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Religion And Mental Illness


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A week a go I saw an episode of the atheist experience with a very interesting question. A young man called in and asked: "why can't we just call religion what it is: mental illness?" Apparently, he had brought this up in one of his psychology classes knowing for some time that steadfast religious belief looks much like delusion. The world of psychology is aimed at making people mentally well and is quick to apply a gauntlet of treatment routes to help a person work through his or her delusions to arrive at truth - save one. This means a unraveling if genuine reality through proof and truth. People are not healed in mental health so much as they gradually led to wellness.

 

I can't help but think of how honest therapist must squirm while walking through the Barnes and Noble phsychology section. I imagine that passing through the paper mills of the new age / positive thinking bull shit of drive-by pop psychologists just to find one reputable source of actual intellectual substance causes the professional to cringe. It would seem that anyone can secure some form of psychological credibility simply by invoking the "spiritual" side of existence. It's become difficult to see I psychology who is trying to get at truth and who us trying to mive some books. Consequently, the spiritual side of existence has become intertwined in the human experience and therefore very hard to separate and study objectively.

 

 

But this undergraduate student did make a valid point and I was thankful to see that people have thoughts and musings that match the landscape of my own mindset. The point that one host made was that religion is probably very well delusional but from the outside looking in, one has to consider that the social pressure on one to believe can quickly weigh down a person's rational faculties. In other words, Mormons may win converts but, more often than not, Mormons are born.

 

 

Every once in a while a buddy and I grab some 'tar-buckets' and spend a Saturday afternoon shopping for motorcycle parts or just driving around. Years ago his father had been sucked in to the seventh day advent group and in his son's words: "kinda went off the deep end for a while." Often our past experiences with faith rear their heads in the midst of these caffeine induced afternoons and we get more philosophical than one might expect to gear head to be. We got on the subject of religion as mental illness on such a day and he asked me if I thought it was true, that religion is a mental illness.

 

"Phil," I say, "imagine that one day I jump in your truck and tell you to drive as quickly as possible because for the past few days - I've been followed. " It would seem that a string of questions would come from the driver's seat: who is following you? How do you know you were being followed? Why on earth would anyone want or need to follow you? ...Have you been drinking?

 

 

These are all very fair questions to ask someone in this kind of scenario and since such a scenario is usually individual, it draws a different kind of response than that of a mass delusion that is quickly acknowledged as culturally acceptable.

 

So no, religion may not be deserved to be labeled mental illness. The important distinction being that a mental illness does not receive cultural affirmation as if it were a communal virtue.

 

But I do have a bone to pick here.

 

Religion, by it's nature of affirming faith without reason and loyalty without question, provides beautiful sanctuary and cultivation for those who experience delusion in constructing their everyday reality. When an entire institution rests on belief without evidence, the climate inside that institution will inevitably begin to cultivate - even protect and advance - similar intellectual dispositions; even when the topic is removed from faith and belief. It might be argued that the American phenomenon of creationism is the result of delusional fact denying that was nurtured in faith based institutions. The thoughts that creationism is a reasonable belief coupled with the notion that some dark force known as "science" has been created purely for the purpose of irradiating religion. Creationism and religious "persecution" are perfect examples of religious delusion and paranoia that were birthed in the isolated pockets of American Christianity. Both grew into our nation consciousness and dialogue simply because the areas between conceptual conception and public awareness were explicitly without critical thought or evidence.

 

When looked at through this lens, I begin to see the clearly apparent ills of the faithful from my past. I recall a young man from a pseudo-Amish community that showed up on the door step of our church to tell the pastor that he was an Old Testament style "prophet" and that god had delivered him to our church body to prophesy. I remember a middle aged man who's daughter told me he had the gift of seeing "spirits" over people in the church. His "spiritual gift" became so attuned that during a worship service he could physically see different 'clouds' hover above people. He believed that he could correctly interpret identify these clouds as a "spirit of confusion" a "spirit of pride" a "spirit of lust" a "spirit of bitterness" and so on. This is not uncommon behavior because when an entire institution prides itself on belief and acceptance without any kind of evidence. Inevitably, the floodgates for all other kinds of nonsense are wide open. Institutions of faith not only offer no critique of this kind of thinking, they encourage this corrosive mentality as a high virtue or even site it as"proof" that god is working in their midst.

 

Church doesn't cause mental illness - but church gives mental illness a beautiful place to grow, solidify, and spread.

