Motherhood, mental illness and beyond

I was sent a link to a rather unpleasant piece of writing today. It was apparently published by the Telegraph newspaper and was titled Are atheists mentally ill? It seems to be in response to an often discussed (but little cited) study that allegedly showed that believers have lower IQs than atheists.

I have no idea whether this study is credible or not, although I suspect that it has little statistical significance. In any case, my objection to this article by Thomas Knox isn’t because I’m an atheist but because of the sneering and derogatory way he refers, both directly and by implication, to people with mental illness.

Have a look at some of his arguments:

“Let’s dispense with the crude metric of IQ and look at the actual lives led by atheists, and believers, and see how they measure up. In other words: let’s see who is living more intelligently. And guess what: it’s the believers”.

“In 2004, scholars at UCLA revealed that college students involved in religious activities are likely to have better mental health…believers also report greater levels of happiness, are less likely to commit suicide, and cope with stressful events much better. Believers also have more kids”.

“Obviously, it’s the believers who are smarter. Anyone who thinks otherwise is mentally ill. And I mean that literally: the evidence today implies that atheism is a form of mental illness.”

“…we have, as a species, evolved to believe, which is one crucial reason why believers are happier – religious people have all their faculties intact, they are fully functioning humans.”

Even if you agree with Mr Knox’s ridiculous premise that atheism is a form of mental illness, his attitude (both explicit and implied) towards those with mental illness is unacceptable. His article suggests that the mentally ill don’t live intelligently (I’m not even sure what that means, to be honest – maybe that’s because I have a mental illness), that having a religious faith somehow reduces your chance of succumbing to a mental illness, that we have fewer children than the mentally well (I don’t know why this is relevant) and that people who have mental illness aren’t “fully functioning humans”.

I suspect that Mr Knox’s main intention when he wrote this article was to rile a few atheists and he seems to have succeeded. I’m sure he’s pleased. However he has also shown himself to be breathtakingly ignorant about mental illness; his choice of language and his implications that the mentally ill are a group to be sneered at and looked down upon are unacceptable.

He compounds his unpleasantness by concluding:

“Therefore, being an atheist – lacking the vital faculty of faith – should be seen as an affliction, and a tragic deficiency: something akin to blindness. Which makes Richard Dawkins the intellectual equivalent of an amputee, furiously waving his stumps in the air, boasting that he has no hands.”

and tweeting:


Mr Knox took what could have been an interesting article about some of the differences between believers and atheists and turned it into a disgraceful example of how to belittle and alienate a vulnerable group. His concluding paragraph and subsequent tweet leave me speechless, frankly, so I will leave them to speak for themselves.

Having a mental illness isn’t easy, Mr Knox, but it doesn’t make us any less human than you. It doesn’t mean we are deficient. And it certainly doesn’t give you the right to flaunt your apparent prejudice against us in the media.


Comments on: "Is atheism a mental illness?" (3)

  1. The funny thing is, that ‘over-religious themes’ are one of the many common signs of psychosis and mania in people who have mental illness.

    I write this as a qualified mental health nurse, having worked in the field since 2001.

    This Thomas Knox guy has no clue about mental illness. Many organised religions could be classified as ‘collective mental illness’, if they were taken with the same values as the individual experience. Voices of the devil telling people to do things? Reincarnations of Jesus? God talking to them? Magical healing powers? All of these symptoms of illness (which always leave the individual scared and confused) can be cured with talking therapies, medication and sometimes a safe environment. If you’re on the payroll of the church with these symptoms you’d be seen as a vessel to the spirit world.

    Like I said – collective mental illness.

  2. Fr. John said:

    Harmful Mutation/Bio-Chemical Theory
    Some have argued that malnutrition at childbirth, abnormal brain development, maternal alcoholism and/or drug abuse, and maternal anxiety—resulting in the detrimental release of hormones—have been responsible for a predilection toward atheism.
    In a recent study at Boston College regarding the correlation between atheism and high functioning autistics, the following was observed:

    “It is hypothesized that traits typically displayed among high functioning autistic individuals such as attraction to scientism and hyper rationality…render… individuals less likely to embrace supernaturalism and religious belief. Consistent with this, Atheism and Agnosticism are more frequent in the high functioning autistic groups…. . Previous research has established systemizing and low conformity as prominent traits among HFA individuals. We proposed that HFA individuals would be likely to construct their own belief systems, drawing on their interest in systemizing and lack of need to conform to approved social behaviors.”

