and bleeding, severely injured with multiple stab wounds to the head. She did not live.

When police first arrived they waited 45 minutes to attempt an entry to the apartment. Later, when asked why they took so long to attempt a rescue, they mumbled something about it being a “barricaded situation” and then whined for a while about how dangerous police work is.

One of the neighbors reported it this way:

“I heard a shriek and a woman yelling ‘help me’ … We called 911 and we kept hearing screams and then we didn’t hear them any more. Michael was chanting Biblical phrases and kept calling for Moses, Jerusalem and the ‘architect of the universe’. … I think he just snapped”


Details here.

Comments

  1. #1 feralboy12
    November 23, 2010

    No, he didn’t snap. He had a “revelation.”
    Oh wait…same thing.

  2. #2 Jennifer Ouellette
    November 23, 2010

    I’m generally not a big defender of religion, but c’mon — this guy’s bigger problem is mental illness, that just happens to center on a type of religious mania. He could just have easily picked aliens from outer space, or become convinced he was saving his mother from the clutches of The Matrix. It’s more a statement on mental illness and a health system that seems to have failed him, than it is a mark against religious belief.

  3. #3 Greg Laden
    November 23, 2010

    I’m generally not a big defender of religion, but c’mon — this guy’s bigger problem is mental illness

    Yes, that’s pretty obvious. And true. But shall we now have a look at some other very very religious people and see if we detect a pattern?

    I’m sure there are many ways to be very very religious, much having to do with tradition, cultural conditioning, etc. But there is this special subset of people who have strong delusions mixed with other mental illnesses that lead to results like this, or results like Jonestown, or a myriad of things in between.

    In a recent discussion on a different topic, I noticed people were making the mistake of assuming that more mental illness = less ability to function and thus serve in an interactive social role or a leadership role. Sometimes, sometimes not.

    The larger point here is this is this: Next time I hear someone tell me that X is a good person because they are religious, I’m going to think of this guy. Here, I”m having the thought in advance and inviting others to share it.

    We do in fact live in a society in which more religious = more trustworthy (or other good thing). But we also live in a society in which more delusional often = more religious. (Not that religious =, as in leads to, delusional, but delusional =, as in leads to, religious). (Technically these would be ‘culture bound psychiatric disorders.)

    This guy just also happened to be a Mason, and that probably pushed him over the edge.

    (Angry Masons in three … two … one …)

  4. #4 Warren
    November 23, 2010

    “I think he just snapped”

    One imagines so, yes.

    Greg, another thing that might be true about religions and mania is that some religions tend to encourage mania, or delusions, in their members – lauding “visions” or “holy ecstasies” such as speaking in tongues, etc. – so the people who are truly deranged might be able to move through those populations unobserved, with no one even realizing just how much help they actually need.

    What makes this case even sadder is how long it took the (presumably) heavily-armed police to make an entry.

  5. #5 Spanish Inquisitor
    November 23, 2010

    This guy just also happened to be a Mason, and that probably pushed him over the edge.

    (Angry Masons in three … two … one …)

    Hey! I love Mason jars. Why you pickin’ on them?

  6. #6 HP
    November 23, 2010

    I sometimes think that the biggest problem with religiosity is that it doesn’t correlate with anything.

    There is ZERO predictive power in the observation that someone is religious.

    It reminds me of those 19th. c. debates about the antlers on the Irish Elk or the teeth on Smilodon. Religiosity is like some kind of fitness indicator run amuck; a way to demonstrate surplus of resources that becomes an end unto itself, until someone finds your corpse stuck in a tree where you became lodged because of your ridiculous tertiary characteristics.

  7. #7 MadScientist
    November 23, 2010

    @Jennifer: The problem is that religion promotes belief in such nonsense. Someone who may appear to normal people as just plain nuts probably seems normal in a religious setting. Voices in your head? Hey, doesn’t that happen in the bible? It really could be god. You’re evil, other people are evil, and they all deserve to be punished. When someone goes up to other folks in church and says “I got a message from god”, how many people do you think say “you need to see a shrink”? David Koresh, Marshall Applewhite, Ellen White, Joseph Smith, L.Ron Hubbard, Kellogg – the list just goes on and on. These people attract acolytes rather than being sent off for psychiatric evaluation. Religion has got a lot to do with it because it blurs the distinction between sensibility and plain old cuckoo by training people to see what’s whacko as sensible or normal.

