Time Discovers Faith’s Dark Side

In my lifetime, people of faith will probably always be allowed more manifestations of loopiness than non-believers.

If, as a secular American, I go around licking fenceposts every afternoon, and occasionally smash my forehead into one, it probably won’t be long until a kindly police officer takes me on a ride to the nearest mental hospital.

But if I claim that my behavior is my small congregation’s way of honoring Jesus’s sacrifice — a form of penitence that allows us to spiritually travel “nearer, my God, to thee” — chances are excellent that I will be left alone. I might even draw a bit of quiet admiration for my sefless devotional sacrifice.

That said, there seems to be an increasing awareness that not all forms of religiosity are healthy. “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS) is a pathology that’s no longer easily dismissed; and even Time magazine, which can hardly be accused of being hostile to religion, now wishes to temper its zeal in spreading the notion that faith is necessarily a force for good.


Can Your Child Be Too Religious? Time asks — and with some equivocating, the answer the magazine gives is a clear yes.

Religion can be a source of comfort that improves well-being. But some kinds of religiosity could be a sign of deeper mental health issues. …

Your child’s devotion may be a great thing, but there are some kids whose religious observances require a deeper look. For these children, an overzealous practice of their family faith — or even another faith  — may be a sign of an underlying mental health issue or a coping mechanism for dealing with unaddressed trauma or stress. …

Some children suffer from scrupulosity, a form of OCD that involves a feeling of guilt and shame. Sufferers obsessively worry that they have committed blasphemy, been impure or otherwise sinned. They tend to focus on certain rules or rituals rather than the whole of their faith. They worry that God will never forgive them. And this can signal the onset of depression or anxiety, says John Duffy, a Chicago area clinical psychologist specializing in adolescents. “Kids who have made ‘mistakes’ with sex or drug use,” he says, “may have trouble forgiving themselves.”

Seems self-evident, but it’s nice to see the psychological downsides of faith acknowledged in a mainstream publication.

Such fastidiousness to religious practices may not seem so harmful, but extreme behavior such as delusions or hallucinations may be a sign of serious mental illness. Seeing and hearing things that are not there can be symptoms of manic-depressive, bipolar disorder, or early onset schizophrenia. But parents may be less attuned to such unhealthy behavior when it occurs under the guise of faith.

Whole story here.

[image via aclj.org]