I’m cheesed off whenever an atheist says that religion is a mental illness. No it’s not. As much as I don’t think one exists, and that believers are wrong, it is still normal and natural to believe in a god.
But there are ways in which theism interacts with mental health: it have can have positive health benefits for some people, and for others it can be debilitating. Some people clearly are, or at least appear to be, better people for believing. It gives them the order and/or sense of purpose they crave. And so be it. On the other hand, some people suffer inside for their beliefs, usually because they are incompatible with the rest of their view of the world, and squaring the circle can cause mental anguish, especially if there is such a stark win/lose outcome at stake.
But I’m going to put those interactions to one side for a moment and look at the relationship between religion and the mentally ill. Sometimes when an atrocity takes place that seems to be religiously (or culturally) motivated, people will excuse the religion by saying that the perpetrator was not well, and was not being a Muslim/Christian/Jew etc. at the time of the violence. Other adherents will say, yes, the holy book/spiritual leader etc. did say that we should kill gays/atheists/Westerners etc. but no-one in their right mind would actually do it!
And there’s the rub. The extreme teachings of fundamentalist leaders are very dangerous things when fed into weakened minds. The teachers think they’re very clever being so literalist and pure and so on, but they’re alright, Jack. It’s their foot soldiers, hundreds of miles away who are getting turned on by the quick fix of religious righteousness. Bam – more innocent lives needlessly lost. Bam – fire up the vlog and tell the world that they had it coming to them. Inspire the next feckless soul to do your dirty work.
This is murder by proxy.