Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The dangers of extreme fundamentalism

In this post I would like to make the case that extreme fundamentalism is dangerous and can eventually lead to poor mental health. I will be using some examples from my own experiences as a former extreme fundamentalist. I feel that there are many mental disorders that can account for a lot of  the subjective experiences Christians claim to have such as glossolalia (speaking in tongues), having apparent supernatural experiences, visions, dreams. etc.

When I was a believer I used to experience what at the time I believed to have been visitations and attacks from demonic entities. I would wake up in the middle of the night sweating and speaking in tongues oftentimes with my heart pounding in my chest at an accelerated rate. I had nightmares or night terrors where I awoke feeling the presence of evil around me and at times even hearing demonic voices whispering in my ear. Sometimes I was even able to see the entities I believed were attacking me on some occasions. These experiences were one of the many reasons why leaving the faith was so hard for me to do.

When I finally mustered up the courage to leave the faith once and for all, I decided to research mental conditions that would help me to understand and explain away these experiences. After some searching I found exactly what I was looking for and was satisfied with the information I had obtained about my condition. I came across a condition called hallucinatory sleep paralysis (night terrors) you can read more about this here. This condition accounted for the visual and audio experiences that accompanied the various episodes I experienced. Till this day I still suffer from this condition where when I am caught in an episode my mind cannot distinguish reality from what is actually happening at the moment.

Before I had obtained this knowledge, I saw demons everywhere. I was a firm believer at the time that the devil had his hand in every bad thing that ever happened to me. Bad thoughts, negative emotions, depression, and many other common emotions and thoughts that we experience everyday in the real world were all to me nothing more than the devil and his hordes tempting me and waging a spiritual battle against me. I now firmly believe that if left unchecked extreme fundamentalism can lead to mental instability. I took the bible in its entiretly literally and it was because of this that I was slowly drifting down a slippery slope and I felt that my sanity was also at stake.

One of the things that led me to believe that Satans' minions were everywhere at all times was Ephesians 6:11,12 which says: "Put on the full armour of God so as to be able to resist the devil's tactics.For it is not against human enemies that we have to struggle, but against the principalities and the ruling forces who are masters of the darkness in this world, the spirits of evil in the heavens." I took this scripture literally, and since I was into exorcisms and demonology I believed the devil and demons to be quite real. My ministry was mainly what one would call a deliverance ministry and most of the time I dealt with the so called "demon possessed."

The easiest explanation for some cases of demon possession for me is schizophrenia or some other sort of multiple personality disorder. Another explanation which I have been theorizing for years about is that the person is mentally preconditioned to believe that they are possessed because of indoctrination. This is similar to how a hypnotist utilizes auto-suggestion in his subjects to make them say or behave in a particular way. Hypnosis is very real and I believe it plays a huge role in fundamentalist Christianity and the many so called spiritual experiences that accompany those beliefs. This is true whether the believer accepts it or not.

I personally have been fully immersed on the deep end of the fundamentalist pool. I have spoken in tongues, been slain by the spirit, etc. That is why when I left the faith I had to find explanations for the many experiences I believed I had while serving the Lord. This is probably why it took me so long to make a clean break from believing in God. Anything taken to the extreme can be bad for you and in some cases deadly. I believe religious beliefs that emphasize on "supernatural" experiences is one of those things that could lead its adherents to suffer from mental imbalance or have thier idea of the world we live in badly distorted.

There have been many professional studies done on this topic but it takes some searching online to find reputable articles by qualified psychiatrists and therapists. Some of these studies are hard to obtain unless you are a professional in the field or have acces to some of these forums as a college student. You might even be able to find some of them made available in your local public library if your really want to research the matter further. Also, browse the subject matter on amazon or barnesandnoble.com and you might find some titles that deal with this subject as well. Thank you for reading and I will see you next time. Good luck in your research if you are so inclined to do so.

Note: Biblical citation is from the New Jerusalem Bible


  1. For someone who was never raised religious this kind of experience defies fully understanding the power of the religious delusion.

    While I am familiar with hyper-religiosity as a documented symptom of schizophrenia, I always thought that those not so afflicted were either just going through the motions, emulating their brethren's enthusiasm, or simply being drama queens. Your experience is proof positive that even a person not suffering from mental illness can be influenced and driven to excess / delusional behavior by indoctrination and total immersion onto literal biblical belief. Scary.

    1. Scary indeed Hump! Because of my experiences I believe that those of us that delve too deep into these matters get caught up in a serious delusion. Not everyone is going through the motions to fit in. All charismatic subjective experiences are a combination of indoctrination and complete psycho-emotional surrender to those beliefs. I remember in those days I used to pray for the Lord to use me as a vessel in the ministry and fill me with his spirit and holy anointing. I literally felt surges of electrical currents flowing through my body and found that I was able to direct them to those receiving prayer from me. I was physically, mentally, and emotionally committed to my beliefs.

  2. Much of the demon-phobia you described is eerily familiar -- I saw these very attitudes exhibited by a friend who became a fundamentalist Apostolic, as well as his family and religious community.

    While some forms of faith can improve mental health by offering comfort and encouraging introspection, fundamentalism can create or exacerbate mental health issues. This is especially true for Pentacostal and Charismatic faith, which encourages belief in demons and supernatural phenomenon.

    Are you familiar with a book entitled RELIGION THAT HEALS, RELIGION THAT HARMS? It addresses some of the issues you've brought up.