    People with high functioning autism are people with a neural development disorder characterized by impaired social interaction. It affects information processing in the brain by altering how nerve cells and their synapses comment and organize. Recent studies seem to indicate that those with high functioning autism are predisposed towards atheism because of the mind’s inability to grasp supernatural concepts. For at least some, we must say that atheism has genetic roots, mutational roots. If this is so for some, it is quite possible for atheism to be a neural development disorder in others not suffering from autism.
    With the advent of the study of atheism, new studies have shown there to be a difference between the brain of an atheist and the brain of a God-believer. The neural picture has simply begun to be studied, but differences are already being seen. Some studies have shown that God-believers have more brain tissue in their frontal lobes than atheists. This area of the brain is associated with attention and reward. Atheists have a larger hippocampus than God-believers. This area of the brain is associated with memory and emotions—a possible reason behind the psychological and sociological predispositions for atheism. God-believers have a higher level of dopamine, which is associated with increased attention and motivation—possible reason why atheists suffer higher rates of depression, suicide, and “sloppy thinking.”
    Studies are pointing more and more to biological and even evolutionary reasons for religious belief and disbelief. In a study by the University of Toronto Department of Psychology titled Neural Markers for Religious Conviction, researchers found significant differences in how God-believers, theists, and atheists responded to stress tests. The authors of the test wrote: “These results suggest that religious conviction provides a framework for understanding and acting within one’s environment, thereby acting as a buffer against anxiety and minimizing the experience of error.” God-believers’ anterior cingulate cortex operates differently than atheists–religious belief has a calming effect when facing the unknown dimensions of life.
    Belief in God is advantageous to life. It reduces stress and the uncertainty that comes with life. In scientific terms, belief in God is a genetically programed advantage for the survival and well-being of the species. Those who do not have this bio-genetic factor, or God-gene as some like to say, can be considered blemished and prone to various maladjustments—thus the higher mental and psychological disorders among atheists.
    Studies regarding the media have shown that viewing television hinders brain development. There are indications that television impacts the prefrontal cortex which is responsible for the deliberate thought processes necessary for acts of planning and judgment. The bombardment of information and video stimulation seems to idle the prefrontal cortex and stunt normal intellectual growth. Since the media expresses the secular, atheist vision of the world, one must wonder whether the media’s impact on the prefrontal cortex is responsible for the rise of secularism in the West.
    Another form of media, video games, have recently shown that atheists and God-believers prefer different types of games due to their emotional response to the games—possibly tied to the difference of the hippocampus in some atheists. Studies have shown that atheists prefer “what you see is what you get” games; that is, games where the imagination and emotion is less active. God-believers prefer games that require the imagination and stir emotions. Atheists dislike games that deal with unseen realms; whereas, God-believers prefer games with unseen realms. These insights give added support to the studies that associate atheism with a predisposition towards a detachment from one’s emotional side. The modern popularity of Ayn Rand’s atheistic philosophy makes great sense for those having such a mindset.
    Sociological studies indicate that atheism is more likely in men than women. The Pew Research Center’s 2007 study indicated that women, being more relational by nature, are more open to the relational dimension that is associated with God-believers. Rodney Stark, in 2002, argued for a bio-chemistry root to men’s unbelief. Studies have shown that men have an underdeveloped ability to inhibit their impulses and have a less reflective nature, and are less apt to engage in consequential thinking. These are qualities that make the perception of the transcendental and the destiny of one’s life more difficult.
    Neuropsychological researcher have found, by studying damage to parts of the brain, that the right center of the brain is preoccupied with self-centeredness and the left side with other-centeredness. God-believers hold to a philosophy, even if it is not lived out well, of being other-centered, neighbor centered. Atheists may not hold to, but statically express self-centeredness. Either the atheist or the God-believer is deficient in one side of the brain?
    If there is a bio-chemical, sociological component to the difference, then the possibility exists for there to be a deficiency that can alter belief. Is it possible that atheists are lacking a necessary bio-chemical component, a God-gene? If more people believe in God, then is it possible that atheists are lacking what the majority have? The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders describes over 300 mental disorders, each of which is treated by medications or some kind of therapy. Why is it improbable for atheism to be a mental disorder–characterized by an inability to detect the supernatural? Since, statistically, atheists are less well-adjusted than God-believers, is it possible that atheists are suffering from a mutation or imbalance of some sort?
    Atheism at first appears advantageous for survival since atheistic self-centeredness is beneficial in avoiding life-threatening situations. However, since atheism is incapable, or less capable, of authentic other-centeredness, it is harmful for the good of society, which in turn is harmful to the individual. Therefore, other-centeredness is more beneficial for the survival of the species than self-centeredness. Could atheism be a mutation along the evolutionary path?
    God-believers have better mental and physical health and a general better quality of life. The Mayo Clinic report of 350 studies regarding physical health and 850 studies regarding mental health found that God-centered religion and spirituality brought about better health outcomes and quicker recovery times from ailments. Dr. Stephen Joseph from the University of Warwick, after studying the relationship between belief in God and disbelief, found that believers are happier and healthier in every dimension of their lives.
    The Iona Institute reported in 2000, from its examination of forty-two studies involving approximately 126,000 subjects, that active God-believers lived longer than atheists by some 29 percent, and that Church attending believers increased their chances of living longer by 43 percent.
    The World Health Organization and the renowned sociologist Phil Zuckerman of Pitzer College have documented that the suicide rate among atheists far exceeds that of God-believers. When classifying nations according to beliefs, atheistic, secular nations are marked by higher suicide rates, despite being among the richest of nations. Catholic countries have a suicide rate of 4 percent per 100,000; Protestant Countries have a 13.8 percent rate per 100,000. Atheistic countries have a 31.1 percent rate per 100,000. Secular schools, at all levels, produce a higher rate of mental illness and mild forms of functional impairment than religious schools.
    Atheists are half as likely to get married and more likely to have few or no children.

