(Sources used are listed at the bottom of the article; not all may be available online)
Militant atheists, like anti-theists, “new” atheists and state atheists assert that religion is, causes or worsens mental illness, and only by releasing oneself from its “shackles” can the potential for a rational, happy, emotionally and mentally healthy individual begin to be realized. Despite their popularity and resonance among the militant aspects of the irreligious community, these claims are not only unfounded but continuously proven false by scientific inquiry, which finds the more religious one is the better mental health is exhibited. Religious involvement and/or affiliation is not only associated with but also predicts better mental health and stability, including lower rates of anxiety, delinquency, depression, substance abuse, suicide and suicide attempts, higher levels of rationality, satisfaction with life, self actualization, self esteem, well-being and more effective coping with pain (both physical and emotional), stress and suffering.
These findings, unlike contrary affirmations put forth by militants, which are based on nothing more than unquestioned, idle, prejudiced, pseudo scientific research and theories, fallacious reasoning, bigotry and/or prior ideological commitment, are based on the objective application of the modern scientific method by independent, world renowned experts on mental health who hold no standing bias for or against religion but rather are only interested in following the evidence where it leads. These include professionals from the American Medical Association, American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, Association of American Medical Colleges, Center for Psychology of Religion, Duke University Center for Spirituality, Theology and Health, Mayo Clinic, Religious Research Association and Southern Medical Association. This research is readily available in books, peer review journals and often online and thus there is no legitimate excuse for continuing to believe and propagate antithetical assertions.
Research as to why precisely this is the case and what this means for the future clinical diagnosing and treatment of mental illnesses has only recently been undertaken with any diligence and thus answers are scarce. However, psychologist Stephen Joseph, whose own research supports the positive relationship between religion and mental health, argues that it is in part due to religion providing a purpose and meaning in life which is not offered by other belief systems or lifestyles, like atheism and materialism. What we currently know is that a worldview, philosophy, way of life centered around religion is capable of performing an unmatched, powerful and transforming role in one’s life by providing one’s life with eternal and immutable purpose, meaning and virtue, a system of rewards and punishments and a hope and vision for ever better things, embodied and experienced through both acceptance of an eternal, loving God-head and affiliation, association and participation with fellow believers. Religion provides people with unrivaled empowerment and togetherness, with God and the community of fellow believers, allowing them to cope, withstand and overcome negative experiences, like pain and suffering, which may otherwise lead to mental health degradation.
Therefore, rather than being, causing or worsening mental illness, religion is the foundation of good mental health. William James once rebutted an atheist’s remark that one’s religion is the result of a sick mind by stating that perhaps one’s atheism is the result of a sick liver. The point of course is that instead of accusing religious people of being mentally ill, atheists should evalute themselves for it is perhaps they who are suffering from such illness, delusion, madness, and, in fact, recent research has shown atheism to be linked with mental illness, specifically autism and asperger’s syndrome. This may explain the extreme, irrational, unreasonable, and often violent, hostility towards religion and religious believers exhibited by many atheists, including their most well-known, outspoken leaders, like Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Bill Maher, PZ Myers, etc. Regardless, equating religious belief with mental illness is simply a baseless, fallacious and desperate attempt to demean and demonize that and those with which these militant atheists do not agree and vehemently detest. What is proven by these militants’ continued acceptance and championing of this debunked premise, despite not only the lack of sound, supporting, scientific proof, but in the presence of contrary scientific evidence, is their dishonesty and hypocrisy because these same individuals simultaneously lecture, ad nauseum, that we should not only believe what is “scientifically” supported and verified, and shape our lives accordingly, but berate and mock those who deviate from this norm.
French, Sarah and Joseph, Stephen. “Religiosity and its association with happiness, purpose in life, and self-actualisation,” Mental Health, Religion & Culture, Vol 2(2), Nov 1999, 117-120. doi: 10.1080/13674679908406340.
Hackney, C. H. and Sanders, G. S. “Religiosity and Mental Health: A Meta–Analysis of Recent Studies.” Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, 42: 43–55. doi: 10.1111/1468-5906.t01-1-00160. 12 FEB 2003.
King, M. et al. “Religion, spirituality and mental health: results from a national study of English households.” British Journal of Psychiatry. 2013 Jan;202(1):68-73. doi: 10.1192/bjp.bp.112.112003. Epub 2012 Nov 22
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