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Showing posts with label Mental Health. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Mental Health. Show all posts

Saturday, 1 March 2014

A Fitting End To Religion?

Ecstatic epilepsy: How seizures can be bliss - health - 24 January 2014 - New Scientist

Only one of the following is a descriptions of religious experiences; the others are descriptions of a type of the aura experience by some epilepsy sufferers. I'll reveal which one later.

The immense joy that fills me is above physical sensations. It is a feeling of total presence, an absolute integration of myself, a feeling of unbelievable harmony of my whole body and myself with life, with the world, with the 'All'.
64 year-old woman

... it is as if I were very, very conscious, more aware, and the sensations, everything seems bigger, overwhelming me.
53 year-old female teacher

...the most amazing feeling came over me... a feeling of complete and utter love - I felt as if I were radiating like the heat of the sun...
Middle-aged woman

You are just feeling energy and all your senses. You take in everything that is around, you get a fusion.
41 year-old architect

...a sensation of velvet, as if I were sheltered from anything negative.
37 year-old man

In 2000 M.E. Nielson produced a list of adjectives 66 adults rated as representing their 'religious' experiences.

66 adults rated the relevance of adjectives representing dimensions of affect and personality for describing how they felt during religious experiences. Adjectives, representing positive affect (enthusiastic, at ease), low neuroticism (calm, relaxed), and high agreeableness (soft-hearted, sympathetic), conscientiousness (conscientious, reliable), and extraversion (sociable, talkative), were rated to be descriptive of religious experiences. The failure of openness to discriminate religious experiences is consistent with Block's criticism (1995) of the five-factor model of personality.

Nielsen M.E.; Descriptions of religious experience using trait and affect adjectives; Psychol Rep. 2000 Feb; 86(1):308-10.

Here is how Fyodor Dostoyevsky, himself an epileptic, gave a vivid account of an epileptic seizure in The Idiot

He remembered that during his epileptic fits, or rather immediately preceding them, he had always experienced a moment or two when his whole heart, and mind, and body seemed to wake up with vigor and light; when he became filled with joy and hope, and all his anxieties seemed to be swept away for ever; these moments were but presentiments, as it were, of the one final second…in which the fit came upon him. That second, of course, was inexpressible.

Next moment something appeared to burst open before him: a wonderful inner light illuminated his soul. This lasted perhaps half a second, yet he distinctly remembered hearing the beginning of a wail, the strange, dreadful wail, which burst from his lips of its own accord, and which no effort of will on his part could suppress. Next moment he was absolutely unconscious; black darkness blotted out everything. He had fallen in an epileptic fit.

Bernini. The Ecstasy of Saint Teresa.
Basilica of Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome.
And here is how a Carmelite Nun, Saint Teresa of Ávila describes one of her many 'visions'.

I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the point there seemed to be a little fire. He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God. The pain was so great, that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain, that I could not wish to be rid of it...

Leaving aside the obvious sexual fantasy here, understandable in a celibate young women who went into a nunnery at the age of fourteen, there is that sense of presence, well-being and ecstasy again.

So, very clearly there is a close similarity, if not an identicality, between a 'religious experience' and some forms of pre-epileptic aura. These have been associated with temporal lobe epilepsy in particular and sufferers often describe a feeling great peace and well-being and that someone else is present. In a religious person with a pre-existing belief in a god, this presence is often interpreted as a god or a saint or some person of some significance in their religion. The problem was in identifying the precise area of the temporal lobe because the wave of excitation propagates so rapidly.

Some of my patients told me that although they are agnostic, they could understand that after such a seizure you can have faith, belief, because it has some spiritual meaning.

Fabienne Picard
Now however, a team led by Fabienne Picard, a neurologist at the University Hospital in Geneva, Switzerland has shown that it may not originate in the temporal lobe but is a small area of the cerebral cortex called the insula. This area is thought to be responsible for integrating internal sensations such as the heart beat with external sensations such as touch. The anterior portion of the insula deals with how we feel about our selves, in other words, our sense of self or awareness of 'being'.

Now Picard's team have gone one step further and electrically stimulated the insula of one patient suffering from 'ecstatic epilepsy' via implanted electrodes. The patient, a 23 year-old woman, has confirmed that the feelings she experiences during artificial stimulation are identical to those she experience immediately prior to a fit. (Induction of a sense of bliss by electrical stimulation of the anterior insula. Unfortunately, behind a paywall).

I think that they [the number of people with ecstatic epilepsy] are probably underestimated, because the emotions are so strong and strange, maybe they feel embarrassed to speak about them; maybe they think the doctor will find them mad."

Fabienne Picard
Given how much store religions tend to give to 'mystical' religious experience, and how many people claim they are religious not because of any physical evidence they can produce but because of a religious experience they claim to have had, these findings must surely put paid to them as reliable testimonies. Of course many of them can be dismissed as fantasies in themselves at best, if not downright lies told to impress us or their religious friends (after all how special must you be for the creator of the Universe to have paid you a special visit and told you he has a special love for you?) but that still leaves a substantial number of pivotal moments in the official histories of religions which turn on a 'revelation' often to someone who was fasting. As Atheist comedian Billy Connolly said, "He was fasting in the desert for 40 days and a burning bush started talking to him! You try it!".

