Religious fundamentalism a mental illness?

With religious outfits outnumbering the religions in India the forceful imposition of certain beliefs by fundamentalists still continues

DNA, India/November 6, 2016

Holding a vast history of varied religion, culture, tradition, superstitions, and faiths, India, rooted deep in its ethos, is at the same time a politically driven nation where religion has always played a pivotal role. From banning beef to objections over Uniform Civil Code to not allowing women from entering sacred places, the fundamentals of religion are rigid.

From political parties to religious outfits – religion has become a strong base for fighting elections. With religious outfits outnumbering the religions in India the forceful imposition of certain beliefs by fundamentalists still continues. And living in the 21st century, the society is now becoming unresponsive to such religious fundamentalists.

But much to everyone’s surprise, in 2014 Kathleen Taylor, a neurologist referring to a study suggested that ‘Religious Fundamentalists’ and other followers of ideological beliefs causing harm to the society could be soon treated for ‘mental illness’.

What is religious fundamentalism?

Though the term ‘Fundamentalism’ was coined in United States in early 20th century among the Protestant who wanted root back to their fundamental beliefs and faiths, it continues to be in play.

Religious Fundamentalism refers to certain beliefs deriving from a said religion which individuals or a group of individuals acquire to an extend of imposing it. Upholding their beliefs high finding it absolutely right to force on others, fundamentalists believe their religion is beyond critisim.

So, is there a cure?

Taylor asserted that such ideologies will be viewed as a category of mental disorder and explained that neuroscience developments will make it easy to identify people with such extremism as a mental illness rather than criminal.

“When we are born we don’t bring along any religion, caste or belief. It is the environment we are born into that has long been dominated by a particular religion which brings with it the traditions and beliefs. The adults leading that space are the ones who pass it on to the growing minds,” said Noida based Child and Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Meghna Bansal.

Dr. Bansal explains that people go to any extend of imposing their beliefs on the nurturing minds that the child who is now forced to adopt the religion tends to feel guilty if he or she doesn’t follow it at any given point of time.

Meanwhile, Dr. Kanchana Mahadevan, Philosophy, Mumbai University sees this primarily as a social and political problem rather and then a mental illness. “These things emerge because there is a loss of human bonding where people are forced to aggressively be together rather than knowing their will. In today’s time religion has become a consumption, both economically and socially,” she said.

Prof. (Dr.) Yusuf Matcheswala of Grant Government Medical College says these are functional individuals who would get involved or start following someone to an extend that everything become secondary, even family.

Prof. Matcheswala said that people with unchangeable ideologies are difficult to treat as it lacks willingness from the patient. “Symptoms like obsessiveness defines them. Hence, (only) after there is a breakdown that we are able to talk to them and begin treatment,” he added.

Giving an example, Dr. Bansal explains that how it is impossible to hate a person — no matter which religion they belong to — whom you have known for years but because of some sudden incident you will be forced to judge and hate them.

Disagreeing that religious fundamentalism can be treated as a mental illness, Mumbai-based psychiatrist Dr. Harish Shetty says, “Brutally violent people use religion and ideology as a shield to torture and perpetrate trauma.

One can get into this mould when there is a psychosocial vacuum or following an emotional trigger.” He added that violence is an inappropriate behaviour and religion gives it legitimacy and social sanction.

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