Emotional Responses, Legalism, Mental Health and the Church, Patriarchal-Complementarian Movement, Spiritual Abuse

Does Christian Fundamentalism Cause Mental Health Issues?

Mental Health Issues and Christian Fundamentalism


There’s been some great discussion on fundamentalism in the previous post about “Bethany,” who over time was able to see the relationship she was in as destructive and abandoned the relationship.  I thought it might be good to give the topic a post of its own, so I have copied some of the comments that represent the gist of the conversation and have added a bit more to the mix.

The underlying question I’m reading between the lines is does fundamentalism lead to mental health problems?  Or were the problems already there, and the fundamentalism ideologies accentuate existing mental health issues?


NJ writes:

When I think of the term fundamentalist, I think of not just the original “fundamentals”, but of a certain subculture within Protestantism. Think support of Prohibition due to teetotalism, denial of anything but young earth creationism, a complete eschewing of dancing, going to the movies, use of tobacco in any form, listening to the “devil’s music”, as well as a tendency toward insularity and negativism.


It may be that certain types of faith expressions or churches that hold to particular doctrines are more appealing to men already prone to be controlling or abusive (such as neo Calvinism, gender complementarianism, fundamentalism), so certainly single women may want to be on extra special guard if dating men from those backgrounds, but one thing I learned in all my reading about all these topics is that abusive men come in many shapes and sizes, and from many types of religious backgrounds.

Bike Bubba:

Regarding whether fundamentalism leads necessarily to Gothard patriarchy, girl doesn’t leave the house until she’s married, must homeschool, must try to do a family business, woman shouldn’t work for someone besides her husband, pastor/father is unaccountable authority figure, and the like, my take is that if we look closely at the Scriptures, all of this is either not stated in Scripture or flatly contradicted by Scripture. You will not find a requirement to homeschool in the Scripture (though my family does), nor will you see a command to have babies until the wife dies “be fruitful and multiply” does not mean “get your wife maimed or killed in the process”), and the like.

So my contention is that if one really values the first fundamental, the authority of Scripture, one will come up with some very different conclusions than most “fundamentalists” arrive at. I would guess that Keith (of our “shared peeve”) would agree and note that you will tend to find many of the most truly “fundamental” people outside of churches that identify as fundamental.

Make sense? I’ve personally been working through the issues of why many so-called “fundamental” churches deny their theology through their practice, and am convinced there are a number of reasons, historical and sometimes theological, but mostly historical.

Song of a River commented:

Hi everybody, sorry for my slow response. Long day here.
@Bike Bubba–you said earlier that you “treasure fundamentalism”. Here already you and I are different, but I respect the fact that you frequent and support a site such as this one. So far as causative factors of mental diseases and disorders are concerned, it is complex. Having experienced true fundamentalism interwoven with patriarchy, quiverfull and SAHD theologies, interwoven with Southern Baptist and Presbyterian theologies, along with emotional manipulation/abuse and neglect, it is difficult to remove one from the others in my mind. So I may be calling out the wrong villain, but in my experience, I have always seen fundamentalism as the root of other ideologies, and the full picture has been one full of destructive forces. In my mind, if a context brings out abusive or sick natures in people, then that context is a causative one. If someone could have lived outside the given context, in “normal” circumstances, and not become abusive, mentally ill, mental disorder, etc., then, wasn’t the context (church, cult, school, whatever) the causative factor? Of course, it is sometimes doubtful whether the person could have lived alone on the moon and not been an abuser.

Wheaton College has an article on fundamentalism and its roots in America:

Fundamentalism was a movement that arose in the late 19th and early 20th centuries within American Protestantism reacting against “modernist” theology and biblical criticism as well as changes in the nation’s cultural and social scene.


Since the 1940s, the term fundamentalist has come to denote a particularly aggressive style related to the conviction that the separation from cultural decadence and apostate (read liberal) churches are telling marks of faithfulness to Christ.  (Source)

I like the way David Pakman tears things apart and this video is an interesting find on the subject:



What are your thoughts?  This seems like a “which came first, the chicken or the egg” question, doesn’t it?

105 thoughts on “Does Christian Fundamentalism Cause Mental Health Issues?”

  1. BTW, Gary, I’ll agree with you fully that theology sans relationship is dead, BTW. James wrote a bit about that, didn’t he? The trick is that my experience is that the deadest relationships–people praying to God in the third person and all that (real example)–I’ve seen are when (generally unwittingly) the leadership emphasizes the rules of the movement (club rules I guess might be a good way of putting it) and thus downplays the theology.

    Come to think of it, referring to God in the third person during prayer probably is a decent sign that the person’s relationship with Him needs some work, eh? I know my wife would never refer to me in the third person when talking with me….


