Tuesday, October 22, 2013

I Am Sick of Fundamentalist Ignorance About Mental Illness



On October 21st, Mars Hill Church pastor Mark Driscoll posted a tweet that read, "'Thou shall not kill' includes suicide, terrorism, euthanasia, abortion, but not necessarily capital punishment, just war, self defense." Driscoll's anti-choice approach to abortion did not surprise me, but his demonization of suicide caught me off guard. The implication, it seems, is that Driscoll sees suicide as a sinful form of killing, in the same moral category as terrorism.

Driscoll's lack of empathy and compassion disturbed me. Suicide is an act of despair, the act of someone who cannot see a way out of a painful situation. For many, suicide is the tragic end of their struggles with mental illnesses, addiction, or trauma. Mental health disorders such as depression, substance abuse, a family history of mental illness or substance abuse, and traumas such as physical or sexual abuse are all risk factors for suicide. It's also a significant public health issue. According to the CDC, suicide was the cause of death for 38,364 persons in 2010, making it the 10th leading cause of death for that year. Instead of demonizing suicide as a sin, we must recognize it as a serious public health problem and offer support to those at high risk.

To declare suicide a sin is to demonize and belittle people who struggle with despair. It ignores our responsibility to help those in need, ostracizing people with suicidal ideation as "bad" and "other". To boot, it betrays a dangerous ignorance about mental illness, addiction, and trauma, one that I've seen too often among fundamentalists.

And I'm sick of it.

I'm sick of toxic forms of religion that propel mental illness instead of soothe it, that heap shame and self-loathing onto sufferers instead of equipping them with coping tools.

I'm sick of fundamentalist preachers blaming depression on a lack of piety, as if mental illness were a consequence of irreligiousity rather than a health problem.

I'm sick of religious people living in the 21st century blaming mental health problems on demons.

I'm sick of preachers promoting violence against children with no thought to how abuse can harm a child's mental health.

I'm sick of religious institutions stonewalling sexual abuse survivors and exacerbating their psychological trauma instead of encouraging their recovery.

Society needs to educate itself on mental illness and reject victim-blaming attitudes and superstitious explanations. Religious leaders especially need to educate themselves on mental illness, addiction, trauma, and suicide so as to provide the best possible pastoral care to their congregants. Religious leaders also need to partner with mental health and substance abuse service providers, so as to serve the best interests of their congregations. It's time to be more enlightened about suicide and help those at risk for it, not brand them as sinful.

If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please reach out for help. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.

12 comments:

  1. This is a great post. I absolutely agree that suicide is usually a result of pain (I'm not sure how we put those who kill themselves for religious reasons in there). I guess I never really had a problem calling things that we do from pain as sin. We gossip because we are insecure inside. We yell because we are in pain. We lie because we are in pain. Those are all sin in the Bible although I try not to judge people for their sin. Some people say sin just doesn't exists. Just wronging ourselves and wronging others. Maybe that's the best way of putting it.

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    1. Lana -- I'm still puzzled as to how suicide got lumped together with other sins, not just in this tweet, but in many theological traditions. Seeing it as a "sin" doesn't help society address it constructively.

      "Some people say sin just doesn't exists. Just wronging ourselves and wronging others."

      Good point. I think a morality based on ethics is more useful than one based on sin.

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  2. One difference is some people are born from mental illness whereas a gossiper is created. But I personally believe everyone is mentally ill to some degree and some people just deny it.

    But the part that gets me is what he said about capital punishment and war. taht's exactly why people don't take pro-life people seriously.

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    1. Lana -- While I don't know if everyone is mentally ill, I do know that mental health problems are VERY common. People would be amazed at how common depression, anxiety, and PTSD are, just to name a few conditions.

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  3. Suicide as sin was absolutely taught in my church growing up. I never believed it, and it was one of the first issues that I thought through and decided to believe what seemed right to me. I heard a few other kids say the same thing, and even knew of adults who wouldn't believe it. That was the very beginning of my understanding that my own moral compass was better than that of fundamentalism (though I wouldn't have had the language to describe it that way at the time).

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    1. Michelle -- Catholicism teaches that suicide is a sin too, which strikes me as cold in retrospect. I'm glad at least that your church's cold doctrine propelled you into critical thinking.

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  4. Driscoll is an idiot on so many levels for this quote. Basically what it seems to come down to for me and him is he cant pull the trigger himself and be the executioner then it is not fair. "Cognitive dissonance is great in this one" to quote skeptic Yoda.

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    1. Christian -- Too true. It's a cruel theology.

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  5. Can't argue with you on any of this... other than... the ONLY Driscoll you should follow on Twitter is Fake Mark Driscoll @NotDriscoll

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  6. A good friend of ours, a gay man, took his life this year. He had been shunned by his devout Mormon family. When religious people criticize others for being depressed, they ought to consider that their theology, words, and actions can inspire or exacerbate depression in others.

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    1. Donna -- Homophobia and transphobia plunge so many people into despair, and it needs to stop. When anti-gay religious people spout homophobic rhetoric, they're doing real damage to other human beings.

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