Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Sound like anyone we know?

Some random, but connected info about mental illness and religion.  Given what we know about mental illness and about the best arguments that advocates have been able to muster for God, our first thought when we encounter someone with intense religious convictions should not be to take his/her arguments or reasonings too seriously but to ask, "What are the symptoms of mental illness that she is exhibiting?"  The behaviors of the most religious among us:  hyper-religiousity, hyper-moralism, evangelism, hypergraphia, visions, voices, circumstantiality, disassociated states, states of religious ecstasy, euphoria, and moral elevation.  And when otherwise serious academics get involved in protracted and complicated defenses of religious belief, how is that not comparable to infamous Harvard psychiatrist John Mack getting swept up by the UFO abduction testimonies of his patients?

Geschwind syndrome

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Geschwind syndrome
Classification and external resources
Geschwind syndrome, also known as "Gastaut-Geschwind" is a characteristic personality syndrome consisting of symptoms such as circumstantialityhypergraphia, altered sexuality (usually hyposexuality, meaning a decreased interest), and intensified mental life (deepened cognitive and emotional responses), hyper-religiosity and/or hyper-morality or moral ideas that is present in some epilepsy patients. This syndrome is particularly associated with temporal lobe epilepsy occurring in the left hemisphere of the brain. For identification, the term "Geschwind syndrome" has been suggested as a name for this group of behavioral phenomena. There has currently been both support[1] and criticism[2][3] in suggestion of this syndrome. Currently the strongest support arises from many clinicians who describe and attempt to classify patients with seizures with these personality features. The term Geschwind's Syndrome comes from one of the two people who first characterized the syndrome: Norman Geschwind. His associate was Stephen Waxman, who also did a great deal of work in the field. Note that Geschwind's Syndrome can be seen both in the inter-ictal (between seizures) and the ictal (during seizures) states.

[edit]See also


  1. ^ Blumer D (1999). "Evidence supporting the temporal lobe epilepsy personality syndrome". Neurology 53 (5 Suppl 2): S9–12. PMID 10496229.
  2. ^ Devinsky O, Najjar S (1999). "Evidence against the existence of a temporal lobe epilepsy personality syndrome". Neurology 53 (5 Suppl 2): S13–25. PMID 10496230.
  3. ^ eMedicine - Psychiatric Disorders Associated With Epilepsy : Article by William J Nowack

[edit]External links

And some more serious research from Advances in Neurology:

"The Geschwind syndrome," Benson DF.  

Department of Neurology, UCLA School of Medicine 90024.
A characteristic personality syndrome consisting of circumstantiality (excessive verbal output, stickiness, hypergraphia), altered sexuality (usually hyposexuality), and intensified mental life (deepened cognitive and emotional responses) is present in some epilepsy patients. For identification, the term "Geschwind syndrome" has been suggested as a name for this group of behavioral phenomena. Support for, and criticism against, the existence of this syndrome as a specific personality disorder has produced more fire than substance, but the presence of an unsettled, ongoing controversy has been acknowledged. At present, the strongest support stems from the many clinicians who have described and attempted to manage seizure patients with these personality features. Carefully directed studies are needed to confirm or deny that the Geschwind syndrome represents a specific epilepsy/psychiatric disorder.  

Hypergraphia is an overwhelming urge to write, where patients often produce tens or hundreds of thousands of words in manuscripts, letters, fiction, or grand philosophical theories of everything.  

Philosophy departments, not surprisingly, are often a locus for people with many of these symptoms/disorders.  We frequently receive large tomes, meticulously typed, in the mail referred to our faculty for consideration.  An author, who feels the urgent need to share his profound metaphysical and theological insights, wants to be recognized for the special knowledge he has uncovered.  A hyper-evangelism, or need to share these special insights with the world and acquire converts, is also often part of the author's maladies.  In the age of emails, I'll receive 5-100 emails a week from people suffering from these disorders.

