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.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.