Your Religion Neurotic??
can be neurotic. Check it out.
A clinical psychologist looks at religion.
David L. Antion, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychologist PSY 9037
Can a religion be neurotic? The word “neurotic” is derived from the
word “neurosis.” It has to do with forms of mental disorders in which
the person is not delusional – i.e. seeing things that are not there
or hearing sounds that are not there (psychotic). A person who is
a hypochondriac (believes s/he is sick all the time) would be neurotic.
So would a person who is depressed. Depression is a form of neurosis.
The late psychologist, Rollo May, suggested three main features that
characterize a neurotic religion. In this article we will paraphrase
them and expound on each.
1. A religion is neurotic when it separates people from rather
than strengthening their attachment to fellow human beings.
Many churches and religious leaders cause their followers to shun
others and look on them as polluted or inferior. Even when religious
leaders claim they preach to the contrary, you will find their followers
shunning and avoiding neighbors and oftentimes relatives too.
A prime example was the sect of the Pharisees. Their very name meant
“separatists.” They separated themselves from those they thought to
be sinners and looked on them with disdain. Jesus used their neurotic
tendencies to teach His disciples better ways. In the parable of the
Pharisee and the publican (Luke 18:9), the Pharisee compared himself
and his righteousness to the lowly publican. He even thanked God that
he was not like other men (or women for that matter) -- extortioners,
unjust, adulterers. And he was also glad that he was not like the
publican (v. 11). But Jesus pointed out that it was the publican in
his total humility in admitting his sins who went away justified!
The Scripture makes it plain that Jesus did not separate Himself from
the publicans or other sinners. The Gospels make a specific point
of this! “Then drew near unto him all the publicans and sinners for
to hear him” (Luke 15:1). Jesus did not separate Himself from them.
Rather He spoke to them and taught them better ways and the good news
of God’s Kingdom. The Pharisees and Scribes murmured, “This man receives
sinners, and eats with them” (v. 2).
In Matthew’s Gospel we read: “And it came to pass, as Jesus sat at
meat (food) in the house, behold, many publicans and sinners came
and sat down with him and his disciples” (9:10). Jesus never kept
His disciples from other people. He did not promote a suspicious,
distrustful attitude. In fact, suspicion and distrust are the cornerstones
of the paranoid personality and are very much part of neurotic religion.
Because of His attitude toward all humans, it was easy to characterize
Jesus as the friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matt. 11:19). It
was because He came eating and drinking that they also called Him
gluttonous and a winebibber. He evidently ate and drank with the publicans
(tax collectors) and sinners (probably harlots).
When Jesus was invited to the house of Simon the Pharisee a woman
came to Him with an alabaster box of ointment. She washed His feet
with her tears and wiped them dry with the hair of her head. The Pharisee
said, “…if he were a prophet, he would have known who and what manner
of woman this is that touches him: for she is a sinner” (Luke 7:39).
Pharisees would not touch another human they thought was a sinner.
Jesus lectured the Pharisee on common, decent hospitality. He pointed
to the woman as being more gracious and kind than His host.
We also have the example of the Samaritan who stopped to help a Jew
who had been mugged, robbed and left for dead. A Levite passed him
by. A priest also passed by. Neither helped him. But the Samaritan
had compassion and was not afraid to help another human being though
different in religion and racial mixture (Luke 10:30-33).
Jesus’ example plainly shows us that separation from other humans
is neurotic. That doesn’t mean that we must do everything they do
– of course not! Jesus’ teaching was that we should not only love
those who love us, we should even “love your enemies” (Matt. 5:44).
It’s not enough just to greet those who greet you. Jesus asked, “And
if you salute your brethren only, what do you more than others? Even
the publicans do so”(v. 47).
In spite of this plain teaching from the Bible, many “religious” people
will shun others and not even speak to those of another church or
religion. This is often encouraged by their leaders in an effort to
keep a fence around the flock. (I suspect that ministers who get their
living from the “tithes” or offerings of the people would do everything
to make sure their people stay within the fold. After all, the minister’s
very financial security would be at risk.) To be sure, it is so hard
to do what Jesus commanded (Matt. 5:44) and so easy to fall in line
with the tendency of human nature to demonize others and separate
Paul had to keep the Corinthians from misunderstanding. When he wrote
not to keep company with fornicators he was not talking about people
in general but a church discipline of exclusion for a “brother” (1
Cor. 5:9-10). Paul had no restrictions on the brethren greeting, talking
to and being in the company of the people of the world. He said if
we could not deal with those people because of their sins, we would
have to leave the world because there would be virtually no one except
church members to talk to.
There is another thing that happens when you talk only to people who
believe every little thing you do. I call it mental or spiritual incest.
It is the constant inbreeding of all the same ideas. This creates
a false reality and is the hallmark of cults.
To keep people in a cult one must make sure they do not talk to or
hear ideas from other sources. Imagine the power the cult then would
have over its followers.
If I put you in a room – cut off from all other sources of information
except my words – I could get you to believe virtually anything. I
could tell you that wild animals were roaming the streets, that your
family had all been killed, that you lost all your property, etc.
