(WARNING: The following article may be found insulting by people of faith. If you are a person of faith, and what follows makes you angry, please think about that discomfort. I do not create your feelings, you create your feelings. Ask yourself why this makes you uncomfortable. After that moment of self reflection, take a deep breath and, by all means respond.)
Millions of people worldwide are affected by Apparently Benevolent Demon Possession Syndrome (hereafter ABDPS). ABDPS is a mental disorder wherein the victim believes their thoughts and actions to be inspired, in whole or in part, by an invisible entity whose advice is generally socially acceptable. This is distinguished from the more general case of DPS, where the invisible entity may or may not give advice that is acceptable to prevailing mores.
Because of the relatively harmless nature of ABDPS, the disorder frequently goes untreated or even deliberately reinforced by other persons who suffer from the disorder. This lax attitude toward ABDPS is highly disturbing. Consider the two cases below:
Person A claims that the government has placed a chip in their head and that this chip exerts periodic control over them. The person frequently tries to help other people overcome the effects of "their" brain chips. He lives in constant fear that someone will "fix" his brain chip and deliver him into permanent mental slavery. He attempts to "help" anyone that he meets and begins to trust, in the hope that they will begin to suppress their chip as well. Concerned relatives recommend that he be institutionalized.
Person B claims that an invisible entity (referred to as "God") inspires him to live by a strict code of conduct. The person believes that those who do not accept this entity are likely to be manipulated by dark forces and be tempted to do evil. This person tries to convince others to believe in the invisible entity in an attempt to "save" them. This person was encouraged to go to a seminary and is now a priest, who reinforces similar delusions in others.
The only significant difference between these two people is the social response to their disorders. In the former case, the delusion is confronted, in the latter it is reinforced. On might argue that a second difference is a subjective assessment of how happy the two people are. Person A seems tormented, while Person B seems to be content. However, were we to place person B in a society where such beliefs were unacceptable they would quickly become tormented. Thus, we see that ABDPS (Person B) differs from standard DPS (Person A) only by the degree by which others facilitate their mental state.
We are now faced with a choice. We can either accept all forms of Demon Possession Syndrome or reject them all. Since delusional beliefs can lead to irrational and dangerous actions, it is not reasonable to simply embrace all such disorders. Even Person B agrees that Person A is delusional and would be better off in a more rational frame of mind. But faced with the argument that he (Person B) would also be better off in a more rational frame of mind, Person B is likely to react with hostility. This is not merely a pragmatic problem, as we will see below.
Rooting out ABDPS would be immensely difficult. Victims of the disorder attend meetings in which their delusions are reinforced. Victims also frequently attempt to inflict their delusions upon their own children. This process is usually successful. In fact, the vast majority of ABDPS victims develop the disorder in childhood. Some recover. Some attempt to break free and merely change the specific tics of their disorder (a process often called "conversion"). In short, the social upheaval necessary to remove ABDPS is so dramatic that it no doubt would exceed the harm done by the disorder itself.
From a moral standpoint, one could even argue that any use of force to restrain a non-violent person is illegitimate. This leads to the somewhat radical conclusion that even Person A (who thinks there's a chip in his head) should be allowed to live free, so long as he harms no one. Mere annoyance to others is not enough to justify his institutionalization. From a practical standpoint, this is a better response as well. After all, Person B would certainly (and justly!) feel threatened if his beliefs could land him in an institution. (Also, numerous countries have laws which specifically protect ABDPS sufferers from imprisonment solely due to their disorder.)
Certainly, then, we should not force non-violent DPS victims into therapy. Such tactics are not morally justified. Rather, one should confront victims with the unreality of their beliefs and encourage them, whenever possible, to overcome their delusions -- to "cast out their demons," if you will.
There is one point of concern, however. How should we respond to parents with DPS that encourage their children to develop the disorder? This is a touchy subject, since one can certainly view such behavior as a form of child abuse. In some cases, such behavior would definitely constitute abuse. However, the most appropriate response is simply engaging the child with rational ideas as soon as possible. Despite our natural inclination to remove the child from this environment as soon as possible, we have to recognize that in the vast majority of cases (especially ABDPS cases) such an action will harm the child even more than the delusion. Although some forms of DPS, and potentially all of them, are driven by genetic factors -- nearly all are treatable and the vast majority simply require therapy.
It is incumbent on those of us who do not suffer from these syndromes to confront the victims, whether child or adult, and encourage them in a firm, but peaceful, manner to overcome their delusion. Do not be discouraged, however. Many ABDPS victims will argue that you are merely trying to enforce your delusions upon them. This argument is subtly powerful -- since it plays upon the skeptical, doubtful nature of all rational people. We must recognize that this argument is psychological projection on their part. They are willing to believe in things for which there is no logical argument or tangible evidence, and they assume the same is true for you. But, if we are persistent, we may see a day when DPS is limited only to those with serious genetic deformity.