Our expert says:
That's a very perceptive and interesting question. In my time, in London, I treated ( successfully ) a boy sent to me by his Cambridge University College, who had woken convinced that he was Jesus Christ. I noticed that word got around, and the local cathedral sent around a couple of priests, apparently just being cautious.
With most of what we "know", this refers to facts, and can be checked with reliable sources. If you start believing that Sydney is the capital of France, you are mistaken and a thousand different ways of checking readily establishes this. Religious beliefs are much more complex, because they are matters purely of belief, rather than of externally verifiable fact. You can check whether the particular belief is shared by other people in any significant numbers, but not whether it is true or not. You may believe any such belief is true, and someone else just as sincerely may believe it is not.
Of course we should all be free to form out own religious beliefs, but one guide to whether we might be forming psychotic ( out of touch with reality ) beliefs would be whether what we are thinking of is highly unusual among people with our general faith, and if we are thinking of ourselves in a uniquely special spiritual force within our fath, rather than a contented follower of the broad faith.
Some types of beliefs are always dubious, and this includes the "666" stuff. This really wasn't seen as having any particular religious significance until Hollywood films and comics used it as a plot device.
Psychotic beliefs arrive out of the blue and are held with certainty --- they aren't arrived at by reasoning or philosophical / spiritual exploration, but START with certainty. And they generally are not open to re-interpretation or revision. Often, the more there is to disconfirm the belief, the more firmly we hold on to it.
There's a tendency for us to see any significant but ambiguous event as somehow "confirming" our beliefs, whatever these are. 9/11 may have proved something about the evil of some men, but had nothing to do with 666 or the end of the world. Iraq and Afgan wars, similarly, were sad, but there have been ward as long as there have been men --- and some much more awful than those two, so they were not about the end of the world any more than the wars of the Romans or Greeks were. Huyrricans, tsunami, economic crises --- they happen somewhere almost every year and have done for centuries, without any of the signalling the end of the world. So one has to interpret any event. nomatter how awful, in perspective and in context.
I find the way people live today distressing and disappointing, too. But as long as there has been writing, people have been writing down precisely the same reaction to the bad behaviour of their day.
Is it deluded to believe that Christ MIGHT return in our lifetime ? Surely not. Is it delusional to be totally convinced He'll come next Tuesday, just after lunch ? Possibly. There's a useful distinction between hoping ( or dreading ) that something MIGHt happen, and being certain that it will.
And no, I don't think psych is a modern religion. Some people have faith that it might be a useful way to be helped, and there is every evidence that it indeed might, and that it is much more reliably likely to be helpful than some of the over-priced remedies sold on TV and in magazines, in which other people have faith. Done properly, psychology/ psychiatry can be a useful source of useful questions, and a useful way to seek answers, rather than a source of certainty.
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