Monday, September 3, 2012

Religion & mental illness

Yesterday while my husband and I were talking, our conversation took a tangent that ended up with me telling him about a guy, C, I went to school with who didn't believe in mental illness. This came to light when a mutual friend of mine and C's, D, was struggling in school, due to school-related anxiety that manifested in an obsessive-compulsive type disorder. D told me that when he shared his diagnosis with C, C told him that he didn't believe in mental illness, and that D would be fine if he'd just "pull himself together." D was horribly offended and hurt; I was shocked that C would say that to D, even if he privately believed it.

C was (and probably still is; I haven't seen him in years) super, super conservative - Republican with a strong streak of Ayn Randian "no handouts, DIY" mentality. He also was (and probably still is) super, super religious. Catholic, if I recall correctly, not a Scientologist or any other group that thinks that psychology is a fraud.

 Anyway, my husband was floored by this. Just floored. He asked, "Do you think it's because it's an invisible disability? I mean, you wouldn't tell someone in a wheelchair that they're just not trying hard enough to walk!" And I definitely think that's part of it - I have a friend with chronic fatigue who has had similar experiences, where people think she's just lazy or something. Take a nap and you'll be fine! Whereas oh, if only it were that easy. Depression is the same way. Come on, just stop crying and get off the floor! Everyone gets bummed out from time to time, you can't let it get to you. Yeah, and again... if only it were that easy.

I wondered out loud whether C's religious beliefs influenced his disbelief in mental illness. After all, if God is inerrant, and made each of us... then how do you explain the obvious, well, fuckups? Not just mental illness, but cystic fibrosis? Spina bifada? Etc. etc. etc.? It's probably easier just to deny the fuckups exist, at least in the case of the ones that are invisible, than to try to explain how an omnipotent and omnibenevolent God allows these things to happen.

Husband said that the typical Christian answer to that is to point at the story of Job, and to say that it's a test of one's faith. Most often, he said, the faith of the parent of a child born with whatever condition, which is a pretty awful way to look at a child, if you ask me - not as their own person, but as a vehicle for testing you.

All I could do at the end of the conversation was shake my head. How sad for a person to think that their child was deliberately inflicted with a terrible condition like CF, as a test of YOUR faith. And if your faith was stronger, perhaps the test wouldn't have been needed and your child could've been born healthy? I can't imagine the guilt. How horrible that must feel, to hold such a belief. And how do you see treatment? Do you alleviate your child's suffering, or do you think that if god intended it, then god can cure it? Down that road lies the rejection of science-based medicine in favor of prayer, which has led to much needless suffering and death.

I cannot for the life of me imagine how a person could look at their own child's suffering, believe it was intentionally caused, and still believe in a loving, all-powerful god. To my way of thinking, any being that would deliberately cause a child pain is more monster than god, and definitely not worthy of any worship.

 Good thing no such creature exists, then.

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