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Negative Role Of Religion In Issues Of Mental Illness


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A matter that has become of increasing concern to me, and increasing discomfort with religious traditions, is that of the negative role religion generally plays in matters and issues of mental illness and mental retardation. Both for this being a personal matter with my family's history of mental illness, and my exposure to mental health issues in society in the course of getting my degree, I take interest in and subscribe to several feeds from organizations involved in developments in mental illness research, and mental illness social/political advocacy.


Clearly people that wrote, and are portrayed within, the bible, were, consistent with their times, quite ignorant in matters of mental illness. Other than the few incidents related in the NT about Jesus and a few others of supposedly miraculously and instantly "curing" what seem to be the mentally ill, in the casting out of devils in possesion, there isn't much that seems to relate to mentall illness in the bible. Even of those accounts of casting out of devils, religious tradition has historically, and even still today, grossly departed from and twisted those accounts as presented in the bible. Those presented as possessed by devils were described as victims, afflicted, and treated with kindness, not, as commonly represented in most Christian ideas today, of them being wicked, evil people serving the devil.


But perhaps the most insiduous and damaging element of religious attitudes, doctrines and beliefs have been and remain the ignorance and discounting of the effects of mental illness on thought, emotions, and behavior. Quite simply, by the very nature of mental illness, people affected by mental illness think, say, and do things contrary to and that often violates social and religious standards and mores. With the emphasis within religion of "right thinking" and "right behavior" and "right action", there is at the same time appallingly little recognition of the realities of the effects of mental illness on these expectations and demands upon people's behavior, or compassion for them and their plight. And this had very much spilled out of the church and into most every element of our entire society.


As Bishop Spong has observed, Christianity must change, or die. I think this is one of the areas in which this is dramatically demonstrated in our society today. Statistically, it is recognized that around 23% of our population suffers some form of mental illness, and when considering how many experiencing mental illness may not seek or obtain medical attention so as to even be diagnoses, that figure is almost certainly quite conservative. And presently bringing this issue to stand out in stark relief against our common experience of reality is the emergence of a strong movement within the atheist community toward addressing this issue, both in itself, and in how religion has and continues to negatively impact perspections of mental illness and how the mentally ill are treated in our society.


I'm am going to try to also post here a link to a video someone has shared with me, that demonstrates and examples something of this issue, and the emerging atheits movement related to it. I have to say, in my opinion, the atheist movement is addressing this much better than the religious side of it has or is.




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I think this can be said of all marginalized peoples, People who who might make us uncomfortable or don't understand for what ever reason tend to be marginalized. The rub is if it isn't Gods will (whether it is considered a response to sin or not) then we can and should do something about it. For some it is easier to blame it on God and there is no guilt.



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Actually trying to do something about mental illness is something many in our socirty are working on doing something about.


My point here is not exactly that, but that of attitudes toward the mentally ill, that have been largely suppproted, even fostered,within the churchand relgious commnunity. When you talk about something that affects approx 23% of our population, that's an awful big group of people to marginalize! And it is the attitudes, that are maifested in mal-treatment, even judgments of condemnation to hell for their aberrant behaviors, that they may be unable to control, that adds such a heavy burden to those mentally ill as well as their loved ones.


There are more people with mental illness hiding in the closets of this country, including the church, than there ever were homosexuals doing so. Many of these people sit in churches, sit among discussion in religious communities, having to hear over and over how people like themselves are somehow offensive to God, and responsible for their own failute to meet God's expecations and demands. Within many such communties, and even our larger society in general, a diagnosis of even a relatively minor, well-controlled mental illness that realy doesn't adversely affect how people can perform their jobs or other responsiblities, regularly find themselves excluded from employment, even being fired, ad excluded from health care coverage, in many ways, they have good reason to stay in the closet and keep the door shut tight. There is a widespread and pervasive attitude in our society that tends to discredit the entirety of any person affected by mental illness, to discredit them in other ways not at all effected by it. The church has tradtionally been especially bad at this, because of pervasive attitudes that mental illness doesn't, even CAN'T happen to "true believers", "real Christians."


What this speaker in this video emphasizes is that at least for now, it IS only the atheist community that is or can be aggressively addresing this problem, because so much of the problem in in, even orginates within, religion itself. It largely IS religious attitudes and beliefs that must be addressed to change this.


And I'll have to agree from my own observations, they are doing so muc better and more determinedly than any major movement within the religious communties. Any religious communties.



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