Religious Mental Instability and the Will of God

Please God, Help Me!
One of the things I’ve noticed after 30 years as a Christian and a minister is the number of mentally ill people who desperately depend on the Biblical promises and myths to give their life meaning. When my high school psychology class visited the state metal hospital, I remember seeing many of the patients with Bibles and one patient grabbing hold of my arm and telling how wonderful Jesus had been to him. Before I graduated, I knew a boy name Rusty J. who, as a Baptist, would have wide mood swings from one month, trying to save every student in the school, to the next month cussing like a drunken sailor and picking fights.

Mentally instable people who are charismatic cult leaders have caused true believers to murder as well as commit mass suicide. A example of the former was the 1969 murders of 7 people in by the Charles Manson “family” based on his reading of the book of Revelation mixed with the Beatle’s song Helter Skelter to create a theology Manson construed to being the end times with an apocalyptic race war that the murders were intended to precipitate leaving Manson and his “family” to lead the new world order.

But the Bibles has given the mentally ill illusions of messianic grandeur, be it Jim Jones founder of the Peoples Temple who (full of drugs and Biblical ideals) lead 913 people including 276 child into his view of Heaven where all the believers would be waiting after everyone left this evil world with strychnine laced Kool-Aid.

Then there is the mental messianic figure of David Koresh whose 1993 understanding of Daniel and Revelation drawn from his theology rooted in Branch Davidian Biblical hermeneutics convinced 76 people (17 of which were held under the age of 12) were either forced to stay (the children) or stayed freely in a Biblical apocalyptic and prophetic end to history in Waco, Texas.

In 1997 a San Diego, Calf. Heaven's Gate Cult lead by Marshall Applewhite got ready to ride to Heaven in a space ship coming to get them behind the Comet Hale-Boop since, Applewood claimed that it was the “Last Chance to Evacuate Planet Earth Before It Is Recycled”. They purified themselves in the food they ate and six male members had even castrated themselves (Matt. 19: 12). Wikipedia states: “In preparing to kill themselves, members of the group drank citrus juices to ritually cleanse their bodies of impurities. The suicide was accomplished by ingestion of Phenobarbital mixed with vodka, along with plastic bags secured around their heads to induce asphyxiation. They were found lying neatly in their own bunk beds, with their faces and torsos covered by a square, purple cloth. Each member carried five dollars in quarters in their pockets. All 39 were dressed in identical black shirts and sweat pants, brand new black-and-white Nike tennis shoes, and armband patches reading "Heaven's Gate Away Team." The suicides were conducted in shifts, and the remaining members of the group cleaned up after each prior group's death.”

While group suicide cults have often held the news headlines, personal religious mental illness has left its mark too. Such was the case of a 1982 high school valedictorian Andrea Yates, who, in June 2001 killed all five of her children by drowning the in a bathtub explained her “Christian action” to her jail psychiatrist, "It was the seventh deadly sin. My children weren't righteous. They stumbled because I was evil. The way I was raising them, they could never be saved. They were doomed to perish in the fires of hell."(Wikipedia)

Just to night on the new here in South Carolina, a Florence 18 year old high school youth “Schallenberger was arrested April 19. Authorities say he bought materials to make several bombs and had written a journal detailing his plans to attack Chesterfield High School. The teen faces several state and federal charges, including attempting to use a weapon of mass destruction. That charge carries a possible life sentence if he is convicted.” (The Greenville News). When asked why he was planning to kill his classmates, he said so he could go to Heaven, stand before Jesus at the judgment at which time he would kill Jesus also.

While the Bible can inspired everything form Holy Rollers to Mountain Snakes Handlers to Faith Healers to Satan Worshipers, it has a very profound affect on the mentally unstable. It is at just such a juncture that the freedom to worship as one’s conscience dictates can mean the difference between life and death, not only for the cults true believer, but for innocence adults and children as well.