Killing in the name of GOD!

The HuffingtonPost wrote a blood-curdling article yesterday and I haven’t been able to shake it. It’s about an actor named Michael Brea who plays bit roles on the television series ‘Ugly Betty’. He was accused of “slaying his mother with a sword, and he has confessed to the crime, which he describes as God’s work”. So I guess he’s only “accused” because he hasn’t been convicted yet. But, he will. So, what did he confess to? Well…

“I didn’t kill her. I killed the demon inside her,” he said in an interview with New York’s Daily News.

Brea, 31, is being psychiatrically evaluated at Bellevue Hospital. He said that while riding the subway home from the Prince Hall Masonic Temple in Harlem on Monday, he heard voices and felt powerful. Strangers began speaking to him about his mother and he “felt like Neo from ‘The Matrix.’”

When he got home to the Prospect Heights apartment he shared with his Haitian immigrant mother, Yannick, 55, he gave her a hug, knowing what he had to do. Brea went to his bedroom and readied a dagger and a 3-foot ceremonial Freemason sword to demolish her demons.

“I asked, ‘Do you believe in God?’ She said, ‘No, Michael no,’ and began screaming. I began slashing her like this,” he told the Daily News, demonstrating a hacking motion with his hand.

Brea said he chased his mother around the apartment while stabbing her with the sword, and photos paint a grisly picture of blood splattered on the walls, bed and floor. Soon the police arrived, but Brea felt protected by spirits and kept on slashing.

“I just kept cutting her. No one could stop me. I was doing the work of God,” he said.

Ok, so maybe he was a little emotionally disturbed. Maybe he was on some bad medication. Who knows? But, one drug I can guarantee he was on was RELIGION! Why is it that you don’t hear about atheist terrorists or atheist killings based on “voices in their head”? Religious people feel they are protected by their delusions and have a right to commit their violent acts because it’s justified by their god. The scariest part of the article was when they wrote, “soon the police arrived, but Brea felt protected by spirits and kept on slashing.” WOW. Cops are their, guns drawn (probably - I mean, the dude had a sword!) yet he continues to slice the demons out of the woman that gave birth to him. Why do we sweep this stuff under a rug?

Sure, we can call him “crazy” as I am sure that many in the religious right will do to keep this story from seeming all to plausible to happen again. But, the truth is, it WILL happen again and has happened thousands of times in the past. Yes, we all know about the crusades and the holocaust and the religious fervor behind those massacres. Death and violence have always been associated with religion but we ignore it when it’s a single death like this and we call it an “isolated incident”. STOP… STOP telling yourselves this. This man brutally slaughtered his own mother with a sword (and not quickly) in several rooms in their apartment because… wait… HE THOUGHT SHE HAD DEMONS IN HER!

I have witnessed people holding children down, that were being rude and unruly in church, and pray for 30+ minutes over them to “expel the demons”. The kids were just hyper from the fucking candy they ate in Sunday school and were wailing the whole time. The prayers (and the forceful restraint) stop when the screaming does – they think the demons are gone. Take that a few steps further and you get this nonsense with Michael Brea. He knew murder was wrong. But, he didn’t think this was a crime. He thought he was doing the Lord’s work and “helping” his mother.

This is just another example of the biggest crime I see the church committing – they give rationalization for hate and crimes against humanity. The church condemns gays… so some people find it ok to murder them. The church condemns abortions… so some people find it justified to murder doctors and nurses that perform these procedures. The church upholds male dominance… so some people find solace in their church after beating their wife. The church condemns birth control… so millions of people around the world have unplanned pregnancies and/or catch sexually transmitted diseases that can kill them because they are told that “condoms are wrong”. The church condemns science (evolution)… so people try and push creationism in schools to raise another generation of ignorant children ripe for being taken advantage of by the church.

This is where reason and science prevail. Scientific knowledge has shown us that gay relationships are natural and normal (and that gay parents can be as good or better than straight ones). We know, thanks to medical science, that fetuses don’t have brainwaves (and therefore “life”) in the first trimester. It isn’t murder to abort a fetus or to abort to save a mother’s life – always a painful decision, but one that shouldn’t result in the condemnation of the mother, doctor, or nurses involved. We know that biologically men and women are very equal and have the same capabilities to love, reason, create, and contribute to society. Science has saved millions of lives, prevented millions of unplanned births, and slowed the spread of STDs including AIDS.

What has religion given us? Ask Michael Brea…

  • Liam

    While I, as an atheist, agree that the Abrahamic religions have a horrific history of violence and death with lakes of blood on their hands; AND, very importantly, the violence it has done (e.g.: the Crusades, Inquisition, etc.) actually was done in the name of their deities; AND their "revealed word of God" scriptures justify such atrocities — I think it's a dangerous and dishonest fallacy to conflate legitimate psychosis with ideologically-driven violence.

