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Comment on this entry

Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems

Valerie Tarico

Away Point

March 26, 2013

At age sixteen I began what would be a four year struggle with bulimia.  When the symptoms started, I turned in desperation to adults who knew more than I did about how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader and a visiting youth minister.  “If you ask anything in faith, believing,” they said.  “It will be done.” I knew they were quoting the Word of God. We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers.


Complete entry


Posted by Pastor_Alex  on  03/26  at  05:08 PM

A good, clear article that differentiates between toxic and helpful religion. I did some training years ago that talked about spiritual abuse, which is more or less what Dr. Winell is talking about here. It is vitally important for people in the religious communities to be aware of the problem. It isn’t necessarily that this denomination or even this church is abusive. I have encountered programs within very healthy congregations that were spiritual abuse. They were run by one person or a small group and were not flagged by other leadership.

Posted by Henry Bowers  on  03/27  at  12:43 PM

My only complaint is that the article proves too much.  Original Sin isn’t a “toxic teaching” if it can be revealed by nature, and if religion only identifies it and suggests its solution.  To claim that religion *creates* Original Sin is to place the rod in the hand of the taskmaster; something I think this article set out to decry.

So I don’t think Tarico really wants us to believe what she wrote; for if religion had the power to create Original Sin, it would have the power to create Redemption, and therefore wouldn’t be worth absconding.

Posted by Intomorrow  on  03/27  at  05:50 PM

Humanity never fell, Henry- there was no Garden of Eden where humanity fell in. Religion identifies it but offers no solution for the bulk of humanity—save for living in Christian intentional communities (suggested by the son of Irving Kristol). But Christians, no matter how pious, refuse to live outside the general population because they want to have their cake and want to eat it too; they want that old time religion yet they want modern gadgets, the want the modern life. “Sidesaddle on the Golden Calf”, which is doubleminded.
You can’t have it both ways… you cannot remain in the past psychically while living in the present materially. This, IMO, is where the doublething comes into play; I know because I’m attracted to the past—only difference is I know it, the religious do not.
You cannot serve two Masters, you have to eventually choose between the past and the present/future.

Posted by Intomorrow  on  03/27  at  06:12 PM

“if religion had the power to create Original Sin, it would have the power to create Redemption”

All of us are right on some matters, mistaken on others: you are right on the former (that religion postulates Original Sin) but are mistaken concerning the latter: there is no power to create Redemption- the only power is to create the illusion of Redemption; which is good enough to offer succor—nothing more.
We do not want to underestimate faith yet neither do we want to overestimate its power.
Problem I have with the religious is if I tell them I appreciate religion as escape (“opiate of the masses”), such does not play in Peoria; the religious want one to turn one’s life over to Christ.. it is all or nothing.
One cannot be 99 percent Christian. You don’t say to your wife you will be faithful 99 percent of the time; you don’t say to authorities you will obey laws 99 percent of the time; you don’t say to the manager of a market you’ll refrain from shoplifting 99 percent of the time- but you’ll steal once in a while. That is not acceptable.
Christian morality sets too high a moral bar; whereas Buddhism and Confucianism—for two examples—are more realistic re ethics. I mostly think of the charity work Christians do, for instance after a natural disaster the religious provide indispensable relief efforts.

You magnify faith too much, Henry

Posted by Pastor_Alex  on  03/27  at  06:28 PM

What religion creates is the dogma of Original Sin to explain why humans don’t improve morally. The humanists refer to it as our animal nature, some people as our instinctual or genetic nature. As Intomorrow says, it exists, what Original Sin attempts to explain is why. Like most such explanations it is only good so far, then it falls apart.

Original Sin becomes toxic when it is used to keep people within a group from doing anything that the group leaders tell them is bad. It is used to degrade and dehumanize. It becomes a trap rather than a release. The concept of Original Sin is a result of Augustine’s work, though you will find hints of it in the later epistles that pretend to be written by Paul. The authentic Paul is much earlier and is more interested in Grace. In fact both Paul and Jesus recognize the impossibility of living up to any ethical code so they emphasize intent and forgiveness rather than obedience to Law.

Again as Intomorrow states, you can’t be good just 99% of the time. The proper Christian faith recognized this reality and substitutes loving intent and grace for being perfect in this world. The idea of perfection in this world is actually a heresy. Thus Original Sin is supposed to function as a way to get rid of false guilt and deal with in a healthy way with the much smaller amount of real guilt that comes from the times we deliberately choose to harm another person.

Where faith comes in, and oddly it is very transhumanist, is that it is our faith that we can transcend what we are to become what we would like to be. The technology we use is building community through common goals and common music, meditation both on our weaknesses, but also on our strengths, passion to change the world.

