Religious Fundamentalism As Mental Illness
Jason R. Tippitt
May 30, 1997
The Spanish Inquisition led to the torture and
execution of countless individuals. This dark spot in human history
occurred around 1492, the year Christopher Columbus joined the list
of people who had "discovered" what came to be called the New World.
This final "discovery" of the Americas led to the decimation of the
native population due to diseases unknown to their immune systems
and, later, to the "loving" efforts of some of the new inhabitants to
convert these "savages" to Christianity. In many cases the natives
were, literally, "loved" to death, sometimes even killed after
converting and being baptized into the "kind and loving" religion.
In Bosnia, tensions persist between Serbs and Croats, part of a
conflict that goes back to before the first World War. Their most
recent hostilities have led to mass graves reminiscent of the Nazis'
treatment of Jews, homosexuals, and Catholics during the second World
Gays and lesbians beaten, abortion doctors shot, the corpses of
children in the smoking remains of the Branch Davidian compound, all
symptoms of the plague that has ravaged the human race since before
recorded history: religion. Or, should I say, the wrong sort of
religion -- intolerant fundamentalism.
Throughout the course of history, men and women who have dared
raise a voice of reason, speak of peace, have been given no tolerance
and even less respect. To admit one's disbelief is to risk death (or,
in more "civilized" nations such as ours, rejection by "decent
An honest atheist or agnostic is eyed with contempt, while
hypocrites such as Jimmy Swaggart and Jim Bakker are forgiven their
many transgressions and maintain a loyal following. Unitarian
Universalists are considered a joke by many fundamentalists.
Take Dr. Madalyn Murray O' Hair, for example. This atheism
activist has vanished after years of death threats from "Good
Christians" who wanted her dead because of her involvement in the
fight against religious indoctrination in public schools.
All of this
despite her living in a country whose Constitution guarantees free
speech and (in theory, although you wouldn't think so from
Mississippi's judges or Tennessee's state legislature) guarantees
that the government will not take one side or the other in the matter
On the other hand, Pat Buchanan can be considered a viable
contender for the Presidency. Part of his appeal is his perceived
commitment to his religious faith (you can't get much more
traditional and conservative than the orthodox Roman Catholic
Most Catholics I know are embarrassed by the man and
take some of the church's official stances with a grain of salt).
Never mind the opinion columns Buchanan has written denying the
Holocaust ever took place -- what matters is that he's a Man of God,
note the capital letters.
What's as twisted or worse is the fact that the zealots wage war
not only on "heretics" and "infidels" but also on each other. Viewed
from an objective standpoint, with no stakes in the outcome, these
"holy wars" resemble nothing more than a playground full of children
arguing over whose imaginary friend is the most powerful.
This sort of religion brings out the worst, not the best, in
human nature. Instead of putting us "closer to God," this sort of
religion reduces us to something less than admirable. Here are a few
examples of what I mean:
- Appealing to base instincts. Homophobia, racism, and sexism
have all been given the divine seal of approval by fundamentalist
Christianity. Prejudice is approved; discrimination is promised a
Hate is, bluntly, a sacrament in many Christian
sects. Revenge fantasies are fueled by the teaching that the redeemed
will one day listen gleefully to the screams of souls damned to
eternal torment -- the souls not only of murderers and rapists but
also homosexuals or members of other religions (even other
denominations of Christianity).
- Discouraging achievement and fostering dependency. "He who
hesitates is lost," goes the proverb. I wonder how many opportunities
have slipped past people who were too busy waiting for divine
Many are the problems allowed to spread because the
faithful have opted to pass the buck to God. With religion offering
the prayer exit, why do anything? You really don't even have to be
moral -- you can do as you please during the week, then confess on
the Sabbath and have a clean slate.
- Suppression of knowledge. The Big Bang happened. Several million
years later, evolution started to happen (and still is). Period. But
fundamentalists are still trying to substitute the Genesis creation
myth for real science.
In the past, religion just as firmly insisted
that the earth (which was flat) was the center of the universe, with
the sun, planets, and stars all orbiting it (this coming from the
same self-centered yahoos who declared us the pinnacle of all
- Needless suffering of the ill. I list this separately from the
Creation Science idiocy because while those people's ideas are
alternately amusing and frustrating, this is a matter of the (pardon
the quite unintentional pun) gravest import. Jehovah's Witnesses are
prohibited by their religion from receiving blood transfusions;
Christian Scientists can't receive any medical care at all (believing
that since we don't really exist, our ailments are all an illusion).
When you add in the people who've died after handling snakes or
falling on coals or trusting faith healers instead of doctors, you'd
have enough dead bodies to declare religion a plague.
It would be
easy to laugh at these people and say "They asked for it -- at least
it's culling the weak from the gene pool," except these damned fools
invariably end up murdering their children through their
I'm not so naive as to say none of these problems would be here
if we were, as a race, cured overnight of the mental illness known as
fundamentalism. The facts, however, suggest that their religion has
heaped many more problems on us than it has solved.
Critics of Political Correctness cite ethnocentric revisions of
history as absurdity running amok. Claims that, for example, Columbus
was actually an African prince whose name and identity were changed
by white historians who wanted to steal his glory for their own race,
are called bull**** -- and rightly so!
I would challenge us to also look at who we Americans really are
-- not the result of a divinely ordained Manifest Destiny, but rather
that of greed hidden behind the words "God's Will" and the continued
subjugation of the people who were here first.