Moral elevation, or intense feelings of compassion, fellow feeling, joy, adulation, and uplift, is the subject of some recent research.  Here is Jonathan Haidt's bibliography on the topic:

And some more useful references:  

And some more Oprah fans:  

What's really interesting here are the evolutionary explanations for why these sorts of moral feelings may have been selected for in human and proto-human populations.  



sam said...

Thanks for the references. Alvin Plantinga appears to me to suffer from a sub-pathological form of factitious/somatoform disorder (or Munchhausen syndrome by proxy). I listened to one of his responses to the problem of evil in which he insists that the best possible world contains the “atonement”, but sin & evil are necessary for the “atonement.” This is backwards reasoning, like most apologetic sophistry.

To his credit (or perhaps detriment), he at least has biblical support for his MSbP:

Romans 11:32 (NLT) – “For God has imprisoned everyone in disobedience so that he may have mercy on them all.”

John 15:22,24 – If I had not come & spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin. If I had not done among them the works no one else did, they would not be guilty of sin.

John 9:1-3 -...He saw a man blind from birth. & His disciples asked Him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he would be born blind?” Jesus answered, “It was neither that this man sinned, nor his parents; but it was so that the works of God might be displayed in him.”

John 11:14-15 – So then he told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead, & for your sake I am glad I was not there, so that you may believe."

Plantinga’s even responded to the charge that his view is consistent with MSbP, by stating that his god can ethically torture or kill humans against their will (& not for their own benefit) if yhwh thinks that his victims might be choosing to refrain from giving their consent to their torture and murder out of inability, ignorance or “disordered affections.”

He is, no doubt, a very intelligent man who’s had his moral sensibilities eviscerated by his superstitions. Too bad.

Matt McCormick said...

Sam, thanks for this comment. It's really interesting. I've done some looking around for someplace where Plantinga says something like what you ascribe to him here and I can't find it. Where is this claim that God can ethically torture or kill humans against their will if they are no cooperating out of ignorance or corruption?

sam said...

You can find the comments in “Christian Faith and the Problem of Evil” edited by Peter Van Inwagen. Plantinga writes a section titled, “Supralapsarianism, or ‘O Felix Culpa’”. You’ll find him addressing the MSbP charge on page 14 under the section “Objections”. It’s been awhile since I’ve read it, so correct me if I’ve misrepresented him. The comment about the best possible world containing the ‘atonement’ I believe was given during a presentation hosted by the ironically titled Veritas Forum. You can find that on their website.

sam said...

I reread part of the article. He does not state what I said explicitly, but my conclusion of what he said is strongly implied in the paper.

There must be different versions floating around the web. The version I just read has the relevant passage on page 19, titled “C. Munchausen by proxy?” On page 22, he says:

“But suppose still further, that I am able to make the decision [to accept suffering] and in fact would not accept the suffering; but suppose God knows that this unwillingness on my part would be due only to ignorance: if I knew the relevant facts, then I would accept the suffering. In that case too, God's perfect love, as far as I can see, would not preclude his permitting me to suffer. Finally, suppose further yet that God knows that I would not accept the suffering in question, but only because of disordered affections; if I had the right affections (and also knew enough), then I would accept the suffering: in this case too, as far as I can see, his being perfectly loving would not preclude his allowing me to suffer. In this case God would be like a mother who, say, insists that her eight-year-old child take piano lessons or go to church or school.”

If you consider Plantinga’s rationalizations elsewhere for yhwh-initiated atrocities within the Hebrew bible, and given that Plantinga believes that his god owes mankind nothing, I think it’s fair to conclude that Plantinga believes that his god _could_ ethically torture us against our will if this god thought we weren’t submitting to his tortures for the right reasons (and there ARE no right reasons).

Revelation 2:26-27 “To him who overcomes & does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations--He will rule them with an iron scepter; he will dash them to pieces like pottery."

So for Plantinga, if a mother with MSbP strongly suspects that her child would have consented to her poisoning him _if only he knew and understood_ how much pleasure she derives from the praise and sympathy elicited from others by the subsequent care and nurturing she provides, then this intuition makes poisoning or torture ethical.

