Sunday, 2 November 2014

Are all Christians by definition nutcases?

As I was making my way home from Indi yesterday, I saw a rather interesting retweet by Richard Dawkins. It said :-

Is there a link between Christian belief and mental illness? For me, and many others, the answer is 'yes.'

Unfortunately as I was at Mumbai airport, for some reason I could access twitter on the iPAD but not the blogger site so I wasn't able to read exactly what Helen Pluckrose had to say. It was pretty clear though from this strident statement that Helen thinks Christianity is a major factor which causes people to lose their marbles.  

Now as someone who is a practising (if rather bad) Roman Catholic, the first question I had to ask myself is "Do I suffer from mental illness?". Having a ten hour flight, gave me plenty of time to mull over the proposition. I suppose that on one level, it is not really for me to judge. I could be completely bonkers and not realised it, so I guess I'll have to leaver it to you, the readers of the Barnet Eye to decide. 

Today I had the chance to read Helens blog in full and I have to say I think she has made the classic mistake of letting her own prejudices cloud her judgement. There are plenty of things people believe that I think will cause them mental anguish. Being a lifelong Manchester City FC fan is perhaps the thing which has caused me the most anguish over the years. A commitment to the concept that a team are better than everyone else, when they are clearly not is obviously quite a stupid thing to believe and has caused untold depression over the years. Ask my wife what I am like if City lose.

So yes believing things that are irrational can at cause upset, but then again so can believing perfectly rational things, such as that people should treat each other with dignity and respect and seeing daily examples that people don't. I have many friends who have had serious psychological issues over the years. I gave some thought to whether religion played any part in their problems. Sadly in some cases, it is true that it most certainly did play some sort of role. When the band first started in 1979, our second drummer was Paul Marvin, son of Hank. His elder brother Dean died of alcoholism many years ago, which was in some ways due to the issues he had with his family over his rejection of their faith. I have known many people where relationships with people of different faiths from their parents has caused untold anguish and grief and in a couple of cases severe depression. 

But I do beieve these difficulties were as much to do with cultural issues as religious ones. I also know people who have exactly the same problems with non religious inter racial relationships. In other words, in my opinion the religious aspect is just one of many factors that families sometimes find to hurt each other.

WIthin the RC community there is a real issue with abuse, which has severely damaged many people and is inexcusable, as is the churches refusal to accepts its responsibilities. I do believe that this is a problem for a small minority of church members and is more one of people in power abusing their position. As the Cyril Smith and Jimmy Savile cases show, this is sadly not a phenominum limited to Churches.  Given that churches claim moral authority, it is also clear to me that they have failed their membership in failure to address this. Against this we have to weigh the huge positive benefits of membership by the vast majority of members. In this day and age, people can make their own minds up and people do. 

Specifically Helen gives two examples that she feels exemplify the ways religions can cause mental health issues.
Christian parents will often teach their children that Pol Pot was an evil dictator but that the violence of the Christian God is a positive thing. They will teach their children that Hitler was a genocidal sadist but that God will send not only all Jews but also Muslims and Hindus and atheists etc to be tortured for eternity because he is a god of love.
Sadly Helen seems to be a bit out of touch with modern Christian thinking. One of the major teachings of Vatican II is that anyone can go to heaven.  It is clearly ridiculous for anyone to believe a good person is punished for non belief. There is also a wide range of views as to what hell actually is. For many fundamentalists, it is fire and brimstone. Personally I believe it is simply separation, by our own free will, from the people we love and the love of God.

Helen also states
A mother recently accused me of being cruel by telling my child her grandfather was gone forever and insisted that the concept of Heaven is very comforting. I told her about two older teenagers I have spoken to who had recently become atheist and have suffered deep grief on realising that they were not immortal. 
I found this to be a rather odd statement, given her proposition that Religion causes mental illness. She points out that acceptance of Atheism actually caused a degree of pain and anguish to the teenagers. Now if they have decided that Atheism is the way, then clearly they have to take the down side of its beliefs. I have a belief that part of the process of moving to the next phase of our existence involves a realisation of the bad things we've done. I do passionately believe in an afterlife. I also believe in the here and now and am committed to doing the best job I can to make it work. I have friends of all faiths and no faiths. I don't consider myself better or worse than anyone for my beliefs. I use Church as a period of meditation and reflection (as I do with my Yoga practicse). I believe for me personally it has been a tremendously positive thing.

