I remember going with a minister to a home in Idaho once where the woman heard the voice of God often in her head. She had a young baby so the minister asked me to tend to the baby while he talked to her about her visions and voices. The baby had not had a diaper change in a pretty long time, so I took care of that in the kitchen while the minister tried to help her. Seems she was killing chickens on the farm and trying to resurrect them…without much luck. We never made any connection to the danger and I doubt either of us understood the symptoms of schizophrenia, but I do now.
After that, I returned to Ambassador for my last year and was reading the LA Times in the lounge before breakfast. My eye fell on a small article about a woman in a small town in Idaho who was found sitting in her car on a mountain top waiting for Jesus to return. I knew the name. They found the baby dead in the backseat. Or should I say, still dead.
It was my first wake up call to the dangers of missing the symptoms of delusional thinking with religious content. There was nothing spiritually wrong with the woman. She was clearly mentally ill and no one was smart enough to spot it before it was too late.
Moving right along...
From the Bible we find a man once laid on his right side for 390 straight days and then flipped over for another 40 because the voice in his head told him to. He drew Jerusalem on clay and lay siege to it with an iron pot (Ez. 4). He even cooked his food with human waste or was told to but begged off that. Some think he was to mix it with his food as human dung does not burn. (Ez. 4:9) and dug a hole in his own home and squeezed himself through it with his possessions on his back (Ez. 12).
His name was Ezekiel. Maybe he was traumatized by the captivity or the destruction of the symbol of all that was holy and stable to him, the temple. He died forever ago and lots of the stuff he said was going to happen never really did far as we can tell. I hear a lot of minister types quoting him 2500 years later as if you can read the news and immediately see what Ezekiel was talking about.
I know most will say that God told him to do these things….but think about what you are saying. Would you say that about Andrea Yates who God told to drown her kids , The Son of Sam or Mijailo Mijailovic who killed the Swedish Foreign Minister, Anna Lindh, saying when asked who told him to do it, "I think it was Jesus. That he has chosen me”?
An Old Testament character, Moses, went up into the mountains a few times because the voice in his head that no one else could hear, called him up for a meeting. He said it was God, but when he came back down the mountain carrying , what he said were the rules from the voice in his head, he ordered the murder of 3000 men women and children for not patiently waiting for him. And these people had already had a pretty tough time getting out of Egypt doing what the voice in Moses's head told him to do. He had friends killing friends and families all because the voice in his head told him to.
It all started with Moses running across a burning bush through which he was quite sure he could hear the voice of God talking to him.
Yet again, an Old Testament figure called Abraham, hears a voice in his head telling him to kill his only son and decides to do as he was told. So he lures his son into the appropriate mountain and breaks the bad news to him as to just what the sacrifice is going to be. The voice in his head intervenes in the Isaac of time and I imagine that was the end of any real and trusting relationship between Abraham and his son from then on. Mrs. Abraham, like Mrs Lot, evidently didn't even seem to mind what hubby was up to and I can't imagine Isaac not telling her how the day had gone. (It never happened but it's quite a story.)
There was a prophet (was he given a double portion of the spirit to fight a cold?) who married a prostitute because the voice told him to. We had to drop the standard laws of marriage for this one, but its ok if you are doing it for God. Man was his wife mad about that! The guy even began to think he was a reincarnated form of the guy before him who talked to the bush. Tons of people obeyed this guy for a time, but usually not for very long. Hosea I think.
The more I think about it, the more I have to admit that voices in the heads of people I never met, and no one at that time could hear themselves, have played a really big role in who gets the final say in religion. When you think of it, those of the Christian faith think nothing of believing whatever those thousands of years before are recorded to have heard broadcast inside their heads as being from God. How could one ever know what really happened or even if it did, but to question following what they are said to have seen or said or been told to do comes easily for most who never think about what they are actually believing and doing.
Paul in the New Testament, it is said, fell off a donkey when he heard a voice in his head about giving Jesus a hard time in his old job. He even saw a flash of light in his head, brighter than the sun and it was already noon when this happened! That’s pretty darn bright! When people in the Bible light up, it’s ALWAYS brighter than the sun. You’d think more people would notice. The others either heard the voice but did not see the light, or saw the light but not the voice, stood up, or all fell down depending on the story your read in the Bible. The voice in Paul’s head told him it was time to change jobs and he’d get his vision back if he did what he was told. Today we might say he had all the symptoms of heat exhaustion or maybe even temporal lobe epilepsy where voices and flashes are pretty darn common along with an intense sense of morality that others must get in tune with. It's a medical problem in the brain.
