Does Secularism Make You More Vulnerable to Mental Illness?

New Atheists blogs love to trumpet the fact that millennials are the most secular generation.  Apparently, this is supposed to mean that our culture will naturally become more secular, giving hope that eventually some sort of atheistic utopia is around the corner.

Yet the same New Atheist blogs don’t like to mention other concerning aspects of the millennials.  For example, as I playfully noted earlier, millennials also have the distinction of being the generation that shows the greatest hostility toward free speech.  

Another concerning aspect of the millennials is that they seem much more susceptible to mental illness:

Armstrong is one of more than 5 million college students struggling with mental health, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, the country’s largest grassroots mental health organization. Rates of anxiety and depression in particular have skyrocketed in what many are calling a crisis of mental health on college campuses.

Like Armstrong, more students than ever come to college on medication or in treatment for mental health problems, according to a report by The Chronicle of Higher Education in 2015. More than 25 percent of college students have a diagnosable mental illness and have been treated in the past year, according to NAMI.

At MU, 61 percent of 1,010 college students who responded to an American College Health Association assessment in fall 2014 reported feeling overwhelming anxiety within the last year. And 35.5 percent said they “felt so depressed that it was difficult to function.”

Mental health problems don’t just start in college. According to Psychology Today, “the average high school kid today has the same level of anxiety as the average psychiatric patient in the early 1950s.”

You have to wonder is the millennial’s rejection of God and religion is connected to their increased levels of anxiety and depression.  After all, there are many studies that have shown religion to have a positive impact on well-being.  For example, consider one such study from 1994:

Social science research examining the relationship between religion and health has produced equivocal results, although evidence from more recent studies points toward a link between inward or intrinsic religion and both mental and physical well-being. This study offers a further examination of this emergent association by comparing the health status of two specific respondent groups drawn from a population of Canadian university students. The first consists of members of a range of campus Christian faith groups, and the second is a comparison or nonaffiliated group chosen from the student body at large. The results of the study reveal a positive relationship between faith group involvement and various aspects of health status, and thus support previous positive findings.

Or a more recent one from 2010:

The purpose of this study was to determine if the frequently reported positive association between Intrinsic Religious Motivation (IRM) and Subjective Well-being (SWB) is explicable in terms of a more general intrinsic orientation to life that involves secular as well as religious domains. Measures of 3 distinct domains of intrinsic orientation (work, leisure, and religion) were administered to 161 college students along with 4 measures of SWB: satisfaction with life, purpose in life, self-efficacy, and negative affect. Four multiple regressions were performed, 1 to predict each measure of SWB, with the 3 intrinsic orientation scales, gender, and social desirability as the predictors in each regression. Intrinsic religiousness emerged as an independent predictor of satisfaction with life, purpose in life, and self-efficacy. Intrinsic religiousness appears to make a unique contribution to the prediction of SWB.

In fact, if you go back to the Vox article (second link), I noticed this:

Twenge headed another study that examined the results of the Minnesota Multiphasic Personality Inventory — a mental health survey given to college students since 1938 and high school students since 1951. She noticed that many students have shifted focus from intrinsic to extrinsic goals. In other words, students have gradually begun valuing material awards and outside approval over self-improvement or fulfillment. In the 1960s and 1970s, most college freshmen valued “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” over “being well off financially.” Today, that exact opposite is true.

It’s easy to see how a focus on religion would be strongly tied to “developing a meaningful philosophy of life” while “being well off financially” is a secular priority.

I haven’t given this topic a lot of consideration, but the correlation between secularism and mental illness does seem worthy of further examination.  What’s more, does the social justice perspective represent a substitute for religion and functions as a way for millennials to find ” a meaningful philosophy of life?”  And if so, does this social justice “religion” actually help or make things worse?

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8 Responses to Does Secularism Make You More Vulnerable to Mental Illness?

  1. Ilíon says:

    Does Secularism Make You More Vulnerable to Mental Illness?

    I haven’t given this topic a lot of consideration, but the correlation between secularism and mental illness does seem worthy of further examination.

    Of course being a secularist makes one more “vulnerable” to mental illness. This is because the foundational rationale of promulgating and ultimately imposing secularism upon society is a deliberate lie — “You can’t/shouldn’t legislate morality!

    That above two-pronged claim is both incoherent and self-refuting; consider —

    You shouldn’t legislate morality” — This assertion is not only false, but is itself a moral claim. Thus, as a legislative prescription, it is self-refuting.

