Monday, August 29, 2011

Losing my organized religion

From the New York Times, Teaching patients writing and hope. The article is about the writing program that is led by clergy at the Creedmore Psychiatric Center in Queen's, New York. 

Read the article here

“We provide a sense of almost refuge,” said the Rev. Jeff C. Williams, an evangelical Protestant minister. “It’s nonjudgmental, nonconfrontational. In all the other parts of their lives, there are limitations based on their diagnoses.” To bring ministry into a setting like Creedmoor is to wrestle with particular challenges as well. It is to hear patients pray to be discharged, knowing that may never happen. It is to discern the difference between the devout and the delusional. One of the Catholic chaplains, the Rev. Augie J. Iantosca, recalled a patient who confided, “I know I got a lot of competition here. But I’m the real Messiah.”       

I hate to be so critical, I really do, of the well-intentioned writing program, because, otherwise, it is an excellent idea to bring open ended discussions of God and faith into a psychiatric hospital.  People who are considered "delusional," often in a religious way, are usually those patients who have keen interest in why we are here in the first place. They are closer to God than most of us. It is outrageous then to read that the clergy, too, sits in judgment. There are the "devout" (normal people . . .  I guess) and the crazies. This coming from churches that were built by the clearly delusional, er, I mean the excessively devout. Help the patients open up about their concerns, by all means, but please don't patronize them. I really believe the church is on shaky ground believing that there are those loonies and then there is us. Anyone who reads my past posts probably knows that I am quite critical of churches'  idea of who's sane and who isn't. Chris's so called mental illness has had the effect of distancing me from the church. I know longer feel like going.

It's not really fair, either, that I feel this way. Our particular church in so many ways has been supportive. I am truly grateful for all the acts of kindness my family received. Chris was regularly called upon, even when he was quite fragile, to stuff envelopes, fix the computer, or set up tables for events. He was in a protective and caring environment. At the same time, I cannot speak to my own minister about Chris without him alluding in some way to Chris's "mental illness." He is more sad than hopeful about the diagnosis, despite the clear evidence that Chris is like any other so-called normal person. He wonders if Ian and I would like to join a support group. For what, I'm thinking, supporting the idea that mental illness is a death sentence? The time for wanting the kind of  support that I thought I needed at the beginning is long past. To think that people who are "called by God," don't see the huge hypocrisy in failing to see a similarity between devout and delusional, has forced me to reconsider my own religous beliefs. I am bowing out of organized religion, while being mindful of the many good things it does for so many people.

For all the good that the clergy is doing in the hospital's writing program, there also fair chance this may come undone when the inmates suspect that the clergy thinks they, not Jeremiah and the Messiah, are delusional. The clergy should stop humoring psychiatric patients by siding with state psychiatry and learn how they can do their best work. To quote Jung again, "A schizophrenic is no longer schizophrenic when he feels understood by someone else."


  1. I'm with you totally. I miss going sometimes, but can no longer tolerate the obvious gaps. If I am drained instead of being spiritually fed by the experience, then my faith is weakened; and that does me no good.

  2. I feel badly about this, I really do, because I feel like a fair weather friend, someone who only takes what they want from a relationship and jumps ship at the slightest provocation. But, it's really beginning to bug me, because the church could be such a powerful ally in the human liberation movement. It runs around everywhere supporting all kinds of groups, except those literally on its doorstep. It could really help families who are struggling to understand their relatives. Instead, it is settling for being the handmaiden of the state. Very uninspiring.

  3. Rossa,

    I've been a quiet reader for the past couple of months, but felt the need to respond.

    I don't claim to be a theologian of any sort, however I do have some thoughts -

    I believe that none of us are any "greater" or "less" than any other fellow human being. In fact, I feel that this reality is at the heart of good mental health, sanity if you will.

    However, I do think that God understood (continues to understand) that we would suffer from this illusion (delusion) that we are... some "greater"... others "less".

    This is a verse that addresses this issue:

    "And the King will answer them, Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me." - Gospel of Matthew

    I believe that we are called to love each others as equals.... as Christ taught us.
    Especially someone who is emotionally distressed, so deeply distressed that they have 'messianic' delusions (false beliefs).

    I think that maybe such a person would only have those thoughts if they had deep appreciation, affection and respect for the Messiah to begin with...

    Maybe their own sense of "worthlessness" (another false belief)causes them to compensate (in order to stay alive) momentarily, so they can begin to feel they are "worthy" or "holy" in their mind...

    This is how we were all meant to feel. It is after all, a "reality" to those of us who've been given the gift of faith.

    I think these false beliefs can pass, if handled with love, empathy and hope...
    And I believe a person can become healthy spirituality following such an episode... With a deeper appreciation for their own worth, along with the source of that worth (God, Spirit)

    Those are my thoughts,


    P.S. - Our oldest started his sophomore year at the University of North Texas studying liberal arts and music... He is taking the light rail to school... Saw him off for his first day last week at the train station... Very proud of him!

    Be well,


  4. Hello,

    I acknowledge that we have different experiences in regards to the church. It seems that it is utterly confusing you in some way. If you don't mind, why don't you give a try at counseling ? This might help you clear out some issues from your mind. I hope this would be of help to you. :)

  5. Thanks for both commenters for sharing their ideas. Duane, I agree with how you understand the situation. And, congratulations are in order for your son. Eternal - I doubt that counselling will change my view of organized religion in respect to mental illness, but thank you for caring enough to write.

  6. Rossa,

    Re: Delusions and Religiosity

    I found a video from Daniel Mackler's YouTube site that features Dr. Peter Breggin.
    Dr. Breggin addresses delusional thoughts, specifically those involving religiosity -

    "The last person you want to drug, or to tell they have a biological disorder is a 17 year-old girl who doesn't know if she's the Virgin Mary..."

    "That person needs such gentleness and patience and understanding and relationship. That human being really needs to be cared for in everything that word means."

    "What we do instead is to brutalize the most vulnerable people."

    His comments come 6:20 into this clip -

    IMO, this clip, particularly the words of Dr. Breggin should be required viewing for all medical students specializing in psychiatry; along with those who are in practice.

    Conventional psychiatry has it all backwards!

    Be well,



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