Is Extreme Religiosity a Sign of Mental Illness?



An imaginary friend

Imagine a child who for whatever reasons is fearful of the world in which he lives. To make himself feel better, he invents an imaginary friend who has amazing magical powers to protect him.  He speaks to his friend multiple times throughout the day and believes that his invisible friend speaks to him in a voice that only he can hear.  He believes that his friend guides him in making everyday decisions. With his new “friend” constantly at his side, the child is happier, more self-confidant, and less anxious.

Question: Once this child becomes an adult, is it healthy for him to maintain this belief system if it continues to give him peace and a sense of security and comfort?

I say, no. Once he is no longer a child, he needs to deal with life as an adult. His belief in an imaginary friend with magical powers is unhealthy and most mental health professionals would consider him mentally ill.

I’m not saying that all religious persons are mentally ill, but if you are talking to an invisible friend multiple times a day and you believe that this invisible friend “guides” you in your daily decision-making, I think the comparison with the child above is valid.


Whether it is the Roman Catholic who spends a good part of every day chanting and re-chanting the Rosary or the evangelical Protestant who spends hours every day talking to an invisible Jesus asking him to make every life decision for him, these habits do not seem healthy.  They may bring the very religious peace and comfort but at a great price: avoidance of reality.

And there is an even greater danger to society at large: People who listen to and obey the voice of an invisible friend sometimes do really scary things like drown their children or fly airplanes into skyscrapers.

I say, dump the invisible friend and deal with reality…no matter how uncomfortable and scary that reality may be at times.

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