“I speak to a supernatural being every night. He guides me, helps me make my decisions, and comforts me when I need it.”
-Millions of people
I would like to begin by stating that I am not a doctor, nor do I claim to understand anything about neuroscience. I would, however, like to examine the differences between a schizophrenic person and an extremely spiritual person. The statement above could undoubtedly be claimed by either someone that is highly religious, or is diagnosed with a mental disease. Kindly lower your guards and open your minds, as I would like to do nothing more than objectively analyze the differences between the two.
Cases of schizophrenia are rarely identical, but it is typically agreed upon that they are experiences of sensory events without input from a surrounding environment¹. I have come in contact with three individuals in my lifetime that were diagnosed with schizophrenia. One was a misdiagnosis, but two were authentic cases. Out of those two, I only spent an extended amount of time with one of them. The fact that there are oftentimes misdiagnoses (one in my personal, slightly narrowed experience), demonstrates a certain lack of understanding in the field. Observing Durand and Barlow’s broadly stated definition, it is likely impossible to distinguish the difference between a religious zealot and a schizophrenic. As I have mentioned in the past, I have spoken to people that truly believed they communicated with Jesus or Buddha directly. In fact, many experiences during my childhood allowed me to personally observe hundreds of people that claimed to have a personal relationship with Jesus. I found myself more intrigued than anything, and to this day I do not delegitimize their experience; nor do I believe it was necessarily false. It is a never-ending search that intrigues me to this day.
I would, however, argue that it is primarily social norms and sociocultural effects throughout the centuries that allow most religious individuals to ‘get away’ with speaking to a mystical being. I tend to think that individuals whom are heavily reliant on a deity are experiencing nothing more than our primatial instincts. If you consider human beings from many, many eras ago (ranging from 10,000 to 2 million years ago – depending on your specific sources/beliefs), you will find that humans typically lived in smaller communes, where individuals could not so easily harm others without the community realizing something had gone awry. In our modern age, it seems that religion serves as disciplinary measure to punish those that cannot ‘be observed by the community.’
Granted, the assumption and belief in these deities likely provides a higher quality of life to these individuals. However, if someone were to make a claim that beings from other planets or realms speak directly to them, a psychoanalysis is almost certainly recommended. As stated, our modern cultural beliefs allow us to believe in theoretical beings, as long as these beings are accepted as a norm. This seems to be a highly irrational, as well as flawed, belief system. It is quite unlike the belief system that most modern day ‘enlightened’ individuals claim to follow, which is: Keep an open mind. That being said, there are obviously cases where individuals are undoubtedly psychotic. But, if you were to seriously consider the differences between most ‘omnipotent being’ belief systems and numerous cases of [hallucinatory type] schizophrenia , you will likely have trouble distinguishing most of the differences.
1 – Durand, Mark, and David Barlow. Essentials of Abnormal Psychology. 4th. Belmont: Wadsworth Publishing, 2004. 475. Print.
vide. Is God Man Made?