    You can’t legislate morality” — This assertion is false; and it is a deliberate lie: the people (i.e. generally leftists and ‘atheists’) who promote this have no intention of “not legislating morality” once they gain power … for that is impossible in any event. Rather, they what to bamboozle people with a (relatively) normal moral compass into believing the lie, as a step on the way to imposing their own twisted morality upon those same people.

    There is *always* a god of the system“; and if that god isn’t the Creator of men, it will be a creation of men.

    To legislate *just is* it impose someone’s moral conceptions upon the society ruled by that legislature; there is no such thing as moral neutrality … and the people (i.e. generally leftists and ‘atheists’) pretending to advocate for moral neutrality know this, and have no intention of abiding by their claims of moral neutrality once they have power over your lives. Just look at what they have been doing (in merely the USA) in the past few years, before they even have the full control over State violence that they seek.

    So: “Does Secularism Make You More Vulnerable to Mental Illness?

    Answer: Does trying to live contrary to reality “make you more vulnerable to mental illness”? Or: Is trying to live contrary to reality evidence that one is *already* mentally ill?

  2. Mechanar says:

    @Ilíon would not be the first time Atheist expect to create utopia but create dystopia instead one only has to remember that in the 19 Century atheist Philosophers claimed that thanks to the progress of science all unreason and evil will vanish and of course religion will to. Today the world is more religious than ever and is going to be even more by 2050 not to mention that the entire 20 century was one big bloody disaster turnig all the great capabilities of man upside down and using it for the greatest horrors, dissproving the idea that technology is really all you need.Progress without moral consideration leads to chaos

    How often can you be so wrong yet still hold on to the same ideological principles. People like Steven Pinker is wrong the world is not so peacefull because of secularism its because People have established global laws that insure peace, its because there are nuclear weapons that insure mutual destruction not because man has or is changing on a fundamental level, alltough there is a lot of moral progress undeniably but not for the reason they think it is. But to them its not believing what is true but what they want to be true, the world is getting more peaceful every year? that must mean religion is dissapearing! Even tough as I mentioned the absolut opposite is true.

    coming back to your Post, you are right. what is even going on inside their heads? not killing people and not stealing has nothing to do with morals or what are they trying to say? Enforcing Morals is what the law is. But that kind of nonsense is what happens when you try to make philosophy obsolete.

    I am reminded of this great quote by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

    “Over a half century ago, while I was still a child, I recall hearing a number of old people offer the following explanation for the great disasters that had befallen Russia: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.” Since then I have spent well-nigh 50 years working on the history of our revolution; in the process I have read hundreds of books, collected hundreds of personal testimonies, and have already contributed eight volumes of my own toward the effort of clearing away the rubble left by that upheaval. But if I were asked today to formulate as concisely as possible the main cause of the ruinous revolution that swallowed up some 60 million of our people, I could not put it more accurately than to repeat: “Men have forgotten God; that’s why all this has happened.”

  3. TFBW says:

    There’s secularism, and there’s secularism. The particular variety of secularism being pushed in the West has a distinctive flavour to it. Being secularism, it is anti-religious (and specifically anti-Christian because Christianity is the dominant form of religion), but it is also some other things which are relevant to the discussion without being overtly anti-religious (even if there’s an anti-religious angle).

    Take, for example, the outpouring of anti-Trump hysteria, which seems to be particularly intense among the secularist crowd (and it’s not even limited to the USA). I don’t use the term “hysteria” flippantly, either: there really is some intense fear-mongering going on, targeting both school children and young adults (see, for example, the post immediately prior to this one). Regardless of the motivations behind the campaign, promoting an attitude of fear and dread can’t be good for the psychological well-being of those so targeted. This is exactly the complaint that Richard Dawkins likes to raise against the doctrine of Hell. In his case, though, the problem seems largely imagined rather than real, since Hell is what Christians are saved from, not some formless, unavoidable, impending doom, like whatever horror stories are being told about Trump on any given day. Christianity offers a message of hope and salvation, whereas anti-Trump hysteria promotes impotent rage and despair. It’s a recipe for depression.

    There is also the culture of victimhood which seems dominant among the secularists. Everything religious is objectionable because it is offensive, either directly or to someone else. Religious influences are portrayed as the powerful oppressor which must be silenced to prevent hurt towards powerless minorities. The powerless, oppressed minority becomes the position with the social influence, and the place to be if you want to be an activist. This results in a focus on how you have been offended, oppressed, discriminated against, or microaggressed, because complaints and grievances against the more powerful are political ammunition. I don’t think it takes a degree in psychology to appreciate how maintaining such a focus might be bad for one’s mental health, and cause one’s whole outlook to become dominated by threats, slights, and enemies everywhere. It’s a recipe for paranoia.

