n 1: (psychology) an erroneous belief that is held in the face of evidence to the contrary [syn: psychotic belief] 2: a mistaken or unfounded opinion or idea; “he has delusions of competence”; “his dreams of vast wealth are a hallucination” [syn: hallucination] 3: the act of deluding; deception by creating illusory ideas [syn: illusion, head game]
|Source: WordNet ® 2.0, © 2003 Princeton University|
This pretty much lines up with how psychiatrist Karl Jaspers, MD, defined “delusion” in his seminal book General Psychopathology. Dr. Jaspers gave three main criteria for a belief to be considered delusional:
- Absolute certainty (A belief is held with absolute conviction)
- Incorrigibility (A belief is not changeable by compelling counterargument or proof to the contrary)
- Impossibility or falsity of content (A belief is implausible, bizarre or patently untrue)
Undoubtedly many of you reading this hold fast to specific religious or other beliefs that meet all 3 criteria. To your way of thinking this is a demonstration of faith, a strength that pleases the Almighty. Nothing will sway you from what you hold to be sacred truth. Maybe you fear dire consequences in this life or the next should you deviate from the faith tradition you were inculcated in as a child or embraced later on. You may not even be able to consider the remotest possibility that what you believe about (say) biblical accounts of miracles or specific stories or accounts could be misinformed, misguided, or just plain wrong. As one neo-Pentecostal minister put it, “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it”. This appears to be a timeless species of faith down through the millennia of human history.
Many fundamentalist believers and scholars from the major faith traditions engage in the most incredible feats of mental gymnastics to preserve sacred beliefs. Many Christians, for example, believe that their scriptures are inerrant, while abundant evidence exists that their Bible is chocked full of contradictions and is anything but free of error. For example, the book of Genesis alone contains two separate accounts of the creation saga that contradict one another profoundly http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/accounts.html. The same is basically true of the story of Noah and the flood http://www.sullivan-county.com/identity/2cs.htm. But rather than modify their belief system to accommodate logic and fact, they force a fit between religious dogma and contrary evidence (Or just deny the evidence altogether or define or otherwise alter it such that it accord with belief). This imposition of religious dogma or belief on the process and findings of history and science has given the world an incredible array of pseudo-historical and pseudoscientific books, documents, papers and such that, well, help reinforce the delusions of multitudes of “true believers”.
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html –Contradictions in the Scriptures
http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/contra/by_name.html – Contradictions in the Bible
http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible4.htm – Absurdities and troubling entries in the Bible
Mind you, I am not an atheist or an “enemy” of religious beliefs or faith. My family tree is one brimming over with fervent Protestant fundamentalists, southern Baptist deacons, creationists and even charismatic and neo-Pentecostals. My late maternal grandmother, Faye C. Whittle, a rather extraordinary woman who helped aid and encourage my studies in science and medicine, was about as devout a Bible-toting woman as you could hope to meet and fully fundamentalist in her thinking. I did not often challenge her beliefs…..and was especially less inclined to do so as she reached into her eighties and nineties – for reasons I will weave into this essay shortly.
My own quest for “religious truth,” which is to say a faith that is concordant with logic, biblical scholarship, historic fact, and the findings of science led me to Roman Catholicism and a spirit-filled messianic expression of the faith https://summerclouds.weebly.com/.
Some of you gentle readers are probably having an “ah hah” moment as you read all this. Some will surely be thinking, “Well, if I embrace delusional beliefs, so does he. So does everyone”.
No doubt most of us – even those who are ultra-diligent in their efforts to bring every aspect of their lives into accord with logic, fact and sound reasoning – harbor some belief, conviction or idea that is at the very least unfounded or suspect, but which we resist discarding unless and until contrary fact compels us to. Such a belief or idea may not constitute a full-blown delusion or delusional belief, but it in some respects belongs to the “fraternity”. Psychologists have shown that we all possess cognitive filters that bias what we perceive and believe; mechanisms (if you will) that tend to find patterns in things (often where none exists), discard ideas or facts that contradict cherished beliefs or views, and inflate our own self-perception of being objective. This tendency to be self-deluded and to deceive others has survival value. Deception is part and parcel of nature itself, something documented by field ethnologists and primatologists studying the behavior of chimpanzees and monkeys.
