Saturday, November 06, 2004

is fundamentalism a mental illness?

I'm posting another letter from Art, a psychologist in California. Frankly, I agree with a lot of what's said below, but I don't think fundamentalism is necessarily the problem, but I'll have my say in the comments. Here's the letter:

This election seems to have been about Bush and Jesus. It was a moral victory wrote one Ohio newspaper, a victory for the power of Christianity. So then I want to express my opinion about the election on that basis.

The records about Jesus portray a good person, preaching about love, generosity, nonviolence, turning the other cheek, and the like. As far as I know, Jesus himself never said anything about gays, evolution, or preemptive war. So in my opinion this election had nothing to do with anything Jesus stood for. The election was about war, power, and money. Jesus’ name was used to achieve a political advantage by Bush and his party because they were correctly convinced it would help him to get elected. Bush’s aggressive, arrogant, and cowardly behavior is about as far from the principles of Jesus as the terrorists actions are from the principles of the Koran.

But the people who voted for Bush because of religious ideation are even more disturbing. They believe in things that were in vogue during the dark ages. They lack a sense of reality. As a psychologist I have come to realize that Christian fundamentalism is a form of mental illness. It is a form of psychosis where normal judgment processes for deciding what is real and unreal are suspended, and are replaced with an obsession for justifying beliefs using interpretations of an ancient religious book. Logic is suspended even in the face of overwhelming contradictions. Furthermore, the belief that Christians should vote for Bush because he will use the presidency to advance their religious agendas about abortion, gays, gay marriages, and stem cell research is indicative of dangerous zealous fixation. Such voters cannot originate thoughts about what the consequences will be if too much fundamentalism in religion is infused into our politics and into the legal system of our country.

We are approaching the time when more children in the Bush-voting states are developing religious psychosis than are learning reasoning and mathematics. In a Gallop survey, more than 40% of American Christians endorsed the statement that God made man in his present form about 10,000 years ago. They actually are waiting for the day of “rapture” when Jesus will return to earth to kill everyone but them. So I suggest the most important thing about this election is that it signals the beginning of a formal transition of large parts of our nation from a first-world community into a third-world community – a process resulting from a religious-centered illness spreading across the nation.

Well things have gone far enough. Its time to tell it as it is – these people are mentally ill. I name the disorder “fundamentalism psychosis” or synonymously, “fanatical psychosis.” Fundamentalism psychosis affects functioning in much the same way as opium. It dulls the intellect and sufferers experience a kind of euphoria, rather than pain. Fundamentalism psychosis is severe in its extreme forms, because the afflicted are hysterically intolerant of the ideas of non-suffers, believing that even the most innocent are destined for an eternity in their hell. Furthermore, fundamentalism psychotics are more hopelessly in denial than even the most severe alcoholics. However, afflicted persons usually are able to sustain fairly normal jobs and personal activities. So unlike traditionally defined forms of psychosis, fundamentalism psychotics can take care of themselves pretty well. But religion, and its psychotic extreme, is a social activity and seriously impaired functioning is expressed at the societal level. Acting together in groups, fundamentalism psychotics can deprive others of their rights, especially non sufferers, and even block established productive and rational activities such as scientific inquiry, legal scholarship, and inter-group diplomacy.

Accordingly, I propose that we make it a national priority to develop diagnostic assessment procedures that can identify harmful forms of the illness. There already is evidence that brain imaging techniques can help to distinguish the fanatical malfunctioning brain from the normal brain. It is in our national interest that we begin diagnosis, prevention and treatment programs to curb the further spread of fanatical psychosis within our society. Then this would leave us with normal religious people who are primarily focused on the principles of Jesus’ teaching, such as love, generosity, nonviolence, turning the other cheek, and the like.


Blogger Duane said...

I want to say up front that I'm an atheist (an agnostic on my best days), but I don't think the problem is a religious one.

The statistics are frightening. Some people in America don't understand science, history, politics, or the other things necessary for a country established on the principles of secular humanism. Some of these "citizens" would be perfectly happy with doing away with the separation of church and state. I won't venture a guess as to whether these people are mentally ill, but I'm convinced that these people are in the minority, and the majority of Americans, although religious, are fairly reasonable people. The media is making a big deal about the religious right coming out to vote, but a lot of evidence suggests that this may not be the whole story . If you ask Americans about issues like abortion, gun control, and economic policy, Americans almost always come down on the "liberal" side of the issues. Only 20% of Americans think that abortion should be completely outlawed. 60% of Americans want stricter gun control, 80% of Americans feel that it's important that every American has health care, even if it means raising taxes. On almost every issues Americans are raging Massachussetts liberals. (The numbers are from this site ).

So what gives? One problem is that Karl Rove is a genius. He capitalized on America's rising fear of terrorism and all things different (gays, islam, etc..) to get votes. For historical reasons, people in the red states were particularly susceptible to this, but Kerry's margins in the blue states weren't really that huge either. People voted against their economic and social interests, not because they're stupid or because they're religious zealouts, but because they're more scared of terrorists (and The Other) than anything else. Facts be damned. They went with the guy they felt safest with in their gut. What can we do about that gut feeling? Nothing. Did it have anything to do with fundamentalism and/or religion. I don't think really think so.

