But that guy is crazy!

A terrible thing happened about nine years ago.  A fourteen year-old girl by the name of Elizabeth Smart was kidnapped, taken far from her home, and raped repeatedly.  Thankfully, the perpetrator has been caught and the girl, now 23 years-old, has been returned to her family.

Understandably, the police wanted to know exactly how the girl came to wind up in his possession.

They didn’t have to try very hard to find out. They didn’t have to play good cop/bad cop, they didn’t have to threaten their captive.  No, the rapist, Brian David Mitchell, was forthright with why he did it.

Brian David Mitchell told police Elizabeth Smart was “converted by the priority of God” and willingly stayed with him after she vanished from her bedroom in June 2002.

“The Lord God delivered her,” he told police.

He adds on to that point later…

Mitchell, who responds to the name Immanuel, tells police God had led Smart to him: “She was converted by the spirit of God. If you read the book you will understand.”

But for me the telling part of this story is not anything this lunatic said.  Instead, it’s what the investigator said…

The core of the problem is you, and you are not a prophet and you are not a servant of Jesus Christ.

How does the investigator know?  How do we tell the difference between Brian David Mitchell and everyone else who talks to god or has a personal relationship with god?  What’s the difference from any objective standard?  Most religious people will agree with me that this man is crazy, but only because their theology is different – not because it is based on anything more reliable.  What better reason does any Christian have to think that they are in communion with a first-century Jew?

And I don’t know about anybody else, but I’ve lost track of how many times I have been told by believers, “Read the book and you’ll understand”.

Sure, I can admit that the religious moderate is less dangerous than this guy, but I am not prepared to admit that the religious moderate’s position is more likely to be right – which is a very big issue.  What I’d like to know is how other believers discern that their personal relationship with god is genuine while this guy, and believers of other faiths, are just hearing voices that aren’t there.  And if there isn’t a difference, what kind of compassionate god makes belief in his existence indistinguishable from delusion?  And what kind of malicious god hangs eternal torment upon making that distinction?

It seems transparently obvious that there is no belief so lunatic, so at odds with reality, that faith cannot be advanced in its defense.  To my eyes, this makes faith nothing more than gullibility pursued.  I find it odd that no self-respecting person wants to be gullible, yet so many people cannot wait to proudly put their faith on display.

  • Greg

    First of all I would like to thank you for making the distinction between what his man believes and Christianity, failing to make this separation makes your point too easy to prove and it a mistake far too many critics of religion are willing to make. Secondly I would like to respond to the question of what is the defining factor between him and a mainstream Christian. On the face of the issue, I think any rational person can see the difference between a person who is clinically delusional and one who has strong religious beliefs. From the Christian perspective most hold that all people are in some degree of communion with God, that he sends everyone messages. What separates one group from another is how these messages are interpreted. To very few does God choose to use human words, rather most of us come upon religious enlightenment through vague sensations and a lot of faith. Those of different faiths are interpreting things differently. Just as you do I know I could be wrong, but I don't think I am. Ultimately, though I'm certain you will disagree, believing in the lack of God also require a large amount of faith.