With 'God's Strength',
Hi, I'm a 20-year-old Atheist living in Northern Ireland. I've got to say how impressed I am with the site, you probably get this a lot but it was a real reassurance that 'I'm not the only one'. What I wanted to ask about was that, I don't know if this sounds cheesy, but I've always had a really bad relationship with my mother, and she is Christian but not just as in she believes in god and goes to church, it's like she's completely reliant on the whole thing psychologically and emotionally, as a person she comes across to me like an emotional zombie, if something bothers her she'll just pray and she'll say that 'god gives her strength' and all that but, well, I have my suspicions that this may not be entirely true.
So I was wondering if you know of any research or if anybody had any similar experiences about Christianity and people's emotional state or close relations. Or advice on where to look or anything. But then again I think it may well be just family stuff and the religion might just be me clutching at straws.
Thanks very much and congratulations again on the fantastic site,
From: "Positive Atheism" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
Subject: Re: Christian psychology
Date: March 02, 2002 6:45 PM
She might be an emotional zombie, in some respect. When I was a Christian, I was diagnosed by a psychologist with "Walking Zombie Syndrome," which allegedly meant that I'd try to prove that I was actually alive (contrary to what I "knew," "deep down inside"), by pulling my hair and watching it grow back, by picking a scab and watching it heal, and by watching the smoke exhale from my mouth. It also had something to do with why I was such a devout Christian! I kid you not! When I asked my HMO to ask him to explain this to me in language that I could understand, language to which I could relate, he suddenly released me from my financial obligation (without my even having asked for that)! Now, are we dealing with a jittery doctor, willing to refund all your money without even being asked, or are we dealing with an out-and-out quack? Is there a difference?
Seriously (that story was true, but let's get serious about your Mom), people are what they are, and many of us simply cannot change. We'll always be what we have been. I think most of us can change in certain, limited respects: I think your Mom could easily change what you describe, if she wanted to, if she thought she could, and if she knew how. But it would take all three of these things for her to even begin to have hope of changing!
I would venture to guess that the religion is a symptom and not a cause of this situation. I do this out of pure human compassion, strictly to give her the benefit of the doubt, because I would do that for anyone I saw in this condition. It is also my hope to perhaps pass this attitude on to you, though you know more and are (obviously) free to see the situation how you think it is rightly seen.
While I by no means think that religion is the cause or the solution to this problem (she is, in both respects), I wouldn't write off the possibility that a kindly word from just the right pastor or priest could set the ball rolling for her recovery. Still, I would, if it were me, first investigate the possibility that she has a medical depressive disorder. I have quite a whopper of a depressive disorder which enjoys limited control through drug therapy and enjoys even better control through psychological therapy. The drugs themselves would do little, and the psychology itself, without the drugs, would be like trying to swim upstream on my own, without the benefit of a strong motorboat.
You do well to remember, though, that it's her life, and that (at least in America), we have only limited rights to intervene even in the lives of family members. (I have no clue what this would be like in Ireland, so I will speak as if you were an American in hopes that the rules are at least similar: you'll nevertheless get a few ideas from this even if the rules are vastly different one from the other.) Your right to intervene would be strengthened if there were children involved, and you would have certain additional rights if you were a minor (under 18) living under her care. What ends up happening, unfortunately, is that she is basically on her own if she refuses your advice and is an autonomous adult, that is, if she cares for no minors, if she has no husband, and if she lives alone, having no immediate family.
Metaphorically speaking (but able to find no suitable language to express my dismay, here), I hope to God that most countries are better in this respect than the United States. But you'll have to find out what the laws are in Ireland. You'll also have to decide what you are willing to endure to try to help her get on her feet again. This will, of course, always mean facing the question of how long she's been this way. If this is all you can remember, there's still hope, but as they say, "Good luck!" If it's only recent, you still may be dealing with a condition that is irreversible (stroke? what!?).
In either case, you could be dealing with a condition that is easily addressed, for example, with a few pills and weekly sessions with a clinical psychologist for a few months. You never know until you try, and all you can do is (metaphorically speaking, again), cross your fingers and hope that you happen to bump into someone who is competent enough to be able to (literally) stumble upon the answer (as that's literally how it's done: psychology and human brain function is by no means an exact science).
For your own peace of mind, you might wish to study how the brain works. I recently completed Steven Pinker's marvelous book, How the Mind Works, which was so fascinating that it changed my entire outlook on myself and the world about me. (I think I'll read it again! I need something like what it gave me the first time!) This will, if nothing else, reassure you that chances are she's not being this way on purpose. It should also give you the hope of finding an answer to her problem and seeing her begin to function with some degree of normalcy again (or for the first time, as the case may be).
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