For the record, I had a period between the age of 16 and 24 when I rejected religion and considered myself Atheist. I then had another period between the age of about 24 and 30 where I had some sort of belief in the afterlife, but wasn't sure what this was. At the age of around 30,  I took the decision to start attending mass again, whilst trying to seek and understand more knoweldge of the world. I've read many books about my religion and others. I have come to the conclusion that faith is a very important thing to me, but it is also a very personal thing. I have met very good priests and also very wise rabbi's, C of E vicars and chairmen of Mosques. I feel all are probably more spiritual than I am and in many ways closer to God. I do however feel comfortable with my own beliefs. 

Unlike people such as Helen, I feel no great need to proseletize people to my views. I believe all of us have a spiritual journey and this has many turns for us if we try and actually seek a positive experience from the journey. I find the tone of Helens blog very similar to many US fundamentalist Christian sites. 100% set in their position and certainty. I still have many doubts about all sorts of things, but I find such strident statements as 
To be a thoughtful, devout Christian who accepts all the tenets of Christianity is to accept the strange and the inappropriate and the unreasonable and to attempt to live your life by it.
To simply be the musing of someone who is trying to justfy a position without understanding how people of faith interact with the world. Most Christians are not fundamentalists. They recognise many aspects of the religion can at times be contradictory, but are intelligent enough to take the good and take the positive and use this as a motivation. There are clearlt parts of the tradition that require a bit of adaption to the modern world.  Anyone can hunt through scriptures and find many examples of things to beat people of faith. To my mind, what anyone whpo really cares about making the planet a better place should care about is finding the good things we all share in common.

Helen has clearly formed the opinion that Christianity and other religions are negative and bad full stop. It's a free country and she's more than entitled to her view. As far as I am concened, we have free speech and the fact she is bothering to write a blog is intself a good thing, even if I think she's kicking the ball and missing the goal.

When it comes down to it, I think her proposition that Christianity is bad for your mental health is unhelful and I would suggest that many churches provide much needed support for many people in society with severe mental health issues. I volunteer at The Passage, a day centre for the homless. Many of the clients suffer from mental health issues. Many of the people who come are some of the most desperately in need of help in London. When I look at what Helen writes and contrast this with what the needs of the clients I see every week, I have to conclude that she is way off the mark. I am all for contructive criticism of any institution and read articles like Helens to see if there is something positive and constructive to add to the argument. Helen starts by saying
I would argue that there is and intend to demonstrate this by showing the way children are raised in the Christian faith, giving statistical evidence of the correlations between  Christianity and social problems and detailing the mental illnesses which exist only in relation to religion and especially Christianity.
 I was rather disappointed to find no links to any of the evidence for these "statistical correlations". If I made such a claim about anything, I'd given my sources and make sure they were proper, scientifically based studies. Sadly the internet is full of people who make such statements, without the hard facts to back the statements up. To me that is always a sure sign of a poor argument based on personal views rather than facts.


Helen said...

First of all, my sources are clearly posted underneath the blog. The sources are The Federal Bureau of Prisons, The Cross-National Correlations of Quantifiable Societal Health with Popular Religiosity and Secularism in the Prosperous Democracies study( published in the Journal of Religion and Society),Pew statistics analysed by Joseph Strayhorn of Drexel University College of Medicine and University of Pittsburgh (published in the Reproductive Health journal) and a study by Mark A. Smith, political science professor at the University of Washington (which many Christian organisations have cited like this one ->

My tweet referring to my blog. which you quote, says "Is there a link between Christian belief and mental illness?For me and many others, the answer is 'yes.' I am not sure, therefore, why your response is called "Are all Christians, by definition, nutcases?

I'm also unsure where you got the idea that writing about religion causing anxiety is a claim that only religion causes anxiety. That is certainly not the case. However, religion is a common source of anxiety and this is often overlooked because religion is regarded positively and presented as a source of comfort. For me and many others, this was not the case.That is what my blog is about. For more accounts of experiences like ours, I recommend the Freedom From Religion Foundation.

