Mental Health Recovery Beyond Religiosity

mental-illness

I’ve been absent for a while, had a little setback in my recovery. I realized I was decompensating (losing progress in my recovery and personal development) and quit drinking on October 12th. Well, before you congratulate me, allow me to disclose that I have just traded one bad habit for three more – excessive consumption of caffeine, cigarettes and video gaming. I’m still self-medicating my symptoms. I’ve come to realize through journaling and therapy that I’ve always been fixated with or addicted to something since I was a child. As I was an introverted, melancholy and timid child, I developed no outlets or healthy coping skills for my balled-up emotions.

When I had my salvation experience at age 16, I found a new outlet for coping and personal growth. In ways, it was healthy – definitely healthier than what I had been doing which was mostly trying to appear something I was not so that I might feel accepted. My fixation with trying to feel accepted by others evolved into trying to feel accepted by God and, in my perceived relationship with God over the years, I grew in that feeling of acceptance. As a result, I increased my underdeveloped social intelligence and interpersonal skills.

The problem was, I didn’t stop there.

I was obsessed with being Christ-like and went far beyond healthy measures to improve my “Christian walk.” I was even more zealous than many of my church leaders. I would constantly scour my mind for any thought with impure motive, not to mention how hard I was on myself for any apparent sinful action. Confession, repentance, study of “the Word,” and continual prayer were compulsive behaviors.

I eventually discovered that talking about nothing but God turned off even the most devout Christians and began to self-monitor. I only thought it was that they couldn’t relate to me – not that I was emotionally abusing others. Ever had someone talk your ear off and just keep going on and on, not taking nonverbal cues you are worn out from the one-sided conversation? I had been quiet all my life. When I had something to talk about, I couldn’t shut up!

As I’ve gotten older, my illness has aggressed and my symptoms have required more and stronger treatments. My Christian loved ones have asked me if I’ve thought of the possibility that it’s because I no longer practice the faith. I have, actually, and am convinced my condition would have deteriorated whether or not I continued to practice Christianity. I rather imagine I’d be worse off than I am now seeking supernatural cures for physiological issues.

Now I’m making self-care a priority and taking one challenge at a time in my recovery, which is multifaceted. This is a big step for me – being okay with being imperfect, human. I’m learning to make peace with my imperfection (I’m quite selfish, actually) and just trying to restore some balance (entertain it as long as I’m not causing anyone else too much inconvenience). As for the addictive behaviors, I have resolved to diversify my interests again in other things I enjoy and this is why I am writing now.

Hope to hear from you in comments.

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Christian Bias – A Retrospective Look

# 8 bias

As a Christian, I loved to write apologetics. I was an avid student of the Bible and worked hard at making the pieces of faith fit together with my intellect. It would start with a question or argument plaguing my mind that challenged a biblical view of God or the Bible itself. Then I would immerse myself in the Scriptures until I was able to weave together verses and passages that, to my understanding, satisfactorily resolved my dissonance. I believed the interpretation I received was divine revelation, that God was talking to me through His Word and He was feeding me the Bread of Life that sustained my faith.

The longer I am deconverted from Christianity, the more I marvel at how much confirmation bias I exercised (being inclined to notice evidence for what you want to believe and ignoring evidence to the contrary). I also notice this bias in non-Christians who criticize the faith – those who have no experiential insight into what it’s like to perceive they are in intimate relationship with a personal God. It’s quite easy for each on both sides to completely miss the point of the other, having misconceptions about the others’ beliefs, motives and agenda. There is no frame of reference for comprehension of either side. Those of us who have been on both sides have some unique insight.

For some understanding of my sympathy for the Christian perspective, see my article, “Tolerance – A Former Christian’s Perspective (link at the top of my page). In this post, I will address the misconceptions I had as a Christian toward non-Christians and their views, then how I have come to view them as biased. I commonly see them operating in Christians as they seek to defend or promote their own views.

For the sake of this post’s length, I’ll only give one example of my bias as a Christian, that against the virtues of “nonbelievers.” As I said in the opening paragraph, the process would start with a troubling question or argument against the Christian perspective. In this case, I was troubled that good people would be eternally separated from God for their lack of acceptance of Him (I was more comfortable with using “eternal separation” rather than “hell” – I didn’t like to think about the fact that my God would be sending people there).

Now God and I had an open relationship that was not especially legalistic. No topic was off limits. My questions and feelings, regardless of how wrong they may have seemed, were never judged right or wrong. I could confess anything to Him with utmost authenticity believing there was nothing wrong with thoughts, feelings and questions in themselves, only how I responded to them. So I brought my problem to Him in prayer, confessing my honest discomfort that He would be sending “good people” to hell. I did this with faith in His love and pure justice (the confirmation bias I exercised to explain away His genocides, demanding requirements and harsh judgments as recorded in the Bible is another post). I did not demand explanations as I learned from Job. Nevertheless, I was free to ask.

What came to me was that humankind’s natural goodness was a residual reflection of God’s image still possessed after the fall. “…because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them.”[1] Even so, I reasoned, all our righteousness is “as a filthy rag”[2] relative to God’s. I reasoned, believing I was being counseled by the Holy Spirit, that all truly righteous acts committed by humankind were only done by the animation of the indwelling Spirit of God.

I further rationalized that apparently righteous nonbelievers must be prideful and therefore rebellious against God. Prideful like the rich young ruler in Mark 10 whom Jesus told the commandments he must keep and who confessed that he had kept them from his youth. I saw, by perceived divine revelation, that the young man’s sin was not as much as his attachment to his money, but his pride in thinking his own righteousness was enough to save him. That, I concluded, was the guy’s problem. That was what was wrong with nonbelievers – thinking their goodness was good enough and their willful refusal to submit themselves to God’s authority.

My confirmation bias. I looked for evidence to confirm what I believed – that God was just. I believed I found it. People tend to rebel against divine authority. What great lengths I had to go to convince myself of that. I was ignorant of the character judgment I had made against nonbelievers in thinking them incapable of doing anything truly good. Only Spirit-filled believers had pure motives. Only they were capable. How nice for me.

Oh, to be free from the convictions that needed so much defense! What the hell is wrong with not wanting to submit one’s self to a divine authority in the first place? We do, after all, have free will. How the hell is it free if we are eternally tormented for using it in a way that displeases that benevolent giver of free gifts? It’s all a bunch of nonsense. Why I would even bother to take the perspective seriously anymore surprises even me.

There was a lot of other bias I was entertaining. Please, feel free to share in your comments.

[1] Romans 1:19

[2] Isaiah 64:6