Delusions of the Religious Variety

I briefly caught some of Larry King’s coverage of the Andrea Yates story last night, along with some of the interview that officials had with Andrea. It was interesting to hear how she believed that Satan was telling her to kill her children and how she drowned three of them, believing that was saving them from Satan’s grasp by sending them to heaven. At first blush it sounded a lot like the delusions of someone suffering from schizophrenia (something that only a further detailed investigation would confirm).

There are quite a few mental disorders that manifest themselves in the forms of delusions pertaining to God, angels, Satan, demons, etc. Two that come to my mind immediately are bipolar disorder and schizophrenia, both having some form of delusional behavior. I have to wonder why so many (though not all, by far) present with the sorts of delusions above. I’m sure background plays a role in it, though I wonder just how much of a role it plays. Do people with
such delusions come from particularly conservative and/or religious backgrounds? Or is it something else? I would definitely be interested in seeing some numbers on this — the number of religious/spiritual delusions that counselors see over the course of a year; what proportion are schizophrenic, bipolar, depressive, etc.; what proportion of delusional clients come from religious backgrounds and what proportion of non-delusional clients come from religious backgrounds, etc. I may actually have to conduct a study on this at some point, if for no other reason than to satisfy my curiosity.

6 thoughts on “Delusions of the Religious Variety”

  1. Having a Psych. Rotation in my Nursing class I ran across a lot of bipolar, schizotypal, schizophrenia, schizo-effective… you name it I saw it. The majority were raised with a religious background but in a extremely toxic dysfunctional home and depending on the mental disorder, they become either athiestic or more commonly are delusional with seeing demons/angels and most of the messages of these spirits have to do with harming others or themselves.
    However I live in the bible belt of america so there is probably not a good diverse population for making a generalization for those with mood disorders.

  2. Interesting stuff in there.  So much of a person’s views about reality come from childhood.  It’s sad how many parents smother and warp their children.
    Thanks for subscribing!  Have you read any William James?  He’s big into subjective reality. 

  3. Oh, definitely a bit of James. I have a fairly significant background in psychology now (my MA is in social psychology), so I’ve read quite a diverse cross-section of articles in the field. It’s funny how many of my posts end up coming from something I’ve read in psychology that gets me thinking about philosophical and theological implications.

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