 

 

If I tell my friend Phil that I'm being followed he's going to try to convince me that I am not. He is going to do so because he is a good friend and because he cares about the truth. If he proves to me through all kinds of evidence that I am delusional and I continue to rant and rave insisting that I am being followed simply because I believe what I believe against all rational explanation, he is going to kick me out of his truck. Phil is going to do thus because I would be exhibiting the kind of behavior that is the very definition of bat shit crazy. But if I have faith about a much greater range of things of seemingly even greater significance: my life, my soul, my marriage, eternity etc. and tell Phil all about the true (and irrational) reality of these things from my perspective without any kind of evidence, I'm not crazy - I'm just a Christian.

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I missed the episode of the Atheist Experience so I did not see the topic of religion being a mental illness. I would be interested in seeing how the conversation went on the topic.

 

You do make a lot of good points here, but I don't really know when or if religion will ever be viewed as a mental illness by the majority of people, although some who are religious might make statements about religions other than their own being a mental illness, while theirs has just as little proof of being true as the others. But it certainly is frightening how irrational beliefs affect a person's behavior, thoughts, and decisions so much, especially when lots of people share the same irrational beliefs.

 

With some religious beliefs, if only one or two people on the planet had them but no one else did, the rest of the people would think, That person is a little crazy... Those same people might also be considered to be "bat shit crazy" if their beliefs caused them to behave like fundamentalist extremists who feel that everyone else that does not share their beliefs need to die or are going to Hell, any number of crazy things. But, when these particular religious beliefs are held by millions or billions, it is no longer called insanity. Then it becomes religion.

 

It also seems that people who already have diagnosable mental illnesses are easier to convert into a religion, especially the crazy ones that feed on their fears. People who are already prone to delusional thinking will more easily be sucked into religion than most other people, it's really just a matter of which evangelist, false prophet, or random religious nut-job gets to them first.

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I disagree completely.

 

Religion itself is not a mental illness, but a societal illness.  It is a construct which causes mentally sound individuals to believe stupid shit.  Charismatic politicians and skillful used car salesmen do the same thing.

 

It's basically brainwashing, and you don't have to be mentally ill to be brainwashed.  Our capacity to fall victim to it is perfectly normal, and a result of the manner in which our minds have evolved. 

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Church doesn't cause mental illness - but church gives mental illness a beautiful place to grow, solidify, and spread.

 

 

 

 

I can't sign on to everything you said, but the further away from religion I get, the more I think this is accurate. 

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I said: "So no, religion may not be deserved to be labeled mental illness"

 

Your initial response: "I disagree completely"

 

Your next statement was to say: "religion itself is not a mental illness"

 

Maybe you should take some time to reflect about what the words "completely disagree" mean

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I missed the episode of the Atheist Experience so I did not see the topic of religion being a mental illness. I would be interested in seeing how the conversation went on the topic.

 

You do make a lot of good points here, but I don't really know when or if religion will ever be viewed as a mental illness by the majority of people, although some who are religious might make statements about religions other than their own being a mental illness, while theirs has just as little proof of being true as the others. But it certainly is frightening how irrational beliefs affect a person's behavior, thoughts, and decisions so much, especially when lots of people share the same irrational beliefs.

 

With some religious beliefs, if only one or two people on the planet had them but no one else did, the rest of the people would think, That person is a little crazy... Those same people might also be considered to be "bat shit crazy" if their beliefs caused them to behave like fundamentalist extremists who feel that everyone else that does not share their beliefs need to die or are going to Hell, any number of crazy things. But, when these particular religious beliefs are held by millions or billions, it is no longer called insanity. Then it becomes religion.

 

It also seems that people who already have diagnosable mental illnesses are easier to convert into a religion, especially the crazy ones that feed on their fears. People who are already prone to delusional thinking will more easily be sucked into religion than most other people, it's really just a matter of which evangelist, false prophet, or random religious nut-job gets to them first.

Awesome reply

 

Love the: "then it becomes religion"

 

"If I think that saying magical words over my pancakes at breakfast turns them into the physical body of Elvis Presley - that makes me crazy, but substitute bread for pancakes and Jesus for Elvis and all of the sudden I'm no longer crazy, I'm catholic"

Sam Harris

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I don't think religion in itself is bad, it is the "us versus them" and the "doubt is evil" philosophy that is toxic. Religion can be a way to try and understand the world around us in a philosophical sense, but as a hard fact it doesn't hold a candle to science. There is nothing wrong with trying to find a philosophical and spiritual way to understand the world around us, but when one tries to push it as fact and the only way. This is when we start having an issue.

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I don't think religion in itself is bad, it is the "us versus them" and the "doubt is evil" philosophy that is toxic. Religion can be a way to try and understand the world around us in a philosophical sense, but as a hard fact it doesn't hold a candle to science. There is nothing wrong with trying to find a philosophical and spiritual way to understand the world around us, but when one tries to push it as fact and the only way. This is when we start having an issue.

