Different levels of mental health and religion

Religious ideas are undoubtedly subject to the same interpretation through different levels of mental health as other values ​​or “myths”. according to their ability to understand them. ”Robin Skinner,“ Life and How to Succeed, ”p. 278

I feel calmer to enter the deep waters of spirituality when I start from the solid ground of psychotherapy and its criteria for mental health – such as inner integrity and integrity, withdrawal of projections and critical thinking, strong self-boundaries and a sense of responsibility authenticity and concern for the Whole. Such criteria provide clear guidelines for recognizing spiritual theories with low levels of mental health. Undoubtedly, Jungian analytical psychology has helped me most to orient myself in the complexity of the manifestation of the deeper layers of the human psyche – the collective unconscious, which is the source of myth-making, including religious myths. However, systemic psychotherapy and, in particular, systemic psychotherapy have given me the most practical guidance in this regard. the book by systemic psychotherapist Robin Skinner “Life and how to succeed”, written in collaboration with the famous English comedian John Cleese. The purpose of this article is to share the main ideas in this book in the hope that they will be just as useful to people who, like me, need solid ground under their feet when entering such a complex matter.

God as an external authority and black and white thinking

“Every train has its passengers” and this also applies to religious views – people with different levels of mental health are attracted by different religious doctrines. If I continue with a presentation on the mental health and religions scale in this book,

People at the lowest level “perceive religion as a set of rules, rewards and punishments, threats and promises that are controlled by a powerful and fearful God.” P.279  

Like black-and-white thinking in children, the thinking of these people is frozen at the aforementioned low level, and while this is normal in young children, it is clearly not a sign of high mental health for adults.

” For them, God is a terrible and powerful dictator with a bad temper, who wants everyone to constantly admire him and tell him how wonderful he is” (or, if perceived positively), he is again something like a director of an award-winning space school, awarding halos and passes to enter the paradise of those who have learned their lessons and have not been caught smoking behind the bicycle shed . “p.280

With the inherent humorous way of discussing the topic of religion, the authors of the book present with the right level of religious consciousness .

” At this level we no longer go to extremes, the views are much more balanced and we see God as much more benevolent and compassionate. However, we perceive religion as a set of rules. For people in the middle range of the rock, religion is more like a container that allows us to experience our days with a minimum of confusion and anxiety. ” (P. 281)

For this group, faith in dogma is most important , and God is the generally accepted authority who creates the rules and judges how well people follow them. He looks like a strict and reserved, yet loving parent. At the top of the middle of the scale, the Lord becomes even more loving and responsive to man, but his main characteristic remains – an anthropomorphic figure that symbolizes the spiritual essence of all that we value and with which we communicate intimately – as with our friend and guide at our disposal if we seek contact with him.

At the top of the scale,

“Really mentally healthy people understand religious myths, not as rules and laws, but rather as information, as a kind of guidance to help them understand spirituality and growth. In this sense, religious teachings make people perceptive of what they need to do to develop, and their main purpose is to help them feel more connected to everything around them ”p. 282 .

In this case, it is a connection with the universe, and because myths are information, not orders, people feel free to experiment and explore in order to gain knowledge from their experience in applying ideas.

“The emphasis is on discovery and perception, not on unquestioning obedience.” At this level, the Lord is perceived not exactly as a human being, but rather as a feeling, as a direct realization that the universe has order and meaning. “P. 283

The authors of this interesting book are a therapist working in the systemic field of psychotherapy – Robin Skinner, and his former client – the famous English actor John Cleese, the creator of the film “Brian’s Life”. In this remarkable film with an excellent sense of humor, the creators mock the blind believers in religious dogmas. If you’ve seen this movie, you probably remember the remarkable scene in which Brian tells the pursuing crowd to stop worshiping him because “We are all individuals, ” and then the crowd repeats with a roar what he said: ” We are all individuals! “This film has provoked quite fierce criticism from various religious groups, which John Cleese commented:

” But our critics did not seem to be able to distinguish the idea of ​​the exceptional value of Christ’s teaching from the idea that some people misinterpret that teaching .”

