A Hospice for the Mind
A recent poll suggests that Americans see religion as increasingly important in their lives. Another shows numbers visiting British churches are on the rise for the first time in decades. However, this is interpreted, the sheep are clearly flocking. It seems the reason is far from shrouded in obscurity, on this occasion there is no movement in mysterious ways, it is caused by the change in attitude following the atrocity of the eleventh of September 2001. A large number of people are turning to religion because they want to feel better, either by believing in a life beyond death or through the search for some eternal truth. It's our fault. We've failed. We came so close to instilling rational thought as the central tenet of Western life and we've been pulled back into the dark ages. We had the opportunity, plenty of it. For five hundred years we've been advancing the cause of reality over the doctrine of the imaginary and many of us thought, rather complacently, that the trend was inevitable. Osama bin Laden and his suicidal followers have done vast damage to us, beyond even the horrific loss of life; they have set our intellectual progress back at least half a century. The television is filled with religious figures explaining that they can offer something absent from the science texts, absolute truth, and people find that a rather attractive claim. Of course, they can't deliver on the claim but they know full well that it simply doesn't matter. The reason it is never necessary to deliver on their promise is because they aren't offering treatment for despair, merely a place to escape it. I have heard several of these respectable churchmen claim that they were offering solace, fulfilment, essentially treatment for the mind, grief management. They lie. If they were offering any form of treatment then their aim would be to return their parishioners to the outside world with healthier minds, refreshed for the life ahead. Nothing could be further from the truth. The actual analogy we should be using is that of a hospice. People are shocked into an unhappy mental state so they turn to religion for help. Unfortunately, the institution to which these unfortunates voluntarily commit themselves has only one course of treatment. They use the same basic methodology as Freud, a talking cure, but a specialised one indeed. In order to adopt the treatment, the hapless victim must subsume all independent thought to a cult that not only believes in an entity for which there is no proof but also arrogantly declares that it breaks the cult rules to even search for such proof. Over time the effect is to teach ignorance as a creed, lack of curiosity as the mark of mental stability. In order to take advantage of the help offered by the religious cults it is also necessary to accept that there is no end to the treatment, no cure for what ails you. Once you enter the hospice you are destined to never leave, especially since the longer you remain the less able you become to deal with reality outside. Churches are where you send your mind to die. So, what's wrong with that? I am not one of the outpatients so why attack the institution, after all it does ease suffering and as a compassionate person, I find that an appealing thought. Well, let's start at the beginning. The atrocity perpetrated on the United States was one of faith. The attackers were outpatients as well, merely from a different hospice. Surely that could make people pause before signing away their free will. Secondly, I find an organisation that uses mass grief and trauma as a business opportunity, however sensible, leaves a sour taste in my mouth. I wouldn't choose to be associated with such an entity and it saddens me that so many are. Finally, and most importantly, there is the real worry of addiction. The problem with drugs, even prescription drugs, is that after a while a dependency on the drug becomes more important than the symptom the drug was designed to treat. And make no mistake, religion doesn't solve the problem, it only treats the symptoms, a truly dangerous situation. Eventually the patient will begin to associate the control of the symptoms with progress in dealing with the underlying cause, will begin to believe that the drug is actually treating them. It is true that for many the feelings of grief and horror are overwhelming. This is a genuine problem and must not be ignored. Grief fades however; just because we live in an instant gratification society, we have no right to demand instant recovery from such trauma. For some, of course, it is impossible to cope without some support. I'm not referring to those personally affected by the terrorists, who might well benefit from grief counselling, but to those whose only involvement was the unfolding of a nightmare on CNN. For those, the random grief-stricken, there are some who will not deal with their feelings alone. This is their weakness, understandable though it may be, and it is these individuals that the vultures are circling. The churches, the psychiatrists, the faith healers, new-age booksellers and homeopaths, the catalogue of mind-softening exploitative parasites that we have permitted to breed like vermin beneath our feet. They sicken me, partly by their targeting of the weak and hopeless and partly by their actions once they gather such a person. You see they are not merely a place for thought to die; they are the butchers of thought themselves. Come to church, they say, if you are weak and miserable. We have lovely buildings for your body to inhabit while we murder your mind.