Spiritual Sickness or Mental Illness?

Shootings. More shootings. Along with calls to eviscerate the Second Amendment to the Constitution are discussions of mental illness, both with respect to red-flag laws and also in trying to understand a general increase in violence. Yet, over the years, the lines distinguishing between sin, crime, and mental illness have become increasingly muddied. Labeling actions as sins has gone out of style, while we expand categories of mental abnormalities to include everything from the normal difficulty many boys have with sitting still for hours on end in the classroom, to severe disturbances that threaten the life of the sufferer and those around him. What if understanding the sad state of America and much of the Western world demands looking not at an ever-increasing basket of psychiatric diagnoses but at age-old spiritual ailments?

The greatness of the United States of America was in its ability to marry religious pluralism with ethical solidarity. Unlike in colonial America, where some colonies identified with specific religions and where non-believers or “different believers” were hounded, our amazing Constitution welded together a secular government with a religious populace. Different groups of Protestants, Catholics and other Christian denominations, as well as a small Jewish population, all shared enough mutual ground to live together under a common law. All would have agreed that certain practices were wrong, ranging from human sacrifice, to lying under oath, to infanticide. They would have shared a belief in the values of industriousness, charity, and sobriety. Where there were conflicts, such as about slavery, they were less religiously defined as much as culturally and geographically divided. As we removed a common perception of religion and religious ethics from the village square, we lost that shared framework. Attempts to replace that framework with law or psychiatry have not been successful.

It is incredibly difficult for a healthy human to think of someone who would massacre innocent human beings, or torture prisoners, or who participates in other heinous activity as sane. Surely something is wrong when someone gets satisfaction by making someone else suffer? Would a sane person really inflict bodily harm on an innocent child? Part of our confusion is our unwillingness to label any actions as evil. The word evil smacks of religious judgmentalism, which at its core demands that we share a system on which to base that judgment.

I recently watched Matt Walsh’s documentary, “What Is a Woman?”. I strongly recommend this disturbing video to anyone concerned about the next generation and the state of our world. Among the individuals he interviewed were pediatricians who explained why it was appropriate, and in fact necessary, to give young children gender-changing treatments and surgeries that will affect their future physical, psychological and social lives. I do not think these doctors are insane. I do think they are following an evil ideology that leads them to commit evil acts. Doing so, they come to embody evil, just as did those followers of other ideologies who tortured and maimed under the direction of Torquemada, Stalin, Hitler and Mao or, like slave traders or those people in Rwanda or Cambodia who joined in dehumanizing and massacring others. All convinced themselves that they were doing the right thing. Yet, even as we shudder at many examples from previous generations, much of the world’s Western medical and legal establishments are, at the moment, supporting these doctors.

A number of years back, I listened to an NPR podcast describing how in 1973, homosexual activists led by psychiatrists, orchestrated the removal of homosexuality from its previous listing as a disorder in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM). While the entire concept of mental disorders and illnesses depending on social activism is problematic, I would like to suggest that, in fact, homosexuality should never have been included in the DSM in the first place. Such behavior is categorized in the Bible as a sin, alongside many other activities, including adultery and theft. As we became uncomfortable with talk of sin, we tried to replace it with medical terminology. Doing so trivializes both sin and serious mental illness.

The first DSM, declaring homosexual behavior as a mental disorder, was published in 1952. Five years later, the original Broadway show of West Side Story appeared, with its famous parody song, Gee Officer Krupke. As the gang members sing, pretending to talk to the local police officer, they make fun of the conflict between those who view them as bad apples and those who view them as psychologically disturbed. Here are some of the verses:

Officer Krupke, you’re really a square;
This boy don’t need a judge, he needs an analyst’s care!
It’s just his neurosis that oughta be curbed
He’s psychologically disturbed!

and

It ain’t just a question of misunderstood;
Deep down inside him, he’s no good!

Other verses, in what today are extremely politically incorrect terms, lay the blame for the gang member’s violent behavior on poor family life. The song was comedic light relief in a story that ends with more than one tragic death. Almost seventy years later, we see that this attempt to classify gang behavior in psychological terms was no laughing matter.

Reading through the lyrics of the song, there is a noticeable absence of any moral, ethical, or religious principles being suggested as a solution to the problems of troubled teens. So many years later, the solutions to increased violence, suicide, drug use, and anxiety (among other maladies) once more ignore the gaping spiritual hole and lack of immutable, shared values in our lives.


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