By reason of insanity

I'll just come out and say it: I'm an atheist. And, while I'm at it, I'll make a second admission. I haven't been following the Andrea Yates trial as closely as many others have. But something has been bugging me ever since yesterday, when I saw that Yates had been found not guilty by reason of insanity in a second murder trial. Yates, if you'll remember, claimed she drowned her children - five in all - because she thought she was saving them from Satan. Further, she believed that she was possessed by the devil, also believing that the media had bugged her house to keep track of her parenting. With Wednesday's decision, Yates will now be committed to a state mental hospital, as opposed to a life in prison. The saga is now complete, and what a sad one it was.
Something has been puzzling me, something I'll get to in a moment. Until then, consider that we're living in a society in which a religious fringe has hijacked the debate and has forced itself upon the rest of us. Now, what once passed for out-and-out nuttiness is instead run-of-the-mill, taken-for-granted beliefs. Yesterday's craziness is today's old news. With that in mind, what follows are only a few examples of what a "religious" person can get away with in the name of God and not be considered, by society, insane. You can wish an elected leader dead. You can threaten entire towns - twice. You can excommunicate members of your congregation for being - gasp - Democrats. You can seek to eliminate children's programming that teaches tolerance. You can physically assault those who disagree with your beliefs. You can blame September 11 on "the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way ..." And that's just scratching the surface.

Here's what's been puzzling me since last night. What makes those involved in the previous examples any less insane than Yates, whose horrific crimes I'm most certainly neither excusing nor making light of? They believe in Jesus and the legend created around him. I'm assuming they also believe in the devil. Sort of comes with the territory, doesn't it? The End Timers running our country can't just believe in the bright, shiny aspects of their faith. Because, after all, their rhetoric certainly would indicate otherwise. Knowing that, I find it confusing that the faithful would consider Yates insane while at the same time giving a clean bill of mental health to the Pat Robertsons and Jerry Falwells of the word. Of course, Yates did a terrible thing, and that's something we mustn't forget. But I just don't see how the religious extremists dominating America can have it both ways.

Now, before my inbox explodes with religious right hate mail, I'm just saying we should have a real discussion about the reasons people do things and how people can crack under societal pressures just as easily as they can be labelled "insane". Clearly, Yates suffered from mental illness. But what was behind her illness? Yates, it was reported, had a history of mental problems. She had been hospitalized several times and had attempted to commit suicide on at least two occasions. Further, as the cited article said, "she believed she was failing to properly home-school her children in the Houston suburb of Clear Lake and was haunted by visions that one of her sons would become a gay prostitute." Sounds to me like she was under a tremendous amount of pressure, especially to be a good exemplar of her faith. And if we're going to declare her insane for her actions, I think we should spend equal time examining the faith-based factors behind her actions. I have a feeling there's a lot more insanity out there than we're comfortable admitting.

Tags: religion (all tags)

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