I want to thank everyone who responded to my last post for engaging in such a thoughtful, serious discussion in a reasoned and civil manner, when the emotional topic easily could have provoked a shouting match. It made me wonder, as one spot-on comment after another appeared, why is Xanga so NICE?

I know there are jerks, creeps, and lowlifes of all sorts in Xangaland. I occasionally stumble across their blogs. I quietly go on my way and they never know I was there. Perhaps those who think I’m a lowlife also depart without making themselves known. Whatever the reason, I truly appreciate the ability to express my sometimes unorthodox views here without getting flamed.

Ok, so here are some more of those views. See, I’m not quite done with my last train of thought.

I’ve suspected for a long time that a connection exists between religion and mental illness. I do NOT mean that religious people are crazy, in general. But here are some impressions I have:

Years ago I worked with pediatric psych patients. We mostly had kids with major behavioral issues on the ward, but once in a while we got a psychotic teenager. If you’ve never seen someone in the midst of a psychotic break, I’m here to tell you, it is truly terrifying, for the patient and for their family. But what struck me the most was that ALL of the psychotic kids I met during those years had very religious families. Sometimes whole packs of relatives would visit and sit in a circle around the kid, reading aloud from the bible. It creeped me out.

Many of the spectacular cases of crazy-person-done-something-awful in the last 10 years have involved religion. Andrea Yates is an example of that. Although she knew that killing her children violated the law, she believed she was acting in their best interests. She was saving them from something–eternal damnation? In an eerily similar case, another Texas woman cut off her baby’s arms. I don’t know what her rationale was, but the 911 operator could hear hymns playing in the background.

About schizophrenia: many studies have been done on the causes of this condition. It is currently believed that there is both a genetic and an environmental mechanism. In other words, some people are born with a predisposition to schizophrenia, but they will develop the illness only if there is a trigger.

So here is my radical thesis of the day: For some people who have the schizophrenia gene, religion is the trigger that sparks the psychotic break. Perhaps because having faith in an unseen, omnipotent deity makes it easier to believe in other things that can’t be seen, like the voices in your head.

Note that I do not have statistics supporting my contention that religious people have a higher incidence of psychosis. It is my subjective and probably prejudicial impression. But when you come right down to it, many of the things religious people believe seem delusional to me. And some of the things allegedly sane folks do in the name of religion, like flying airplanes full of people into large buildings, seem just as crazy as any hallucination a psychotic person could come up with.


34 thoughts on “

  1. Oooh, think they will still be nice with this one? You may have dipped yesterday’ toe and your foot up to the ankle in the pool today. 😉
    My theory on religion and mental illness has to do with the fact that if Jesus were alive today… he’d be institutionalized. Maybe I’ll share it with you someday… On IM!!! lol

  2. I think you’re onto something.  Maybe those predisposed folks have a conflicted sense of self.  Certainly any organized religion would be enough of a trigger to cause those people to lose sight of that self.  And I think that’s when people get into trouble.  Sounds like jibberish.

  3. Some years back, I went to Al-Anon meetings for a period of time. One night I asked the group of perhaps 15 people what they thought about the role of religion in our younger lives. Yes, I knew there wasn’t supposed to be any ‘cross talk’, but I felt as though none of us were getting anywhere, just rehashing the same victim stories every week. ALL of us, I mean ALL of us had some sort of serious or extreme religion in our backgrounds. Of the fifteen of us, FIVE were children of pastors. Four were Catholics. Surprisingly, two of us were Mormons. And the rest were all victims of one sort or another of fundamentalism. Verrrrry interesting, I thought. That was the last meeting I went to, having gotten what I came for. And the marriage was history too.S2

  4. I have a hell of a time dealing with religion…As so much of what I have seen has seemed incredibley cultish. For me, I find Gods handiwork when I’m on a jog down the trail, its also when I could feel close to Him/Her/Goddess or whatever a person chooses to believe.
    Thnx for a thought provoking couple of posts…I needed a new subscription *wink*
    Happy Monday!

  5. My daughter’s psych book “Mapping the mind” connects black and white religion with OCD.  Not in a bad way, just says that we all have some tendancies can that manifest themselves in socially acceptable ways.   It’s logical that people who can’t stop drinking or doing drugs will jump over to constantly thinking about or talking about God in simplified terms. My sister has compulsive tendancies and got really into a gay bashing church for a while.  Then she took some medicine and got over it.

