Thursday, March 20, 2008

Psychological problems and religion: the de-conversion process

See, this is what I've been saying. Religion is a cult. It's just a very popular cult, and your family may be part of the cult, and you may be the only person you know that the cult hasn't brainwashed. Valerie Tarico writes on the Huffington Post:

Most religions implant psychological safeguards against apostasy, little emotional bombs of fear, guilt, shame and self-loathing that get triggered by the mere act of questioning. In religious orthodoxy, doubt is the domain of fools. It is the consequence of having hardened your heart like Pharaoh or resenting God's power like Lucifer. Oh ye of little faith!

I know that fear of their reaction is at least a part of my reluctance to identify myself as an atheist to my family. Accountant by Day had a post recently about this very issue, and it turns out that the initial aftermath wasn't as bad as she expected. Anyway, the only way to find out what the fallout will be is to go forward with it. It's the brave thing to do, but it's one of those things where the timing never really seems right. I'm sure that's my psychological reluctance to do so subtly expressing itself, but it doesn't make it any easier.

Even among my professional peers, psychologists, far too few understand the depth of harm that can be done to the psyche by fundamentalist religion -- religion that subsumes the individual self to a cult self. The irony is that few mental health professionals are sympathetic to the claims of moral dogma. The practicing therapist is exposed daily to life's caprice: biochemical malfunctions, developmental vagaries, and rotten life circumstances. In contrast to a religious perspective, psychology seeks to understand material and historical roots of symptoms rather than making moral judgments. So the problem is not that the professional world view aligns with a dogmatic world view. It is just that, in the absence of dramatic evidence to the contrary, we are all taught to think of religion as harmless.

It's time to give up the illusion.



  1. It actually, in conjunction with something else, sparked a huge verbal assault from my mother. I think my father is actually pretty upset about it. He subsequently told me that the reason he had to accept my atheism is that it is already determined who all gets into heaven. Therefore, it's futile and he can hope and pray all he wants, but it's already decided so there isn't any point.

    So it wasn't quite the "because I have respect for your decisions and opinions" I was hoping for.

    Then again, it's a relief to have finally done something that infuriated my mother so much that she's out of the picture.

  2. Well, I guess I won't have to hear that, if only because Mormons don't accept predestination to that level. Although I think that I would be happy with that, if the alternative is a lifetime full of re-conversion attempts. Anyway, congrats on having it over and done with, in more than one area of your life :)

    BTW: not sure if I like the new moniker...flashbacks to the 80's happen every time I see it. :)

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  4. Yeah - I joined my first message board with this as my name. So far people are misreading it as pertaining to the Madonna song. So maybe it was a dumb idea. Oh, well.

    Out of curiosity, what would you have suggested?

  5. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to criticize it so blithely, I'm sure you put a lot of thought into it. After I re-read your post about the name, I find it growing on me. I suppose it was just my instinctive distaste for Madonna that was prejudicing my opinion. I kind of like Actuarial girl ... :)
    As if I can criticize anyone! I go around on the internet as "BJ" HA!

  6. Oh, no, I didn't take it as a real criticism at all. I had been noticing that people were associating it with the wrong thing, too. But now I'd feel stupid changing it - even though maybe Actuarial girl would have been better. At least people would have connected it to the finance world.

    Well, I haven't had it long. It'll only hurt my pride!


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