Culture, Religion, & Distress
When looking at religion, it can be hard to separate what is a cultural component or the foundational doctrine; this is due to both being shaped by the other (Richards & O'brien, 2012). Culture encompasses many constructs such as traditions, biases, and values.
The transmission of the culture is formulated through the various social locations/identities, power locations in the system, and the surrounding environment (Barr, 2020; Du Mez, 2020; Langberg, 2020; Olson et al., 2019; White et al., 2021). Culture is communicated through language, traditions, and shared experiences (Barr, 2020; Du Mez, 2020; Olson et al., 2019; Smith et al., 1998; Stokes & Schewe, 2016; White et al., 2021). Additionally, culture is passed down to generations, even when we are young and do not yet possess the cognitive ability to question the various concepts taught (Richards & O'brien, 2012). Thus, turning into a noncontested and unconscious critical foundational component of conceptualizing the world around us (Du Mez, 2020; Richards & O'brien, 2012). Similarly, the White evangelical culture (including traditions, biases, values, etc.) and doctrinal beliefs are passed down and perpetuated to future generations when we are young. Moreover, the evangelical culture is permeated with various cultural influences through songs, books, pictures, Christian camps, vacation Bible schools, billboards, social media, Christian movies/tv shows, Christian conferences, etc. There is a need to explore these cultural components to assess their overall impact on the religion and how it affects others.
Religion or spirituality is not innately evil or harmful. It is not uncommon for humans to gravitate towards a faith when encountering a struggle or trying to make meaning out of injustice. Throughout history, people have been searching for meaning and seeking to understand our existence. Faith can be grounding in times of deep pain, develop a support system around struggling individuals/families, provide coping strategies, provide meaning and hope (Lloyd, 2021). However, there are also times when religion can contribute to increased identity struggles, isolation, and mental distress.
So when is a religion not helpful?
Few studies have been conducted to understand when religion is unhelpful and what factors contribute to the negative experience (Judd et al., 2020; Lloyd, 2021; Lloyd & Waller, 2020). These factors have been identified as the following:
Being rejected or dismissed by the church
Identified distress being exclusively associated with demonic influence
Identified distress being solely a consequence of the individual's sin or lack of faith
(Judd et al., 2020; Lloyd, 2021; Lloyd & Waller, 2020)
Knowing spirituality is a crucial component of humanity and making meaning causes me to explore how my religious culture interacts with those in distress. Are there any individuals or groups automatically dismissed or rejected? Does the community respond to pain and suffering as a demonic influence, consequence of sin, or lack of faith? Is any group or individuals thought negatively upon due to their characteristics or behaviors determined to be different or inferior?
Barr, B. A. (2021). The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. Brazos Press.
du Mez, K. K. (2021). Jesus and John Wayne: How white evangelicals corrupted a faith and fractured a nation. Liveright.
Judd, D. K., Dyer, W. J., & Top, J. B. (2020). Grace, legalism, and mental health: Examining direct and mediating relationships. Psychology of Religion and Spirituality, 12(1), 26–35. https://doi.org/10.1037/rel0000211
Langberg, D. (2020). Redeeming power: Understanding authority and abuse in the church. Brazos Press.
Lloyd, C. E. M. (2021). Contending with spiritual reductionism: Demons, shame, and dividualising experiences among evangelical christians with mental distress. Journal of Religion and Health. Published. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10943-021-01268-9
Lloyd, C. E. M., & Waller, R. M. (2020). Demon? Disorder? Or none of the above? A survey of the attitudes and experiences of evangelical Christians with mental distress. Mental Health, Religion & Culture, 23(8), 679–690. https://doi.org/10.1080/13674676.2019.1675148
Olson, D. V. A. (2019). The Influence of Your Neighbors' Religions on You, Your Attitudes and Behaviors, and Your Community. Sociology of Religion, 80(2), 147–167. https://doi.org/10.1093/socrel/srz001
Richards, E. R., & O'Brien, B. J. (2021). Misreading Scripture with western eyes. InterVarsity Press.
Smith, C., Emerson, M., Gallagher, S., Kennedy, P., & Sikkink, D. (1998). American Evangelicalism: Embattled and Thriving (1st ed.). University of Chicago Press.
White, C. J., Baimel, A., & Norenzayan, A. (2021). How cultural learning and cognitive biases shape religious beliefs. Current Opinion in Psychology, 40, 34–39. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.copsyc.2020.07.033