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Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction
"In the midst of the growing 'Amusement Park' mentality of today's spiritual movements, one man has been brave enough to address the dangers involved in being a seeker. Mr. Pearson does not come across as an opponent to religion but seems to speak to us from the heart. Every person claiming to be a student of spirituality should have this volume on their bookshelf!"
Lisa Miller on "Hyperreligiosity."
There is a timely nature of this work, as religious extremism is in the news every night. The author's hope is that the ideas in this book will become assimilated so that people drawn to acting out in religious extremism will have other perspectives to consider.
This book is instrumental for understanding why people join destructive cults. This book bridges the gap between psychological understanding and the spiritual drive. Each one done separately is usually disregarded by the audience drawn more to the other. That is, people writing on a secular psychological level do not always take into account historically important spiritual goals. But the most dangerous situation is when people with a religious drive are not instructed on the dangers of what can happen to people who are very religious and have some imbalances. This book describes how these imbalances manifest and how they can be overcome.
Psychologists can't agree on the spelling of the mental illness known as hyperreligiosity. It can either be spelled as, "hyper-religiousity," "hyper-religiosity," "hyperreligiosity," or "hyperreligiousity," and each spelling is used in google by doctors. Hyperreligiosity is at the root of the need to join destructive cults and blinds people to the goals of true spirituality. This book examines the root causes of why a person can believe that a small group can be the only one to have the answer to the greatest questions on earth.
Hyperreligiosity is the ill-fitting grasp of the role of religion and God in one's life. It is the disability that can lead to killing in the name of God, or isolation from others in the name of religion. One often sees reports in the news about people who have done various criminal acts because they believe they were guided by God to do so. The tone of this work is at once both psychological and spiritual. The author himself had hyperreligious traits but went on to live a normal life, graduating from a secular university and starting, and maintaining for over twelve years, a software company. He uses basic language that draws on psychology to construct an analysis of the problem that takes into account the many positive aspects of religion.
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See the work on The Experience of Hallucinations in Religious Practice for a similar book by the same author and for more information that pertains to the style of this book.
Here is the introduction from the book: "Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction."
I must state first of all that I am not a psychiatrist and this work falls under the realm of "anecdotal evidence." Anecdotal evidence is nonetheless known to be very important in medical science. In no way should a person who was diagnosed as hyperreligious by a psychiatrist or psychologist look at this work as being a substitute for adequate psychiatric or psychological help. I believe it is fitting that someone who was once diagnosed as hyperreligious should write a book on this subject rather than someone with no religious belief. A person who has no religious belief cannot understand the gray areas where the religious person makes certain important actions, which may be seen as sacrifices, for the benefit of their belief structure.
Hyperreligiosity is the ill-fitting grasp of the role of religion and God in one's life. It is the disability that can lead to killing in the name of God, or isolation from others in the name of religion. Hyperreligiosity happens most often when one thinks that they know the mind of God, and that one can know all the ways of God. The bible is one of the scriptures of the major world religions that clearly states this is impossible. There are psychological reasons why a person with hyperreligiosity needs to have the assurance that they know the complete mind of God. This book will explore some of them and some possible ways out of the dysfunctions of hyperreligiosity.
This is a very difficult work to write because religion often does great things for people that cannot be easily measured by society. There has been a duality occurring in some therapeutic communities of those who might be termed "hyperreligious" by some psychiatrists and therapists and those who have spent many years in therapy and do not fall under this judgment. Psychiatry often admits it can't cure people. The very nature of being a part of the community of a local church on a weekly basis, year after year, is a consistent social achievement beyond some people's reach. Socializing with the same group of people on a regular basis is often more than what some who resort to psychiatry alone can say they have done.
It is hard writing a book on hyperreligiosity when you yourself know that you have aspects of it. The worse thing for the hyperreligious is to feel that they are somehow causing another person to be less religious. Instead, in solving the problem of hyperreligiosity in a person, one opens that person up for true religion, or better, true spirituality. At times, in discussing one's hyperreligiosity, one may seem like one is trying to sound like a saint. But when one sees the problems associated with it, the listener begins to perceive that this is not the case. One begins to wonder how good of a life this is that we have chosen.
This book is in no way an attempt to help people become less religious or spirituality-centered in their thinking. In fact, it is the opposite, an attempt to empower spiritual people away from the disempowering ideas found along the spiritual path. The word "hyperreligious" seems like it might seem to mean "very religious" or "ultra spiritual" in the way that we picture the qualities of a superhero. Hyperreligiosity can happen when the outer form that true spirituality flows through becomes distorted to the extent that it becomes the sole focus. Instead of people being more loving, helpful to others, and filled with what they experience as God's nature to help them in their life, they become suspicious, isolated, and full of an untrue image of God that they can mold to their personal desires.
A type of hyperreligiosity can also happen when political groups use religious beliefs as a dividing line in the exercise of power, as a way to build sides so that other aims can be achieved. Hence political leaders in the past have called on the demon that is hyperreligiosity to awaken in the people so that war could be more easily approved. When hyperreligiousity does not exist in a person, there usually has to be very, very strong reasons to justify war to a human being, especially one that concerns oneself with religious thinking.
