Christianity and Mental Illness Revisited

Apr 20, 2022 | Christianity, Mental Illness

As my powers of articulation wane I leave more thoughts about why those who are mentally ill often don’t stick with the faith.

Psychotic breaks often involve what the sufferer perceives to be direct revelation from God and/or experiences of demons/the devil. After recovering one is expected to renounce these experiences as merely artifacts of the mind. But to recant what to you felt like firsthand experiences of the divine is in many ways more difficult spiritually than simple apostasy because you weren’t turning away from something you believed, you were turning away from something you had firsthand experience of (even if it was revealed later to be psychosis, it wasn’t experienced as psychosis or remembered that way in your mind). There becomes a dissonance where people around you are pushing the faith on you yet denying your experiences of God while psychotic. This dissonance, coupled with the fact that renouncing the experiences of God you had while psychotic already felt like an apostasy makes the second apostasy, actually leaving the faith, almost effortless.

There’s a kind of “kinetic materialism” that comes from the experience of mental illness. After my psychotic break I was on so much anti-psychotic medication that for a certain while I had zero inner monologue, no original thoughts, and I hardly talked. My dose was eventually dropped down but that experience stuck with me and gave me a more philosophically materialist view of the person. If a mental illness (or drugs treating said illness) could do so much damage to a person that to the outside observer it seemed like their soul was severed from their body (this blog’s namesake) then personhood must be seated in the confines of the brain and the mind is just what the brain does.

Mental illness makes you less of a good person by torpedoing the machinations of the conscience by jamming the channels of negative emotion that were supposed to be used by your conscience. Instead of feeling shame and guilt when appropriate you are inundated with these negative emotions. You don’t know which guilt to feel guilty over or which shame to be ashamed about. It also prevents you from feeling good when you do good. Treatments for mental illness like SSRI antidepressants generally numb negative emotion and mitigate stress but this can also cause you to lose touch with your conscience because there is not the correct amount of negative emotion to ground you. So it becomes easier to be assertive regardless of the consequences which is a double edged sword because this can be done for good or evil.

God’s absence is felt more acutely than his presence and sickness spreads more easily than health. Mental illness isn’t something people talk about because it smashes their neat little world of votive candles and comfort food. Chaos begets chaos. It can be an intractable problem and in a world where everything is supposed to have a fix this is off people’s map.


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