How to Reconcile Faith and Mental Illness
December 3, 2011 10:11 AM Subscribe
My ex-boyfriend's schizophrenia turned me into an atheist (more or less), but that loss of faith kind of took me by surprise. I'm still thinking about it sometimes, and wondering how religious people reconcile themselves with the idea of a mental illness that produces religious experiences?
posted by brisquette to religion & philosophy (26 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
I spent the first 27 years of my life in various levels of Christianity. Although not a fan of cultural Christianity, I always believed there was an inherent truth to the Bible and the things within. I felt completely comfortable with the idea of bad things happening to good people, because the natural world was set in motion with physical rules, and it'd be unfair if those physical rules were being continually broken because, like, you prayed for your aunt to not miss her plane. I had read things about neuroscience and religion, and I was perfectly okay with parts of our brain sparking religious feelings or responding to the trappings of religion (like how strongly rituals affect us, etc.). If there was a God, of course he'd hardwire these things into us.The writings of C.S. Lewis and G.K. Chesterton resonated with me.
And then came the firsthand experience with schizophrenia, and afterwards I just couldn't make it align with concepts of a just God.
My boyfriend went through periods of extreme religious fervor, times when he believed he was God and times when he felt God was speaking to him. I have no doubt that he experienced these things in a manner as real as me talking to a friend on the street, but with the added intensity of religious experience.
How is someone supposed to recover from that and have any sort of honest relationship with religion? Even if you reach a place just as clear and level-headed as before the illness manifested, how could you trust that your interaction with religion wasn't fueled by the same manias as before? What lines could you draw between the manic episodes and later feelings of connectedness with God, especially when the manic episodes appear to have felt so much stronger and "real" than later occurrences?
This isn't a problem with my ex. He didn't believe in God before all this happened, but now that things have settled back down, he's thinking of joining the ministry, and of course I have my undercurrents of extreme scepticism about all that.
It is a problem with me, though. I still kind of want to believe, but the concept of believing in a God that could allow your brain to tweak your religious circuits to make you think you're talking to God when you're not? That's totally messed up, right? Someone else has had to have talked about this, right?
In short, if you have any insights or have come across writings as to how clear-thinking religious folks who've experienced things like schizophrenia (firsthand or otherwise) reconcile that with their faith, I'd be interested in hearing them.