Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Testing the mental health of an atheist

Regarding my proposed simple test for an atheist's mental health, G. Rodrigues asked:

Why? I can understand what it means to ask an atheist to deliver a straight and calm prayer, but sincere? It is also not at all clear to me why we should expect an atheist to be straight and calm doing something that must be, must feel, pretty ridiculous.
My reply is as follows:

When I say 'sincere', I mean only in terms of how it sounds. Not throwing in snide or angry remarks during it. Nothing especially passionate, or fantastic acting skills. In fact, going over the top would just feed into the lack of sincerity. I'm talking a pretty simple, calm prayer.

And, I think if an atheist feels ridiculous at offering up a prayer to the point that they can't do what I'm asking, it indicates a problem - that there's something going on beyond mere 'lack of God belief' or 'belief that God probably doesn't exist'. It's almost but not quite like a superstition test. If someone claims that the Bloody Mary ritual is complete bunk, but they can't bring themselves to so much as complete it (it's a very simple gimmick) and can think of all kinds of excuses why it's just SO stupid that they never, ever want to do it? Well, call me skeptical of their claims.

I'd add, it's not as if I'm demanding an atheist perform every ritual under the sun - just as I wouldn't bombard a claimed non-superstitious person with demands to do this, that and a million other ritual acts. But someone who can't pull off a plain and simple prayer - or who can't pull it off without serious distress - probably has some issues they need to sort out.

20 comments:

Marc L├╝ttingen said...

An anti-theist would probably answer you it is as ridiculous as if you were to pray to an invisible unicorn.

So I think we have a bit more work to do and have to show them why such comparisons don't hold water.

A funny consequence of the multiverse theory they favor for avoiding the fine tuning argument is that there necessarily exist a multitude of unicorns due to the law of great numbers.

Crude said...

So I think we have a bit more work to do and have to show them why such comparisons don't hold water.

To be honest, I'm entirely beyond trying to convince -them- that they're mentally ill. I'm more interested in illustrating anti-theist mental illness to others.

And it's not just a multitude of unicorns that exist - it's a multitude of gods.

Water into Whine said...

Atheists don't necessarily wish to perform actions that contradict their beliefs or express something contradicting their beliefs, it would only be a mental health issue if it were to cause them, for example, marginalisation or physical distress. There are probably a few atheists who would be capable of prayer in private, but not when challenged due to a basic sensitivity about public presentation. To engage in prayer is to submit to a conventional symbol which they may not wish to, or to identify with a certain community, just as an uncultivated person may not wish to walk around a city holding a German flag and a swastika.

One would generally expect that from a movement where a large amount of people chose the belief rather than taking it as a default, which is why many Christians don't show this level of consistency. This then allows for gimmicky events in churches where people prove their sinfulness through shouting to crucify Christ, etc., so it isn't all in vain.

Acatus Bensley said...

It's kind of pathetic that believing that a single entity created it all is stupid to them, but a theory that sounds like something out of a comic book is more plausible.

Crude said...

Water,

Atheists don't necessarily wish to perform actions that contradict their beliefs or express something contradicting their beliefs,

The problem here is that no belief is contradicted by an atheist praying.

First, quite a lot of atheists insist with gusto that they do not -have- beliefs about God - they 'lack God belief' and that's the beginning and end of atheism, period. Now I think that's wrong, but taken at face value, it means that praying to God in no way violates an atheist belief - there is no belief to violate.

Second, even if we make the move that atheism does involve beliefs - belief that God doesn't exist, or belief that God likely doesn't exist - there's still no contradiction in play. You don't need to believe God likely exists, or exists at all, to pray.

To engage in prayer is to submit to a conventional symbol which they may not wish to

But it's not - at least, that's not what I'm asking here. Submission is a mental act, but that's not part of the test. Instead, it's the mere saying of words. Pretty similar to calling out for someone in what they believe to be an empty building. No community identification, no submission.

