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Religion vs mental illness

20 December 2012, 13:44

Religion vs mental illness

I understand religion and faith bring comfort to many people and the purpose of this article is not to diminish that in any way, but rather to highlight what I feel to be fairly elementary observations about the comparison between faith based religion and a variety of mental illnesses.

Think of the man who wakes up every day, opens his bible, reads a few passages then gets down on his knees to pray.   This same man makes his weekly trip to church, says a pray of thanks before each meal and conducts countless other rituals in order to conform to his particular religion.   This man is following a routine.  A routine which he believes will keep him safe and in good stead with whichever god he may have faith in.  

Now think of the man with obsessive compulsive disorder.   He wakes up, switches his light on and off a certain number of times, walks to the bathroom, being certain not to step on the spaces between the tiles.    He may then brush his teeth counting exactly how much time he attends to each tooth and so on.    Much like above mentioned religious man, he too is conducting small rituals and following a routine which relieve his anxiety.

Now let us compare the two.   Both men are dealing with fear by conducting rituals they believe to have an effect.    On the other hand if one was to question each man as to whether he felt his actions and beliefs to be rational, a greatly contrasting answer would be given by both.   The religious man would answer (if he were able to get past what he would undoubtedly deem an insulting question) that he believes his actions to be rational, but the OCD sufferer on the other hand would agree without any hesitations that his behaviour is indeed irrational.

Comparing the two cases further, we will see that each is, in a sense, somewhat hereditary in nature.   The religious man was more than likely raised in a household were religion played a large role in the family’s daily activities, through the insistence of either one or both of his parents.   By the same token OCD sufferers more often than not have an antecedent who may have suffered from the illness to some degree.   As similar as I may have made these two cases seem regarding this point, I must point out that the OCD sufferer would never willingly pass his affliction onto his children, but the religious man will, without offering them a choice.   Now I understand most religious people reading this will take umbrage to such a statement, but, think hard, and you will see that raising a child within a faith based religion is simply passing one’s own inability to deal with fear, onto an impressionable child.

The idea of mental illness being closely related to religion is even less foreign when one considers the stories found within such holy texts as the bible.   Stories such as Abrahams trip up the mountain to kill his son “under god’s instruction”.   If such a storey had to surface in this day and age, even the religious man would have to concede that mental illness, specifically schizophrenia, must have played a major role.   The same can be said for virgin births and resurrections, let someone claim either of these occurrences in modern times and they would be thought mentally ill.   But let it be written in a two thousand year old book by a people with half the intelligence of modern man, and it must be true.

My point being, religion is riddled with rituals and beliefs which are comparable to those exhibited by sufferers of mental illness.   The only difference being, religious beliefs gain pseudo credence from the fact that millions of people accept and partake in them.  

Consider a world where the majority of people are schizophrenic, does this mean that because they are in the majority their actions and decisions must be accepted and adhered to by the minority sane.   No, of course not.

There is an old saying.   When a man talks to god it’s called prayer, when god talks back it’s called schizophrenia.

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