Friday, September 10, 2010

Islam is not the Devil, but Mental Illness is Demons

What would possess a man who claims to follow Jesus Christ to incite anger and promote hatred, despite the opposition of fellow clergy, and the pleas of multitudes of rational people? Let me tell you, folks, this guy might be hearing voices, but it isn't Jesus or the Holy Spirit talking. What can a person do, if they have a delusional need to be heard, and no one wants to listen? They want to be heard, not to say anything worthwhile, so they pick any hot button topic that stirs up people's most passionate emotions and get themself in front of a camera.

Whether it's holding up signs that say, "God hates fags," or assaulting troubled women with pictures of dismantled fetuses, what you are seeing on display is not the love and hope that can be found in the greatest story ever told. It is the demon-possessed ranting of a small number of people with an incredibly persistent drive to be acknowledged.

Now, I realize that it is no longer en vogue to call mental disorders "demon possession." I also realize that many people are able to have their issues diagnosed and treated, or short of that, at least brought under maintenance. I am in no way arguing for a return to institutionalization and "leeching" of people whose behavior falls outside of cultural norms. But there is probably no human frailty that inspires hopelessness in me more than mental illness. It acts just like demons. Where relationships and the love of others is the strongest life line to keep each of us connected and thriving in the world, that seems to be the first thing these disorders attack. So often, by the time it is clear that there is a disorder, and not just rampant bad behavior, the victim's strongest allies in the fight have already fled to safety.

I am no clinical psychologist, but I can tell you with some certainty that church life brings me into contact with more than my share of individuals with mental issues. It feels like demons, when troubled people refuse to acknowledge their problem and get help. Imagine if your cancer attacked your brain and convinced you not to get chemo. It is also much easier to tolerate the pain these disorders inflict when I can remind myself that it is the demons, not the person, spurting ugliness; I can hate the demons and still love the person.

I sometimes feel trapped in this dilemma. Maybe someday the voices in my head will give me a solution, beyond fervent prayer and strong boundaries. In the mean time, those of you who hold a deep respect, possibly even a love, for Christ in your hearts, but choose not to express it through the institution of the church; I understand your hesitation. It breaks my heart when the Body of Christ, who reached out with love and healing to those who were marginalized, becomes known for hatred and division. It also breaks my heart that there are people out there so full of pain and hatred, who claim to know the source of deepest healing, yet somehow don't tap into it.

For now, I really wish they would quit putting cameras in those peoples' faces and giving them a voice so loud that it drowns out everyone else. I'm a behaviorist, after all: if it quit working, even demons would quit doing it.

When evening came, many who were demon-possessed were brought to him, and he drove out the spirits with a word and healed all the sick. Matthew 8:16

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