Law dances the fine line between religion and insanity

“There is nothing that is too obvious of an absurdity to be firmly planted in the human head as long as you begin to instill before the age of five by constantly repeating it

with an air of great seriousness.”

– Arthur Schopenhauer

“Since it is obviously inconceivable that all religions can be right, the most obvious conclusion is that they are all wrong.”

-- Christopher Hitchens

“Society attacks early, when the child is defenseless.”

-- B.F. Skinner


Religion is exempt from taxation.  It is exempt from ridicule or even skepticism in the mainstream media (except the Net, of course).  And, very importantly, it is exempt from the normal criteria for reality. 

There can be no tangible proof of religious events, no historical record (separate accounts of floods don’t count), and no intersubjective verification.   A believer can very definitely feel God’s presence right now, but I, standing right next to him, can’t.  You’d think God would be all up inside my head, ordering me to believe.  But no.  Silence.  

Banging heads – and the real world

Objective vs. subjective reality: Believers and skeptics will bang heads for all eternity over this.

But beyond philosophy and in the real world, religion comes dangerously close to being a mental illness, and here we find another of its exemptions.  People can have delusions, as long as they are the accepted ones, just as people can consume drugs, but only the government-approved ones.

However…when the delusions lead to what would otherwise be criminal acts, the law is hard put to distinguish the evil/insane from the religious.

A holy day

Consider the case of Brent Troy Bartel, a Texas man who carved a pentagram into his son’s back and actually called 911 to report that he’d “shed some innocent blood.”  “I’m sorry?” was the operator’s completely natural response – and mine too. WTF???

Well, he did it because 12-12-12 was “a holy day.”  He didn’t say what religious doctrine says that, but I’m sure you can find pentagram-inscribing, Satan-worshiping wackjobs somewhere on the Net.  He was charged with a crime.  Do you think his defense attorney will argue that his right to practice his religion was being abridged?

Carving kids

The most obvious religious parallel is child mutilations like clitoridectomy and circumcision.  I think both are atrocious and appalling.  Circumcision has been big with the Jews from the beginning.  Oddly, it is not specifically commanded in the Torah, even though there’s a ghastly story in Genesis 34 about how one of Jacob’s daughters is raped, the men of the other tribe agree to undergo circumcision, and the Israelites massacre them as they’re recovering.  Nice.   

God does lay claim to the first-born of everything (Exodus 13:1-2), so this is a way of buying him off.  But why the sex?  Why not a piece the earlobe?  Just wondering.

I know circumcision is controversial, hated by many, its medical benefits are debatable, as are its contributions to (or degradation of) men’s sexual experience.  I also know it’s fanatically defended by most Jews, including the disgusting, disease-spreading (and therefore possibly illegal) practice of the moel’s sucking of the little penis after the cutting.  Judaism at its most barbaric. 

Actually all of it is pretty primitive, from the rabbi’s plume-hatted, silk robed High Priest/High Holiday vestments to the holy scrolls in their magic place with their cheesy breastplates, to the barbarity of circumcision and ritual buying-back of the child.

Sanctioned insanity

Forgive me if I don’t see a big difference between pentagram carving and circumcision.  One’s officially sanctioned; the other isn’t. Nobody asked the kid’s permission to violate his/her own body: truly one of the ineradicable evils of religion.    Society attacks early.

Second case in point:  Another judge splits the difference even more finely.  As reported in Funny Times’ "News of the Weird" (from mainstream media), Florida Judge David Glant rejected an insanity defense by a multiple murderer who had been certified nuts (insane/paranoid schizophrenic) by 30 psychiatrists, just because the killer believed in a Jesus-like resurrection after death, a vision which, the Judge said, is not “so significantly different from beliefs (that) other Christians may hold so as to consider it a sign of insanity.”

Yes, a direct quote that draws a bright line between defensible insanity and religious belief.

Imagine it: You could actually kill someone and avoid the death sentence by pretending you believed in resurrection!   

But does the Judge arbitrarily cut it off at Christian insanity?  Suppose the guy was a Hindu who believed he’d be reborn as an elephant or an ant?  Insane or religious?  Just how much insanity is the law willing to excuse?

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Comment by Alan Perlman on December 24, 2012 at 7:46pm

Make that "referred to."

