Sunday, October 5, 2008

Introduction/Chapter 1: A Great Darkness (cont.)

There are many problems with this reasoning. The first is that it undermines contemporary research in the field of neurobiology, which is seeking to make a somatic connection between brain chemistry and psychological disturbance. To talk about such research would be beyond the scope of my expertise. But the general idea is that the field of neuroscience is making what was once unknown--the cause of mental illness--known, in scientifically quantifiable terms.

The reasoning of Taylor et. al. seems reminds me of those who held (and hold) fast to the principals of Newtonian physics in the wake of a shifting scientific paradigm. The assumption that matter is unchanging and predictable has been proven to be false--and yet some people would contest such a claim on "historical" grounds. Taylor et al make such a claim when they state that "it [the mental disorder] is not a real disease as disease is historically defined."

I make reference to such a book and its accompanying theory to illustrate what I see as a similar problem with the public (and clinical) perception towards mental illness: that it is a "problem" to be "fixed."

This book is my attempt to challenge that presupposition by placing mental illness in a different paradigm: that is, judging it by spiritual, rather than psychological, criteria. In doing so, the question is no longer about what is normal, but about what is good and pleasing to God.

This of course carries with it its own assumptions about what is desirable or undesirable, good or bad. As I mentioned earlier, I am a Catholic Christian, and I write unapologetically from a Catholic Christian perspective. Such an affiliation carries with it the responsibility for, and the acceptance of, an established code of conduct which has developed over centuries by the Church. It rests on the assumption that the Church is guided and protected by the Holy Spirit. The life, example, and teachings of Jesus that have been passed down in written form and through oral tradition are the cornerstone on which all other teachings of the Church are built.


"God does not see as human beings see..."

In some ways Taylor et. al. are right to be critical of modern psychology's attempt to make the DSM a kind of modern-day Bible. When people live by psychological standards and attempt to abjugate responsibility for disordered behavior by playing the "illness" card, society becomes sick indeed. Really, Taylor et. al. just want to call a spade a spade. The problem is they are using their own man-made standards (albeit scripturally inspired) for judging the conduct of others.

I use the example of Abraham and Isaac to illustrate this point. For Abraham, "uprightness" meant fidelity to God: when God says jump, you jump. So when God made the request for Abraham's only son, Abraham did not hesitate.

The rational objections are limitless: why kind of God would call for such a thing? What does God have to gain from such an action?

The thing is, our God is not an especially rational God...or, at least, He is not required to be. Soren Kierkegaard, regarded as the father of Christian existentialism, seized upon this unnerving aspect of Christian living to formulate his ideas on what true Christian faith was. He regarded it as something completely beyond the scope of reason, of convention, of certainty. One must abandon the known and "leap to faith" in what is unknown.

Jesus himself introduced a new code of conduct that turned the Judaism of his time on its head. The strong were regarded as weak, prostitutes and tax collectors became first in line for salvation, an "eye for an eye" became "turn the other cheek." He was shifting the criteria for what constituted holiness. Fidelity to the law as it was "historically defined" (to use Taylor's words) was no longer enough. Faith became the new ticket for salvation.

But Jesus did not abandon the law. Indeed he said "not one letter of the Law will be changed." Because the law still stood to guide people in the ways of holiness. Killing displeased God. Stealing displeased God. These instructed people what to avoid in order to please God. Jesus added his own amendment to the First Commandment: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Loving neighbor, along with fully loving God, encompassed all the other commandments that were "historically defined" in Judaism.

One could imagine seeing Abraham on the brink of murdering his son and thinking "this is not good! This is not pleasing to God!" One may try to intercede, out of a feeling of faithful duty, to prevent such a sinful act from transpiring. One may even feel a sense of pride in keeping him from meriting eternal damnation.

But who is carrying out the will of God in this case? The Commandment seems clear enough ("Thou shalt not kill"). To the human eye it seems clear but as it is written, "not all things that seem right to man are right." God can make rules, but He has just as much right to break them. "Can I not do with my money what I will?"

Abraham received direct instructions from God; there was no mediator involved. It is in this realm that mystics tread, and it is not without its own unique challenges, as will be discussed in subsequent chapters. It can also be a very disorienting and lonely place.

For the mentally ill, the mind can be a kind of prison, or for some, a chamber of torture. Reality and delusion bleed together and distinction between the two is not always straightforward.


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