Religion and mental illness

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Don’t forget to check out my Religion and Identity overview

Good picture. The artist must know me personally to capture such an accurate rendition.

The International Classification of Diseases manual, edition ten gives the definition of personality disorder as:

“These are severe disturbances in the personality and behavioural tendencies of the individual; not directly resulting from disease, damage, or other insult to the brain, or from another psychiatric disorder; usually involving several areas of the personality; nearly always associated with considerable personal distress and social disruption; and usually manifest since childhood or adolescence and continuing throughout adulthood.”

The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, edition five defines personality disorder as:

“Personality is the way of thinking, feeling and behaving that makes a person different from other people. An individual’s personality is influenced by experiences, environment (surroundings, life situations) and inherited characteristics. A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.1…”

Personality is our unique blueprint, that which makes us differ from one another even though we may be the same genetically. It is the combination of thoughts, traits and behaviours that govern our lives and it is the most vital aspect of a human being.

Philosophers such as Plato and Descartes elevate elements of the human personality to a metaphysical level, something that transcends our boundaries of mortality and becomes what we might consider ‘the soul’. Their philosophy appeals to the spiritually-minded.

Carl Jung speaks of the ‘collective unconscious‘ of the ‘libido‘ and the ‘anima‘ and ‘animus‘, the primal and contrary parts of the unconscious mind that apparently dwell within all sentient life. These masculine and feminine facets discern our abilities to assess, feel and innovate, give rise to our reactions. The ‘anima’ is much more likely to reason whilst the ‘animus’ is geared up for a fight.

Freud broke our personalities down into three major components; the id, the ego and the super-ego. These three facets whilst intrinsically linked often operate on their own motives, the id being a primal and lustful animal facet that apparently drives our sensory pleasures and operates in line with Freud’s ‘pleasure principle‘. If you’ve ever seen the ‘fifties film, The Forbidden Planet then you will know that the antagonist is a creature born of man’s id, manifested as a ferocious, insatiable entity. Pretty clever film for a Sci-Fi b-movie and definitely a high point in Leslie Neilsen’s career (although he’ll always be Frank Drebin to me).

To me, personality defines a person much more than their actions. Actions can sometimes be compulsive and spontaneous, things we immediately regret. Personalities are complicated, the motivation behind the actions; the puppeteer not the puppet.

Cardiologists Meyer Friedman and Ray Rosenman in the ‘fifties put forward their theory of the Type A and Type B personality types. Type A were typical go-getters; short-tempered and time conscious, regimented, motivated towards achieving goals, sensitive and prone to stress. They are managers, business leaders and salespeople. They are typical Aries people, if you believe that old flummery.

Type B were the opposite; less stressed and carefree, not regimented by routine and time constraints yet still enjoying their lives wholeheartedly. Their scope for achievement is lower yet they are more creatively inclined. Sounds like a weed-smoker to me.

Well, I’m an Aries and I smoke weed but I don’t fit into either group. You can’t stereotype personalities with so little variance. Two types is not enough, there are more personality types according to British psychiatrist Raymond Cattell. At least sixteen.

Take a look at the personality types here

Some of the traits involved in diagnosing psychotics include ‘creativity, aggression, impersonal, unempathetic’ along with other identifiers. It’s good to know that our behaviours and reasoning can be compartmentalised so nicely into little labels, attributing to a bigger picture of a generalised personality.

When you attend a personality disorder group, the first thing they teach you is that personalities are formed from thoughts, feelings and behaviours, each one impacting the other. Our senses are exposed to stimuli as we grown and through this exposure, we learn our coda of regulation, our rights and wrongs, our loves and hates. We are all born blank, some might argue and our personalities are ‘painted on’ by the experiences and the thoughts we have, by our actions and reactions. We learn our personalities, some would say and in this respect, any child can be taught to become a killer or a slave.

Yet I disagree.

There is something fundamental in the forging of personalities and it is in the unique chemical balance of our brains. I can only really use myself as example for this.

My parents tried to force Islam on me over the course of my youth, something I tried to embrace but due to my inherent personality, call it my evolved id, I just could not accept the religion or indeed, any form of religion. I found it ridiculous to the point of laughter and even at seven, I was apt to invest more faith in Hallowe’en than I was Islam. Yet I tried, to please my parents.

Even as they drilled the coda of Mohammed into me, I refuted it entirely. One cannot say that, at seven my personality was already formed but it seems as though one part of it had. Its origins are a mystery and I attribute it to the Tourettes-mind instead, something I see as genetic and inherent from birth. A will to defy convention, maybe?