Then follows Robin Skinner’s remark that

” It is not possible for people with lower levels of mental health to accept that there are other permissible interpretations.”

then John summarizes the main message of the film:

“I can now explain our position by saying the following: we can be followers of Christ in different ways, corresponding to different levels of mental health .” p.284

This is the statement of a person with a high level of mental health, who sees religious myths not as commands, threats and orders, but as information, guidance and instructions on how to walk the path to God in himself. No wonder, then, that his film “Brian’s Life” embodies one of the healthiest mechanisms of mental protection – a sense of humor. Robin Skinner’s commentary repeats what we already know about how people from different levels of mental health view each other, namely that those with lower levels of mental health would feel very threatened and would therefore reject fiercely such a statement.

„. ..but for your critics to agree with your point of view would mean acknowledging their low level of mental health. And, as I have already pointed out, the unhealthy way for a person to deal with such painful truths is to defend himself and react violently. ”P. 285

In summary, people with different levels of mental health relate to religious “theory” differently – from the lowest level of childhood faith, through the middle level of hard dogma to the high level, which sees it as myths that give us information and guidance for spiritual development and how to achieve personal immediate experience in experiencing the transcendent. In the lowest levels of religious self-consciousness, no right to personal interpretation is allowed, because sacred texts are perceived as the direct Word of God. In the middle part there is already an opportunity for more personal contact with God, he becomes less fearful and acquires human features so that he can communicate more directly with him. At the top of the mental health scale, the believer no longer treats God as a person, but as something inherent in all living things,

Religious practices – between the magical and the esoteric

There are also many differences in religious practices. They refer to the fact that at the lowest level of religious self-consciousness, religion is perceived as something magical and

“As a means of fulfilling desires without recognizing scientific laws and causal relationships.” P.286

Here again we are talking about the characteristics of children’s thinking, but this time it is not the black and white thinking of the young child, but the magical thinking, which is characterized by the belief that if you want something very much, it will happen.

“When one thinks in this way, it seems to be considered that the fulfillment or non-fulfillment of the desire depends only on how strongly one believes in the procedure.” P.286

The interesting thing in this case is that the desires are very intimate, and it is usually not judged who knows what effect they would have on other people if God fulfilled them. John Cleese recounts how his father said that during World War II a National Day of Prayer was set, but by some chance that day England suffered a great defeat and a second day of prayer never followed. A person with a low level of mental health would interpret this as a result of the fact that the English did not pray hard enough, because this magical level of religious practice is characterized by a person who believes that he must believe very strongly in order to act. the miracle and God answered the prayer.

Another characteristic of this type of people are the practices of forgiveness of sins, ie. the prayer that in the same magical way would lead to the forgiveness of sins without the need for redemption:

“The prayer that all the bad things we have done during the day may be forgiven, so that we may begin anew…” p.286

People who are at the middle of the mental health scale continue to retain elements of this magical way of thinking, but they also add to this the understanding that their desires are still fulfilled mostly through their own efforts. These people believe in hard work and foresight, and the relationship with God appears especially in times of crisis and hardship, when they turn to him in prayer to help them get rid of them.

At the highest levels of mental health, people no longer ask God to help them free themselves from pain and trials, but instead try to understand what they mean to them in terms of their spiritual development and service to the Whole. This is because the main practice of people at this level of mental health is understanding .

