Mental Illness and Religion Comparison

I wrote a piece the other day about why people with mental illness often have trouble taking their meds – because for all they fuck up our lives, our diseases can augment us in various ways.

What would you say to someone who, despite a host of other maladies, insisted they would not be as perceptive without their depression?  Or that they would not be so obsessed with becoming more intelligent without their social anxiety?  What would you say to the person who wanted to let their mental illness run free in order to keep these benefits?

I doubt there’s a person of normal compassion who would do anything but reassure the person battling mental illness that they can have these things.  There are reasons to read wikipedia that don’t involve being pinned to your room for fear of leaving.  The sufferer can live a life where the negatives are minimized, and when self-improvement is pursued for its own sake, not because the disease forces it upon us.

And I thought how closely that paralleled religion.

To the Christian who says we must protect faith because it gets people to do charitable things (along with the discrimination, maintenance of ignorance, anti-science attitudes, and a long list of other maladies), what should we say?  It’s equally as obvious as it is with mental illness.  We should say that there are good reasons to do those things that don’t require the sickness of believing outlandish things about people walking on water.  You can live a life with none of the negatives of faith, where self-improvement is pursued for its own sake, not because there is an arbitrary demand from beyond the silence of the cosmos.

Mental illness shows us clearly that the presence of a benefit does not mean something is good for us.  If that benefit can be achieved without the disease, we should undoubtedly achieve it that way.  If the benefit comes bound to a litany of dangerous qualities, then the benefit should be jettisoned along with them.

So it is with disease.  So it is with religion.

  • Amanda

    I love this perspective! I never thought of the parallel before, but I have certainly been frustrated by loved-ones using a mental illness as an excuse to do (or not do) certain things. It is easy to stick with certain impressive ideas that give the illusion of success, such as religion, strange diets, or other things that could be achieved in a much more healthy way.

    • papango

      I agree. My co-worker has been using her fractured collar-bone as an excuse to not help me set up the meeting rooms this week, and frankly I’m sick of it. She needs to just snap out of it and realise that it’s a personal failure of hers, and not a genuine illness.

  • Alecthar

    Amanda, I think it’s important to note that, the way I understand it, JT isn’t drawing parallels between religion and the sufferer of a mental illness being unwilling to do certain things due to their disease, as you seem to be saying. For example, a person with social anxiety refusing to leave their room because of their neurosis is not really an excuse so much as a symptom.

    Instead, the parallel is drawn between religion and the refusal of a sufferer to treat the disease, because of the fear of losing some incidental positive element that the sufferer identifies as related to their illness.

    As I see it, that’s not an insignificant distinction.

  • rapiddominance

    Its also been noted how some religious people will actually misconstrue their own “bibles” to reach personally favorable conclusions. These people usually need to create or alter the reality in their own minds first before attempting to implant it in others or enforce it in some statutory way.

    On a case by case basis, its important to distinguish the root of problem avoidance when it occurs. Is it a behavior induced by religious jargon and belief, or is it one consistent with general manipulative tendencies that we see in people across the board?

    Its worth noting the behavior similarities of those we commonly see from religious people and those consistent with the mentally ill, but its also imperative that we recognize the differences. We must stress that religious belief, as a survival advantage or as a byproduct of evolution, has historically been a normal component of human behavior. Scientists disagree on the adaptive advantage, but it is worth noting a relatively recent post at “Camels with Hammers” suggesting a need for a secular people to address and account for some of the real human needs that religious practice has historically fulfilled.

    • Horsa

      “We must stress that religious belief, as a survival advantage or as a byproduct of evolution, has historically been a normal component of human behavior.”

      EP is camel shit. How exactly are religious tendencies encoded into the genome?

  • Person

    I’ll have to disagree. Though the negatives may be a horrible inconvenience, motivation is such a precious, yet incredibly difficult thing to pin down. As such, if you have some ‘negative’ that consistently keeps it coming, then why discourage it? Therefore, so long as they help the individual–and don’t hamper anyone else’s ability to gain personal and profesional fufillment–then they are a necessity to have. Indeed, whether you’re of a certain belief or not, if beliving in a giant magical man is the difference between being self-centered and at least trying to understand someone else, then I’ll take whatever gets results. Good insight, though.