While not immune to delusional beliefs, in my own case precious few (if any) of my core religious beliefs meet Dr. Jasper’s 3 criteria. How so? In a word, I am willing to modify or reinterpret them to gel with logic and compelling scientific and historic fact. My belief in the Almighty, for example, is resolutely entrenched (A delusion according to many skeptic friends) – but my views on His nature, interaction with humankind, activities and such is amenable to modification in light of reason, logic and fact. Actually, this willingness to modify or discard one’s beliefs about anything that is redefined or overturned by new evidence lies at the heart of the scientific method. Without this plank, there would be little scientific progress. And while this process can and does generate evidence and reasoning that wrecks havoc with many beliefs long held to be sacred, this is not something to be feared or resisted. If religion and religious beliefs are to genuinely enable us to zero in on truth, it must necessarily be informed by the scientific method, critical thinking and hard logic. If not this, there is only a retreat into blind faith – this being often a wellspring of irrationality and, in the case of fundamentalism, a path to unhealthy extremes and even monstrous intolerance and bloodshed.
Of course, the mere idea that one has birthed, embraced, nurtured or perpetuated delusional beliefs is, for most of us, something we tend to resist or deny. After all, to be delusional or harbor such thoughts is invites the stigma of being weak or intellectually failed or possibly given to a form of pathology (Disease). And I would readily agree that more extreme expressions do indeed reflect a pathological form of aberration or deviance. Especially forms that are divisive, that create or sustain barriers that marginalize others or foster bias, racism or ethnocentrism, or otherwise diminish our individual or collective human potential for caring for others, extending kindness and aid to strangers, and encouraging a peaceful coexistence that denies justice, opportunity and fairness to no person.
But what of delusional beliefs that do not give rise to or involve these negatives? Many would argue that a delusional belief is always antithetical to fullest personal development or best appreciation of reality, and this is a reasonable contention. However, I tend to view “benign” delusional beliefs as an effective coping mechanism; a way of ably dealing with the pain, vicissitudes and ugly moments in life, as well as being a mental tool for handling the contradictions and seemingly irreconcilable aspects of life. In this sense, I see delusional beliefs as not only a tendency, but a normative coping mechanism.
And in this vein, truly benign delusions can play a useful role when it comes to the genesis or maintenance of our individual and shared (societal) weltanschauung or worldview; the mental constructs of reality we fashion and refine all the days of our lives. They also can have beneficial physiological effects. People who, for example, believe that ultra-diluted homeopathic medicines effect or foster healing despite overwhelming scientific evidence that they do not produce statistically significant results in well designed and executed clinical trials, nonetheless can and sometimes do perceive good things “going on” that in and of itself is encouraging; that may spawn some corresponding benefits such as one would expect when a person stops being anxious and fearful, and adopts a positive frame of mind. There are studies that link this species of faith or belief with reductions in resting blood pressure.
Delusions can also give life purpose or special meaning in some instances or settings. Consider those who vest tremendous money, time and energy in pursuit of beliefs, events or practices that are contradicted by a confluence of historic and/or scientific fact, logic and well honed scholarship. Some actually border on the irrational, while some truly are. However, when such beliefs, pursuits or devotions cause no harm to self or others, do not generate intolerance or violence or other negative behaviors, do not wind up sanctioned by the state, and basically function to endow the lives of believers with a sense of purpose or meaning, then they have arguable utilitarian merit.
Of course some species of delusional thinking can obviously set the stage for doing great harm to others. One need look no further then Nazi Germany to see this. In this tragic example from history’s darkest page, delusional beliefs and the pseudo-history and pseudo-science they sprang from and reinforced became ideology, then law, and finally a national religion of sorts. The Nazis elevated malignant delusions to sacred status and then took them to their logical conclusion: Repression, brutality, murder and finally genocide.