Personality can be forced on people but it cannot always have a guaranteed result because even from an early age, we have some type of feral disciplines in place, a sense of self-preservation and a thirst for knowledge. I could have been born in fucking Iran and I’d have soon turned away from the faith, probably jailed or executed for heresy. How could my personality have formed such rejection of belief at such an early age? Is this atypical of personality disorders or maybe an indicator of a deeper-seeded mental problem?

The revised definition for a personality disorder according to the DSM-V is:

“A personality disorder is a way of thinking, feeling and behaving that deviates from the expectations of the culture, causes distress or problems functioning, and lasts over time.1…”

Well, throwing young men off rooftops and lynching Christians is not what I would call ‘an expectation of my culture’. The traits comprising the mind of the religious zealot are closer to psychopathy than logic and their fervour is infectious, clouding the minds of those with a weaker resolve, eager to be part of something special. That a man would martyr himself to take the lives of those with no wish to cause harm is senseless and irrational, counter-productive to the very notion of existence and self-preservation. It is tantamount to burning a field of flowers yet in the acrid fumes, the faithful dance and sing praises.

If everybody is unique then we cannot judge the actions of one and apportion it to many for the desires of one man may not be the desires of all men.

So we know what a normal personality is; check out the sixteen types and see into which category you fit. Maybe your a mixture of more than others.

People with a personality disorder vary considerably from the socially expected norms of behaviour and thinking. Their moods are unstable and their reactions to stimuli are unpredictable. They manage stress differently, sometimes not at all resulting in a decline in mental health sometimes culminating in suicide.

The personality groups bang on about ‘mindfulness‘ which is essentially a ‘stop and think’ approach to thoughts and stimuli, a self-awareness of one’s emotions at a given time. It’s not useful for me, I find it frustrating and rarely have control over my moods and thoughts. Assessing them just makes me feel worse about myself and I end up sinking into an antisocial depression.

It’s hard to be ‘mindful’ when your traits are as dynamic as the tides. One core of personality is identity, that which we see ourselves as, our self-image, styled to our suiting. People with personality disorders often lack a stable identity and partitioning can occur between facets of the personality without proper support, leading them to become wilfully deviant and dangerous to themselves and others. I know this from experience and once your mind accepts a split-personality, it’s hard to reverse it.

Once we are scarred by negative emotions, taught by experiences to think and feel in a certain way then it takes a lot of introspect, learning and self-awareness to alleviate the mismanaged thoughts. It’s like a deconstruction of one’s identity and the frightening thing to find out is that you have no identity at all!

One thing I noticed in the DSM-IV documents (the earlier edition) was the diagnosis criteria for OCD. In the previous manual, it says this:

(Criteria for OCD diagnosis excerpt)

4. Is overconscientious, scrupulous, and inflexible about matters of morality, ethics, or values (not accounted for by cultural or religious identification).

This is an interesting paragraph. Firstly, it marks a distinction between culture and religion. Secondly, it exempts all religious dogma from being psychologically analysed and basically gives carte blanche to any manner of eccentric and obsessive behaviour warranted under the doctrines of religion. Therefore, if you are ‘overconscientious, scrupulous and inflexible about morals, ethics or values’ but a practising Muslim, for example then you are not mentally ill. Good news for all those zealots and radicals out there.

However, in the revised DSM-V there is no mention of the words ‘faith’, ‘religion’ or ‘God’in the criteria. The word seemed to have been replaced with ‘socio-cultural’ instead, a new word that does not appear in the DSM-IV descriptions.

Society is defined by Oxford as:

“The community of people living in a particular country or region and having shared customs, laws, and organisations.”

Culture is defined by Oxford as:

“The ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society.”

Vis-a-vis, socio-cultural is defined as:

“Combining social and cultural factors.”

Religion is an idea. It incorporates customs and dictates behaviour yet the definitive word is carefully manipulated into another, less evident phrase, that of ‘socio-cultural’.

More on the socio-cultural perspective

Why bother with this at all, I wonder? Why remove the word ‘religious’ and replace it with something that hints at religion, smells like religion yet is not quite given as religion? Are the authors of the DSM-V allowing a little room for manouvre here, willing to admit that some parts of religious doctrine are indeed the recipe for personality disorder? Socio-cultural doesn’t have to be about religion, it could be about a celebration of shape and form such as a socio-cultural art community revering the work of the Dutch masters’ or a caravan site full of gypsies who celebrate their freedom from constraints of modern governance. Socio-cultural could mean the Nazis yet religion was not a great factor in Hitler’s dominant ideology. Socio-cultural doesn’t definitely mean ‘religion’ but its close enough to allow religion another ‘get out of jail free’ card, in my opinion.

