I am a rationalist and were it not for the fact that I prefer not to define myself by what I don't believe in you could probably call me an atheist because most of my world view coincides with most of the world view of an atheist.

I say most of because I think there are exceptions. Whilst I do not agree with the lazy but oft repeated mantra that "atheism is just like another religion" there are certain aggressive aspects of behaviour I have observed in atheism that I also don't agree with. Of course one could argue that they're just down to human nature rather than any flaw in the atheist argument - after all we are all human whether or not we believe in a god or gods.

One particularly distasteful atheist argument is the "religion is a mental illness". I don't think this is a valid analogy for many reasons. In general people choose religion - or have it forced upon them as children - and can change their minds about it later. Furthermore their religion can be very important to them and can help them through difficult times.

Mental illness is another matter all together. I'd give anything not to suffer from depression.

Also, religious belief and thought is something that has existed for a very long time, possibly since the dawn of consciousness. It's probably ingrained in the structures of the human brain - although of course this doesn't meant that we can't outgrow it. After all the urge to overeat and the urge to hate the outsider are in there too but we can rise above them.

As I have so often done in the past on this blog in order to work out why some modern aspect of human behaviour exists I am going to turn back the clock to prehistoric times. And there we find Thugg the Caveman and the rest of his hunting party making their way across the veldt in search of things to hunt and gather.
The current leader of the tribe is Dugg - or Dugglass as he prefers to be known - who is taller than the rest of the tribe. Furthermore there is something in his bearing that make people want to obey him - whether it's the long beard or the pronounced brow ridges Thugg cannot say. But like many others he feels safer when doing what Dugg tells him. 
Not everyone feels this way. Only the other day Yugg disobeyed Dugg's instructions about sticking to the path and ended up tripping and sliding down the slope to his death. And two moons ago Pugg ignored Dugg's advice and instead of hiding behind the Big Rock started pacing up and down in full view of the sabre-toothed tiger which made short work of him only minutes later.
And so it went on. Those who felt the natural inclination to obey Leaders like Dugg - whether due to an ingrained subservience or simply fear - survived to pass on their genes. And eventually - despite the entreaties of the tribal bard Dylug - it became second nature to follow Leaders instead of watching parking meters. Although given that parking meters didn't yet exist the last part wasn't too difficult. Of the few that didn't feel this way some were strong enough to become Leaders themselves.

This was all very well until one day someone - probably a Leader who was becoming tired of having to be everywhere at once - came up with a supernormal stimulus which plugged straight into the Leader-following behaviour. Suppose there was an all seeing all knowing all powerful leader in the sky behind whose back it was impossible to go and who, if you disobeyed, would condemn you to everlasting torment in his own private torture dimension?

Like all supernormal stimuli once it took hold this belief would be very difficult to shake. Whilst the Leaders wouldn't necessarily believe it themselves it did turn out to be a very useful tool for controlling their followers. And after millennia in place this behaviour pattern might prove difficult to shake even when logic and reason argue that it can't possibly be true.

So religion isn't a mental illness. Perhaps if it has to be compared to anything it's a bit like an addiction - or a bit like the appendix - the remnant of a more primitive past that still holds sway over the human mind but which in these enlightened days we would probably be better off without.

Anyone know any good faith diets?