Since you have no other source of information you are left with only
two choices – believe what I say or reject it. But when you reject
it, you do so without any substance since you have no other information
to contradict it!
To keep this from happening to our nation as it did in Nazi Germany,
the framers of the Constitution put in the 1st amendment. We call
it freedom of speech, freedom of the press and freedom of assembly
– and, of course, freedom of religion.
But most cult leaders don’t even have to fear that their people will
seek other sources of information. Why?
Because the people themselves often shun any source of information
that they feel will be contrary to their belief system. In other words,
the people themselves cut themselves off from all other sources of
information but their leader.
You have probably known people (maybe you were one or are one) who
will not read anything but their own church’s publications. They will
not listen to any sermon that is not preached by an official minister
of their own church group. And, certainly, they will never darken
the doorway of another church to attend services there.
Their leaders praise them for this! They are told, “You are loyal
to God’s government.” The leaders deride nonconformists who dare read
or listen or attend what is not approved by the leader. “You have
lost your fear of God”, they are told.
A religion is neurotic when it separates you from rather than strengthening
you attachment to others because it promotes paranoia – distrust and
suspicion. Social isolation is also neurotic.
2. Religion is neurotic when it impoverishes your life rather
than making it abundant.
What is your religion doing to you? I have seen people who have sacrificed
so much financially that they were financially impoverished. Some
felt they must give 30% or more of their income to “the church” and
its programs. You can see people of different cults soliciting donations
in airports, on the streets, or from door to door. These people have
to serve many hours of time as part of their religious duty.
I have seen people who couldn’t afford to take care of their own or
their children’s health but sacrificed mightily for their religion.
Their health and the health of their families were impoverished.
There are other ways to become impoverished. Some churches discourage
learning. Have you heard this statement? “When I joined that church
I had to check my brain at the door and only picked it up when I walked
out.” Some churches forbid their members to read certain books. People
are often discouraged from getting higher education when the leaders
refer to schools as “worldly colleges” or as “colleges of this world”
or as “institutions of Satan the Devil.”
They want their people to read and study only the literature written
and sent out from “the church.” In effect, they want mind control.
When your mind shrinks rather than expands, we may say that you have
In Jesus’ day the Pharisees and chief priests wanted the officers
to arrest Jesus. They asked, “Why have you not brought him?” The officers
answered, “Never man spake like this man.” Note that they did not
ask, “What did this man say?”
Rather, with closed minds, the Pharisees retorted, “Are you also deceived?
Have any of the rulers or of the Pharisees believed on him? But this
people who knows not the law are cursed” (John 7:45-49). Implication:
do what your leaders do and only what they do. Believe what you leaders
believe and only what they believe. Think only what your leaders think
and only what your leaders tell you to think.
There was one Pharisee who was not closed-minded. His name was Nicodemus.
He said, “Does our law judge any man, before it hears him and knows
what he does?” (v. 51). Nicodemus had the logic to imply, “Shouldn’t
we at least hear what he says and find out what he does?” Even this
rational statement was thrown out by asking sarcastically, “Are you
also of Galilee?” Many religious leaders love to use pejorative statements
when they can’t deal with issues with fact or logic.
Religion should help make life abundant.
It should free us to seek and search for truth. It is the truth that
will set us free (John 8:32). A religion should give us peace of mind,
inspire us to a “merry heart that does good like a medicine” (Prov.
17:22). A religion should free us to become prosperous if we can.
Naturally we want to heed the warning and not fall into the trap of
trusting in riches or loving money (1 Tim. 6:10).
Jesus said that a thief came to “steal, and to kill, and to destroy.”
But He said, “I am come that they might have life, and that they might
have it more abundantly” (John 10:10). Notice that the word “abundantly”
is placed in opposition to the word “steal” (which makes one poor),
and “kill” (which takes away life), and “destroy” (which ruins life).
The abundant life does not take away from life, does not kill and
does not cause us to be ruined financially or otherwise. The winds
of life blow hot and cold on everyone from time to time. But Jesus,
as our Messiah, came that we would have life and that our life would
be abundant. Beware if your religion causes you to be otherwise.
3. A religion is neurotic when it appeals more to your fears
and cowardice than it does to your love and courage.
Have you ever been inspired to do really good and really great things?
Did this inspiration come from your church or your minister?
When religion appeals to your love it makes you want to do good, defend
the weak, care for the sick, feed the hungry, help your neighbor (Luke
10:29-37; Mark 12:28-31). The apostle James said, “Pure religion and
undefiled before God and the Father is this: To visit the fatherless
and widows in their affliction, and to keep oneself unspotted from
the world” (James 1:27). It is an artful thing to be in the world
but not get spotted by it! But we must not be afraid to show God’s
love to other people who are made in God’s image.
At the end time when Jesus comes in His glory He praises some and
rebukes others because “I was hungry. I was thirsty. I was a stranger
and naked. I was sick and in prison.” In both cases – those who came
to His aid and those who did not -- did not know it was Jesus! Which
Christian would refuse to give food or drink to Jesus? Which one of
us would refuse a “stranger” if we knew it was Jesus? Who among us
wouldn’t offer clothing to a person in need if we knew it was Jesus?
