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?

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.
posted by brisquette to Religion & Philosophy (26 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite
I don't have direct experience but I will say that discerning the spirits is difficult, for advanced mystics only, and doubt about the nature of any religious experience you think you have is completely appropriate.

If your religious faith depends on having certain experiences then I can see how false or distorted religious experiences would undermine that. That's why I don't think faith should depend on having religious experiences.

I would also emphasise that just because an experience can be hallucinated doesn't mean it never happens in reality. You can induce laughter with a well-placed electrode but that doesn't disprove the existence of humour.

The only Christian I know who has a schizophrenia diagnosis is very careful not to let his imagination run away with him. He believes in divine guidance but none of the paths to insight I've heard him describe are the least bit unreasonable; on the contrary, I believe him. It was all part of his overall commitment to wellness and effective living.
posted by tel3path at 11:15 AM on December 3, 2011

You can induce laughter with a well-placed electrode but that doesn't disprove the existence of humour.

It does prove that humor has a mental/physical mechanism and not a metaphysical or spiritual one.
posted by muddgirl at 11:25 AM on December 3, 2011 [6 favorites]

I am no longer participating in the religion of my youth and most of my adulthood. I'm not antogonistic towards it just happier when I'm away.

I've known people in that church who had family members with schizophrenia. Never saw any indication of it affecting their faith, however. They saw it as a physiological problem, not unlike diabetes except in the brain.

There all sorts of brain chemistry/physiology issues that can affect everything from the ability to love (sociopaths) to needing to touch every sign post they pass (OCD). It should be no surprise that some of these imbalances/malfunctions manifest as religious experiences.

There is no reason to attach the "allowing" tag to one and not the others. That is, why should God allow sociopathy or OCD and not religious schizophrenia? What if it was the result of a tumor? Would that change what you think God should or should not allow?

Or, to be more blunt about it, why do you think you get to decide what God will allow and what he won't? If you believe in God then the very existence of this disease proves that he allows it.
posted by trinity8-director at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2011

Muddgirl, I think the point is that if someone had a neurological quirk that triggered that laughter electrode at random spontaneous points throughout the day, maybe they're not the best person to judge your comedy routine. Same physical result, completely different sorts of triggers.
posted by brisquette at 11:31 AM on December 3, 2011

Trinity8-director, my personal perception is that other non-religious manifestations of brain chemistry issues don't interact as directly with faith, although they may affect your daily life. In the same vein as, say, maybe you have a harder time trusting people because you had some messed up people in your family, so your ongoing struggle with depression means you have a harder time accepting God's love, or something. In other words, different types of mental illness may affect how you approach faith and religion and the people within it, but I've always felt that a good religion has room for all kinds of people, because of the nature of our screwed-up world, etc.

I don't think I get to "decide", but I do think that ongoing faith requires ongoing examination and contemplation, and in the course of my ongoing examination, I felt that stuff wasn't adding up anymore. It does seem sort of ridiculous to be so affected by one thing, and so I'm curious to see what other (perhaps greater) minds have thought about such things.
posted by brisquette at 11:42 AM on December 3, 2011

There are two large philosophical issues you're touching on here. I'll just give you the search terms so you can look up more reading on whichever one you are most interested in.

1. The problem of evil. IF there is a God who is all-powerful and all-knowing and all-good/loving, then why do bad things happen? He must allow them (because He has the power to stop them); He must know about them (since He knows about everything); and He wants to do only good things for his creations. So it's a paradox; these three characteristics of God seem to conflict with the existence of bad things. The existence of moral evil (people who choose to do evil things) is explained by the idea that God has to give us free will for various reasons. But the existence of forms of suffering not caused by human action (disease, mental illness, natural disasters etc) is not explained by the free will theodicy.

2. The problem of illusion. If a brain disease can give the experience of religious epiphany, why should we ever believe that religious epiphany is genuine? This is just one example of a larger problem: given that we know we are sometimes subject to perceptual illusions (we see mirages in the desert, we see optical illusions where one line looks longer even though they are really the same length, etc), and we might sometimes have hallucinations or dreams that seem real, how can we ever trust our senses to be reliable? How can we trust any knowledge we seem to get from our senses?

(Those links are to articles at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, which might be on the too-detailed side. But they should give you good pointers for what aspects or further reading you might be interested in searching up more on.)
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:45 AM on December 3, 2011 [7 favorites]

My father was a Calvinist minister. He was also sexually abusive. I've had a rough time, over the years, trying to integrate a just God into my own experiences. Like, if God was just, He wouldn't have let my father become a minister in the first place, or use His teachings to disempower women and further his abusive behaviors. If God was just, innocent women and children wouldn't suffer at the hands of cruel men.