 

I struggle with the "us vs them" mentality as well.  I often have to remind myself that those who blatantly disagree with me may be strangers but they are no different than my parents, siblings, or friends who all have strong ties to faith and religion.  I understand you’re thought about religion as a way of understanding the world; it has aesthetic value, cultural significance, and often provides some kind of community.

 

I do agree that when a faith tries to assert itself "as fact and the only way.  This is when we start having an issue." 

 

Indeed, when claims of authority and exclusivity go unchecked or unchallenged people begin to lose their autonomy, they can easily be stripped of their voice.  However if you READ religion, specifically the big 3, you'll find that each one of them insist on the exclusivity of truth on the basis of unfounded authority.  These claims are the corner stones on which religious justification for hatred, prejudice, and violence are made possible.

 

Often people think we can try and embrace the parts of religion that are aesthetic and ignore the ugliness that are distasteful.  But we think this is possible because we are pruning out what we would like to think are elements of religion.  In reality, we are trying to prune out the essence of religion.  Exclusivity and authority are not parts of religion, they are foundational tenants.

 

To best illustrate my point I'll reference the big 3.  Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all hold Moses in high reverence and all have a special soft spot for the 10 commandments.  For all that these faith systems disagree on - they find kinship in the commands God sent down from on high.  If you have issue with exclusivity and authority, then you should have significant issue with the 1st commandment that all Christians, Jews, and Muslims affirm:

 

"I am the lord you god" (appeal to authority)..."Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (requirement to be exclusive).

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I said: "So no, religion may not be deserved to be labeled mental illness"

 

Your initial response: "I disagree completely"

 

Your next statement was to say: "religion itself is not a mental illness"

 

Maybe you should take some time to reflect about what the words "completely disagree" mean

 

And maybe you should learn how to use an internet forum...as in, not posting the same goddamn fucking thread multiple times.  You want an intelligent discussion?  The a.) Don't cause general confusion by having the same topic twice, and b.) Keep it short and sweet.  Why the hell should I be expected to read 53 lines when you could have made your point in less than half that?

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It's all about the journey man :o)

 

I think you and I are going to be friends

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I disagree completely.

 

Religion itself is not a mental illness, but a societal illness.  It is a construct which causes mentally sound individuals to believe stupid shit.  Charismatic politicians and skillful used car salesmen do the same thing.

 

It's basically brainwashing, and you don't have to be mentally ill to be brainwashed.  Our capacity to fall victim to it is perfectly normal, and a result of the manner in which our minds have evolved. 

 

I will read everyone's posts in greater detail.  For now, it sounds like we're trending toward this idea, which I agree.  

 

And this brings up a thing I've wanted to discuss on the forums here, something my brother said that made me proud.  He's been a christian for perhaps 20 years.  His fundie beliefs peaked more than 10 years ago, and have since been tapering.  Last year he told me of a conversation he had with a few others in his church, concerning whether (and how) they would convert one of their members who is diagnosed bi-polar.  I am bi-polar and my brother remembers my phanatical 2-year religious trip and how insane it was.  His advice to the church was 'religion and bi-polar don't mix!  This member is better off if we don't convert him.'  

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I don't think religion in itself is bad, it is the "us versus them" and the "doubt is evil" philosophy that is toxic. Religion can be a way to try and understand the world around us in a philosophical sense, but as a hard fact it doesn't hold a candle to science. There is nothing wrong with trying to find a philosophical and spiritual way to understand the world around us, but when one tries to push it as fact and the only way. This is when we start having an issue.

 

I struggle with the "us vs them" mentality as well.  I often have to remind myself that those who blatantly disagree with me may be strangers but they are no different than my parents, siblings, or friends who all have strong ties to faith and religion.  I understand you’re thought about religion as a way of understanding the world; it has aesthetic value, cultural significance, and often provides some kind of community.

 

I do agree that when a faith tries to assert itself "as fact and the only way.  This is when we start having an issue." 

 

Indeed, when claims of authority and exclusivity go unchecked or unchallenged people begin to lose their autonomy, they can easily be stripped of their voice.  However if you READ religion, specifically the big 3, you'll find that each one of them insist on the exclusivity of truth on the basis of unfounded authority.  These claims are the corner stones on which religious justification for hatred, prejudice, and violence are made possible.

 

Often people think we can try and embrace the parts of religion that are aesthetic and ignore the ugliness that are distasteful.  But we think this is possible because we are pruning out what we would like to think are elements of religion.  In reality, we are trying to prune out the essence of religion.  Exclusivity and authority are not parts of religion, they are foundational tenants.

