Evil and Demons and Sin, Oh My!

By now you have surely heard of Liza Long’s article, I Am Adam Lanza’s Mother. In it Long talks about the difficulties of dealing with her mentally ill teenager, of searching for answers, and of the need for better systems of mental healthcare.

I will admit to being a bit ambivalent about Long’s article. Like her, I feel very strongly that we need find better ways of approaching and handling mental health issues in this country. However, Adam Lanza’s mother is dead and unable to tell her story, and appropriating her name seems to me unwise. Furthermore, I think we need to not simply assume that every mass shooter is mentally ill. First, doing so paints the mentally ill as dangerous when they are not actually any more violent than anyone else, thus further stigmatizing those with mental health issues, and second, doing so allows us to paint those who would do such things as “the other,” and thus allows us to distance ourselves.

Given my concerns about the article, I was not expecting to so suddenly and forcefully find myself rising up in defense of Liza Long. But then, I should realize that I can never really know what to expect when I open a link from the website Ladies Against Feminism.

Stories about Aspergers are starting to show up in the news following the tragedy in CT. Humanistic psychologists are touting answers that are not grounded and which only sow more seeds of fear and confusion in an already emotional nation.Even a mother is equating her son’s demonically influenced sin to the condition calling for the government to help. (Caution: language. Mature Readers.)

Oh. Oh I see. It makes sense now. Liza Long’s son is violent and unpredictable because he is being indwelt by a demon. The world makes sense again. It’s so much less confusing this way.

I’m honestly not surprised that the writers at Ladies Against Feminism would reach that conclusion upon reading Liza Long’s article – I mean, I would have thought the same thing as a teen or in college – I guess I’m simply surprised that, in this day and age, they’re still willing to put that in print. I shouldn’t be.

See, I remember viewing the world as the devil’s playground. As an evangelical, I was taught that demons surround us, invisible to our eyes, seeking to stir up mischief and turn people from God. I took the Screwtape Letters very seriously, and I was actually quite terrified of demons even though I believed that, as Bible believing Christian, I couldn’t be touched. I remember believing that much if not most of mental illness today was demonic – that, in other words, “mentally ill” was simply the modern term given for what the Bible called “demonically possessed.”

But you know what is most interesting about what the Ladies Against Feminism piece said about Liza Long’s son? They manage to blame demons while still also blaming the teenage boy – they call Long’s son’s condition “demonically influenced sin.” This is actually rather important, because the entire rest of the article is about how Adam Lanza committed murder not because he had Aspergers or some other condition, but rather because of, well, sin.

People are looking for answers as the nation reels from this blow and we pray that they will find comfort in truth, part of which is understanding murder is caused by sin not a mental condition.

I actually had this same argument made to me on facebook when I suggested that we need better support for mental health issues and a relative countered by saying that these sorts of atrocities arise from sin, not mental illness, and that mental illness is simply the result of demonic influence and possession.

I feel like evangelicals and fundamentalists are using two narratives on this issue, but that these narratives don’t actually mesh perfectly. The first is that mass murders like this are caused by sin, and that all of the blame must be placed fully on the shoulders of the murderer rather than making excuses. The second is that mental illness is the result of demonic influence and even possession, with the suggestion that young men like the Columbine shooters or Adam Lanza were under the influence of demons. So which is it? Are these sorts of things the fault of willful sin, rendering the shooters completely accountable for their actions, or are these things the result of demons pushing them into committing atrocities? By calling Long’s son’s condition “demonically influenced sin,” the authors of the Ladies Against Feminism piece attempt to have it both ways.

No matter which narrative they go with, though, evangelicals and fundamentalists ignore the vast complexity of life and trot out pat answers that a growing number of Americans find antiquated and inadequate. But I think that last bit is incredibly hopeful, because even if I find the intense focus on mental health issues a bit too much I am glad that so many Americans are seeking to understand why these things happen on a deeper and more complex level than the trite answers touted by so many evangelicals and fundamentalists for so long. I’m incredibly glad that more and more Americans are realizing that this world is complex and confusing, and that viewing it through a reductionist black and white lens does more harm than good.

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About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.