It is unfortunate, again as Intomorrow says, that many Christians know as little about their own faith as they do about Buddhism or Islam or the rest. Which is to say, not a lot.

Posted by Henry Bowers  on  03/27  at  10:09 PM

[Apologies:  this drifts off-topic]

Intomorrow, my question to you is how you know your interpretation of “in the world” vs. “of the world” is infallible.  In other words, it’s a hefty claim to set up the Christian faith as impossible to attempt from the word ‘go’.  Do you believe the Amish who ride buggies are living a legitimate faith more authentically?  I’m not asking rhetorically; I wish to understand why you find that important.  But as a corollary, from the indubitably eschatological implications of scriptural passages, what restricts spirituality, in your view, to a past-tense realm?

Posted by Intomorrow  on  03/28  at  12:04 AM

“Intomorrow, my question to you is how you know your interpretation of ‘in the world’ vs. ‘of the world’ is infallible.”

I do not know, but neither do Christians know if their interpretation of ‘in the world’ vs. ‘of the world’ is infallible—we are all the blind leading the blind. Again, the only difference between them and me is I know it, they don’t.

“it’s a hefty claim to set up the Christian faith as impossible to attempt from the word ‘go’.”

You might be right on this. Don’t know- if one doesn’t know, one doesn’t know.

“Do you believe the Amish who ride buggies are living a legitimate faith more authentically?”

No, they are only riding buggies, not living a legitimate faith more authentically; though it doesn’t appear they are hurting anyone outside their faith (what they do to those inside their faith is unknown to us). It can be said, though, that the Amish are not warmongers, they do not invade other nations. So we can say Amish are more spiritual—or at the very least less imperialist—than other faiths. Also true of Quakers, Jains, etc.

“from the indubitably eschatological implications of scriptural passages, what restricts spirituality, in your view, to a past-tense realm?”

Because I do not think anyone: not Karl Marx, John of Patmos, futurists, Edgar Cayce, Nostradamus, Jeane Dixon… can predict the future. Now, if Jesus Himself Returns to Earth to predict the future, that’s a different ball game. But until Jesus Returns, if He ever does, I will continue to think that no-one can predict the future.

Posted by canuckster1127  on  04/02  at  06:10 PM

I really appreciate this article.  I was “saved” at the film Thief in the Night at the age of 12 (38 years ago) and it formed a small part of my religious framework and viewpoint for much of my life that viewed God as something to be saved from rather than saved toward.

Since then, after 20 years in different forms of ministry as an ordained minister with training in counseling and MS level studies in a psychological field, I don’t blame religion for many issues that find their roots in that childhood (there was much more at work in several different areas) but I can clearly see not only how some of these teachings and beliefs were manipulated to bring about forms of abuse in my life but I have to concur that there are elements of some religious creeds that are in and of themselves toxic and harmful.  They also promote and create environments of hierarchical religious organizations and power that empower toxic and abusive leaders who seem to gravitate toward them as legitimate means to validate and exercise their abusive leadership practices.

No that doesn’t mean that all leaders are abusive or insincere in these contexts or that such abuses don’t occur in healthier religious environments, but I’d venture to say it’s a significant element.

I haven’t lost my faith through this, but as a result I’ve moved away from “religion” as an organized institutional expression of faith and toward spirituality which dwells upon experiential relationship with a God who is very different than the angry, wrathful and distant expression of God that some forms (not all) of organized religion appears to rely upon in order to co-opt fear of God to obedience of human dictates.

Posted by Henry Bowers  on  04/11  at  12:27 PM

Canuckster, so far no one has demonstrated what makes a teaching “toxic” in itself.  Could you elaborate, or provide an example?  Per experiential relationships, I think that is precisely what’s at issue:  Dr. Tarico has not shown a difference between a creed being bad and one’s experience of its promulgation being bad, and I’m inclined to doubt first-person epistemological infallibility with regard to an objective teaching for the multitudes.

Posted by Intomorrow  on  04/11  at  08:41 PM

you wont even write whether you believe in God yourself; your message is,

“I’m inclined to doubt first-person epistemological infallibility with regard to an objective teaching for the multitudes”;

meaning we are trapped in faith, as religion has existed for thousands of years and those at the bottom would be even more clueless than they are without faith. Scarcely a positive message.
You could also say without faith-based charity, State charity (welfare) would be astronomical in cost. You could mention how during natural disasters faith-based charity is sometimes indispensable.
What you are doing above is hiding behind philosophy: faith and philosophy are not identical—faith is soft-hearted, philosophy is more hard-headed. You cannot use philosophy in explaining faith save for in the most superficial manner.
Taking Christianity as the obvious example for the two of us (Christianity is naturally only one of many faiths) the teachings of Christ IMO are positive while the fairy tales of Heaven and Hell are nothing more than gobbledygook.. something out of the Wizard of Oz—When you look behind the curtain, there is no Wizard, only a homunculus.