Given this, it logically follows that people need to be vigilant in terms of identifying, openly exposing, countering and even legally penalizing all forms of delusional thinking that clearly leads to the deprivation, denial or erosion of basic human rights to any group, creed, religion or what-have-you. Humankind can ill afford a Fourth Reich.
But what of countering benign delusional beliefs that offer solace and comfort? This brings me full circle to my maternal grandmother: She believed that her New Testament was inerrant and, as such, was a reliable and sure guide to all that’s needed to assure a place in God’s realm (following death). Yes, there were many occasions – many kitchen table chats on religion (especially during her more vigorous 60s and 70s) — in which I placed before her facts and reason that clearly demonstrated the errancy of scriptures. This she resisted solely on the basis of her faith, not reason or logic or fact. And while this belief influenced her life and actions to a degree, she did not seek to have this view become the law of the land or promulgated in public schools as fact or paraded as science in the classroom. At first I diplomatically and gingerly challenged her stance, but ceased doing so as she grew older and frailty began to take its toll on her physical and mental faculties. Who would be so callous as to deprive her of a delusion (inerrancy) which was a vital component of her worldview (Especially given its benign, tempered expression, as well as its utility in terms of dealing with her own mortality)? Not me.
“No man is happy without a delusion of some kind. Delusions are as necessary to our happiness as realities.”
-Christian Nestell Bovee
The cup of delusions runneth over:http://www.crank.net/
A critical look at homeopathy:http://skepdic.com/homeo.html
What is Pseudoscience?http://www.chem1.com/acad/sci/pseudosci.html
THE DARK BIBLE
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/donald_morgan/precepts.html – Questionable Guidelines
http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jim_meritt/bible-contradictions.html – List of biblical contradictions
http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html – BIBLEGOD – A God of Love or a God of Atrocities and Murder?
NOTES ON BIBLE PROBLEMS Compiled by Richard Packham
© 2009 by Dr. Anthony G Payne. All rights reserved.
Rabbis and Christian theologians down through the centuries have wrestled with biblical accounts of the Almighty in which He imposed punishments or sanctions, as well as direct military and civil action that flies in the face of what is deemed fair, just or decent in most cultures, past and present: http://www.angelfire.com/pa/greywlf/biblegod.html
Of course, contemporary religious experts tend to agree that a great many of these stories are fables or myths borrowed from ancient societies that predate the authors of the various books of the Bible. They also recognize the anthropocentric and ethnocentric biases and cultural filters of the writers and scribes who committed these biblical tales to parchment (as it were). But even with all these allowances and concessions, there remains a disturbing pattern of supposedly divinely ordered brutality towards and outright wholesale slaughter of foreign tribes and entire nations. These biblical “cleansing actions” and fiats have underlying premises and logic that appear to have informed some of the darker chapters of history, including the ideology and policies of the penultimate incarnation of evil, Adolf Hitler.
One writer who very adroitly goes into how Hitler’s beliefs and actions parallel and mirror Biblical morality and standards is Jim Walker whose writings are found on a website bearing the moniker “Hitler compared to God/Jesus/Christians” http://nobeliefs.com/hitlerchristian.htm. Here are but a few of Walker’s insightful notations (Excerpts pieced together):
|Now go and smite Amalek, and utterly destroy all that they have,
and spare them not; but slay both man and woman, infant and suckling,
ox and sheep, camel and ass.
-I Samuel 15:3
Hitler attempted to utterly destroy the Jews and all that they had and had millions of men, women, and infants executed. As for animals, Hitler had far more compassion than the Biblical God; he felt kindness for animals.
(Note: In no sense do I mean that Hitler fulfilled any prophesy, mind you, but rather that Hitler’s actions remained consistent with the actions of the alleged God described in the Bible.)
|I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.
Hitler created peace when it suited him and created death and destruction when it fit his needs, which by Christian standards means “evil.” Hitler did all these things in similar God-like actions reported in the Bible.