Hyperreligiosity produces painful results in the way other mental illnesses produce painful results. It is the mental illness that seems officially sanctioned by God to the person who has it. It can be difficult reading this subject matter if you have been afflicted by hyperreligiosity in any way. One may begin to feel anger, even negativity. Temporarily, this state can be a better place to be. It is taking the chance at maturing as an adult, instead being caught up in acting out the biblical admonition of being "like little children" to not just God in heaven, but to everyone, in every circumstance.
If there is a better understanding of hyperreligiosity, many of the problems of the world can be further solved. But for a religious person to even admit the term "hyperreligiosity" is a valid term, is itself difficult. People talk about the changes that need to take place as changes in the heart, but religious texts such as the bible, do not limit it in such a way. There needs to be a growth of wisdom, a growth of intellectual understanding of truth, for the world to change. Understanding that religious action is not always fruitful is a part of that knowledge and in fact much of the bible itself discusses this.
My disclaimer to this book is that if a person's religion brings them to a state of being that one becomes like a Mother Teresa or an Albert Schweitzer, and truly helps many other people, that is wonderful. I would never make an argument against that type of behavior, only encourage it. I believe it is such individuals that caused the evolution of humanity throughout time.
This work examines not so much how religion works miraculously in some people's lives, but instead focuses on when it works disastrously in others. I would be just as happy to write about religion's virtues because I strongly believe in religion and its ability to produce all the virtues. I noticed that there is not much written on this subject of religious mental illness by people who still uphold religious beliefs. I am in no way trying to make people "less religious" who have hyperreligiosity. Making Mother Teresa less religious probably would have also made her less helpful to the starving people of India. The aim is to find a way to free what religion actually is about and to know what is the form of mental illness and societal dysfunction that hides in a religious costume. The result will be freeing those with sincere religious desires to become more active in following the true spiritual life. There will be no limit to the time or money commitment such a life may have, but it will be free from the psychological shackles that this book describes.
The hyperreligious notion of God can be a frightening one. It is a God that holds good things from people, and who demands that people live for religion, instead having one's own life improved by religion. Some might think that their hyperreligiosity is justified by the biblical command to love God with all one's heart, all one's mind and all one's strength. This book explores dysfunctional faith, that is, why a person can't love God with all their heart or all their mind or all their strength. If a person really loves God with all their mind, they may begin to see that the reason why they are not like other people isn't necessarily because they are more spiritual, but may be because they were more abused by others and created defense mechanisms against this abuse.
Religious texts themselves have a balance written in them that helps prevent a person from developing hyperreligiosity. The gospels mention how Jesus taught us to not judge each other. Inherent in hyperreligiosity is the need of eliminating in others certain types of value and to only see certain values as existing in themselves. It is like the way the psychotic who may have come from a situation in which their value was threatened, creates a magical world by delusion of grandeur in which they now have great value to others. The hyperreligious has become threatened in their world and disempowered by people, and so they develop the need to devalue others and create value in themselves by their religious practice. But such can never be the basis of the spirituality God tells us He wants in the scriptures. Religion does teach us that God hears and answers our prayers, gives us strength, and the like. The hyperreligious get stuck in this mode of trying to live in this life of favor, and to do so they must judge others in their mind as unworthy, especially when they have been abused by others.
One can use this book as a part of one's spiritual arsenal when or if religion becomes a painful and hindering thing in one's life. It can be a note in one's song but not one's whole song.
Selections from "Hyperreligiosity: Identifying and Overcoming Patterns of Religious Dysfunction."
A truly religious person has a different value system than a non-religious person. A non-religious person often has a materialistic value system of having the needs of physical security needs met first and foremost. This is also largely satisfied through accumulation of the tokens of status. That is, one not only needs a car, one needs a fairly recent model car to feel secure in having their transportation needs met. The hyperreligious can accumulate lacks in their life as a shield that protects them from feeling the emptiness that an unprepared life in that materialistic perspective will give one. Not even caring at all about those materialistic concerns helps them avoid feeling the pain that comes from seeing how they may have very little. Some accumulate these lacks and then use religion as a justification which protects them from feeling inferior to other people. The emptiness one might feel is instead filled by their religious emotions. The non-prepared nature they often live their life with is the ground from which an active prayer life can blossom. Some people have a stronger attitude of comparison and competitiveness with others. The hyperreligious person reasons that someone who is close to and being used by God cannot be made to feel inferior. This is definitely true in many cases, but just because someone says this or feels it on occasion doesn't mean that one is always free from it or other manifestations of it. The fact that they do not care about lacks in their life can also be a way of devaluing things like marriage and money which can be things that help make life more comfortable and complete. But in reality the hyperreligious can become double-minded: they may at times devalue money and marriage yet also complain to God that they have neither. This happens because like any mental illness, the person who is affected is not a perfect model of consistency.