    I could go on. The mores of Western secularism have some rich pickings when it comes to promotion of ideas which are obviously or predictably detrimental to mental well-being.

  4. stcordova says:

    “What’s more, does the social justice perspective represent a substitute for religion and functions as a way for millennials to find ” a meaningful philosophy of life?” ”

    It’s a little broader than that, I think. The Millennials want the state and politicians and institutions to provide all the things only God can provide. They want safe places, they want to be protected. Very easy to sell them snake oil and make education costs go up 800% from a few decades ago and health care costs about 400%. They are promised by politicians to be protected cradle to grave, and they are dumb enough to believe passing laws and raising taxes on the rich will bring utopia. They also seem to need to fix every problem rather than suck up the pain, so they long for the god-of-the-state even more than the God of heaven.

    “A year ago I received an invitation from the head of Counseling Services at a major university to join faculty and administrators for discussions about how to deal with the decline in resilience among students. At the first meeting, we learned that emergency calls to Counseling had more than doubled over the past five years. Students are increasingly seeking help for, and apparently having emotional crises over, problems of everyday life. Recent examples mentioned included a student who felt traumatized because her roommate had called her a “bitch” and two students who had sought counseling because they had seen a mouse in their off-campus apartment. The latter two also called the police, who kindly arrived and set a mousetrap for them.

    Less resilient and needy students have shaped the landscape for faculty in that they are expected to do more handholding, lower their academic standards, and not challenge students too much.”

    I sympathize with the desire to be in paradise, and it’s easy to dupe Millennials to think a protest and a resulting act of congress will give them what they want. Christianity at least tells them we live a fallen world where we deal with corrupted human nature and environment. Jesus said, “in this world you will have trouble.” Bernie Sanders says, “vote for me and I’ll fix all your troubles by passing more laws and taxing everyone to prosperity.”

  5. stcordova says:

    An interesting article from the Atlantic that has some passing relevance to the OP:

    “Establishing causation is difficult, but we know that culturally conservative white Americans who are disengaged from church experience less economic success and more family breakdown than those who remain connected, and they grow more pessimistic and resentful. Since the early 1970s, according to W. Bradford Wilcox, a sociologist at the University of Virginia, rates of religious attendance have fallen more than twice as much among whites without a college degree as among those who graduated college. And even within the white working class, those who don’t regularly attend church are more likely to suffer from divorce, addiction, and financial distress. As Wilcox explains, “Many conservative, Protestant white men who are only nominally attached to a church struggle in today’s world. They have traditional aspirations but often have difficulty holding down a job, getting and staying married, and otherwise forging real and abiding ties in their community. The culture and economy have shifted in ways that have marooned them with traditional aspirations unrealized in their real-world lives.””

  6. Dhay says:

    In his 2010 Edge Conversation address, Joshua Greene — who “studies the psychology and neuroscience of morality, focusing on the interplay between emotion and reasoning in moral decision-making” — says:

    Next case, the trolley is headed towards five people once again. You’re on a footbridge, over the tracks, in between the trolley and the five people, and the only way to save them, we will stipulate … somewhat unrealistic … is to push this large person … you can imagine, maybe a person wearing a giant backpack … off of the bridge and onto the tracks. He’ll be crushed by the train, but using this person as a trolley-stopper, you can save the other five people. Here, most people say that this is not okay.

    Now, there are a lot of things that are unrealistic about this case. It may not tell you everything you’d want to know about moral psychology. But there is a really interesting question here, which is, why do people quite reliably say that it’s okay to trade one life for five in the first case, where you’re turning the trolley away from the five and onto the one, but not okay to save five lives by pushing someone in front of the trolley, even if you assume that this is all going to work and that there are no sort of logistical problems with actually using someone as a trolley-stopper?

    So, I and other people have looked at this, almost every way possible now. A lot of different ways. With brain imaging, by looking at how patients with various kinds of brain damage respond to this, with psychophysiology, with various kinds of behavioral manipulations.

    And I think … not everyone here agrees with this … that the results from these studies clearly support this kind of dual-process view, where the idea is that there’s an emotional response that makes you say, “No, no, no, don’t push the guy off the footbridge.” But then we have this manual mode kind of response that says, “Hey, you can save five lives by doing this. Doesn’t this make more sense?” And in a case like the footbridge case, these two things conflict.