Right after I left home, and my dad died, and the church fell apart when the whole scandal came out, I just plain stopped believing. I thought maybe there was Some Dude up in the sky, but I wasn't able to connect with Christian Biblical thought any more. Mainly because it had, in so many ways, failed me. Orthodox thought was particularly bad in this way, because it was all black and white and all or nothing -- and since I couldn't accept all, I felt I had to accept nothing.

What I discovered, for myself, was that I just couldn't embrace orthodox thought. And yeah, I also haven't ever been able to bring myself to believe in a loving, involved, omnipotent, omniscient, omnipresent God. That doesn't mean there isn't a Sky Dude. Just that the Sky Dude that might exist is not the one I was raised to believe in.

So none of this speaks to schizophrenia specifically, but it does speak to mental illness and systemic dysfunction and how those difficulties intersect with the concept of a loving God. It's something to which I have found no easy answer. I spent a very long time in my twenties talking to every kind of clergyman I could find, from rabbis to priests to old-school Presbyterians to liberal Episcopalians, and nobody had a simple answer for me. Indeed, nobody was really able to fashion any kind of answer that gelled with my life experience.

The closest anyone has ever come is Kevin Smith, who in Dogma set forth the jokey idea that sometimes God just goes off to play Skee-Ball. I think God probably plays a LOT of Skee-Ball.

If you're willing to embrace the concept of not only God but also of Satan -- this is one I can't get behind at all -- you can blame a lot of things on the devil. Pretty much all of them. This is what my mom does, and it seems to work fine for her. It's always been a problem for me, though, because if the devil is responsible for schizophrenia, then the person who suffers from the disorder becomes demonic. That's not a nice road to go down.

What I would say, here, is that you should explore. Explore different religions, and different variants of religious thought, and work on broadening your ideas of what God is or could be. Don't try to make the world match up with the Bible. Instead, let your experiences shape your religiosity.

There's nothing wrong with losing faith, or with being angry at God, or with thinking God has abandoned you or abandoned the world. Job thought that. Noah thought it. Moses thought it. Even Jesus thought it. It's a natural reaction to Big Bad Things, and it's one you can allow to foment in your brain until you come up with your own solution.

The best way to come up with your own solution is to listen to lots of other people's solutions, and figure out which ones feel right to you. I understand the concept of not getting to pick and choose when it comes to religion, but that's a limitation created by those who believe in orthodoxy. It can't help you, in a situation by definition outside the constraints of orthodox thought. Sometimes picking and choosing is the best we can do.
posted by brina at 11:53 AM on December 3, 2011

Demonic possession. I'm not kidding, there are genuinely qualified doctors in the UK who believe in demonic possession (and no, am not reassured in the slightest by the fact that the author thinks it's rare).

But on a more general note, the article demonstrates that there are psychiatrists who maintain their faith while being around people with severe mental illness on a daily basis (and I would lay good odds that most of them would identify with parts of that article and reject the bit about demonic possession).
posted by Coobeastie at 12:22 PM on December 3, 2011

First off I want to say I am pretty much an atheist at this point in my life. I have been thinking about something similair to this recently. I don't hear it much anymore but where i grew up (Texas and the Southwest) the polite term for someone who was crazy, mentally challenged or whose brain just didn't work in the normal way was 'touched' as in short hand for touched by God. I think (from some historical texts I have read) that this used to be literally true-people explanation for mental disfunction was to explain it as God touched their lives more than he did ordinary people. Assuming their is an all powerful deity, like the christian god, maybe schizophrenia is what happens to mortal brains when God does speak to us. Maybe God uses the mentally challenged as an easier pathway to speak to mankind, who knows. I don't personally believe these two assertions but I do allow that if I am wrong, their is a higher power(s) maybe that is how they do it. Maybe your boyfriend really is speaking to God. I would think that direct communication to such an entity would be damaging for most. Of course the flip side of this is that our concept of religion is a manifestation of nothing more than explaining a mental illness that has evolved through the ages as certain defects in our cognitive powers as evolution works out the kinks in a animal with such a disproportionately large brain.
posted by bartonlong at 12:45 PM on December 3, 2011

You boyfriend's mental health issues are almost a red herring, IMO.

The thing is, if you miss God and want to believe again, you simply must believe-- that's why faith is "The substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen." You're never going to get the full picture in this lifetime. That's just how it works.