  3. Atheism is a logical absurdity, therefore believing it to be true is absurd and the beginning of mental illness.
    Just as much as bad religion, atheism is bad for your mental health.
    Atheism REQUIRES one to believe endless contradictions like “nothing created everything”, or “atheists are rational” all while atheism, claiming you are nothing but a bag of meat, a pack of neurons etc. cannot claim rationality even exists since meat and neurons are NOT rational and cannot be rational.
    Atheism requires one to view ALL morality as an illusion – as stated so often and so clearly by virtually ALL the atheist philosophers and scientists.
    But if morality is an illusion then nothing matters morally, murder, rape, abuse, theft, lies, any “atrocity” you care to imagine – all meaningless illusion as to such things being “wrong”. Morality is an illusion under atheism, no other possibility exists for bags of meat such humans are supposed to be in atheist “logic”. So, nothing at all is ever “right” or “wrong”.

    Contradictions like this are always ignored by most modern unthinking atheists since they are always the first to complain whenever one calls them stupid ignorant beasts. They take such as “wrong”.
    Sure but, under their own premises, real “wrong” doesn’t exist except as human illusion.
    So all such whining is a self-contradiction with atheists. But they almost NEVER obtain to sufficient rational thinking to even see this blatant contradiction in themselves.
    We even have atheist blow hard fools writing books claiming that rape is just an evolutionary adaptation!!
    No wonder.
    They’re simply making logical conclusions on atheism that others are either too stupid to make or too cowardly to admit.