    What’s the evidence for this? As I said, there’s a lot of different evidence. I’ll just take what I think is probably the strongest piece, which is based on some work that Marc has done, and this has been replicated by other groups. If you look at patients who have emotion-related brain damage … that is, damage to a part of the brain called the ventromedial prefrontal cortex … they are four to five times more likely to say things like, “Sure, go ahead and push the guy off the footbridge.”

    And the idea is that, if you don’t have an emotional response that’s making you say, “No, no, no, don’t do this, this feels wrong,” then instead, you’re going to default to manual mode. You’re going to say, well, five lives versus one. That sounds like a good deal.” And that’s, indeed, what these patients do.

    Greene is using a camera analogy here: his camera has both automatic and manual settings, and the automatic settings work quickly and reliably well nearly all of the time, he only needs to fiddle with the slow and error-prone manual settings when doing something out of the ordinary; likewise, he (and we) can rely upon his (and our) intuitive System 1 to work quickly and reliably well nearly all of the time, falling back on his slow and error-prone rational think-it-through System 2 to cope with what’s unusual.

    What I find interesting in Greene’s discussion of the Trolley Problem’s variant scenarios is that most normal people will not push a backpacker under a trolley (killing him) to save five lives, their emotion-based automatic settings for morality stop them, it’s repugnant to do so; on the other hand, among brain-damaged emotionally incapacitated patients (and presumably among sociopaths and psychopaths likewise) it’s typical to fall back on the use of basic mathematical logic to reason it is OK to kill the backpacker to save five others — they use System 2 rationality to reach a conclusion disgusting to neurotypical people because they are brain-damaged and thus have no emotion-based alternative.


    Do remember that, next time you read the claims, explicit and implicit, that the idea that “Science and Reason” should rule and be the norm — that that idea marks a superior person, someone among the Übermensch at thinking: it rather seems to mark the emotionally and morally deficient; it’s typical of the “patients” Greene refers to.

    To link with the thread title, super-rational “Science and Reason” secularism may be a mark of mental illness.


    I note that the research recently commissioned and contributed to by Sam Harris, entitled Neural correlates of maintaining one’s political beliefs in the face of counterevidence, says “These results highlight the role of emotion in belief-change resistance and offer insight into the neural systems involved in belief maintenance, motivated reasoning, and related phenomena.”

    (The experiment was centred around presenting the subjects with super-impressive counter-evidence, deliberately and often obviously exaggerated in order to become super-impressive — you and I would term this Fake News and Alternative Facts — so whyever Harris and his co-researcher should have supposed that pissed-off subjects wouldn’t have an emotional reaction, and quite strongly negative, and that the least gullible hence least persuadable would have the strongest reaction, is anybody’s guess. And raises the question, Does Sam Harris know how to think like a scientist?)

    Actually, emotion has an essential and necessary role in any moral decision-making, hence in the political decision-making looked at in the experiment and paper. (See Greene, above and link.) Signs of emotion (or activity in emotion-related areas of the brain, to be precise) are to be expected in any normally functioning normally reasonable human. They are a green flag, not a red flag.

    Which raises the question, Does Sam Harris know how to think like a scientist?

  7. Ilíon says:

    … or as a rational human being?

  8. Dhay says:

    From a The Atlantic article, “If Buddhist Monks Trained AI”, more on Joshua Greene and the Trolley Problem (see my last response):

    Greene joked that only two populations were likely to say that it was okay to push the person on the tracks: psychopaths and economists.

    Later in his talk, he returned to this, however, through the work of Xin Xiang, an undergraduate researcher who wrote a prize-winning thesis in his lab titled “Would the Buddha Push the Man of the Footbridge? Systematic Variations in the Moral Judgment and Punishment Tendencies of the Han Chinese, Tibetans, and Americans.”

    Xiang administered the footbridge variation to practicing Buddhist monks near the city of Lhasa and compared their answers to Han Chinese and American populations. “The [monks] were overwhelmingly more likely to say it was okay to push the guy off the footbridge,” Greene said.

    He noted that their results were similar to psychopaths—clinically defined— and people with damage to a specific part of the brain called the ventral medial prefrontal cortex.

    The article didn’t say what Han Chinese and Americans would do. It does say that “practicing Buddhist monks near the city of Lhasa” (presumably Tibetan monks) are similar to psychopaths and people with brain damage.

    Hmmm. Buddhism and it’s secular-meditation Buddhism-lite is sold — by among others, Sam Harris — as providing mental health benefits.

    I don’t want to think like a psychopath. I’ve read what meditation does to people like Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche and other Buddhist leaders mired in debauchery. I think I’ll retain my normality.

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