I’ve written before that there seems to be an awful lot of fire involved in religious horrors, people light themselves on fire, they light heretics on fire, they light people’s houses on fire, it seems to be a very common theme. Hold on to your lunch, here’s yet another case.
In Santiago, Chile, police have arrested four people accused of burning a 3-year old baby alive because they believed the world was going to end and the little girl was the anti-Christ. According to police, the baby was taken to a hill in the town of Colliguay near the Chilean port of Valparaiso, tied up with tape, gagged so she couldn’t scream, tied to a board, splashed with alcohol and thrown into a bonfire. The murderers were part of a 12-member cult, led by Ramon Gustavo Castillo Gaete, 36, who has so far avoided capture. Perhaps worst of all, the baby’s mother, 25-year-old Natalia Guerra, was part of the cult and approved of the sacrifice. She was among those charged with murder.
This creates many reactions for me, not the least among them being nausea. I’m confused how these 12 people, all of them who are described as professionals with college degrees, could be taken in by a cult leader and follow with such fanaticism that they’d actually throw an innocent baby into a raging fire. I suppose it’s nothing we should be that surprised at, it’s hardly the first time that a parent has been willing to murder their own children in cold blood for religious reasons. Remember Andrea Yates? The crazy bitch who drowned her five children in the bathtub because she heard God tell her to? How about Deanna Laney, who stoned her own sons? How about Dena Schlosser, who decided to give her children to God, right before she amputated the arms of her 11-month old daughter? Why do we see this pattern over and over?
Well, according to Lisa Falkenberg, a columnist for the Houston Chronicle, “Women who kill their children commonly cite God, the devil and other religious influences for their actions. Although the mothers are also often found to be severely mentally ill or psychotic, the recurring theme of religiosity begs the question: Is religion to blame?” So is it religion that causes their psychosis, or their psychosis that causes them to seek out religion?
However, far too many people simply give religion a pass and find another cause to point to. Mental illness in America often takes on theological imagery and the people who are profoundly religious, but take that religion out on their offspring, the religious in our society will often make excuses for the behavior. “They’re not seeing this as a mental illness. They’re seeing it as the person having demons, perhaps, or a sin problem or not being spiritually fulfilled,” said Roger Olson, a theology professor at Baylor’s Truett Seminary. Experts have long realized that it’s much harder to identify mental instability in people who hold strong faith in religions that view strange behavior as possession or other Satanic activity, and who embrace prayer and faith over medical treatment and psychotherapy. Certainly this is a characteristic we see over and over, even among those parents who just let their children die of easily curable diseases while praying over them.
I cannot understand how people refuse to acknowledge that religious belief, especially fanatical fundamentalist belief, is a sign of something wrong going on in the individual’s head. There has to be something profoundly mis-wired to buy into some of the bizarre beliefs and absurd ideas that we see in hyper-religious individuals. Yes, I know lots of theists will disagree, they can’t accept the possibility that religion, at least strong religion, is a mental aberration and a clear sign of potential problems down the road. So long as they refuse to deal with the reality of the situation, we’ll have to keep burying innocent children, murdered by the religious.