Now, I will say that I can imagine atheists coming up with a litany of excuses as to why they can never, under any circumstances, utter a prayer. But then, I think a full-blown claustrophobic can offer twelve good reasons about why they choose to live outside and never, ever enter any buildings, with all of the reasons having nothing to do with their phobia. But they've still got a mental problem.

One would generally expect that from a movement where a large amount of people chose the belief rather than taking it as a default,

That seems flat out wrong, or at least poorly offered. Everyone chooses their beliefs in the relevant sense, and cultural forces exist for atheism just as they do for everything else. And again I'd not, plenty of atheists fight tooth and nail to insist that they don't even have beliefs, insofar as they're atheists.

which is why many Christians don't show this level of consistency.

There's no consistency being displayed by atheists on this topic.

grodrigues said...

Most likely, I am missing a piece of your reasoning, but I still do not see it. If you were to ask me to perform a pointless activity, even if a trivial one, and then as a litmus test of my own mental sanity, I surely would be pretty hesitant and resistant to perform it. But I surely do not take this as any sign of my *own* mental insanity.

On the other, there is something akin to this phenomenon, when for example atheists regularly lambast God with great moral indignation, a being that does not exist, for having ordered alleged moral atrocities, which he never ordered because he does not exist, and which are not imoral because there is no substantive criteria by which we can evaluate actions as moral or imoral, to fictional people who have not existed as well, in a fictional book composed and redacted to keep the masses in awe of inexistent and invisible powers.

Crude said...

grod,

Most likely, I am missing a piece of your reasoning, but I still do not see it.

Hey, I could be wrong too.

But I surely do not take this as any sign of my *own* mental insanity.

A certain amount of my reply here is tit for tat. If Cult of Gnu atheists want to accuse theists of mental illness, I'm going to explore the varieties of mental illness that may be prevalent among atheists. And I think this is one area where the 'issues' detector starts beeping.

In fact, you touch on that with your example. The whole 'God is a monster, a maniac, a this a that'. There's Hitchens with his 'God as a galactic Saddam Hussein' talk. There's also, of course, materialism, denial of self, etc.

I suppose a short version of what I'm saying here is, if militant atheists want to start talking about mental illness, there are plenty of levels in which that charge can be turned back around. If psychoanalysis is the game, I'm willing to play it - and I think the willingness to play it is the best way to stop it from happening to begin with.

Anyway, to address your specific issue: I'm not talking about a situation where atheists have to pray on command to prove themselves. It's an in principle necessity, that may conditionally be appropriate for them to perform, especially if they're running around judging others as mentally ill. Though I do think there's some rhetorical fun to be had for the atheist who flat out refuses to pray to prove the health of their mind and the sincerity of their views, if said atheist regards 'unanswered prayer' as damning re: God's existence.

RD Miksa said...

Hey Crude,

You said:

"When I say 'sincere', I mean only in terms of how it sounds. Not throwing in snide or angry remarks during it. Nothing especially passionate, or fantastic acting skills. In fact, going over the top would just feed into the lack of sincerity. I'm talking a pretty simple, calm prayer"

As I mentioned at the Shadow to Light blog, I deal with individuals with mental health issues on a daily basis (although, it must be clear, just at the front-line level and not in-depth).

However, I can tell you that based on my experience, your "test" for atheists is not only headed in the right direction, but it also has parallels to other mental health tests.

For example, we have field tests that we use at the street level in order to gauge if certain people might have dementia or not, which then allows us to determine if such people need further medical care. One of these field tests is to simply ask the individual that we are assessing to count backwards from twenty (in order) calmly, slowly, without pausing, and in a normal way. Most people without dementia can do this without problem (obviously). Most people with serious dementia have some trouble doing this. And the interesting thing is that many people who are just at the beginnings of having dementia, rather than do the trivial task as instructed, become angry, frustrated, and passionate in either their refusal to do the task or in registering how "stupid" and "what a waste of time" such a task is. Now, why do these people cause such a scene? In my experience, it is because while they are starting to get the onset of dementia, they are still lucid enough to realize that they are getting the onset of dementia, and thus, such a trivial task, which they realize they may or may not be able to complete given their budding dementia, causes them frustration and anger. Therefore, they seek to avoid doing this task in order to avoid the possibility of failing it and thus displaying their budding dementia to other people (and further reinforcing it to themselves).

