HOME   People do good because they are human, not because they are religious! 

Do not give God any credit for the good they do, they did it!



"Faith helps Christians because faith is just like a placebo prescribed by a doctor, the intent of which is to deceive patients into thinking it will solve their ills...The healing is therefore self-caused".

From Christianity is Not Great (All Quotes are from this excellent book, edited by John Loftus)


The quote is quite good but not perfect.


It is good that it states that faith and deception go together.


It is good to state that the healing comes not from faith but from the person with faith.


It needs to be careful with what it said about the healing.  The placebo lifts your spirits so it is an emotional healing  but if there there is a cancer there or something physically wrong it is dangerous to feel cured when you are not.


If you feel better it can help you fight off your illness better.  The placebo NEVER directly helps the illness.


I'd have liked to see the above book develop the point that the placebo of religion is not just about feeling better and safer in a scary universe, but also about feeling good about your so-called sins and your bad side. The placebo deals with the symptoms you have not the causes so it should only be tolerated or facilitated for very serious reasons. The ethical person tells the sick person that a placebo was used and says, "Okay, now do you see that if you feel you are getting better and believe it, how good that is for you? You did this because of the placebo. The placebo did not do it. Go and feel confident in yourself. You know your power now. Tell yourself that you have the power to heal yourself. Tell yourself that often and let that be your placebo from now on."




The placebo relieves the pain that comes from knowing that things are not good.


If you believe in the placebo, and if you expect your mind and body to respond to taking one, that can produce a beneficial response. Imagine if you thought that green tea made you feel happier - taking the first sip would be enough to trigger a happy response.


The placebo makes you believe that it is not that bad or you are getting better or you are cured.


A placebo is fundamentally a mechanism by which you seek to dodge the truth because you think it relieves or stops pain. It does not follow that the truth is really as painful as you imagine. The sensible person makes the truth her or his "placebo" instead of trying to look for quick and ultimately harmful solutions.


The placebo is offered for problems with physical health and mental health. It is easy for people to imagine that it helps their souls when it fails to do anything for body and mind. Using a placebo for alleged spiritual ill-health is one of today's biggest and most foolproof scams. For example, there are people out there who sell spells and sacraments in order to develop peace of mind and heart in you.



A placebo works because of you. It is you. However, it is trying to give your power away to a belief or idea. A belief or idea has no power to look after you so a placebo is dangerous in that sense. It is like putting a baby outside by herself and expecting nothing bad to happen. The elements are not going to look after her.


The only sensible and responsible "placebo" comes from learning that you can and will accept the terrible things that cannot be avoided in life and that you can and will embrace the good things too.


No matter what you do or don't do, you either help or you don't. Helping a bit is fine but helping a bit is not fine if it is not enough. The question is not, "How do I help?" The question is, "What is the best thing to do?" These questions are not asked. The placebo should be used sparingly or as little as possible. If the questions were asked it would be uncommon.




You look to the future and imagine your marriage could break down.


You are of great age and know that death could come tomorrow.


You are in cancer remission and know it could come back.


You can be in danger of being exposed by the papers as a criminal.


There are many things you can fear.


You don't fear because you tell yourself it is in the future.


You don't fear because you feel you will handle it with help or walk away.


These attitudes themselves are placebos. They stop you being crippled by fear and anger. They feel good at the time but when reality hits they are no help then.



Religion thrives on the same notions. Believers feel they are ready to do great works when they go to Church but as soon as they vacate the building they become disinclined. Worship has a placebo effect and gives the illusion that religion is a lovely thing.


Many people fear thinking for themselves in spiritual matters. They are prone to the notion: "God knows better than me and has done all the thinking. I will believe and trust in this religion or book he has revealed." It relieves them of the fear of getting it wrong or having do the hard work themselves. It means they opt out of having to develop a faith of their own that conflicts with the ethos of their community or society and all the difficulties that may entail. Handing your responsibility to some authority is a placebo itself.