So what do we do? We can take action while we wait for the fear to fade and reason to return. For one thing, we need to appeal to the libertarian that seems to lurk in every American. Activitists for civil rights made tremendous progress (partly) by using this strategy. They didn't really change people's minds about being racists, but most Americans recoiled at the images of the southern states killing and beating blacks and white protestors. This is a winning strategy. Take gay marriage. Most Americans freak out when they're asked about whether gays should be allowed to marry, but a majority of Americans think that civil unions aren't a bad idea. That's the libertarian streak coming out. I think your average red stater doesn't like gays or gay marriage, but will probably respond to arguments about equal rights. And if this isn't their attitude, this is what can we appeal to.

Finally, i think we have to accept that religion is going to be part of American culture for the foreseeable future. We're undergoing a revival the likes of which haven't been seen since the revivals of the 1800s. The key is to frame issues we care about in terms of this morality. Is it moral for children not to have health care? Is it moral for the growing gap between rich and poor to continue? Would Jesus honestly have voted for Bush?

Religion scares me because it's not constrained by reason, but I think we can work with it. I miss the 60s when the religious folks were liberal and anti-war (ok, I wasn't born yet, but this is what I'm lead to believe from television)...

10:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't agree with the article at all. I don't think it's a mental illness. It's hard enough to get some people in the country to believe that depression and anxiety are actually mental illnesses, let alone religion.

Religion without free thinking is a bad thing, even i can recognize this and I'm a very religious person.

I did agree with some of what Duane had to say.

As a Catholic, It wasn't that the religious turned their backs on social issues [Catholics are usually counted on my the Democratic Party b/c of our concern for social issues]. For most Catholics that I've chatted with - it was about the fact that Kerry scared us more than Bush. It's not that Bush is doing a great job, but on certain issues [like life] he's doing OK.

For most Catholics our issues come down to life, with out life, there's no need for social justice. For us, it wasn't about whether or not either candidate will/would overturn Roe v. Wade, it was about the measures we can set forth now to protect some life, at least the life that is wanted.

For example, Kerry didn't sign the partial-birth abortion bill, which even some agnostics and atheists agree is a horrible procedure. Kerry also voted against the Unborn Victims of Violence Act [or Lacy Peterson Law]. Again, even some agnostics and athiests agree that a 'wanted' fetus deserves some rights.

It was very hard for some Catholics to give up their 'straight party' voting record, but some did. BTW - there aren't many Catholics in the middle and southern US, most reside in large Easter cities [anyone who's been to a city-wide St. Patrick's day party can attest to that!].

For most of us 'religious fanatics' it wasn't about Bush and Jesus; it was about voting our conscience and the 'lesser of 2 evils' which is just sad in this day and age. Most of wish we'd have had a more 'mainstream' Democratic candidate to vote for.

Hopefully some day in our future, we won't have to vote like that. Our country is good enough to have more than 2 candidates to choose from.

2:18 PM  
Blogger Duane said...

Sorry Anonymous, you were duped...

I'm pro-choice, but I respect a pro-life point of view. Abortion is a thing reasonable people can disagree on.

Unfrotunately, the "partial birth abortion" ban was a republican political tool which (apparently) worked. If you want the straight dope, I would read an article in this month's issue of Harper's magazine:

"Gambling with Abortion: Why both sides think they have everything to lose" by Cynthia Gorney.

3:28 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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12:11 AM  
Blogger ninastryker said...

I truly believe that fundamentalism is a form of mental illness. My ex-husband is a fundamentalist, and is brainwashing my children. They now walk around thinking their grandparents are burning in hell, and that I too am headed for an eternity of hell. What am i supposed to do with that. Our legal system won't go anywhere near relgious matters as far as child custody is concerned, even though [I would] consider this to be child abuse. And the funny thing is that my ex husband thinks we should go to a counselor because our differences in belief is "tearing our kids apart!" No....their thinking that their mother is going to be punished for all of eternity is what is tearing them apart.

9:34 AM  
Anonymous sparticus said...

I belonged to a denomination that believed in a literal interpretation of the bible. Because of this, they were against women's ordination, gays, and most members were conservative. Myself, I have left the church, am liberal, and have been diagnosed with bipolar2. I don't know if fundamentalism is so much a mental illness as it might be very appealing to those with certain mental illnesses. But I do believe that fundamentalism can worsen the symptons of mi. There is nothing more addictive than being right, and certain churches have made themselves so exclusive as to attract those that would sit in judgement on the rest of the world. They encourage their people to feel a giddy righteousness at being right. And I have done many drugs and I can say the high one gets from being right is amazing. One thing I do agree with is something has to be done. The lessons of history are being ignored and fundamentalism knows no boundries when it comes to using violence to achieve its goals.

10:15 AM  

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