Paul went on to write most of the New Testament and continue to tell people nothing about any real Jesus he had ever met. No stories, no miracles, no teachings, nothing about the 12 men Jesus had to follow him, and I would expect to have passed the teachings on to others. Maybe even write something about Jesus, after all there were 12 of them! But alas, they didn’t much and we have no clue what happened to them save made up "traditions". It’s all hearsay. Some say that they were merely a symbol of the twelve signs of the zodiac surrounding the central sun/son, and not real people, but let’s not go there.
Paul spoke volumes about the one who spoke to him in his head and he saw often in visions. When he gave the instructions for eating the body and blood of Jesus, he said very plainly Jesus himself told him about the details of that. "That which I have received from the Lord, give I unto you.." Paul never met the real Jesus so I’m pretty sure he meant in vision. When he said, “have I not seen the Lord?” he didn’t mean in person. He meant in his visions. It can also mean "have I not experienced the Lord," which is not the same as knowing any earthly Jesus. Paul even took a trip to the third heaven, but said the stuff he saw was too much to share at this time. Typical of a man who wanted to be thought of as special but could not be pressed for details he could not come up with.
We read in the book of Mark that Jesus mom and brothers came down to Jerusalem to get him because THEY thought he was “mad.” I don’t think they thought he was angry, but rather insane.
Jesus kind of blew them off in a way that would have got me slapped by my dad for being so rude to mom. It was like he didn’t know them. Mary had evidently completely forgotten about his wonderful birth story and all those great things she kept and pondered in her heart. Besides he had to do what the voice in his head said.
Later, other writers who wrote about Jesus dropped this hot little tale and told a really cute story about how Jesus came to be. God himself had visited her, well no, I guess the Holy Spirit did. You know the third thing in the Trinity and she was pregnant by no less than the Deity. She burst into song about this in Luke and seemed to know that Jesus was literally “fully God and fully man”, whatever that means. I can understand one thing being fully something, but not two things being fully the same thing but different and coequal but not. Church talk. I guess it’s one of those mysteries we hear about when one story leads to the next and we tie ourselves in a knot, wrapped in a enigma and all that.
Matthew tells a great story of Jesus birth, different from Luke’s, but at least they cleaned up that embarrassing tale about Jesus being hauled away by his family for being insane. Mark must have been mistaken according to Matthew and Luke, but Mark was the embarrassing story and came before the cute story, I suspect it had a ring of truth to it, at least as local rumor had it.
Sometimes I wonder if Jesus was so anxiety ridden not to know who his real father was ("we were not born of fornication") that he took mom literal when she got tired of him asking and said “God is your father. Now wash up for dinner” Who knows?
Some say his cursing trees for having no fruit at a time of year when there is not supposed to be fruit, or attacking the legitimate money changers in the temple who really were simply changing pagan money into temple scrip for the purchase of sacrifices, were not good signs of quality mental health. That last act probably got Jesus killed by the Romans, though somehow it ended up being the Jews fault. I guess it was easier and a bit wiser to blame the Jews who could not hurt you, rather than the Romans who could kill you. We give these stories a pass too easily.
As long as we are on the topic... I always found it interesting that the poor seizing child in the New Testament who threw himself in both the fire and water often, or maybe just fell in them when this hit him, cried out, foamed at the mouth and then recovered pretty quickly when the demon was put out, had all the symptoms of infantile epilepsy. Every one!
No one knew what that was back then anymore than any other mental illness or even the concept of mental illness. Up through the Middle Ages beyond, the Church labeled everything either of God or of the Devil. You could lose your head or go up in flames over having the wrong answer. I wonder how people back then would treat a kid with epilepsy! It runs its course in about 30 minutes so it would sure appear that the old demon was banished but I bet it returned and could easily be prevented with one taking their Dilantin. It has also been found that Canabis Oil can drive out a seizing demon.
Jesus had a hard time doing this stuff in his hometown because a prophet has no honor in his own town or with his own family. They know you pretty darn well and got so concerned they came down to retrieve you for your own good, if you believe Mark. Of course he blamed the weak faith of the group, but maybe that’s because they all know you so well and aren’t easily convinced. I mean, if Jesus was God, really, really, really GOD, would the force be thwarted just because the neighbors who knew you as a kid had a hard time accepting that? I think not! Since when does being God in the flesh depend on the acceptance of the people who know you best?
Jesus also got rid of a whole legion of demons in a man that lived in a cemetery, naked breaking out of the chains used to bind him. Chains were the medication of that time. Anyway, aside from this man having every symptom of schizophrenia, or at best, severe mental illness, all the demons in him were cast into a herd of pigs and they ran down into the sea from a town no where near the sea and drown. Kind of a marathon run and by the time they got there, they’d be skinny and pooped out pigs. Bible geography gone bad.