  8. #8 MadScientist
    November 23, 2010

    Oh yeah, I can’t even list the numerous recent religious nuts with a huge gathering like Oral Roberts, Pat Robertson, Benny Hinn, and so on.

    Unfortunately some of the nasty stereotypes are ingrained in law – for example, a priest’s testimony is more trustworthy than someone who’s not a priest, lawyer, doctor, or cop. And of course the testimony of someone attested to be a “very religious person” is frequently given too much credit as well.

  9. #9 LarianLeQuella
    November 23, 2010

    this guy’s bigger problem is mental illness

    Religion IS mental illness…

  10. #10 WMDKitty
    November 24, 2010

    @Larian (#9)

    Now that’s just offensive to the mentally ill.

  11. #11 Kapitano
    November 24, 2010

    If religion is mental illness, then any counter-empirical or nonsensical belief is mental illness. Which means everyone is mentally ill, so it stops being a useful category.

    If a person has an imaginary friend in the sky they can talk to in times of stress, then it’s a bit silly but it hardly merits a rubber room. If someone else has no religious faith but thinks humans are evolving towards perfection, then they need a course in basic evolution, but their belief isn’t going to make them attack the first person with an axe.

    The dangerous thing about religious lunatics is that they’re lunatics. The religion is just the language their lunacy gets expressed in.

  12. #12 Phillip IV
    November 24, 2010

    Kapitano @ # 11:

    If a person has an imaginary friend in the sky they can talk to in times of stress, then it’s a bit silly but it hardly merits a rubber room. If someone else has no religious faith but thinks humans are evolving towards perfection, then they need a course in basic evolution, but their belief isn’t going to make them attack the first person with an axe.

    True, but when both of these people start hearing voices, which one of them is more likely to seek psychiatric help, and which one is more likely to blindly follow the voices’ suggestions?

  13. #13 Kapitano
    November 24, 2010

    @Philip IV #12: You’re saying religious irrational belief is more self-protecting and more prone to ‘creep’ than secular irrational belief – but why should it be?

    If someone thinks The X-Files is a documentary and they start hearing voices, whether or not they seek out psychiatric help depends on their attitude to doctors, and whether they like the idea of grey aliens sending them messages.

    If someone thinks The Ten Commandments is a documentary, their action depends on the same factors. Do they automatically assume their imaginary friend in the sky has suddenly developed a voice? That probably depends on whether they want their imaginary friend having opinions of their own – which is not what gods are for.

    Just as losing religious faith doesn’t guarantee rationality, having it doesn’t guarantee being irrational in all areas. Hypocrisy, you might say, is a two way street.

  14. #14 Ender
    November 24, 2010

    Neither. How much experience do you have in dealing with mental illness?

  15. #15 Matt G
    November 24, 2010

    Maybe religion IS a form of mental illness, or maybe he was using religion to self-medicate FOR his mental illness. Religion is certainly something – like drugs or gambling – to which one can become addicted.

  16. #16 Greg Laden
    November 24, 2010

    Kapitano,

    There is a difference. Every person involved in making X-files, from producers to actors, knows it is fiction, and it is presented and accepted as fiction. A majority of those involved in making the 10 Commandments believes that the Red Sea was parted and that got really talked to Moses, and it is presented as a dramatization of those events.

    This is why noting that the very very religious must be held in suspicion in a different way than the very very strong believer in a chip planted in their head. Nobody’s going to get an audience with the President of the United States becasue they very very believe that there is a chip in their head. But you can get an audience with hgighly placed elected officials, even to the extent that you get to address the planet from a podium on inauguration day (for instance) if you very very hear voices in your head that you claim are god. As long as it is the correct god.

  17. #17 Phillip IV
    November 24, 2010

    Kapitano @ #13:

    @Philip IV #12: You’re saying religious irrational belief is more self-protecting and more prone to ‘creep’ than secular irrational belief – but why should it be?