We have the often deranged prophecies of the Old Testament prophets, some of which read more like the psychotic ravings of paranoid schizophrenics, then we have the tale of St. Paul's alleged conversion. We know that at least part of this tale was a figment of the imagination of the author who was someone who didn't know the geography or politics of the place and time he set his tale in (the secular Jewish authority's writ in Jerusalem, Judea did not extend to Damascus in Phoenecia so 'Saul' could not have been going there for the reason stated) but his writing suggests he was familiar with ecstatic epilepsy since he describes it almost exactly. In fact, the 'conversion on the road to Damascus' may well be the first written description of the neurological disorder.

And we end up with the Book of Revelations of which the less said the better. Probably written by the same person who wrote 1 John, 2 John and 3 John. By their works so shall ye know them.

So where now for religions with no physical evidence for them to call on and personal testimony looking more and more like a pathological brain malfunction as time goes on and we discover more about how the brain works?

By the way, the third description above was the religious experience. The others were all Fabienne Picard's patients. Did you guess right?

'via Blog this'

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Wednesday, 21 August 2013

A Little Man Thinks He's Finally Achieved Something!

As expected little Manuel de Dios Agosto, who stalks the internet under a variety of bogus names hoping no one will realise who he is, and who seems to have devoted his life to stalking me and getting me banned from the Internet because he was too cowardly to take me on in a simple debate, has descended to a new low as he plumbs the depths of infantile behaviour.

Regular readers will know him as @Sacerdotus, @Rationallyfaith2012, @BronxBomber777, @CatholicBlog, @YearOfFaith2012, @NYCLATINO2013, and a host of other Twitter names, some of which are listed here and many of which have been permanently suspended or taken down altogether because of the sexually explicit abuse and threats of violence he was posting with them.

He seems desperate to claim credit for the current suspension of my @RosaRubicondior Twitter account and has re-commenced spamming this blog with dozens of infantile and deranged comments again - a habit he had managed to control for a couple of weeks.

It's probably hard for normal people to understand the behaviour of people like Manuel until one realises what he's been through. As we can see from his profile, put together by @Yhwh_TheLord, he spent many hours spreading himself as widely as possible on just about every social media site available, yet, despite all his bragardocio, succeeded in makimg very few friends. Indeed in one rather sad screen-shot we see that Manuel has just four friends, one of which is Tom Anderson. Tom was the founder of MySpace and he 'friended' new accounts by default in the early days so was everyone's friend. Of the others, at least one is Manuel in on of his other personae, and quite probably the others are too. In another of his accounts he has just one friend. You've guessed it, it's Tom Anderson. In another we see the messages to him were four years old!

This all speaks of a friendless loner, desperate for attention but lacking in social skills, sitting alone making up a fantasy life to tell the world about.

This all followed on from Manuel's disastrous experience as a trainee priest. He had got into that situation because, as New York Latino and thus a member of the American underclass, he had sought escape from this situation by one of the few escape routes open to him - the Catholic priesthood. As a friendless adolescent he had spent a great deal of his time hanging around Catholic priests. This would not have been a healthy environment for a young Latino male judging by the number of New York Catholic priests who have faced accusations of child-abuse and abuse of vulnerable people, abuse of those they had trusted access to was a way of life, as was the tendency to cover up and even facilitate these abuses by senior Catholic clerics.

Anyway, by being what was described as an 'acolyte' and hanging around Bishop Garmendia, Manuel managed to get admitted to a Franciscan seminary (search for his name; about half-way down). This was to be his big chance. Finally he would show all those kids who called him names and wouldn't let him play with them. Finally, Manuel was going to be important. He was going to be admired in his community! He was going to be a Catholic priest!

But he miscalculated. Perhaps not for the first time he had failed to take the real world into account and lived in his own fantasy. He seems not to have appreciated the trauma the Catholic church was going through as one adult after another came forward with stories of routine abuse by their parish priest. This started as a small trickle but quickly grew to a flood and then a veritable tsunami as barely a single parish, Catholic school or orphanage escaped the scandal. It got even worse for the church when we began to hear how these abuses had gone on under the noses of senior clerics who had not only failed to protect the vulnerable youngsters they were aware of, but had actually participated in their persecution when they began to complain. We also learned how priests had simply been moved to a new parish where they could carry on as before and how this cover-up had gone right up to the very top in the Catholic Church. Far from being the guardians of our morals and models of 'godly behaviour', we learned that the Catholic Church was a festering cesspool of corruption and debauchery and home to psychopaths and social inadequates, just as it had been in the Middle Ages before the Reformation.

Manuel seems to have completely misjudged the new mood in the church in the mid 2000s and it's then hypersensitivity to even a whiff of scandal, and seems to have assumed tolerance and cover-up were still the order of the day. Whatever the reasons for his carelessness in 2006, when caught he was immediately expelled. And that was it. No appeal and no future.