In fact, more or less a zillion things are going to happen in your life that will make religion seems illogical or disappointing, at odds with appealing options in the material world, etc., and you have to just decide that you are part of an impossible-to-grasp whole in which A Greater Sense of Purpose And Connectedness plays a part....or not.

Let your intuition guide you here. The answer you need will be given through transcendence, or a personal revelation provided by the grace of God, in the proper time and place; you can't decide these things on your own, and no amount of critical thinking can heal this schism in the way mindfulness, prayer/meditation and an open heart can.

If I were you I'd just sit in a quiet church sanctuary of your choice sometime this month and let the beautiful Christmas lights and sense of peace and joy that the season brings wash over you.

See if maybe you miss God then, even if you don't really understand why things happen the way they do anymore than you did before.
posted by devymetal at 2:47 PM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm bipolar. I've never had full-blown mania, just hypomania of varying intensity and occasional episodes where it was clear my interpretation of events was so far off of what was actually going on that, well, I don't fully trust my ability tell what's real, absolutely. It's actually kind of freeing - the more I studied perception and mental illness, the more I realized that we're all prone to all kinds of errors, whether or not we're diagnosed with anything as scary as schizophrenia.

I'm also religious.

For me, the reasons I can still believe, despite the fact that I know that a) I suffer from things I can't possibly have "earned" in any way and b) that I clearly sometimes "know" things that just aren't true, are:

1) My religion in no way demands that this be a perfect world. People suffer all the time - it's a fallen world and people call it that for a reason. We're all subject to all kinds of awful and wonderful things, and it amounts to little more than chance as to who gets what. When God intervenes, it's a miracle - when He doesn't, it's the normal state of things. That's why we rejoice in the miracles.

2) I don't believe that any of the stuff that happens to us on earth is for "keeps," in the sense that the depression that I suffer through, the anxiety that cripples me, etc., will impact how awesome eternity is. It's a temporary state, being alive. This is tremendously comforting.

3) Lots of really intelligent, obviously not irrational people (like CS Lewis!) have reasoned through things. I don't have to trust that I'm being rational to trust they were rational. I also run ideas by lots of different people, inside my faith and not. This helps make sure I'm making choices about what I do and don't believe based on something more substantial than a notion that may just be random circuits firing.

4) There are a lot of edge cases, where I can't tell how rational I'm being. But gosh darn it all, there are times when I'm a heck of a lot closer to normal than not, and I can tell (especially after checking with friends and family.) I don't put a lot of stock in revelatory experiences that happen when I'm halfway between one crazy act and another. I put more stock in the stuff I've worked out in the quiet moments with my journal, on days where I took out the trash and made a phone call and didn't take on ten new projects I can't possibly fulfill. (*)

5) I'm inclined to believe that psychotic experiences, especially, are generally in tune with our existing understanding - that is, your boyfriend wouldn't have thought he was talking to God unless he was already having thoughts about the possibility before he had an episode. He may not have Believed, but it was in his head. I don't think psychosis really helps you come up with truly new ideas - when I get hypomanic, I lose my inhibitions and my sense of scale and so forth, but I don't suddenly do things I'd never dreamed of before. I certainly wouldn't think that schizophrenia "made" him religious - not like that.

I will add this: I have never had an especially intense religious experience while hypomanic. They tend to come when I'm depressed and desperate (and they're usually pretty comforting, and very internally oriented.) I might have more difficulties if I did have some sort of "otherworldly" experience - I just don't know. I kind of don't think so, though. I've thought about religion a lot throughout my life, and so religion is no more of an "issue" for me when I'm having psychiatric issues than any other part of my life is. I believe in God in the exact same way that I believe I saw the earth's shadow on the moon this evening; having a wacky episode where I thought I talked with God would be just the same as a wacky episode where I thought I'd walked on the moon: "Well that didn't happen, but it could have, I suppose, though if it did, whoa."