Have I let my prejudices cloud my judgement? If that is the same as letting my experiences direct my blog, yes I have.

You say that I am out of touch with 'modern' Christian thinking because the Catholic church allows anyone to go to Heaven? Of course, all Christians are not Catholic and Catholics have been debating this heatedly. Here is a Catholic organisation with a different reading of Pope Francis' position.

However, this makes very little difference to OCD sufferers - as long as some actions cause people to be sent to hell, they will be anxious they have committed them. Protestants tend to be concerned about whether or not they have blasphemed the holy spirit and Catholics about whether they have confessed every sin. Both suffer from blasphemous thoughts which must be repented. My statistics and my contacts are mostly from America, a majority of them are Protestant. I am not sure entirely what you mean by saying the majority of Christians are not fundamentalists. Half of Americans deny evolution because the bible has a different story. That seems a fairly fundamental problem with reality to me.

You misrepresent me when you say I showed that atheism caused pain. My point was that being led to believe you are immortal in the first place is what causes pain when people then cease to believe they can survive the death of their brain and go on to live in another form. You, of course, still believe this is possible and so telling children this will not seem a problem to you.

Thenter's experience, the suffering of people I have supported in overcoming it. You believe my concerns are unfounded. Obviously, I don't. This should give you some idea of why I have blogged about it.

(I've gone over the word limit and I find it very hard to check formatting and proof read in this little box - I'll copy and paste to my own blog and edit properly there)

Rog T said...

The links you posted are as follows
(7) ’

These are not scientific studies, which is the point I was making. I don't think it is unreasonable, if you make a statement about stats, to have a direct link to a proper scientific survey.

Of course there is a range of views in the Catholic community (many of which I disagree with). I suspect you get your views about what concerns Catholics & Prods from rather fanatical websites. Neither of the subjects you mention have ever come up in any discussion I've had with anyone about religion. Very few Anglo Catholics I know go to confession and I've never heard a Prod worry about offending the Holy Spirit.

In Mill Hill we have excellent cross religious relations with Churches, Synogogues and Mosues combining to provide night shelters and food bank collections etc. In our community I think anyone would be considered an idiot if they started raising the subject of our colleagues in these initiatives going to hell.

As to half of American Christians denying evolution, I'd be interested to see the ful statistics. The official position of the Cathlic church is to agree with the concept as an accepted Scientific Theory. I went to Catholic school and got A level biology. I can assure you evolution was taught and creationism wasn't.

When it comes to writing about Christianity, it is very easy to find websites, especially in the USA, that spout all sorts of nonsense. I'd caution that these have as much relevance to the way ordinary Chrisains as Pol Pot has to ordinary Atheists.

Plenty of fundamentalists would have it that Pol Pot etc are typical Atheists. My experience is that most atheists are normal people who simply have drawn a different conclusion to me. It isn't a big issue for me. The only issue I have with your writing is that I see it as a) divisive and b) misleading. If an Athiest says Don't belienve in God because there is no evidence to support the existence. I am quite happy to say "That is a valid opinion". If someone says "Don't be a Christian because it will make you mentally ill" (which is the subtext of your blog) it has to be challenged as it is misleading. To substanciate this, you'd need proper scientific studies that take into account the demographic and socio-economic factors (such as those that show immigrants populations generally have a higher rate of mental illness than indigeounous populace). It would like me saying that Alcoholism is a product of Atheism and using statistics from the USSR, where people were generally logged as Atheist, even when many were privately practicing religion. The point is that you have to take in all of the factors, before drawing conclusions. For example Scotland has very different health issues to rest of Uk, as well as a different religious mix. Are the health issues related to this? I doubt it (but can't prove it).

Helen said...

Well. I don't know what to say to you. Where I have cited statistics these have been from Pew and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. You don't get much more solid than that. The main studies are all associated with universities and published in academic journals. I don't know what more you want.

I'm very glad you've not met many people suffering from religious OCD. I have. It's important. I'm going to talk about it. If you do meet any, please consider giving them this. Its by Christians for Christians but uses all the proper CBT stuff. Christians have found it very helpful.