Not only did Hitler’s atrocities remain consistent with God and Jesus’ actions in the Bible, but his intransigent attitude parallels many of the fanatical beliefs of Right-wing conservatives of today. Hitler even used his faith in the same way as many mainstream American Christians. It appears clear from the history of Christianity that Hitler brought nothing new to Christianity, albeit he brought its violent nature to new heights.”
This is not to say Hitler didn’t distort and infuse such standards with perverse beliefs of his own, but this alone does not permit one to dismiss logical contradictions, conundrums and catch twenty-two’s between Nazi philosophy and the murderous campaign against “impurity” (Jews, gypsies, homosexuals, political dissenters, etc.) it gave rise to—- nor ancient Israelite beliefs and their wholesale slaughter of peoples that were designated as “defilers” of their culture & community. Slaughter attributed to HaShem.
If you look closely and resist facing what history and scriptures plainly disclose and declare, you will come to see more clearly than ever before the vast array of incredibly discomforting parallels between the reasoning of the ancients and the Nazis (and all other perpetrators of genocide). And while abundant apologetics exist that try to distance Biblical accounts and actions from the moral malignancy of the Nazis, the arguments given can be recast easily & readily to support the Nazis (And they were – by the Nazis — creating a movement with all the trappings of messianic fervor and religiosity).
http://www.infidels.org/library/magazines/tsr/2000/4/004anti.html http://www.nobeliefs.com/DarkBible/darkbible3.htm, http://freethoughtfirefighters.org/a_wager_on_old_testament_atrocit.htm, http://www.ebonmusings.org/atheism/atrocities.html, http://www.geocities.com/paulntobin/godbible.html, http://www.biblicalnonsense.com/chapter10.html
So moral reasoning and logic alone cannot (to my way of thinking) explain, defend or justify the many dark episodes and pronouncements in the Hebrew Scriptures.
Scriptures, of course, reflect the human element — ideas, interpretations, contradictions http://home.freeuk.net/jesusmyth/page5.htm etc. – they serve human needs (Social coherence and personal wholeness, according to religion scholar Prof. Loyal Rue in his thought-provoking book, “Religion is Not About God”) – and reflect more about human nature than that of the Divine. It is said all scripture is Misnah – commentary – and not so much history and especially not science. I agree wholeheartedly with this. And, of course, regional values, myths and views intruded everywhere and suffused and informed what the various scribes and religionists believed and recorded. But be that as it may, there is a recurrent theme of almost cold-blooded malevolence in the Hebrew scriptures: God appears to invoke the very arguments for cleansing conquered lands and peoples, as well as punishing those who deviate from keeping the Law (Oral & written) that were used by pagan religions, kings and later genocidal dictators like Adolf Hitler to reinforce and perpetuate their ideologies (And some of these ideologies, like Nazism, had some aspects of their belief system and practices Biblical beliefs, laws and such).
Of course, according to scriptures the Almighty’s agenda is one that will redeem and reconcile humankind (in whole or part depending on whose spin you agree with) while evil men tend to enact laws and take actions that lead to a life that is at odds with the program and objectives He sanctioned (And by so doing estrange people from Him). Yet while the ends are presumably different, the means to them seem disturbingly similar and in many instances are virtually identical. Indeed, the methods, language and some elements of reasoning attributed to the Divine and that voiced by various evil personalities such as Hitler differ little in kind or degree.
We must, of course, allow for the limitations imposed by human language itself, culture, as well as our neurobiology. We must also do our best to wrestle underlying truths and subtle messages from hyperbole, corrupted text, myth and legend in the scriptures.
That the scriptures are filled with borrowed, fallible, contradictory, and corrupted myths, legends and fables should not disturb us. Consider what the Almighty had to work with, as it were: A tribal people who were steeped in regional myths and superstitions. Some in the fundamentalist or Orthodox camp actually believe God dictated scripture pretty much like a boss might to a secretary or executive administrative assistance; at least with respect to the Torah (Pentateuch). This is nonsense, for had this been the case He would have given humanity a document or set of documents immune from flaws, and by so doing handed down proof of his own existence. In short, no faith would be needed to believe in the Almighty or his stated agenda. A set of flawless, infallible scriptures impregnated with scientific and historical truths centuries ahead of those He was inspiring or speaking to would remove all doubt as to origins and make it impossible for doubt to exist about the reality of the Divine. Indeed, “No faith needed” would have been axiomatic and there would be no legitimate grounds for agnosticism or atheism.
