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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  1. Interesting post Rosa, though I don't think that God Fearing means to 'fear God'. It simply means to revere him.
    True, there may be 'Christians' who literally fear God, but we would argue that this is a wrong way of interpreting scripture, as it doesn't fit with the rest of God's character.

    I would argue also that many Christians do like to explore your given questions. Many Christians provide answers (but these arent giving as much airing as opinions of the opposite view), and many Christians are happy to state that they don't know the answer. SOME however don't like the questions, and I apologise for some of the disgusting abuse you get from 'Christians'.

    I also think that the 'avoidance techniques' are a fair conclusion. Many Christians genuinely want to pray for others; whether you believe or not.

    However, good opinion post Rosa :) Keep them coming!

  2. I lied the post as well, but I've never heard Jews going around saying that they are "God-fearing". Also, Judaism is vastly different than Christianity in many ways (as well as Islam). They don't have a heaven or hell (or at least they don't really talk about it as being relevant), and they don't try to convert non-Jews to becoming Jews.

    I don't believe in Judaism any more than I believe in Christianity, Islam, Mormonism, Hinduism, or any other esoteric belief system which includes god-like figures, but not all religions are the same. Those that don't try to convert me, for instance, I can tolerate a bit more than those who try to go around telling me that I have to be like them.

    Some people regard Jews as being arrogant for calling themselves "God's chosen people" (although most Jews I know say that with wry and dark sarcasm), but at least they're not saying that I have to be one of God's chosen as well.

    I can sorta live with that.

  3. I do have same opinion, but I wouldn't suggest "mentally ill" to such a group with power. If it needs to be medical issue, then it shall be. Then again, defining larger group as irrational would make much of chaos.

    I am an atheist who believe that religion is only a mental disease. I mean, seriously. I had some conversations with pastors, clergies, Christians, Jewish, any kind of religion I could find and talked. I am clear on this, that they do possess irrationality in their mind, which can be seen as mentally ill. But suggesting and defining it in public make hell a lot a difference.

    The reason why I am not convinced to say "it is illness" to theists is simply because they wouldn't even understand what I am saying. They would argue, it is not illness they have, but rather rightful fear to deity, for they knowing better then I am about god. -despite the fact I happened to read bible more often then they do as a part of atheist work-

    I still remember when one of the pastors said "homosexuality is not illness," and I was quite amazed by him at the moment. Most of fundamentalists would say science became too secular to even declare gays and lesbians are mentally ill. But then he said, "because it is not illness, but choice, they will burn in hell."

    That's how weird theists are.

  4. This makes to much too much sense! There needs to be studies to see if we can cure it with meds. I know more then a few that need to be signed up as test subjects.

  5. I agree with much of what you have posted here. This is a very interesting take on the pathology of religious belief. Where I disagree is in the nature of the phobia of those burdened with faith: In my experience the fears of the religious are not directly of their god, but of death, great unknowns and the helplessness of not being able to control their life.

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. A fear of death which is probably not so much a fear of dying (though everyone hopes it will be painless and 'peaceful') as a fear of what happens next.


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