    No, no – not at all, of course. But in your first example you weren’t really comparing two identically irrational beliefs – you were comparing one irrational one and one that was merely ill-informed. Drawing a wrong conclusion based on limited knowledge of facts isn’t irrational – arriving at ‘absolute truth’ based on no facts at all (i.e. religion) is.

  18. #18 Stephanie Z
    November 24, 2010

    Kapitano, you might want to look up “hypocrisy” before throwing it around. It doesn’t mean contradiction or inconsistency.

    More generally to the discussion: If you look at the literature on mental illness and religion, instead of just saying what you think ought to be true, you’ll find that religion is generally correlated with better mental health and better outcomes in cases of mental illness. It’s hypothesized that this is due to the inclusiveness of community (although some is also likely due to the expulsion of some members of the community with worse mental illnesses). This makes sense, since our society stigmatizes mental illness in general and since social support improves outcomes in most illnesses.

    However, that availability of support is likely not a mixed blessing. Delusions aren’t generally dangerous, but the same social structure that supports a non-dangerous person with delusions enough that they can function with only the limited medical support we offer those with mental illness may also support someone with dangerous delusions enough that they don’t come into contact with mental health professionals who can recognize the danger their delusions impose. It can keep them from getting competent help. That’s important for those illnesses that aren’t self-limiting.

    And of course, there is always the possibility that the dangerous delusions will find some religious validation, simply because delusions don’t occur in a cultural vaccuum. In a religious society, some delusions take on religious shapes, and they may find approval among the religious.

    However, as for the idea that religion is a mental illness, well, no. Some of that idea comes out of the fact that those with fundamentalist religious beliefs score fairly high on the schizophrenia scales on tests like the MMPI. That’s amusing, yes, but it doesn’t make fundamentalist religion a mental illness any more than being disabled makes one a hypochondriac because both groups score high on the MMPI’s hypochondria scale.

  19. #19 Eric Lund
    November 24, 2010

    There is ZERO predictive power in the observation that someone is religious.

    I think you’re an optimist, HP.

    I generally don’t pay any special attention to the degree to which an ordinary person who doesn’t call attention to himself is religious. But I do increase my vigilance around somebody who loudly proclaims himself to be religious, because IME a disproportionate fraction of this population are scammers or potentially violent sociopaths. Not all scammers/sociopaths are religious and not all religious people are scammers/sociopaths, but the correlation coefficient is nonzero. Other people have remarked that the person who makes a point of insisting on his honesty is not to be trusted.

  20. #20 Greg Laden
    November 24, 2010

    Stephanie, I have a hard time thinking of delusional conditions as generally self limiting and harmless. Low level, yes, but not harmLESS.

    An analogy might be this; Someone who always trusts their left side view mirror and never glances over the shoulder before switching lanes. On can do that, one can adjust to that, one can adapt by getting a bigger mirror, and now and then, one is going to turn into a van full of innocent children and kill them all. Or whatever.

  21. #21 anandine
    November 24, 2010

    Religiosity may well be biologically based, and, from my point of view, it is wrong in its statement of facts, but I think it is wrong to call it a mental illness. It is one of the common ways people are wired, so one presumes there is some benefit to the species for some people to have it.

    Think of religiosity as being like homosexuality. It’s biological in the brain, probably with a big genetic component, and it’s not obviously adaptive, although we keep breeding people like them, so there must be some adaptive value.

    My atheism is probably genetic, too, so while I do believe religious people are wrong, it’s hard for me to think I’m better them, just righter. It’s as though I was born tall, and I shouldn’t hold it against others that they were born short. I just got lucky to be able to see a closer approximation of the truth, and yes I do see the problems with that last statement.

  22. #22 Stephanie Z
    November 24, 2010

    Greg, when I say “dangerous” above, I’m generally talking serious threat to others as a direct result of the illness. There are plenty of other costs of mental illness, but that’s not really what we’re talking about when the subject is taking a sword to someone, is it?

  23. #23 Stoph
    November 24, 2010

    In the end, crazy is crazy… It’s brain chemistry and life experiences that ultimately determine whether you’ll suffer from psychoses. But in my experience, those who give a shit about empirical evidence seem to fare far better than those who believe in something no one has ever seen.

