Ashley is always bringing home these little bits of treasure from the library. Tuesday night she walked through the door carrying maybe her coolest piece of plunder to date: The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, Fourth Edition — the DSM-IV. To a student of psychiatry or trained mental health professional, it's an invaluable tool, a common reference to hundreds of disorders, tested and refined over six decades, used to study and diagnose patients all across the country.
To smartasses like us, it’s an encyclopedia of insanity.
You can infer a little something about our personalities from which areas of the DSM-IV we initially gravitated toward. Ashley turned right to the section on eating disorders, getting the clinical perspective on bulimia and anorexia, as well as the far less sexy pica (eating stuff that’s not food) and rumination disorder (essentially chewing your cud — fuck, it’s disgusting). I went right for schizophrenia.
Check out what the manual has to say about the characteristic symptoms of schizophrenia, and see if it sounds like you or anyone you know:
The positive symptoms . . . include distortions or exaggerations of inferential thinking (delusions), perception (hallucination), language and communication (disorganized speech), and behavioral monitoring (grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior) . . .
Delusions . . . are erroneous beliefs that usually involve a misinterpretation of perceptions or experiences. Their content may include a variety of themes (e.g. persecutory, referential, somatic, religious, or grandiose). Persecutory delusions are most common; the person believes he or she is being tormented, followed, tricked, spied on, or subjected to ridicule. Referential delusions are also common; the person believes that certain gestures, comments, passages from books, newspapers, song lyrics, or other environmental cues are specifically directed at him or her. The distinction between a delusion and a strongly held idea is sometimes difficult to make and depends on the degree of conviction with which the belief is held despite clear contradictory evidence.
You all see where I’m going with this, so allow me to cut right to it: I think religion in general, and Christianity in particular, is a form of schizophrenia. The DSM’s diagnostic criteria require that a patient display two or more of those positive symptoms for at least a one-month period. So dig this:
Tell me if these qualify as distortions or exaggerations of inferential thinking:
—The conviction, in the total absence of supporting evidence, and despite overwhelming circumstantial evidence to the contrary, that there exists an omnipotent, benevolent, invisible god who frequently visited Earth and interacted with humans in the past, whose will created and sustains reality, and whose ultimate plan determines all the events of our lives.
—The conviction, on the basis of contradictory second-hand accounts, that a man who lived in Palestine 2,000 years ago was the literal son of that invisible god, worked miracles, revived corpses, and eventually returned to life following his own death and appeared to multitudes of witnesses before ascending bodily into an eternal spiritual realm.
—The conviction that this son of god regularly intervenes on behalf of those who believe in him and ask for his assistance.
—The conviction, held by many, that the invisible god or his son (or sometimes the human mother of the son) routinely reveal themselves through visions or apparitions, or perceived images hidden within natural or man-made phenomena (clouds, bird droppings, wood grain patterns, pancakes, pieces of toast, etc.).
—The conviction that the return of this son of god to Earth from the spiritual realm is imminent, and that his return will initiate a transformation of reality, with the invisible god and his son assuming direct control of the Earth, granting eternal life to his followers and consigning those who don’t worship him to a dimension of everlasting torment.
Many Christians believe they experience direct communication with their invisible god via what they call spiritual gifts, or charismatic gifts. These gifts are:
—The word of wisdom, where the invisible god provides the Christian with a previously hidden insight into his message or intentions.
—The word of knowledge, where the invisible god reveals to the Christian specific information about another person, allowing the Christian to minister to or pray for that person more effectively.
—Faith healing, where the invisible god empowers a Christian or a group of Christians to heal injuries and cure illnesses through the power of prayer or the laying on of hands.
—Speaking in tongues, where the invisible god causes the Christian to speak in an unknown language which is understood by the speaker but interpreted as gibberish by others.
—The gift of discernment, where the invisible god grants the Christian the ability to determine the invisible god’s specific intentions for his or her life, allowing the Christian to act accordingly.
I think we covered this up there with speaking in tongues. But if you need something besides, more toward the “incoherent speech severe enough to substantially impair effective communication” end of things, I’ve also heard Rod Parsley routinely use phrases like “strategic inflection point” that I know he can’t have the foggiest comprehension of.
Grossly disorganized or catatonic behavior
This one stumped me at first, but check out this elaboration courtesy of Schizophrenia.com:
Grossly disorganized behavior includes difficulty in goal-directed behavior (leading to difficulties in activities in daily living), unpredictable agitation or silliness, social disinhibition, or behaviors that are bizarre to onlookers.
Taking that as a starting point, it’s easy to come up with a whole pile of examples, none more wrenching than the case of Madeline Neumann, whose parents watched her die of undiagnosed, untreated diabetes, having chosen to pray for her healing rather than take her to a doctor even once in her eleven years. If failing to take your vomiting, weak, rapidly fading child to a doctor doesn’t qualify as difficulty in goal-directed behavior, I don’t know what does.
Take your haloperidol, Christians.