A leading neurologist at the University of Oxford in England said recently what I’ve been contending for years: that medical science may one day be able to identify religious fundamentalism as a “mental illness” and a cure it.
“One of the surprises may be to see people with certain beliefs as people who can be treated,” she explained, “Somebody who has for example become radicalized to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance.”
“I am not just talking about the obvious candidates like radical Islam or some of the more extreme cults,” she added. “I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children. These beliefs are very harmful but are not normally categorized as mental illness… In many ways that could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage, that really do a lot of harm.”
Of course the doctor is absolutely right. People don’t normally choose to be mentally ill. They are deceived using consciousness into accepting and acting upon irrationality which can lead to serious consequences for themselves and others.
Few would argue that religious fundamentalists who commit murder or other horrific crimes in the name of their imaginary gods are acting upon the influence of totally irrational thinking, i.e. insanity. They are properly defined in laymen’s terms as “crazy.” If that sort of thing may be cured with therapeutic treatment this world might become a far better place.
And if such serious cases of insanity might someday be cured, just think of the wonderful possibilities for less serious instances – irrational thinking like bigotry, prejudice, intolerance and superstition.
“God’s word explicitly says homosexuality is a choice, a sin,” says Southern Baptist pastor Tim Reed, of First Baptist Church of Gravel Ridge in Jacksonville, Arkansas. So when the Boy Scouts of America voted to lift its ban on openly gay youths on May 24, Reed said the church had no choice but to cut its charter with Troop 542. “It’s not a hate thing here… It’s a moral stance we must take as a Southern Baptist church.”
The Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination, will soon urge its 45,000 congregations and 16 million members to cut ties with the Scouts, including sponsorship of nearly 4,000 Scout units representing more than 100,000 youths, according to church leaders.
“Southern Baptists are going to be leaving the Boy Scouts en masse,” said Richard Land, head of the Southern Baptists’ Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “With this policy change, the Boy Scouts’ values are contradictory to the basic values of our local churches,” explained Roger “Sing” Oldham, a spokesman for the Southern Baptist Convention.
This is a perfect example of the kind of irrational thinking that I hope someday might be curable.
I believe that it is indeed possible to cure a bigot with a healthy dose of pure reason.
On the bright side, The National Jewish Committee on Scouting, the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, which sponsors more Scout units than any other faith, have all endorsed the change. The National Catholic Committee on Scouting, which is run with oversight from a bishop, said that allowing gay youths in the Scouts does not conflict with church teaching.
At least there are some good religious folks with us who aren’t infected with the mental disease of religious fundamentalism. That leads me to believe that the rest of them might someday be cured.