A fallible set of scriptures is not so disturbing really. It makes us dig and work and argue to arrive at what God meant and how we should respond. What is disturbing is not the flawed image of the Almighty nor the presence of various distorted or mythic things attributed to Him, all having been rendered by flawed men and women, but the seeming reliance of God on violence, cruelty and outright “ethnic cleansing” to forge and maintain His hold on the hearts and minds of the Jewish people of antiquity.
Was He so seemingly bloodthirsty and quick to punish because fallible, almost primitive men and women left Him little to work with in an ancient setting but this? Or was this just how these ancient people’s interpreted things and acted accordingly? Or could it be that the Almighty was both learning and growing with His people, and had His hands tied in terms of available means to preserve the Jewish people from corruption and conquest? (Limited in that He would not override human free will and also utilized human nature and social mechanisms rather then supercede them?)
To invoke a crude analogy: Picture a group of trainee mechanics standing before a car – hood up – a limited set of tools sitting before him – parts scattered everywhere — their goal is to create a harmoniously running engine. There are two instructors present – “good mechanic” and an “evil mechanic” — standing on either side of the trainees. The good instructor wants to help the students create a smoothly functioning automobile. The evil mechanic wants to thwart the good instructor by influencing as many of the trainees as he can to mess things up by doing things like putting useless or ill fitted parts into the engine. The evil instructor’s machinations quite naturally force the good mechanic to get those trainees who follow his lead to take and use some of the tools in the same fashion as the evil mechanic, doing violence as it were to extricate ill-fitting or even dangerous parts from the engine so that they can get the right and proper ones installed. This tug-of-war goes back and forth seemingly endlessly.
Scriptures depict God’s ultimate goal as being one of harmonizing and reconciling as many people to Himself and His sanctioned ways as possible. But in order to pull this off, He must rely on a limited set of tools and options,….as limited as we are. It is, in a very real sense of the word, a pitched struggle that is part of an experiment in-progress; an experiment with a goal, of course.
Indeed, the Cosmos and humankind in particular are, in my opinion, expressions of a divinely initiated experiment (Rats in the Cosmic Laboratory) whose ultimate goal is harmonization with HaShem and his being (“Holiness”) for as many as will “walk the walk”. As such, those impulses and elements and actions that lead to good or conversely evil ends would seem to represent the variables in the ongoing experiment — the “drugs” if you will — that by act-of-will (choice) leads to genuine harmonization between subject & experimenter (HaShem) — while the other appears to do so, but degenerates into greater disharmony and the ultimate chaos unleased by unbridled selfishness (Estrangement from HaShem and what this entails in this world and the next). This aspect of the Divine experiment constitutes a sorting mechanism of sorts; the one referred to by various biblical writers as “sorting the wheat from the chaff”. It tests both men and women, revealing to us individually and collectively our inner nature and the consequences of our choices along the way.
Because the tools, methods and sometimes even the reasoning employed by good and evil people are virtually identical, discretion becomes paramount. This is where many religious and political systems fail utterly — trading that which reconciles people to each other and the Almighty for that which winds up accomplishing the opposite.
In the end, scriptures indicate the experiment will run its course and produce a final result: Harmony twixt humankind and HaShem for many. Many who die in sin/error/missteps get redeemed and participate in this harmonious world (material and incorporeal), while an unrepentantly evil, unredeemable few are separated from this redeemed plane of existence — presumably for eternity. Or until obliterated, which some Jewish sages considered their ultimate fate. This is certainly more merciful than what many Christian denominations fancy for the unredeemed/unredeemable — Hitler, Stalin, Caligula, etc. A mercy more characteristic of the Almighty that sages like Hillel knew and championed by virtue of their faith, teachings and deeds.
Pulvis et umbra sumus
by Jim Walker