I loved my vacation on the colorful Indonesian island of Bali. Hindu Bali contrasted starkly to the Muslim main island of Java. I spent two weeks on each, so my impressions are superficial and there is much you don’t see as a tourist.
Spiegel Online has a fantastic article exposing a dark side of Bali — its treatment of the mentally ill. Like many superstitious religions, Bali Hinduism considers mental illness to be caused by possession of evil spirits. The article describes one Bali psychiatrist’s efforts to combat the cruel chaining-up of mentally ill family members. She tries to secure medicines, safer living quarters and teaches meditation (see this cool photo).
Sure, religious superstition in horrible but as I read the article, it becomes clear that the problem is far bigger than the Hindu belief in evil spirits — the core issue is poverty. I imagine a large number of even naively superstitious believers in evil spirits would generally treat their supposed possessed family members much better if medications and treatment facilities were available. They would rationalize to themselves using modern treatment even if part of their brains believed spirits were doing the damage. So, if I had to choose improving religious stupidity or poverty, I would choose the later. Unfortunately, the two are often tied together.
I work in medicine in the USA where I also see very poor treatment of the mentally ill and the demented. The worse treatment tends to be among those who are poor. It is much easier to be gracious and kind when you aren’t struggling to survive. That is why the poor who love and care for their own stand out far above those with means.