By Vexen Crabtree 2008 Mar 28
Some mentally disabled people show a marked decline in religiosity. Others are too simple to understand the complexities of what is required of them for salvation. The very fact that many of these people are born with these disabilities must mean that 'correct belief' is not something God finds essential in an individual. There have been a series of modern sociological investigations into mental disease and religion.
“Researchers have blazed a trail. Patrick McNamara, for example, is the head of the Evolutionary Neurobehaviour Laboratory at Boston University's School of Medicine. He works with people who suffer from Parkinson's disease. This illness is caused by low levels of a messenger molecule called dopamine in certain parts of the brain. In a preliminary study, Dr McNamara discovered that those with Parkinson's had lower levels of religiosity than healthy individuals, and that the difference seemed to correlate with the disease's severity.”
Psychologists have known for some time that some people are born with an apparent disinclination to be religious. William James noted in his 1902 Gifford Lectures that some people are naturally inclined towards certain religious experiences whilst others seem immune to them, not having the right physiological (or mental) equipment for those experiences2. Two researchers, Spinella and Wain, concluded in 2006 that religious experiences frequently result from purely neurological abnormalities3.
“No man can control his belief. You hear evidence for and against, and the integrity of the soul stands at the scales and tells which side rises and which side falls. You can not believe as you wish. You must believe as you must.”
"Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersol (1900)" by Robert. G. Ingersol (1900)
All mental disabilities exist on a scale, from the profound to the mild, to the unnoticeable. Wrong thinking is always partially inherited, as are traits such as gullibility and stubbornness. There is room here to imagine that members of the 'wrong' religion are merely mentally retarded. That is why god's obvious truths are lost on them. But this seeming victory for intolerant traditionalists turns out to be a Trojan horse: For if God creates people with inherent thinking problems and cognitive abnormalities, then it can't be true that such people are judged badly because of the way God made them in the first place. In fact, it seems the opposite must be true: Those who are born without the cognitive ability to understand holy truth must be judged by criteria other than their beliefs. If all people's beliefs are a result of their upbringing and environment as many sociologists believe, then it is probably true that people all over the world cannot help their own beliefs.
So, if there is a God, it designed (or at least allows) the genetic diseases that people are born with; some of those inherited genetic traits actually dispose people towards disbelief, as with Parkinsons. According to the Hebrew scriptures, and the Old Testament, those who are physically deformed, blemished or imparied are also to keep their distance from God. This prohibition extends to any disabled person, including those with merely superfluous blemishes, to those who are blind, and those who have lost (or never had) the use of their hands or feet. This astounding and thoroughly confusing prejudice against disabled people is given as an injunction to Moses directly by God.
16 The Lord said to Moses:
17 Say to Aaron:"For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God.
18 No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame, disfigured or deformed;
19 no man with a crippled foot or hand,
20 or who is a hunchback or a dwarf, or who has any eye defect, or who has festering or running sores or damaged testicles.
21 No descendant of Aaron the priest who has any defect is to come near to present the food offerings to the Lord. He has a defect; he must not come near to offer the food of his God.
22 He may eat the most holy food of his God, as well as the holy food;
23 yet because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am the Lord, who makes them holy."
24 So Moses told this to Aaron and his sons and to all the Israelites.
This seemingly inexcusable bias finds no tolerance today amongst any moral person, yet, is laid down clearly: the physically disabled cannot be priests, cannot approach Christian altars, and cannot give offered foods/gifts to God on behalf of the people.
Many Christians were of course descended from the Gentiles, not the children of Israel, so these horrendous statements from God are always ignored and certainly never voiced by Christians, although, for those many Christians who are descended from Israelites, it of course still applies.
Aside from people who come to have the wrong beliefs as the result of a clear pathology, there are those explicit atheists who understand the concept of God and even the details of theology, but who do not believe it. These are not the same class of non-believers as Implicit atheists who have never experienced God or been told about God: I.e., they have no conception of God and have therefore not rejected or accepted God. Explicit atheists think it is more likely that God does not exist. If there actually is a God that has revealed itself to man, then this inability to understand normal reality is still a form of intellectual disability, a disability of faith. If explicit atheists did not have this 'disability' then they would clearly perceive that God existed... that they do not think this is not a choice they make, it is a function of their inbuilt character and is probably out of their control.
Forms of mental retardation affect religiosity, and, cognitive and neurological abnormalities are related to religious experiences. Some people can never believe the 'right' things about God and salvation because it is beyond their cognitive capacity. Some people are born with an inability to learn correct beliefs and doctrine about God. Therefore God cannot judge people by their beliefs. This makes religion mostly pointless, as it is clearly not essential to have the right beliefs, otherwise God would not create people who have faulty (or missing) religious experiences. If God condemns people because of the intellectual or mental shortcomings that God gave them in the first place, then God is immoral. Earthly correct belief cannot be an essential requirement of salvation.
The arguments on this page lend credence to Universalism because it shows a perfectly-good God would save everyone and send them to heaven no matter what beliefs they had during their lives.
By Vexen Crabtree 2008 Mar 28
Originally published 2002 Sep 05
Skeptical Inquirer. Pro-science magazine published bimonthly by the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, New York, USA.
The Bible (NIV). The NIV is the best translation for accuracy whilst maintaining readability. Multiple authors, a compendium of multiple previously published books. I prefer to take quotes from the NIV but where I quote the Bible en masse I must quote from the KJV because it is not copyrighted, whilst the NIV is. [Book Review]
Ingersol, Robert. G.
Complete Lectures of Col. R. G. Ingersol (1900) (1900). Kessinger Publishing, 1998.
The Varieties of Religious Experience (1902). From the Gifford Lectures delivered at Edinburgh 1901-1902, first Edition printed 1960. Quotes from fifth edition, 1971, Collins. [Book Review]