Kathleen Taylor, neuroscientist, was quoted today in the Huffington Post as suggesting it might be a good idea to treat religious beliefs as mental illness.
“Someone who has for example become radicalised 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,” Taylor said. “In many ways it could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage.”
Reading to the bottom of the article, one finds that Taylor voices caution concerning this kind of recommendation, in view of possible abuses. I’ve learned that when an article opens with a lede like this one’s (“…one day religious fundamentalism may be treated as a curable mental illness”), it might be the journalist more than the researcher whose voice we’re hearing.
I don’t know, then, which of them is more to blame, but the suggestion is dangerous.
I agree there are some incredibly damaging religious beliefs. To treat them as “some kind of mental disturbance,” however rather than “a result of pure free will,” is to place the believer’s freedom of will in the hands of others wielding great power on them involuntarily.
The Soviets did this, I’m told.
As for “beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage,” consider one professor’s view
RELIGIOUS belief can cause damage to a society, contributing towards high murder rates, abortion, sexual promiscuity and suicide, according to research published today.
The study mentioned there is a widely discredited one by Gregory S. Paul. The philosophy professor responsible for the website seems to affirm Paul’s conclusions regardless.
Consider the Ohio attorney, formerly serving in state government, who writes at length of “Christianity’s Social Harms.”
And consider the much more prominent person who said,
I think that, particularly as somebody who’s now in the public realm and is a student of what brings people together and what drives them apart, there’s an enormous amount of damage done around the world in the name of religion and certainty.
Do you see where Taylor’s (reported) recommendation could take us?
Sure, religious beliefs can be harmful. To use neuroscience to deny freedom of belief, however, would be horrendous.