That’s so crazy!

Steven here…

A woman in Russia was just arrested for keeping a dead body in her apartment. For three years. With kids living there. The devout Pentecostal woman believed her husband would resurrect and she made her kids feed the body and have conversations with it.

Commenters are quick to point out that the woman has a history of mental illness. I have to wonder though, how do Christians justify calling her crazy? Don’t they believe that all the dead bodies will get up and start dancing as soon as Jesus stop hiding?

That must be the difference. You can believe whatever unreasonable thing you want, as long as you don’t think it’s happening right now. Next month is fine though.

I should put in a disclaimer here that I am not an expert on mental illness. I do not have one either. Where I do have a lot of experience though, is in applying scientific skepticism to extraordinary claims. When you do that often enough you’ll learn a few things about the way sane people rationalize “crazy” beliefs.

When people act on a belief that requires dismissing reason, you actually don’t need to invoke mental illness to explain it. At least not right away. It is a a sufficient, but not necessary explanation.

The bastard who shot up that Sikh temple in Wisconsin, Wade Michael Page, was motivated by racism. Ditto with mass-murdering-shithead Anders Breivik. Could they have also had psychological issues that led them to pull the trigger? Entirely possible, but that shouldn’t be the first explanation you go to.

When the default answer for awful behavior is insanity there are two consequences. First, it lets bad ideas off the hook when we should be loudly announcing to the world that shitty ideas have shitty consequences. Even if Breivik’s actions were the result of paranoid schizophrenia, that illness didn’t act in a vacuum. His actions were highly motivated by the extreme right-wing politics in Europe and Christian Dominionism. These ideas are dehumanizing and monstrous, and more people than just the insane cause harm by acting on them.

Secondly, it does a disservice to the mentally ill by using mental illness as the default explanation for awful people. If we want to do anything about eliminating the stigma associated with mental illness and help more people get treatment, we’re gonna have to stop doing that.

I’m not saying that it’s never the explanation for bad behavior. It certainly could be the case with the Weekend At Bernie’s fan I mentioned at the start of the post. But it wouldn’t kill us to wait a little while before jumping to a conclusion, particularly when the subject is an terrible mass-murder.

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About geekysteven
  • The Nerd

    At first I was like “groan, not another person blaming harmful religious practices on mental illness”.
    Then I was like “yay, not another person blaming harmful religious practices on mental illness!”

    • Kate

      That encapsulates my exact reaction to this post ^

  • Azkyroth

    It seems like it would really do good to separate the concept of “mental illness” from a concept of “engaging in or prone to bizarre, potentially-or-actually-dangerous, irrational behavior, possibly sometimes but usually not caused by mental illness.” The latter is how I tend to use the term “crazy” and as a person with a mental condition I don’t find it objectionable, but I notice a lot of people don’t appreciate this. Unfortunately, there’s very little that packs the “punch” of terms like crazy that could be substituted.

    Can we steal “deranged” for this, maybe?

    • John Horstman

      As someone who also has a mental illness and finds “crazy” extremely useful, this is very much my position on the term as well. The problem isn’t that “crazy” is used to describe absurd-and-dangerous beliefs, the problem is that it is presumed to be a synonym for “mental illness”.

    • John Horstman

      Oh, also, I interpret “deranged” as describing someone both mentally ill AND crazy.

      • LeftWingFox

        I’ve noted that a couple times. We don’t really have the terminology to distinguish between terms of mental illness and terms of socially induced reality distortion. The terms all described symptoms before it was discovered that they could have a physical cause.

  • Drakk

    “That must be the difference. You can believe whatever unreasonable thing you want, as long as you don’t think it’s happening right now. Next month is fine though.”

    Isn’t this the point, though? Remember that rapture guy?

  • RuQu

    When your beliefs can be misidentified as mental illness, shouldn’t that tell you something about your beliefs?

  • Brad1990

    “the extreme right-wing politics in Europe”

    This makes it seem that the politics in Europe are generally more right wing than in the US… the opposite is true, or at least true of the mainstream parties. By European standards (saying this as a guy from the UK) you don’t have a mainstream, left wing party. You have a central party and a right wing party.

    • RuQu

      I think the point was that Europe has extremist parties.

      America’s winner-take-all Electoral College system strongly discourages third parties. Any time a new movement arises, it tends to get absorbed by the closer of the two main parties. The rise of the Tea Party has contributed to a rightward shift as the Republicans swung to the far-right to absorb that movement’s momentum and passion, and the liberals moved to the right to try and pick up center-right voters put off by the far-right Tea Party.

      In contrast, European (and global) democracies tend to favor the Parliamentary style system, and extremist parties can win seats and form parts of ruling coalitions.