Is religion good for anyone's sanity?
There is another thread on this site, titled "Study: Religion is Good for Kids". I want to look at it another way: Is religion good for -anyone-? Especially those who are more prone than others to having abnormal or unusual psychological ways of thinking or perceiving.
For instance, most of us would view seeing or hearing things which others neither see nor hear as being a matter for concern. In some cases, it is rightly so, such as the "Son of Sam" having God talk to him through his dog. Other cases are not so dramatic, such as someone believing that their "bad thoughts" about a certain person caused their accidents or death, or believing that Jesus is talking to them personally through their coffeemaker. It is worthy of note that some have equated schizophrenia or psychosis with having a "private religion".
Yet, all or nearly all religions teach that you must have your own personal relationship with the divine or with the object of worship. Many teach that a personal God or Goddess answers prayers. Thus, some people see apparitions of the Virgin Mary appear on toast or biscuits, or see clouds with some sort of religious symbolism that thus "shows them" the course of action that their "God" wishes them to take.
Religiosity, or the condition of being "overly religious" is considered to be a sign of mental illness. But, isn't the word "overly" in the eyes of the beholder? I would venture a guess that Richard Dawkins would define "overly religious" at a much lower threshold than would James Dobson (founder of the fundamentalist Christian organization "Focus on the Family". In fact, most religions I've been associated with venerate people who can have "that much faith" or be "so blessed" as to have God or a representative personally come and talk to them or appear to them or to guide them. Many, myself included in some of my theistic days, wish or hope that they too, will be so blessed. Certainly some lie about what they say God tells them, for attention, for respect, or for money and power. Some certainly actually believe it,
What is the difference between a saint and a lunatic? Both are getting personal messages from God. Some are seeing the Virgin Mary who tells them that a certain spring will heal the sick and infirm and get audiences with the Pope, join convents and lead others, whereas others who hear from the Virgin Mary are given medications or put in mental hospitals. What's the difference? Could it be how the message is taken politically? Or, really, whether it is believed as being true or not? A few years ago, the US had a president who had God speak to him and tell him things about how to proceed with war. Did anyone really believe that as literally true? If someone's neighbor told them that God spoke to him daily and told him how to do his job where others' lives depended upon it, that person would be put on a leave of absence pending psychological evaluation or perhaps hospitalized. Or, did the majority of the US population feel comfortable that someone showing signs of serious mental illness, with a cosmology that expected Armageddon, to have access to a very large arsenal of nuclear weapons? Given the fact that they were not used, do we believe that he had God literally speaking to him every day, or was that merely a political stunt? If so, that shows that lots of people accept signs of serious mental impairment if they envy having the illusion of the possibility of having God speak to a human being.
Furthermore, if seeing God, hearing from God, taking dictation from God (Moses or Mohamed) were not accepted and venerated at least sometimes, that gives a large license to those who are not completely mentally "stable" to interpret the misfirings of their neurons as having a divine source. They expect to be venerated or even sainted. The ones who are hospitalized feel that it was done in error which will be discovered - or that it was done out of malice of the "enemy of God" who intend to silence the spokesperson of God.
If it were not so accepted that some people, at least sometimes, can have God speaking or appearing or otherwise sending them personal messages, I think that some people would pull out of the path to utter insanity, or get help, or have help obtained for them MUCH sooner - sometimes, in time for it never to progress to full-blown schizophrenia, or psychotic breakdown, or whatever term. It would probably have the effect of stopping such people as the Son of Sam from going on their murder-sprees at what they believe are directions from God.
BTW, it is worthy of note that people in Islamic countries who go off the deep end never claim to be Mohamed or that Allah is speaking to them directly. Such would be viewed as blasphemy, punishable by the death penalty under Sharia Law. So, people have some understanding of what is and is not acceptable in their culture at least right before or right as they are going into the hole of psychosis.
This runs counter to what some psychologists and self-help groups will tell you. They will tell you that FINDING God, putting your trust in that God, "Turning it over" (turning problems over) to God will improve people's mental health, and will badger a nonbeliever into accepting God (even conditionally) or leaving. There are many who believe that everyone "needs" some optimal amount of spirituality - not too little (like an atheist) and not too much (like a lunatic).
How's my proselytizing? Call 1-800-FANATIC