Skip to main content

How our mental psyche is affected by religion

By Karen Garst ~

Anyone who has left religion, whether it was a fundamentalist religion or a more liberal variety, knows the role that religion plays on our mental psyche. We feel guilt that we are making mistakes and not being the person the holy book tells us to be. We feel shame when we engage in pre-marital sex if our church condemns it. And when we leave, some of those feelings are hard to let go of. We may be depressed because of a loss of community or we may feel anxiety that we haven’t yet encountered others like us.

Candace Gorham, a former Evangelical minister, became a mental health counselor after leaving religion ten years ago. She knows about these issues because she has experienced them herself and has helped clients overcome them. She writes about religion’s impact on our brains and well-being in a new book: Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom. Dr. Karen L. Garst, edited the book which consists of thirteen essays by women atheists who talk about different aspects of how religion has subjugated and damaged women. “Candace’s essay is the first in the book for a reason: it’s hard to leave your faith beyond. Candace helps us understand what we need to do to be whole again.”

In her first paragraph, Candace differentiates between shame and guilt.

Shame involves how one feels about oneself. It is painfully intense embarrassment and humiliation that arises from having done something wrong. People full of shame have done something wrong, and they feel bad about themselves for having done it. Guilt, on the other hand, is about feeling responsible for something wrong. Guilt involves feeling remorseful and deserving of blame. When observing the psychological impact of religion, we must start with guilt and shame, as many religious traditions thrive by playing upon them to manipulate the minds and prey upon the emotions of their followers.

She points out that hundreds of actions in the Bible are “deemed illegal, immoral, or detrimental to one’s relationship with god.” So we have a good range to pick from in order to harbor shame or guilt for our actions. She also discusses the impact of depression and anxiety that can cause triggers to a person many years after she leaves religion. It is good to know, however, that counselors like Candace can help people through these episodes, restoring a stronger sense of self. Many mental health issues go untreated while a person is involved with religion. They are told to “pray to God” for what they have done, which as we all know, just isn’t going to work. Thus, when a person does leave, these symptoms have often built up to something very significant. Some religions rely on an overemphasis on hell which can also inflict damage to one’s sense of well-being. It is hard to go forward with your personal goals if you are constantly worried that if you do something wrong in god’s eyes, you are going to burn forever in a very dark and hot place.

It is not unusual for people to experience the symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after leaving religion. Symptoms include: nightmares related to specific events you experienced, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts that you cannot let go of, negative thoughts, etc. These symptoms rarely go away immediately upon getting out of the traumatic events that caused them.

Candace cites the Bible verses that condone corporal punishment. Four out of five Evangelical Christian families use spanking according to her research. I remember my mother giving me the choice of a spanking or not going to a friend’s overnight party as a punishment. I chose the spanking. She used a plastic hairbrush and it left my buttocks red. But I really wanted to go to my overnight!

Folly is bound up in the heart of a boy,
but the rod of discipline drives it far away. (Proverbs 22:15)

Do not withhold discipline from your children;
if you beat them with a rod, they will not die. (Proverbs 23:13)

The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a mother is disgraced by a neglected child. (Proverbs 29:15)

Candace also emphasizes the need to be safe when you do leave. If you have been significantly affected by some of the mental issues outlined above, seek the help of a professional mental health counselor before you leave, even if you have to do it on the QT. Everyone who leaves religion faces a loss of community, whether family or friends. You don’t want to be unprepared for the impact that will have on you. It is also important to seek out people who have also left religion so that you know you are not alone. The Meet-up site lets you find groups locally who are humanist, secular, or atheist. You will be welcomed with open arms. Many national organizations, Freedom from Religion Foundation, American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry, Sunday Assembly, and others have local groups across the country.

Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom contains 12 other essays that deal with issues affecting African-Americans, Hispanics, Transgender, ex-Muslim, and ex-Jewish women, as well as others. It is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and will be available in bookstores sometime in late May.

Karen L. Garst, PhD


Popular posts from this blog

Are You an Atheist Success Story?

By Avangelism Project ~ F acts don’t spread. Stories do. It’s how (good) marketing works, it’s how elections (unfortunately) are won and lost, and it’s how (all) religion spreads. Proselytization isn’t accomplished with better arguments. It’s accomplished with better stories and it’s time we atheists catch up. It’s not like atheists don’t love a good story. Head over to the atheist reddit and take a look if you don’t believe me. We’re all over stories painting religion in a bad light. Nothing wrong with that, but we ignore the value of a story or a testimonial when we’re dealing with Christians. We can’t be so proud to argue the semantics of whether atheism is a belief or deconversion is actually proselytization. When we become more interested in defining our terms than in affecting people, we’ve relegated ourselves to irrelevance preferring to be smug in our minority, but semantically correct, nonbelief. Results Determine Reality The thing is when we opt to bury our

So Just How Dumb Were Jesus’ Disciples? The Resurrection, Part VII.