Strange then, how many killings and atrocities are carried out in the name of God yet when we read the tabloid reports, the perpetrators are always branded ‘mentally ill’. Does this mean that religion appeals to the mentally ill or that religion makes them mentally ill? Having read the assorted scriptures, I’d opt for the latter.

In almost all of the disorders listed in the DSM-V manual, exemptions for ‘socio-cultural development’ are given.

The previous four identifiers for personality disorder (in the DSM-IV) were the following:

A. An enduring pattern of inner experience and behaviour the deviates markedly from the expectations of the individual’s culture. This pattern is manifested in two (or more) of the following areas:

1. Cognition (i.e., ways of perceiving and interpreting self, other people and events)

2. Affectivity (i.e., the range, intensity, liability, and appropriateness of emotional response)

3. Interpersonal functioning

4. Impulse control

Notice in the old version of the manual how the word ‘culture’ is used to allow room for ideological values to be considered. That is to say, if somebody killed in the name of religion then they are allowed this transgression from normality because it is an accepted part of their culture. It also says that if there is impairment in any of the four areas above and it is accepted by the culture then it is perfectly normal behaviour. Remember, culture is the ‘the ideas, customs, and social behaviour of a particular people or society’.

The definitions have now changed somewhat, in the revised manual to this:

D. The impairments in personality functioning and the individual‟s personality trait expression are not better understood as normative for the individual‟s developmental stage or sociocultural environment.

The same four indicators still apply but the wording has changed stating that, if a culture perceives behaviour to be normal then therefore it must be. It doesn’t mention religion directly because this type of delusional thinking is accepted as normal.

It’s quite interesting to look through the manual and apply the traits of personality disorder to religious thinking. One in particular stuck in my mind, now since removed from the DSM-IV and reworded into something else entirely. It forms part of the diagnosis for schizotypal personality disorder and is as follows:

“2. Odd beliefs or magical thinking that influences behaviour and is inconsistent with subcultural norms (e.g., superstitiousness, belief in clairvoyance, telepathy, or “sixth sense” in children and adolescents, bizarre fantasies or preoccupations).”

Odd beliefs? Bizarre fantasies? Superstitiousness? Sounds like all religion to me. I have more than one Muslim relative who firmly believes in witchcraft but it’s not necessarily nice to say that everyone who believes in the occult is mentally ill. Moreover, it’s factually incorrect. It is a marker, though and the degree to which belief in the occult influences one’s behaviours should be noted.

This reference to the occult is completely gone from the new revised DSM-V.

But let’s face facts. We can’t undermine religion in this way because it is the cornerstone of every society on Earth. Maybe, at one point our societies were built in a business model, based on skills and knowledge rather than religious belief but that was back in the days of Homo Habilis. As soon as Adam and Eve came along, the whole principles of society changed and every emerging culture was forged from religious ideology.

I open the challenge; tell me a society that is not built on the backbone of religion and by religion I mean ‘that which has been told yet never proved’. We have no knowledge of God, of Heaven and Hell. Have any of us really had a postcard from Paradise saying ‘wish you were here’? It is all built on conjecture and supposition with a fundamental lack of physical evidence. Not only that, the ideas on the afterlife are so varied and diversified that one can choose their hereafter and by following a code of conduct, change their whole personalities over based on the the dogma so they too can enjoy Paradise (virgins optional depending on faith).

It seems personality disorders are relative to socio-cultural environment and what is perceived as anarchic and morally outrageous by one society may be condoned and rationalised by the other. How did Adolf Hitler manage to inspire such hatred for the Jewish society? His own personality disorders infected the minds of millions and made them do things that they would otherwise not have done. Because the structure of society changed, the culture changed and what was wrong was now right because one man made it so by the power of his own delusions. Inhibitions and ethical vetoes were lifted, murder and rape was sanctioned, theft was commercialised. Hitler managed to devalue the Jewish community to the status of animals and inspired contempt towards them. In other words, he gave Europe a massive personality disorder.

