You’re suffering from delusion, but I think you’re all right


Say you have a neighbour. He is a devout Muslim, but no supporter of the more radical movements that people associate with violence in the Middle East and Europe. He’s a local businessman – owns a small shop in a busy area.

As a devout Muslim, he believes he is better than unbelievers – which includes you, his neighbour.

You’ve had deep conversations with him on several occasions about gods/God, reality, faith and religion, and how you know what you know. You are convinced that he firmly believes that a Muslim is superior to a non-believer.

You search around a bit on the Internet and get the following from Wikipedia about delusion: “A delusion is a false fixed belief that is not amenable to change in light of conflicting evidence. As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, confabulation, dogma, illusion, hallucination, or some other misleading effects of perception, as individuals with those beliefs are able to change or readjust their beliefs upon reviewing the evidence. However: ‘The distinction between a delusion and a strongly held idea is sometimes difficult to make and depends in part on the degree of conviction with which the belief is held despite clear or reasonable contradictory evidence regarding its veracity.’”

So, your neighbour thinks he’s a better person than you because he follows a certain set of beliefs.

You think he’s suffering from delusion.

Nevertheless, you recently celebrated your birthday and decided to invite a few people over for dinner. You also invite your neighbour, and he accepts.

The evening is quite pleasant. Everyone enjoys the food, and the discussions are interesting and varied.

At the end of the evening, your neighbour thanks you for the invitation. You thank him for coming.

He still thinks his faith makes him better than you, and you still think he’s suffering from delusion.

* * *

Some people are filled with absolute confidence in their delusions.

It is also a common phenomenon that people who suffer from serious delusions about the nature of reality can nevertheless function in diverse situations and different environments without much difficulty.

Just think of the millions of Christians who are firmly convinced that Hindus and Muslims and people of other faiths will burn in Hell forever after their death, but otherwise these Christians function perfectly well in society. Think also of Muslims and Hindus and people of other faiths who are firmly convinced people who do not believe like them and do not perform the rituals that affirm membership to a particular symbolic reality, are ignorant fools who will one day pay the price for their stubbornness. At the same time, these Muslims and Hindus and people of other faiths have no problem facing the most advanced challenges in their social and professional lives.

Not only can you suffer from severe delusion and function perfectly well in the community, you can also make a particularly positive difference to other people’s lives, leaving an extremely positive legacy.

* * *

Actually part of another discussion, but I must table the question: Are religious beliefs necessarily delusions? I believe, no. Not if you acknowledge that what you believe in cannot necessarily be proven, and that your faith is a personal choice to believe in something you hope to be true. It is, in other words, not delusional to say, “I know what I believe in may not be true.”

(By the way, this piece is not really about religion.)