What Christians need to know about Religious Beliefs and Mental Health
One of the things I’ve encountered from New Age practitioners in terms of attacks on my choice of Christianity is the implication that I’m mentally unstable and people cannot trust anything I say.
Firstly, this the very reason why people never discuss their mental health with others and why they suffer in silence; people are mean. They’re also inclined to exploit any perceived weakness in another person for the purpose of undermining them or bringing them down.
People do it to public figures like Kanye West all the time as a way to dismiss anything he says. For the record, having anxiety doesn’t mean that a person can’t tell the difference between a banana and an apple, nor does it mean they cannot perceive reality or exercise sound judgement. It’s an erroneous thing people do to their fellow human beings and one of the reasons why the claim that people don’t have a problem with sin just doesn’t hold water.
People are cruel and they spread lies. That’s an unfortunate fact.
It’s why we need God to help us reform our ways and choose to be better than our fallen nature.
The other thing is, the assertion that Christianity has negative outcomes for mental health is demonstrably untrue. In fact, the opposite is consistently found in research literature and studies.
For example, a study by Kulis et al. in 2012 found that under-privileged teens were less likely to develop substance abuse problems if they were practicing Christians. Burshtein et al. in 2016 found that organised religion was a protective factor against committing suicide. Goeke-Morel et al. in 2013 discovered a direct correlation between devout Christian mothers and positive development indicators in their children. Lin et al. in 2015 studied Christian, Buddhist and Taoist communities in Taiwan and discovered that being Christian out-performed all other mainstream religions in terms of preventing dementia and Alzheimer’s in older age. And lastly, May, Cooper and Fincham in 2020 compared meditation to prayer in marriage counselling and found that prayer had far better outcomes in terms of repairing relationships than either meditation or no intervention. That same study also found that prayer improved cardiovascular health.
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Study after study after study confirm that Christianity outperforms all other religions and spiritual practices when it comes to multiple facets of wellbeing, from relationships and early childhood development to physiological health and mental health. These outcomes are also independent of other life circumstances such as poverty and conflict. In other words, people do better with God in their lives regardless of what the world throws at them.
People in the New Age can be mad about it, but that won’t alter reality.
But that’s kind of the crux of the matter, isn’t it?
One of the defining features of New Age practice is attempting to exercise control over circumstances and other people. If you think about manifestation, the primary goal is to exercise control over different situations, often situations which are beyond the human scope.
A defining feature of true Christianity is relinquishing control to God.
Thy will be done, not my will be done.
The reason why I emphasise true Christianity is because many New Age beliefs and practices have been adopted into the church over the decades since the 1960’s and have given rise to movements like Progressive Christianity, Word of Faith and the prosperity gospel, not to mention the heretical notion of “Christ consciousness” promoted by Oprah.
This brings us to an investigation of mental health outcomes for New Age practitioners.
When the accusation was levelled that Christians are mentally unstable in comparison to New Age spirituality, my first impulse was to defend Christianity, which in once sense is what we’re called to do, but in another sense constantly puts us on the back-foot in terms of clarifying that Jesus is the only way, truth and life.
But it occurred to me that I’ve never really heard of studies to back up a lot of the claims often made by people who peddle self-help books which claim New Age spiritual practices outperform Christianity. Most of the time what you’ll get in studies is a deliberate conflation of meditation with prayer, but as I have pointed out in a previous video, they’re very different beasts indeed when studied separately. Either that, or they’ll mis-quote the bible itself and adopt pseudoscience which puts a heavy spin on metaphysics and it’s just not present in the real research.
So I looked up the studies on mental health in the New Age and the results were unsurprising, but also confirmed some theories I had already developed from my own observations.
My theories which I had discussed in the past on YouTube were that people attracted to the New Age and paganism have had abusive childhoods and that has resulted in a certain level of openness to the “astral” which I have since started to refer to as the 2nd heaven where Satan and his angels reside. This openness is characterised by dissociation, which is a key element of all the practices promoted in the New Age such as meditation, astral travel, shamanic journeying, psychedelic drugs, and channelling.