  6. i think there’s something about repressive backgrounds that cause people to act out and overcompensate for what they’re repressing … if they believe that they’re going to hell because of something they did … or even something they thought … they can do all sorts of wild things … a lot of it has to do with relying on external control instead of self-control … they’re so dominated by the people in their environment that they never develop much discipline for themselvesi’m not sure about the link between schizophrenia and fundamentalism … kurt vonnegut’s son was a schizophrenic, for instance … but i have noticed a link between fundamentalism and lack of self-knowledge and control, lack of honesty with oneself, drug and alcohol problems, abusive behavior, and self-destructiveness … i would never say that all or even most are like that … but when people with that kind of background go bad, they go all out

  7. people can and do find links to all kinds of behavioral issues — religion and mental illness just being the link of the day.  i think most behavioral issues are either genetic or a result of parenting/environment.  a child raised in an extremely fundamentalist atmosphere is going to have issues dealing with the “real” world. 

  8. Repression, and guilt, cause stress. Stress triggers all sorts of things.On the other hand, it’s easy to confuse cause and effect; perhaps people with mental illness tend to gravitate toward religion, and since mental illness runs in families, perhaps it’s not surprising that the chidren you saw come from unusually religious families.And then there’s correlation. Another feature of the fanatically religious that you did not mention is the fact that often, these people tend to turn to prayer, church, and other non-medical, non-secular interventions before seeking help from the secular world. If I person is showing signs of mental illness, they should be helped before they get to the point of having a psychotic break.I didn’t comment on your Andrea Yates blog because it seemed too volatile and I didn’t have your faith in Xanga (shame on me). The Yates situation is tricky, because if you think about it too long, it goes like this: “She must be insane to do what she did. What she did is the worst thing I can imagine. If she wasn’t insane, she deserves a terrible punishment. She must be insane to do what she did.” I know someone who knew Yates personally at around the time of her marriage and her first child. Reportedly, her personality changed completely over the early years of babies and marriage, and Randy was every bit as controlling and self-absorbed as he seems on T.V. I personally believe she is insane and should be treated as a sick person. I believe Randy behaved abominably, but probably not criminally. Had she been mentally competent, he would merely have had a barefoot, pregnant, miserable, repressed wife. Extremely religious people don’t tend to think of mental illness as a treatable secular issue (see comment above). Therefore, I can’t so much blame him as despise and pity him.

  9. Still trying to block this whole thing. But, I don’t think she had a support mechanism. Church was invented to give us a sense of community, and allow us to rely on our neighbors. But they have become more like high schools, where you have to keep up appearances, and you certainly don’t tell anyone what’s really going on in your life. Sad really. Back to blocking.

  10. Hey there, I’ve got to go to staff meeting, but wanted to leave a quickie. I know there are hiddeous people on Xanga, but thankfully they are off bothering others for the most part! Maybe we don’t seem pickable enough! Back later.

  11. Funny, as a religious fellow, I don’t *feel* mentally ill.
    In all seriousness, a lot of schizophrenics and psychotics have perfectly atheistic fantasies about their “they”– and most people suffering from psychosis have a “they”, the thing that speaks to them in terrifying and convincing ways. For some, it is “god”. For some, the CIA. For still others, it can be a friend or relative. I know this guy who did entirely too much crystal meth, and became convinced that an ex-girlfriend was monitoring his activities and talking about him on a spanish-language radio station, so he couldn’t understand what she was saying. But he *knew* it was about him. Anyone who tried to convince him otherwise was “in on it”. It might be easy to say that Spanish was the “trigger” that fired his insanity– but really, it was speed.
    As to why people are nice on Xanga, well, you got me there. There doesn’t seem to be a great deal of incentive for them to be. But, hey, some things make me happy simply because they are. I’ll chalk that up as one of them.

  12. Couldn’t it just be as simple as math (??):  The majority of people in the US are Christians… therefore, odds are that the majority of psychotics would have had a Christian upbringing (??).  I dunno.  Do Christians even out-number atheists these days? 

  13. I agree with a lot of what you said. I also agree with many of your commenters that we humans are a nutty bunch, religious or not. I do think that the extreme religion seems to extend a siren-call to the wackier of us on the scale. Re: Andrea Yates: personally, I think anyone who has that many kids that close together and then homeschools prolly started out in trouble…

  14. I agree that there does appear to be a link between fundamentalist religion and the schizophrenic community.  I unfortunately can’t bring myself to see it as a causal relationship.  I think that fundamentalist religion offers those suffering from these kinds of problems a framework that allows them to make sense of the ‘reality’ they are experiencing.  One thing that all fundamentalist religion offers is a structure that requires little from its followers in the way of making sense of the universe for themselves.  It has all the big questions mapped out and explained in a very TV type manner.  What I mean by that is that it doesn’t require you to pony up in any significant way.  Just go and listen, and do what you’re told.  TV advertising is based on a similar theory.
    So the need to make sense of things for yourself is eliminated and for those that are having trouble marshalling their own thoughts this can provide a haven for explaining what is happening to them.  It also allows them to justify any actions they take (see Andrea Yates) as coming from ‘GOD’ and relieves them of responsibility for their actions and the consequences that arise from them.
    Now I’m not saying that it isn’t a causal factor, but I’m not convinced that it is either, but the correlation is undeniable.

