Insanity is in the eye of the beholder

Anders Behring Breivik, the man who went on a killing spree in Norway earlier this year, has been declared insane.

What struck me about this conclusion were some of the contributing factors, especially certain grand delusions Breivik entertained about his relationship to the Norwegian people. Apparently Breivik saw himself as “chosen to decide who shall live and who shall die” and “chosen to save what he calls his people”.

The parallels to religious themes are unmistakable: Jesus, too, thought of himself as chosen to decide who shall live and die, and to save his people. However, the fact that the story of Jesus is as old as the hills, and is contained in each of the three or four Bibles in every American’s home, means that it is regarded as completely normal. Yet in the modern-day version of the same claims, made by someone whose name is not Jesus, we immediately conclude that the claimant is delusional.

Admittedly, Jesus is not reported to have gone on a killing spree like Breivik did (although Jesus’ father did a lot worse, and supposedly he and Jesus are the same person). But it’s not the killing spree that is being diagnosed as a sign of insanity, it’s the delusional claims that Breivik has been making. And these claims are little different to those of Jesus. So, if Jesus had been born in today’s world, would we have considered him to be delusional? I suspect so.

As it turns out, even in the actual time of Jesus’ ministry, not everyone was convinced of his sanity. For instance, a group of Jews listening to his speech about being the good shepherd, said “He is demon-possessed and raving mad. Why listen to him?” (John 10:20). Even Jesus’ own family had doubts about his mental health. When hearing of the large crowds he was drawing, they “went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.'” (Mark 3:21). And at one point, he accuses the crowd of trying to kill him, and they answer “You are demon-possessed … Who is trying to kill you?” (John 7:20).

The above examples could, no doubt, be explained away with a suitable apologetic (Jesus’ detractors were embarking on a smear campaign, for instance). Yet the reality remains that the sorts of claims Jesus made about his place in the universe would, if made by him (or anyone) today, be laughed off as deeply delusional. This should give every believer at least a little pause for thought.

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