Basically, when children are abused by a primary caregiver (parents, babysitters, grandparents etc) and they cannot physically escape, they escape mentally. This is called dissociation and it is a phenomenon where the person’s consciousness can separate from the physical body in order to protect itself from a horrific reality.
Not only that, but such an unsafe relationship with a primary caregiver also results in a disorganised attachment style.
If you’re not yet familiar with Bowlby, Ainsworth and Baumrind’s Attachment Theories, it’s a psychology term used to describe the bond between parents and small children. This relationship is the foundation for a person’s entire life and is a good predictor of how well they will do in school, in their careers and in their future relationships. If the attachment is unstable or insecure, that person is going to have to undergo years of therapy to try and rectify the situation, otherwise they will struggle to function normally, especially in relationships.
Two studies by Granqvist, Hagekull and Fransson in 2001 and 2009 looked at the correlation between New Age practices and attachment styles. Their theory was that a disorganised attachment style would be linked to dissociation as well as a tendency toward altered states of consciousness.
This particular segment stood out to me, personally, as a great way of understanding how confusing an abusive parent is to a small child.
I can remember my own mother laughing about how she had done this to my brother when he was very little: she was raging at him so much that he ran around in a circle, crying, and then ran to her for protection and comfort. She thought it was funny because it showed how “stupid” a three-year-old is.
What a monster.
When I say that I have been through this stuff myself, I mean it. I’m not trying to be mean or patronising, I’m trying to tell people how to find their way out.
One of the key differences noted between New Age practitioners and Christians or even non-religious people, was an inability to process or articulate trauma. People who practice New Age beliefs seem to be averse to the reality and finality of death, in particular. Granqvist and Hagekull (2001) refer to this as “emotional compensation” for a lack of parental security in early childhood.
This is fairly consistent with a lot of the advice I had been given when it came to practices like mediumship and divination. It could be that one of the reasons why the bible prohibits such things is for the mental well-being of people and to encourage them to let go. Again, a lot of it comes down to the urge to control major aspects of life and death, which are meant to be the domain of God.
Another interesting contrast between Christians and New Agers is that people with secure attachment styles are more likely to be religious if their parents were, whereas people with disorganised attachment were more likely to becomes spiritual if their parents were NOT. Security seems to foster an affinity for following the lead of their parents, while insecurity fosters a rebellious nature which runs contrary to their parents.
Their definition of the cognitive markers of New Age thought as an emphasis on intuition, subjectivity, relativism, immanence of the material world, and a smorgasbord of practices and philosophies which are impossible to pin down into any kind of structure.
One of the key markers noted in the table of results for New Agers is that their beliefs are subject to sudden and intense changes. This is related to insecure attachment styles and mirrors a lot of relationship tendencies such as the “soul mate” notion where relationships will start very quickly and be characterised by drastic emotional highs and lows rather than stability and security.
They’re looking for stability, but they aren’t finding it because the New Age is designed to be ephemeral and to reject conventional notions of order, rationality and temperance.
The sand is constantly shifting beneath their feet, which is a familiar pattern inherited from unstable attachment to parents, but no one has been able to explain why their lives are constantly punctuated by states of distress.
This very much harks back to Matthew 7:24-27 (ESV) where Jesus says:
24 “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock. 26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
One of the big reasons why I advocate for a relationship with God through the real Jesus Christ is because people need some form of stability and structure in life, whether they’re willing to admit it or not. If they didn’t get it from their family, then it becomes vital to cultivate it through God.
Farias, Claridge and Lalljee conducted a study in 2005 which looked at personality and “loose cognitive styles” such as magical thinking, loose association, schizotypy, poor boundaries and emotional hypersensitivity. The results were not good.
