Friday, August 09, 2013

It's The Gun

Writing in Salon, Greta Christina assures us "I respect Warren for his desire to de-stigmatize mental illness. And I respect that he’s willing to let his son’s tragic death be an inspiration to make the world better."

Well, I don't- at least not yet.

Southern California Public Radio station KPCC reported that the prolific preacher returned to the pulpit in late July, sixteen weeks after his son Matthew had succumbed to a self-inflicted gunshot wound in Mission Viejo, California, and stated "You have fears, you have worries, you have doubts, you have compulsions, you have attractions."  He later added "In any other organ of your body there’s no shame or stigma if it breaks down…. But if your brain doesn’t work, why are you ashamed of that? Why should there by any stigma attached to that? It’s just as much a part of your body as your heart and your liver."

Christina points to the definition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Illnesses and emphasizes the requirement that "The syndrome or pattern must not be merely an expectable and culturally sanctioned response to a particular event." She notes

Mental illness is many things. But there’s one thing it most emphatically is not — and that is everyday fears, worries, doubts, and attractions. (Of the items on Warren’s list, “compulsions” is the only one that belongs.) Seeing mental illness as ordinary emotions is a fundamentally flawed view,  one that harms people actually living with such illness.

It’s common for people with mental illness to have our illnesses treated as just life’s ups and downs. People with clinical depression are seen as just mopey or sad; people with clinical anxiety are seen as just worriers; people with obsessive compulsive disorder are seen as just neat freaks. But these attitudes trivialize mental illness. They frame it as something people should be able to handle on our own — and it make any failure to do so seem like a character flaw, a weakness of will.

 She finds Reverend

Warren slipped “doubts” into the list of painful experiences that qualify as mental illness. Given his position as founder of Saddleback Church, given his many statements (including in this sermon) about being guided by faith over rationality, it’s hard to read “doubts” as anything but “religious doubts.” He’s basically saying that atheism, agnosticism and questioning religious faith are mental illnesses. He’s telling his flock that if they have “doubts” about God’s existence, they’re in the same category as his son — who suffered from borderline personality disorder and major depression, and who shot himself at age 27.

During the service, Matthew's mother Kay, according to the report, "explained in vivid detail the emotional roller coaster she’d experienced trying to find the right doctors, medications and other resources to help her son. Kay also highlighted the crushing disappointment she experienced when she realized her son’s mental health problems couldn’t be cured." Mrs. Warren added “I know that there was nothing I could have done. My love was simply not enough to overcome the brick wall of mental illness.”

Kay Warren's love was "not enough to overcome the brick wall of mental illness."  Not that is, in the presence of a firearm, though details of how he had obtained it have not been determined or not been released to the media.  Soon after the apparent suicide, the Orange County Sheriff's Office announced that the serial number had been wiped off the firearm, making it difficult to trace.

A few months earlier, after the mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School, Reverend Warren had pointed to "the mental health angle" and "the civil safety issue, which is gun control and these assault weapons," as well as to the impact of violent video games.  He seemed to take a step backward in his sermon, in which he attempted to trivialize mental illness and to persuade his flock that they, too, are prone to disorder similar to that which afflicted his son.

But if Reverend Warren wishes to get something positive from a tragic and horrible event, he should avoid misleading the Christian believers to whom he witnesses.  He could instead inform his followers that most deaths by firearm in this nation are not homicide, but suicides; that the mentally ill should not have access to firearms; and that no matter the danger posed by a mentally ill individual to himself (herself) or others, it is far greater when he or she has a gun.

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