So, your "sincere prayer" challenge may indeed be a similar type of test, for it may expose the particular atheist that cannot complete it as someone who realizes that he is not really an atheist, and yet still wants to label himself as such (just like the person who is starting to get dementia realizes that he is getting it, and yet he still wants to label himself as completely healthy).

Take care,

RD Miksa

Cale B.T. said...

Hi Crude, regarding your debate that you suggested, I'm up for it some time.

I'd love to know your thoughts on whether you think I could have done anything better in these exchanges:


http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/2014/03/07/what-does-honesty-from-coal-producers-sound-like/

http://questionablemotives.wordpress.com/2014/03/30/why-should-religion-be-kept-out-of-healthcare

Crude said...

Cale,

Glancing over it, I think part of the problem is this: you attempt to have calm, reasonable dialogue with... everyone. No matter how obviously wound up they are, no matter how insulting they are, no matter how crazy they are. They can insult you directly, not respond to your points, go off in any direction they please, misrepresent what you say, and there you go, patiently trying to unweave what they're saying and point out this and that logical flaw, only to have them do it again. And the entire time you keep your cool, avoid insults, ask for peaceful and reasonable dialogue and debate and...

And, it's a waste of your time. Tildeb? Papalinton, known plagiarist? IM Skeptical, moron? Ashley, who at first glance seems perpetually irate and tragically slow? Pardon my being blunt here in my estimation of them, but the point is this: these are not people you should be spending your time arguing with. A David Brightly? Sure. A Dan Gillson? Yep. And plenty of others.

But the proper response - and I sincerely believe this - to brain-damaged, slow people like tildeb is to rip them apart, laugh at them, and use them as examples. They're not dialogue partners, because dialogue is terrifying to them - it indicates that someone can reasonably disagree with them, which is a pants-shitting prospect. And people like that shouldn't be treated as if they're worthy debate partners. Nor the Papalintons, nor the IM Skepticals, nor the rest.

That really is the advice I have at a glance: be selective of how you spend your time. And keep in mind that even people who seem reasonable many times aren't - BDK was praised to high heavens but just about all sides on Dangerous Idea, as being some kind of level-headed, reasonable icon of calm, rational atheism. I never bought it. And in the end, it turned out he was sock-puppeting a fake Christian troll on the same blog.

Joost Eggelaar said...

This is wholly putting the horse behind the cart. Why would empty ritual and wishful thinking show soundness of mind instead of its exact opposite? Indeed, I would argue that talking to yourself in order for the universe to look favourably upon you is not the sign of a sane man.

Crude said...

Why would empty ritual and wishful thinking show soundness of mind instead of its exact opposite?

Precisely because if you think something is empty ritual (wishful thinking isn't relevant, since I'm not asking you to wish anything), then it indicates you've got more psychological issues going on than what you're letting on.

I don't believe that Zeus exists - so I'd have no problem invoking Zeus in name. I'd have no issues, no hangups. I can do it in a relaxed way.

Now if I was paranoid about doing that, if I was worked up and nervous at the very request? Yeah, you could probably suss out that no, I actually had Zeus Issues.

Indeed, I would argue that talking to yourself in order for the universe to look favourably upon you

Aww, that's cute. You have no idea what prayer is, do you? ;)

I get the impression when you say "I would argue" you mean "I would assert", and when asked to provide arguments you'd have nothing more than... well, psychological baggage, really.

Joost Eggelaar said...

No Crude, it does not betray psychological issues to not wish to engage in unproductive behaviour. Of course I could do so and quite possibly even in a relaxed manner, but to what end? There is no paranoia going on, merely the knowledge that it does absolutely nothing whatsoever.