    For example, the three atheists I’ve known that deal with issues on the schizo- side of the psychiatric spectrum all arrived at their atheism due in large part to reason and empirical evidence. It’s like…they believe the government is conspiring to kill all black people with a biological agent, or they believe there is abject evil watching every move they make…but they KNOW that neither of those things are true. It’s a big struggle between what they know and what they believe.

    I think the problem you run into with the super-religious is that they hold belief above knowledge. Faith is the most important thing of all, not reason because faith is in direct opposition to reason. And when you can let yourself believe in a plethora of things that make no sense and hold no evidence in support of them in the context of “sane” religious belief, the lengths you’ll go to when you’re not sane are even more absurd. And the thing is…so many of these phenomena they’re experiencing are also recorded in the bible, koran, whatever else. Religion does nothing to hold them to reality; it only confirms and encourages their delusions.

    And to make the situation even worse, it’s a hell of a lot more acceptable to tell an irreligious person that they’re crazy than a religious one, dare you be accused of “religious intolerance” or “anti-religious sentiment”. You wouldn’t want to offend someone’s religious sensibilities, so you figure “no one’s being hurt” and let them continue unfettered in their lunacy. Religion absolutely contributes to psychoses. Obviously, it’s not the only criteria for being batshit crazy, and there are many events and details that will ultimately influence the identification and treatment of those who need help, but religion really, really, really isn’t helping anything at all.

    Whether this woman would still be alive if her son didn’t latch on to religion is anyone’s guess. He may have just found another obsession that would lead him to kill her in the absence of religion. What we really need to do is to get better mental health screening and CARE. Health insurance seems to deem the brain as a separate entity from the body unless it involves a stroke or cancer. You can go to as many doctor visits a year as you want, but somehow the same doesn’t apply to psychiatric care.
    (Speaking of ignoring empirical data…hmm….)

  24. #24 Stephanie Z
    November 24, 2010

    Stoph, at least in the U.S., there are now mental health parity laws. They’re very new and only starting to go into effect, though, so it’s not too suprising if you don’t know about them.

    One other thing worth noting about the cultural context of religion shaping delusions is that if we really had religions of peace and light, we might actually have fewer dangerous delusions. Or we might not, but I do have to say that there’s not a bright line between hacking away to get the demons out and starving the baby to drive the demons away, which has happened entirely in the absence of mental illness.

  25. #25 Greg Laden
    November 24, 2010

    Stephanie it is. Remember the dead children, the ones in the van. There is no priori way to determine the effect of an unfounded belief.

    Of course, slamming a sword into mother’s head is not delusional behavior, and the conversation was going more broadly than violet psychosis.

  26. #26 Stephanie Z
    November 24, 2010

    Greg, I come quite close to getting hit by cars about an average of three times a week–by people who are not delusional. Waving hypothetical dead children in front of me isn’t going to make a lot of difference in how I assess the mentally ill versus the general population.

    I’m choosing my words pretty carefully here (although there is an extraneous “not” in my first comment). You can read them as carefully and deal with what I’m actually saying about mental illness in general versus what I’m saying about delusions, or I can just stop contributing to the conversation.

  27. #27 sasqwatch
    November 24, 2010

    You betcher ass I look out for the very, very religious ones.

    A good friend of my [very religious] brother was one of those very, very religious people. He left a very lasting impression of an overly gregarious, overly friendly, nicey-nice kind of guy. The kind of guy that would never hurt a fly.

    He had a problem though… the “good Lord” would always come up sometime in the minute after he opened his mouth. It might be a conversation about the color of a type of Kleenex or the day the garbage needs to be set out… and it would eventually (like within a minute) get around to how glad he was to have found his faith in the Lord… Lord this, Lord that.

    Some relatively minor personal crisis later (for somebody who wasn’t all fucked up on the Lord, that is) and he stabbed our parish priest in the neck (he survived). I don’t give a shit who thinks this is a case of “confirmation bias”, it’s really easy for me to tell who has some serious mental health issues. If they are glassy-eyed, smiling and going Lordy-lordy-lordy-lord all the fucking time, get the hell away. They need professional mental health counseling and perhaps some serious meds, not a priest.

    I think being very, VERY religious is many times a manifestation of mental illness (esp. when it’s not simply the group norm) – and one that is covered for by the merely religious and/or accomodationist among us. It should be viewed as a risk marker, not a positive trait.

