Sunday, July 17, 2016

Godly Psychosis

I remember the exact moment my husband crossed the line when it came to my faith. Our son was almost 2, I was pregnant with my second. We had just stepped out of the car in the Walmart parking lot, having been talking about visions and personal revelation, and he said "What if Moses was just schizophrenic?" It made me feel very uncomfortable, that he would talk about a prophet that way. I had visions of bears running out of the trees to eat him like in the Bible.

As time went on, and we had many more discussions about the belief in god being a disorder of the mind (environmentally influenced or not). But it took me several years in fact to get used to the idea of the prophets as fallible men, because in my mind, having grown up LDS, they could do no wrong. I have had the opportunity to shake the hands of many general authorities, and each time I was filled with the "spirit" as well as excitement. I realize now, it was hero worship.

My next memorable experience in discovering the fallible nature of "prophets" was when Elder Russel M. Nelson gave a talk in conference about smashing a watch and putting the pieces in a bag. He said no matter how many times you shook the bag, the pieces would never form a watch again. I hated that talk because it was so mind-numbingly ignorant, even I, an uneducated woman, couldn't stand it.

The following experience was when Elder Boyd K. Packer gave a talk about homosexuality, he said it was a choice because God would never create a gay person. I was very happy when, the next day, they had to release a statement revoking what was said in the talk, and officially change the text for online and magazine publication.

As I began to separate myself from the church, I became more comfortable with the idea that it was wrong. That the leaders were wrong. That it wasn't a church of a divine being, but a church of humans. For humans by humans. But mostly for the taking of money. The church doesn't do anything special, anything that any other religious or humanitarian groups wouldn'y do. Or any business for that matter. Even Walmart donates to charities, and offers scholarships for academic achievements. Even the Catholic church takes care of its own. Even local law enforcement participates in humanitarian aid. It's not anything special, it doesn't set them apart in anyway. In fact, most would argue any decent human being would do the same. And that is what any human being should do.

In a recent statement, the church indicated that it spends $40 million on welfare, humanitarian aid and other charitable efforts per year (previously had indicated this number was $20 million). This would be around $2.60 per member (15 million as indicated by church statistics). This same church also spent $40,000 last year on the light display at temple square. It spent $1.6 billion on the construction of City Creek Center in downtown Salt Lake. It spent $350 million on building the Conference Center. With church encouragement, members donated nearly $1.7 million towards the promotion of Prop 8. A typical temple, even in a third world country, costs around $25 million or more to construct, and they have been building at least 2 a year for the last 18 years. And these buildings are tax exempt. I might make the comparison to large mega churches, with collection baskets and booming music. While it is just as easy to broadcast messages over the internet from a small office, or to meet together in a member's living room, construction of these large scale and very expensive buildings goes on.

So why are members so willing to overlook this very obvious discrepancy in church finances?

There is a distinct patriarchy in the LDS church. Men are granted authority to govern bodies of members, to preside over their wives and children, to bless and assign callings, to maintain church finances. Women, are otherwise encouraged to become wives and mothers. There is a popular document called The Proclamation to the World, that they happily give you upon your marriage, that outlines the roles of men and women. While women are heralded as mothers and placed on a lofty pedestal of divine godliness, they are kept out of church financial, business, and authority positions. The are taught to respect men, they are taught to stay modest for the sake of men, they are taught to stay home with children while men work, they are encouraged to go to school and incur debt, but to ultimately forsake a career for childrearing. They are then lacking female deity in the doctrine, female angels in the scriptures, and female priesthood in their daily commitments to church.

So why are female members willing to overlook this blatant chauvinism in church doctrine?

While the church professes to be a lover of mankind, and all are welcome, they have spent an enormous effort in the last 20 years and more combating the "gay agenda". There have been millions of dollars spent on campaigns to keep the definition of marriage between a man and a woman. Countless hours have been spent teaching the youth that homosexuality is abnormal, and an abomination in the eyes of god. Conversion therapy was common in helping gay members get rid of their homosexuality, which included physical and emotional abuse, electroshock therapy, and sexual humiliation. Utah has reached a jaw dropping number of teen suicides since the declaration that homosexuality is apostasy. Since declaring the children of same sex unions are not welcome for baptism or other so called saving ordinances, unless they disavow their parents in writing and petition the first presidency for membership.

So why do any LGBTQ members still associate with a church that clearly does not want them there?

My idea is that a belief in god can reach the point of mental psychosis, a mental health disorder that members simply cannot overcome on their own.

Psychosis is defined as a severe mental disorder in which thought and emotions are so impaired that contact is lost with external reality.

This is especially true for religious persons when the delusion is fed and nurtured on a daily basis, as is demanded of LDS members. Especially when the belief in deity is so normal for our society. When  most everyone you talk to believes in a god or afterlife of some kind. But the overwhelming systemic problem of religion affects more than the individual who believes in god. If affects those who believe in a different god or no god at all. It threatens personal liberty, psychological wellbeing, and societal harmony.

A belief in god makes a person more likely to experience anxiety, paranoia, obsession, self deprecating thoughts, and hallucinations (commonly known as visions or revelation). No need for statistics here, anyone who knows any religious person knows a few fundamental things. I myself, having lived the life of an LDS woman, experienced these things first hand. They claim to speak to god (prayer) and that they hear god's voice or feel the spirit. They engage in obsessive compulsive actions like rituals, scripture reading, confessions, and prayer. They have self deprecating thoughts because of the notion of sin and personal worthiness. They experience paranoia, thinking they will lose their religious rights or that the world is out to harm them. They are more likely to experience anxiety and depression due to the self deprecating thoughts and guilt brought on by religious teachings. And they are obsessed with being right, and spreading god's word. They are obsessed with everyone believing what they believe, because they believe they are called of god to teach his word. And some even experience visions, or hallucinations.

