Re: Children and psychosis was: HEA report on religion and

Lloyd Robertson (
Sat, 16 Oct 1999 12:39:28 -0600

Message-Id: <>
Date: Sat, 16 Oct 1999 12:39:28 -0600
From: Lloyd Robertson <>
Subject: Re: Children and psychosis was: HEA report on religion and
In-Reply-To: <>

At 09:47 AM 14/10/99 -0700, Bill Spight wrote:
>Dear Chris,
>However, with a new cult such a Heaven's Gate, can we even talk about
traditional belief? I do not know much about the teaching of Jones, but I
am not at all sure that it was fundamentalist. I would think that the cult
of personality in Jonestown was rather *unorthodox*, however.
>Linking fundamentalism with such extreme groups is a smear tactic of which
I thoroughly disapprove. As I said, I do not believe you had malicious
intent, but that was one nerve you touched.
>The second nerve was the use of a psychological term as a put-down. When
you say that all children are born psychotic, you do not mean that in a
derogatory fashion. However, when you take that descriptive statement and
apply it to religious belief, the term becomes derogatory. Your intent does
not matter.
Dear Bill,

I agree with the general thrust of your argument but here are a few tidbits
that may be relevant.

First, the Rev. Jimmy Jones was a minister for the Church of Christ
(Disciples), a "back to the bible" religious sect found mainly in the
United States with approximately 3 million members. It could be described
as "fundamentalist". On the other hand, this does not mean that other
fundamentalist sects or even other members of the Church of Christ are as
(I am looking for a non-purgorative word) "extreme" as Jones.

Back to the original hand, as Eric Fromm in his 1950s work "Escape From
Freedom" noted a long time ago, fundamentalists in the United States and
Nazis from pre-war Germany do have certain psychological charactoristics in
common. One is that they have a need for absolute certainty from an
infallable authority. This may well make fundamentalist followers
particularly susceptible to charasmatic religious leaders like Jones.

But then again, to call all of these people "psychotic" seems a bit harsh.
As Goldenhagen demonstrated in his book, "Hitler's Willing Executioners",
the vast majority of the German population supported the Furher's basic
aims with respect to the Jewish population. "Psychosis" implies an
abberation from the norm. These people were the norm for their culture at
that time. To label whole peoples as "psychotic" due to their political and
religious beliefs, no matter how abbhorant to us here and now, turns
psychology into name-calling.

I object also to labelling children as psychotic simply because they are
not, developmentally, adults. Yes, young children are self-centered and
into magical thinking. This is a developmental stage they go thru. It does
not imply that they are mentally ill.

One final point, the case can be made that fundamentalist Christianity
wants adherrants to be "as little children" in terms of a child-like belief
in magical thinking. There are actual scriptural injunctions supporting
this view. So I understand where Chris was going in connecting the
psychology of little children with the psychology of fundamentalist
Christians. On the other hand, I think it is a mistake to label either
group as psychotic.



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