Friday, January 11, 2008

Oh no, not again

Today in the news:

A mother who is suspected of killing her four children, whose decomposing bodies were found in her home, appeared in court Thursday.

Banita Jacks, 33...told police that her daughters were possessed by demons and that each died in her sleep during a seven- to 10-day period, court documents said. Aja died first, she told police, then N'kiah, Tatianna and Brittany.

Okay, I know it's simplistic simply to blame religion in situations like this. You can make the same post hoc fallacy people make when they blame violent video games for school shootings, or porno magazines for rape. In the case of the wacko who killed and cooked his girlfriend a few days ago, and then told the cops God ordered him to do it, it's obvious he was trying to appear as crazy as possible so as to cop a sanity plea when his case goes to trial. There are cases of clearly religiously inspired violence, such as 9/11, gay-bashing incidents, the killing of abortion providers, excessive corporal punishment of children bordering on child abuse, the ongoing Arab/Israeli conflict, tribal violence in Kenya and the Sudan, Catholic/Protestant violence in Northern Ireland, and more.

Then there are cases where a lunatic does something loony, and, surprise, is found to have kooky religious beliefs as well. Kooky religious beliefs and kooks do go together well.

A case like this leans toward the latter, but still, I don't think religion can get off the hook entirely. Religion is the only thing out there that encourages people to believe in absurdities like demonic possession. It's bad enough that literally millions of people have their critical thinking faculties short circuited by the teachings of religion, and thus fail to know how to protect themselves from religious hucksters selling their snake oil. But add religion into an environment where mental illness is latent, and it's a recipe for unmitigated catastrophe. While the mental illness is ultimately the cause of this woman's actions, religion only enhanced its severity, rather than helping her to overcome it.

Science, on the other hand, has made great strides in treating mental illness. There's nothing in the article to indicate Banita Jacks was on any medication for any psychological disorder. But clearly she should have been. Had she been, this might not have happened. But by putting her faith in her religion, what happened? She believed her babies were possessed by demons, and butchered them. Religion can't always be blamed for the bad things people do. But I see precious few examples of its actually doing anything to help or prevent such tragedies either.


  1. In a community that values delusional beliefs like miracles, speaking-in-tongues, virgin birth, intercessory prayer, etc., I would suppose that it would be difficult to recognize delusional beliefs that are caused by mental illness.

  2. It's funny- I keep waiting for an atheist to do something really jacked like this, because, as you know, we have no moral compass. Yet time and time again its the people with delusional beliefs that do these really heinous things.

    Don't know why that is, really.

  3. Yeah, it's a head-scratcher, ain't it. Many's the time I check my daily planner at the end of the day, just before turning out the lights, and smack myself on the forehead: "D'OH! I totally forgot to murder a random stranger in cold blood! What's my deal!?"


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