Religion and Mental Health

I read a post in the JREF forum yesterday about someone who said that since abandoning his religion he has been in a much better mental state. Here is an except of what he had to say:

“I used to get so, so depressed trying to hold onto faith. Prayer as a way of coping with life’s terribleness was not good for me. I would just get more and more and more upset, spiral into a deep depression, beg god for insight or help or guidance, or ANYTHING, and very often, nothing remotely good would come of it. The cognitive dissonance I was trying to deal with wasn’t helping, either.

I deconverted almost 6 years ago now, and haven’t gotten seriously depressed since.”

I think this makes a lot of sense. And it doesn’t have to apply just to religion, but can apply to any kind of way of life or belief system that puts unrealistic expectations on us, such as trying to be a straight A student, or a star athlete. But unlike these two examples, where you can change your situation and find something else that makes you happier and doesn’t put pressure on you, religion is much harder to just walk away from, and most people who might consider it just don’t know how to fill that void, so they don’t even try, if the consider it at all.

Personally, I know from personal experience that abandoning any religion or other oppressive system of belief will do wonders for your mental health. The stress that is put on a believer to be good and follow the rules, and the guilt that comes when they inevitable fail does terrible things for one’s mental health. Religions require people to hold themselves up to impossible standards of conduct that contradict human nature. The result; everyone is a sinner, everyone is guilty, everyone suffers from that guilt and feelings of not being worthy of God’s or their fellow believer’s love. No wonder there is so much unhappiness, envy, jealously, and hate in the world. It all stems from feelings of being unworthy, imperfect and a failure.

Anything that puts that much pressure on us to “be good” or behave in certain ways is unhealthy. Non-belief gives you the freedom to explore possibilities and ways of thinking and feeling that just aren’t available otherwise. And I’m not talking about hedonism. I’m talking about finding joy in the place where you are, the people that you know and allowing yourself to give yourself what you need to be mentally and emotionally healthy.

We talk a lot in the country about how much we love freedom, but most of us allow ourselves to be enslaved by belief systems that require conformity, submission and hold us up to impossible standards, and then promise ostracization and damnation for failure to conform, submit, and follow the rules.

Real freedom, as the founding fathers knew well, come from being able to define one’s own sense of morality, to find one’s own true self, without coercion of thought and mind, and thereby be a benefit to one’s fellow human begins and one’s society.

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