Christadelphian apophenia

By John Bedson

It is often difficult for Ex-Christadelphians to come to terms with the fact that they were fooled into a religious delusion during their time spent in the Christadelphian religion.

I have found that a greater understanding of the psychological mechanisms that generated our delusion helps to ease the pain of wasted years in the Christadelphians and the shame that we Ex-Christadelphians feel that we once believed those things.

In previous articles I have described the psychological mechanisms of Confirmation Bias and Fideism which can lead to Christadelphianism.  See also my article on Why People Become Christadelphians. I now want to explain another powerful reason why humans are taken in by a delusion such as Christadelphianism.
 
Apophenia is the spontaneous perception of connections and meaningfulness of unrelated phenomena. The term is attributed to Klaus Conrad[1] by Peter Brugger,[2] who defined it as the "unmotivated seeing of connections" accompanied by a "specific experience of an abnormal meaningfulness", but it has come to represent the human tendency to seek patterns in random information in general, such as with gambling, paranormal phenomena and religions like Christadelphianism.[3]

In statistics, apophenia is called a Type I error, seeing patterns where none, in fact, exist. It is highly probable that the apparent significance of many unusual experiences and phenomena are due to apophenia, e.g., ghosts, hauntings, numerology, most forms of divination, the prophecies of Nostradamus, clairvoyance, the apparent fulfilment of Bible prophecy, the imagined internal structure of the Bible, the imagined correlation between Christadelphian doctrine and Scripture, Young Earth Creationism, Flood Geology, the biblical book of Revelation, and a host of other paranormal and supernatural experiences and phenomena. 

In 1958, Klaus Conrad published a monograph entitled Die beginnende Schizophrenie. Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns ("The onset of schizophrenia. Attempt to shape analysis of delusion",[1] in which he described in groundbreaking detail the prodromal mood and earliest stages of schizophrenia. He coined the word "Apophänie" to characterize the onset of delusional thinking in psychosis. This neologism is translated as "apophenia", from the Greek apo [away from] + phaenein [to show], to reflect the fact that the schizophrenic initially experiences delusion as revelation.[4]

In contrast to epiphany, however, apophenia does not provide insight into the true nature of reality or its interconnectedness, but is a "process of repetitively and monotonously experiencing abnormal meanings in the entire surrounding experiential field", which are entirely self-referential, solipsistic and paranoid:
 
It is this fideist, self-referential mindset that powers Christadelphian belief. It is faith based on internal, subjective feelings and emotions rather than on credible empirical evidence. The 'evidence' for this belief can be ludicrous in the extreme. Examples of this in Christadelphianism include the instruction to wash hands in Leviticus, the prediction that Egypt would always be a land of ruins, the 'empty tomb' and accounts of believers to the resurrection of Christ, the 'fine tuning of the universe' (it isn't), the return of the Jews to Israel and many more flimsy and ridiculous 'proofs' of the veracity of the Bible. In the mind of believers, Confirmation Bias raises the value of this 'evidence' out of all proportion to its real worth. Apophenia generates false patterns from this meaningless data and the result is Fideism which convinces Christadelphians that there is structure, meaning and worth in the things that they believe.

Based on the most flimsy evidence imaginable they think that they are going to live for eternity. In a few trillion years our universe will reach its heat death and time itself will come to an end. But Christadelphians think that they are going to live beyond even that horizon. It is a ridiculous notion. It is internally generated from within the mind of the believer. It is an entirely subjective process designed to calm the nerves, reduce anxiety, remove fear of death and to give hope for the infinite future.

It is a form of self-worship; because believers are worshipping an ideology within their own minds, without a tangible relationship to anything outside in the real world.

Peter Brugger of the Department of Neurology, University Hospital, Zurich reports that his research indicates that high levels of dopamine affect the propensity to find meaning, patterns, and significance where there is none, and that this propensity is related to a tendency to believe in the paranormal.

This explains the addictive behaviour of Christadelphians towards their beliefs. When confronted with credible evidence against their beliefs, they quickly ratchet up their annoyance and anger against those who challenge their beliefs. Their extreme irritability, unbalanced emotional reaction and rudeness is exactly the same as that displayed by a drunk denied alcohol, an addict denied street drugs, a child removed from their computer games or an office worker who has missed their morning coffee.

Christadelphians who begin to think that their faith may be in vain start to experience a withdrawal of the dopamine "fix" in their brains. They feel this as a severe emotional pain. Ex-Christadelphians who challenge their faith are like rehabilitation workers who prevent heroin addicts injecting themselves with their addictive drug. We have to try to persuade them to go 'cold turkey' and stop their addictive behaviour. In almost every case this is impossible.

The other way to withdraw a person from addictive behaviour is to very slowly and gradually remove the addictive substance and therefore attenuate the addictive behaviour in baby steps that the individual can tolerate without undue emotional discontinuation pain. This approach works well with Christadelphians. If we are patient enough to take years to chip away at their faith in small incremental steps, they are able to deconvert themselves without ever having to face the extreme shock of doing it in a short time. Their apophenia slowly reduces in its intensity until sanity prevails and they see things as they really are.

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Notes:

1. Endslay, Mica R. (2004). Simon Banbury, Sébastien Tremblay, ed. A Cognitive Approach To Situation Awareness: Theory and Application (1st ed.). USA: Ashgate Publishing, Ltd. ISBN 0-7546-4198-8.
 
2. Conrad, Klaus (1958). Die beginnende Schizophrenie; Versuch einer Gestaltanalyse des Wahns (in German). Stuttgart: Thieme. OCLC 14620263.
 
3. Sherlock, P. (1 April 2008). "On roulette wheels and monkies randomly inspired by Shakespeare". truth.gooberbear. Retrieved 2008-04-01.
 
4. ^ Mishara, Aaron (2010). "Klaus Conrad (1905–1961): Delusional Mood, Psychosis and Beginning Schizophrenia.". Schizophr Bull 36 (1). pp. 9–13.