Imagine! You're an inadequate personality with no friends and you are on the verge of being someone, with a uniform to hide under and trusted access to lots of vulnerable people who will even believe you are an honorable man of God who would never betray the sacred trust you have been given! Suddenly it's all gone and all because the rules had changed and nobody told you!

Suddenly, you're unemployed and unemployable and people who know you won't tolerate you on their streets. You now have to spend all your days in your room trying to create a fantasy existence because your real one is so miserable, and the hate for normal people takes you over. You're now torn between wanting to be liked and admired and blaming everyone else for your failures, and so wanting to make other people's lives as unpleasant as yours in the belief that this will somehow make yours a little better.

And your only independent income is from on-line begging off simpletons and the same vulnerable people you had earlier hoped to have real physical access to.

Now, your greatest achievement in life is in getting someone's Twitter account suspended for a few days. Well, it's not even that to be honest. It's in fooling a few cretins into believing that that's what you have achieved in life.

I think reasonable people can see how poor little Manuel has gotten himself into such a miserable situation and can feel a few pangs of pity. Despite his unfortunate personality, he is still a human being and deserves a little compassion. The pity is, he lives in a society where this is unlikely to be forthcoming.

I'll say again, put yourself in the position of someone so inadequate that his greatest achievement in life is in impressing a cretin with the thought that he has got someone's Twitter account suspended for a few days by filing false spam reports!

Impressive, eh?

Almost forgot. Here's a small selection of Manuel's deranged spam today. Enjoy!

How is your #winning campaign going? #WON #LOL!

Rosie Suspended.

Wow the comic book creator of "ROSA RUBICUNDIOR, LILIO CANDIDIOR" and the producers of the old lady mask you use as an avatar complained about your violation of trademark and copyright laws! #LOL! #WON! Guess they got my message. :)
That last one made me laugh. Being almost functionally illiterate, Manuel would never know of course that 'Rosa Rubicondior' is a Latin phrase from the Carmina Burana - a Medieval German Catholic poem, set to music by Karl Orff. I wonder who he imagines he's sent a message to. LOL!

Now a sample of those he's posted in the last hour or so. He's not embarrassed by another exposé of what caused his personality disorder and confined him to his fantasy world in his room. Oh no! He wanted me to post it! LOL!
LOL! I love how I trigger you to do this. :) You are so manipulable. #WON :)

You just keep on providing more evidence of your libel. You are really not that bright are you? :) #WON

Thank you for being so stupid. :) #WON

No one is stupid enough to believe your lies Rosie. They can call those places and find out no such guy by that name exists. Moreover, it is obvious you broke copyright/trademark laws otherwise Twitter would not have mentioned them. #LOL #WON
Kudos to anyone who can make a reasonable guess what on earth that last one was about. What places are we to call? What has it to do with copyright/trademarks? Does Manuel imagine he has a trademark/copyright on his name, maybe?

Don't you just love these Christians?

To think, if he hadn't been caught in time he could now be a Catholic priest! And some people STILL trust priests to be alone with their children! Slow learners or what?

A sample of today's idiocy:
Rosaresurrected... violation of twitter's rules. I'm telling... You're not supposed to make new accounts while suspended! #LOL! #WON

Are you going to behave this time? I'm cleaning up twitter. :) #WON
Without knowing that this idiot is a 32 year-old failed priest, what age would you assume he was? About 9? How on Earth does a person which such an obviously arrested emotional development get into seminary in the first place and then only get expelled due to being caught and the Church not wanting to have another scandal on its hands, not because he was emotionally unsuitable for the position? No wonder the Catholic Church is in the mess it finds itself in today with membership in free-fall in most of the developed world.

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Saturday, 27 July 2013

You Really Won't Want To Miss This

As most of you will know by now my Twitter account has been suspended. The reason why is shown here.

I've used a screen capture because otherwise Manuel will accuse me of making up emails like he does. As you can see, it had nothing to do with him, in any of his many guises. (See Manny's Many Twitter Accounts.) In fact, I appear to have triggered some algorithm, probably because I was replying to too many Creationist tweets in @TakeThatDarwin's timeline. They were just too tempting...

Sorry it's a little indistinct but the relevant passage reads: Your account was suspended because it was found to be violating the Twitter Rules (, specifically those rules around interacting with others by sending unsolicited or duplicate @replies or mentions. Double click to see it full size.

I'm flattered and humbled by the very many tweets protesting my suspension and the compliments paid to me. I'm also flattered by the many Creationists who have rushed forward to claim credit for it. I regard this as a mark of achievement and a sign that my campaign against lies and disinformation and for honesty and science is having an effect. Very clearly many people feel threatened by truth and wish to suppress it. None of their reasons can be honest or worthy of the slightest respect and seem to be all too typical of religious fundamentalists these days (are there any moderates left?).

Foremost amongst these has of course been Manuel. Had I requested Manuel to hold the fort for me and to continue to discredit religion in my absence, I could scarcely have expected him to perform half so well as he has. You now see why I refer to him as my unwitting assistant? No wonder the only accounts you ever see RTing his tweets are either his own, or Atheists wanting others to witness his idiocy.

