Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Schizophrenia: Serial Killers, Witches, False Prophets, and Messengers From God

Schizophrenia has been defined as "a chronic mental illness often passed down through a genetic chemical imbalance. The disease controls the thoughts and actions of the person it afflicts. Those with schizophrenia often hear voices that tell them what to do, which may lead to unfortunate consequences such as violence and cerebral entropy if left untreated. Symptoms of the disorder include losing touch with reality, hysteria, visual hallucinations, paranoid delusions, trouble focusing, memory loss, and decreased sensations of pleasure."

So what's the relationship between this kind of mental illness and serial killers, witches, and messengers from God? How the person interprets the voices in their head on the one hand, and how we interpret those who have these experiences on the other.

If Joseph Smith claims that God spoke to him and establishes the Mormon Church, or Mohammad imagines that God is communicating his will to him and establishes Islam, most Catholics generally think the two were probably delusional. But if Jesus or Moses or Abraham all claim to have had the exact same experience, upon which is built Catholicism, their experiences are all considered to be perfectly legitimate. The reason? Because of our confirmation bias. 

What's more, if people become serial killers for any of these religions, even to the point of burning and murdering the "mentally ill" because they are convinced they are possessed by demons, or colluding with the devil, such people are STILL not considered to be suffering from any form of "mental illness" themselves.

Of course, serial killers like David Berkowitz, who heard voices from a dog telling him to kill people, are easily thought of as crazy. But would we think him just as crazy if that same dog had been telling me to go out and "save people"?

Is our willingness to selectively "believe" in some people who "hear the voice of God" while rejecting others, not an example of a confirmation bias at work? Is it not simply a reflection of our upbringings, our cultures, our societies, etc? How then, if we are as "flawed" and fallible as the Bible repeatedly tells us, do we have such absolute powers to discern the divine nature of those who suffer from delusions of hearing the voice of God, and those who legitimately hear the voice of God?

In truth, if we are as fallible as the Bible claims (and we surely are not gods in our power to know and infallibly discern everything there is to discern) then we are simply choosing which "messengers of God" we wish to "believe" are legitimate, and which are not. And usually for no other reason than that we were raised in an environment that socially reinforces it, and in which the vast majority of the people around us seem to subscribe. But "buying into" such beliefs does not necessarily make them "objectively true." It just proves how willing we are to run with herd for protection - often against being ostracized by the herd itself.

It also proves we can't really tell the difference between the voice of God and the voice of a dog.

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