If Jesus were sick or in prison we would be sure to go visit! But
they didn’t know it was He when they did good to Him. On the other
hand, they didn’t know it was Jesus when they passed Him by and didn’t
do a good deed for Him (Matt. 25:34-46).
Many religious leaders keep their people in the fold by fear tactics.
Some times religions grow mightily by appealing to the fears or prejudice
of others. Though not religious, the Nazis used the widespread fear
tactics of a cult and appealed to the cowardice of the German people.
Why do religious leaders use fear and prey on the cowardice of people?
Simply this. People are motivated by fear. You’ll run faster because
of fear than because of love. A person might run fast because they
fear that a loved one will be hurt. But it is still out of fear.
I have heard many stories from people who felt if they didn’t conform
to their religion that terrible consequences would overtake them.
Some ministers have even gone so far as to say to mothers, “If you
leave this church, your children will no longer have God’s protection
and anything that happens to them will be on your own head.”
A religion should appeal to our courage. Paul appealed to Timothy
with these metaphors: the good soldier of Jesus Christ who endures
hardness; the athlete who strives for mastery; the hardworking farmer;
and the skillful workman (2 Tim. 2: 3-15). Paul used his own example
as a person who suffered trouble for the word of God. He stated, “Therefore,
I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain
the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory” (2 Tim.
These words of Paul inspire us: “It is a faithful saying: For if we
be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall
also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us” (v. 11-12).
Paul appealed to our strength and courage when he wrote, “I am now
ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have
fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith”
Read here words that appeal to your love and courage. “Finally, brethren,
whatever is true, whatever is honest (honorable), whatever is right,
whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute,
if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, let your
mind dwell on these things” (Phil. 4:8).
Note that Paul did not limit where truth, honesty, right, pure, the
lovely, the good report, excellence or things worthy of praise were
to be found. Some people can’t see anything good outside their church
Here is Paul appealing not to fears and cowardice but to love and
courage that Christians may rise to their highest level in Christ
glorifying the Father.
Beware of neurotic religion that appeals to your fears. Are you afraid
to live? Are you afraid to love? Are you afraid of people? Are you
afraid of the future? Are you afraid of the present?
The only fear we need is the “Fear of God” which is the beginning
of wisdom and the awesome worship of our Creator. When a religion
fills you with fear, it is neurotic.
Applied to Other Aspects of Life
In discussing this article with one of my friends, he suggested that
the three characteristics of neurotic religion could be applied to
other aspects of life also. For instance, we could say that a marriage
relationship or a dating relationship is neurotic when it separates
you from rather than strengthening your attachment to other people.
We know that husbands who are abusive, wife batterers attempt to cut
their wives off from relationships with friends and relatives.
We can apply these principles to corporations and jobs. Let’s take
this example: Your career is neurotic when it impoverishes life rather
than making it abundant. Or when your boss appeals more to your fears
and cowardice than to your love and courage.
We can apply all three principles to a family. A family is neurotic
when … it separates you from others, when it impoverishes your life
-- mentally, emotionally, or financially – and when it appeals more
to fear and cowardice than to love and courage.
What is the Cure?
In summary, the cures for the three characteristics of neurotic religion
1) Don’t let religion separate you from other people – friends,
relatives, acquaintances. One of the reasons many so willingly
separated was that they felt like oddballs. They were ashamed of their
beliefs and felt others would consider them odd. But, how can be we
a "light to the world" if we hide
under a bushel?
2) Don’t let religion impoverish your life – mentally, emotionally,
socially or financially. Persecution might arise in which
hardship and poverty happen. Recall the “poor saints at Jerusalem.”
But it was outside persecution and the fact that their fellow countrymen
would not trade with them that caused them to be impoverished, not
their religion per se. God gave us a mind. Christianity is a mind
religion and we should not shy away from intellectual growth. Furthermore,
the New Testament approves of being prosperous. Read the parables
of the pounds and talents.
3) Note that love is the cure for fear (1John 4:18).
Courage is the cure for cowardice. Whenever you catch yourself being
afraid to love you need to rethink what’s happening to you. Be courageous
to express concerns, introduce yourself to others, and openly welcome
them. Have the courage to let your light shine. Have confidence in
God’s love for you and that He will see you through to the end. He
will finish the work He started in you!
You can use these principles in many ways and apply them to many more
situations including friendships. But, the main focus of this article
is to apply them to religion. Now that you have read the article,
what is your conclusion? Is your religion neurotic?
I am not just referring to a church organization. I am referring to
the religion that you adopt in your own life. It is easy for us to
blame organizations for our religion. But the truth is that each of
us adopts beliefs that form our own religion.
If you have not yet heard the six- sermon series on the subject of
the power and consequences of true & false beliefs, please write
and ask for that series. The title is All About Beliefs.
You and I are responsible for the religion we employ in our day to
day lives. When we stand before the judgment seat of Christ it will
not help us much to plead that it was “that organization” that made
us neglect to help “one of the least of these” – Jesus Christ Himself!
Taken from Guardian Ministries