No matter what they think God does, religious people try to justify it. They allow nothing to refute the love of God even if it does refute it. People have fears and they relieve them by telling themselves that untestable doctrines are true. They are trying to immunise themselves by altering their perception. They have their placebo and they feel safe with it for nothing can refute it. So the placebo not only makes them feel better but they feel good that it is unchallengable. They do not fear any refutation of it. Such a placebo can be strong but it keeps the person away from reality so it is not worth it.


Not having the truth or not recognising the truth can be dangerous and painful. Religious people deal with this by imagining they have the truth. Religion can be a placebo for the suffering that comes from uncertainty or not having the truth. Some people believe it is always that...


Religion based on God is disgusting. It has you apologizing to God instead of apologising to the people you hurt. Religion is a placebo for “sin”. Anybody who hurts a child and apologising to God is more important to him than to the child even if he does apologise to the child should be told to keep his insulting apology.




Hurting others is bad. But if there is a God then he alone matters for there would be nobody without him. No person matters at all in comparison. Hurting others is only a sin because God loves them and does not want them hurt. So it is about him not them. The pain and wrong done to others is only a side-effect if what matters is how it offends God. If you do not like people, you can see how this doctrine can be a placebo. You feel good about your attitude.




The placebo helps the person who feels ill physically or mentally through making them expect to feel better. It is unethical to give a person a placebo without their informed consent. A placebo can help the bad person feel good or good enough about the terrible things she or he gets up to. You would actually expect it to be better at doing that than helping an illness. And the placebo effect leads to people becoming liars for they think their lies help you. It puts pressure on them not to own up in case you relapse. Also you can suffer withdrawal symptoms and other problem if your placebo is removed. Also taking it away can result in you getting a NO-cebo. That is when you end up feeling worse and sicker all because you expect to. A placebo is based on lies and lies

get found out so it is better to do without the placebo in the first place.


A placebo concerned with improved health of mind and body is one thing. But what about the religious placebo you can use to feel better about being bad or dishonest?


We all know religious people who do terrible things and seem to have no shame. They know it is wrong to live as they do. So they pray to try and feel that it is okay if not right. And it works!

Religion will not admit that faith can be a placebo for evil.

Thus they enable the problem of wicked people using faith as a placebo.


The religious placebo effect has the underlying assumption: "Faith in God and in religion is about making me happy." The shocking thing about that view is that they would still pray to and praise a God who has not done much to make people happy. For atheists, the existence of suffering proves that God is useless, bad, or non-existent for God should be about making us happy and well. In any case to praise him is wrong and you show how selfish you are by doing so. Such a placebo will not help for you will not always be happy. If it seems to do little harm, the reason is that the person is using other placebos to nullify the bad effects.


God is said to matter in himself and not because of what he does for us. So the Christian is to stand up for him despite the evil he lets take place. He is defended and worshipped for his sake and not for ours. Those who run after God because they think he is going to fix all that is bad one day or because they think faith in him gives happiness and meaning to their lives are really their own gods - their god is what they can get out of him.


You can adore a God who is in your head - you adore what you want God to be not what he is. You tell yourself he alone matters or comes first - presto you have a way to feel you are incredibly good without being really good. Even if you have a sound and logical theology, it does not prove that you adore God for him not you. It might happen that you understand what God would be like and is like, but you adore him for you not him. It could be pure luck that the God you want him to be is the God that is. If God is a mental idol then your devotion and religion is idolatry despite appearances. It is a placebo for your selfishness and enables you to conceal your selfishness from yourself.


Religion says that God is truth and demands total honesty from us and courage. Christianity says that religion is not about making us happy but about sacrifice. If religion is used as a placebo then it is a form of idolatry.




Believers in religion think they get healing from their moral flaws and even their illnesses from their faith. This is a placebo for Satanists claim that Satanism is good healing therapy while Christians say it is Christianity that is effectual. It is a placebo when everybody has different ways to feel better as a religious person. With the religious placebo, you end up saying that it is the only one that works properly for anyone because it works for you. Or you think it works!