We want people to be mature yet we push childish/infantile fairytales on them? Such is not softhearted, it is softheaded.

Posted by Henry Bowers  on  04/12  at  11:52 AM

Intomorrow, Christ talked more about hell than he did about heaven.

Be not unbelieving, but believe.

Posted by Intomorrow  on  04/12  at  11:23 PM

Could we move this to a new take by responding to this article?:

Above piece deserves comments, although it it must be noted non-science comments in excess are almost certainly not appreciated by many writers and commenters at IEET. That is little reflection on you—because for starters you don’t comment frequently—however I tend to exhaust a topic such as this, in pursuit of resolution when no resolution exists. As has been written often: it’s akin to counting to infinity.
Readers of comments at IEET might not like seeing the same commenter going on about the same topic yet by varying the topics, the chances that we break up monotony increase.
BTW your comments are challenging, Henry; unfortunately the overwhelming majority (est. 98-99 percent) of Midwestern witnessing is done by fools/dullards. Not every fool is a dullard and not every dullard is a fool.. but 98-99% is IMO a bad percentage. Reason I persist with this topic is the hits are over 6,500 at this time,

“Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Some Organized Religion Leads to Mental Health Problems
by Valerie Tarico
Mar 26, 2013
(6549) Hits”,

thus one might conclude enough readers could be interested in at least your perspective, due to your commenting less frequently—and being a lib, they may want to humor me! So let’s move it over to the topic above, by your leave Sirrah.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  04/23  at  12:24 AM

Pastor Alex wrote: “What religion creates is the dogma of Original Sin to explain why humans don’t improve morally. The humanists refer to it as our animal nature, some people as our instinctual or genetic nature.”

In my view this is akin to presenting “climate change is real” and “climate change is a made-up conspiracy” as two equally valid beliefs, to be respected in balanced way. The balance we need to strike is not between different views on a subject, just because both have been voiced, but between open-mindedness and have the courage of one’s convictions.

According to my view of the history of the doctrine of Original Sin, it has its roots in the Garden of Eden fable, which was an early attempt of human civilisation to explain Why Life Sucks And Bad Things Happen. This was then taken up by early Christian theologians to incorporate both the problem (of evil) and the Garden of Eden fable, which had become canonised as scripture and therefore Must Be Regarded As True, into a coherent Christian framework. They did the best they could under the circumstances, I guess.

But civilisation has moved on since then. Darwin et al had know such constraints: he had no need to accept Garden of Eden as anything more than a fable, nor to reconcile our imperfect experience with the concept of an omnipotent and benevolent deity. He could just observe, look for patterns, and come up with good explanations. Terms like “animal nature”, and “instinctual or genetic nature” are only approximate, of course, and by no means tell the whole story, but they are a result of an attempt to explain that is unconstrained by orthodoxy and the need to take certain things to be true irrespective of the evidence. This is an important distinction.

Another point I want to make, in passing, is that the term “humanist” seems to have a different meaning among Christians than it does among the non-religious. For Christians, it seems more or less to be a synonym of “secular”, while for the secular themselves, humanism is one strand of philosophy, which emerged within Christianity itself and admittedly underpins much of Western values (human rights, democracy etc), but is certainly NOT a synonym of “secularism”.

In any case, there is nothing specifically “humanist” about believing in “animal nature” (if by that we mean that we explain our behaviour at least in part by our pre-human evolutionary heritage). It’s just good science.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  04/23  at  12:30 AM

Furthermore, as Intomorrow notes - and this is surely the main message of Valerie’s article, the main problem with the Original Sin dogma is that, not being based on an accurate understanding of human nature, and why we are the way we are, it offers no solution, or at least only very partial and not very effective solutions, to the problems that arise from that nature.

Once again, the balance we need to strike is between open-mindedness and the courage of one’s convictions: the balance I am striking in relation to the Original Sin dogma is that I have yet to find a good use for it. I am aware, of course - as I said recently at the Mormon Transhumanist Associations annual conference - that many have utterly compelling personal reasons not to want to abandon their religious beliefs. Such people may wish to remain true to doctrines like Original Sin, perhaps reinterpreting them in a way that avoids some of the problems identified in the article. But it does not necessarily display a lack of empathy for such people to believe that we would be better off just letting doctrines like Original Sin fade away into oblivion.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  04/23  at  12:39 AM

Intomorrow wrote: “I tend to exhaust a topic such as this, in pursuit of resolution when no resolution exists. As has been written often: it’s akin to counting to infinity.”