” After all, people at the top of the scale, where there is a true scientific approach, always strive to understand – in the sense that they see themselves as part of a much bigger thing, infinitely more significant than the individual.” 286

“It is understanding that helps these people focus their efforts on how to ask God to help them achieve their desires to understand what God’s desires are to serve Him. And the key to understanding is this: “these people learn about religious teachings and perceive them not as commandments but as psychological information.” p.288

Apart from the desire for understanding, the other important thing for the upper end of the scale is the attitude to know God not only intellectually through the interpretation and understanding of religious myths, but also directly – as a personal experience of knowledge, the truth of which disappears. Such an experience from the world of the superpersonal layers of the human psyche is usually an experience of interconnection and interaction with the entire cosmic system – the feeling that the universe is a gigantic support system. Robin Skinner, who has had and continues to have moments of such experiences, states that:

“It’s a strong sense of the way all things are interconnected, which can’t be described in words, because you don’t really see anything new, you just realize that what you see all the time has a deeper meaning.” 301.

In this case, at the highest level of mental health, spiritual practices are the practices of esotericism, of the mystical branches of the great religious traditions, which create conditions for direct knowledge of the divine reality unknown at the level of the mind.

Literal or symbolic thinking

One of the criteria for a low level of mental health in the field of religious beliefs is the perception of words from sacred texts literally . Along with the black-and-white perception and magical thinking that characterize children’s thinking, this is another feature of this type of people – they take words literally . If the Bible says that the serpent had legs and that it was possible for a man to grow hair and become an animal in a few years, even in some of the Christian sects now in force, orthodox Christians still believe this. At the lowest levels of mental health, no dissent, personal interpretation or disagreement with the Authority is allowed, and this applies to families with low levels of mental health as well as to religious communities.

It is the prohibition of free interpretation and critique of sacred texts, as well as the compulsion to strictly observe the precepts, that is the basis of religious fundamentalism. Knowing how much trouble this militant conservative movement had brought to the people, I treated it with undisguised criticism and condemnation. I knew that fundamentalism grew most in places where there was extreme poverty or despair, places where it was scary to even imagine living conditions, but what I had just read in Robin Skinner’s book made me realize my own deprivation. sufficient understanding attitude, namely that

“In situations of extreme moral decay or deprivation … only an extremely harsh corrective can restore some order.” pp. 296

For people who already know Morgan Scott Peck’s ideas for the “Four Levels of Consciousness”, it is easy to recognize in the above the same idea, albeit in other words. According to Peck, religious consciousness, which is the second level of consciousness (ie, based on hard rules, rituals, and precepts), is an evolutionary advance from the first level, which is characterized by antisociality, chaos, and a lack of order and rules. For this type of people, the most appropriate moral precepts are the Ten Commandments, such as “Thou shalt not steal,” “Thou shalt not kill,” and “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” which for the third-level man lose their meaning because they are already internalized. of his inner nature and code of ethics), and to the fourth-level man they seem childishly naive and too narrow to embrace the complexity of interaction with the Whole.

If a person has not yet learned in a natural inner way to respect other people and not to harm them, the most suitable for him is a religion with clear precepts, strict rules and fear of punishment from a higher power. For him, considering religious myths as psychological information for a deeper understanding of his own psychic mechanisms would not only be inappropriate, but would do more harm than good.

“The thing is, everyone interprets the prevailing myth or the predominant religion in a way that suits them; shows the best understanding he is capable of. ”p.297

If we add to the above the understanding that people with low levels of mental health come from families in which there is great uncertainty due to the lack of clear boundaries, it becomes clear that it is the undisputed religious structures and beliefs that can give them so the necessary support to deal with the complexity and uncertainty of the outside world. Like young children, who are highly dependent on their parents and internally insecure due to their inability to rely on themselves, these people still do not have the resources to deal with the freedom that comes from religious beliefs that allow them to doubt and rely on internal, not external authority.

