My colleagues and I often care for patients suffering from hallucinations, prophesying, and claiming to speak with God, among other symptoms—in mental health care, it’s sometimes very difficult to tell apart religious belief from mental illness…. Our conclusions frequently stem from the behaviors we see before us. Take an example of a man who walks into an emergency department, mumbling incoherently. He says he’s hearing voices in his head, but insists there’s nothing wrong with him. He hasn’t used any drugs or alcohol. If he were to be evaluated by mental health professionals, there’s a good chance he might be diagnosed with a psychotic disorder like schizophrenia. But what if that same man were deeply religious? What if his incomprehensible language was speaking in tongues?
If a lunatic in a mental hospital tells us that a voice in his head, or from the ceiling fan, or from a pigeon at his window tells him to cut off the other patients’ heads, we place him under close surveillance and label him a menace to the rest of the hospital. We would do this long before he commits any act to prove his willingness to submit to the imaginary voice. If a man says God told him he would be Chief Justice, or that he thinks God approves of him taking that office, we consider it perfectly socially acceptable – because firstly, many other people labour under similar delusions and secondly because it doesn’t include any promise to do harm. Is there much difference though? Surely a delusion is still a delusion, even if many millions believe it? – Garreth Cliff, writing about Mogoeng Mogoeng’s claim that he received a sign from God to become Chief Justice over at the Daily MaverickBACK TO TOP