Read more about Hitler’s legacy here

Religion is no different. The ethics and behaviour of one man dictate how we should all think and feel. As we are born into this culture, this method of operating in our daily lives then we are conditioned to believe that it is correct. The fact that it is sanctioned by a higher power makes it all the more potent, inclining us to give our will over to the given faith and do as it demands. Maybe if it was just a man telling us what to do, the words might lack impact but because a greater power than Man is involved, it can never be disputed. The only notable exceptions I can find are Scientology and Buddhism where the words of a single man (not a prophet) have been enough to create a socio-cultural shift in ethics and behaviour. Nobody can dispute the power of Buddhism as a contender for religious recognition and its orthodox techniques and methods of praise are truly inspirational. Ironically, Buddha recognises the divine power within each living thing as opposed to the omnipotent power of an all-knowing deity and his methods are meant to conquer the notion of the id, allowing man to forsake him animal facet and transcend into an enlightened state, once free of lusts and desires.

I respect this faith more than the others for its flexibility as well as its common sense. That we need only find self-actualisation to be close to our notions of Heaven seems more believable to me than stuffy old rituals propitiating a contrary God who purports to love us yet makes us endure pain. This religion sees no need for conflict and hatred towards diversity. Unlike the others, it does not seek to conquer but to teach. Buddha is on my ‘top ten’ of people I’d like to meet if I had the chance (but he ain’t number one!).

I’m going off-task here. Why does religion appeal to the mentally ill in particular? I’m struggling to think of high-profile crimes that haven’t involved God in one form or another. All terrorism is rooted in religion, most serial killers are commanded by some deity or other, be it God or otherwise or their ethics are born of scriptured origins (I’m counting Satanic scripture in with that for the notion of Satan was only made apparent through organised religion).

Killing in the name of (insert appropriate god here)

Here’s the thing. I’ll be perfectly honest, I think the prophets were geniuses to the point of delusional eccentricity. They had ideals about furthering humanity and I support their noble efforts but essentially, their purported Holy Word was of their own imaginings. With the exception of Buddhism (which has been proven to strengthen body and mind), the instigators of organised religion were essentially philosophers with a hidden agenda. Their delusions must have been powerful but their genius was apparent through their wisdom. However, the scriptures are rife with the threats of judgement on those who transgress the rules. Homosexuals get it the worst, closely followed by prostitutes, witches and heretics. Wives get a bad rap and the onus is on assimilating power through conversions, strength in numbers not purity of heart.

Nobody could really write in the times of Abraham, Moses and Jesus. Neither could the Arabs when Mohammed was around. All of the religious backstories were orally transmitted, as was the word of God to the prophets. I suppose the Ten Commandments are about as fundamental as it gets and to be honest, none of them are overly disagreeable and in no way condemn things such as homosexuality and freedom of expression. Moses is said to carved them immediately, after pissing off God with the first set during the worship of the Golden Calf. Did he actually write them in 1500 b.c or thereabouts? It’s unlikely given the state of education in those times. The three ‘R’ were a few centuries away.

Now, I don’t know if you’ve ever played Chinese Whispers but the end result is a lot different than its original. The scriptures of the faiths were transmitted orally from generation to generation until someone actually had the sense and aptitude to write it down. It amazes me that the prophets were so enlightened, chosen by God we are told yet He never bothered to teach them how to write. They didn’t even draw pictures, like an IKEA assembly manual for life; even that might have been a help in the absence of writing.

Imagine the feeling of superiority once one has been given such vital knowledge and wisdom twinned with the fear of God’s wrath. The prophets all claimed to be scared by the Word of God, by the responsibility levied upon them yet all bar Christ died as a king. As I recall, even Buddha was a prince originally yet he denied the shunned the trappings of royalty to seek enlightenment.

Anyway…believe what you like. You’ll get your answers soon enough and hopefully you’ll not be disappointed. Let me ask you this. Would God really give a shit who men stuck their cocks into, considering he’s already sanctioned girls under the age of sixteen along with some acts of bestiality?

I think not. These references to sexual intolerance and gratification of lusts are not anything to do with the divine. We know from evidence that some animals exhibit homosexual tendencies and behaviour that might deviate slightly from the hive culture but it in no way bothers the others. Are these animals also doomed to the realms of purgatory along with Freddie Mercury and Quentin Crisp? The notion of homosexuality in religion is a queer one, indeed. You see what I did there? Oh, it’s so lame but so funny in its cringing attempt at humour.

Homosexuals were hated by the prophets, don’t ask me why but I suspect they attributed the behaviour to their enemies, saw it as a counterproductive activity, a consummation of lust and vetoed it along with all their enemies other cultural quirks.

