Schizophrenic Delusion the Same as Christian Worldview?

I’m not sure what to make of this. From The Guardian:

A Florida judge has ruled that a diagnosed paranoid schizophrenic who believes he is the “Prince of God” and is convinced that he will be resurrected to sit for eternity at God’s right hand is sane and can put to death next week.

David Glant, a judge with Florida’s eighth circuit, has found that John Ferguson, 64, can be given lethal injections next Thursday despite a US supreme court injunction that prohibits executions of the insane. In his concluding remarks, the judge agrees with the prisoner’s defence lawyers that Ferguson is a paranoid schizophrenic who genuinely believes he is “Prince of God”.[...]

Astoundingly, the judge goes on to say that the prisoner’s “grandiose delusion” of himself as being akin to Jesus at the point of his resurrection is in fact “relatively normal Christian belief”. He writes: “There is no evidence that Ferguson’s belief as to his role in the world and what may happen to him in the afterlife is so significantly different from beliefs other Christians may hold so as to consider it a sign of insanity.”

There’s something I’m missing here. The judge agrees that the man is schizophrenic, which under established precedent means that he cannot be executed (legal minds can tell me I’m wrong, but I believe that’s the gist of it.) Yet because his schizophrenic delusion is not too far from common Christian experience or doctrine, then he’s not schizophrenic enough? I’m lost.

That last bit sounds like a zinger that an atheist would throw at a Christian, but it’s not a sound legal basis for declaring someone mentally fit enough to be held responsible for his actions.

Via Christian Nightmares

  • vasaroti

    US laws concerning mental competency are dreadful, and result in lots of injustice and a lot of mentally ill and otherwise cognitively impaired people mixed in with the general prison population or being executed. This ruling is not unique.

    Quite a few years ago, a man who believed he was one of God’s best buddies claimed his home as a church so he didn’t have to pay property taxes. In the basement of these premises, where he did in fact preach, he kept several women chained, as he tried to breed God-like children. He ate part of one dead woman. After he was caught it became apparent that his actions really were provoked by his delusions, yet, because he was clever enough to do things like conceal his activities, he was judged sane enough to be tried. Largely, I think the way our legal system treats the mentally ill is a collective case of “we don’t want to be bothered,” and we handle the ill person in the most expeditious manner possible, even if it brutalizes the victims again and further damages society. It may also be that there is some hangover from Christianity at play – from blasting an uncooperative fig tree to formally executing farm animals who injured their owners, we are more interested in revenge than in understanding the causes of situations.

    Personally, I’m most disgusted by our executions of adults who committed murder as minors. When I look back at things I wrote as a teenager, I find it hard to even recognize that person. By the time I was 22, I had a completely different way of handling situations, a different set of core beliefs, etc., even though I share memories of events with that extinct personality.

    • The Vicar

      Well, that’s the M’Naugton Rules — which was formed under Queen Victoria and is still the basis of most thinking on the subject today in English-speaking countries — in a nutshell: if, at the time of your actions, you were clear-headed enough to realize that the law would try to prevent you from doing what you were doing, then a plea of “not guilty by reason of insanity” cannot be entertained (although your insanity might be permitted to influence the sentencing). That’s pretty harsh, but if you try to come up with a rule (or set of rules) to govern when that plea can be allowed, it’s actually very difficult to come up with a better one which doesn’t invite abuse. Most of the criticism of the rule which you will find on Wikipedia actually focus on uneven application, rather than any inherent injustice in the rule itself.

      Of course, if someone is deemed not guilty, but insane, they might still find themselves involuntarily institutionalized — this is considered acceptable because the intent of the action would not be to punish the defendant, but to keep society safe from them (if their crime was something dangerous) or to work towards rehabilitation (if that is possible).

      Really, it might be better to abandon complaints about the M’Naghton Rules and instead try to formulate rules on mandatory sentencing modifications for the insane, which would be effective even in cases where insanity as a defense against the charge itself had failed.

      • vasaroti

        I am neither a lawyer nor a psychiatrist, so it would be pointless for me to attempt to formulate any rules. However, as an appalled citizen, I shall continue to complain, because the current mess is not only hideously unfair, it also makes us all look like idiots.

        • Tom Sarbeck

          “…it also makes us all look like idiots.”
          Relative to the future, ignorant. Relative to the past, advanced.
          Please describe what “idiot” is relative to.

  • kessy_athena

    Unfortunately, in the US the legal definition of insanity and the medical definition are entirely different things. For one thing, the founders, in their infinite wisdom, decided to leave little things like life and death up to the incompetent, corrupt, tin pot dictator wannabes we call the state governments, so we have fifty different versions of legal insanity that are typically more about politics and looking tough on crime then science or any sort of reality. In a lot of cases, the legal standard of insanity is still the same as it was a century ago. It’s really not a surprise to find such absurdities going on.

    I seem to recall some years ago there were two cases that occurred around the same time of mothers who murdered their young children. Both used an insanity defense, one of the women claimed that god told her to do it, the other said the devil told her to do it. The former was aquitted, the latter convicted and the book thrown at her.

  • chris buchholz

    It wasn’t until I became an atheist that I was against the death penalty. Before that I thought we lived eternally, so while God tells us killing is wrong, from a philosophical standpoint no one really “ends”.

    Now I look at our justice system and am disgusted by our lust for killing – especially killing the borderline mentally handicapped and black men. But the average christian is not. Nor do they want to learn about it.