Christians are not the
practitioners of the One True Religion that has by the Grace of God
slowly overcome all the false ones, but rather the legacy of
centuries of wars fought over the silliest bone of contention
imaginable. Think about in terms of fruit.
Fruit carries seeds. It also, when eaten, has various vitamins
and minerals that are good for you. You can't really say that an
apple is more a real fruit than an orange is, can you? No.
make the claim that their religion, which teaches love and humility
and so on, is more valid than someone else's religion which teaches
all the same things. It's silly. It's Liliputian.
There's hope. We each hold the cure in our hearts, if we're brave
enough to use it. And the more people who do cure themselves of this
oppressive sort of religion, the less the sick will have the power to
reinfect the healthy ones through peer pressure.
We can also choose
not to infect our children with this illness -- religious fanatics
are made, not born. We're all atheists until someone else teaches us
religion, good or bad.
Do I feel all religion is an illness? No, I don't. But I believe
that an Atheist can be as well-adjusted as a Christian, can live as
happy and meaningful a life.
And if there's a God up there, I believe
that He or She or It will judge us based on our actions and the
content of our character, not on whether we could see behind the
curtain. If there's a Heaven, I believe we'll see Ghandi and Jesus s
itting side-by-side, along with some Atheists saying "I was as
surprised as you were."
Some religions help people. And the community that develops in a
church can be of great aid to people. That's why I'm a Unitarian
Universalist; they'll accept anyone with an open heart and mind,
theistic or not.
On average, we each get about 70 years of life; that's one area
in which the Bible is more or less accurate. It's time to quit
feeding the mega-churches and start feeding the hungry; it's time to
stop praying without ceasing and start acting; and it's time to stop
seeing people as enemies if the only problem lies in their religion,
or sexual orientation, or race.
Most of all, it's time to realize that many of the most seemingly
unbreachable walls between us are made of air. So walk through, shake
hands with someone on the other side, and start learning what it
really means to love your neighbor.
To whom it may concern:
I read your article "Why Christian Fundamentalists are Cults" and I liked it very much. However, the idea of labeling Christian fundamentalism as one dark unit does bother me, and I feel I must address it.
I am a fundamentalist. I was raised in an independent fundamental Baptist church in Santa Clara, CA, and now I attend a similar one in San Diego. I do know of some people in these churches who have these symptoms you listed in the article, but this number is only a very small fraction of the whole church. The majority of fundamentalists I know are very loving and cordial people (they know hateful crowds don't get converts). Most fundamentalists are willing to acknowledge "truth" in other churches that aren't as extreme as they are.
I am a fundamentalist because I believe the fundamentals of Christianity, not because I'm some radical traditionalist who finds it God's will for me to bomb abortion clinics or to parade guns and deer skins in front of animal rights activists. Maybe west coast fundamentalists are a huge exception. But I, in my adamant non-Americanism (and even anti-Americanism), have rarely felt out of place in an American fundamentalist church.
It would be more appropriate to re-write the article as one explaining why some fundamentalist churches are cults, or why fundamentalist churches can be cults; you shouldn't make it seem that you're condemning everyone who believes that the Bible is the Word of God.
Response: I agree and will do what I can to clear up the issue. I did not write this. L. Loflin
Re: Religion as a mental illness. To all to read;
My ex wife had joined a church in which their motto or way is that all
people that join this church must sacrifice themselves to the Lord and
forget all that is around them. This ways of this church has destroyed the lives of my 2 children myself and have compromised any understanding that there is another life
from the church.
At the end of October my wife suffered a Psychotic episode. We have
understood some of the details of this as my ex-spouse thought she was being
chased by the Devil and that this particular church had tried an Exorcism on
her 1 week and 1 day prior to having this episode.
In collecting clothes for my children as I had custody of the children, a
note was found. It was passages from Revelations, an extreme book in the
Bible that talks about the end of the world, the devil, the occult, having
the power to do all.
I have seen for myself that this church has manipulated and destroyed the
lives of innocent people. I have first hand account of this as during the
process of my separation and the divorce, this church was giving me advise
to maybe resolve my marriage issues.
They did not help; their attitude was
forgot about my wife and concentrate on God only. I met with them a few
times and attended a few services, but as 3 months past I saw that they were
trying to manipulate me, or some people may call it brainwashing. I was
smarter than that and decided to disassociate myself from this church.
I sent these people a letter, an angry letter not agreeing on the
manipulation they were trying on me, but in their mind and the spoken words
from the Pastor they interpreted that I was "going to kill someone" again a
manipulation that was not true and this may have caused my ex-spouse
This church fundamentals and their way of doing things are beyond religion
but more of a cult that suckers people when they are weak, down and have no
where to turn to.
Teaching my children that God is good and part of their life and not their
life has been a challenge. Teaching them about religious holidays, stories
from the Bible has been a challenge.
I read a story of a mother in Texas who was involved with a particular
denomination. She was receiving or told she was receiving messages from
God. These messages told her that she had to kill her children.
She did so
with a rock. One evening she locked the bedroom to her and her husband's
bedroom. She took 1 child out to garden and placed his head on a rock. I
will not continue with what happened but she was caught. This is a prime
example of the religious manipulation that is happening. You can read this
I see that many people only live for Christ, but life is not about God, its
about yourself, understanding who you are, why you are here and to
understand the purpose of people around you.
I would like to share more of my story with anyone please email if you like
to discuss this or if you agree or disagree with my comments.
My email is firstname.lastname@example.org Calgary, Canada
Date: 5-13-06 from Arne.
Web site Copyright Lewis Loflin, All rights reserved.