Any placebo would and should do. Yet each religion is dogmatic about its version of the placebo. It discourages other placebo religions. If we justify religion because of its placebo effect then that makes no sense. If a placebo works it does not matter what placebo is used while the problem with religion is that it says it does. This leads to intolerance. It is very dangerous if a religion thinks other religions cannot do the spiritual good it does.


With all the problems caused by organised religion, people should find better placebos.




It is easier to pray and go to Church services and give money to priests to feel good than to actually be good. That is why very nasty and abusive people love to go to Church and say prayers all day. Every religion prefers praying and giving money and often believers go to the extreme of venerating evil people and calling them good just because they are active in the religion. A hypocrite never stands alone - hypocrites support each other. They feel supported merely by being associated with or in the presence of or by seeing the example of similar hypocrites. People prefer "good" not as it is but as they want it to be.


It is no exaggeration that the number one reason why Christianity does not have more power and declines in many places is how evil people can rule the Church, condone evil commanded by God according to their "infallible" holy books, pray and fast and go to communion as if they are holy. They are so happy in their hypocritical faith. It puts many Christians off the faith. Most of those Christians are baffled at how people can rejoice in their faith when they are mere hypocrites. They sense that the hypocrites are so arrogant that they cannot imagine that God sees their sins as sins. We all know religious gossips who terrorise the community with their tongues and who are to be found making religious sacrifices such as performing penance while having no intention of doing anything about the damage they have wreaked. It proves that they take religious practice more seriously than morality for they feel it removes their sense of sin or that the penance somehow balances things out. They do religious and good deeds and they feel that permits them to do bad ones. The malicious gossip who does penance feels better about the damage she does than the one who does not. Taking Holy Communion is agreeing to agree with what Christ teaches in and through the Church and to obey its rules for they are really his rules. This is very demanding and one rule is that religion is not about feeling good but about doing the good will of God. Few Catholics want to live up to the Church's teaching, yet they universally take communion. The ban for example on people who are divorced and remarried from taking communion is universally ignored.


The critics of such hypocrites sense that the faith can be and perhaps usually is, a placebo for evil - one can use religion to deceive themselves into thinking they are good when they are not. The hypocrites obviously sense it too!


Hypocrites like to feel they are good people - the ultimate hypocrite does prayers and superstitious rituals in order to convince herself or himself that she does the greatest work of all. It is a substitute for not even helping in the soup kitchens.


The huge majority of believers do nothing out of the ordinary for others. If you are not interested enough in helping others -


*You can preach a gospel to them that tells them to do something or believe something in order to escape eternal damnation.


*You can provide rituals such as absolution that supposedly take away their sins and heal their weaknesses towards sin.


* Priests like to think that they are doing the ultimate good works by providing sacraments, with their alleged power to change black hearts, to the people.


The Church explicitly teaches that you need God more than bread so it is better if there is a choice to send for a priest for a dying person rather than an ambulance.


*You can offer sacrifice for their sins in the form of a goat or the Mass and tell yourself that you are doing the most important thing on earth.


*You pray and go to worship services and imagine that your prayers help others. Even if Jan was going to get better from cancer anyway you tell yourself that your prayer for her cured her.


*Encourage people to believe in a God who alone ultimately matters. You say that doctors help only because God helps us through them so it is all God. All that comes in life comes from God. In other words, doctors don't matter in themselves but God and therefore faith in him does. God alone matters so it is better to let a child die in agony unless you are going to help her because God asks you to.


*You claim to have a divinely inspired faith. Some claim to be infallible or prophets.


People who are doing these things are giving themselves a righteous glow. It makes them feel like they are good people while the real good people are slaving among the lepers 24/7. The clergy is particularly into making supernatural claims in order to feel that they have done the most important thing on earth. People prefer to be good on their terms instead of practicing good as it really is. They want the version of good that serves them. Thus they end up failing to try to be real heroes. Thus they feel good about doing nothing - it is an insult to claim you have helped people supernaturally when you have not. Thus they feel superior to those who think their beliefs are nonsense. They blame those who fail to respond spiritually to their "treatments" instead of blaming the treatments and themselves. They are looked up to in their religion. The Catholic priest in Ireland for example gets more honour in society than the dedicated charity worker.