Prayer, fundamentally, is talking to yourself. People pray to find their lost car keys for example, they really do and this is merely plea-bargaining with the universe. It is not only unproductive it is also betrays a staggering disconnect from reality. The universe does not care. Other people may care if I wish to engage in empty ritual with them, but honestly I am too old to placate these kind of people. I would tell them to grow up and stop having imaginary friends.

To assert that not wishing to engage in such behaviour is anything but sane grinds my gears, it really does. You can label it anything you wish, but that really says something about you and nothing else, sorry.

Crude said...

No Crude, it does not betray psychological issues to not wish to engage in unproductive behaviour. Of course I could do so and quite possibly even in a relaxed manner, but to what end?

Sure, sure. "I could totally do it at any time! ... I just never want to! It's so unproductive!"

Let me tell you something, Joost. What you're doing here? The dead opposite of convincing.

Prayer, fundamentally, is talking to yourself.

Nope, it's not. At most it's talking to someone who doesn't happen to be listening who doesn't exist, by mistake. No different from saying 'I'm home!' to an empty house that you mistakenly think your spouse is in, or asking questions on the phone when there's no one on the other line.

Really, the fact that you think that prayer means trying to address the universe is illustrating how ignorant you are of this. You may as well say the man who says 'Honey, I'm home' when he enters his home is "addressing the universe".

To assert that not wishing to engage in such behaviour is anything but sane grinds my gears, it really does.

Does it make you angry, Joost? Do you feel like smashing your keyboard, or kicking a puppy?

Thanks for showing up, because really - you're pretty much being 'exhibit A' for making my case here. You may as well follow this up with talking about how the whole prospect makes you so angry you feel like cutting yourself, because you know beyond a shadow of a doubt that your weird issues with prayer and God are sanity.

Joost Eggelaar said...

Now, I have been quite careful not to resort to ad hominems, Crude, but it is clear you have no compunction about refraining from that yourself.

Prayer can not be equated to speaking to an empty house. Prayer is attempting to plea with the universe, with that which according to your doctrine is not only the creator of it but also the universe to a fundamental degree. God and the universe are inseperable because if they could be seperated then there would be something greater than God, namely God plus the universe.

Since there is no proof at all for God's existence praying is very much like talking to yourself, since God for all intents and purposes is an imaginary friend.

No child, it does not make me feel like smashing my keyboard or kicking a puppy. It merely grinds my gears, which is what I said it did. Please refrain from slippery slope arguments.

It doesn't really matter what I say, you will just twist it around to pretend it proves your point. Which is why I suppose I should feel no shame in returning the favour.

As such I must conclude that it is you who is feeling unreasonable anger, who gets irrationally upset and as such I think the limit of productive conversation has been exceeded.

Do enjoy your forays into the mindnumbingly inane and the obvious bunk that is dualism. Pray do not expect me to take you seriously or treat you with anything but the respect I reserve for the intellectually dishonest, namely, none.

Have a good day.

Crude said...

Now, I have been quite careful not to resort to ad hominems, Crude, but it is clear you have no compunction about refraining from that yourself.

You apparently don't know what an ad hominem is either. You rolled in here with snide remarks, and I delivered some in turn.

Mine just hit closer to the mark. ;)

Prayer can not be equated to speaking to an empty house. Prayer is attempting to plea with the universe, with that which according to your doctrine is not only the creator of it but also the universe to a fundamental degree.

Once again, the fact that you think prayer is a 'plea to the universe' - and that "my doctrine" is, apparently, pantheism - just shows how out of your league you are here. Sorry, gent, but 'the universe' is not God. Not according to me, or much anyone else around here.

Since there is no proof at all for God's existence

Sure there is - all manner of it, in fact. Well, there's 'evidence'. There are also proofs with regards to metaphysical argument, but you just seem bizarrely ignorant of those.

It merely grinds my gears, which is what I said it did. Please refrain from slippery slope arguments.

