The Humanist Dilemma: When Religious Dictates and Mental Health Collide

Experiencing an ethical dilemma? Need advice from a humanist perspective?

Send your questions to The Humanist Dilemma at (subject line: Humanist Dilemma).

All inquiries are kept confidential.

Get Out! I went to church where I was told to talk to God. For years I heard the voice of God, and I was told to stay pure and remain married to God and have nothing to do with men. I developed schizophrenia. Now I don’t want anything to do with God, but I belong to a family that is even in the Bible society that produces, interprets, and distributes copies of the Bible. What do I do to break away from this lifestyle?

—Need Help


Dear Help,

You don’t say how old you are or whether you are dependent on your family financially or otherwise, which would make a difference in the specific steps you might take. But let me give you some general guidelines that you can adapt to your particular situation.

First, seek help outside your family and outside the religious community. Look for a secular therapist, such as a psychiatrist or psychologist, who can help you address your mental state and fear of men. You may benefit from medications or other therapies to get a grip on your condition, and that in turn is likely to facilitate any other measures you may want to take.

Second (and you can be working on these things simultaneously), develop a secular network and community outside of your family. If you’re in a school that isn’t religious, cultivate friends and relationships with teachers and counselors who can provide you with companionship and guidance without quoting chapters and verses to you. If you are in a religious school, look for associates outside, perhaps in your town (it can be through hobbies, sports, gyms—anything where you can establish relationships with empathetic people). Similarly, if you’re able to work, get a job outside the family Bible biz. The sooner you can live independently (and move out, if you are currently residing with your family), the sooner you can break away from the biblical babble. If you’re of college age, try to get yourself to a secular campus where you can live away from home, even if you need scholarships or loans to do so.

Third, stand up for yourself as much as you can, whenever and wherever you can. This might be difficult surrounded by fierce believers, and particularly if you are suffering from a serious disorder such as schizophrenia, but you need to start asserting yourself—if not with your family just yet, with those outside, like-minded people you are cultivating. Even online lifelines like the one you found here can help you see beyond your current situation and engage with a different world than the one you’ve been inhabiting.

Don’t give up! The first steps will be the hardest. After that, each one should get a little easier and take you a little farther from where you are now and closer to where you want to be for the rest of your life. We are rooting for you!