Have you not heard of that madman who lit a lantern in the bright morning hours, ran to the marketplace, and cried incessantly: “I seek God! I seek God!” — As many of those who did not believe in God were standing around just then, he provoked much laughter. Has he got lost? asked one. Did he lose his way like a child? asked another. Or is he hiding? Is he afraid of us? Has he gone on a voyage? emigrated? — Thus they yelled and laughed.
The madman jumped into their midst and pierced them with his eyes. “Whither is God?” he cried; “I will tell you. We have killed him – you and I. All of us are his murderers.”
–Words of Friedrich Nietzsche, arguably the most influential atheist philosopher of all time, from his Parable of the Madman. Interestingly enough, Nietzsche spent the last 11 years of his life locked away in a mental institution.
Robert M. Pirsig summarized how many atheists perceive theistic belief in his famous book Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance:
“When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion it is called a religion.”
Somewhat embarrassingly, Pirsig here fails to notice that atheism and agnosticism fit many of the diverse definitions of “religion” present within religious scholarship. But we can put that aside for a moment, and for the purpose of discussion, just accept the definition of religion as “those belief systems which are theistic”…since this is the definition most prevalent in modern popular “secular” culture.
The question then becomes whether or not belief in God could be classified as a “delusion.” Andrew Sims is a former President of the Royal College of Psychiatrists. In his book Is Faith a Delusion? Why Religion is Good For Your Health, he comments on the psychiatric definition of delusion:
“Although in the past, the word delusion could refer to being fooled or cheated, in modern speech it always implies the possibility of psychiatric illness. It has been appropriated by psychiatry and invariably implies at least the suspicion of a psychiatric diagnosis. If I am deluded, then I am necessarily mentally ill. In English law, delusion has been the cardinal feature of insanity for the last 200 years.”
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