Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Crazy or Divine?

Brian David Mitchell, the bearded "street preacher" who kidnapped teenager Elizabeth Smart, was found guilty last week. This part of the AP story on his conviction caught my attention:

Mitchell's former stepdaughter Rebecca Woodridge said outside the courthouse that she was shocked the jurors didn't see that Mitchell was mentally ill. "He honestly believes God tells him to do these things," Woodridge said. [This quote is in the Star Tribune's printed copy, but not in its online version. Not sure why.]
If Woodridge is correct about Mitchell's belief, I would have to agree with her. Clearly he is delusional and isn't able to tell right from wrong.

But how is this different from any other person, past or present, who says that God has spoken to them? Michele Bachmann and other politicians constantly say that God told them to run for office. Are they liars or are they deluded like Mitchell?

The Salt Lake Tribune carried a lengthy piece on this question, inspired by the Mitchell case. It included such silly statements as, "The main difference between a prophet and a psychopath, says Ralph Hood, who teaches psychology of religion at the University of Tennessee in Chattanooga, is 'whether or not [they] can get followers.' " I guess that means that Jim Jones was a prophet, then, huh? Just because someone is charismatic, doesn't mean God is actually speaking to them.

The final page of the story is full of quotes from religious experts insisting you can tell "good" God visitations from "bad" ones because the latter turn the person inward toward narcissism; bad visitations become particularly obvious if the outcome harms anyone, as in the case of Mitchell and Smart. I'm no expert in logic, but this type of post-hoc analysis seems useless as a way of assessing claims of divine visions.

If it turns out well, it was actually God-inspired, and if it doesn't it's a mental illness? This is all too similar to the many who give God credit when they are saved in an accident, even though others perished. You can't have it both ways.

1 comment:

marcopolo said...

I LOVE this. The points here are very good. However, the issue is wrong. The real "issue' is GOD. The whole 'idea' of GOD is moronic. The best point I can make here is from the old testament, "GOD gave MAN dominion over the Earth" (Genesis). If this were True, there is NO need of GOD here on earth. Why would GOD then usurp His own will on us??? So let me say that belief systems are for morons( and there are plenty). Humans are inherently lazy, stupid and irresponsible. This is what breeds religion. Only a handful of people have seen through this( Jesus, Buddha, OSHO, Krishnamurti, Confuscious, etc). In all my 55 years I still have not seen or met anyone that had a clue what Jesus was saying, including the so called Apostles. Yet so may claim to know all about it. Just look at all the morons that purport to know what GOD wants for us. If there IS a GOD he has already spoken. LIFE is our RESPONSIBILITY.