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The Stanton Peele Addiction Website, March 22, 2008. This blog post also appeared on Stanton's Addiction in Society blog at PsychologyToday.com.

Religion as Craziness

Religious people are certifiable. They are obligated to believe crazy things.

But that doesn’t define them as ill. When the things they believe or are taught to believe harm them, however, then they have a disorder.

Good Friday in SevilleI write this from my hotel in Seville, on Good Friday, after marching through the streets following religious processions of floats, mournful bands, and men dressed in pointed hoods and robes (which makes all Americans uneasy). When I ask my daughter– much more culturally sensitive than I am – what this has to do with Jesus, she answers, “ritual.”

Of course, religious people are obligated to believe and practice all sorts of crazy things. One older man I work with came from a bedrock Plains Methodist family, and took a vow as a teen that alcohol would “never pass his lips.” He also refused to have premarital sex, and married a woman he was strongly attracted to in order to. . . .

But they were ill-suited to be married and spent the next fifty years struggling. He began drinking a liter-and-a-half of vodka in their basement, fell, and was hospitalized. When he emerged, he moved into his own apartment. He consulted with me about drinking wine moderately. Ordinarily, I am reluctant to accept a moderated drinking plan for someone living alone who has been getting drunk in his basement. But it has worked perfectly. Out from under the onus of his marriage, he is a new person.

It is virtually impossible to work with someone raised to be religious who has alcohol, marital, or sexual problems without finding a strong religious component to their disorders. A woman I dealt with could only have sex when she was intoxicated, leading to bad sex, bad relationships, and bad drinking. Although she now professes atheism, she was brought up a Southern Baptist and was lectured against sex and booze. A person never gets entirely free from such indoctrination.

Many people (think of Catholics) simply ignore the crazy beliefs of their church – like the bans on homosexuality and birth control. But there is always a cost to dealing with such craziness. A man I know to be a completely nonobservant Jew, but whose father was a rabbi, now keeps strictly kosher. When I asked him, “Isn’t that diet difficult to keep?”, he answered, "Tell me about it – I must be constantly on guard.”

Yes, religion is a bitch. Of course, us atheists are plenty crazy too.