  28. Stephanie, correct me if I’m wrong but don’t send me on a meaning scavenger hunt. I took one of your comments to say that a person who is (medically) delusional (a person who has regular delusions about things … who believes stuff that is simply not true becasue their brains do that, not a person who diacritically holds received knowledge as accurate or who has misinterpret something or who is simply wrong about something) is harmless except in some instances. Perhaps that is not what you meant.

    My argument is no, a brain capable of thinking that something not there is there, unsaid is said, not done was done, is quite capable of doing damage to others becasue of that delusional error without being a psycho killer. (When I say damage I do not mean specific physical damage … I’m being very general here.)

  29. #29 Stephanie Z
    November 24, 2010

    Greg, everybody is dangerous. We’re self-centered, unimaginative, and distracted. Referring to most psychotic delusions as dangerous to others is misleading when held up against that background noise. That’s the context I’m using when I talk about delusions that are specifically dangerous to others versus those that aren’t. It doesn’t mean that those delusions can’t lead to danger, just that the level of danger isn’t changed particularly by the mental illness, even in the form of delusion.

    Yes, the ways in which a hoarder thinks about their stuff can lead to less healthy conditions for others. No, that doesn’t mean their delusion makes them more dangerous than someone who doesn’t clean for other reasons.

    I’m also referring to the fact that even among those delusions we recognize as particularly dangerous, most of them rise above the background level of danger only with respect to the delusion holder. Suicides come overwhelmingly from the mentally ill, mostly from major depression. Despair is often a delusion. It does not necessarily endanger others.

    None of which means I think delusions can’t be dangerous or shouldn’t be taken seriously and treated, but I don’t think either of those follow from what I said in my first comment either.

  30. #30 Greg Laden
    November 24, 2010

    Stephanie, I don’t think we’re that much in disagreement. I do think that suicide is dangerous (people get killed doing it all the time). Also, danger from delusions being at background level does not make it not exist.

    But more to the point of the post, I’d problemetize the concept of “background” here. The background is a culture that identifies delusional behavior across a wide range and a wide scope of intensity as minimally normal and often desirable or laudable. The acceptable or even desirable background is defined as much to build on or even encourage delusional behavior as it is to encourage or develop rational behavior and critical thinking.

    It has been mentioned a few places above that the religious milieu is a place where delusion can exist ‘unnoticed’ (by those who assume that seeing ghosts, hearing certain kinds of voices, having certain untenable beliefs, etc. is normal). It is also where delusional behavior can be seen as indicative of a person’s quality in a positive way along some scale of ‘spiritual’ or holiness.

    It is the background plus the delusion, and the very fact that the delusion sinks into the background, that makes it so dangerous (and gain, I don’t necessarily mean physical injury dangerous).

    I once knew a person who screamed at me (and others) because I (or they) did not believe in a higher power. Same person screamed at me because I knew exactly where certain important fossils were buried under ground before we dug them up (that was a clue I picked up on too late). Same person screamed at me an accusation that I was stealing someone’s data, and made similar accusations of others. Same person screamed at a bunch of people because they were going to avoid hiring a specific person for a certain job. And so on.

    There isn’t. I couldn’t have. There was no data to steal and I wouldn’t have stolen it. We had no intention of not hiring said person. And so on.

    Nonetheless some of these accusations turned into hundreds of hours of paid time by HR experts carrying out investigations. When the investigators started to witness delusions forming before their very eyes they wanted to stop, but the procedures in place did not allow them to. No ceremonial swords were wielded, no one was physically harmed, but lives were damaged and thousands of dollars spent. Tens of thousands, actually. Years of work done by a dozen well meaning people was tossed away because it was tainted by this process. Damage, lots of damage, by a person who more or less fits in to society as an especially spiritual individual, respected by many for such, a harmless individual who happens to hold about a 50-50 mix of beliefs based on reality and beliefs based on less than reality.

    Our medical system has insufficient mechanisms to deal with mental illness in general, and our society has little idea how to manage mental illness on an interpersonal, group, or institutional level.

  31. #31 Michael
    November 24, 2010

    When seconds count, the police are minutes away.