There’s a cognitive tendency to associate random factors or events with one another to derive meaning beyond what is evident. Compile that with an openness to both experiences and suggestibility, thin mental and emotional boundaries, and insecure attachment styles… Farias, Claridge and Lalljee (2005) found that all of these factors result in tendencies towards personality disorders.
However, they found that people in the New Age are not generally in the realm of psychosis, but are somewhere between psychosis and normal when compared to Christians, agnostics and mental patients. Their grip on reality is tenuous, but still mostly present.
This is pretty good news in terms of getting treatment through therapy and through stable relationships if they ever have the inclination to turn to God and the church. Whether they will or not, might depend on the people that they associate with Christianity.
The main reason why New Age practitioners get so mad with Christians and with God is because of their attachment issues. If you think about the fact that God is our heavenly Father, and the church is supposed to represent our mother… having a toxic relationship with either of those earthly representatives will drive a wedge between people and Christianity.
They’re accustomed to feeling unsafe with their mother or father, and they’re accustomed to being forced to rely on themselves alone because they cannot trust their parents to look after them. Sometimes, they’ve also experienced abuse directly from the church.
Christians need to take this stuff seriously because it is the main issue in attempting to save people. An unsafe church which tolerates abuse is purely doing Satan’s work, not God’s. In a fallen world it is up to the church to show people who are lost what love is supposed to look like.
Hopefully this will give people some food for thought regarding their wellbeing and provide some hope for a different future than the one they currently have.
Burshtein, S, Dohrenwend, BP, Levav, I, Werbeloff, N, Davidson, M & Weiser, M 2016, ‘Religiosity as a protective factor against suicidal behaviour’, Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavica, vol. 133, no. 6, pp. 481–488.
Goeke‐Morey, MC, Cairns, E, Merrilees, CE, Schermerhorn, AC, Shirlow, P & Cummings, EM 2013, ‘Maternal Religiosity, Family Resources and Stressors, and Parent–Child Attachment Security in Northern Ireland’, Social Development (Oxford, England), vol. 22, no. 1, pp. 19–37.
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Kézdy, A, Martos, T, Boland, V & Horváth-Szabó, K 2010, ‘Religious doubts and mental health in adolescence and young adulthood: The association with religious attitudes’, Journal of Adolescence (London, England.), vol. 34, no. 1, pp. 39–47.
Kulis, S, Hodge, DR, Ayers, SL, Brown, EF & Marsiglia, FF 2012, ‘Spirituality and Religion: Intertwined Protective Factors for Substance Use among Urban American Indian Youth’, The American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, vol. 38, no. 5, pp. 444–449.
Lin, KP, Chou, YC, Chen, JH, Chen, CD, Yang, SY, Chen, TF & Chen, YC 2015, ‘Religious affiliation and the risk of dementia in Taiwanese elderly’, Archives of Gerontology and Geriatrics, vol. 60, no. 3, pp. 501–506.
Shor, E & Roelfs, DJ 2013, ‘The Longevity Effects of Religious and Nonreligious Participation: A Meta-Analysis and Meta-Regression’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 52, no. 1, pp. 120–145.
May, RW, Cooper, AN & Fincham, FD 2020, ‘Prayer in Marriage to Improve Wellness: Relationship Quality and Cardiovascular Functioning’, Journal of Religion and Health, vol. 59, no. 6, pp. 2990–14.
Granqvist, P, Fransson, M & Hagekull, B 2009, ‘Disorganized attachment, absorption, and new age spirituality: a mediational model’, Attachment & Human Development, vol. 11, no. 4, pp. 385–403.
Farias, M, Claridge, G & Lalljee, M 2005, ‘Personality and cognitive predictors of New Age practices and beliefs’, Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 39, no. 5, pp. 979–989.
Granqvist, P & Hagekull, B 2001, ‘Seeking Security in the New Age: On Attachment and Emotional Compensation’, Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, vol. 40, no. 3, pp. 527–545.