(*) My rule of thumb is that you can't ever absolutely tell if you're manic or depressed at the time, but you can almost always tell later, especially if you write stuff down and can look it over when you're clearly in a different space, mentally. In my head there's more chaff than I'm really comfortable with, but the wheat is still identifiable with a little mental distance.
posted by Fee Phi Faux Phumb I Smell t'Socks o' a Puppetman! at 3:08 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I'm going to recommend an old book to you with a horrible title that sounds boring as hell, but is totally what you want to read with regards to schizophrenia/God in the brain issues. It's more interesting and related to what you want to know about than you think. Look for it in a library:

The Origins of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind by Julian Jaynes.
posted by jenfullmoon at 3:49 PM on December 3, 2011 [2 favorites]

Please read the short novel Lying Awake. As it opens, a cloistered nun, who for years had been mourning the absence of God in her soul, has suddenly gained an intense feeling of grace, accompanied by acclaim for her spiritually intense poetry. She then learns her newfound religious ecstasy stems from mental illness -- a form of epilepsy. I would recommend this book even if it did not (perfectly, exactly) address your concerns, because of its jewel-like precision and beauty.
posted by hhc5 at 4:16 PM on December 3, 2011

This kind of thing caused me to question general assumptions from various flavors of dogma about God. Assumptions that there is a "just God" who intervenes in human lives for the better are not necessary to all religious paths or all conceptions of God. This kind of experience can be easily understood if you question the premise that you already understand how God is supposed to be.

If you can conceive of a God who values, promotes, and supports justice but does not actively manipulate the world to directly create justice, you can reconcile the experiences of having a belief in God and recognizing that the brain can go haywire and create religious experiences. This may mean rejecting specific elements of the dogma of specific denominations which posit a God who interferes in the human world and has the power to change activity at the brain level, but the rejection of something so specific and so totally conjectural certainly doesn't mean rejecting all forms of religion or conceptions of God.
posted by Miko at 8:01 PM on December 3, 2011

Nietzsche said that very thing:
"A casual stroll through the lunatic asylum shows that faith does not prove anything."

This also reminds me of a blog that was mentioned somewhere on metafilter a while ago about a guy who had a months-long psychotic episode after ingested too much LSD. He had the most grandiose delusions possible; at some points he thought he was in control of "resetting" the universe- God had endowed him with such powers.

I think the question is the same as yours: What is the difference between the certainty in God of a sane faithful person, and the same certainty of a lunatic? The sensation of doubtlessness, the certainty of purpose, is the same, is it not?

I personally am an agnostic but in one of my classes I was assigned to read Paul Tillich's The Dynamics of Faith and I think you might find it interesting, if you haven't already read it.

If anyone knows this book please correct me if anything I've said is wrong, but the way I understood it is that Tillich is a sort of Christian existentialist. This means that the book is more about how human commitment and effort can connect one to God in the terms an individual human being has chosen for their own life. To Tillich, "God" is a symbolic term for the ultimate concern of human beings

He argues that human beings naturally put their faith into things whether they are religious or not; for example if your ultimate concern in life is to achieve financial success, then you put your faith in that. He argues that putting your faith in God, the infinite, is the only thing that will infinitely fulfill you. So in sum, to attempt to broach on your question, perhaps you could explore your faith in God from a more existential point of view, meaning it is related to your own strivings in life rather than as a blanket explanation for everything in the cosmos.

I find this question very interesting so I'm sorry for rambling if this does not help you at all with your question. And if anyone else out there has read Tillich and can explain it better, please do!
posted by costanza at 9:00 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

the Divine is inherently beyond our limited ability.
it can not be understood, it is too big for us.

our understanding of Nature and the Divine
is limited by our senses. our perceptual awareness.
at best, we can catch glimpses and peeks at It.
by living a spiritual religious life we can hone our vision,
practice trying to catch that rare glimpse of the Divine.

religion, holy books, religious communties, rituals
all exist to help us hone the spiritual frame of reference.
(though sadly, they are often used for earthly exploits,
like power and politic and all the many abuses of religion)

it is impossible to know your Ex's best path to the Divine
it is impossible to know your own.

the Divine works in mysterious ways.
there are many ways to skin a Spirit.
posted by Flood at 9:30 PM on December 3, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think the question is the same as yours: What is the difference between the certainty in God of a sane faithful person, and the same certainty of a lunatic? The sensation of doubtlessness, the certainty of purpose, is the same, is it not?

That's true - that's why there's a historical and contemporary role for doubt in paths of faith. If you've never experienced and entertained doubt your faith may be no more sophisticated than that caused by total illusion. Doubt may lead you to refine your understandings or develop new and more complex ideas.
posted by Miko at 5:33 AM on December 4, 2011

Perhaps understanding your doubt is the reconciliation. Doubt is as natural a feeling or emotion as any other, especially when put in a difficult place.
posted by Strudel at 6:04 AM on December 4, 2011

[Caveat: I'm an atheo-agnostic. I have no rational argument for god's non-existence, I simply lack faith. I believe faith is organic and comes from within the self - or in religious terms, from god speaking to one's heart. I just don't have it. But I'm curious about religion and in my own way I'm still a seeker].