Recent statistical surveys confirm that Utah, comprised mostly of members of the LDS church, is among the highest ranked in suicide, narcotic abuse, and prescription SSRI and anti-anxiety medication in the nation.  It is estimated that in the last 5 years, there have been over 170 suicides from ages 10-19 in Utah, with a staggering increase in the last year. It is estimated that in  the last several years, 40% of adults in Utah have been prescribed opioid pain medication, and 60% of drug overdose death was related to oxycodone, a prescription narcotic. Strange statistics for a state that is largely Mormon in its theology.

Whether it be large scale and affects groups or people, or personal and dictates which house they should buy. They all experience a delusion of some kind brought on by a belief in god.

This brings us back to that statement my husband made several years ago, what if Moses was just schizophrenic? What if the prophets suffered from mania? Or bipolar disorder? Or what if they were just excellent conmen, and figured out a belief in god by an already superstitious species, made for excellent control and the gaining of wealth?

The bottom line is, some members are just so engulfed in the psychosis of believing in  god, they can't think for themselves. They rely on leadership to tell them how to live their lives, and how to spend their money. They rely on prayer and feelings to tell them what job to get or which house to buy, or which person to marry. They rely on thinking they are feeling something, and then in turn they may rely on someone else to interpret those feelings for them.

An abstract example: Pray and you will feel god's love.
                      1. I feel peaceful
                      That is god's love.
                      2. I feel excited.
                      That is god's love.
Two weeks later you discover you have terminal cancer. You are then made to understand this to be a trial showcasing god's love for you, and it was part of his plan all along.
A practical example: Pray to know which job to take.
                      1. I'm unsure, I didn't get an answer
                      Make a choice, an pray again.
                      I felt good when I prayed about the job in Washington
                      God wants you to take that job.
Upon moving to Washington, you discover the job is terrible, you are mistreated and then your house catches fire. You think, oh no, you probably didn't hear god right and made the wrong choice.

In the first instance, you are told to interpret a feeling a certain way. You are then told to interpret a life experience, even a bad one, as part of god's plan and love. In the second instance, you are told to make a choice and see if you feel good about it. And then when it doesn't work out, god is not to blame, but you are.

The belief in god disconnects people from reality. It keeps them from understanding the world around them in logical and realistic terms. They interact with reality based on feelings rather than facts. If something feels good, or looks nice, it is of god. If it rubs them the wrong way or makes them uncomfortable, it is not of god. They begin to deny actual evidence in favor of anecdotes. They work hard against science and progress, while at the same time enjoying the benefits of things like modern technology, modern society, modern medicine, etc. They take a book compiled of scrolls, chosen by Constantine, translated and retranslated, as the literal word of god. They listen to those who say they speak as the mouth of God. The pay for their salvation. They ignore facts, they ignore sound advice, they ignore reason, in favor or feelings.

The biggest problem is those who believe in god believe there is no problem. They are trapped in a delusion they believe is reality, like John Nash seeing his alternate personalities believed they were real. Only he was able to recognize there was a problem, and he made an effort to fix it. A person who believes in god may not want to see it as a problem, they see it as reality. There is no way god couldn't possibly exists. Everything in life points to god and his plan, from a beautiful sunset, to terminal cancer, to mass shootings. And when people begin to make decisions based on feelings, the world becomes a dangerous place.

A person can feel god is speaking to them, feel god wants them to kill another person, and feel perfectly justified in carrying out god's will. A whole group of people can believe god hates homosexuality, and work tirelessly to effect legislation that demeans LGBTQ individuals by claiming they are perversions of god's plan and do not deserve similar rights as heterosexual people. One man can feel he is god's mouthpiece, tout hallucinations as visions from god, and recruit others to follow his delusions.

The belief in god can be okay on a personal level, and create harmony and order, but ultimately, it is a very ugly perversion of reality. Its like a belief in Santa Claus, that no matter how much evidence is presented that there are no workshops at the north pole and reindeer are physically incapable of flying, you still believe the workshops are invisible and that fairy dust can make reindeer fly. Its magical for children, but impractical for adults.

Perhaps in our earliest days, as a young species trying to figure out the world around us, a belief in god was appropriate. Like a children, a belief in Santa is appropriate. But our species has grown up. We have more capable faculties, we understand more, we've discovered more. We've outgrown the idea of god. We no longer need it to function. We know how the sun rises. We know why the stars shine. We know where babies come from. We know why plants grow. We know how humans came into existence. We understand these things, we don't need god fairytales to fill in the gaps anymore. Its as though humanity clings to god like a child clings to their security blanket. Like we just can't let go for some reason.

Maybe its because reality is actually scary. And a belief in god is comforting. And absolves us from responsibility. Its much easier to rely on a supposedly all powerful being than yourself. But again, I think humanity is in a place now where we can take responsibility. Where we can stop using the idea of god as a scapegoat. Where we can work to resolve humanity's problems on our own, and stop fighting about who's belief is best. If we get rid of religion, and rely on what we can logically and objectively understand about reality, and the world will be a better place.

In the words of John Lennon "You may say I am a dreamer, but I'm not the only one. And some day I hope you will join me, and the world will be as one".

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