Friday, June 15, 2012

Book Review: Religion: The Etiology of Mental Illness

Dr. Jones' Book
I generally do not review books that are self-published as is this tome by Henry E. Jones, M.D.  This, because you as can imagine, most self-published works are sincerely written by their authors but do not get much vetting from a professional editor or a publisher’s review board.  I do not want to imply that there aren’t fantastic works published by individuals, including this book as an example.  In fact, I’d argue that in an earlier time, all works were published this way or very close to it.  It’s like the old joke, would Mozart be offered a teaching job in academia today considering he was self-taught and did not hold a Ph.D. in musicology or have any refereed publications.   

In the modern world we’ve created a sense of publish or perish. So we have set up the formality of “review” to ensure that what does get published meets certain standards and criteria. In the end this is because the nature of both the academy and our curiosity each influence the process of writing and publishing.  This does not mean editors don’t have a real job to do. They do indeed and based on the number of books that are published each year they are a very busy group of professionals helping to keep ideas factual, honest and most of all relatable to what a specific discipline considers accurate to their field, even if it is new research or discovery.

Dr. Jones’ work was given to me to review by a dear friend who is also a professional psychologist.  The author suggests that religious faith creates and is equal to other forms of mental illness.  The author concludes that they are one in the same, and that religion is a destructive force in our society because of its impact on the brain and psyche. According to the author, religion creates poverty, injustice, war, and the inadequate use (or overuse) of resources.  He see’s religion and the access to nuclear materials as an incredibly dangerous mix and this danger only escalates as those nations founded on religious faith justify war based on their holy books.

The author lists 27 elements which are fundamental in all faiths, past or present, which may exist in different degrees. This includes the sacrifice of “self”; god or gods who define punishment, reward, or forgiveness; gods which can be human, mystical, real or any combination of these descriptions.  He notes that mysticism and supernaturalism are perceptions which defy reason, logic or scientific research. This is essentially the basis of faith requiring obedience to a god or gods and directed by some authority to reveal “god’s word.” He notes:

"In exchange for sacrifice, religion promises a reward. The reward is usually some kind of heaven or nirvana that is usually, though not always, located in another dimension, in another world and reachable only after death….The reward for sacrifice takes us in a circular fashion back to mysticism."

In his brief chapter on indoctrination, he notes that religion, like all fanciful but unproven non-realities can be a powerful and life-long way of viewing the world. For example, if you’re told as a three year old by your parents a green goblin created the world, then sixty years later if you do not ever question this idea, no level of science will disprove your belief in the green goblin. This, the author classifies as a form of mental illness. Delusional belief systems which are forced on children damage at least two regions of the brain that impact both motivation and cognition.  The author writes:

“Until you are able to grasp the fact that religion promotes self-hatred and is anti-life (because of its emphasis on self-sacrifice), you will not be able to grasp the profound evil of religious belief…Life must be the standard of “good” for a living creature. Therefore the religious standard of death and self-sacrifice must be seen as the evil it is. Terrorist suicide is the pinnacle of religious achievement.”

Religious self-sacrifice taught to children leads to damage to the self and one’s ability to actually view the world and others in it as equal.  Children brought up without faith tend to see the world and science as more universal and share a more common and gentile humanity than those who compartmentalize illogical faith and thoughts of morality which come from religion. The follow is very insightful and central to the book's main idea:

“Faced with a belief that makes no sense, but one he thinks he must believe in order to be loved and survive, most children give up, give in, and accept the belief. But how can he make a mind that demands integration accept a concept that defies logic? How can the mind be forced to accept ridiculous and absurd religious concepts that clash with the way he is made? Under such enormous pressure, most children will try to create what the aggressors demand – a ‘religious self.'"

It is this religious self which supplants and is actually damaging since it separates one from their innate self which requires no faith to exist or to do good. This phony identity creates a way to think of oneself in a positive way to release endorphins and create feelings of happiness even if no truth, other than what is subjective, actually exists. As the author notes, “Religion causes one to fear their feelings, fantasies and thoughts. The theist child shamefully hides his ID, even from himself. Such fear of one’s thoughts and feelings guarantees denial and repression and reinforces compartmentalization.”

To construct a more powerful work, I wish that the author had used references to support his ideas.  Not because his ideas on faith, psychology and mental illness are necessarily incorrect, but because without such attribution, the work feels and reads more like one man’s opinion rather than a work of science. However, this intimacy is positive, but like all opinion not based on qualified research (which the author does allude to) the book offers little substantiation. That is, except for a brief list of seven books which I assume the author used in formalizing his ideas - they may seem more like "suggested reading" rather than a bibliography.


  1. The passage about indoctrination and the green goblin reminds me my early childhood and when I swallowed cherry stones. My parents told me that if I did it again, a cherry tree would grow on the top of my head. I tended to believe it without condition, despite the ridiculousness of the pretense. The same happens for most children when one replaces the cherry tree by religious beliefs: the children believe them given their parents represent a trusted authority.

    I hate propaganda and teaching religion to a child who has no means to distinguish the truth from the lies.

    Sorry if I was a bit off-topic, David, but this chapter in your article made my mind wandering and I had to say what I think.

  2. Larry Hayes, longtime journalist and advocate of the mentally ill, provides 37 suggestions for how people can raise awareness of harassment in their community.