Is your religion making you ill?

A letter from our October edition.

Yeni Adewoye’s article ‘Having faith in mind’ (April 2016) and Abby Midgely’s advice to seek ‘biblical’ counselling, (Letters, July 2016) has prompted me to give another perspective.

I was indoctrinated into the Christian religion from babyhood, but I never, managed to get it – the ‘belief’ thing. I spent many years trying very hard to believe, everyone around me seemingly having no problem in doing so. The resulting cognitive dissonance caused me to become depressed to the point of suicidal thoughts several times throughout my life. My church’s response was to say that there was some kind of block put on my ‘relationship with God’ because I (or my parents – the ‘sins of the fathers’) had committed some ‘sin’ which separated me from ‘God’. Other explanations for my disbelief and non-acceptance of doctrine were that I was ‘possessed of a demon’ or even being ‘controlled by the devil’! The kinder people suggested I ‘hand my depression over to Jesus’ to deal with… which, since I didn’t believe he was available to hear me, struck me as somewhat absurd!

Every Sunday, church reiterated and (continues to reiterate today) that only those who believe will ‘inherit the kingdom’ and be ‘rewarded in heaven with eternal life’. I then read Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion. It was the most liberating experience of my life. Someone had actually dared to question religion, something I had never been able to contemplate before. This freed me from my guilt. I realised compassion, empathy, altruism and kindness are not dependent upon belief in a god and that what one does in this life is what matters, not what one believes.

I trained as a psychiatric nurse and witnessed many instances of delusions and hallucinations disappearing once medication and a safe non-threatening environment had taken effect. I also witnessed friends who were children of believers and church leaders who, finding themselves unable to take up the family religion were emotionally blackmailed and socially restrained (any contact with outside groups of non-believers was disallowed), their alcoholism or drug addiction, depression, anxiety disorders and schizophrenia being attributed to religious causes. ‘Treatments’ included – casting-out of demons, begging forgiveness, laying-on of hands. prayer and spiritual healing, right here, in 21st-century England, in a church near you. Sufferers are also pressured not to seek non-Christian intervention.

It struck me that religious belief is indeed (as Mr Dawkins called it) some kind of ‘delusional’ state. I have read that brain structure, active neural networks and their functioning differs in believers and non- believers. Believers essentially operate under an alternative reality to non- believers.

To anyone who was born with, or who has acquired a brain physically incapable of ‘belief’ or ‘faith’, I suggest that abandoning religion altogether and seeking help from trained professionals in the real world is a far healthier solution.

Helen McDowall
Third-year mature student Chichester

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