Every so often, the media gets a nice, juicy story about some numbnut parent or parents who let their kid die by relying on prayer for healing and keeping the child away from any kind of actual medical attention. Chez over at Deus Ex Malcontent posted a link to one such story in his Dial 911, Ask for Jesus post in late March.
It’s not the kind of crap that really makes devoted believers look good. Instead, it leaves people with the distinct impression that if you are a fundamentalist believer (that is, you actually believe in most of what the Bible tells you) then you must have several screws loose.
Still, it’s rare that you see this kind of story. The bulk of Christians know to get their kids and themselves to a hospital when the shite hits the fan. What is sadly too common, though, is an attitude among some Christians that mental health issues are matters to be solved through prayer and only prayer. Therapists, antipsychotic medications and the likes, as far as these folks are concerned, are counter to God.
It would be easy to blame this attitude on too much religion and not enough common sense, but let’s face facts: Most people in general view mental health problems as a personal flaw. So even without Christ in the picture, plenty of folks don’t see mental illness as an illness in the same way they would a heart attack, or pneumonia or even a really big frickin’ splinter sticking out of your finger. If the problem is in your head, it’s not a real problem, they assume.
Man, that’s sad. Sure, we don’t know as much about the human brain as we’d like to, but it’s pretty clear that mental issues often arise from biochemical imbalances. And even when they don’t, the fact that the problem is “in your head” doesn’t make it any less of a problem. It also doesn’t make it any more of a stigma. At least, it shouldn’t.
There are a lot of Christians who vaccinate their kids, get regular checkups, take medicine when they are sick and undergo surgeries who would also look at someone with mental illness and say, “You simply need Jesus.” And this pisses me off more than people who tell people with mental illness to “Just get over it” because as Christians, we are supposed to have compassion for others.
Sure, the person probably does need Jesus. Most people do. And I’m not knocking prayer. I’ve seen many prayers answered (not always the way I expected or wanted, but answered nonetheless) and I have no doubt that prayer can put you on the path to healing, whether physically or psychologically.
But the Bible doesn’t exhort us to avoid physicians. It urges us to pray for ourselves and for others in matters of health, but God lifts people up in the world to be healers (physicians, dentists, psychologists, whatever) for a reason. We need them. One of the gospel authors, Luke, was a physician. If one of the main men of early Christianity could practice medicine, why assume that God wants us only to pray when we are sick?
And frankly, telling a schizophrenic who isn’t on his meds to pray more isn’t exactly a recipe for success. If the man is hearing voices telling him the CIA is out to get him with a mind control ray, he isn’t in a position to be making rational, worldly decisions, much less faith-based, spiritual ones.
God is fine with therapy. God is fine with medications, as long as you don’t abuse them. God is fine with you seeking healing. Just pray for the people who are caring for you, even as you pray for yourself. And make sure you remain educated in your own care and don’t simply allow yourself to be spoon-fed (about your care or your religion).
I think the biggest problem God probably has with mental health care these days is the way we don’t go out of our way to give it to people who need it. Instead, we ship them off to the streets to be homeless, or send them home to wallow in despair and drag their families down, and we marginalize them as whiners.
What the world needs isn’t less mental healthcare and more prayer. What it needs is more mental health professionals who will not only use therapy and medications for their patients, but also pray for them.