black witch: “religion and mental illness”

August 21, 2012

I remember an online forum I was on, that had the discussion of religion as a mental illness. The basic gist is that religion, when seen from a different perspective, can be seen as a widespread mental illness, near schizophrenia. I mean, to have religious faith, you have to believe in something that you can’t see, feel, hear or justify the existence of the same way you can with anyone else. All that one knows about that mythical being – emphasis on the “mythical” – is either based on elevated hearsay or books that feature elevated hearsay with miscalculations and possible logic gaps – that’s ignoring the modifications due to political and/or cultural gains. This is regardless of religion.

It is interesting to read such discussions, especially since I wonder about the notion a lot. It kinda came from all the brain picking I would get from Christians when they tried pretty hard to pick apart my religious beliefs in opposed to just going “She believes something different from me, meh.” Y’know, all the “But your god doesn’t exist”, “You believe God is expressed through the earth? You can’t even prove that” and “You just talk over a candle/wear that necklace and expect that does something?” questions. It lead me to wonder where faith comes in and how it survives as well as how it is expressed – which is a bit lol-worthy in that I’m certain the Christians just picked apart my faith to try to guilt-trip me back into Christianity, not to figure out how to nitpick theirs and others. It also came from when I was looking for a therapist to help me handle some of my issues. It was important to find a therapist that is Pagan-friendly. Since there are not a lot of Pagan therapists and affordable ones at that, I have to think of how to best express my experiences, spiritual and mundane, without the shrink thinking I’m an absolute nutter for no reason at all. There are many stories I have come across of Pagans expressing their beliefs as normal as anyone else and wound up misdiagnosed, wrongfully medicated and even put away in a mental asylum.

I think that it is viable to see religion as something of a mental deficiency but not. In a way, it kind of is because if one is totally swept up in the fervor, there’s no telling what one may do. They could go on to do great things like help people or they could go on a complete genocidal killing spree, both of which has happened within the past 100 years and at multiple instances. If a person is truly fixated by the religion, it can be as crippling as a mental disease. How it is opposite of a mental deficiency is that it gives a person hope and something to mentally rely on while help making sense of the world. It’s even been proven in stats that those who believe in a higher being live longer so it definitely serves some good. This does make sense since if there is some greater force out there that is supposedly omnipresent and can handle anything human, it would cause some overall reassurance within temperament. It’s best captured in the saying, “Relax, God/dess is in control”.

However, there’s the saying I do remember considerably: “When you talk to God, they call you religious. When God talks back, they call you crazy.” I don’t think there’s a truer statement. Regardless how overzealous people appear about their faith, it seems if their deity started talking to them, all of a sudden that’s nutty. As if it’s okay to believe in something but if that something started communicating, something is totally out of line. Hey, if some Middle Eastern guy walked up and said that he was Christ, walked across a swimming pool, could create a buffet from a bag of bread and a bowl of fish, turn a clear pitcher of water into red wine, it would cause some serious panic. Even if a guy simply walked up and said that he was Christ but didn’t do the party tricks, saying that he was indeed the son of God, people would still think the guy needs to be carted off. If someone claimed they were the prophet Mohammed, again the person would be considered stark raving mad. It just seems that almost everyone is a little Atheist at their core. Even when I have explained divination as how I and many Pagans communicate with the gods, I have been looked at as if I told them that we all live underwater and those puddly things we call oceans are just rip currents. I think it’s little mental in and of itself because it means when things get down to the fine line, a lot of people are going to look like the bullsh*tters they probably were. Of course there’s factoring in that a lot of people who are usually pretty fervent of their faith never really had it tested to its limits such as living in a heavily violent and traumatizing place or going through a horrible situation such as having someone wage war on their homeland and every man, woman and child for themselves. I’ve been in situations with others where things weren’t even that bad, not even close, and all of a sudden people who were once staunch Christians or Muslims or other faiths were thinking about trying their hand at Voodoo and asking me how my religion works. So much for that little mustard seed.

Now, I suppose that all this thinking does seem like it could resolve religion moot. I mean, if religion and the whole thing of faith is to have blind confidence in some version of an imaginary friend hanging in the sky and there’s science to explain many things and there’s theory to help explain complex ideas, it would seem that to believe in a higher being should be treated with the same respect as believing anime characters are real. I believe that though science knows many things, it doesn’t know everything. It most certainly is not perfect and is mostly useful for the physical, not metaphysical. The history of science is littered with human error, even today. Look at women’s health and mental health from the 19th century to today for a brief overview. Or just look at race and medicine for the past 300 years, it’s amazing what culturally embedded prejudice can do to otherwise sound and stable medical practitioners. Besides, it’s not like religion and belief in the supernatural doesn’t produce anything useful. Islam is responsible for the creation of math, alchemy is the start of chemistry and potions started off medicine as we know it. Nothing is wrong to have faith in a higher being, the problem seems to come when people think “Welp, we’ve got science. No need for fairytales anymore, we know how the world works.” Yeah, that’s pretty wrong. As aforementioned, just like religion has had its cock ups, so has science (*koffeugenicskoff*) and both had shown their logic fail multiple times on a variety of scales within the last 100 years, easy. Too have blind faith in religion is not considered smart but neither is having blind faith in science since the practitioners of both have held something of importance up and went, “Whoops. Totally didn’t see that one coming.”

There is a difference in having a religious/metaphysical experience and outright losing your mind but sometimes it does seem to cut close. I mean, there is a difference in speaking with deities or spirits and hearing voices but without sufficient training, one can fade into the other because the practitioner can’t discern the boundaries of what they can do. That’s where studying and taking it slow is strongly advised. This is for metaphysics and psionics definitely so one doesn’t drive themselves up a wall because they wanted so badly to be something phenomenal. That and knowing how to handle personal issues so those don’t bleed wantonly into practice. Knowing how to move a cup with your mind or make water freeze the same way is not worth handing the stability of your mind over. Same for being creative, you don’t need to let yourself crack up to create something.

Is religion a culturally green-lighted form of psychological derangement? Nah, not really. If it is a psychological thing, I would file it under “coping mechanism” since it indeed can be a coping mechanism, whether a healthy one or not. To have faith in something greater helping you in your personal worries and troubles, it helps greatly. If it gives you something to grip your sanity on, that’s fine but don’t grip it only on religion, give room for logic – just have it at half and half. Both to keep you grounded so neither drives you insane.

Alright, next week I’m going to be at the Afro-Punk Festival, I am very excited! I really can’t wait to see Straight Line Stitch, Janelle Monae and Erykah Badu. I’ll be wearing punk lolita the first day and (mainly) kuro lolitathe second day. I am feeling better so I can interact with people but I am quite introverted/slightly socially awkward so if I’m not in a chatty/sociable mood, don’t worry, just say hi and try again later.

Want more Black Witch? BW posts monthly on Afro-Punk but every Friday on its external site

External site: Black Witch

Twitter: @thisblackwitch

FB Fan Page: /thisblackwitch

Tumblr: thisblackwitch