How is someone supposed to recover from that and have any sort of honest relationship with religion?

I don't know that he can. I don't know that anyone can. No one is completely whole. Anyway, most people adopt the religion of their parents or one of the religions of their culture. You never seriously considered becoming a druid, amiright? Why not? Not because it's really silly schlock about running around in the woods naked but because you have no experience of it and your society does not have a framework that would easily support that belief.

Few people, if any, make a truly free and rational decision as to their beliefs. It's an emotional thing based on their experiences. I'm a proud atheist and getting there was a lot of work, but my motivation was the abusiveness of my religion. If it had been good for me I'd probably still be there. Would that have been honest? As honest as it needs to be, I guess.

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?

Well, you can't. You're asking questions about the validity of your ex's faith, and you're not likely to ever get a solid answer on that.

I think there's something deeper under your questions and that it will take you a while to get to your answer, and that's something that you'll have to do yourself. Read everything you can find, ask lots of questions, journal like crazy, and maybe in a couple of years you'll have an idea of where you stand on this.
posted by bunderful at 6:41 AM on December 4, 2011

I think you may find this article interesting:

Finding Purpose After Living With Delusion.

While the subject of the article is traveling in the opposite direction from you, his story may hold some resonance. He originally identified as atheist, but as he made peace with schizophrenia, he developed a more spiritual philosophy.

Good luck to you on your travels.
posted by BeBoth at 7:26 AM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

(Atheist, but used to be religious.)

This may be controversial, but I think that religious people (especially the kind who believe you can have legitimate religious experiences) tend to not look at it the way you are looking at it. You are looking at the evidence and deciding whether religious belief X makes sense. They feel that religious belief X is true and therefore rationalize the evidence however they see fit.

For your particular scenario, there are plenty of ways to rationalize it. Your boyfriend's experience was nothing like true religious experiences, for example. Or maybe they were genuine religious experiences that were twisted by his brain somehow. Or it's not even a good question (e.g. the laughter analogy above.) Or it's just all part of God's mysterious plan. Etc.

In my former religion, Orthodox Judaism, I was taught as a child that the prophets of old pretty much were mentally ill in a way. They had these trances or seizures or whatever and god messages from God through them, but not all who had those trances or seizures received true messages. That's one of the reasons they had tests for false prophets -- it wasn't just for con artists posing as prophets, but for mentally ill people who really thought they were.

The rationalization only has to stand up to scrutiny if it's going to be scrutinized objectively, and most people (certainly most religious people) rarely scrutinize their own beliefs without a thumb on the scale.
posted by callmejay at 5:01 PM on December 4, 2011 [1 favorite]

I really like the book Why God Won't Go Away: Brain science and the biology of belief. The book does not force conclusions about the existence of God, but discusses the neurobiology of religious experience. I found it fascinating.
posted by kamikazegopher at 8:14 PM on December 4, 2011

"I do think that ongoing faith requires ongoing examination and contemplation, and in the course of my ongoing examination, I felt that stuff wasn't adding up anymore."

Is faith supposed to add up? If you can deduce the veracity of some point purely through rational analysis, where is there room for faith?

In other words that things don't add up isn't an argument against faith, it's the reason for faith.
posted by oddman at 7:47 PM on December 9, 2011

I imagine this would be so hard. I haven't had this experience, but here are some ideas that occurred to me.

How is someone supposed to recover from that and have any sort of honest relationship with religion?

How would this person have any sort of honest relationship with anything or anyone? Would they have touchstones by which they connect with other parts of their lives -- ways to test and know (as much as one can know) that something is trustworthy? Maybe they would not be able to trust certain experiences as much, but would make up for that by leaning more on other experiences and ways of becoming closer to God -- perhaps something very straightforward and less experiential, such as Bible memorization in place of spiritual gifts -- or something that is suggested, approved and/or check-in-able by trusted people in his or her life. Having someone who can tell you, "That's not in line. Can we question this?" might be helpful.

Additionally, I hold that Christian religion is a relationship and is directed by a God who acts directly in our lives, so prayer and the role of God and the Christian community could play important roles.

how religious people reconcile themselves with the idea of a mental illness that produces religious experiences?