The idea of grace being a progressive understanding, not being under a set of religious laws, but through the love of God and accepting his love being in part the fulfillment of the laws, is a sophisticated thought, something which should be easy for people of modern times to understand, but it is often not the case. That this may not be the case is easy to understand. The hyperreligious do exist in all world religious systems, including the new cults, in which people become so dysfunctional to the point of even committing mass suicide. The benefit of humility comes into play in this perspective: God, not having the parts or limitations of a man, would be wholly beyond the power of a man to understand, since man is limited in experience and mental capability and functionality. Hence knowing the exact and personal ideas from God becomes more and more dysfunctional, and away from the commonly accepted tenants of religion.
The obsessions and intrusive thoughts some have are not psychodynamically "interested" in the thought type itself but are instead in the general destruction of the self-image of the person, of the creation of the Thanatos state, the death impulse. The unconscious wish of a Darwinistic view of life, of a competitive society, is to destroy certain types so that others feel more built up. The inner reaction of some is obsessions and intrusive thoughts which try to create an excuse for not being allowed the human privilege for just being a human, for having one's needs met, as in the ability to feel all value that a human being deserves for just being a human being. When we realize deeply that humans are created in the image of God then we can experience this elevated value in all human beings. The experience and value of just being a human being is denied the hyperreligious and obsessional, sometimes to themselves and often to others. One can't feel the value in being a human being, one has to be chosen, or "super spiritual" in some imagined way. The obsessional can see their own real failings (just like anyone else's real failings), and point their finger at this evidence to justify why they can't feel at one with the privilege of having value. Value becomes tied up in the obsessional defense. Great artists who are obsessional can never feel their artwork is good enough because nothing they do will ever be good enough precisely because it is done by them. It is interesting to see that other's opinions of their value do not sink in; this has the direct proof and evidence of the "reflexive complex," that of denying the value of themselves is merely the mirror image of another moment in their life when they deny the value of others. Many famous artists still hate themselves and commit suicide even when society deems their work to be of great value! One can see in this not just a denial of their own worth, but the worth of society as well.
The task is to fight the projections that form in the mind. The "angels" and "God" are sometimes probably neither angels nor God, if anything at times the two would more closely fall under the heading of "demonic." Hallucinations about God, angels, the dead or the telepathic often mask egodystonic behavior beneath the core of this activity. They hinder that which is more real, full of truth, that which never destroys, makes homeless, or suicidal. These voices or projections, this unknown factor that is really the Superego of the hyperreligious, does not have the best wishes of their object in mind. Only the Ego, which can successfully deal with the guilt attacks of the Superego, can overcome and make one's true needs met. It may be the Ego which understands that the esoteric goal, the Gnostic pursuit of secret wisdom, is often more a play on the charade of human myth than something likely to give one the psychological freedom and normality one seeks. It can be the healing Ego that seeks the wisdom and religion of the common person, those who are the functional backbone of society.
A recurring fault is in thinking that by appeasing whatever it is that some believed was the voice of God, they were doing something of value. It is just like looking back over the history of child abuse. We seemed to be more religious fifty years ago, but behind the works there were many more children being physically, verbally, and sexually abused, further back still, alcoholics without a support network, and many others without help. The only help was creating this voice of solace, which some insight can show that it may sometimes turn sour in a person.
One can postulate a grid of forces and characteristics in human life that fill the entire real needs in society. Some people have the bravery to construct skyscrapers. Some people have the nerve to open human bodies and perform surgery. Some need the sensitivity to construct beautiful music, and so on. There are many people who can't understand that the small traits in people that help make up these different psychologies in people do not make them less spiritual or benevolent, only different. The wisdom of the aphorism, "It takes all kinds of people to make a world," is often not understood by the hyperreligious because their psychology is set up to reward only people of a certain disposition.
Under science and sophistication, as we became more empirical, we created television sets and sewed fingers back on. Science was always here right under our noses, but as a species it took us a long time to understand it. This is the way it is in each of our lives. If a person pushes themselves in the wrong way, they will end up believing a lie, and getting the results of that lie. This happens even if the lie seems "of the light" or "spiritual." If the hyperreligious will become more empirical and rational, their virtue will shine all the more.
There is a type of distortion in cognition that happens to people where one begins to hear one's own inner speech as voices from the outside. When this hearing of voices occurs to some, the idea that there is a telepathic group of human "masters," which intimately watch over one, is often extremely dangerous to sanity when one begins to entertain such beings in one's mind. It is very easy to see why. Any created being is at potentially the same level of intelligence as oneself. It is more practical to believe in an eternal God which has no similarity to oneself as far as experience than to try and have an internal thought life that is peopled with other human beings. The hallucination process can do a certain amount with one God at one's disposal, but when it is free to hallucinate virtually any human being, spirit or even extraterrestrial, it can be disastrous to one's thought processes. The thought processes and the self are of such a complex nature that some compare them more to the work of orchestra than a solo instrument. The average human perspective, also favored by the major religions, is not to set up a "score" in the orchestral mind that can play a crazy tune.
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