  32. #32 Stephanie Z
    November 24, 2010

    Greg, what do you think I’m saying that you’re arguing against and where do you see it? I have no idea.

  33. #33 Greg Laden
    November 24, 2010

    You said “Delusions aren’t generally dangerous”

    I said that I did not agree, and that at least delusions are like driving with the mirror only.

    Am I delusional to think that there is a distinct difference?

  34. #34 Stephanie Z
    November 24, 2010

    Given that “dangerous” is a relative term in its general usage, no, I don’t think you’re delusional. I do think you’re wrong, and I’ve said why. Given that I never said delusions were “harmless,” I’m tired of being argued against as though I said they were. Given that I clarified that I meant danger to others in my first follow-up comment (because there are people in this comment thread acting as though mental illness is a big threat to them), I don’t see why I should be treated as though I’m saying suicide isn’t a danger.

  35. #35 Warren
    November 24, 2010

    anandine @21, you brought up some interesting things which I’m not sure are entirely accurate. Not wrong, mind you, just possibly a little – absolute, at least as I see it. Maybe I’m the one who’s off here, though. Haven’t done a whole lot of reading on genetics lately, so it’s possible there have been some recent developments I’ve missed.

    You wrote:

    Think of religiosity as being like homosexuality. It’s biological in the brain, probably with a big genetic component, and it’s not obviously adaptive, although we keep breeding people like them, so there must be some adaptive value.

    There is, as I understand it, at least some biological component to homosexuality, but I don’t think it’s necessarily limited to the brain, and I’m not sure that it’s entirely biological in basis.

    There are plenty of examples I can think of regarding sexual behavior that don’t involve any sort of reproductive possibility, yet people still do them; and when asked why, the response basically always comes down to because I like doing it.

    Same-gender intimacy can do a lot for individuals and, by extension, their society. Lovemaking can improve the tone and depth of friendship; it can serve to bond two or more people together; it can relieve tension. Thus same-gender intimacy, while it’s nonreproductive sex, doesn’t fit my idea of “non-adaptive”.

    Looking at some of our closest primate cousins, we see same-gender play among bonobos being used to display affection – at least apparently – thus reinforcing group cohesion. There’s reason to suspect that similar behaviors observed in bottlenose porpoises produce similar results.

    Additionally, human sexual behavior is complex enough that I don’t think it can be reduced to something so mechanically limited as protein codings. We have a tendency toward sexuality, of course; how that tendency is expressed might well be a function of our own social norms.

    That said, I also know that kids brought up by gay couples are statistically no more likely to be gay than those raised by straight couples, so it’s obvious that there is also a biological component here, or so it seems to me.

    I like to think of it as akin to language. We appear to be neurally hardwired to produce language, but the language we use relies almost exclusively on what our social influences are. We can (normally) learn other languages and may even become fluent in them, but we’re likely to always be most comfortable with our mother tongue.

    I think sexuality is similar. While it’s conceivable for a gay man to engage in intimate relationships with women, possibly even to enjoy them, that doesn’t mean he’s where he actually wants to be – just as it’s possible for a straight man to engage in same-gender behavior while still having a definite preference for heterosexual contact.

    In my own case I’m what most call “bisexual”, though I don’t care for the term since it comes with too much baggage (can’t make up your mind, untrustworthy in relationships, will hump anything that moves, etc). It took me a while to realize that I was, because my same-gender attractions – being the socially aberrant ones – dominated my attention for quite some time. I find that I can enjoy intimacy with both genders. I sometimes wonder if this isn’t more of a baseline state for our species than we realize.

    My atheism is probably genetic, too, so while I do believe religious people are wrong, it’s hard for me to think I’m better them, just righter.

    :D

    My atheism is not genetic; it was acquired. I was born to religious (and heterosexual!) parents and moved toward atheism after a very long process of pulling away from Western religion, dabbling in the Eastern kind for a while, coming to the awareness that the gloss of most faiths is fundamentally the same, and eventually becoming comfortable with the notion that I was not merely agnostic any more.