Manuel? Surely you've heard of Manuel!

Manuel is Manuel de Dios Agosto, a 32 year-old former Catholic seminarian with what appears to be a narcissistic personality disorder, who was expelled from a seminary in New York because of his behaviour, at a time when the Catholic Church was embroiled in far too many other scandals to risk yet another. The Catholic newsletter announcing his admission to seminary when Manuel would have been about 18 was archived in 2003 and can be read here. Search for his name - about half-way down.

Just imagine, if he hadn't been caught he could now be a Catholic Priest with trusted access to vulnerable people!

I and Twitter user @Yhwh_TheLord exposed him as a fraud and liar a few months ago in Sacerdotus - The Fraud Exposed. All the credit for the meticulous research and writing it up as a report must go to @Yhwh_TheLord. I simply transcribed it to blog format complete with links. Since then, Manuel has been almost incandescent with rage, his cover having been blown, and his stalking and abuse exposed. His more abusive, sexually explicit and threatening accounts on Twitter have been permanently suspended or deleted.

My involvement with Manuel began last August when he had been confidently boasting that he had irrefutable scientific proof of the Christian god's existence which I challenged him to produce. Those unaware of this history can read the entire thing in my blog, How Christian Fundamentalists Lie To Us

Now Manuel seems to have convinced himself that he had something to do with the suspension of my Twitter account and has become positively hypermanic with joy. So much so that his normal bombing of my blog with attention-seeking spam and infantile gibberish has now reached a new high for volume and a new low for content. Normally the first thing I do when I log on each day is to delete all of his spam but he has exceeded even my low expectations of him in the last few days. I had assumed part of his personality disorder was a retarded emotional development which had ceased at about twelve years old. I've now revised that downwards to that of an eight year-old.

But there is no reason I should keep these to myself and not let others see how far Manuel has now deteriorated. I know many others have fallen foul of his infantile narcissism, so I offer a very small selection - the more savoury ones - for public enjoyment.

Sit back and enjoy watching 32 year-old Manuel de Dios Agosto, the narcissistic failed priest, in full prat mode, posting comments that he thought were going to be deleted unread and behaving with the emotional maturity of an eight year-old.
Wow my blog hits have dropped dramatically. Too bad I can't use twitter to spam and abuse people. LOL! HAHAHAHAHAHA

Help! I was suspended! LOL

Maybe I should become a Christian so God can protect me like He protects Sacerdotus.

That sacerdotus... grrrr. he's the only one who has defeated me. I used to squash creotards and now he has squashed me... grrrrr... No one could suspend me. God is truly with him! grrrr #%!?

Blimey! You are paranoid aren't you old bat!? :) It is important that you break away from that ghastly habit. It is not healthy.

Wow more atheists are disappearing from Twitter. How is your suspension going? You should know not to break the rules Rosie. #WON! LOL!

How are you Rosie? Is the #Sadloser sociopath atheist still raging at the world from his bedroom? Most likely the case I'm afraid.

Did you know an anagram of rosarubicondior is 'toad curses!' #witchcraft #satanism God put me in your path for a reason. You have to seek that reason.
Manuel unwittingly shows the world that he either doesn't know what an anagram is, or he has reading and spelling difficulties on top of all his other developmental problems.

And now the piece de resistance (to date)
Blimey Rosie! You really do think that is me don't you??? Wow, your excommunication from Twitter really got to you and is attacking further your already deteriorated mental health. I will pray for you. Don't you know I have used Skype to show who I really am to some of your friends? It's no wonder why they reported you as well to twitter. Atheists are indeed back stabbers. I also offered to Skype with you so we both can show each other our passports, but you ran away like a coward as usual. I can prove the information you wrote here is fiction with official US Federal documents. So let's try it. :-) Also, this does not help you in the case I'm building against you in the court. Moreover, your Atheist friends who are campaigning for your return are being reported to Twitter as well. DeepSearch17 and others have been wiped out already. More is to come. Those accounts who post your blog links are also being reported, just to let you know. Thankfully, the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu, LGBT and even Atheist community is behind me in cleaning up Twitter from abusers like you. Anyhow, I made a memorial for you on my page. Come visit. We are remembering your passing from twitter. I Hope you can find inner peace in the Twitter afterlife and reconcile with God.
I particularly liked that one. Manuel has now gone full megalomaniac - from his bedroom - where he feels safe.

A couple from today's clutch of psychotic and megalomaniacal drivel:
Since you like calling me all kind of different names, call me David. You can call me David since I took you down with my stones. The underdog always wins. :) #WON #ForGrownUps

How's your new job taking care of the Royal's baby boy? :) #WON
Manuel now appears to believe he's controlling Twitter. His world-wide empire is expanding. It almost fills his bedroom now. This is one of today's batch of abusive comments he's posted on my blog.
Thanks to my efforts, Twitter is changing and enforcing its rules. Twitter was never meant to be a place where sociopaths abuse others by using anonymous pseudonyms.
Anonymous pseudonyms, eh? LOL! This from a sociopath with a long list of pseudonym Twitter accounts with which he abuses others anonymously. At least no one could ever accuse Manuel de Dios Agosto of not being a hypocrite.