There is no subtext to my blog. Its all up front. I'm sorry if this is upsetting for you. I will not ask you not to speak about your experiences because they are different to mine and I will continue to speak about my experiences and my feelings about religion. I'll support this with statsand studies.

Helen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Helen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Rog T said...

You quote a blog which quotes a survey of prisoners from 1997 (sixteen years old). This is not a scientific study and relates to offending rates, not mental illness, and one about abortion rates.

Such raw figures such as national stats about prisoners are not terribly enlightening on the issue of mental health. The demographics of prison populations, as I am sure you are well aware are very different from the populace at large and are by and large related to scoio economic groups. It made me wonder if Atheists are predominantly upper middle class people?

Studies regarding health mean nothing unless such factors are taken account of.

Helen said...

Of course, the prison statistics are nothing to do with mental illness. I posted them in response to the claim that religion makes people behave more morally. America has the most Christians and the largest percentage of population in prison. This may not be caused by religion but religion does not prevent it.

A better argument against the prison stats is actually that prisoners may pretend to be religious because it looks good. Some of them may be atheists.

However, I am not making a claim that atheists or Christians are more morally virtuous. This is not the issue. I am discussing a mental health condition I suffered from and that other people suffer from now. I am sharing their experiences and giving my (negative) opinion on religion.

You should see some of the messages I have had because of it. It helps people to know that other people out there have experienced the same fears.Please stop suggesting we should not do this.

You may not recognise Christianity as it appears to me. I don't recognise it as it appears to you. I will not suggest that you should not write about it in case it upsets mentally ill atheists. You say what you believe to be true and important and so will I.

Rog T said...

It is up to you to post what you like. I've not said you shouldn't, I simply said that if you want to be taken seriously, you should post links to proper studies that back up your arguments. I am all for sufferers of conditions posting blogs on the issue, which is why I regularly post on the subject of cancer.

I do however think that we must display a degree of responsibility when we write such blogs. Let me give you an example. Because I have had nearly 1.5 million blog hits, I've been approached on occasion by companies selling herbal cancer cures to write guest blogs about the products these sell. Now on the face of it, some of these sound wonderful and I could make some cash providing a platform for them.

I do not however feel qualified to judge whether these are mircale cures or snake oil. As such I always decline such offers, even though for all I know, if I'd plugged them hundreds of people may be cured.

So I make it very clear in my blog that what I write is my views and my opinions and that the cancer blogs are there primarily to bolster other people going through the same situation.

Please take this as friendly advice. It really wasn't clear to me what your motivations were for writing your blog and that you were writing it to share your experiences and to help other people cope with dealing with similar issues.

Helen said...

OK, Rog. This is ridiculous. I cannot be taken seriously in my BLOG about the experiences of ppl with religious OCD unless I prove to you personally that its related to religion even though this has been a psychiatric diagnosis for decades and I have referred you to many accessible and scholarly sources on this? If you believe the existence of the psychiatric diagnosis of Religious OCD is wrong, take it up with psychiatrists. Revolutionise psychiatry. The history of the disorder and its acceptance into psychiatry is not the point of my blog.

I'm not even going to suggest you take your own 'friendly' advice and refrain from writing anything that implies a god exists until you can back this up with some proper scientific studies that one does. I know you can't. There aren't any. Its not like religious OCD where you can point to a body of studies. Gods don't appear to exist. However, I will not come on to your blog and insist a) that you must prove a god to me before you're allowed to write about one or b)tell you that you should stop talking about them at all before you upset someone.

Rog T said...


My friendly advice was to give a bit of backbround on your blog and to provide links to proper sources if you make claims talking about statistics.

If it is arrogant to suggest that a bit of background and proper links would help the blog, I can only apologise.

I think I'll leave this one here now. Doesn't seem a lot of point discussing further.

Helen said...

Oh, you've switched again. Its not the evidence I haven't posted that the condition I'm talking about actually exists and is related to religion. You're now claiming the stats I have posted are wrong again. Take that up with the relevant universities, academic journals, Pew and US federal prisons. Or find newer and better sources that contradict them. Simple.

I'll gladly leave it.