I read once that some people are naturally inclined (personality-wise) toward believing in a higher power, while others are naturally inclined to be skeptical and questioning. I, most certainly, fall into the latter category.
As a small child, I was guilt ridden about sin and very confused about the bad things in the world that God is implicitly allowing to happen at all times.
By third grade I thought CCD, organized religion, and the bible were mostly BS. At some point in middle school I transitioned to a full-blown atheist. There was no “ah-ha” moment though—more like a natural progression as my identity was developing.
Lost in Translation
Besides my hypothetical natural inclination toward being a nonbeliever, when I was a child I struggled with the abstract concepts that adults seemed to relay to me as fact. Of course, I now know that understanding abstract concepts is one of the last stages of childhood development and that other children were likely thinking something quite similar.
Still, it left an indelible mark on my “relationship with God” or understanding of such. This is how I thought about what I heard from adults and what I heard in church:
You should love God more than you love anyone else in the world. Um… what? I should love this man-thing that I never met more than I love my parents? I don’t even know him! I know my parents very well. They made me. They feed me. They love me. I am being set up to fail! I am being asked to do something that I cannot do. I cannot love anything or anyone more than my parents.
“God is watching everything you do” I pictured “God” as the older version of the picture of Jesus hanging in the hallway entrance of my preschool. This picture of “Jesus” was a feminine Anglo-Saxon male with long hair and a beard. So… maybe this image added to my anger and confusion that a giant creepy man is watching me when I shower and sit on the toilet.
“You are a part of God” or “everyone is a part of God”: me as a child: “what if I’m God’s penis?”
And then there was the frenetic praying. Asking god to bless everyone I know and trying real hard not to leave anyone out. Trying to ask God to help all the starving children in the world and all the people in war torn countries, etc. I felt that I had to try not to leave anything or anyone out because, well… what if this time he was actually going to listen and do something about it?
Brief Thoughts on Psychiatry and Religion
Whatever one’s concept of God and/or religion, spending time with acute psych patients will open you up to a whole new world. The term is “religious preoccupation” and it is a fairly common symptom of psychosis. For friends and family, increasing religious obsession can be a sure sign that an individual is decompensating mentally. Also common are religious themed auditory hallucinations aka hearing the voice of god in one’s head.
“A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything”
HOWEVER, I don’t view religiosity or spirituality as a bad thing—for most people. To the contrary, I think anything that helps a person cope with the various sufferings of life is usually a good thing. Attending church/temple/etc. can be an vital aspect of an individual’s culture and is often an important source of social support. Again, for most people, being involved with a spiritual community is a strength.
Personally, I would much prefer to have indubitable faith in god any alternative. I want the comfort of believing, or better yet, knowing that there is an afterlife and that bad people will be served their justice when they escaped it in life. But, I just don’t have that faith. And I don’t have the ability to force myself to believe something that I truly believe is simply… wishful thinking.
Getting to the Point
I found this religious ephemera on the floor of a transitional residence for people being discharged from a state psychiatric center AKA a halfway home for recently discharged people who are living with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness (SPMI).
The pamphlet above is deeply upsetting for me.
These individuals have enough things stacked against them without lecherous organizations blatantly trying to exploit their weaknesses and vulnerabilities!
Just looking at this thing makes me feel a little crazy.
I don’t know where this came from other than the pamphlet was given to someone living in the residence, which is located in a borough of NYC.
It looks like cult propaganda. This type of coercive doctrine is a perfect example of something that further causes people like me to withdraw from all things religious. Trying to use fear and guilt to manipulate people and have someone turn to your specific version of faith seems inherently wrong and authoritarian.