I'll of course add more later so everyone can continue to enjoy the spectacle.

Well, well. No spam or infantile gibberish from Manuel today. Someone seems to have had a word in his shell-like. (Double-click to see it in its full glory).

Maybe that'll stop his abuse.

Well, maybe. When Manuel's accounts were all suspended last year, it took him about 6 weeks to pluck up the courage to start abusing people again. Might be worth quoting the the reference #119307092 if you're his next victim. Twitter must have quite a file by now, what with so many of his accounts being reported for spam and abuse.

And he never did accept my challenge to a civilised debate. I expect people can work out why.

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Wednesday, 26 December 2012

Münchausen Ministers?

Are religious clerics suffering from a form of Münchausen syndrome by proxy? This question is not as strange as it may seem.

Firstly, the parallels between the Abrahamic god of the Jews, Muslims and Christians and the personality disorder known as Münchausen syndrome by proxy (MSP) are really quite striking.

The god of the Bible, according to its followers, created humans then immediately rigged a 'sin' by putting temptation in their way before letting them have the ability to tell right from wrong, which anyone with the IQ above that of a plank could have worked out was going to result in them yielding to temptation and so falling into their putative creator's trap. Muslims believe Satan tempts us to disobey Allah and, although Allah is infinitely merciful, he won't forgive you unless you are strictly obedient and submissive. Although Muslims say we aren't born with 'sin' like Christians and Jews claim we are, nevertheless we have a character flaw which makes us tend to yield to 'temptation'. If someone can split that hair for me, I'd be grateful.

So, having metaphorically harmed those in its care, the Abrahamic god then poses as the hero by 'saving' them from the consequences of this deception and demands love and adoration, and above all, attention and praise, for being such a loving, hunky super-hero.

This situation is an exact analogue of someone cutting you so they can sell you a bandage.

MSP is a variant of Münchausen syndrome in which the sufferer feigns illness as a form of attention-seeking behaviour.
Munchausen syndrome by proxy is a form of child abuse in which a parent induces real or apparent symptoms of a disease in a child.

This syndrome almost always involves a mother abusing her child by seeking unneeded medical attention for the child. It is rare and poorly understood. The cause is unknown.

The mother may fake symptoms of illness in her child by adding blood to the child's urine or stool, withholding food, falsifying fevers, secretly giving the child drugs to make the child throw up or have diarrhea, or using other tricks, such as infecting intravenous (given through a vein) lines to make the child appear or become ill.

These children are often hospitalized with groups of symptoms that don't quite fit any known disease. Frequently, the children are made to suffer through unnecessary tests, surgeries, or other uncomfortable procedures.

The parent is usually very helpful in the hospital setting and is often appreciated by the nursing staff for the care she gives her child. She is often seen as devoted and self-sacrificing, which can make medical professionals unlikely to suspect the diagnosis of Munchausen syndrome by proxy.

Her frequent visits unfortunately also make the child accessible to her so that she can induce further symptoms. Changes in the child's condition are almost never witnessed by hospital staff and almost always occur only in the mother's presence.

Munchausen syndrome occurs because of psychological problems in the adult, and is generally an attention-seeking behavior. The syndrome can be life-threatening for the child involved.

In one such case in England a low-grade nurse killed 4 children, attempted to kill three others and seriously injured a further six children over a period of 59 days. She is currently serving thirteen life sentences in a secure psychiatric unit.

The term MSP is normally confined to the medical and related manifestations of the syndrome but in its broader application, it could equally apply to anyone who creates a problem in order to 'solve' it, especially by heroic efforts, such as a fire-fighter who starts fires.

How often do we hear gods being praised for saving the odd victim of a hurricane, flood, earthquake or volcano by those who also give it the 'credit' for causing the disaster in the first place? What would this be if not Münchausen By Proxy if done by a person other than a god?

The similarity between the actions of a person suffering from MSP and the Abrahamic god in causing us harm so that it can demand love and adoration for 'saving' us, is too close to be a coincidence. But whatever would induce this god's advocates to present it as having a potentially dangerous personality disorder?

The answer is probably to be found in yet another parallel, by considering answers to three simple questions:
  1. Who exactly tells us that we have the problem which needs to be solved?
  2. Who exactly offers us the solution for this problem?
  3. Who wants us to believe we need their help (and so admire them for their skill and humanity)?
The answer to all three questions is the same: the priesthood of course.

The priesthood tells everyone that that we have a problem which needs urgent attention. The priesthood are the heroes who shoulder the burden of solving the problem and the priesthood expect to be admired for their skill and humanity in having dedicated themselves to caring for us. This is especially true in rigidly hierarchical Catholicism where the priests are the only people with the self-proclaimed power to 'cure' us with absolution.

In reality, of course, there is no problem other than one of their own invention. That sounds a lot like Münchausen syndrome by proxy to me.