It's not a 'slippery slope argument', and it was a question. The fact that it 'grinds your gears' is quite enough - you pretty much admit you have a mental problem when it comes to the question being posed here. At this point it's merely a question of ascertaining the degree.

It doesn't really matter what I say, you will just twist it around to pretend it proves your point.

No, I simply evaluate the words you say. You're the one talking about your temper issues when it comes to praying to God, your excuses for how you could never attempt such a thing, and then making inane comments about how prayer is 'talking to the universe'. Don't blame your poor performance on me, Joost.

As such I must conclude that it is you who is feeling unreasonable anger

Anger? The only one whose 'gears have been ground' is you. Me, I just had a laugh at you and argued with a bit of flair.

Pray do not expect me to take you seriously

I don't make a habit of trying to get taken seriously by the mentally unhinged and the intellectually questionable. ;)

Have a good day.

I will, thanks to you! I had forgotten about this topic, but you not only reminded me of it, you provided evidence for my claim. Thank you, Joost - it was, if unintentionally from you, still a pleasant exchange. ;)

Joost Eggelaar said...

Oh good grief, I've attempted to debate someone who blasphemes against the doctrine of a faith he purports to adhere to.

You just stated there is something greater than God.

When will I learn. It should have been obvious from the get-go that not only this would be an excersize in futility, this whole blog was also written by a false believer.

Crude said...

Oh good grief, I've attempted to debate someone who blasphemes against the doctrine of a faith he purports to adhere to.

Please quote me, Joost, where I A) purported to adhere to this doctrine anywhere on this blog, B) where this doctrine that 'the universe is God too!!!' is part of any doctrine I believed in, or C) where I said 'something is greater than God'. You're confusing my laughing at your ramblings with endorsing them.

You kept talking about how prayer is 'asking the universe' for something. I pointed out how stupid that is. Whining 'b-b-b-but God has to be the universe partly!' isn't going to help cover up your mistakes.

Really, all this mental anguish just because you've got psychological hangups about praying. Don't you think maybe you should ask yourself whether your atheism really is as free of mental baggage? If the gear-grinding, the attacks, the general instability may indicate a deeper problem you need to address?

When will I learn.

Not anytime soon, if this conversation is anything to go by. ;)

this whole blog was also written by a false believer.

Talk about mental baggage. You know what I love about this? The unintentional self-deprecation involved when an atheist's criticism of a theist cashes out to 'I think you're dishonest and a liar and a fraud! You're probably an atheist too!'

Like I said, Joost - your every reply just adds more evidence for my argument here. Perhaps, a la PeteBog, atheism should be regarded as a mental illness that should be contained and ultimately eradicated by state intervention?

Joost Eggelaar said...

Excuse me, but did you not say the universe is not part of God? Thus you are saying there is something greater than God, namely God plus the universe. This is rather elementary, one would think. Do keep up.

I'm not going to comment on the non sequiturs, strawmen and slippery slopes.

Crude said...

Excuse me, but did you not say the universe is not part of God?

God isn't composed of parts. I don't particularly care what arbitrary 'I read 2 lines about this on google once' definition of God you're working with, little boy. I'm more concerned with mine, and most theists'.

Look, I know your keen mental illness about God - quite possibly due to family issues - is driving your need to rant and rave. But unfortunately, at this blog, I respect reason, articulated thought, and more things that are scary and alien to you. And when you make hilarious mistakes like talking about how praying to God is 'asking the universe to do something', or when you try to rationalize your inability to so much as utter a sincere-sounding prayer to God, I am going to point it out.

Repeatedly, and having fun while doing so. ;)

Seriously Joost - I clearly hit a nerve with you. Is this really how you want to live your life? Avoiding the issues you have with God rather than confronting them and dealing with them honestly? Googling for half-baked inane claims about God that are smacked down with ease in 10 seconds? Or do you want to give up your hatred, your anger, and - if not become a theist, at least become a bit more mentally healthy than you are right now?

Ask yourself why prayer scares you so. Why mere words are to be avoided by you with superstitious fervor. You may be a better person for it.