 

To best illustrate my point I'll reference the big 3.  Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all hold Moses in high reverence and all have a special soft spot for the 10 commandments.  For all that these faith systems disagree on - they find kinship in the commands God sent down from on high.  If you have issue with exclusivity and authority, then you should have significant issue with the 1st commandment that all Christians, Jews, and Muslims affirm:

 

"I am the lord you god" (appeal to authority)..."Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (requirement to be exclusive).

 

Just because religions have some toxic parts does not mean everything is about it is wrong. Sort of like how a stopped clock is right twice a day. For example, just because I agree with a certain political philosophy does not mean I agree with the entire philosophy. It is just something that makes the most sense to me. Even philosophies that I don't agree with at all, have some good things that I take into consideration.

 

I don't think there is anything wrong with borrowing the best parts of something and creating your own philosophical/spiritual truth of how you perceive the world. I may no longer be a Christian, but there are lessons that are still worth considering, although granted one can still derive them without Christianity. 

 

Although, I do agree the toxic parts are the elephant in the room. Ignore that and you lose a core part of it, but maybe that is a good thing to strip that part out. It is not like Christians don't pick and chose already, and they are not the only ones who do this. The more people who exercise this the better.

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I don't think religion in itself is bad, it is the "us versus them" and the "doubt is evil" philosophy that is toxic. Religion can be a way to try and understand the world around us in a philosophical sense, but as a hard fact it doesn't hold a candle to science. There is nothing wrong with trying to find a philosophical and spiritual way to understand the world around us, but when one tries to push it as fact and the only way. This is when we start having an issue.

 

I struggle with the "us vs them" mentality as well.  I often have to remind myself that those who blatantly disagree with me may be strangers but they are no different than my parents, siblings, or friends who all have strong ties to faith and religion.  I understand you’re thought about religion as a way of understanding the world; it has aesthetic value, cultural significance, and often provides some kind of community.

 

I do agree that when a faith tries to assert itself "as fact and the only way.  This is when we start having an issue." 

 

Indeed, when claims of authority and exclusivity go unchecked or unchallenged people begin to lose their autonomy, they can easily be stripped of their voice.  However if you READ religion, specifically the big 3, you'll find that each one of them insist on the exclusivity of truth on the basis of unfounded authority.  These claims are the corner stones on which religious justification for hatred, prejudice, and violence are made possible.

 

Often people think we can try and embrace the parts of religion that are aesthetic and ignore the ugliness that are distasteful.  But we think this is possible because we are pruning out what we would like to think are elements of religion.  In reality, we are trying to prune out the essence of religion.  Exclusivity and authority are not parts of religion, they are foundational tenants.

 

To best illustrate my point I'll reference the big 3.  Judaism, Islam, and Christianity all hold Moses in high reverence and all have a special soft spot for the 10 commandments.  For all that these faith systems disagree on - they find kinship in the commands God sent down from on high.  If you have issue with exclusivity and authority, then you should have significant issue with the 1st commandment that all Christians, Jews, and Muslims affirm:

 

"I am the lord you god" (appeal to authority)..."Thou shalt have no other gods before me" (requirement to be exclusive).

 

Just because religions have some toxic parts does not mean everything is about it is wrong. Sort of like how a stopped clock is right twice a day. For example, just because I agree with a certain political philosophy does not mean I agree with the entire philosophy. It is just something that makes the most sense to me. Even philosophies that I don't agree with at all, have some good things that I take into consideration.

 

I don't think there is anything wrong with borrowing the best parts of something and creating your own philosophical/spiritual truth of how you perceive the world. I may no longer be a Christian, but there are lessons that are still worth considering, although granted one can still derive them without Christianity. 

 

Although, I do agree the toxic parts are the elephant in the room. Ignore that and you lose a core part of it, but maybe that is a good thing to strip that part out. It is not like Christians don't pick and chose already, and they are not the only ones who do this. The more people who exercise this the better.

 

 

I once heard Rob Bell say that when he was in Turkey he saw a bunch of houses half finished.  The Turkish people believe that is not good to have heavy debts and their houses are completed in spurts when the money is there.  This idea comes from the Koran and Rob Bell said: "I claim it as God's truth" and I remember having great respect for him for having to have the courage to embrace wisdom of a different faith system.  The problem is when we say: "this statement is good because it comes from god" rather than saying "this statement is good because it is true."  People affirming the first go out seeking other good things - as long as they somehow come from god.  People affirming the second go out seeking good things because they are true - no qualifier needed.

 

Rob Bell's statment is SO close to being something truly worth saying...all he has to do it pull the "g-word" from that quote and it makes it perfect.  Thanks for your clarification - I see where you're coming from :)

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