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Sunday, 29 April 2012

Religion And Neurological Disorders

Lobes of the human brain
Neurotheology is a branch of psychiatry which studies the correlation between neural phenomenon and 'spirituality' or religious experience. These 'experiences' can be
  • The perception that time, fear or self-consciousness have dissolved
  • Spiritual awe
  • Oneness with the universe
  • Ecstatic trance
  • Sudden enlightenment
  • Altered states of consciousness
The American behavioural neurologist Norman Geschwind identified a collection of signs and symptoms associated with temporal lobe epilepsy, and particularly associated with the left hemisphere of the brain, now known as Geschwind's Syndrome, which include hyper-religiosity and hyper-morality or more precisely hyper-moralising, fainting spells and pedantism.

In the 1980s cognitive neuroscientist Michael Persinger claimed to be able to induce a religious state by electromagnetic stimulation of the temporal lobes, though the validity of these results have been questioned.
The features of seizures beginning in the temporal lobe can be extremely varied, but certain patterns are common. There may be a mixture of different feelings, emotions, thoughts, and experiences, which may be familiar or completely foreign. In some cases, a series of old memories resurfaces. In others, the person may feel as if everything—including home and family—appears strange. Hallucinations of voices, music, people, smells, or tastes may occur. These features are called “auras” or “warnings.” They may last for just a few seconds, or may continue as long as a minute or two.

The 19th century Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky, who was himself an epileptic, gave a vivid account of an epileptic seizure in The Idiot:
He remembered that during his epileptic fits, or rather immediately preceding them, he had always experienced a moment or two when his whole heart, and mind, and body seemed to wake up with vigor and light; when he became filled with joy and hope, and all his anxieties seemed to be swept away for ever; these moments were but presentiments, as it were, of the one final second…in which the fit came upon him. That second, of course, was inexpressible.

Next moment something appeared to burst open before him: a wonderful inner light illuminated his soul. This lasted perhaps half a second, yet he distinctly remembered hearing the beginning of a wail, the strange, dreadful wail, which burst from his lips of its own accord, and which no effort of will on his part could suppress. Next moment he was absolutely unconscious; black darkness blotted out everything. He had fallen in an epileptic fit.
Saul seeing the light on the road to Damascus
(Tonic phase)
Now compare that with this account, reputedly by Saul of Tarsus, though he probably didn't write Acts in the Christian New Testament:
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?

And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, LORD? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do.

And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus.

So here we have an excessively religious, moralizing Jewish pedant, exhibiting Geschwind's Syndrome, suddenly hallucinating, seeing bright lights, just like Dosyoyevskey's 'Idiot', hearing voices, and emerging from the experience an excessively religious moralizing Christian pedant complete with a Greek version of his Hebrew name.

And just about all of the subsequent growth in early Christianity can be attributed to Paul's excessive religiosity and moralizing pedantry.

I don't think we need look too far to see the neuropathological cause of Christianity. I wonder how much temporal lobe epilepsy and other neuropathies like schizophrenia contributed to other religions, and what part it plays today in the excessively religious, moralizing pedants who try to tell us how to behave, who to vote for, who and what to hate and when to kill them.
Once you start asking yourself questions like, ‘How do I really know there is a God?’ you are already on the path to unbelief. During my documentary on St Paul, some experts raised the possibility that his spectacular conversion on the road to Damascus might have been caused by an epileptic fit. It made me realise that I had taken things for granted that were taught to me as a child without subjecting them to any kind of analysis. When you think about it rationally, it does seem incredibly improbable that there is a God.

Jonathan Edwards, Olympic Gold Medallist, Atheist.
Former Evangelical fundamentalist Christian and presenter of BBC TV religious programmes.

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Friday, 28 October 2011

Alternative Reality

Here's a strange tale from the Bible. It started me wondering about the roll of hallucinations, mind-altering substances and plain old insanity in religion.
Joshua having a vision in Jericho.
Why would an angel need a shield?
And the manna ceased on the morrow after they had eaten of the old corn of the land; neither had the children of Israel manna any more; but they did eat of the fruit of the land of Canaan that year.

And it came to pass, when Joshua was by Jericho, that he lifted up his eyes and looked, and, behold, there stood a man over against him with his sword drawn in his hand: and Joshua went unto him, and said unto him, Art thou for us, or for our adversaries?

And he said, Nay; but as captain of the host of the LORD am I now come. And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and did worship, and said unto him, What saith my Lord unto his servant? And the captain of the LORD's host said unto Joshua, Loose thy shoe from off thy foot; for the place whereon thou standest is holy. And Joshua did so.
And that's it. Nothing more of this tale at all. Tactfully, no one mentioned it again...

I wonder what people thought when they found Joshua standing there with his shoe off, claiming a magic man told him to do it. Maybe others were feeling the effects of eating of the 'old corn' and the 'fruits of the land of Canaan'. Ergotamine sandwich, anyone?

Perhaps wacky baccy was a lot more common then than we realise....


