Protestant Fundamentalism and Mental Illness in the US today

Recently, I had a discussion with some friends and acquaintances via Facebook. The topic was how irrational extremist fundamentalists are with a discussion centered on a woman with 9 children who had 5 miscarriages, who then begged forgiveness from God for her pride, and who was “rewarded” with another baby.

The originator of the discussion item called this “Frustratingly idiotic.”

I replied that “[s]omeone noted that this particular form of religion completely destroys a person’s sense of self-worth. Everything good that happens is from God. Everything bad that happens is “my” fault. How can any human being end up with anything except a warped view of reality and themselves when that mantra is pushed at them every day of their lives?”

This brought up a discussion of mental illness in the US, along with PTSD.

Another person then asked, after seeing the above, “Have people been raised so poorly in the past few decades that a majority of our population is actually mentally ill with anxiety, depression, and various versions of PTSD, much worse than the natural anxieties caused by economic issues and the normal struggles of life? Why is America suffering from PTSD when Europe isn’t?”

Below is my response to these questions.

May I suggest we all turn back the clocks and take a good look at 1950s America. A lot of change was beginning at that time, including civil rights changes. The first really sane looks at sexuality and GLBT issues were just beginning. Racism was being addressed. And there were people who were terrified of change, and terrified of the communist bogeyman as well.

These same people linked the concepts of “patriotism” and “godliness” and added “Under God” to the pledge of allegiance as well as “In God We Trust” to our money. Yes, this all happened in the 1950s. From there you have several successive generations raised under the illusion that being patriotic is being godly and being godly is being patriotic. Further, these were simple minded people leading these movements, and they took many things very literally, including the bible. This was the beginnings of the creationist movement as a political entity. Before this, creationism was seen as a backwater, hick concept among people not bright enough to understand science.

This was also the beginning of the Republican Party deliberately choosing to court these people, in order to gain more political influence. So as the Democrats moved in a more progressive direction away from their racist past, the GOP, which had progressive members like Ike, began to move the other direction, embracing racism in order to win over the states in the south. After Nixon lost to Kennedy in 1960, he worked with Kevin Phillips to create and apply what is today known as the “Southern Strategy”. That strategy is built on racism, and that racism is built on Protestant fundamentalism and a deliberate misinterpretation of the “curse of Ham” which has been used in the US south since before the Civil War as an excuse for treating people of color as lesser beings.

The 1960s saw the Civil Rights Act and forward movement on issues for people of color. It also saw the beginnings of political organization in the GLBT community, sparked by the riots at Stonewall but whose seeds had been laid years earlier.

As these right wing racist fundamentalists began to flock to the Republican party to fight against people of color, they also began to attack GLBT people as well. But their primary fight was first against people of color. Slowly, however, they’ve largely lost that fight. And as they lost, they retreated and set new barriers, primarily against gays. That was the political work of the 1980s through now. And now they are also losing against gays.

So their last stand, so to speak, is now against transgender people. They lost against people of color because there were so many and as people began to learn that people of color are human beings too. They lost against gays as gays began to come out openly and show that they are just normal people too, not the monsters that the religious right accused them of. And they are beginning to lose against trans people, again using the exact same arguments they used against black women in white women’s restrooms, etc., back in the 1950s.

You are probably asking what does this have to do with the problems that you mentioned in the US of the last few years. And the answer is that these people have acquired, since the 1950s, enough political (they control the GOP) and media power (Fox News, right wing talk radio, Rupert Murdoch’s empire) that they now feed a steady diet of fear, uncertainty, and doubt to a large but gullible section of the American public. And that public is told, repeatedly, that the only hope is for them to retreat further into literal Protestant fundamentalism. And yet in retreating, as I noted above, they adopt a world view that tells them that they, as individuals, are worthless. That nothing good can ever come from themselves or other human beings. And that all good must come from their all powerful creator deity.

And that is how so large a section of the American population has become mentally ill. They have willingly listened to liars and charlatans and bigots whose livelihoods depend on fanning the fears and hatreds that allow their movement to exist. Yet in fanning those fears and hatreds of people who are different, also brings about all manner of psychological problems.

Many people don’t realize that we didn’t get here by accident and that all of this is caused by that faction that today identifies itself as Protestant fundamentalists and/or the Tea Party.



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