Religion and Mental Health: Any Good Without a Miracle?

You know, I really shouldn’t be talking about religion.
Even if the topic of discussion is religion and mental health, and I do know a thing or two about anxiety, it just seems… Wrong, for me to do so.

Maybe it’s because I am an atheist, maybe because I dislike discussing the issue, maybe because if I am not careful in how I phrase my arguments some people would definitely blow.
Heck, I don’t know much about religion at all!

I won’t be discussing faith and belief here, that’s not the point in the slightest, but there is an argument to be made as to the nature of interactions between faith and anxiety
But the fact is that I had to address this topic, more so after a persona encounter with the subject.

Don’t worry, friends, god is by her side

When my grandmother died we all got together to pay our respects.

After the funeral, everyone met at our house to discuss and share my family’s pain.
You know, the usual.

They all talked about how good a person she was.
Kind, helpful, hard working and so on. People even brought forth some stories from twenty and thirty years ago, something which I could not fully comprehend as I was not alive at the time.

Then my grandfather came up and said “She’s in heaven now. Don’t worry, friends, go is by her side”
He spoke with great confidence, as though the nature of his own unwavering confidence was unshakable.
Heck, for all I know, it might have been.

Good old’ gramps took his wife’s death pretty hard, but not as hard as I would have expected him to.
Sure, he wasn’t ignoring her death as though it wasn’t a thing, but he didn’t experience any obvious emotional turmoil.

People seemed to agree with that statement and drank in her name (or something along these lines), but I couldn’t bring myself but to raise an eyebrow at this behavior.
It wasn’t as though it was unexpected, but I felt a bit dead inside and such words seemed to me as nothing but empty comfort.

I mean, any therapist, psychologist or psychiatrist worth their salt would steer away from this topic as much as they can, right? With those thoughts in mind, I rolled my eyes, sighed, and continued going through the motions of living

But I was wrong, something that I only realized very recently.

Faith, religion, and belief in God are not empty concepts, they bear a huge weight that many people seem to ignore.
Those little words of prayer shape your mind, regardless of any divine intervention that may or may not occur.

The truth is that the effects of faith on the mind are both good and bad, even if we assume that our faith is a good thing, it might come bite us in the back later on.

On the other hand, giving up on god due to struggle and hardship might be a poor idea.

The religious mindset

At their core, regardless of any supernatural gains, religion and faith are a part of a larger mindset.
To a degree, strong faith (that is, the type of belief that compels one to take action), can be argued as a state of mind all on its own.

Now, calling firm belief a state of mind is, in no way, insulting to those who possess it.
Success can be often times attributed to the mindset of the individual, as can failure and any type of occurrence.
The thing is that our mindset shapes us, not the other way around.

Here’s the thing – when people simply choose to believe in something it can go a long way.
There isn’t a needed logical explanation for belief, otherwise it would ruin the whole point of faith.

Faith makes you stronger

The good

I have set the Lord always before me. Because he is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” (Psalm 16:8)

A 2009 research from the University of Toronto tackled this very issue.
In this research, brain activity in the Anterior Cingulate Cortex (ACC) was measured in relation to errors made by the participants.

The ACC is the part of our brain responsible for response and attention, in other words, it’s the part that acknowledges the different situations and experiences we have in life.

In this research, far less brain activity in the ACC was recorded in religious people compared to non-religious people.
To take this one step further, there was shown a direct relation between faith and religious zeal to that lack of brain activity.

To put it in simple terms, people who are religious, or even believe in God, tend to respond much more favorably to stressful situations (such as errors) than their counterparts.
Why is that?

The mindset

The answer lies in their ultimate need for humans to experience safety and freedom.
In some cases, not literal freedom, but freedom of choice works all the same.

To not have to choose, to decide, to shape and to change.
Wouldn’t that have been a nice idea? To simply be told what to do, how to act, and then be free of any worldly sadness or pain under the guise of “it was God’s will”.

It is a nice thought and one that is much more easy to live by.
To simply discard the dead with thoughts of the afterlife, to excuse any pain as the will of a watchful guardian.

Not even the coldest cynic would deny this mentality, nor would he discard it as a bad one.

It’s contagious

The religious mindset is all well and good by itself, but this need to seek comfort is not a lonely crusade.
Faith brings people together, it creates a network of individuals who seek comfort.

When my grandmother died, everyone came together under the banner of belief, those thoughts were not meaningless.
They found a piece of mind, one that gave them a great deal of comfort.

