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Is Your Religion Neurotic??

Religion can be neurotic. Check it out.
A clinical psychologist looks at religion.

By 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 from them.

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 been impoverished.

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. 2:10).

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” (4:6-7).

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 or religion.

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 are:

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

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