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 War.
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 folks").
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 of religion.
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 doctrine.
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 creation).
- 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 negligence.
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.
But people 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 paranoia.
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 at courttv.com
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.
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