By this reasoning, it follows that his god knows that I cannot accept or respect him and therefore enter heaven, but only because of ignorance or “disordered affections” (let’s say a “hard heart”). If I had the right affections (and also knew enough), then I would accept & respect this god. This god, then, ought to place every human in heaven, whether they consent to it or not. That is one conclusion that I know Plantinga could not accept.

Matt McCormick said...

This is great, Sam. Thanks for finding it and explaining. I am just amazed by it too, like you. These views--van Inwagen's, Plantinga's, Alston's, etc.--are outrageous from the start. But it's when you really get down deep in the woods, like these passages that you've found, where the sheer insanity and convoluted rationalizations really come out. Yeah, God has a bizarre form of MSbP. And what Plantinga makes me think of is the battered wife, or mentally corrupted atrocity victim, who cracks and constructs elaborate justifications for her husband's abuse of her. She deserves it, she insists, because she really is contemptible, pathetic, petty, and horrible. There's a particular type of deep self-loathing, and fundamental contempt for oneself and for humankind that resides in these guys hearts. This twisted atonement/salvation model really appeals to them because it licenses them to decry humans for being so morally corrupt, contemptible, and loathsome. In their hearts, these guys want to grovel and wallow in a pit of self-hatred, so Christian metaphysics strikes a sympathetic chord. If anyone tells us with a straight face that it makes sense that God would artificially construct a situation where, out of ignorance and imperfect, we deserve to be punished, tortured, and maimed in order to bring us back to God (When God could have avoided the entire farce from the start), I think we have to conclude that he's just left the playing field of serious rationality.

sam said...

“And what Plantinga makes me think of is the battered wife,”

I freely admit this armchair psychologizing lacks proper clinical definition. I don’t think Geshwind syndrome, MSbP, Stockholm syndrome or battered person syndrome are officially recognized in the DSM-IV, but the parallels are uncanny.

Look up battered person syndrome [classified as ICD-9 (WHO’s International Statistical Classification of Diseases) code 995.81. Repeated cycles of violence & reconciliation can result in a symptomotology of beliefs & attitudes as part of a PTSD listed in the DSM-IV] in Wikipedia.

1) The victim believes that the violence was her fault

2) The victim has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere

3) The victim fears for her life &/or her children’s lives

4) The victim has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent & omniscient.

To echo the title of your post, ‘sound familiar’? Where do they get these ideas? From their book:

Hebrews 12:4-17– “for those whom the Lord loves he disciplines, & he scourges every son whom he receives...but He disciplines us for our good”

Proverbs 20:30 “Blows & wounds scrub away evil, & beatings purge the inmost being”

Ephesians 2:3 GNT, GW We are _by nature_ deserving of wrath.

Galatians 3:13 – God cursed Jesus (but that curse is our fault) so that we would no longer be cursed by the law that god, himself, cursed us with, as long as we pay complete attention & devotion to god, or else we will be tortured for eternity by an omnipresent & omniscient entity

Psalms 119:71,75 – “It was good for me to be afflicted so that I might learn your decrees…& that in faithfulness you have afflicted me.”

Romans 9:18-24 – Will what is molded say to the one who molds it, ‘Why have you made me like this?’ Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one object for honorable use & another for dishonorable use?

Daniel 4:34-36 - All the inhabitants of the earth are accounted as nothing, & He does what he wills with the host of heaven & the inhabitants of the earth. There is no one who can stay His hand or say to Him, “What are you doing?”

sam said...

Or look up Stockholm syndrome:

1. Hostages who develop Stockholm syndrome often view the perpetrator as giving life by simply not taking it.

Exodus 15:26 – if you obey yhwh, then “I will not bring on you any of the diseases I brought on the Egyptians, for I am YHWH, who heals you”

2. The hostage taker threatens to kill the victim. The captive judges it safer to align with the perpetrator, endure the hardship of captivity, & comply with the captor than to resist & face death.