Comment by Alan Perlman on December 24, 2012 at 7:45pm

To James,

If there is one thing that is fundamental to our vision of America, it is the idea that, like few places on earth, we can take for granted our physical security within our homeland (requires denial of all the crime and drug war violence). 

We are not Iraq, Peru, Congo, The Philippines, or a hundred other places.  Or so we thought. 9/11 shook this vision, and we have not recovered.  Overreaction is rampant.  Today kids are disciplined for pointing gun FINGERS at each other.

If you have to arm the schools, it means you have already lost, and you expect your system to admit you cannot catch the maniacs before they acquire guns, burst in and start shoooting, so you try to stop them when it's already too late.

I do believe it's possible to identify at least some of the nutcases soon enough, but will this gun-crazy country make that effort?  And the obvious: these are almost all YOUNG MEN.  Where the f are their parents?

If dominionism is the new fascism, it's already arrived: a vile nexus of money and poilitics that really runs the country.  Doesn't matter who's elected.  The Constitution is sometimes honored, usually not, often rerered to, seldom observed.  Most Americans don't know the difference. 

Comment by Alan Perlman on December 24, 2012 at 7:31pm

Loren...I am encouraged by the occasional victory of law over religous insanity, but all too often it goes the other way.  

NYC supports Jewish eccentricity more than any other city, to the point of allowing them to string wires and cables around an area, called an eruv, within which certain Sabbath structures can be violated (a little). 

Problem: It's a stupid eyesore that costs the city $80,000/yr. to maintain.  Also, it recently broke, posing hazards to cars and pedestrians, but these nuts won't fix it on the Sabbath! 

Jews are reputedly pushy, but we're pussies compared to Evangelicals.  We don't build Museums of Creationism or models of the Ark.  We don't require belief belief in God Almighty as a criterion for public office, as was recently done in KY, in defiance of the Constitution.  We -- and I as an atheist -- resent the pushy view that America is a Christian nation.

"Teach the controversy" is an atrocious canard.  But OK: teach that for thousands of years, science and humanism made sporadic progress, until recently.  Though our knowledge of the world grew by leaps and bounds, superstition and religion persist.  There IS a controversy!  Why do primitive beliefs persist?  I would love to teach that course.

Comment by Loren Miller on December 24, 2012 at 2:08pm

Alan, ANY law - whether about pot or medical practices or whatever, where some sect of some belief wants special treatment or an exception from judicial prying, or laws such as what was just passed in ... was it Missouri? ... where kids who don't like a given school subject (like evolution) can just SKIP it - ANY LAW may come up against some religion's counter-desire.  The law will insist one way while the believers will insist 180o out of phase. From that point onward, to one degree or another, the fun begins.

Where it STOPS (and the sooner the better) is a function of how much crap the judge and jurists or lawmakers are willing to tolerate before they say basta.

Comment by James Kz on December 24, 2012 at 1:41pm

And yet the NRA press conference that said "arm the schools" (because making schools like airports is just what we want because we want airports to be like airports) is :not insane: as that is a widely-held belief.

I fear for my country. I truly expect the Constitution I swore to uphold as a military member and now as a city councilman will be suspended by the Dominionists.

Comment by Alan Perlman on December 22, 2012 at 10:39pm

Loren...As always, well (and forcefully) said.  Your last sentence is esp. provocative.  Were you thinking of Christian Scientists who let their kids die without medical attention?  Or Branch Davidians who live apart and amass more armaments than the govt. likes?  Or Rastafarians whose sacrament is illegal?  Or Muslim fanatics who fly planes into buildings?   

Comment by Ruth Anthony-Gardner on December 22, 2012 at 10:07pm

Loren says it so well.

...religion is acceptable irrationality ... also organized and institutionalized irrationality.

Comment by Loren Miller on December 22, 2012 at 9:50pm

I've said it many times: religion is acceptable irrationality ... also organized and institutionalized irrationality.  To call it, "insanity" is to assert that a rose by any other name smells infinitely better than the amalgam of myths, superstitions, inventions and flat-out lies which is religion in the 21st century.

We are a modern-day civilization, held back by the anachronism which is religion and its insistence on its own standards. So long as we tolerate its presence in our midst, we willingly impede ourselves against what we could otherwise accomplish.

As to how much insanity the law might allow ... let that insanity threaten the law, and you will have your answer.

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