  15. so so on that assertion. I would concede that people who suffer from mental illness will often utilize religion to cloak and hide from the reality that they do not want to face. Because most religious have elements where you have to believe the fantastical I could see how those with a religious bent might be more pliable to slipping into a dementia. I have seen it happen with patients as well. Interesting post…

  16. I hate rushing my answer (leaving in 2 minutes to attend a concert by the Moscow Philharmonic), but at least I know what I think. Being somewhere between atheism and agnosticism on the spectrum, and in addition being a devout Unitarian Universalist, a supposedly Christian faith that is favored by free thinkers of any stripe, I definitely feel there’s a connection here. Religious belief is behind most of the hellish behavior that has ever occurred, but that doesn’t constitute an indictment of religion. I think it was Mother Theresa who said, “We are God’s hands.” Even as unbeliever, I can accept those words, and recognize the good that comes out of religious upbringing. Of course my definition of God might be loopy (“all that is good” would be something close) …But now I have to stop. I don’t want to be late for the concert.

  17. There used to be a bumper sticker that said, “Jesus came to take away your sins, not your mind.”  (Reminiscing wistfully.)
    I don’t think it’s that radical to say that religion can serve as a trigger for schizophrenia or psychosis.  Religious belief is a powerful thing, and it cuts both ways.  When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, holy crap. 

  18. you’re actually right on the mark – i don’t know a whole lot about other forms of mental illness but i know a lot about my own (bipolar disorder a.k.a. manic depression) and intense religious feelings / delusions etc. are an actual symptom/indicator of the illness.  statistically 1 out of 100 people have bipolar disorder and that is just 1 of the many mental illnesses out there! 

  19. 1.  Be thankful you don’t have premium because that does bring the hateful icky creepos out
    2.  I’ve always been curious about this connection as well.  So many crazies talk about Jesus coming back or talking to Jesus so I wonder if they are crazy or if I am.  LMAO

  20. I think if you can separate “faith” from “organized religion” more people might buy into this…and I say that as a secular humanist. Organized anything scares me a bit…

  21. Wowza!  You’ve got people thinking with this one!  Good thing everyone’s so nice!  Just kidding ~ But seriously, everyone that I have personally come across with Xanga has really been nice.  Dunno why, but am glad!

  22. I’ve witnessed religious mania and believe in it. I tend to think it’s a defense mechanism against the terrors of a chaotic world — these people HAVE to believe that there is a higher power micromanaging their lives.And you’re right — strongly religious upbringing tends to produce highly off-kilter people. It’s simply unfair to impress on a child before he can begin to reason that he is a powerful weapon in the fight between Good and Evil. Parents surely think they’re doing the right thing by bringing up the child “in the pathways of righteousness” or what, but they’re just screwing the poor kid up.As for Xanga being a nice place, I think it has something to do with the idea that I once read here, that Xanga is a community where there are no fences and people leave their doors unlocked day and night. Those places have all but disappeared nowadays; we don’t even know our next-door neighbors, but we feel it’s wrong somehow. There’s so much blind hatred and fear out there that I think people come to Xanga to warm themselves by the fires of human kindness.Thanks for stopping by. I’ll be checking in.

  23. I don’t believe schizophrenia is an illness/disorder per se, I believe it is the outward expression of many different illnesses, in the same way as sneezing and coughing indicates a cold, measles, pneumonia etc. That said, from what I have read on it, there are definite triggers, I know two people (years apart)  whose trigger was smoking grass, this is apparently well known, but since 99.9% of ppl smoke grass with no lasting effects, how to exclude those who will become schizophrenic because of it?  Also, the thing with triggers is that you can’t be sure that although it was ‘this’ that set someone off, that it wouldn’t be something else that would have anyway.
    R D Laing arguably had the most interesting view and treatment of schizophrenia. 

  24. Whether or not you have support for your views, you express them so well.  Now I am off to backtrack and read the other post you mentioned.

  25. I originally composed a long three paragraph response to your entry, but found that it all could be summed up with just one sentence —> I fully support your radical thesis and personally don’t think it’s very radical at all.
    Of course, like you, I don’t have any statistics supporting the thesis, but from my personal experience, and with no intention of trying to make it sound like a funny statement, the very religious people I’ve known throughout my life I’ve always considered a bit schizo.

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