This, of course, is related to those “utterly compelling personal reasons” I refer to above. The power of an online comment to change what someone believes depends entirely on that person’s receptiveness. If we regard our mental states, including all our beliefs and attitudes, as complex systems, then an online comment can be considered a perturbation, which will only bring about significant change if that system has become unstable in some way.

In any case, I understand Intomorrow’s dilemma: it is the never-ending conflict between, “Surely I must have better things to do,” and “But it MUST be possible to convince this person, if only I put things in a slightly different way.” And since the latter conviction is of course unfalsiable, it never quite loses its power.

Do we have better things to do? Well that depends, of course, on our personal priorities. In may case there have certainly been times when it has felt like a bad habit. On the other hand, I don’t think commenters need to feel guilty about posting their POV, even ad nauseam, if they see fit. Neither the article authors nor other commenters are obliged to respond to them, and the moderator can always tell us if we’re overdoing it.

Meanwhile, Valerie’s article demonstrates one of the more important reasons why it is important to discuss, and perhaps even try to resolve, this type of issue.

Posted by Intomorrow  on  04/23  at  12:46 AM

And we don’t even have to take issue with the religion of the religious: only their politics. For starters they know a great deal about religion, so they are worth listening to on the topic of faith (which, Pete, you surely noticed in Utah). However their politics are nothing short of atrocious.. negating the positive in their religion.
This is to unfortunately also damn them with faint praise: ‘your politics are utter foolishness, but you know about religion so we’ll pay attention’—that is not what they want to hear. Plus in my case, it doesn’t sound ecumenical/interdemoninational to tell them I think their faith is poignant and quaint: ‘Your politics are bad yet you know about religion and are touchingly archaic’? No that wont cut the ice.
Usually they want to hear that one is willing to turn one’s life over to the deity, when they themselves often worship wealth. “The love of money is the root of many evils”, says the Bible- not all evil; so the religious are able to obfuscate on this. In Middle America, it is hiding out in the open.

Posted by Peter Wicks  on  04/23  at  02:39 AM

That being said, we should be careful about generalising. The Mormons I stayed with in Utah, for example, had anything but “bad” politics. Indeed, the impression I was left with was of a bunch of good, highly intelligent people looking for different ways to reconcile their transhumanist and essentially secular worldview with their religious affiliation. I wish them well.

But you’re right, of course: step outside such inspiring communities as the Mormon Transhumanist Association and you don’t have to look far to see people who claim to love God but in reality worship wealth. It’s not that they don’t love God as well, but the God they love tends to turn a blind eye to their own failings, at least the ones they are not actively working on.

But in my view, we DO have to take issue with their religion, and not only (perhaps not even primarily) their politics. One of the better presentations at the MTA event - which you can find on YouTube - was made by Carl Youngblood, who stressed the importance of recognising religious myths as myths. Politics aside (and of course I may also have a problem with their politics) I have no quibble with someone who chooses to draw inspiration from their religion, and its associated myths. But like Carl, I do have a problem (Carl calls it idolatry) when people mistake their myths for the truth.

So going back to Original Sin vs Evolutionary Psychology, should we regard the latter, as many do, as no less a “myth” than the former. I think not. Evolutionary Psychology is a set of ideas based on a theory, namely the theory that much of our behaviour can be explained through consideration of our stone age and pre-human ancestry. To regard it as “theory” rather than “myth” is not to claim it as Absolute Truth, but rather to claim it as (one of) our best shot(s) currently at getting at the truth. Whereas an ancient religious doctrine like Original Sin, while it doubtless started out (in particular in the minds of those who developed it) as theory, has become obsolete as a theory. As a myth, by contrast, it continues to have evocative power, and is most likely to be helpful - rather than leading to abuse and resulting psychological trauma - if it is recognised as such.

Theory: “This is our best shot at the truth, currently. If you think you have a better idea, let us know.”

Myth: “This is a story that we tell ourselves, and just like other works of fiction it can be very inspiring. Suspend disbelief if you like, and join us in drawing inspiration from our myths, but if you are looking for accurate models of the world, including human behaviour, you are better off with science. Myths can illustrate and inspire, but they are not explanations, even if sometimes they appear to be, because they started out that way. Distrust those who say they are.”

Posted by Intomorrow  on  04/25  at  12:41 AM

You got it all, as usual.
By religion not being the negative, rather, politics being the negative, is meant:
i.  Religion tends to be far more pleasant than politics.
ii. Religion can only be more sincere than politics (liars ‘n lawyers).
iii. Besides, without power, the religious are constrained; for a random example, how could the Church in Spain five centuries ago torture recalcitrants without the Star Chamber? an Iron Maiden is useless without power—politics—to back it up.

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