Religion and Mental Illness: The Perfect Poison

Religion and Mental Illness: The Perfect Poison
By William Cooney


For some time I have come to believe that religiosity itself is a special brand of poison, one that not only nullifies the ability to reason but also eviscerates one’s capacity to both give and receive love. So many of those possessed of the grand delusion of God lose the potential for empathy. Mired in their own sense of self-righteousness, they become oblivious to the stations and challenges of others as they furiously fan the fires of the malignant monster of narcissism.

Could this all be the result of simply believing in something called God? Is religious faith that insidious an idea at its core? Or is there another ingredient lurking, fouling our recipe for good living?

Perhaps an opportunistic illness lies in wait for those not whole or healthy enough to ward off the effects of serious betrayal and sexual abuse. In which case obsession and delusion—two cornerstones of disease—are free to infect the already struggling mind. Thus, in a cruel and callous conspiracy, religion and mental illness each exacerbate the effects of the other, combining their baleful essence to create the perfect poison: a sickness that stands up to nearly everything.

But all is not lost. Even against this most intractable of maladies, change is possible. And those who say it isn’t are merely affirming a self-fulfilling prophecy, their own words, deeds, and omissions serving to undermine any chance for improvement. Unconditional love and support from family and friends, combined with the competent and selfless care of medical professionals offer the best hope for securing a happier and more healthy existence. Giving up on one another, especially by enabling them, is not only disloyal, it invites distrust and self-loathing.

Hopefully, this is not a bad time for such a sobering assessment. The holidays are, after all, meant to be joyful. But joy is precisely what I seek as I begin to traverse the latter stages of middle age. Let us all re-commit to kindness as we search for the answers to life’s most challenging questions.