  • Mark

    Only good comes of Christian faith. “Discrimination, maintenance of ignorance, anti-science attitudes, and a long list of other maladies” come from the polar opposite of faith: fear.

    • sqlrob

      Only good comes of Christian faith.

      Yeahhhh.

      “…Government will regard it as its first and foremost duty to revive in the nation the spirt of unity and cooperation. It will preserve and defend those basic principles on which our nation has been built. It regards Christianity as the foundation of our national morality, and the family as the basis of national life.”

    • Jim Jones

      Mark says: “Only good comes of Christian faith”.

      Six million Jews in gas chambers? The murders of thousands of ‘witches’? Of heretics?

      Religion is always evil and is never good. There is nothing good that can be done with religion that cannot be done as well or better without it; however there is great evil that can only be done with religion and not at all without it.
      —————————————————————–
      Mark says: “… the polar opposite of faith: fear.”

      Religion is spread with these four basic tools, used in order:

      Deceit
      Fear
      Torture
      Murder

      Fear is the largest part of faith.

      • Mark

        Godwin’s Law

        ——————

        You are confusing faith with religion.

        • sqlrob

          So the Inquisition wasn’t religious?

          And I Godwin’ed long before he did :-P

          • Mark

            No, the Inquisition WAS religiously motivated, but I think you know that.

    • James C.

      The polar opposite of faith is incredulity, not fear.

  • papango

    I doubt there’s a person of normal compassion who would do anything but reassure the person battling mental illness that they can have these things.

    And they’d be lying. It’s a nice lie, and it’s meant well, but still. I take my medication because I can’t have the good things of my condition without hurting other people. I’ve accepted life in grey as the price for protecting the people I love. I will never be as whole, as sure, as illuminated, as beautiful or as truly alive as I was when I lept into the ocean confident I would dissolve and expand to fill the universe. I made my choice and I take my pills (which make me fat, give me a near constant buzzing headache and have slowed me down physically and mentally), but I wouldn’t describe it as a life where the negatives are minimized.

  • Anteprepro

    “Discrimination, maintenance of ignorance, anti-science attitudes, and a long list of other maladies” come from the polar opposite of faith: fear.

    Ummhmm. So, when people decide to discriminate against others based on stereotypes, that is not an exercise of “faith” (i.e. “confidently believing something in the absence of solid proof”)? There is no discrimination against other religions based on “faith” that the religion of the discriminator is better? There are no people denying established facts due to their “faith” in the world as they know it (note: this doesn’t apply only to the religious)? There is no sleight of hand that lets you handwave away the possibility that “faith” is not involved in such actions. It is obviously true, whether that “faith” is religious in nature or not.

  • sqlrob

    Given that religion is given an explicit out in DSM, I’d say yeah, it’s pretty damn near indistinguishable from a mental illness.

    • papango

      I think the out only covers people who have not been exposed to competing ideas. If everyone in your community believes thunder means giants are fighting in the sky, then your not necessarily crazy for believing it too. It’s only once you refuse to change your belief in the face of facts that contradict it that you can be considered crazy.

      • sqlrob

        In the modern world, how many haven’t been exposed to the competing ideas and contradicting facts?

  • http://throwthisbookatme.com H.D. Lynn

    Mental illness shows us clearly that the presence of a benefit does not mean something is good for us. If that benefit can be achieved without the disease, we should undoubtedly achieve it that way.

    I’ve had this thought. ‘Oh, being mentally ill will mean I’ll write better! Study harder!’ I had those same thoughts on religion, too. ‘I’ll pray more! If I go to church, my parents will like me more! I need a community!’ It’s an easy mental pattern for one to fall into. We do cost-benefit analysis and pick the best option. It doesn’t mean you, as a person, are bad or stupid because you pick a disease for a time. There comes a point, though, where disease becomes destructive. How would you say responsibility and mental illness relate? I think this is where religion and mental illness differ. Ultimately, mental illness is biological and religion is less so.

  • Horsa

    JT, what do you have to say about mentally ill people with delusions of a religious or other supernatural nature?

    Should they be ridiculed mercilessly?

    Conundrums…


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