Mental Conditions, Religious Visions, Society and Pathology

Following the article ‘The relationship Between Schizophrenia and Religious Visions’, the following looks more at some other mental conditions, their relationship to society, how conditions are pathologized, and the question of if and how to pathologically categorize religious visions versus mental condition hallucinations and delusions. 

As with schizophrenia, many disorders are natural. What are now pathologized as disorders were often normal and useful thinking in old days and other societies.  They can be useful in other areas, and perhaps in the future will.

Psychologist and director of the American Institute for Learning and Human Development Thomas Armstrong said that computer scientists may come to prefer AI that thinks like an autistic person rather than a normal human. (Armstrong 2018) (Angel 2019)

ADHD, or Attention Deficit Syndrome

People with ADHD are known for being highly impatient, daydreamers who can’t focus on the task at hand, perform tasks loudly, are unable to sit still, and sometimes talk non-stop. It can be hard for someone with ADHD to pay attention in boring lectures, stay focused on any one subject for long, or sit still.  (CDC 2019) 

They seem unable to fit in modern ‘civilized’ society, with its strict structures. 

While ADHA doesn’t fit in much of today’s rigid structures, it was a natural and important way of thinking in the old days. Old nomadic people moving around, hunting, on the constant lookout for opportunities and dangers had to think and act this way.  It was an advantage and necessary.  

It is not the way of thinking that is wrong or unnatural.  It just doesn’t fit in with today’s society.

A research professor in psychology at Boston College, Peter Gray argues that ADHD is a failure to adapt to the conditions of modern schooling: “From an evolutionary perspective, school is an abnormal environment Nothing like it ever existed in the long course of evolution during which we acquired our human nature. School is a place where children are expected to spend most of their time sitting quietly in chairs, listening to a teacher talk about things that don’t particularly interest them, reading what they are told to read, writing what they are told to write, and feeding memorized information back on tests.” (Gray 2010)


Depression causes obvious problems at its extremes, including psychosis, hospitalizations and suicide. Doctors try to fix it through drugs and therapy.

However, depression is a natural, evolved way of brain function that has its advantages and essential uses. Humans would have troubles functioning and perhaps not have survived as a species if they never felt depressed

In the old days, losing energy during the dark winter time to preserve energy was important to survival.  Some non-human animals, of course, hibernate during winter.

Depressed people mull over, often intensely, situations and problems.  These ruminations are an important part of examination and thinking, and humans would be lesser for it.  Humans who are depressed focus on and are highly analytical about problems and issues.  Happiness is great, but happy care-free people often avoid problems, and don’t do what they should do.  

As with physical pain, depression is a natural reaction to something bad happening.  It would be dangerous and often lethal if people never felt depression or pain.  They are signals that something is wrong and should be addressed. Worry about the person who never gets depressed, even when his wife dies and people around the world suffer

In an academic study trying to identify distortions of thinking in depressed people in order to discover treatments, the psychiatrists determined that the depressed subjects had a more accurate view of reality and themselves than the non-depressed subjects. The depressed were also better at estimating time than the non-depressed. (University of Hertfordshire 2013) (Burton 2012)

“In contrast, most non-depressed people have an unduly rose-tinted perspective on their attributes, circumstances, and possibilities.”– Psychiatrist Dr. Neel Burton, Oxford University (Burton 2012)

Read about examples of other orders in the article: Neurodiveristy: The Theory, Movement, Issues and Controversies

Too Much of a Good Thing

Many disorders involve natural ways of thinking but too much of it.  Everyone has their ups and downs, but bipolar people get too big of swings. Everyone gets depressed and it’s useful, but some people get too much of it. Anxiety is natural and helpful, but some people have too much of it or it doesn’t fit the situation.  

Humans Are Social Animals Evolved to Function in Groups 

Humans have evolved as a species to think in a particular way in order to function and survive as a species in their particular physical and social environment.  Humans survive and thrive as a species and their thinking is based in socialization and groups. 

Humans’ greatest achievements are products, in one way or another, as groups: building cities and bridges, expansion of knowledge, art and literature, science, technology, government,  landing on the moon. 

How to organize groups and societies, questions of the rights individual versus the greater good are constant questions and debates without objective or one size fits all answers.  Groups can be good and bad, useful and harmful, intelligent and ignorant.  Groups have been integral to humans’ greatest achievements and worst deeds (war, oppression, environmental degradation).  Racism and bigotry are examples of how social and group thinking can be bad. 

These questions and debates are constant in religion as well.  Churches have both spiritual and originizational concerns that often conflict.  Religions are often about individual enlightenment, but often also conflictingly about social order both of its congregants and society at large.

“Both individualism and community have value. And there is no perfect way of figuring out the best way to find the best compromise between these two values.”– economist Timothy J. Bartik 

People who think abnormally often and almost by definition have issues fitting in with society. This can range from ‘being weird’ and being an outsider, to people who have serious functional issues, unable to hold a job or stay in school to being unable to communicate and even function in their day to day lives. Many People in prisons and who are homeless or jobless are mentally ill. Drug addiction and alcoholism are pathologized as mental disorders and many otherwise mentally ill self medicate with drugs and alcohol.

The mentally ill often perceive physical reality, organize things differently, emotionally feelings differently.  They often don’t have the same cognitive, social or emotional intuition and associations as normal people.  Austic and bipolar people often have trouble socializing and understanding other people.  Those who think differently may not like or dislike the same things as other people  Autistic may prefer to be alone rather than being social. The mentally ill often learn and communicate differently.  Autistic use different facial explanations, the dyslexic can’t read as well, ADHD are more spontaneous, schizophrenics and the dyslexic have troubles with language.