“At the levels of greater mental health, people are mature enough to endure insecurity, to think for themselves and to take more responsibility for their lives, so they also look at religious ideas in this way. But those who cannot bear the great uncertainty perceive information as orders requiring obedience, because they function better and feel happier when there is someone to tell them what to do. Like children who need clear instructions and firm restrictions because they feel that emotions locked within these limits are safe. Such people are adapted to understand myths as something that helps them not to give vent to their emotions. Of course, if they later change to a higher level of mental health, their perceptions change accordingly. ”P.298

For me, the above is not just an interesting theory, but a real experience of meeting real people with whom my practice as a psychotherapist has met me, and whose human destinies have touched me extremely. Only looking at mental health as a scale, as well as a variable over time, could give me a perspective through which to understand the nature of the processes that my clients went through. I feel grateful for what the meeting with them gave me and a deep respect for their destinies, because the moral conflicts they went through, refusing unquestioning obedience to external spiritual authorities, are deeply touching.

At their core, these conflicts were nothing more than their internal struggles over how to figure out what was good to side with him. They were told that any dissent and reading books that were not Christian was a temptation from the devil. Therefore, to allow themselves to doubt and have a different opinion from that of the priests was for them the equivalent of surrendering to the devil, for whom they had already been warned to do just that. I can imagine their inner heroism when, despite all the fears that their nascent doubt might indeed come to the devil, they nevertheless allowed themselves to “surrender” to it, allowing themselves to have their own opinion different from that to which they they had studied.

Good, evil and psychic projections

Differences in the understanding of religion are also manifested in the different way in which the concept of good is interpreted by people with different levels of mental health. And the “good” for different people is different and depends on how they view the “bad”.

At the lowest levels of mental health, people have no moral restraint in persecuting and seeking to punish those they have designated as bearers of “evil.” It even gives them pleasure. In the middle range of the scale, people no longer persecute those destined for evil, and their reactions range from hatred, suspicion, resentment to moral disapproval, and a desire to “save” those who are different from themselves.

“Furthermore, at the upper end of the middle range, people are completely kind and compassionate, trying to realize their own mistakes and fight them, so they can sincerely forgive the mistakes of others.” P.289

It is clear that people from different parts of the mental health scale apply different interpretations to the concept of good according to the level of mastery of their projections. To the lowest degree, evil is completely outside man and is persecuted with the conviction that it has nothing to do with persecution. In the middle, evil is deeply suppressed and hidden “behind the screen” of negative feelings, so that not only other people, but also the person himself can not detect it – in other words, “a person tries to feel that he is” good “.” P.289 . In the highest degreesone does not try to be good – he simply is. In this case, it is about the fact that a person is already able to experience within himself his dual feelings and not project them on others. As the authors of this book say, the psychological concept of projection is actually quite old. It can be found in the famous words of Christ. “Why do you look the straw in your brother’s eye, but you do not see the beam in your own eye?”

Therefore, the main criterion for the highest level of mental health in this case is integrity . As Robin Skinner says,

“In my opinion, the main goal of all great spiritual traditions is to help us become more whole – both internally and in the society in which we live.”

And adds:

“Remember that one of the devil’s names is ‘diabolos,’ which means ‘divider,’ ‘piecemeal.’ Integration brings enlightenment and understanding. Disintegration – darkness and meaninglessness… In other words, if you see evil in yourself as evil, it becomes difficult to maintain it. Recognition is the first step to his treatment, because then it connects with other feelings that oppose him and want to change him. pp. 317-318

In summary, different levels of mental health determine different reactions to the notion of good and evil – one of the main themes of religion. In the lowest levels of mental health, evil is something entirely external to man, and he strives with all his might not only to protect himself from it, but also to put fierce persecution into those whom he has perceived as its bearers. On average, evil is still something that one seeks to protect oneself from and stay clean from, but at least one already feels greater understanding and compassion for sinners. Only in the highest degrees of mental health is one able to go beyond the eternal conflict of struggle between good and evil and see them as both sides of the same whole. Not only has he already withdrawn his projections of evil in the outside world,

The knowledge that we live in a world where people with different levels of mental health coexist makes the need for different religious beliefs more different for different people. Such an understanding leads to increased tolerance for dissenters, but no less shows the urgent need for us humans as a whole to move to higher levels of spiritual intelligence and mental health.

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