Lately, Kathleen Taylor, a research scientist in the Department of Physiology, Anatomy and Genetics at the University of Oxford, has claimed that religious fundamentalism could soon be treated in the same way as “mental illness.” She has also mentioned that based on advancement of recent technology, one day science might be able to identify religious fundamentalism and “cure” it.
During a talk at the Hay Literary Festival in Wales on Wednesday, Kathleen Taylor was asked what positive developments she anticipated in neuroscience in the next 60 years. She explained, “Somebody who has for example become radicalised to a cult ideology – we might stop seeing that as a personal choice that they have chosen as a result of pure free will and may start treating it as some kind of mental disturbance. I am talking about things like the belief that it is OK to beat your children. These beliefs are very harmful but are not normally categorized as mental illness. In many ways that could be a very positive thing because there are no doubt beliefs in our society that do a heck of a lot of damage, that really do a lot of harm.”
While history and recent world events have shown us that religious fundamentalism has the potential to do great damage, such scientific innovation raises the vital question: at what point does the cure become more dangerous than the disease? Who determines what’s extreme? Or what’s a disease? At what point does the classification of religious fundamentalism branch beyond fundamentalism to religion at large? Or to go even further, if child abuse is a mental illness to which homosexuality has been compared by many conservatives, is being gay a disease? Please note, until 1973, the American Psychiatric Association said it was. The same can happen with religious extremism.
Kathleen Taylor has written a book named The Brain Supremacy in which she has noted that scientists need “to be careful when it comes to developing technologies which can slip through the skull to directly manipulate the brain. They cannot be morally neutral, these world-shaping tools; when the aspect of the world in question is a human being, morality inevitably rears its hydra heads. Technologies which profoundly change our relationship with the world around us cannot simply be tools, to be used for good or evil, if they alter our basic perception of what good and evil are.”