Disclaimer: Not my own thoughts, the research is from the Journal of Neuropsychiatry – The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered. This blog entry is me playing devil’s advocate to provoke debate; I’m not in any way trying to undermine a person’s religious beliefs, simply trying to encourage discourse underlying subconscious preconceptions of mental illness within religion.
Thoughts to be considered before reading:
-Why would it be so bad if the inspirational figures in religious history experienced mental illness?
-Why do we subconsciously reject the thought that God wouldn’t work through people who have mental illnesses?
-Does being mentally ill make you exempt from God’s work and unable to meaningfully participate in worship when one in four people have been statistically proven to suffer from mental illness at some point in their lives.
The awkward moment when it becomes plausible that Jesus suffered from Schizophrenia (Just to clarify: this wouldn’t in anyway take away from his religious position, history and achievements).
A study was conducted by psychiatrists when they were presented with a concept by a paranoid schizophrenic patient, who claimed that he could read minds and was selected by God to provide guidance for mankind. The patient refused to take the medication because they stopped the voices, presenting his doctors with the question: “How do you know the voices aren’t real…How do you know I am not The Messiah…God and angels talked to people in the Bible”. The patient raised interesting questions, how does one distinguish between people with mental health disorders and those of religious figures in history?
One of the examples the doctors used in their journal article was Jesus, by examining passages within the bible they located specific areas that presented symptoms of mental illness:
Paranoid-type (PS subtype) thought content: Matthew 10:34–39, 16: 21–23, 24:4–27; Mark 13:5–6; Luke 10:19; John 3:18; John 14:6–11
Auditory and visual hallucinations: Matthew 3:16–17, 4:3–11; Luke 10:18; John 6:46, 8:26, 8:38–40, 12:28–29
Referential thought processes: Mark 4:38–40 (Figure 3); Luke 18:31
Within the New Testament Jesus exhibits behaviours that closely resemble the DSM-IV-TR– Auditory hallucinations, Visual Hallucinations, delusions, referential thinking, paranoid-type, (PS subtype) thought content, and hyper-religiosity. Through the text Jesus also displays signs of disorganization, negative psychiatric symptoms, cognitive impairment, or debilitating mood disorder symptoms. The article poses the question about whether starvation and metabolic derangements caused some of the behaviours as Jesus experienced hallucinatory-like visions whilst he fasted for 40days in the desert (Luke 4:1–13).
Jesus’ experiences appear to have occurred over the course of at least the year before his death. There is a notable lack of physical maladies which suggest psychiatric aetiologies as more plausible. There is a 5%–10% lifetime risk of suicide in persons with schizophrenia. Suicide is defined as a self-inflicted death that has intention to end one’s life. The New Testament recounts that Jesus was aware that people intended to kill him. Jesus took the steps to ensure that his followers were aware that his death was necessary for his return (Matthew 16:21–28; Mark 8:31; John 16:16–28). These passages appear to present Jesus to deliberately place himself in a situation wherein he anticipated his execution. Schizophrenia is often associated with increased risk of suicide.
There is a term called ‘suicide-by-proxy’, any incident whereby a suicidal individual causes their own death to be carried out by another person. Jesus’ behaviour before his death has parallels with someone who premeditates a form of suicide-by-proxy. In the passage Mark 3: 21: Jesus was on occasion viewed as mad or “beside himself.” People from Jesus’ hometown and the religious authorities of the day also did not accept his message. Subsets of individuals who have psychotic symptoms appear to be able to form intense social bonds and communities, despite having distorted views of reality. The study analysed the religious figures from a behavioural, neurologic, and neuropsychiatric perspective. The research indicates that the experiences of the individuals coincide with psychotic symptoms, suggesting that manifestations of their experiences had a primary or mood disorder-associated psychotic disorder basis.
A main goal of this research was to evaluate the influence of individuals with mental illness and their effects on shaping the Western civilization, hoping that the findings will help to increase compassion and understanding in relation to mental illness. Within the research it should be noted that they did use explicit passages from the bible, but each passage should be examined in its own context. It is generally acknowledged that biblical scholars are not unanimous about the literality of the scriptures nor are psychiatrists completely unanimous about the DSM (basically the bible of psychiatry). The research conducted a form of psychological profiling by people that aren’t saddled with the preconceived notions and biases that encumber those that have studied their field in depth, allowing a fresh take on ideas that have been overanalysed by people in the same area of study.
Only by joining multiple areas of study can any true concept of history be interpreted, attempting to remove the elitist theories that dominate popular thought. It needs to also be acknowledged that historians aren’t the sole area of study that can interpret history, other fields of study have valuable insights that historians can lack. The article didn’t stipulate and designate that religion was the cause for psychological symptoms, neither did it go into the scientific explanation, but it still needs to be acknowledged that religion does play a dominating role for some psychoses, especially with delusions. Does the motivating factor of religion in mental illness make it a definable feature??
I’m increasingly intrigued by the article when it encourages speculation on our inability to disprove that a person who is schizophrenic is a mouthpiece of God or is suffering from psychoses. The opposing opinions from both sides need to be taken into consideration; biases from long term studies ultimately detract from the viability of the research. The study showed the correlations that religious historical figures had with the current DSM, they acknowledged their limitations, like either psychological or biblical should do, my main question is this: why would it be wrong if they had suffered from a mental illness, it doesn’t detract from their accomplishments or their religious foundations, each person’s beliefs will always be grounded, who’s to say that God didn’t use psychoses to achieve his end.
I didn’t want to post this all week, didn’t want to ruffle anyone’s feathers. I came across this article, it really interested me, I understand its controversial, I am in no way promoting and detracting from either side and hope my post won’t be interpreted as such. Thank you.
Author and Article Information
From the Dept. of Neurology, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA (EDM, BHP); Dept. of Psychiatry, McLean Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA (MGC); Dept. of Neurology, Massachusetts General Hospital, Harvard Medical School, Belmont, MA (EDM, BHP).
Murray, E., Cunningham, M. and Price, B. (2012). The Role of Psychotic Disorders in Religious History Considered. JNP, 24(4), pp.410-426.