I'm just finishing one of Ann Rule's great books on real life murders. I also reread this morning of the tragic case of Andrea Yates, who drowned her five small children in the bathtub.
I'm compelled to write about the connection between religion and the insane people who murder because of their religious beliefs. Some of Ms. Rule's stories are of people who are truly insane and commit murder because their religious beliefs have driven them, in their very sick minds, to murder, often of their own families, including children. I want to say that I do not believe that people who are severely psychotic should receive prison sentences. I believe that when they are very ill, are truly "out of their minds", that they cannot be guilty of a crime that they would never consider, much less perform, when of sound mind.
That said, it is astonishing how many psychotic murderers believe they are possessed by the devil, or ordered by their god to kill, usually to "protect" their innocent children. This is a perfect example of the damage that religion does to people, the deeply ingrained belief that their spiritual lives, and those of their loved ones, depend on obeying god and resisting satan.
I am not saying that religion causes murder. Not at all. But it has been shown to be an impetus for some unstable people to worry about to the point of obsession. If their religious beliefs are coupled with depression and any other psychosis, the obsession with the well-being of their souls and those of their families becomes overwhelming. Often times they meet with their pastor or bishop or elder, men who have no clue to the psychological and psychiatric workings of a sick mind. Sadly, these well-intentioned clergymen may make fatally flawed suggestions that drive a psychotic to a point of no return.
Andrea Yates is a perfect example. This woman had at least a two year history of mental illness triggered by postpartum psychosis, a much more serious illness than post-partum depression, which is itself very serious. She was in and out of mental health care, off and on multiple medications, and had five children, three still in diapers. Andrea and her husband Rusty were followers of a small, extreme church that impressed upon them the seriousness of parenting in a manner that would prevent their children from following down a crooked path to hell. The Yates's oldest child was only 11, the youngest a few months old. But Andrea, after her fifth child, sank deep into a postpartum psychosis that caused her to obsess about being a bad mother, about saving her children's souls, thus ensuring their place in heaven with god.
Andrea Yates had a lot of people fail her, including her last doctor. Nevertheless, had she not been involved with this church, with a pastor who frightened his parishioners about their children's salvation, she would not have become obsessed with heaven and hell and murdered her beloved children to protect their innocence. That is, if she was not involved in any religion whatsoever. She was very mentally ill, yes, but her insane reason for drowning her children would have been absent. Andrea was initially found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. Her dauntless attorney worked to get her a new trial, where she was found guilty by reason of insanity, which has allowed Andrea to get the mental help she so desperately needed.
Another case that demonstrates this tragic result is that of a woman Ann Rule calls "Christine Jonsen". This tragic Mormon woman fell deeper and deeper into psychosis after her husband left her with two small children to care for. She feared she would hurt her children and spoke to her church elders, begging them to take the children out of her home and place them with a church family for their own protection. The elders persuaded her ("gently") to keep them; they needed their mother. Of course, "Christine" agonized that she was a "son of perdition", or an anti-Christ person who is closely associated with Satan, a grave condition in the Mormon church. Furthermore, the Mormon church teaches that children who die before their eighth birthday are assured a place in god's "celestial kingdom", the highest realm of heaven attainable, and dreamed of by all Mormons.
"Christine" drowned her two small boys to usher them to the celestial kingdom. She was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. She initially went into a secure treatment center, and what happened to her from there is not known. This was a clear case of a severely disturbed woman who should not have been sent to prison, but rather received long term treatment. Sadly,it was the intense religion-based guilt that drove her to send her kids to heaven. They are not in heaven, they are simply murdered and dead.
The tragedy of these two stories hurts my very heart, not only for the innocent victims of insane mothers, but also by the victimization of these kind, loving and caring mothers by religious beliefs that drove them to murder.
I am well aware that there are insane people who murder without a religious foundation. These people, too, deserve treatment, not prison. However, the vast majority of stories I follow about truly psychotic mothers and fathers who kill their kids are driven by the twisted tenets of their beliefs.
Just so I am understood, I want to point out that I do not hold these views for people who are not insane, delusional or psychotic. People who plot, plan and carefully carry out murder are the lowest of the low in my opinion, and do not deserve to live in an open society. Let's not mix the two groups of murderers; they are extremely different in circumstance.