A listener by the name of Christina has a serious situation going with her family, with religion as the primary cause. I am making this public with Cristina's permission because I sincerely hope the atheist community can put our heads together and come up with possible solutions for her...
My father was diagnosed as
Bipolar when I was a teenager. He lives abroad with his girlfriend who
is very religious and has been burying himself in scripture. Because he
is Bipolar he tends to lob onto things and makes it his world.
weeks ago he sent me a letter basically laying out the end of the world
and the coming of Jesus and included a few pics of clouds he took in
which he circled a few clouds, named them and said this was his evidence
for the second coming.
Oh, and Jesus is coming in the form of aliens.[sic]
understand that his condition is pushing him into the realm of
inconceivable, but I can't help but blame the religious leaders and the
horrific things in Revelations that fuel this.
The religious are giving
him a pass for his intense faith instead of recognizing that he needs
medical mental help. He has attempted suicide before and being on the
other side of the world, I feel helpless. All I can try to do is talk
sense into a man who has no sense left, and appeal to his emotions that I
love and care for him.
I want people to know that by couching
irrationality as faith, you might miss the signs of someone in need of
real mental help. Another grave example of "What's the Harm?"
For thousands of years, religions have
preyed on those with limited mental capacities to defend themselves, and
I'm so sorry to hear that it's currently happening to your father. I
want you to know, first and foremost, this is why we fight.
email is one of the more difficult ones to respond to, because your
father is so far way, and because his struggle with bi-polar disorder
probably means he won't even acknowledge there is a problem.
often feel like that Marine standing on the cliff with a sword, looking
up at a 7-story dragon. We feel that way because religion is the
perfect control mechanism. A facade of greatness, and an evil
backdrop of control, discrimination, and hatred, make it the perfect four-headed monster, nearly impossible to defeat.
We're basically fighting the bad guy, while everyone thinks we're the bad guy.
But religion does have a weakness in logic. I'm making this public because I am sure there are multiple approaches that many very intelligent atheists could take, but my personal approach would not be to attack the religion at this point, because that will only bring division and make you his enemy. Instead, I would try to work with your father as closely as possible to be logical about every-day life--things that have nothing to do with religion just to get the ball rolling.
So how do we that? I would start by encouraging him to see a psychiatrist (or continue seeing one if he is) to make sure his medicine is up to date. If you can help him gain some consistency with his thoughts and emotions, he will be much more level-headed, and easier to talk to. Ask him how he feels, and if he felt better on medication in the past. Ask him what he wants out of life, and if emotional stability sounds refreshing.
Ask him questions and get his thoughts on politics, science, and biology. Not to debate him, but to allow him an opportunity to talk through these things on his own. You can be a voice on the other end of the phone (or perhaps Skype in your situation) to guide him along, and show him that he has the ability to be rational and make his own decisions when he weighs out the consequences.
Building his confidence in his own thoughts will help him to be more resistant to accepting the thoughts of others in group psychology. That one is very important, because we want him to trust his own logic. When things don't sound right, we want him to question that, not just accept it and assume he is wrong because "God knows best."
Once he begins to trust himself, and get the medication he needs, it may be time to ask him how he feels about some of the more difficult passages in the bible, and ask him how he resolves those conflicts internally.You want him to discover on his own, that these things are impossible. If you flat out say they are, he'll fight you every step of the way, and your resistance will only strengthen his religious bond.
I certainly hope we can stay updated with your situation and continue to offer help. Things like this are never resolved in single conversation, and I'm hopeful that more people will be able to offer more ideas.
Thanks for writing.