Quote of the week

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?

Nathaniel P.Morris
Scientific American
19 May 2007

How to insult a man of the cloth

Christopher Hitchens, the man who has just published the book God is Not Great, and who has been slagging off the now dead Jerry Falwell, seems to be a very brave man. He is obviously prepared to take on even the most pious men of the cloth in the most extreme but entertaining manner.

He is after all the guy who wrote a book aimed at exposing the hypocrisy of Mother Theresa which he called The Missionary Position, but whose original title, Holy Cow, was thought to be too offensive by his publishers. As The New Republic Blog reports, Hitchens appeared on a US radio programme last week, and really let rip.

At one point Hitchens was joined on-air by Stephan Munsey, an evangelical pastor from Indiana. After making some pretty weak arguments on behalf of his faith, Munsey got to the crux of things. He explained how his 11-year-old daughter developed a grave case of Hodgkins’ Disease a few years ago. “She’s dying in front of me,” the minister recalled. “I kneel down, and I put my hand on her hand, and I ask God, ‘Would you heal my baby?'” The girl recovered. “You’ve come too late to me, Christopher Hitchens, to tell me that that was not an act of a real God,” Munsey declared.

Here I thought even Hitchens would put on kid gloves and grant the man his beliefs. “Are you going to call this father, Christopher Hitchens, a charlatan, a fool?” asked the host, Tom Ashbrook. Of course, that’s precisely what Hitch proceeded to do:

Well, it’s flat-out unbelievable testimony. And it’s been the basis of religious charlatanry all along… I’m very sorry if I sound callous, but I do know of a lot of children who have died horribly despite being prayed over with exreme fervency. And I think it’s disgusting to suppose that those prayers were infererior to other people’s…. There are such things as unexpected recoveries… [T]o claim that you have a personal line to God and that he’ll intervene for your convenience is a disgracefeul thing to say, mind you. And an insult to those whose children continue to suffer despite agonies of prayer on their behalf. This is a conscious attempt to defraud people. It’s the basis of a great deal of religious hucksterism. And besides being immoral, it’s highly unattractive.

You can listen to the whole program here.

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