This one's for Sackdance99
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, though 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 heavenly reward. 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 intervention? 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 megachurches 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.
Personally, I believe your level of religion IS a mental illness.