Surely though the sin placebo is not good, all placebos are not bad? They are bad!




Christianity says that we must forgive all who have helped bring evil into our universe such as Hitler.


Forgiving Hitler is impossible for you are not able to take what he did personally. You were not a victim.  Forgiving trivialises what he did because you really forgiving would entail experimenting how people suffered and were degraded by him and then letting it go. The forgiveness eats away at your empathy and is a major example of the religious placebo at work and developing and growing.  To forgive everybody is to forgive nobody.  It may feel good but comes at a price - for others not you.  To sanctify your fake forgiveness as a gift from God is incredibly evil.


Being too generous with forgiveness is foolish. If two people are enemies because one person hurt the other, they will heal and learn and grow more by the slow process through which forgiveness is developed and given. Forgiveness should be gradual. With God, forgiveness is just given and promised and is in fact taken for granted. It is too cheap. Nature has made it hard to forgive and that is actually not always a bad thing.


It is terrible to ask God for forgiveness just like that and even worse to pray that the likes of Hitler should just be forgiven. It shows no real concern for the victims.


Unsurprisingly, the Catholics hurt people and instead of apologising to them and making amends go to confession to get forgiven by God and the priest.
Other religions often have their people saying sorry to God and not the victims.


The Church tells you that if you have “Catholic” guilt go to confession and get the sin forgiven and it will go. That is clear statement that the religion is trying to function as a placebo. Trying to make amends sincerely should lift the guilt not that.


All such religions agree that saying sorry to God matters more than saying it to the victims for God comes first. If it has to be one or the other, then they want you to apologise to God. That implication is why you should be offended when the person who hits you in the face runs off to God.


Going to God instead of making amends to the victims is cheap grace and a further insult to the victims. It adds on to the original insult.


Even if hypothetically going to God was not necessarily a way of feeling good about the evil you did and about putting feeling good before correcting the evil, the fact remains a lot of people - it could be nearly all - will be saying sorry to God for they want a placebo for their conscience. It is too easily abused and something too open to abuse is not a good thing.


But the fact remains if you are really a good person and really sorry you will go to the victim FIRST. You will care about the victim FIRST. God cannot literally be hurt or offended anyway so why would you give him any importance? It is easy to imagine you are good and have reformed when you are not facing the victim.


Many have repented their sins in tears before God and you would swear and they would swear they were sincere and yet ten minutes later they resumed the sins.


The Christian faith has people apologising to God for hurting others. The fact that John was hurt has nothing to do with God for God is not John. The fact is that God’s handwork was damaged but that is a separate issue. You can’t go to God and say, “I confess that I hit John and I want you to forgive me”.


What you say is, “I confess and ask forgiveness not for hurting John but for not respecting your rights when I hurt him”. The Christians have been

conditioned to go to God for relief when their consciences condemn them but in fact they can’t do that. It doesn’t make sense. This is really about them using religion to feel better. It is evil to apologise to God for John's suffering. Go to John. The matter is not over until you forget God and do that. In so far as you prioritise saying sorry to John's mother for hurting him over saying it to John you are not sorry for hurting him. So it is with God who the Church says comes first. Only crafty people would worship a God who they say sorry to as if it were him they hurt. Who do they think they are trying to fool? For them, God is a fantasy playmate not a God. A real God cannot be fooled.




So what is harmful about the placebo?


Well for me, even if it seems to be good for the person, it is still lying. Lies will be found out. The placebo always threatens the good it does. You need to know what really cures you of anything - if you self-cause your cure you need to know that.


A big placebo versus a small placebo? No ethical person advocates telling a cancer patient they are better when they are not. That lie is just too big to do much good. It may make the liar feel better but the patient will be the one who suffers. Placebos tend to cover smaller matters such as pain relief. It is not one placebo a person needs but a number of them. The danger with too many is that it will backfire.