    • chris buchholz

      I suppose I should say the average “person” is not interested, and they happen to be christian here (and other sorts of theists elsewhere). Which may not be causal, but for me it was.

  • Jay

    There is historical precedence. Famously, this has happened before — though under Roman, not American, jurisprudence.

  • smrnda

    I wonder if we had better support for the mentally ill how often these things would happen to begin with.

    • ZenDruid

      It once was better. Ronzo started the trend of closing mental health facilities in CA when he was governor, and later at the federal level, he cut funding for community mental health efforts nationwide. Prince Dubya stumbled along in his footsteps.

      So many people fell through the cracks and ended up homeless and hopeless. Seems the best avenue for a person with mental health issues these days is to commit a violent crime and go to jail.

      • ZenDruid

        Ronzo = Reagan. I morphed the name of a B-movie costar of his, Bonzo the chimpanzee.

  • http://theotherweirdo.wordpress.com The Other Weirdo

    I think the judge was taking the safe approach. You’ve got 200 million people in the US and several billion world-over believing things that are different from this guy in degree only, not in kind. Is you say he is crazy, you have to call the others crazy also. It’s taking religion to its ultimate conclusion. People get outraged when somebody kills their family, claims God told them to and is then thrown into an insane asylum instead of jail or the chair.

    We learnt last year from Harold Camping that the gulf between the Christian crackpots and the Christian mainstreamers is not that wide. Maybe this is the first acknowledgement.

  • Brian K

    I think we are being a little bit unfair to religion here. It is in no way orthodox for one to claim that oneself is “God”. If the judge is being quoted correctly here, it is not normal Christian belief to believe that one is akin to Jesus.

    • The Vicar

      Possibly, but the Mormons effectively believe that it is possible to become a god presiding over a planet of your very own (if you’re male — and, according to the original version of their scriptures, white), and one of our major political parties is desperately trying to tell everyone that the differences between Mormons and other Christians isn’t big enough to worry over.

  • Noelle

    The thing with psychiatry and the law is we could hand out a DSM-IV diagnosis to nearly everyone in prison. If you flipped through the manual, you’d probably find a code or 2 that fits you. So getting a diagnosis of something won’t necessarily even get a physician on your side with the whole too insane for court business. That is law business. There are expert docs who testify and give recommendations, but history shows them to be pretty biased to the kinda crazy but not too crazy for death or prison bent. I lived in a city with a still-open state psych hospital, and it had a special extra-security floor for people who committed very violent crimes. Thankfully, I never had to do a rotation on that floor. It was easily known as the most frightening of any assignment we could be given. The prison was much more secure. I’m not convinced we have safe alternatives for some folks. I’d favor life to execution, but not everyone can be released into society. Even with treatment.

    As for the “pfft. Lots of Christians have Jesus-related delusions.”. People who work with violent criminals all day are pretty jaded. Can’t say as I’m surprised.

  • smrnda

    I’ll throw something out here in that I have schizo-affective disorder and have been delusional, and had auditory, visual, and tactile hallucinations. I had them during 3 distinct episodes in my life, and haven’t had any for about 4 years.

    It is true that plenty of people fit some DSM-IV category, but hallucinations and delusions are kind of in a class of their own.

    And for ZenDruid, I’ve actually run into people who came of age during Reagan who look at homeless mentally ill people and go into raptures about ‘choice’ and ‘autonomy’ and ‘isn’t it great that guy gets to choose to live in trash can instead of being forced to live in a facility?’ As a treated mentally ill person I usually tell them that off my meds, I don’t have *choices* at all.

  • idea1013

    Just to clarify, the psychiatric and legal definitions of insanity are separate, each having its own criteria. Legally, at its most basic, one’s sanity or competence rests on whether the person can tell right from wrong. So in this case, it wouldn’t matter if this man thought himself the “Prince of God” or Shirley Temple; if he knew it was wrong to commit murder at the time he did it, he must be declared legally competent to stand trial and participate in his own defense.

  • Sue Blue

    Probably the judge has come to the conclusion that if he rules this person insane because of his Christian-oriented schizophrenic delusions, he’d be saying that all Christians are delusional because they hold the same kind of beliefs. Rather than concede that this might be true, he’d rather sacrifice this schizophrenic man’s life for the sake of Christian privilege.

    Sickening.

    • Gringa

      I saw it as the opposite. It’s like the judge is daring people to say that such religious beliefs actually make him insane, because then those people would be admitting that their own religious beliefs are insane and therefore so are they.

  • Thumper1990

    As mad as most Christians undoubtedly are, I don’t think any of them would claim that they are actually Jesus… I feel fairly certain that to do so would constitute blasphemy.

  • dfghdfgh

    The Judge may have been worried that if he declared this guy unfit, there would be a whole line of accused criminals rushing to declare themselves “beleivers” in the hopes of avoiding the needle.

    I have absolutely no problem with comparing Xtian worldviews with mental illnesses.

    Xtians can consider gay’s to be “sick”, and need to be “cured”, I see no problem with Xtians being considered “sick”. Possibly even beyond “cure”.

  • Rosemary Lyndall Wemm

    Thumper1990: There is a guy in Australia who claims to be Jesus Christ incarnate. He sounds frighteningly sane, yet he has gladly taken people’s life savings as payment for living on his large property. He declared his wife to be the incarnation of the virgin Mary. It does not seem to bother him that he has an incestuous relationship with her. The borderline between religion and insanity and religion and temporal lobe seizures is very fuzzy.


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