Famous mentally ill and neurodiverse people often have functional issues.  Physics Nobel Paul Dirac was autistic required his wife to take care of other things, as he could not focus on h w work.  He was one of the great scientific and mathematical intellects of his era– widely acknowledged as an academic genius– but needed assistance to live his life. He was well known for his social deficits.

Many unique thinkers and artists– Van Gogh to Jean Genet — were outsiders to society.  Van Gogh was unable to fit in with society and art communities.  The great French novelist and playwright Jean Genet had longtime troubles with the society, including being imprisoned and living a “deviant” life as defined by society.

Revolutionary religious thinkers from Jesus to George Fox to Michael Servetus thought differently and came into conflict with their culture and society.  All three were labeled as crazy by some, Jesus and Servetus were killed, and Fox regularly was jailed.  Other religious thinkers such as Buddha and Leo Tolstai felt they had to give up their wealth and to leave normal society to pursue their theology.

This points out that societies and cultures norms are about functioning, about functioning of the society and culture, and not about many other things such as knowledge and new information.  The powers that be are often scared of and suppress new knowledge and information that might cause troubles with the social norms.  

Scientists with new ideas, inventors and original artists almost by definition are people who think outside the social norms and traditions.  Great scientists, thinkers and artists have long gotten into conflict with society.  From Galileo to Socrates to Caravaggio. Some visionary and influential artists, such as Marquis de Sade, Louis-Ferdinand Celine and Paul Gauguin, have aspects that lay outside of today’s accepted social norms and rules.


The central debate within and surrounding neurodiversity is what if any ways of thinking should be pathologized.  Even beyond the topic of neurodiversity, what and how to pathologize thinking has been a debate in psychology and psychiatry.

As with all classification and definition systems, pathology has a particular purpose, scope, methodology, It involves subjectivity and should not be looked at as answering or addressing all questions about human brain functioning.

The American Psychiatric Association’s diagnostic manual defines a mental disorder as: “…a syndrome characterized by​ a clinically significant disturbance in an individual’s cognitive, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental process underlying mental functioning. Mental disorders are usually associated with significant distress in social, occupational, or other important activities.” (van Heugten 2015)

According to Stevan Gans MD, assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard,  “Mental variations today are called disorders when they cause personal distress and impairment in multiple areas of life, such as working, social, relations, etc.” (Cherry 2020)  

This is a valid way to define and categorize ways of thinking. However, it has a particular scope and leaves out much. It leaves many important questions unanswered.  

Pathology is based on social norms and how one fits in with society and its norms, along with subjective and personal judgments about distress and pain.

“Psychosis has been defined as ‘any one of several altered states of consciousness, transient or persistent, that prevent integration of sensory or extrasensory information into reality models accepted by the broad consensus of society, and that lead to maladaptive behavior and social sanctions . . . .This is based on the assumption that we understand the nature of ‘reality’, and that there is a narrow band of ‘normal’ perception, outside of which there is little useful potential.”– Nikki Crowley, PhD Assistant Professor of BiologyBiobehavioral Health (Crowly 2010)

“Whether you are regarded as disabled or gifted depends largely on when and where you were born.   In other times and other places, there have been different disability/ability diagnosis depending upon cultural values. . . .  We should not regard diagnostic labels as absolute and set in stone, but think, instead, of their existence relative to a particular social setting.”– Thomas Armstrong, Ph.D., American Institute for Learning and Human Development (Armstrong 2015)

Areas beyond these pathological parameters include the skills, special insights, special perspectives and knowledge, spirituality and artistic insights people with disorders may have.  Those with disorders have been religious shaman, great artists, people with unique skills and insights into the world. Even those who pathologize them as disorders acknowledge see this.   Artists from Beethoven to Van Gogh to Nabakov created their original, celebrated works in part because of not despite of their mental disorders.

There have long been disagreements and changes as to what should be pathologized. What has been pathologized in the past isn’t always pathologized today, and what is pathologized today may not be in the future.

Years ago, homosexuality and being left-handed were pathologized and psychologists, educators and psychiatrists tried to cure them. Disorder such as manic depression, dyslexia and ADHD are pathologized, while mystical experiences and synathesia are not.  It’s all a matter of value-judgment and subjective criterion.



ecstasy-of-st-francis-1300 (1)

Religious experiences and the hallucinations of mental disorders can be remarkably alike. A long and continuing medical, theological and philosophical debate has been about to and if to distinguish between religious vision and ideas and mental hallucinations.   

How they are pathologized is based on how common they are, how they fit in with prevailing beliefs, how they relate to the person functioning and fitting with society, and even prevailing sentiments about them, and how the individual feels about them.

 If a religious vision fits in with normal society views and culture and perception of reality (say a vision of Jesus in a Christian country), allows the person to fit in or work fine in society, and the person doesn’t find them bad, then it is not pathologized.  In fact, religious trances and spiritual visions are promoted by many cultures, even today.

If the same type of vision does not fit in with society’s views and culture and perception of reality, prevents or is part of a way of thinking that prevents them from fitting with and functioning in society, and depresses the person, then it is pathologies.

Pathology is subjective, relative and cultural, and there are no objective answers to many of these questions.

Many theologians and philosophers say it does not matter what condition Joan of Arc had or did ot have, as all that really matters is her way of thinking. They believe there are different path to the same place.



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Cherry K (2020), “Psychological Disorders Diagnosis and Types”,

Crowley N (2010), “‘Psychosis or Spiritual Emergence? – Consideration of the Transpersonal Perspective within Psychiatry'”,

Gray P (2010), ‘ADHD & School: Assessing Normalcy in an Abnormal Environment’,

University of Hertfordshire (2013), “Depressed people have a more accurate perception of time”,

van Heugten T (2015) “The classification of psychiatric disorders according to DSM-5 deserves an internationally standardized psychological test battery on symptom level”,