The placebo takes away your chance to be more realistic. It robs you. It may feel good now but what about tomorrow? The quote from Christianity is Not Great, "unrealistic views of the world cause unnecessary pain and suffering, and those views should be rejected" could be understood as the ultimate reason the book was written. And it is a very sensible line.


To it I would add that the risk is not worth it. If the views make you feel good, they can destroy you in the long-term. They destroy many. Because of how lies and errors lead to more lies and errors, religion can spin into extreme and detrimental detachment from reality.




The faith placebo gives people false comfort. Giving a person a placebo that helps them, risks judging them as stupid people or people who care about what they want to think and not the truth.


Not knowing very important things or things perceived as important may be dealt with by telling yourself that you have faith and this is a gift from God which tells you what you would not know otherwise. This may comfort but it is a refusal to care properly about truth. Truth is better than faith. If faith is good it can still be the enemy of the best. The good too often is the enemy of the best.


The placebo can be given as a result of a misdiagnosis. You could die if you get a placebo for pain when the cancer has been missed. You could kill somebody if you depend on a sacrament or prayer that does not work in order to deal with your inclination to evil.


The placebo is faith in faith and that is a dangerous and that "stunts one's intellectual growth".


To have faith in faith leaves one vulnerable to religious and medical charlatans. This could outweigh any benefits. It is not worth the risk. And believers will lead the vulnerable to the charlatans and by encouraging religious faith in them they put them at risk.


The placebo helps emotional problems but it cannot affect the physical or spiritual (if we have a spirit!). It cannot make acne go away in time for the prom tomorrow night. It cannot stop a serial killer from killing by filling his heart with the grace of conversion.


Having a placebo creates a need for placebos that seem to validate it and creates an unhealthy fondness for placebos and fantasy based thinking. Religion encourages prayer which depends and prolongs the hold the placebo has over you. Religion claims that faith fades away without prayer to nourish it. It is no wonder prayer nourishes faith when believers praise God for giving them what they pray for and when prayer doesn't work they pretend that it is working for God must have better plans and is using their prayers for something better than what they prayed for. Prayer is an exercise in escapism and cognitive dissonance. Substitute some superstition as touching wood or leaping three times for prayer and the same things will be imagined to result.




Religion says you must love sinners and hate their sins. But this turns the sins into things which leads to one becoming desensitised to sin and the harm it does. And to deny that the problem is in the person is not helpful. And it is a lie for a sin is not a thing but something that shows what a person is like. It is a placebo for evil. To hate the harm a person does to themselves is not the same thing as hating their immorality. A person hating how you harm yourself means they love you.


"Psychological research has shown that those do the most, and the most exquisite, damage who feel that they are doing good or do not feel anything at all". You don't need to be part of a religion to feel safer and that some divine guardian is doing her best to watch over you. So could it be that religion is ONLY about feeling comforted about the evil you do and enable? As guilt and shame come from our social nature - we feel that we have done something that has damaged our value in society - people will need religion to dull them.


If you do evil best when you try to perceive it as good, imagine how easy it is to feel good now about the terrible things that you have done in the past. Religion offers you ways of retrospectively being evil and adoring the evil you have done. You give it glory.


If you feel that your religion does not really care if you do something terrible to a member of another religion and you are right, then the religion is part of the problem. It is easier to hurt the person when you feel supported. And you can feel supported by God in doing the evil if the people do not support you. Many evil people feel that God judges nobody or that he judges others not them. God being a crutch for evildoers is common enough and always has been.


Both people whose prayers cannot be about pleasing God and those whose are claim to get great comfort and strength in prayer. Christianity teaches that if you deliberately sin and refuse to repent and then pray then your prayers are saying to God, "I will not love you by doing what you want but I will pray". That is a sin and God will not reward such prayer or hear it. But the hypocrites still feel that he does. That makes prayer dangerous. The hypocrites then become blinder and blinder to their own evil because they pray. Prayer makes them feel God is indifferent to their evil or condones it or that the evil is somehow not really evil.