From the outside, I would think --totally my opinion, don't have citations for this-- that God can sometimes work through mental illness in genuine ways. Perhaps defenses are down and so he has more room to work (someone might be more accepting of things like miracles). I do not think this is always the case. There are other ways for spiritual and physical/mental worlds to work together. For example, Jesus rebuked demons that were making people act in ways that were alarming to other people. So there can be a link between behavior/mental state and spiritual state. At the same time, we know that there are issues in this world because it's not a perfect world; like physical issues, mental illness influences how we experience the world and respond to God, people and life in general. Some experience happening as a result of a mental illness doesn't mean that the experience or its cause are not genuine or wouldn't be genuine in a different context.

These are just my immediate thoughts, so I hope they make sense and please don't take them as doctrine or actual theology.

I do have a friend who was a devout Christian before AND after experiencing intense religious experiences that turned out to be influenced by a mental issue for which she then received medication. I can tell you more about her experience if you like; just memail me.
posted by ramenopres at 8:50 PM on December 24, 2011

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?

Just to present another way of looking at it, (1) maybe you would not reach a place seeming as clear and level-headed with regard to religion as before, and that's fine* -- and (2) not reaching that point could even be seen as a good sign. Doubt, asking questions, wondering, can be part of a strong faith.

*I'm interpreting this as feeling and knowing certainly that your religion is true, your God is trustworthy, etc. - whatever you believe.
posted by ramenopres at 8:57 PM on December 24, 2011

My brother-in-law was schizophrenic. I can relate to the unique challenges. Sometimes you wonder who has the dellusions.

I could be called "religious" thought I don't care for that label. I don't have any particular books to recommend to impart knowledge or insight into your situation. But I'll use this space to throw my two sense in, for what it's worth.

I realize that by saying I'm a Christian it already casts a skeptic eye on anything I say but there's nothing I can do about that. I think it is good to be skeptic just not closed minded.

I think the #1 reason people struggle with this question of 'how can there be evil and a just God at the same time' is because they taught the wrong things about the ways of God. He is a just God but we are not just people. What we think is "just" or "right" is not necessarily what God deems is "just" or "right". So many "Christian" organizations teach that if you follow Jesus He will bless you beyond measure with everything your heart desires and they apply it to mean your life will be easier, your troubles will be solved, you will get a check in the mail... etc.

This just isn't true. Evil exists because humans exists. Disease exisits because we sinful & corrupt. Our infirmities in our bodies would not exisit if we were without sin in our body. That is not to say a person suffers illness as a result of a sin they committed... but that because human flesh has sin in it. (although there is human suffering that is a direct result of sin.)

With my brother in law I didn't so really question God or my own beliefs. He also had spiritual experiences. And although what was coming out of his mouth didn't make much sense I could tell that the spirit of God was in him. And while I was looking from the outside in, from inside him I think I would of had a different view. I think he was very comforted and lifted by the spirit he felt. there is a scripture that says they had "the zeal of God but not according to knowledge."

God told Ezekiel "Yet the children of thy people say, The way of the Lord is not equal: but as for them, their way is not equal." God doesn't owe us anything. He isn't obligated to perform miracles. He is God.

In Acts we read the story of the preacher Stephen and this is a good example of how God helps us in times of trouble. Stephen was being stoned to death and he looked up and saw Christ standing at the right hand of God making intercession. Did God reach down and strike Stephen's stoners dead? Did He rescue Stephen from death? No.

But He did fill Stephen up with His spirit and in that Spirit, Stephen could only feel love and compassion for his murders. He cried out, Forgive them Lord for the know not what they do. Stephen wasn't thinking or feeling, Lord save me from this, spare my life, I don't deserve this.... he was filled with love. That is not natural. If any of us were being stoned or even just ridiculed, we'd be angry and want to fight back or do something.

One last verse and I'll stop. In the Philippian letter it says, "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God." (Note the 'be careful of nothing' meaning don't worry about things)
"And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus." (Note: that peace passes all understanding because people can't understand how you could possibly have peace with the terrible trouble you are going through.)

Faith is often taught that if you believe then God will do this or that. But faith is more about believing that God is God and He has the power to save you but every right not to. And it is not God is just... That God is described by the word just as we define just and justice. It is that everything God does is just. He defines just, not us. Thus, if everyone on the planet sought His truth, there would be a lot less evil in the world! But it isn't God who causes bad things to happen, unless it is for our own good. (an example would be a drug addict going to jail... addict thinks 'this is evil being in jail', but God may be thinking, it's time you cleaned up.)

Good luck on your search for truth and 'reality'!
posted by Livingdog at 9:22 PM on March 4, 2012

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