I don’t want to make this post about venting, but I admit it. I am feeling very frustrated. I did something, in retrospect, I should not have done. I talked to The Cousins.
Who are The Cousins? They are my mother’s first cousins. They are well-meaning. They speak sincerely. They are genuine. “We love you so much.” But, I never see them. I don’t know what their definition of love is. To me, love requires an action. It isn’t just a word or a feeling. It doesn’t judge or exclude. It is empathetic. It is active. It isn’t passive.
We are in quite the pickle with the school district. It is getting worse on a daily basis. So, being the faithful person that I am, I requested prayer from a small group of people–The Cousins included. I didn’t expect that they would call me at 11 PM last night.
“We hope it’s not too late to call.”
Ordinarily, I am in bed at 10 PM lately. I’m just too exhausted to stay up late. Last night, however, Grace seemed to be on the manic side so we were up. She wanted to play a board game at 11 PM. My husband and I said ‘no’, and we were trying to shepherd her in the direction of bed. She still won’t sleep in her own room, but if we can at least calm her down enough to get her to sit rather than pace the house, then that’s an accomplishment.
“We got your email. We’re all here together.” I had only emailed one cousin, but, apparently, all three cousins are vacationing at a timeshare on the West Coast.
They didn’t ask how we were doing. They didn’t ask what we needed as a family. They said that they were praying that God would heal Grace…and the other one, too. (My autistic daughter). I needed to thank God for his healing in advance because that’s what you’re supposed to do. I needed to walk in victory and rely on God to heal Grace…oh, and that other kid.
I’ve been in this evangelical culture long enough to know what was really being said. They really think that Grace is being oppressed by something evil. Something demonic. This is a very common view in evangelical culture. It’s also common in the Catholic church. Mental illness is caused by demons. It’s a sign of “demon possession” or, as the evangelical Christianese terminology calls it now: a stronghold. It’s all the same thing.
This is not new. In fact, this view has been with the church for as long as there has been a church and before. It’s rooted in the philosophy known as Gnosticism. Simplifying it, matter is evil, and one is emancipated from matter through gnosis, or the attainment of knowledge or learning. Gnosticism became a coherent movement in the context of the Christian church in 2nd c. CE. Gnosis, this knowledge which will free a person from all evil matter, can be intuited or even secret. It isn’t subject to a fixed set of doctrine or approved dogma. There were established gnostic teachers and cults, and each teacher had their own philosophy. Recently, there was an emergence in interest in Gnosticism when Elaine Pagels published her book The Gnostic Gospels. There is nothing new under the sun.
The issue with Gnosticism in evangelicalism is its cruel subtlety: If you are mentally ill, then it’s because you must have a demon. Pray for the healing of the body because the body is evil and fallen.
I’m not here to get into a philosophical discussion. This is, however, one behemoth reason why there is stigma attached to mental illness. Gnosticism. It is alive and well today.
Like it or not, we have to come to terms with the causes of mental illness. Our bodies are not evil. And, there is no secret knowledge that will liberate us from our suffering. As for the demons? If only it were that easy…