Belief in prayer and its power comes from self-blame. You blame yourself for asking for the wrong thing or for not being holy enough when prayer fails. Or you reason that it is your fault for not seeing how the prayer has worked. You then pray to feel better about this. Prayer becomes a placebo for your guilt.
We could have an explanation why nobody seems to care when a religion invents sins out of thin air. Catholicism for example is full of bizarre sins such as sexual fantasy being a sin or that it is a sin to say God wouldn't give Jesus the death penalty for our sins to get us off the hook. People who support a religion that invents sins and crimes could be doing so because they feel bad about their own misdeeds and a religion that tries to portray people as bigger evildoers than they are makes them feel better or at least that they are not alone. Truly evil people are often surprised when they get punished and meet hatred from others as they reason, "But there are people out there worse than us". Religion has to take the blame for making some people think like that.


If religion is a sin/evil/vice placebo, then it responsible for any evil done by its members in the name of religion no matter how much it says it hates their actions. It carries the hatred that the hypocrite has for the sins of others.


Condoning evil that is done by a tyrant is motivated by a desire to stop fearing and hating the evil so much. You want to protect yourself from those hideous feelings. You feel a sense of control over the evil when you become complicit in it by silence or however. Prayer facilitates and nurtures your ability to condone the evil you think God lets befall people. There is no difference between the person who condones evil that is allowed to happen by his ruler saying it is for an unknown but good reason and one who says it is allowed by God. Prayer is evil. It is about people condoning the horrendous evil they see in order to delude themselves that they are bigger than the evil. They think that their marriage with God in prayer makes them bigger than the evil so that they do not have to fear it much. Christians say that suffering/evil and God can co-exist. Even if they can, it still does not prove that God lets evil happen for the reasons they say. Thus there is a risk that you are condoning a God who will not own up to his responsibility to destroy say viruses that send little babies to a hellish death. There is no excuse for taking such a risk. It is bad in itself. God and prayer and religion are a placebo for they relieve the fear and anger and rage we should experience when the innocent suffer.


Christianity forgives terrible crimes too easily. To reject a person who does not repent for a grave evil, and then to accept him when he does smacks of hypocrisy. The person was rejected for something major that didn't really matter after all! The forgiveness leads to the placebo of, "I don't care about my sins for God will forgive me." Or the person might reason that God does not really care.


People feel better about their sins when they are in a religion that advocates good works. It makes them feel they are part of something bigger than their sins so that the sins are made unimportant.


Bad people feel that the terrible things they do are wrong but still help God's plan so there is a positive side. They feel that if they make people suffer, God will compensate them in the next life. They do not mind them getting compensated for it is life in this world they care about. Such doctrines can lead to a vile person doing even worse. When you plan to do wrong that is the kind of stuff you tell yourself in order to cross the line. You make excuses for the pain you inflict on others. It would be odd to argue that all people are sinners and to act as if it is unreasonable to assume that people usually dwell on the allegedly positive side of the evil they do. It is worse to accuse people of being sinners than of doing evil but in a way that it contains a twisted concern for others.
If you are bad and need religion as a prop to make you good, then is the goodness real? If you are shy and use drink to make you talkative, then the chatty you is not really you. If religion is about hiding our badness then religion is intrinsically dangerous. It is bad no matter how much good it seems to produce.


I would add that having a placebo creates a need for new placebos that seem to validate it and creates an unhealthy fondness for placebos and fantasy based thinking. Religion encourages prayer which deepens and prolongs the hold the placebo has over you. Religion claims that faith fades away without prayer to nourish it. It is no wonder prayer nourishes faith when believers praise God for giving them what they pray for and when prayer doesn't work they pretend that it is working for God must have better plans and is using their prayers for something better than what they prayed for. Prayer is an exercise in escapism and cognitive dissonance.


Catholic quackery insists that the sacrament of baptism heals the tendency to sin and is so effective that you only need it the once.
Yet the baptised and unbaptised are no better than each other.
Unsurprisingly the Church has devised other sacraments to be received on a regular basis.
The reason is simple.


When you are taking sacraments every day and you believe in them, it is more effective than an occasional sacrament. With faith in the sacraments, you are triggering and renewing the placebo effect every day. You are maximising the effect.




