Is there a link between Christian belief and mental illness? For me, and many others, the answer is 'yes.' http://helensatheistblogs.blogspot.co.uk/2013/05/is-there-link-between-religion-nd-ment.html …
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.