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What I mean by this is, in other communities of people, there may be certain ways to measure a delusion. An atheist may define it differently than a theist. The official DSM has a specific way to define a "delusion" (with religious exemption).

Do any Christian doctrines have a clear way to define delusions OR is there no such thing as a psychological delusion from a Christian perspective?

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2 Answers 2

Delusion is neither a Christian nor a non-Christian matter. Delusion is simply believing something that isn't true despite overwhelming evidence. I don't believe there is a specific "Christian" perspective on it.

I'm going to try very hard to answer the rest of this objectively and not get on a soap box (even though it goes against my obnoxious nature).

Let's start with a definition of a "delusion", straight from Wikipedia.

A delusion is a belief held with strong conviction despite superior evidence. Unlike hallucinations, delusions are always pathological (the result of an illness or illness process). As a pathology, it is distinct from a belief based on false or incomplete information, dogma, poor memory, illusion, or other effects of perception.

As long as we are limited finite beings, a certain amount of uncertainty exists in determining what is "real" and what is not. As long as we are finite, we can't know and prove everything.

As long as we're not omniscient then the best we can do it to try to interpret the evidence in such a way that it makes sense to us.

Here's an example an atheist and non-atheist can relate to:

For years, scientists thought that atoms were the smallest level of matter, until they realized that atoms are made up of proton, neutrons, and electrons. Then came quantum physics, which indicates that at that level, reality is a lot more strange and complex than ordinary physics. Does this mean that the scientists that didn't understand quantum physics were "delusional"? No, they simply didn't have all the facts. We still don't.

Going back to the "superior evidence" portion of the definition, there is plenty of evidence both for and against the existence of God, creationism, theism, the Bible as God's word, and a whole host of other beliefs that separate us. The problem isn't the evidence itself in many cases, it's how our own personal biases and our own presuppositions color how we interpret the evidence. We don't have conclusive evidence for or against Christianity.

I came from the atheist viewpoint to be a very firm believer in the most conservative young-earth view of Christianity based on examining the evidence. I was attempting to show my mom how dumb Christianity is. My own bias was against Christianity. I don't say this to convince you or anyone else, but I do say it to back up the fact that I have examined the evidence, and I would argue with anyone that the evidence is far from conclusive either way.

I came to my position not because the evidence for God was so overwhelming, but because I learned through years of research that the evidence against His existence wasn't as strong as I'd believed, and an open mind led me to believe, personally, that the evidence for Him has fewer unresolved assumptions and problematic discrepancies.

Therefore, Christianity is not delusional, nor is atheism. Neither one fits the textbook definition of "against overwhelming evidence". There's a big difference between "there's overwhelming evidence" and "I'm only aware of some of the evidence and reject out-of hand the evidence that doesn't support my viewpoint."

From the note it looks like I went the wrong route and am not answering your question as you intended, but I think the above still applies.

In 2 Thessalonians 2:11, (KJV) we read:

And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie:

This delusion simply refers to a falsehood - a false belief, still meeting the textbook definition above. This is just a specific delusion being spoken of in this case. it doesn't nullify or establish the idea of "delusion" still meeting the normal understanding of the word.

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LOL You know as well as I do that nothing applies to all Christians. ;-) –  David Stratton Feb 25 '12 at 19:40
"Does this mean that the scientists that didn't understand quantum physics were "delusional"?" Based on your argument, those scientists were NOT facing overwhelming evidence to contrary, so the answer is "no". However you're proposing that new science, brought about by new evidence, has answer closer to truth. This is the argument (obviously) that atheists use against the bible. –  rpeg Feb 25 '12 at 21:13
@David someone who is tricked/duped is not really delusional, as they (by the deceit) were denied the evidence. Of course, if this evidence is presented later and they cling to the lie, then it might become a delusion. –  Marc Gravell Feb 25 '12 at 22:48
Some of the anti-atomists were delusional. In particular, Ernst Mach's constant repudiation of atoms throughout the first decade of the 20th century, even after being shown individual alpha-particle scintillations, borders on pathological skepticism. Those that denied the Bohr model were similarly delusional. Thankfully, young people took over who were not bound to follow the elders dogma to be accepted in the field. –  Ron Maimon Feb 26 '12 at 3:15
I think this brings up the question of whether someone who makes any religious claims is ever capable of being "delusional". Unfortunately since the DSM gives religious exemption, it puts professionals in a position where they are not allowed to ever call any religious claim as a sign of deluded, irrationality. I believe this poses serious consequences to any semblance of rational, theistic belief (if there is any) because we can not (or are not allowed to) separate them from the irrational theists. –  rpeg Feb 26 '12 at 20:27

The idea of delusion is very important in christian tradition and I am amazed that the two answers given suggest there is no christian perspective for this. The spiritual delusion (called prelest' in slavonic) is one of the greatest dangers that await people praying. I think the most concise study of this subject can be found in this short treatise of Saint Symeon the New Theologian:


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Reading this, I think it amounts to "avoid looking at the sky, because of the air demons that are there". Is there a biblical basis for this? It sounds more like a cultural tradition...? –  Marc Gravell Jul 22 '12 at 7:41
Why do you think it "amounts to" not looking at the sky? It is generally about avoiding sensual experiences in prayer. The advice not to look at the sky (probably seeking some revelation) is just one of the ways to avoid spiritual delusion. –  zefciu Jul 23 '12 at 8:26

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