The placebo is faith in faith itself.


To have faith in faith leaves one vulnerable to religious and medical charlatans. Those who take advantage of desperate people looking for hope are the lousiest scum imaginable. Religious placebos are dangerous as they are encouraged and reinforced by being part of a community held together by placebos. Religion defeats the need to outgrow placebos. Also, religion is dogmatic about its placebos - it does not let you go to other religions for spiritual placebos.


A placebo is manipulative - but a placebo that is presented as the only effective or divinely approved one is worse.


With the religious placebo, you end up saying that it is the only one that works properly for anyone because it works for you. Or you think it works! The religious placebo enables and reinforces the problems caused by religion. As each person is part of a community or society, you must see that the evils or harms that come on them have a wider impact. The person attached to a placebo will ignore or dismiss or avoid any evidence that disconfirms his placebo.
A religion that tells very obvious lies such as that it cures paedophilia or possession or cancer when anybody comes to it for healing or that it is the only way to God and that God does all he can to help people find this religion is clearly getting away with it for it knows its audience goes into fantasy land and enjoys the placebo. Obvious lies told by a religion are placebos. That is how it gets away with talking rubbish.


The placebo is not simply a matter of giving somebody a sugar pill and telling them it is a cure all. The diagnosis is very important too. The more an interest in shown in the patient and her or his problems, the better the chance that the sugar pills will seem to work! The diagnosis makes the patient feel helped and cared about and empowered. Unless you know what is wrong with you and how it affects you as a person you cannot feel happy enough for it to have a placebo effect.


The placebo effect can fool anybody into thinking a treatment works when it is in fact useless. And bringing in the supernatural into it is a placebo in itself.


You get hope from the thought that the laws of cause and effect may not apply in your case and your problem may lessen or vanish which is not the norm.


You get hope from feeling that God is going to miraculously cure your black heart and soften your hard heart and do nothing or too little about war-crazed demagogues - you feel that special and that important.


Perhaps religion can be a placebo for people who have psychological problems. The placebo can only last for so long. Then the person is back to square one and needs another placebo. This cycle can hide the damage that the religion is doing to the person. People tend to be impressed by the placebo and that leads to people becoming inspired to adopt placebos and they may end up hooked on them. The book is right that "we cannot easily separate individual benefits and harms from societal ones, since what causes individual harm also causes societal harm to some degree, and vice versa."


Needing religious or spiritual placebos leads to needing more religious or spiritual placebos and risks becoming a victim of charlatans. If there is a magic power interfering in the world all the time, how you can know what is real? If your strength is an illusion created by a placebo that is no substitute for real strength and you are cheated of the opportunity for real strength and you will end up being bigoted, fearful and hostile if you think somebody is going to challenge your placebo.


Religion is not the only case where faith functions as a placebo. The old woman may need a loaf but spend the money on a lottery ticket. She seems to believe that she will win though it is extremely unlikely. The soldier going to war thinks he will come back alive and a hero. Notice that if you act like you think the impossible lotto win or whatever will happen to you, the underlying assumption is that God or magic is going to make it happen. All those other faith placebos show that religion can only be a placebo itself.




Actions speak of what you believe more than your words. It is easy to think you believe you have healing power over sinners or bad people when you know fine well you don't. Words are an action too and do speak but we know action is the best speaker.

If religion really believes in its power to heal sin then why does it not take more risks with its claims?


It does not say, "Our prayers will stop people entering same sex marriages" when same sex marriage is legalised. It does not depend on prayer and Masses alone to stop abortion.


People who claim to have absolute faith in God or a healer do not act as if they do. In fact they act in such a way as to avoid anything that will disprove their faith. Thus they protect the lies they tell themselves - and others. They protect their placebos and hate anybody who might expose them.


Religion follows Jesus in saying that sin causes enslavement to it - in other words it has a strong addictive power (John 8:34). If a person claims to be healed of sin and forgiven and relapses too much, we should take him as an example of an addict who pretends to have recovered. He wants to fool you in order to feed his addiction. And even if faith in God's mercy is not bad in itself it can be abused as a placebo. Why would we believe that any sinner is really recovered?