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Saturday, 15 October 2011

A Memo From The CEO


Number: 327

Date: 14 October 2011

From: The Chief Executive Officer

To: All executives, managers and employees

Subject: Disobedience and Failure to Obey Directives from the CEO

I have become increasingly aware of and concerned by the above and have taken advice on how best to deal with it. God has now given me the solution, in Leviticus 26 so, with immediate effect:

If ye will not hearken unto me, and will not do all these commandments; And if ye shall despise my statutes, or if your soul abhor my judgments, so that ye will not do all my commandments, but that ye break my covenant I will do this unto you;

I will appoint over you terror, consumption, and the burning ague, that shall consume the eyes, and cause sorrow of heart: and ye shall sow your seed in vain, for your enemies shall eat it.

I will set my face against you, and ye shall be slain before your enemies : they that hate you shall reign over you; and ye shall flee when none pursueth you.

If ye will not yet for all this hearken unto me, then I will punish you seven times more for your sins.

I will break the pride of your power; and I will make your heaven as iron, and your earth as brass:

Your strength shall be spent in vain: for your land shall not yield her increase, neither shall the trees of the land yield their fruits.

If ye walk contrary unto me, and will not hearken unto me; I will bring seven times more plagues upon you according to your sins.

I will also send wild beasts among you, which shall rob you of your children , and destroy your cattle, and make you few in number ; and your high ways shall be desolate .

If ye will not be reformed by me by these things, but will walk contrary unto me then will I also walk contrary unto you, and will punish you yet seven times for your sins.

I will bring a sword upon you, that shall avenge the quarrel of my covenant: and when ye are gathered together within your cities, I will send the pestilence among you; and ye shall be delivered into the hand of the enemy.

And when I have broken the staff of your bread, ten women shall bake your bread in one oven, and they shall deliver you your bread again by weight: and ye shall eat, and not be satisfied .

And if ye will not for all this hearken unto me, but walk contrary unto me, then I will walk contrary unto you also in fury; and I, even I, will chastise you seven times for your sins.

And ye shall eat the flesh of your sons, and the flesh of your daughters shall ye eat .

I will destroy your high places, and cut down your images, and cast your carcases upon the carcases of your idols, and my soul shall abhor you.

I will make your cities waste, and bring your sanctuaries unto desolation, and I will not smell the savour of your sweet odours.

I will bring the land into desolation: and your enemies which dwell therein shall be astonished at it.

I will scatter you among the heathen, and will draw out a sword after you: and your land shall be desolate, and your cities waste.

Then shall the land enjoy her sabbaths, as long as it lieth desolate, and ye be in your enemies' land; even then shall the land rest, and enjoy her sabbaths. As long as it lieth desolate it shall rest; because it did not rest in your sabbaths, when ye dwelt upon it.

Upon them that are left alive of you I will send a faintness into their hearts in the lands of their enemies; and the sound of a shaken leaf shall chase them; and they shall flee, as fleeing from a sword; and they shall fall when none pursueth .

And they shall fall one upon another, as it were before a sword, when none pursueth : and ye shall have no power to stand before your enemies.

Ye shall perish among the heathen, and the land of your enemies shall eat you up.

They that are left of you shall pine away in their iniquity in your enemies' lands; and also in the iniquities of their fathers shall they pine away with them.

If they shall confess their iniquity, and the iniquity of their fathers, with their trespass which they trespassed against me, and that also they have walked contrary unto me; And that I also have walked contrary unto them, and have brought them into the land of their enemies; if then their uncircumcised hearts be humbled, and they then accept of the punishment of their iniquity:

Then will I remember my covenant with Jacob, and also my covenant with Isaac, and also my covenant with Abraham will I remember; and I will remember the land.

The land also shall be left of them, and shall enjoy her sabbaths, while she lieth desolate without them: and they shall accept of the punishment of their iniquity: because, even because they despised my judgments, and because their soul abhorred my statutes.

And yet for all that, when they be in the land of their enemies, I will not cast them away, neither will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break my covenant with them: for I am the LORD their God. But I will for their sakes remember the covenant of their ancestors, whom I brought forth out of the land of Egypt in the sight of the heathen, that I might be their God: I am the LORD.

These are the statutes and judgments and laws, which the LORD made between him and the children of Israel in mount Sinai by the hand of Moses.

So, be thou in no doubt whatsoever, that determined am I to stampeth out this disgraceful outbreak of disobedience unto me thy Lord and master and CEO.

I hope that maketh clear my refusal to tolerate this disgraceful situation any longer.


Number: 328

Date: 15 October 2011

From: The (Acting) Chief Executive Officer

To: All staff

Subject: Restoration of Internal Disciplinary Procedures

With immediate effect, I have agreed to take over the full responsibilities of the former CEO who is now on extended leave following an emergency meeting of the Board called at the request of several major shareholders.

Memo 327 dated yesterday is withdrawn with immediate effect and all internal disciplinary procedures current at 13 October 2011 have been restored. The Board have reiterated their continued commitment to a culture in which employees at all levels can expect to be treated with dignity and respect and feel free from threats and intimidation regardless of their ethnicity and religious persuasion or lack thereof.

