Almost everyone I know these days is "spiritual, not religious." I spent over forty years of my life that way. I thought it was the only "sane" way to be. Yet, I just read about a recent study that showed those who identify as "spiritual, not religious" are more prone to mental illness and drug abuse.
For most of my life, I've heard about how religion is bad for our mental health. I believed nearly everything I heard, too.Here are just a few of the reasons why people say that religion is not good for psychological health:
(1) Religion is "fear-based."
Rebuttal: The reasoning behind the accusation that religion is "fear based" is that people do not want to be "bullied" into believing things. People want to make up their own minds and not be threatened with hellfire for questioning religion. Well, that is certainly fair and surely God understands and wants us to think through things for ourselves. After all, He gave us free will, and it is so important to him for us to have free will that he allows evil to happen. God doesn't want to force us to do anything because then people would be robots or puppets and not people who choose to love Him, on our own volition. So, why do churches say things that scare people sometimes? I think it's out of protectiveness and caring. There are too many things to count out in the world today that can erode and destroy our souls. If we work to turn off "fear," so we can be "free," then how free might we be when we end up enslaved to addictions, harmful relationships, deception and exploitation? I think some types of fear are actually pretty healthy, for that reason.
(2) Religion produces unnecessary guilt.
Rebuttal: Religion is the best way to learn to live a life that produces less guilt. When we're focused on being loving and giving, we're more prone to feel good about ourselves. Sure, it's a drag to be told over-indulgence in pleasure is a sin. Truly, it will wreck your fun. But, life is more meaningful when we learn to give more than we take. By working hard to turn off "guilt" because we believe it is toxic, we often end up shutting down our conscience, also. Instead of repressing guilt, it is a good idea to express those feelings and work through them in a way that leads to more loving and productive action.
(3) Religion causes sexual repression, which in turn creates a whole host of psychological problems.
Rebuttal: Both Christianity and Buddhism are spiritual paths that require self-renunciation and self-denial. The most seriously religious of both faiths willingly submit to chastity as a discipline. When people are more in control of themselves and their instincts, they are not only far less likely to have unplanned pregnancy but they are also less likely to over-indulge in alcohol and drugs, to exploit other people or to have moody or violent outbursts. In other words, people who have greater self-control are more mentally healthy. Since the "sexual revolution," each generation has a higher rate of mental illness than the one before. I'm not so sure it's working out for us!
Sexual repression might be unhealthy, but Catholic practice has been to sublimate sexual instincts rather than repress them. Saints often "fall in love" with God for that reason. When saints do that, the world tends to be a better, healthier place, don't you think?
Here are some ways religion can HELP mental health:
(1) Religion helps us understand how to cope with suffering.
(2) Religion helps us learn to comfort ourselves during hard times.
(3) Religion helps us think beyond ourselves about others and the community as a whole, which can pull us out of self-pity, which can lead to depression.
Maybe being "spiritual" also helps many people do these things, but I've been feeling much healthier since I embraced religion. I think there are many good reasons why that is true.
Here's a link to the study: