"When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion." DiscussMy Pol.Phil.Ethics lecturer needs 2000 words on this little...

"When one person suffers from a delusion, it is called insanity. When many people suffer from a delusion, it is called religion." Discuss

My Pol.Phil.Ethics lecturer needs 2000 words on this little mind-bender!!! I don't really understand it. Is it suggesting that insane people are attracted to religion? Or that religion makes you insane? I'm not sure which. (apparently, the quote is from "Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance") All help greatly welcomed.

Expert Answers
jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I don't exactly agree with your quotation, but I will try to explain it.

Imagine that one person was walking in the desert and thought God was talking to him.  As long as he keeps it to himself, and perhaps a few friends, it can be considered nothing more than a delusion--that is, nothing more than a trick of the imagination, or perhaps a hallucination caused by exposure to the sun.

If, however, this person claims that God transmitted to him a new holy scripture that contains a new way of serving God, and if he manages to convince thousands of people that this is true, then we can call this new movement a religion. 

Does this mean to say that people who are already insane tend to be attracted to religion? Perhaps.  I tend to think more that the author of this quotation means to say that religion is a kind of mass hysteria that tends to affect humans as a species.  Even people who are otherwise sane are sometimes stricken with this form of insanity.

By the way: I am a strong believer in my particular religion, and I do not think that I am insane for that (perhaps a little insane in other ways ;) ).  I also do not think that people who believe in religions other than my own are insane; mistaken, maybe, but not insane.   

larrygates eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I assume your lecturer expects you to critique the statement; not necessarily agree with it. I must say, it reminds me of those bumper stickers one sees from time to time that read: "God = imaginary friend." There are those who believe that if it can't be explained logically, then it must not be true. Religion is based on that which we can't explain; in fact Thomas Hobbes stated we explain that which we can't explain in terms of "God." However, you might mention to your professor that the failure of ration and logic to explain everything is an indication of the limitations of ration; it cannot answer all questions. You might examine Emmanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason,and the Transcendentalist writers of the American Renaissance, who understood that some things cannot be explained by reason alone. It is the foolish person who insists something does not exist simply because it is beyond his ability to prove it.

pohnpei397 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

It's not saying that insane people are attrated to religion or that religion makes you insane.  It's saying that religious people are deluded -- they have been fooled into believing that something is not so.  It goes on to say that because so many people believe in the same delusion, we call it religion instead of recognizing that they are fooling themselves.

It is assuming that God does not exist and that people have fooled themselves (or been fooled) into believing in him.  It is then commenting on the idea that we as human beings tend to go with the herd and give ideas credence (no matter how dumb they are) just because lots of people believe them.

Does that help at all?

mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

This quotation rings of that of Karl Marx who said, "Religion is the opium of the people."  Marx seems to imply that since religion involves matters of faith, there is a leap that people take from rationality.  And, there is also a comfort that people derive from believing in a Supreme Being who has created them and, in some ways, may also direct their lives, or, at least, provide guidance to them.  According to Marx, it is an "opium" for people to believe in a caring God and to believe that there is heaven. 

ask996 eNotes educator| Certified Educator
While erudite minds sometimes try to squelch faith as a lack of rational thought and sometime laugh and mock those of faith as being foolish, the joke is ultimately on them. They might not believe in God or Christ. They might not love God or Christ, but those of faith know that God and Christ still believe in and love them. The beauty of faith for those of us who have it is that we don't have to prove it. Finally in my Mama's words "God loves you and so do I."
brettd eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Religion is primarily based on faith: a belief in that which cannot be proven.  I believe humans act based on faith in many things, not just religion. Sometimes this faith is justified, other times it is blind or merely hopeful.  Delusional is a strong word, but some religious people seem to qualify, such as those who take holy books literally and strictly.

clairewait eNotes educator| Certified Educator

If I had to write 2000 words on this quote, I would probably include something about the likelihood of the speaker being hurt or burned by a religious person or experience.  The quote is cheeky.  It comes across as witty, even sounds a little funny, but ultimately strikes me as something spoken out of hurt feelings, anger, or a little bit of both.

lrwilliams eNotes educator| Certified Educator

I would agree with the above posters in saying that the quote appears to be from someone who does not have faith. As someone else has stated the speaker is trying to say that those who believe without prove are suffering from delusion.

uncentered | Student

The Tooth Fairy is a delusion. Yet we cannot prove that the Tooth Fairy does  not exist. Santa Claus is a delusion. Yet we cannot prove that he does not exist. Children believe in both of these fantasies. Are they mad? No, and no one ever says that religious people are 'mad' or 'insane' either, but none-the-less believing in God is the same sort of delusion as the Tooth Fairy or Santa Claus. Unless of course you can provide evidence in God one day. Which of course you won't.