Parallels & Similarities

The purpose of the following article is not to upset those of a religious persuasion. Its aim simply is to demonstrate the similarity between the type of statements uttered by theists as justification for their religious beliefs and those uttered by the psychiatric profession that cross-dressing is a mental disorder and a paraphilia. It is the writer’s contention that both sets of professed beliefs exemplify a jumping-to-conclusions bias together with a propensity to hold implausible beliefs with unwarranted conviction. The article follows:- 

Does the profession of religious belief represent the sacrificium intellectus or is it actually a psychopathological condition?

An examination of the similarities between religious belief per se and the professed opinion of the psychiatric profession regarding cross-dressing.

Sacrificium Intellectus: the sacrifice of the intellect, silencing the voice of reason in favour of blind faith is, according to Ignatius Loyola, the duty of those who believe in “God”.

Though Loyola was a Jesuit, the followers of all religious cults and ideologies renounce reason with alacrity – as does the psychiatric profession, when it suits them, as this pertinent example from Katherine Wilson demonstrates:

    The psychiatric perceptions of [a]etiology, distress, and treatment goals for transgendered people are remarkably parallel to those for gay and lesbian people before the declassification of homosexuality as a mental disorder in 1973.

 In other words, there is no reason why the psychiatric profession should continue to classify cross-dressing as a mental disorder, or paraphilia, and the fact that it does is totally inconsistent with its declassification of homosexuality 35 years ago as a mental disorder (which psychiatrists still claim has a similar aetiology to cross-dressing). Not, I hasten to add, that I am advocating that the psychiatric profession should restore consistency by reclassifying homosexuality as a mental disorder, though I am quite sure that many members of that profession would dearly love to do so – particularly those who are of a religious persuasion.

All people who refuse to apply logical consistency to their pronouncements are true misologists, haters of reason, a type excoriated by Plato and subsequently by Kant in his Critique of Pure Reason and Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. An example of the misology of religious leaders and believers is their habitual claim that one can be a morally upright member of society only if one believes in their particular version of “God”. Bayle was probably the first philosopher to dispute that view, arguing in his Historical and Critical Dictionary that religion is not preferable to atheism per se and that atheists can be morally upright members of society, much to the discomfort and consternation of the religious leaders of his day.

Another striking example of this lack of logical consistency is the psychiatric profession’s definition of delusion:-

    “A false belief maintained in the face of overwhelming contradictory evidence, apart from beliefs that are articles of religious faith or are widely accepted in the person’s culture.”

Astute readers will neither need me to point out the flaws in that definition per se, nor to have to draw the parallels between it and the continued inclusion of cross-dressing as a mental disorder despite homosexuality having been excluded as one, regardless of the fact that the profession qua profession still maintains a similar aetiology for both phenomena.

Admittedly, the psychiatric profession is also aware of its lack of consistency between the classification of cross-dressing and homosexuality, but tries to get round this by claiming that cross-dressing causes an inability to form “proper” and “normal” heterosexual relationships – which leaves one wondering what exactly the profession thinks homosexuals do, or, indeed, what exactly the word homosexual means – and that cross-dressing causes distress to the cross-dresser – once again without so much as having any regard for the fact that it may well be the psychiatric profession’s own iatrogenic attitude towards cross-dressers that is the root of much of that distress. By the way, the psychiatric profession qua profession also used the identical excuses to justify their diagnosis of homosexuality as a mental disorder, again without any regard to the professions’ own responsibility for directly causing that distress.

Strangely enough, religious believers, both individually and collectively, and the psychiatric profession as a whole appear to share the same inability to accept the ineluctable truth regarding religious belief, namely, even though it is widespread, it is by virtue of its very nature delusional, since there is no objective evidence whatsoever to substantiate the claims made by theists regarding the existence of their particular “God”, not to mention that these various  religions have contradictory and competing claims regarding each others’ version of this imaginary “God”. 

Furthermore, whilst all theists, of whatever persuasion, would like you to believe that we owe them respect for no other reason than the claims they make regarding these so-called “beliefs” per se, the psychiatric profession qua profession refuses to point out that those self-proclaimed beliefs fail to meet the criteria of what epistemologists and psychologists classify as “justified true beliefs”, or that the psychiatric profession generally classifies people who claim to believe in  non-existent, supernatural entities as pathological. If this doesn’t strike you, dear reader, as further evidence of a remarkably inconsistent approach by the psychiatric profession, then I am forced to the conclusion that you too are a misologist.

Unwilling to be outdone by Loyola, some 300 hundred years later the philosopher and devout Christian, Soren Kierkegaard, acknowledged that one cannot know or prove that “God” exists, thus confirming reluctantly that theistic belief could not be described, epistemologically speaking, as “justified true belief”. Nevertheless, he claimed that all Christians could do was to simply and passionately commit themselves to make a “leap of faith” that their alleged “God” does exist. Furthermore, he was adamant that this leap of faith could not be based on rationality or empirical fact, but that it had to be made simply by virtue of “subjective or personal necessity and passionate commitment” on the part of the religiously minded.

Nevertheless, what Kierkegaard failed to point out at the time, and what the psychiatric profession qua profession has been unwilling to point out ever since, is that this “leap of faith” is nothing other than a symptom of a psychopathology which, per se, is the actual root of the religious claimant’s “personal necessity” that subsequently gives rise to their need to “believe” in this so-called “God” of theirs. In short, religious claims are delusional per se, though the psychiatric profession has eschewed admitting that inconvenient truth, even though the American Psychiatric Association’s  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders –IV-Text Revised readily classify other examples of  what it calls “incorrect inference about external reality” as such.