    Brea, from what I, a non-psychiatrist, can see, is legitimately crazy. The vital question to be asked is what CAUSED the insanity and its bloody aftermath. Can we assume the same or similar result would happen if religion was removed as a component? In the case of witch burnings, Inquisition, suicide bombings, the acts themselves are predicated on the religious belief. But when some individual suffers a psychotic break, the religion is just a side-effect. The delusion Brea experienced, if it hadn't have been religious in nature, would have been aliens or government or generalized "voices" and "forces" he was lashing out at. Religion was likely neither the cause nor the trigger in his psychotic break.

    In the same way, many sufferers of schizophrenia in the US hear voices of God, angels, etc. But that's because they grew up in a Christian-dominant culture. We know that schizophrenia is a physical, neurological illness — take away the religious aspect and the patient will STILL hear voices regardless. To blame religion, in this case, is like blaming the murder on the brand name of the shoes he chose the wear. Change the Nike to Reebok or even barefoot, won't make a difference regarding whether the act would have happened or not.

    And when we do things like this, conflate acts of real mental illness with the acts of arguably sane people under the influence of religion, we're devaluing and doing harm to our fight against the legitimate harm that religion actually causes. Discussing parents who kill their children by letting them die of a treatable disease because they prayed instead, is a valid harm of religion that bolsters our case. Blaming religion on a psycho only makes people, rightly so, ignore our arguments and make them less inclined to pay attention to the legitimate issues.

  • JT

    Had Brea's actions been chronicled as a book in the bible he would be considered a hero by Christians today. After all, look at how they view Abraham – and Isaac didn't even have demons in him. Same with Jephthah.

    The very worrisome point here is that genuine insanity is indistinguishable from faith. Sure, we can point out that what many religious people believe is less dangerous, how can we honestly say their beliefs are less crazy? How do they know god spoke to Abraham, but not Brea?


  • Liam

    This is why this is a difficult topic… Don't get me wrong, I'm not trying to differentiate based on level of damage! After all, the guy who killed the abortion-providing doctor also is a murderer as much as Brea. But that guy was sane, and his ideology led to his being a killer. Brea, on my opinion, went psychotic and religious trappings happened to be a part of the event — not the cause!

    It's easier with things like schizophrenia where the supposed identity of the hallucinations is completely irrelevant to the physical disease, religion absolutely cannot be blamed for schizophrenia-related behavior. Complete mental breaks like Brea is hard to armchair. I suppose if he'd been a long-time religious person, there's evidence that he for any length of time beforehand kept a journal chronicling his mother's (demon's) sins and there was evidence that some portion of reasoning (no matter how perverted and messed up the reasoning was) involved, religion can be blamed for this. People who kill doctors, pray their children into death, etc., do so with forethough and intent and guided by religious ideology. People, like I think Brea, who mentally snap, don't snap because religious ideology caused them to snap and informed their thoughtful actions.

  • Liam

    I guess what I'm trying to say is that what's important is not the trappings of the event, but the CAUSE. What caused the guy to kill Dr. Tiller? Religious ideology. What caused the parents to pray instead of taking their suffering child to a doctor? Religious belief. What caused Brea to kill his mom? A psychotic break that's completely independent of the religion.

    To blame religion for the atrocities done for other reasons, is no different than when religionists blame atheism for Stalin and Mao and Pot. Sure, they were atheists, but atheism was simply component of who they were and NOT the reason they did what they did — and I'm certain they would have still been ruthless and murderous dictators regardless of their theist beliefs or lack of. Likewise, Brea killed not because of religion, but because he snapped into psychosis.

  • JT


    I'm sorry if my comment came off as a response to you, it wasn't. I was just venting about how similar faith is to, as you put it, psychosis.


  • Vincent

    I think Liam makes a solid point here about the dangers of conflating genuine insanity with delusional ideologies. Doing so devalues our commentary as atheists precisely because religion can then more easily dismiss our justified incredulity by pointing to an example where the whole of religion was blamed for (what certainly sounds like) mental illness.

    However, JT brings up a legitimate reference in Abraham, who for thousands of years has been idolized for demonstrating parental qualities that in today's world would undeniably land him in a straight jacket. He was CLEARLY insane but because it predated a basic understanding of mental disease, 3 major religions base their faith on the voices he heard. Idolizing schizophrenia and then teaching that there are "dark forces out to get you" is certainly not a recipe for healthy cognitive development…

    If religion is at fault directly for anything here, it is for dismissing or even encouraging Michael when he undoubtedly confessed his issues to a friend or church leader. Rather than suggesting he see a professional, or perhaps find a psychiatrist/prescription, many religious leaders would prefer to indulge in his fantasy world and legitimize the his disorder as "holy". This is something that can be legitimately questioned for its destructive influence – and it is no less destructive than teaching that condoms are worse than AIDS. When the line becomes so blurry between which voice in your head is A: "supernatural" and which one is B: "a chemical imbalance", science actually has the answer. It's fucking B.