    “Naturalistic evolution has clear consequences that Charles Darwin understood perfectly. 1) No gods worth having exist; 2) no life after death exists; 3) no ultimate foundation for ethics exists; 4) no ultimate meaning in life exists; and 5) human free will is nonexistent.” – Prof. William B. Provine

    And how aboout militant atheist TV evangelist Richard Dawkins?
    “The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference. As that unhappy poet A.E. Housman put it: ‘For Nature, heartless, witless Nature Will neither care nor know.’ DNA neither cares nor knows. DNA just is. And we dance to its music”. ~ Richard Dawkins, Out of Eden

    It gets worse,
    “The time has come to take seriously the fact that we humans are modified monkeys, not the favored Creation of a Benevolent God on the Sixth Day … We must think again especially about our so-called ‘ethical principles.’ … As evolutionists, we see that no (ethical) justification of the traditional kind is possible. MORALITY, OR MORE STRICTLY OUR BELIEF IN MORALITY, IS MERELY AN ADAPTATION PUT IN PLACE TO FURTHER OUR REPRODUCTIVE ENDS. HENCE, THE BASIS OF ETHICS DOES NOT LIE IN GOD’S WILL … IN AN IMPORTANT SENSE, ETHICS AS WE UNDERSTAND IT IS AN ILLUSION FOBBED ON US BY OUR GENES TO GET US TO COOPERATE. IT IS WITHOUT EXTERNAL GROUNDING … ETHICS IS ILLUSORY inasmuch as it persuades us that it has an objective reference. This is the crux of the biological position.” (Michael Ruse and E. O. Wilson, “The Evolution of Ethics” in Religion and the Natural Sciences: The Range of Engagement by James Edward Huchingson, (Harcourt Brace, 1993).)

    Michael Ruse puts it this way: “Morality is no more … than an adaptation, and as such has the same status as such things as teeth and eyes and noses. . . . [M]orality is a creation of the genes”.

    Naturalist Simon Blackburn says much the same: “Nature has no concern for good or bad, right or wrong… . We cannot get behind ethics.”
    — S. Blackburn, Professor of Philosophy at the University of Cambridge, Being Good:A Short Introduction to Ethics, pg 133

    Right, morality is no different than teeth or eyes. So much for atheists thinking they have a right to complain about anything at all touching morals!

    All atheists must be relativists.
    But if relativism is true, then it can’t be true. Relativism itself is relative!

    “A relativist maintains that everyone should be able to believe and do whatever he wants. Of course, this view is emotionally satisfying, until that person comes home to find his house has been robbed, or someone seeks to hurt him, or someone cuts in front of him in line. No relativist will come home to find his house robbed and say, “Oh, how wonderful that the burglar was able to fulfill his view of reality by robbing my house. Who am I to impose my view of right and wrong on this wonderful burglar?” Quite the contrary, the relativist will feel violated just like anyone else. And then, of course, it’s OK for him to be a relativist, as long as the “system” acts in an absolutist way by protecting his “unalienable rights.””

    Atheism has ZERO grounds for ANY human rights at all!
    So STOP WHINING atheists!

    Atheism is a religion, and most new atheists are fanatically religious.
    “Nobody talks so constantly about God as those who insist there is no God.” – Heywood Broun

    See here
    Or how about the new atheist denominational church? !!!
    Not a religion? Sorry, YOU atheists are more religious than most modern Christians!!!
    And you are completely irrational in atheism because atheism is irrational

    Atheism is indeed a mental illness, or rather as Plato apparently noted, “Atheism is a disease of the soul before it becomes an error of understanding…..”

    Even the anti-religious scoundrel Volatire wrote, “The atheists are for the most part imprudent and misguided scholars who reason badly who, not being able to understand the Creation, the origin of evil, and other difficulties, have recourse to the hypothesis the eternity of things and of inevitability…..” – Voltaire, Philosophical Dictionary

    Mental illness indeed, if self-contradiction, like believing oneself to be a mere automaton (Sam Harris, Bruce Hood etc.), a bag of animate non rational chemicals, is any truth.
    Yup. That’s atheism in a nutshell. You are nothing but a pack of neurons.

    So tell us atheist, why the hell should I give shit about what you as a pack of neurons nad bag of meat is uttering?

    No reason at all.

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