Atheism and Mental Illness

Picture of Mental Illness Poster

For the past few months the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba has been running a campaign to raise awareness of mental illness in our province. Like most people, I agree that we ought to try to help folks dealing with psychological, emotional and behavioral problems. No doubt many of those that call themselves atheists, humanists or skeptics in Winnipeg would agree also. The very interesting thing is, whereas we all might agree that mental illness ought to be treated, such antitheists have no foundation for doing so.

On atheism, all that exists is reducible to matter and energy. Even human beings are at bottom nothing more than complex electrochemical machines. We, like everything else in the universe, are simply concatenations of atoms; mere molecules in motion. If this is true, it is difficult to understand how one could determine how exactly we ought to think and behave. In an atheist universe how does one determine which thoughts are more valid than others? Recall that on atheism, even thoughts are nothing more than the product of mindless atoms fluctuating in a physical brain. This effectively puts us all in a hopeless relativistic tangle in which it is absolutely impossible to judge any thought more valid than any other. This is because even our reasoning about the comparative validity of competing thoughts is, itself, another thought reducible to mindless chemical reactions. It seems impossible therefore, in an atheist universe, to judge any particular person as suffering from mental illness because of their particular way of thinking.

As a Christian, I have the metaphysical resources to speak of such things as mental illness. The Bible teaches that God created man in His own image as a creature that could relate to and fellowship with his Maker. Mankind’s rebellion against God was a willful though irrational act that had dire consequences. From that time until now the whole creation, including man himself, has suffered corruption and death. Nothing was left untainted, including our mental and emotional states. Nevertheless, the vast majority of humanity still retains some sort of sensitivity to the logical laws that govern rational thought and intelligent exchange. It is this sensitivity to these God-given laws that allows us to detect flawed thinking, and, in the case of consistently flawed thinking, mental illness.

Those that deny the existence of God have no way to speak of such things as mental illness within the confines of their worldview. The fact that they persist in speaking about such things anyway shows that to some degree at least, these folks know God “in their heart of hearts” even though they consciously continue to deny His existence. This is precisely why God will deem such people “without excuse” on their day of judgment. The good news of course, is that God extends a gracious offer to forgive all that come to Him through Jesus Christ. This offer is extended even to those that had formerly chosen to deny and suppress their knowledge of God and the truth that pointed unmistakably to Him.


By John Feakes

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