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How Religion Can Negatively Affect the Mental Health of Gays and Lesbians

 

Religion is prevalent almost everywhere. Although the number of atheists is on the rise, they are still very much in the minority. In the United States, the majority of people identify as Christian. Their views can range from very liberal, yet still believing in Christ and the Bible, to very extreme, where they take parts of the Bible literally and take on extreme right social views.

A significant number of Christians believe homosexuality is a sin as a result, and this can make gay Christians think they are defective – and can even tear apart families, when parents are forced to choose between their faith and accepting their child for being gay. Also, religious fanaticism around the world can, and often does, negatively impact the mental health of both believers and non-believers.

The Bible condemns homosexuality and says it is an “abomination.” However, some Christians are able to put this in perspective and realize that much of the Bible is metaphorical and cultural, not to be taken literally. It was written thousands of years ago by flawed human beings. Therefore, some denominations and churches are able to welcome gay people into their congregations, perform gay weddings, and have gay pastors. President Barack Obama is an example of someone who identifies as Christian but is in favor of gay rights and gay marriage.

On the other hand, many Christians still believe the Bible is the word of God and meant to be taken literally, even though they casually ignore the fact that the Bible promoted slavery and stoning people for things as innocent as being disrespectful to one’s parents or engaging in homosexual behavior. They actively oppose gay marriage as somehow being harmful to “traditional marriage,” and although some of these people often say they and God still love homosexuals, they condemn homosexual acts (and sometimes even homosexual thoughts) as sin, and often phrase homosexuality in terms of being unnatural and deviant.

And on the far extreme, there are people, such as those affiliated with the Westboro Baptist Church, who picket the funerals of gay people with signs that read “God Hates Fags” and other demeaning things. Worse still, in some countries across the world, homosexuality is illegal and even punishable by death. This is often due to extreme religious views (BBC News; Ranker).

The “psychiatric bible,” the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), used to define homosexuality as a mental disorder in one of its earlier editions – probably a sign of the times when homosexuality was more widely thought of as being wrong. However, it removed homosexuality from its list of disorders in 1973 because there was no empirical evidence of homosexuality being a mental disorder that negatively affects people’s lives. The only reason homosexuals often have a hard time is because they are in the minority, they are “different,” and they are still discriminated against – not only manifested by anti-gay bullying in schools, but also by not having marriage equality in the United States and many places in the world.

When gay people are told they are defective or need to stop being gay because of religious beliefs, the obvious result is that it negatively affects their mental health. It can force people to go into denial and try to accept a straight lifestyle for themselves, even though deep down, they are really gay and would benefit from people being more accepting and allowing them to “come out.” Some people stay in the closet because they are not comfortable with themselves, even though their families and friends would accept them. I believe this has to do with not enough education about homosexuality being normal from an early age.

Meanwhile, there are conservatives lobbying for the Bible to be taught in public schools and who are against any measures to make homosexuality seem normal, even opposing anti-gay bullying measures. To me, this seems very intolerant and makes no sense, and goes against one of the few virtues I see of being religious or a Christian – which is supposedly to be good to one another. An extremist response to this might be, “we are helping people by guiding them to Jesus and sparing them an eternity in Hell.” I reject this “kindness” at face value.

Another negative impact of anti-gay religious views on the mental health of gay people and their families is that they can force gay people to become anxious, depressed, and even paranoid because they believe that others do not approve of their lifestyle.

Even though anti-gay views might exist without religion due to prejudice and bigotry that naturally exists among people due to fear of the unknown or the different, the widespread history of religious anti-gay dogma certainly adds fuel to the fire.

Anti-gay religious views also cannot be good for the mental health of people holding these views because they are practicing intolerance and bigotry and, while that may make people feel somehow more powerful, deep down it cannot really be good for their happiness and self-esteem to be individuals who hate other individuals because they are different. I believe tolerance is good for mental health because it helps people view the world in a more optimistic way, which is important to mental health.

Negative religious beliefs are not limited to those persecuting homosexuals. Other viewpoints or behaviors which are considered “deviant” from a religious extremist’s viewpoint are often condemned. Prominent Christian voices, such as Dr. James Dobson, often blame tragedies on the result of things like abortion and rejection of God, in addition to homosexuality.

In response to the Newtown tragedy, Dobson said, “I think we have turned our back on the Scripture and on God Almighty and I think he has allowed judgment to fall upon us. I think that’s what’s going on” (NEWSMAX.COM). I believe this is highly erroneous thinking.

Luckily, the times are changing. Homosexuality, atheism, and non-extremist religious viewpoints are becoming more accepted and celebrated in cultures around the world. There is still a long way to go before full equality and non-stigma are accomplished. However, every year it seems that society is making strides toward this goal.

Both religious and non-religious people are realizing that gay marriage and non-discrimination are civil rights. And even though I expect that, for a long time to come, some people will continue to hold anti-gay views, significant progress is being made, improving the mental health of people – gay and straight – around the world.

Sources:

“7 Worst Capital Punishments for Being (Illegally Gay).” Ranker. 2013. Web. 24 Jun 2013.

Mullins, Michael. “James Dobson Links Newtown Shooting to Linked to Gay Marriage, Abortion.” NEWSMAX.COM.  18 Dec 2012.  Web.  24 Jun 2013.

“Uganda Anti-Homosexuality Bill: MP’s drop death penalty.”  BBC News.  23 Nov 2012.  Web.  24 Jun 2013.

 

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Filed under: Spirituality · Tags: Christian, Christianity, homosexuality, mental health, religion, religious

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