Is Christianity a placebo?

If it is then it is not really a religion but something else.  Some would say it is a noble deception.  I would prefer to say it is an ethically dubious placebo. says no.

It correctly observes that if Christianity is using faith as a placebo then truth is not the believer's main concern.  Feeling comforted and safe is.

To counter that the page says that the faith teaches hard truths that cannot be understood as in anyway pleasing.

The first is that we are all rebels against God and for that reason unless we turn to him we will end up in everlasting Hell.

The second is that our good works are nothing in the sight of God so Jesus has to earn salvation in Heaven for us.  We can only accept it as a gift.  We can contribute nothing . "This may sound easy at first, but most people don't like accepting charity - they want to earn what they receive."

The third is that you have people who you care for and adore and some of them will go to Hell for failing to embrace the saving message of Christ.

The fourth is that God expects us to do horrible things such as loving those who would harm us and we are to control what we think for it is possible to sin with the mind.

The fifth is that being true to Jesus invites and often results in scorn and hate from others.

He then finishes off with "This is not to say that Christians don't derive comfort and joy from knowing God, for we do. But that comfort and joy comes about supernaturally, from the Holy Spirit, even in circumstances when the Christian doesn't expect it. Personally, I don't think my own faith is a placebo because that doesn't adequately explain my experiences with God, including the changes God has brought about in my attitudes and priorities and the answers to prayer I've received; it also doesn't explain the complete transformations other people I know have experienced as Christians."

But what about the earthly normal joy?  It cannot be all like something from another reality or supernatural plane.  Nobody until him pretends that if joy and comfort are supernatural that that is all they are.  And how humble is somebody when they use their subjective notions as informative about God?  And who assesses where normal joy starts and supernatural joy takes over?  And vice versa?


While many try to be realistic about what can come be it good or bad, many seem to think that thinking more positive is good.  That is a placebo if it is true that we already do enough positive thinking in enough things.  There are dangers if you turn off the voices warning you about what can go wrong.  Religious faith could be masking that.  And given that the brain lies to you anyway and forms patterns that are not there it probably is a disguise.

If you have done harm and you are trusting a God for forgive this and heal you against doing it again, and this trust is misplaced what then?  More harm is done while you are trusting a non-solution.  Religious forgiveness is a placebo.  You feel good about the harm you have done in the guise of making a real fresh start.

Plus by embracing God you by default are saying no matter how much or how extreme the suffering of others next to you is it should be allowed to happen for God knows what he is doing.  It is not your place to assess like that.  No God who says you have a selfish streak would encourage you too.  The placebo is present.  Even if you help some what about the many you don't truly care about?  You are protecting your inner peace by developing a level of coldness towards the suffering of others.  

The argument that Christianity is not a placebo for it says we all deserve Hell forever and Jesus has to earn our place in Heaven for us and many of our loved ones will go to Hell is odd.  The religion claims you are set free from sin to enjoy a spiritual life with God in this world and the next and never underestimate God's power to reach the unsaved.  People who think they deserve to be sick see medicine as a great gift and that is WHY the placebo may seem so powerful.  They get a placebo and enjoy it regardless of knowing that it might not work for their loved ones.  Consider this in the light that we normally have a tendency to think things will get better.  This should not be interfered with.  Do not try to think more positive than you need to for negative feelings and hunches are good warnings.  You need to live in the real world for it is not about you.  Religion and prayer clearly violate all that.  Thus they are toxic positivity at least in a mild form.  They are placebos.

A source says that the placebo is ethically dubious.  I would add that a religious one is particularly so.

...In a recent conversation I had with a psychiatrist he pointed out how the clinical harnessing of religion in mental health practice was problematic. He highlighted how in the view of most medics and reflected in the ethical code of the BMA, prescribing a placebo was very problematic because, even though it may improve patients’ conditions, it implies deception which undermines trust in the medical profession and promotes misinformation about health issues in the general public. Interestingly, he mentioned how promoting spiritual or religious practices that may benefit patients could in principle resemble prescribing a placebo and thus it may be similarly ethically problematic.

Upon further inquiry into what he meant by religion being similar to a placebo he seemed to mean that because religion is not a physical event in the same way that ingesting an active ingredient which has a proven effect on the nervous system, this made religion’s ontological status different from what is accepted as genuine treatment. Nevertheless, it seems to me that many interventions that psychiatrists commonly use do not take at the pharmacological level and they are still considered ‘real’ treatment.

In his book ‘Psychotherapy as praxis,’ Louis Berger criticises how Modernity’s accepted mantras impose upon psychotherapy and psychiatry the need to legitimate itself as a scientific activity notwithstanding the fact that much of what happens in clinical practice might be non-replicable and based on a particular value based context which has very little to do with what is generally understood as scientific activity. Nevertheless, particularly when therapeutic interventions are described in order to legitimate their EST status, they emphasise technical detail and quantification which might be peripheral to patient improvement.

This seems to illuminate my aforementioned conversation in how, in order to be considered as legitimate, interventions need to comply with a priori characteristics. This seems to relate to the particular ontology that underlies medical discourse in constructing some events as more ‘real’ than others. ...

[The danger with religion as a placebo then is that it can claim to be great for it has made many people wonderful.  If this stops happening it does not seem to care.  It takes advantage of how hard its power to change people is to test.]

But faith isn't a force; it is an attitude of trust which allows you to depend on someone that can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. Now, this is very important. Faith is trust. Trust allows you to go to the source of the power. Trust isn't the power.

[Psychologically faith is a force and a power as is trust.  Religion says that trust puts you in line with the divine power and things will happen.  But if there is no power, what then?  Those who worship the garden gnome do experience their faith as a power though the gnome is just a heap of plastic and paint.]

The reference to the placebo seems to imply that faith is the power itself, such that a physician can give you a placebo, like a sugar pill, which has no medicinal qualities, but you think it does. And because your mind has been fooled, this stimulates the power inside of you--call it faith power if you want--that affects your cure. The doctor has just fooled your faith system, so to speak, into thinking it got something and therefore it stimulates this faith and the faith ends up curing you because, obviously, the sugar pill didn't.

What this illustration shows is nothing about faith, but the power of suggestion. Someone can give a placebo to a person and that placebo can make that person feel better. By the way, the placebo doesn't cure the disease. When you have a real disease, it doesn't cure anything. If that were the case, then sugar pills would be used to cure everything. This makes a very important point. Even though you have the faith to take the pill, in other words you are encouraged to act in trust by taking the pill which you think will do something for you, you will die unless the pill really has the capability to make you well. The point being, faith is an act of trust that is only helpful and useful if the pill is not a placebo but it is in fact the real McCoy.

[Everything human relates to suggestion.  Faith is no exception.]

I agree that religion is a placebo for many people, but it can only be a placebo if it is a sugar pill that doesn't solve the problem. In other words, Christians just believe something to make them feel better with no conviction, so sense that it happens to be true that the religion can cure their spiritual ills. It's just merely wishful thinking.

I'm not so concerned about what you wish and that you get a placebo that I give you a religious prescription that is merely a piece of candy so that you feel better about life. I am concerned that your spiritual disease gets healed. It will not be healed by giving you a placebo.

Recommended: Brown, MD, Walter A. 1998. The Power of the Placebo


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