The fact that the Catholic church has been so dynamic in allowing the communion of homosexuals shows that in our societies, we are learning more that religious doctrine is not truly the divine coda it purports. That the Pope is willing to overrule God shows something about the nature of religion and how its rigidity is becoming flexible.

There is much wisdom in all the scriptures and like I say, the architects were extremely visionary men yet they were also human and therefore possessing the id, the animal facet that underpinned their personalities. I have no doubt that their own emotions played greatly in the messages they delivered to their congregation. We are talking (maybe) about the word of God filtered through a primitive human mind. Even if they did hear the word as it was, they added a little as more and more people sought answers to their everyday problems. Fortunately, the prophets were able to have a word with the Almighty (in private, unaccompanied or witnessed) and after a few days, had a quite specific answer for the quandry. A lot of the problems were sexual but luckily God was on hand to act as a sex therapist and take a morbid interest in the act of coitus and its associated pleasures.

Get a fucking grip, sheeple! Why the frig is God so interested in our sex-lives? So long as we abide by his ways, sex should be a moot point with only things like hygiene and mutual consent observed. The Bible tells us its okay to have sex with children and the Qu’ran sanctions the act of goat-fucking although scholars will dismiss this claim. That God came up with these particular rules is a spurious claim. According to Freud, the id is responsible for such tendencies as war and lust. Jung called it the animus. Whatever it is, it no doubt affected the personalities of the prophets as it affects us all.

Over the course of the decades, the centuries, the divine Word in all its forms was bolstered and expanded, long after the death of the prophets themselves. When it was written down and set in stone, so to speak then people practised it to the letter. Leaders recognised the power of religious lore, exploited it for their own gain.

If I’m correct in my assessment of religious zealotry, then the Islamic State are mentally ill, en masse. But they’re only following the word of their prophet, the alleged word of the Lord. They have to think and behave in accordance with the rules else there will be a harsh reprimand in this life and the next. At what point does this doctrine edge into insanity or is the whole thing a recipe for mental illness from start to finish?

Like I said, personalities are affected by experiences and knowledge. If we grow up in a culture that condones violence and torture then we expect it as the norm. Here’s the thing, though: if we look at religious extremism in detail, how can so many people be so mentally ill at once? It’s almost like an epidemic, as if something tangible has infected them, a virus with substance and intention.

Religion cannot be that bad, can it? Surely, it brings comfort and hope to the disheartened, convinces people to care for themselves and others?

True enough, almost every death receives a religiously motivated funeral, if only to comfort the living and help them adjust to their loss. Like I say, there is goodness and progressive instruction in all the scriptures but there is also a lot of counterproductive nonsense that, if absorbed into an already unstable mind will precipitate zealotry.

Simply enough, the scriptures need an overhaul. If the prophets were alive today, things would be different indeed. Half of the holy word would be gone because it never existed in the first place. All that would remain are the same tenets of existence, the fundamental covenants that are practically universal across all religions. If you want to draw parallels or see for yourself just how involved the scriptures are, all you resources are at the bottom. Make sure you take a month off work, though as it’ll take you a week just to read the Qu’ran (if you skip sleep).

Have I actually got a conclusion here, I wonder or am I just using this blog as a form of ‘writing therapy’?

I think my conclusion is that, although the prophets did exist and were clearly in receipt of enlightened wisdom, their words could never be truly divine as they were passed through the vessel of humanity and therefore subjected to bias. After their deaths, much of the scripture was added or revised (despite what scholars may say, consistency is impossible with word-of-mouth over so many years).

There is no religion of the major ones that has not been guilty of inciting bloodshed in the name of its faith. Even the peaceful Buddhists have blood on their hands across Southeast Asia. I still find it hard to believe that the true word of God would invoke such ferocity on another due to cultural differences nor would it allow any faction of society to be subjugated and enslaved, for all men are free (women are included in that blanket term) and they are all existentially divine.

There is no need for a church, a mosque or synagogue for the temple is yourself and the god is your higher consciousness, that which yearns to be recognised. Between us, we create and we destroy. We are living gods and should recognise ourselves as such. No man is beneath another by birthright or social standing. Our personalities make us the kings and queens that we are and we must praise the species as a whole, working towards universal harmony and a splicing of cultures. It’s evolution and the scriptures need to evolve, too.

Thanks for reading.

Your copy of the Qu’ran, the Sunna and hadith

Tanach and Torah resources

Good Old King James’ Bible (my namesake)

Pali Tipitaka for you Hindu scholars

Buddhism 101

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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