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.

I write a lot of jokes. Some of them are in this book.
I also host the podcast of the Skepchick events team, Some Assembly Required, and cohost the WWJTD Podcast.
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