Over the years, there have been a number of influential studies into the reasoning processes of deluded and delusion-prone individuals. Most of these studies used an approach consistent with the prevailing diagnostic definition of delusions, and one of the most recent of these studies into deluded and delusion-prone individuals was published in 2006, entitled Need for Closure, Jumping to Conclusions, and Decisiveness in Delusion-Prone Individuals, by McKay, Langdon & Coltheart.

In that study, “need for closure” refers to a motivated need for certainty, whilst “jumping-to-conclusions” bias refers to the gathering of minimal data when making overconfident probabilistic judgements; both of these constructs have been associated independently in other studies with delusion-proneness and delusional individuals.

The methodology involved the use of standard tools, such as the Peters et al., Delusion Inventory, the Huq et al., experimental beads task, the Milgram and Tenne scales of decisional procrastination, and the Kruglanski et al., need for closure scale, amongst others.

Whilst it was the view of some earlier researchers that the need for closure motivates a jumping-to-conclusions bias, leading, in turn, to delusion-proneness, no study to date has provided evidence of a direct relationship between greater need for closure and jumping to conclusions.

The findings of the McKay et al., study were that the various facets of need for closure proved to be independent; e.g. intolerance of ambiguity correlated positively with delusion-proneness, whilst decisiveness correlated negatively. The finding that delusion-prone individuals are more indecisive in everyday life was replicated using different scales. Delusion proneness is associated independently with jumping-to-conclusions bias on experimental reasoning tasks, intolerance of ambiguity, and indecision concerning real-life dilemmas.

The results indicated that the jumping-to-conclusions bias may be associated more specifically with a propensity to hold implausible beliefs with unwarranted conviction. Results also indicated that need for closure (NFC) is not a unitary construct in relation to delusion-proneness, i.e. NFC intolerance of ambiguity and NFC decisiveness dissociated, whereas intolerance of ambiguity correlated positively with all aspects of delusion-proneness, decisiveness correlated negatively. However the researchers noted here that it was primarily heightened distress concerning implausible thoughts that predicted indecision concerning real-world dilemmas, as assessed using the NFC decisiveness scales. Furthermore, in the case of implausible ideas that come to consciousness as self-generated notions, these might also be associated with an inappropriate sense of heightened salience, leading to the unwarranted sense of conviction. This suggest that delusional and delusion-prone people express unwarranted conviction in their implausible ideas and jump to conclusions on an reasoning task because they attach inappropriate heightened salience to whatever presents to consciousness as an internally generated first-person representation of reality,

The conclusion to this study is that these results suggest that, if anything, delusion-proneness, or at least delusional distress, is associated with indecisiveness concerning real-life dilemmas. The authors also suggest that delusion-prone individuals attach an inappropriate heightened salience to whatever presents to immediate consciousness as an internally generated (first-person) representation of reality. McKay et al., drew on the findings of previous researchers which suggested that it might be this inappropriate salience that then causes the unwarranted conviction in implausible ideas, the jumping-to conclusions bias on an experimental probabilistic reasoning task, and the intolerance of ambiguity and indecisiveness concerning real-life dilemmas that they found in relation to delusion-proneness.

Whilst this abstract does not do justice to a fine and highly technical paper, it is interesting to see how many of the study’s summarized conclusions apply to so-called religious “beliefs” and those who claim to hold them.

If theists’ so-called “belief” in “God” is not a motivated by their need for certainty, or that their claims that their “God” is the first cause and prime-mover is not the making of overconfident judgements on minimal data, or the fact that they claim that the rules for living a decent life can only come from their “God” indicate that they are unable to act decisively for themselves, then they must provide rational, objective reasons and evidence to substantiate their faith that this “God” of theirs exists. Otherwise, they must accept the ineluctable evidence of Loyola, Kierkegaard and McKay et al, namely that genuinely and sincerely held religious belief is a delusional disorder and is defined in the DSM-IV-TR as pathological. Nevertheless, the psychiatric profession as a body is reluctant to acknowledge those facts for fear of upsetting the sensibilities of such a sociological and political powerful movement as organised religion.

There is an alternative to the foregoing, however, namely that the likelihood is that most people who profess to “believe in God” are not suffering from a delusional disorder per se, simply because they have sufficient insight to know that they are what Georges Rey calls “meta-atheists”, i.e. they know at some level that they are simply liars to themselves and others about their so-called “faith”. Furthermore, it is manifestly clear that the psychiatric profession knows this to be true, otherwise it would not be necessary for it to exclude religious “belief” from its own definition of delusion. In which case it is incumbent on it as the psychiatric profession to point out that habitual mendacity and duplicity is a pathological behaviour per se, which brings us back to the fact that the psychiatric profession qua profession demonstrates similar  inconsistencies and pathologies.

Of course, there is another explanation other than psychopathology per se to explain religious belief, and neuroscientists have been conducting elegant experiments for some time now to demonstrate that religious experience and “belief” is due to neuropathology – see, for example, the work of Michael Persinger et al.. Nevertheless, that represents, in many respects, a return to the “nature versus nurture” debate as being at the root of religious belief, but fails completely to explain the similarly remarkable inconsistencies and misologies promulgated by the psychiatric profession qua profession.

In conclusion, there are remarkable parallels and similarities between the profession of religious belief and the pronouncements of the psychiatric profession that cross-dressing is a pathology . Both sets of claims are based on remarkably little objective evidence, contain many inconsistencies and illogicalities, are motivated by a need for certainty of the part of the respective proposers and represent overconfident judgements on minimal data. Therefore, it is unsurprising that the psychiatric profession is not keen to acknowledge the truth about religious belief being a delusional disorder, since it would be leaving itself open to the same charge regarding the claims it makes about cross-dressing and cross-dressers.