This is a subject I have thought of writing about for some time. It is a sensitive one, because I am not qualified in psychiatric medicine or psychoanalysis. I only have a few notions, so I can only express myself like anyone else who has done some reading on conditions like autism across its entire spectrum, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and psychosis.
Firstly, two warnings:
- In writing about this subject, I am not aiming at any particular person known or unknown to me.
- I am aware that this subject needs a considerable amount of discernment and distinction, since the major thesis of atheists like Dr Dawkins is that all religion is mental illness, religion causes mental illness or only mentally ill people are religious. I reject such an all-condemning thesis as being unreasonable and excessive.
However, there are some aspects of religious belief and practice that can be correlated with mental conditions known to psychiatrists. One disturbing sign is fanaticism, which has often been found to be related to depression and bipolar disorder. Their religion has become an obsession.
They are also the easiest to be converted to a new religion.
This happens with many an urban dilettante or some very unhappy people. They sometimes go as far as converting to radical Islam or joining a totalitarian cult. People suffering from bipolar disorder can often change very radically and suddenly as obsessions change and old ones are discarded. Psychiatrists often find that when a patient is put onto an appropriate treatment plan, the religious delusions go away.
At the same time, there are religious expressions that are more difficult to associate with pathology. Belief in a transcendent and immanent being is a part of humanity, culture and philosophy. Many people are Christians, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, etc. without being obsessive or harmful to themselves or others. To me, of course as a believer and a priest myself, there has to be a balance. The early Enlightenment was such an attempt with men like Voltaire and Pope Benedict XIV among many others. There were, of course, many atheistic philosophers during that period.
I don’t attribute psychiatry with any charisma of infallibility. There are those who deny the property of science in regard to psychiatric medicine. As with any branch of medicine or science, serious mistakes and wrong assumptions are made. In the days of Bedlam, few things were less rational than the attempts of quacks to treat “loonies”! Progress has been made, but there have been regressions, sometimes due to the extremely lucrative pharmaceutical business.
That being said, any religion placed in the hands of irrational fanatics will suffer more harm to its credibility than from the criticism of its adversaries. What is mental illness? What is reality? Philosophy and science struggle with these issues as any thinking person does.
I refer readers to some articles written by qualified people:
- Religious Factors in Bipolar Disorder
- Mental illness and religion: Why some people become fanatics
- Google search on “religion mental illness”
Naturally, some of my readers might know good reliable sites on the Web. We need objectivity and balance.