Some historians say the story of the swine was really the true story of Titus driving the Jews in to the Sea of Galilee in a campaign against them and sending his men into the water to spear them, thus becoming "fishers of men." I don't know...
Anyway….What about the author of Revelation? . Whoa…those were some good drugs! Whoever wrote that was one angry human being and hated both the Apostle Paul (the false Apostle the Ephesians called out) and the gentiles. Death, destruction, fire, plagues, trombones, vials and all sorts of stuff pour out on everyone! This Jesus is not such a nice guy. The one in the Gospels can’t possibly be the same one as in Revelation, but that’s what they say. The one in Revelation seems like an end stage psychopath gone amuck. I’m not sure I could be comfy in heaven or the kingdom with one who could be so freaking mean to everyone except those special ones. I always felt a few seminars or maybe a refresher type program would send a kinder gentler message, instead of all the butt kicking, death and destruction. Maybe a nice lunch between encouraging sessions and a Luau in the evening where we could all marvel at actually meeting the real God and Jesus. And hey…if the presenter is really God or Jesus come down…I mean really really…I’d listen and be good. But alas, this Jesus in Revelation is a case…maybe literally. It’s just one big vision in someone’s head hearing voices again that others can’t hear and seeing things others don’t see. Yet, good folk eat it up and read as if they also hear the same voice in their head.
Someone once asked what’s the difference between a Bible Prophet or Christian fundamentalist and a paranoid schizophrenic? Well, one hears voices in their head, has a heightened moral code, is judgmental yet can be very deceptive and manipulative, has delusions of being on a mission from God, sees things that no one else present sees, hears things that one else hears, sees lights in his head, is the center of the universe and has special knowledge that must be kept secret until the right time an then can only be understood as explained by the one. The other, of course, is a paranoid schizophrenic.
I had a close friend in high school who in college came down with the classic symptoms of schizophrenia. Very intelligent but all of a sudden was overcome with the chemistry of schizophrenia that comes mostly between 18 and 35. He simply could not function in this world. His perceptions and his reality were far different than even he could understand. He died in his chair, alone in a dingy apartment. I wish I had gone to see him. I suspect he took his life but no one will talk about it. His sister took her life a few years later. She was living unknown to me in SC and I wish I had been able to go see her. Something ran in the family.
What if those strange but dedicated characters spoken of in scripture , or alive today seeing themselves as the reincarnation of these prophets and kings are simply mentally ill? When these modern day prophets and dreamers tell us what their God tells them or shows them, how can anyone trust that? Why would you? How could you?
We know more now than we did 3000 years ago. And yet when it comes to the Bible and those who declare themselves the special men of God, we go as blind as Paul claimed to go on the road to Damascus. (Even though Paul himself never says this was the mechanism of his conversion. Perhaps even worse, like Jeremiah and Jesus, he was called before birth in the womb as he notes in Galatians.) Pretty darn special! And yet we can allow that kind of perspective to be religious when today, we would get very uncomfortable with a real person saying that about themselves.
What seems ok as long as it is in the distant past becomes freaky if in the present. Many who turned away from Paul or an Ezekiel may have had that gut level discomfort. I doubt anyone today would feel a religious zealot who cooked dinner with or in his own dung would be anything but twelve short of a dozen.
Why is this an issue? Because a minister, maybe sincere, and maybe simply mentally unstable or delusional can hide in the ministry much better than he can hide at IBM. A minister that is prolific, charismatic while also dictatorial and delusional looks spiritual and obedient. The quirkiness is mistaken for spirituality and obedience to God.
They have the ability to be deceivingly compassionate one minute and intensely angry at anything and everyone the next. They don’t like to be contradicted, corrected nor have their mental processes questioned. They NEVER take personality tests! How is it that normal human beings, who have accurate perceptions about the mental instability of some at work, then lose that instinct at church? The quirkiness at work becomes the spiritually desirable trait in church! Go figure!
When Alexander Haig declared himself in charge of the government after the Reagan shooting, he was torn to shreds for his misstep and is still trying to explain it. But when a pastor type declares himself a “Watcher” or an “Apostle” or a Prophet or incredibly more special than the average human, it gets swallowed hook, line and sinker?
What if the behaviors recorded thousands of years ago that has been the basis for so much religious zealotry is simply better understood in the context of mental illness? We always say if it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and swims like a duck, there is a good chance we may be dealing with a duck. When it comes to religion however we change our perceptions. If it walks like a narcissist, if it talks l schizophrenic and if it has all the symptoms of temporal lobe epilepsy, it must be a man of God!
We need to be both compassionate towards the mentally ill and vigilant in spotting it in the delusional type leaders that have arisen from the implosion of the Worldwide Church of God. Mental illness in religion can take you far.