  2. Fundamental churches do not cause mental illness. The very nature that a church community fosters is surely a hunting ground for narcissistic men and women. The strict rules allow for controlling without others questioning as well as naïve children used to being made to feel ashamed for things like feelings..that just ARE created by the I AM.

    It goes deep. its a church culture of shame. the rules are shame based. If you go to a Christian school they reserve the right to expel a student for “embarrassing” the school even after hours same goes for the churches. It makes my heart skip a beat when I think about it. I would never sign a contract like that based on such an elusive word as embarrass. how about saying don’t do this or that because it goes against scripture.

    I know from experience these people are just like any other. There are still cool kids. It couples, bullies and the like. Its just that they measure these things with a different ruler.

    Affection is discouraged. Especially between young men and women. A guy cant respectfully show his affection for the young women he goes to church with. I remember Pastor Kohl at a tristate youth fellowship saying he would rather have his youth group fighting like cats and dogs and brother and sister than flirting. That was the end for me. So some people may make bad choices and get carried away in love lust whatever. baby ..bath water?! how about teaching how to really love and show affection and the rest will fall in line. as it stands these fundamentalist leaders continue to assume the worst in an almost pitiful display of self loathing and shame. 100% hands off policy its like obama’s if we could just save one life bull gun control rhetoric for penis’. somehow they always think the worst. because that’s what they did or would have done. Anyone involved in these shaming tactics is either backslidden or an unbeliever adopting a belief system that suits their selfish heart.

    The protestant church fell apart when it refused to bend. instead we are left with legalistic fundamentals and their hurt children the assembly’s of God/ community churches. both still producing believers and Christian families but both leading people astray. one side is angry and the other places such an emphasis on doing nothing but “loving” people that then forget to share the gospel…


  3. All I have to go on is personal experience.

    When I was involved with the IFB movement I turned into a complete Pharisee.

    Up near the beginning of the comments a guy called ‘Chapmaned24’ says this:

    “The book of James rejects Faith alone. Faith without works is dead. In other words, you gotta put action behind your belief. Romans 4 and James 2 shows that we “live out our faith” (Love thy neighbor as thyself), and that is what justifies our faith”.

    I cannot read the above and not comment.

    To anyone reading this:

    James 2 is not saying that faith without works is not saving faith.

    For faith without works to be dead, the faith has to exist to BE dead.

    That is, faith without works is NOT ‘non existent’ faith.

    Faith without works IS inactive (dead) faith, in that it is useless.

    The word dead in James 2 DOES NOT means non-existent.

    Salvation is NOT BY WORKS.

    I’ll repeat.

    It is NOT.BY.WORKS.

    If what Chapmaned24 says is true and faith without works is not real faith then one is left to ask this question:

    How many works do I need to do in order to be assured that my faith is genuine?

    The Lordship Salvation crowd LOVE to have people working.

    work work work.

    Jesus says REST.



    they are filthy rags.

    James 2 is an appeal to BELIEVERS to put to WORK their FAITH (which saves) so that they are benefitting others.

    James 2 is not a TEST of salvation.

    Stop questioning your FAITH based on your works.

    Pharisees are OBSESSED with works. Especially those of others.

    Look to Christ. Be fixated on Jesus.

    Stop obsessing over works!

    Mental ilness.


    I have anxiety which manifests in many super fun ways.

    Panic attacks, sweating, hot flushes and hair pulling. (I’m serious).

    Despite the fact that I have memorized the “be anxious for nothing” verse and near tattooed the thing on my bum, I still struggle with anxiety.

    Going to CHURCH makes my anxiety worse.

    Since walking away from religion I have felt FREEEEEEE.

    I read my Bible, talk to God and share Jesus with others.

    Should someone be converted… I would open my home ANYTIME to ‘have church’.

    God gives the gifts to men for the benefit of his own body (THE CHURCH HE’S BUILDING!).

    That’s all.

    Thanks for reading.

    (I’m not having a panic attack now, in case you were wondering).



  4. I find this interesting:

    “I’m the daughter of a “fundamentalist” pastor…to whom that word simply meant that he believed in the literal nature of the Bible, and its inerrancy”.

    You can interpret this is so many ways.

    What parts do you take literally?

    What about the part where it says that all chubby Pastors should take a knife to their throat if they are gluttons? (Proverbs 23:1-2)

    Or only verses 13-14 regarding beating a child with a rod?

    What I think when I hear the word fundamentalist:

    “Everything I believe is true and right and holy and good and I am definitely correct and everyone who disagrees with me is highly likely unsaved. Oh, and I read the KJVO because that’s God’s true Word (not Jesus) and I love Steven Anderson”.

    If you’re not the above person then you’re either:

    A liberal (nothing worse than that. Those Jesus quoting, homeless loving, wife helping, public school using, NIV reading liberals!) I spit on you!
    Unsaved. You’re only ‘in church’ for the free biscuits. mmm.


    Love free biscuits. 😀


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