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?
How sweet it would be to live among us, if the exterior appearance was always an image of the heart’s tendencies; if decency was a virtue; if our maxims served us as rules; if true philosophy was inseparable from the title of philosopher! But so many qualities too rarely go together, and virtue hardly ever walks in so much pomp. Richness in dress can announce a man with money and elegance a man with taste. The healthy, robust man is recognized by other signs. It is under the rustic clothing of a labourer and not under the gilded frame of a courtesan that one will find physical strength and energy. Finery is no less a stranger to virtue, which is the power and vigour of the soul. The good man is an athlete who delights in fighting naked. He despises all those vile ornaments which hamper the use of his strength, the majority of which were invented only to conceal some deformity. Before art fashioned our manners and taught our passions to speak an affected language, our habits were rustic but natural, and differences in behaviour announced at first glance differences in character. Human nature was not fundamentally better, but men found their security in the ease with which they could see through each other, and this advantage, whose value we no longer feel, spared them many vices. – Jean-Jacques Rousseau in Discourse on the Sciences and the ArtsBACK TO TOP