I Peter 2:18-21 “Slaves, submit yourselves to your masters with all respect, not only to those who are good & considerate, but also to those who are harsh. For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God.”

3. The captive sees the perpetrator as showing some degree of kindness. Kindness serves as the cornerstone of Stockholm syndrome; the condition will not develop unless the captor exhibits it in some form toward the hostage. However, captives often misinterpret a lack of abuse as kindness & may develop feelings of appreciation for this perceived benevolence. If the captor is purely hostile & abusive, the hostage will respond with hatred. But, if perpetrators show some kindness, victims will sublimate their anger in response to the terror & concentrate on the captors’ “good side” to protect themselves.

I was listening to the “My ways are not your ways” conference held at Notre Dame I think in 2009. Eleonore Stump (who appears to me to be a genuinely decent person) was responding to a presentation by Evan Fales, if I remember correctly. She asked with exasperation, if the most straightforward & honest reading of the judeo-xian texts make the authoritarian wickedness of yhwh so abundantly clear, why would so many generations of scholars work so diligently to preserve the tradition & so many generations of adherents work so hard to follow the religion? I think the symptoms of those suffering from Stockholm syndrome establish that the many ethical & loving passages of the books are absolutely essential for victims to voluntarily submit to their persecutors. The symptoms of those suffering from battered person syndrome establish that victims are convinced that the fault for violence lies with the victim. In short, fear is absolutely mandatory for authoritarianism to function. Biblical prescriptions for fear of yhwh are not in short supply.

These apologists remind me of yet another poorly-defined syndrome, that of codependency, or inverted narcissim: a tendency to behave in overly passive or nurturing ways that negatively impact one's relationships, characterized by denial, low self-esteem, excessive compliance &/or control patterns, such as a strong compulsion to defend, justify, excuse & rationalize away the narcissist’s destructive behavior. This is typically used to describe the behavior of the enablers of alcoholics.

“There's a particular type of deep self-loathing, and fundamental contempt for oneself and for humankind that resides in these guys hearts.“

Yes, you hear it among some of the most well-respected philosophers of religion all the way down to the most vitriolic AM radio broadcast. For the fundamentalist, _anything_ less than a complete conviction in the absolute depraved & debased moral status of _Homo sapien_ is an expression of the most profound & thoroughly contemptible vanity & pride. It is a matter of absolute black & absolute white. One is either committed to the purest form of self-hate & torture-worthy abasement, or one is the most extreme, dangerous & abject evil narcissist. This is a false dichotomy. A mentally healthy person can have great contempt for one’s own repeated moral failings while reserving hope in one’s future potential to do the right thing & inspiration from one’s past moral successes.

I better stop before you accuse me of hypergraphia. Do I smell oranges? :)

John said...


I found this post a little bizarre. The urge to identify religious belief with mental illness, and more generally the urge to label religious behaviors as disorders or syndromes, except in very extreme cases, should probably be resisted. While it's interesting to study possible psychological bases for religious (and other) beliefs, I'd hope to at least gesture at charitable philosophical analysis of the arguments or reasons one might provide for such beliefs. The amateur psychologizing (in particular the extended diagnosis of Alvin Plantinga in the comment thread) feels like it may itself be pushing into the realm of insanity and reminds me of the stuff one sees from some theists about atheists.

I enjoyed the pictures of the Oprah audience members though.

Brad Lencioni said...

@ John:

This post is indeed provocative, and it is a line of argument that will surely ruffle many feathers; however, I think, philosophically, it is a natural response ( I'm actually kind of surprised more people have not argued this) to those like Plantinga who claim to poses a "Sensus Divinitatus."

For Plantinga's own position(!) creates this dichotomy, where either we atheists are mentally ill (and lack this God faculty of mind), or he is...and i think the evidence overwhelmingly supports the latter. ( I think Plantinga's argument is the truly provocative and offense argument here, and Matt is just responding with the warrented reply: "You must be crazy...literally!"

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