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The health of apostates

October 12, 2014

I never suffered any anxiety from leaving my childhood religion. But I’ve never been an anxious person. It’s easy to understand how other people would suffer from that, especially if it comes with being disowned by family or friends, with loss of job or status, or with other material changes in life. All of which impinge on health. Then there’s this:

“When you were five years old and learning English, you never stopped to ask your parents why you weren’t learning German,” said Ray, who uses cognitive behavioral therapy to decatastrophize the concept of hell for clients. “You just learn it. The same is often true of religion. When you’re taught about hell and eternal damnation at ages four through seven, these strong concepts are not going to easily leave you. Just like it’s hard to unlearn English, it’s hard to unlearn the concept of hell.”

Dr. Javier Campos sees this in his family practice:

If you have this thought of hell and that you’re going to be punished for unbelief, it [sometimes] translates into other somatic symptoms, such as headaches, anxiety, and needing to be on medication to sleep.

No doubt, unlearning is more difficult for some people than for others. But even if someone wanted, most of us cannot brainwash ourselves into a faith. Especially one well-understood and once shattered. I suspect there are many non-believers in the pews of their long-time churches, wondering who of their fellow congregants actually believe, and who are merely going through the motions for the human camaraderie and for fear of what they would lose if they made their non-belief public. Good on Javier Campos, who has a compassion independent of his own religious belief.

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