I met a believer on line, let’s call him “Adam”, who introduced himself to me as “… gay, promiscuous, OCD [Obsessive Compulsive Disorder] and bipolar.” Too much info from someone whose name I don’t even know. Then it got worse. It seems he was molested by a priest as a child and attributes all of his “issues” to that event. His conditions are so severe he had to drop out of college, and his parents reject him for his homosexuality. The fact that he divulged this to a complete stranger was a warning sign.
Evidently the point of all this was to set the stage for proclaiming that I, as an avowed atheist, am a “fraud”; that I can’t possibly be an atheist, since “everyone has faith”, even him; even after what happened to him at the hands of that priest, even with his unhappy life and afflictions. I assured him that I was indeed an atheist, but this only served to enflame him. He became progressively more irate, agitated and hostile. It was completely bizarre. I left him to his ranting.
This exchange prompted me to wonder about the relationship of religion and mental illness. While I was familiar with hyper-religiosity, a clinically accepted term for certain schizophrenics who become extremely obsessed with religion, to the point of delusion, I was curious as to what research has been done on religiosity and lesser degrees of mental illness. I didn’t have to look far to find there are exists a plethora of medical studies that show positive correlation between religiosity, OCD, bipolar disorder, and child sexual abuse.
One study published in Psychiatric Research concluded that while religion does not cause OCD, people with multiple obsessions will tend to exhibit higher frequency of religious obsession. http://linkinghub.elsevier.com/retrieve/pii/S0165178101003109
In an article on bipolar disease religiosity is exhibited as a secondary, less prevalent symptom, appearing in 39% of bipolar patients. Hyper sexuality appears in 57% of patients (explaining Adam’s description of himself as promiscuous).
Wiki reports that bipolar disorder symptoms include irritability, escalating to rage, and hyper-religiosity. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Manic_episode. This is confirmed by medical authorities such as Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics.
In fact, there is a Christian website that not only recognizes the bipolar connection to religiosity, it councils bipolar believers on how to differentiate between religiosity and spirituality that is “fruitful” and that which is driven by their disease. http://www.chastitysf.com/bipolar.htm
Finally, and most telling is this: studies show that there is a “significant relationship” between childhood sexual abuse and religiosity. Abused children are substantially more likely to become religious than non-abused children. The Journal of Child Sexual Abuse published the authoritative work on this subject. http://eric.ed.gov/ERICWebPortal/custom/portlets/recordDetails/detailmini.jsp?_nfpb=true&_&ERICExtSearch_SearchValue_0=EJ564932&ERICExtSearch_SearchType_0=no&accno=EJ564932 One might easily conclude that Adam’s religiosity isn’t in spite of his being abused … he was condemned to religiosity by his abuse, along with his mental infirmities.
This is just a sampling. The facts I present here are corroborated by many medical authorities’ websites; thousands of them.
Adam’s attributing his homosexuality, OCD and bipolar disorder to his abuse by that priest is likely his own interpretation and rationalization. There is a clear inference, however, that his mental disorders, combined with his sexual abuse, produced his less than “fruitful” highly aggressive form of religiosity.
But what’s even more interesting is this: if you do a search for “atheism and mental illness, bipolar, OCD” there is not a single study, not a single link that associates mental disorder with non-belief or vise versa. The only thing it does show are people who were once atheist who, as a result of their disorder, “converted” to belief.
What does this all mean vis-à-vis the religious and their mental stability? It certainly does not mean that all believers are insane, any more than all atheists are sane. But the relationship between mental instability and being religious is undeniable. Why am I unsurprised?