My folks ain’t the religious bunch, but the ability to come together with a positive outlook through simple desire isn’t one that should be disregarded.

As I have said before, I was wrong.
Religion is a great tool for mastery over one’s inner turmoil
In the medical world, they call it a placebo, a pill given with the promise of improvement that does just that.
However, our faith is a much deeper part of our psyche than any placebo could apply to, and that fact alone makes all the difference in the world.

The bad

Although faith by itself, regardless of actual doing of any god, is a great thing, many people could easily argue that zeal works against you when it comes to mental health.

When people speak loudly, it’s either because they are confident in themselves/what they are saying, or because they aren’t confident at all and are trying to hide that fact.

The truth is that people who choose to believe in god often times discard responsibility from themselves in favor of promised comfort.

It’s much easier to say that God will protect us, but in truth, that simple notion is preventing change.
I am not trying to tell anyone what to do, or to argue with any type of belief, I know how sensitive the subject is to some, yet simply hoping for change is wrong.

Ignoring your own mistakes, failures, and pains under the guise of what was meant to happen won’t change the conclusion of your actions.

For all we know, God may indeed be listening, but a lack of action is not what’s going to make him want to help you, nor is it a show of loyalty on any level.

Case in point, discarding responsibility is nice, it helped my family a lot and assisted them in overcoming their grief, but it helped no one in moving on.
They didn’t cherish my grandmother’s life, they interpreted her death as an internal source of comfort for her, somewhere above.

And while it might have helped them face her death, it did not help them grow stronger and wiser.
Not one bit.

Religion can make you happy

The truth

On a purely psychological standpoint, aside from obsessive thoughts, having faith is a double-edged sword.
Sure, it reduces stress, but it does so by disconnecting you from reality, which works against you in some cases.

The main idea here is this: Believe in whatever you wish to, but keep your head on your shoulders.
It may seem basic, even obvious, but some pieces of advice are much easier said than applied.

Here’s a question to close this off – Do you feel that your faith, or lack thereof, makes you stronger?

Make sure to write your answers in the comment section below – I read every single one of them!

If you got any questions you would like to ask me personally then send me an email – I always read those with great interest!
Heck, I reply to them, too!

Email: [email protected]

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4 Replies to “Religion and Mental Health: Any Good Without a Miracle?”

  1. Hello here. You have an interesting view about faith. I guess that you mention religious faith, not just faith in yourself or humanity or something else.
    I can not tell that am atheist but I do not practice particularl religion.
    However I believe in something what it is something higher as me, smarter, more loving and forgiving. It lets me to be safe in this colorful world. It means that I am not alone.
    For me religions go with fanatism and disagreement . Of course there are plenty of wisdom in the Bible but when we can chose the objects in which we can believe we have the freedom.
    Overall your thoughts push to think more about role of religion in our lives.
    All the best, Nemira.

    1. Hello Nemira,

      It is as you said, your belief empowers you, regardless of the specifics – just having faith in something above you can go a long way.

      Cheers, Vlad!

  2. Jeannie Brickley says: Reply

    Hi Vlad.

    Your post on Religion and Mental Health was a very thought provoking article. I appreciate that your point of view is not closed minded and that you do see some value to believing in God.

    The problem is that a lot of people who believe in God have barely picked up the Bible and they are laboring under a lot of false teaching. They can be led astray unless they make it their mission to read and learn what the Bible really says.

    We who believe have a choice. We have made the choice to believe and follow the Lord. If one reads the Bible, almost all the stories of deliverance or healing involved the person doing something first. If we want the Lord to work through us; we must be surrendered to Him, we must first believe and second, take whatever steps we need to. We must take action for God to be able to work in and through us.

    Discarding your own responsibility is not Biblical; neither is Ignoring your own mistakes, failures, and pains. Our mistakes, and some failures and pains are “sin” and we must take responsibility for our own sin; or we will not confess it to have it forgiven.

    You asked the question does my faith make me stronger, and I answer with a resounding YES! God is more real to me than this computer I am typing on. I am speaking from experience and not only from hope. He gives me strength to go through whatever I need to in this life and I trust He will continue to be my strength. I have lived a lot of years and experienced both good and bad in my life. My trust has grown through my experiences. God has become more real to me because of a more real commitment on my part.

    Thanks for a good post.


    1. Hello Jeannie, thank you for your time!

      As I have said myself, to each his own.
      Faith, the simple fact that you believe in something like a god, is extremely empowering.

      Any and all divine intervention or otherwise aside.

      Cheers, Vlad!

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