A placebo is not a good thing. At best it is a necessary evil. That being the case, it has to be gotten rid of as soon as possible. It makes people better at fooling themselves and others which means that they become prone to being devastated by negative events and people. This would be like a placebo in reverse - it does harm.


A good doctor will try to wean you off placebos. They are only for short-term immediate and important help. They are given to be outgrown. Religion is cruel for it wants to keep you hooked on its placebos. Religions toxic charm is part of its scheme.


It is evil to say you know something when you merely believe it. It is a lie and what if your neighbour claims to know that you are the Antichrist and that you should be killed? It is dangerous. Science is about beliefs for it is about working out what is probably true. Science is self-correcting. People are not keen on science for they like to think they can know things as opposed to merely believing in them. Beliefs and probabilities carry the risk of being wrong and harmful. There are indirect risks too. Once false idea can lead to an avalanche of errors. Beliefs and probabilities lead to confusion too for there is a lot of disagreement about what should be believed or regarded as probably true.


The popular view that you should challenge a person's moral beliefs but not their faith is a bizarre, unfair and dishonest one. What you believe about morality matters more than your religious beliefs! The view is only acceptable to a person who feels that faith is some kind of addiction or crutch and that it is dangerous for the believer to hear criticism and maybe dangerous for the critic to challenge it. The view is acceptable only to a person who feels that morality should be treated separately from faith when in fact the faith has a lot of moral content. Obviously only faith that is a manifestation of hypocrisy can be enabled by hypocrites. A hypocritical faith is a placebo for the evil you have in your heart and that you actually do.


Some people feel that you must not try to wean a person away from religious belief. They confuse religious belief and moral belief. When they say they want the religious belief respected they mean the moral beliefs or they think that the religious and moral are too intertwined so to wean the person from faith is to wean them from morality. This view suggests that it is really morality that matters. Surely then it is okay for one religion to convert another religion as long as the moral code is not ruined?




Placebos help not just with current turmoil but with the fear that terrible things may happen in the future. "Don't let things get to you." "Whatever happens you will be okay." "God will lovingly protect you." All these thoughts make you feel you can face anything. It is easy to feel good about the dangers of future when they have not happened yet. But when the turmoil comes none of the thoughts will help. Religion tricks people to believe the future will be bearable and that they will never feel alone. None of these promises are true and are in fact a disgrace. If one fares badly and copes and feels supported by a higher power that is down to luck not their belief. The sense of being protected from unbearable suffering and the feeling of abandonment by God is the reason why people do daring things in the name of evil and power. We all know power-hungry people who don't seem to think that they could lose all they have in minutes or reap what they sow.



The placebo works when we believe something will make us feel better and when we try it.  Even if you do grave evil and you feel that prayers and sacraments and priests make you feel better even if you don't really regret it.  Human nature puts its feelings first and the Church must take responsibility when it knows that everybody will abuse its "services" to feel good about the evil they have done.  When you feel good about doing bad you are in fact probably going to make people happier (feeling good automatically makes you nicer to others) which makes you deceive yourself even more that the harm you have done does not matter for you are so great now. The religious placebo is about making people feel good about their sins and trivialising the sins. It is a reward for evil.




The nocebo is the placebo effect in reverse. It is when you learn how bad your illness is, knowing this makes you feel worse and even sicker. It is a self-fulfilling bad prophecy. You perceive the terribleness you expect to perceive. It involves self-deception just like the placebo effect does. If you are good with the placebo you will be as good with the nocebo. Worse, if you give the placebo such great power you may give the nocebo even more power.


Consider how most people spend very little time doing harm and yet it is the harm we remember. The nocebo then is probably more powerful than the placebo.

As Meynen et al (American Journal Bioethics, 2012) puts it, “mere information about potential harm is likely to be harmful itself.” Religion by warning about harms such as being exploited by the Devil, everlasting punishment in Hell and the horror of offending God's infinite love then is a disgrace.