--Christopher Hitchens, author "god is Not Great"
I have already criticized Christian Scientists and Jehovah's Witnesses for denying medical treatment for religious reasons, and frankly, most religious people seem to agree with me that it is both ridiculous and dangerous to do so. But there is still much work to be done in the treatment of mental illness as well as therapy and counseling, as many churches still claim to have spiritual remedies for these things. I'm not even talking about shams like reparative therapy for homosexuals; I'm talking about things like demonic possession (or as doctors call it: schizophrenia and dissociation), marriage counseling, and even anorexia.
My work has some interesting opportunities and among my responsibilities is to work with teenage girls, many of whom have body image issues. Typically, when a girl is struggling with a food disorder we put her on "tray watch" and basically force her to eat a proper amount of food as outlined by her dietitian. This is all well and good while in treatment, but often times they fall back on old habits once they leave. For most of these girls, food disorders will be a constant struggle for the rest of their lives, in much the same way that a recovering alcoholic never really gets over their desire to drink, even if they are sober for many years. This is the nature of addiction.
Now, many religious people realize that health professionals are the best consultants for these kinds of things, but every once in a while I come across someone who thinks that the only way to overcome things like addiction or food disorders is through a belief in god. Not just any god, but their particular god. Case in point, I recently read an article on "The World's Thinnest Woman" which describes the tragic story of a 5ft 8in middle-aged woman who weighs about 60lbs. In the comment section, I found a comment which disturbed me:
"Ow My God , i can imagine this women must suffer a lot, i live even in this area if one day i have the opportunity to see her, i will just say her that Jesus can make something for her and if people are bad sometimes God is still good and loves his kids however they can be, as its my work to spread the words of God, he is still making miracle all over the world right now.
I will include prayer for this lady me and my ministries for this lady , i believe she will recover soon just accepting Jesus ad Lord and Savior." [emphasis added]
This "minister" clearly does not understand food disorders, which are psychological in nature. Their advice that she just needs to accept Jesus in order to overcome her illness is insulting, since a) she probably already is a Christian, given her place of birth, b) if believing in Jesus really was the cure for anorexia, then Christians should never struggle with it, and c) "b" is a testable claim which, if verified, would change modern medicine and the discoverer of this remedy would likely win a Nobel Prize.
The woman in the article is reported to have seen up to 30 specialists, which is an impressive number, to be sure. However, no information is given about the programs she has used, or where they were located, but given that she is a Russian native, I can imagine what they were like, since I lived in Eastern Europe for two years and I have some idea as to the quality of health care in that area of the world. Suffice it to say, even the office plants were sickly.
My educated opinion is that she would benefit greatly from any number of programs in the US. She will continue to fight her illness for the rest of her life, but with a program utilizing the very best medical care she would likely gain some headway.
It is common for people to go to church leadership for advice on various issues. In cases where the person just needs a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on, this is very often sufficient for them to feel better about their circumstances. They might even recieve some useful bit of information. But at times, as the comment above would suggest, religious learders overstep their level of expertise (which is usually none) and offer religious counsel when they should be referring a medical professional.
Lastly, about a month ago I witnessed my first demonic possession. A couple of weeks later I witnessed my second. In both cases, nothing supernatural actually occurred. There was no super human strength, voice of the devil or spewing of bile. In fact, there was a very clear psychological explanation for these events: dissociation, which is similar to Dissociative Identity Disorder (aka multiple personalities). But it is easy to imagine how primitive peoples with no understanding of psychology might think it really was a demon.
Here is Penn and Teller on Exorcisms (Explicit):