Beyond The Horizons
The Trial Of A Schizophrenic
Recently I attended the trial of a medical doctor, a member of the church, who had slain his wife and three children in a psychotic release of tension. The trial was the third in the series of the state versus the defendant. Under the state law the defendant must be tried on each separate count.
The defense presented a number of psychiatrists and psychologists who testified that the defendant was afflicted with a schizophrenic condition. Schizophrenia is defined as, "A severe emotional disorder of psychotic depth characteristically marked by a retreat from reality with delusion formations, hallucinations, emotional disharmony, and regressive behaviour. Formerly called dementia praecox." (A Psychiatric Glossary) The doctor had been treated for his condition several times over a span of many years, dating back to his childhood or teen age. He had attended a college operated by our brethren and had been raised in a Christian family. Early in life he lost his faith, and thus he had nothing to grasp, nothing on which to cast a line, no anchor in his times of mental difficulty. He killed his family knowing that it was not without sin that he did so, although he was satisfied that the punishment was to him and not to them.
On the basis of the evidence that the defendant knew he was violating law and morals at the time of the killing, the judge found him guilty and sentenced him to life imprisonment. In the first trial he had received a life sentence. In a second trial a jury had found him insane and acquitted him.
It is evident that some degree of mental illness is involved in this case. In a conversation with the doctor I suggested that if he had been able to hold and maintain his faith he would have never arrived at such a state of mind which led him to do away with his family. He replied by questioning me as to whether or not I thought his condition could be adjusted and counteracted by the Christian faith. This reply of course arouses considerations usually left to the psychiatrists and psychologists. Is Christianity therapeutic? Is it a preventive against mental disease or illness?
I am persuaded that in the particular case mentioned in this article a sound faith would have changed the course of the man's life and he would not have committed the hideous crime. Professional men might disagree and it is apparent that many cases of psychosis will not continually respond to any kind of treatment or counteraction.
But it appears that he who is blessed basically with a sound mind can, through Christian faith and Christ-centered activity, conquer mental adversities, whether they are carry-overs from childhood experiences or reactions to adult environments and circumstances. The words of Jesus Christ properly understood and respected would go far in helping many cases of mental difficulty. Said Jesus, "But seek ye first his kingdom, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you, He not therefore anxious for the morrow: for the morrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof." James teaches us to confess our faults one to another (James 5:16). This can accomplish much in what is called psychotherapy.
Certainly when a Christian keeps his eye on the goal in faithful hope (Romans 8:24-25) he becomes able to ward off the effects of the trials of life which would detrimentally effect his mental health. The psychologists may refer to this as 'other-worldliness" but they will have to admit that it has a steadying effect on life.
While preachers are not in the business of psychotherapy, they are in the business of preaching Christianity in such a way as to build and stabilize faith. And, every Christian moving in his capacity of brother, saint, or child of God can contribute much to the spiritual and mental health of his fellow wayfarers.
Religion contributes much in driving many people to insanity. But Christianity properly understood and properly applied will not contribute to such disorders, but rather it will have the opposite effect. Fanaticism, obsession and hyper-tension in religion may indeed contribute to insanity. But it is in spite of Christian principles that these conditions arise, not because of Christian principles.
The doctor explained to me his mental disposition at the time of the slaying. He had arrived at the point where he felt a drastic change in his environment had to be made. He felt he had to do one of three things: Leave his family, commit suicide, or do away with his family. He could not move himself to leave them for fear of the consequences his family would suffer. He could not commit suicide for the same reason. He decided that to do away with his family would be to put them in a situation where they would be better off.
A man with a deep abiding faith would not have thought of any of the three alternatives. He would have diligently and persistently prayed for personal help, he would have wrapped himself up in Christian activity, and proper worship. Had the doctor, who had the intelligence to advance to high respectability in the medical profession, participated in the Christian life with faith through his lifetime, he would have been better able to cope with the degree of psychosis which has plagued him. How many tragedies could be averted by Christian faith!
"Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Galatians 6:2)). "Rejoice with them that do rejoice, and weep with them that weep" (Rom. 12:15). "Encourage the fainthearted, support of the weak, be long-suffering toward all" (I Thess. 5:15). "Therefore I take pleasure in infirmities, in reproaches, in necessities, in persecutions, in distresses for Christ's sake: for when I am weak, then am I strong." (2 Cot 12:10).
Postscript: As I prepared to mail this paper I received reports that the doctor had taken his life in the state penitentiary.