Threats of physical or mental abuse will not be tolerated under any circumstances. All employees will conduct themselves in a civilised and respectful manner whilst at work.

There are no plans to bake bread on the premises nor to confiscate the land of employees.

The Board also expressed their thanks to the CEO and extend their best wishes for a speedy recovery.

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Sunday, 19 June 2011

The Daft Things People Believe

Imagine.  You’re walking down Main Street one day and you bump into man who is talking to the people in the street as though they’re a public meeting.  Because you have nothing better to do you slip him some spare change for a drink and get into conversation with him.

He tells you he has come with a special message to the world.  Everyone is in mortal danger and only by following him can they be saved.

You decide to humour him a little and ask him how he knows this and what makes him think he’s a messenger. 

He tells you his mother was a virgin.

“Okay”, you think. “Let’s see where this is going”. You ask him about this mortal danger that we’re all in.

“It’s my father.” He explains.  “He has something especially unpleasant prepared for you and only I can set you free from it."

“Er... I thought you said your mother was a virgin!  How does that square with having a cruel and threatening father?"

“That’s not the point!  My mother WAS a virgin because I’m pure so she MUST have been.  Anyway, my father is invisible and doesn’t live on Earth.  He didn’t make her pregnant in the normal way.  She saw a man with wings and he told her she was pregnant."

"And another thing! My father isn’t cruel.  He’s only like that because he loves you.  You wouldn’t even be here if it wasn’t for him!”

Dilemma: should you cross over to the other side of the street out of harm’s way, or should you stay with him to look after him until something can be done for him?

Extraordinary to think that, before we understood mental illness, people used to think this condition was caused by magical beings living inside you.  A few people still think that way, apparently.

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Is Religion a Phobia?

‘God-fearing’: a term used approvingly by Christians and no doubt by Jews and Moslems, as well as other monotheist traditions, to describe those of their religion who believe in their god and act according to its directions as revealed in their respective holy books or by the priests and prophets who represent it.

But what if we substitute the word ‘spider’ for god? What if we talk about spider-fearing people? How about closed spaces, or open spaces; about lifts or flying; about walking through doorways or using new technology?

Would we consider those who feared any of these things rational and worthy of special respect because of their fear, or would we maybe see their condition as a problem which they need help and support to overcome? Would we see it as something which they could, given time and the right treatment, eventually overcome and return to living a normal life?

What I’m talking about here is morbid phobia; irrational, life-changing fears. The sort of fear which becomes part of the sufferer’s identity and around which they, and their family, may have to fit their life and take special measures to accommodate.
A phobia is defined as an irrational and intense fear of a specific object or situation. Phobias are classified as anxiety disorders by the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (4th Ed; DSM-IV)

So, how much of a religious person’s life is conditioned by God-fearing, or theophobia to give it it’s correct medical name? How much of a religious person time is spent thinking about their god, and how to avoid it hurting them? How much time is spent seeking its forgiveness or its approval for fear of the consequences of not doing so? How much time do they spend assuring it of their ‘love and obedience’ and otherwise trying to placate, reassure and mollify it?

The answer of course is a great deal of it. Their 'faith' often defines them as people. Asked to describe themselves, most fundamentalists will immediately identify with their religion. "I am a Christian/Moslem who...".

Unlike other phobia, where the response is avoidance and even fleeing the scene, with an omnipresent god this is not an option. The only recourse is to bargain and try to placate and curry favour with it. Watch the reaction of a seriously arachnophobic person to the suggestion that they come close and examine a harmless spider to see for them self there is nothing to worry about. Try talking to them about how a spider's eyes work, or how their silk is made. Now compare that to the reactions of a seriously devout religious fundamentalist when you ask them to examine a few simple questions about their god. Questions like, "Can it create an object so heavy it can’t lift it?", or "Can it create a Euclidean triangle whose internal angles don’t add up to 180 degrees?"

Forced to confront questions of this sort, many religious people can become extremely aggressive, often resorting to verbal abuse and threats, and frequently by avoidance techniques, and even casting protective spells in the form of quotes from their hand-book of ‘faith’ or by attempting to mollify their god by telling you they will ‘pray for you’; even calling on others to assist in this ritual. They clearly perceive these harmless questions as a serious threat much as an arachnophobe perceives a harmless Tegenaria or Araneus not as a thing of beauty but as an object of terror, and so show symptoms of irrational fear.

It’s my contention that much of the behaviour of religious people, especially fundamentalists, is the result not of faith, but of fear; the severity of symptoms being directly related to the degree of extremism of belief from moderate to fundamentalist.

I contend that religion is merely a phobia inculcated into people in childhood by parents and authority figures who suffer from it themselves and who are afraid to NOT infect their unfortunate children with it, just as some sufferers feel compelled to mutilate their children's genitalia. These children often grow up too afraid even to think of escaping from the phobia and so the cycle is repeated in the next generation.

Religious peoples’ irrational responses, irrational behaviour and irrational reasoning is a direct consequence of an irrational, morbidly paranoid phobia – theophobia. We should recognise religions for what they are and call them by their name.

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