By Robert Conner ~ T he first mention of Jesus’ resurrection comes from a letter written by Paul of Tarsus. Paul appears to have had no interest whatsoever in the “historical” Jesus: “even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, we know him so no longer.” ( 2 Corinthians 5:16 ) Paul’s surviving letters never once mention any of Jesus’ many exorcisms and healings, the raising of Lazarus, or Jesus’ virgin birth, and barely allude to Jesus’ teaching. For Paul, Jesus only gets interesting after he’s dead, but even here Paul’s attention to detail is sketchy at best. For instance, Paul says Jesus “was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” ( 1 Corinthians 15:4 ), but there are no scriptures that foretell the Jewish Messiah would at long last appear only to die at the hands of Gentiles, much less that the Messiah would then be raised from the dead after three days. After his miraculous conversion on the road to Damascus—an event Paul never mentions in his lette

Christian TV presenter reads out Star Wars plot as story of salvation

An email prankster tricked the host of a Christian TV show into reading out the plots of The Fresh Prince of Bel Air and Star Wars in the belief they were stories of personal salvation. The unsuspecting host read out most of the opening rap to The Fresh Prince, a 1990s US sitcom starring Will Smith , apparently unaware that it was not a genuine testimony of faith. The prankster had slightly adapted the lyrics but the references to a misspent youth playing basketball in West Philadelphia would have been instantly familiar to most viewers. The lines read out by the DJ included: "One day a couple of guys who were up to no good starting making trouble in my living area. I ended up getting into a fight, which terrified my mother." The presenter on Genesis TV , a British Christian channel, eventually realised that he was being pranked and cut the story short – only to move on to another spoof email based on the plot of the Star Wars films. It began: &quo


By David Andrew Dugle ~   S ettle down now children, here's the story from the Book of David called The Parable of the Bent Cross. In the land Southeast of Eden –  Eden, Minnesota that is – between two rivers called the Big Miami and the Little Miami, in the name of Saint Gertrude there was once built a church. Here next to it was also built a fine parochial school. The congregation thrived and after a multitude of years, a new, bigger church was erected, well made with clean straight lines and a high steeple topped with a tall, thin cross of gold. The faithful felt proud, but now very low was their money. Their Sunday offerings and school fees did not suffice. Anon, they decided to raise money in an unclean way. One fine summer day the faithful erected tents in the chariot lot between the two buildings. In the tents they set up all manner of games – ring toss, bingo, little mechanical racing horses and roulette wheels – then all who lived in the land between the two rivers we

Morality is not a Good Argument for Christianity

By austinrohm ~ I wrote this article as I was deconverting in my own head: I never talked with anyone about it, but it was a letter I wrote as if I was writing to all the Christians in my life who constantly brought up how morality was the best argument for Christianity. No Christian has read this so far, but it is written from the point of view of a frustrated closeted atheist whose only outlet was organizing his thoughts on the keyboard. A common phrase used with non-Christians is: “Well without God, there isn’t a foundation of morality. If God is not real, then you could go around killing and raping.” There are a few things which must be addressed. 1. Show me objective morality. Define it and show me an example. Different Christians have different moral standards depending on how they interpret the Bible. Often times, they will just find what they believe, then go back into scripture and find a way to validate it. Conversely, many feel a particular action is not

On Living Virtuously

By Webmdave ~  A s a Christian, living virtuously meant living in a manner that pleased God. Pleasing god (or living virtuously) was explained as: Praying for forgiveness for sins  Accepting Christ as Savior  Frequently reading the Bible  Memorizing Bible verses Being baptized (subject to church rules)  Attending church services  Partaking of the Lord’s Supper  Tithing  Resisting temptations to lie, steal, smoke, drink, party, have lustful thoughts, have sex (outside of marriage) masturbate, etc.  Boldly sharing the Gospel of Salvation with unbelievers The list of virtuous values and expectations grew over time. Once the initial foundational values were safely under the belt, “more virtues'' were introduced. Newer introductions included (among others) harsh condemnation of “worldly” music, homosexuality and abortion Eventually the list of values grew ponderous, and these ideals were not just personal for us Christians. These virtues were used to condemn and disrespect fro