  • Chris


    My mom has known I am an atheist for 15 years. She still prays for me everyday and won't recognize that my de-conversion was a deliberate thoughtful process. Last month she added a new twist and told me in a letter she is praying that the demon of denial will be lifted off me. She believes there is a literal demon causing me to close my eyes to god. She is obviously crazy but believe me, she is not mentally ill. For the last 15 years she has believed that I will spend eternity in hell and it is devastating to her. I don't think I have anything to fear from her, but at what point do you say you'll sacrifice yourself to save someone you love. Sure the body is dead on earth and you go to jail but the real person you love is safe in heaven because you got the demon.

    My point is that religious ideology can create the crazy that may never show up without those righteous feelings.


  • Liam


    If I may, your mom is, from what you describe, as you say, not crazy. She's delusional in the same way all believers are delusional, but indeed that's not the same as insane. And she says the things she does because of religious belief, so religion can justifiably be blamed for whatever negative behavior and actions she takes.

    Again, I'm armchair psychoanalyzing here, but that doesn't sound like Brea's situation. Again, it sounds like he had a psychotic break — something that would have happened despite and regardless of any religious belief. If someone does something harmful and damaging regardless of the religion, if they would have done that thing anyway even if they were an atheist, you cannot blame religion for it.

  • JAFisher44


    I, like you, do not think that this Brea thing should be hung on religion. However, it is possible that religion played into it. Many people have psychotic breaks and do not harm others. If his break had played out informed by a less violent fantasy, perhaps he wouldn't have killed his mom. Perhaps it was the concern for his mothers immortal soul that caused his already frail mind to snap.

    Every person who murders in the name of religion, likely, has something wrong with their brain. But not every person who has the capacity to murder will. I think that the ideology that guides their madness bears some responsibility. Yes, some people will kill regardless of ideology, but even Michael Brea may not have killed if religion was left out of the mix.

  • Adam

    Good conversation everyone… thanks for keeping it civil. I didn't mean to imply, when I wrote this article, that ALL Christians will go crazy and kill people. I think, however, like in Brea's case, his delusions gave his psychosis the extra bump it needed to lead to violence. I can honestly say that I don't think if Brea was an atheist, he would have murdered his mother. He thought he was slaying demons inside of here – something he only could have gotten from his religious delusions. Yes, there are plenty of "crazy" people in the world. But, some psychologists are now seeing that that a lot of the signs that show people are susceptible to mental illness are similar and the same to being susceptible to religious belief. There are plenty of examples in history to support my claim of people using their religious delusions to justify violence. I think this is another example where mental illness resulted in violence BECAUSE of religious beliefs that were ingrained in Michael Brea's daily thoughts.

  • Tim Nordloh

    I think the blind acceptance of these voices as legitimate played a role. I would hope that a non-believer would have taken the time to question himself or seek mental help before hacking up their mom.

  • Tracy Hardin

    This has to the most hideous crime that a parent can endure in being slain from by their own child.Michael in the ultimate end has to face God for judgement in commiting this madly,demonic,crime against his mother.May God have mercy upon his soul.

  • Ahab

    Killing does not coincide with Christian beliefs. Masonry is not the same as Christianity. Masonry is it’s own religion that borrows ideas from a lot of different sources. What did Einstein have to say about religion? Are you gonna argue that the man’s was flawed? What’s your problem? Were you molested by a priest? Do you hate ALL Christians because of what this one priest did? Do you hate all irish people for the fact that a third of them are Catholic? Cause of you do, then that doesn’t make sense. Atheists kill people and molest children, too. So, where is the logic for your hate? How much time dp you spend writing these articles? What is it that you hope to accomplish?

    Bearing in mind that there are lots of troops coming back from the middle east with PTSD AND religion, do you really suppose it’s a good idea to be poking the bear? If I show this article to those guys at the VA who sort of completely lost their minds at war, they might just forget their religion for a minute, too. If we put a REAL religious folks, such as Ghandi, Mother Theresa, and Buddha, in the same room, they would probably get along very well. The problem is that most americans have a very distorted view of things; along with a low level of awareness. Our views are way too narrow for most of us to see eye to eye.

    Calling me crazy for having spiritual beliefs wont work in this case. No. This is philosophy a philosophical argument in which you have been engaged.

    This means that instead of borrowing an idea, you have to use your brain to think of your own response.

    What was it that Einstein said about religion?

    Religion has been around as long as people have. Doesn’t matter of you all don’t like it.
    It won’t change anything.

    If you’re not able to understand what religion is good for, maybe you should just leave it alone?

    I don’t know how old you all are; but hopefully someday you’ll realize that people are people. You usually get back what you put out.

    Most people don’t need religion to understand that we’re supposed to be good to each other.

  • Tanya

    What about ISIS?