    One can argue, I suppose, that I was fortunate to have the kind of mind that prefers analysis and rational conclusion – but when you’re inside the religious envelope, the things you believe are every bit as rational, because of the insider’s perspective. I can see that now, because I got out of that envelope, but there’s no good reason for me to believe that I was somehow born to be an atheist, any more than I was born to be an English speaker.

    I’m not disagreeing with your points; I’m just questioning some of the things you seem to take as premises.

  36. #36 Greg Laden
    November 24, 2010

    More basic question: Why do humans have this capacity to be delusional? And, how acquired is that? Could we have a society in which delusional thinking is very very rare, as opposed to the one we have now, where it is very common, if not always dangerous?

  37. #37 Warren
    November 24, 2010

    Greg:

    Why do humans have this capacity to be delusional? And, how acquired is that?

    I wonder if some of this isn’t due to our innate pattern-recognition and the (plausibly) evolutionary need to form quick judgments. In times past, that was surely a survival trait – if Ug the Caveman is unable to recognize that the creature with the pointy bits and the spotted hide is the same kind of creature that ate Oog the Caveman last week, Ug surely won’t be having many progeny.

    Similarly, I suppose that if Bob the Evangelical* has become convinced that he needs The Blood of Jesus to Be Saved, especially if it’s accompanied by something that feels like a transcendent experience, he’s going to remain fixated on that notion for a very long time.

    I have a nasty hunch that ratiocination is not the evolved trait here; rather, I fear it’s the acquired one. Thinking logically, being rigorously self-questioning, and – most importantly – being willing to be wrong are not behaviors that come naturally. They take work, and they take practice, and the results of these traits are a lifelong quest for more knowledge rather than a static certainty of one’s worldview.

    That’s simply not comfortable; it takes getting used to. It’s more work than many people seem to want to put in, and especially since we (the US) have created a culture that mocks intellectual pursuit and lauds polar thinking, any child who possesses a tendency toward curiosity and introspection learns pretty damn fast that he or she had better keep it to him- or herself.

    Add to this the (again plausibly) inherent xenophobia we appear to possess and the appeal of being a member of a group of like-minded individuals, and you’ve got a mix that strongly prefers an authoritarian model, steeped in received knowledge, possessed of a certainty of its own rectitude and the equal certainty that everyone else is just plain wrong. Many religions seem to pander to these traits, and that’s surely a significant part of the problem. You don’t have to use religion to stir these feelings, but it sure seems to help.

    It’s very easy to feel normal in one’s delusions, if one is a member of a delusional group. There’s no objective perspective, so there’s just no way to recognize how delusional it actually is.

    ==

    *Yes, I am drawing a comparison of cavemen with evangelicals.

  38. #38 Cusanus
    November 25, 2010

    There are millions of us who have met Jesus, and it is NOT a religion. This realm is a battleground, a spiritual war that will end with your soul in Heaven or Hell, and only God knows most of the answers. A stable, successful young man who adored his mother, attend a few Masonic initiation rites, swipes a sword, comes down with a stomping headache. Demon possession, Einstein, Michael is not the one who did it, but he shouldn’t have been tinkering with the Masons, the most devoted members are the demons you don’t see. “Fear not him who can kill the body, but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in Hell.”

  39. #39 NJ
    November 25, 2010

    …aaaand if the word salad in #38 wasn’t enough to convince anyone, the link leads to a personal Website for a relativity crank.

    Oddly appropriate for a discussion on mental illness and delusions.

  40. #40 Carlisle
    November 25, 2010

    Whoa…

  41. #41 Monado
    November 26, 2010

    Um, I see. Just as it doesn’t take religion to make people do evil, it doesn’t take religion to make people crazy; but if they are crazy, religion gives them one more way to rationalize it instead of fighting it with common sense. There’s an author who goes by the Twitter tag of Wrongologist (pause for search), one Kathryn Schulz, web site http://www.beingwrongbook.com/, and she does research into why we persist in our errors. There’s a whole lot of rationalization going on.

  42. #42 VCDaedalus
    November 27, 2010

    Had he recently begun taking those wonderful-of-wonderful new antidepressant drugs? Maybe some Zyban to quit smoking, or some Paxil to sleep on, or some Zoloft to brighten his outlook just a tad?

  43. #43 Warren
    November 30, 2010

    Kudos to Cusanus for proving my point for me.

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