More powerful and dangerous to the Mind than mental illness is Ideology. That is the lesson we are learning from the recent scandal involving the reality television show stars, The Duggars. You can mark The Duggars as vehement as one can be: a family of 21 ruled by an autocratic, “Christian” father who expects his wife and children to honor his every command. They are politically conservative — in 2002, Jim Bob Duggar advocated the death penalty for incest. But like presidential candidate Jeb Bush — who advocated severe penalties for drug users but treated his own daughter to rehab — Jim Bob Duggar is a hypocrite. When his fourteen-year-old son, Josh, molested his sisters, the patriarch was lenient. Because he feared the injection of ideas into his son’s head that he did not want there, Duggar sent his son off to work on the floor in a friend’s house for a few months instead of to a therapist. When the son returned, Duggar had a police officer friend — who has since been convicted for child pornography — give the boy a stern lecture. Josh Duggar grew up and got a job with a faith-based family values organization, a position he held until his predilection for “dating” his sisters was revealed to the world. Nothing was done for the violated daughters.
The curious thing is that the Duggars have numerous followers who screamed religious persecution when Jim Bob lost his television show. One minister’s wife dismissed Josh’s rapes as “playing doctor”. Many others have written or called the network demanding that the show be returned to the air.
Let’s stop and realize one fact: Josh Duggar, his father, his mother, and his siblings have not been diagnosed with mental illness. Their numerous followers are sane. The thing is that they all live their lives based on cafeteria helpings of the Bible that are so maximal that they make vegans look like meat eaters. Though I grant that there may be a handful among them who suffer from mental illness, the rest — the hundreds of thousands if not millions — do not.
I am reminded here of an insight of Thomas Merton who told us that the mentally ill among us would never be allowed anywhere near the nuclear button. Sane people would be the ones who initiated what he called the “great festival of destruction” that is nuclear war. The Duggars do not have schizophrenia; they do not have bipolar disorder; they don’t even have depression. Their minds do not suffer from one of the serious mental disorders that some mental health advocates feel are the only ones that deserve their attention. Yet, it is so abundantly clear that Jim Bob Duggar’s lack of virtue is so profound and his negligence so severe that even religious zealots like Rick Santorum are distancing themselves from him. But his followers are legion.
If Jim Bob and Josh Duggar can’t be proved sick, what do we make of these minions? Despite the extremeness of their views and their desire to forgive the Duggars unequivocally*, we cannot call them crazy. Their behavior is not the product of an organic brain dysfunction, but of unchecked dogma. It is true that they lack insight, but this isn’t because a disease is blinding them, but a whole culture. Hallucinations, delusions, obsessions, and paranoia do not afflict them. They hold down jobs, they raise children, they vote, and they attend church every Sunday where they are indoctrinated in their world view by probable sociopaths. No clinician would diagnose them with severe mental illness. No pill can change them.
Listen: That silence you hear is the advocates for forced medication and mental hospitals. The Duggars disprove the case for their programs. It isn’t mentally unbalanced people who commit the bulk of despicable crime but people as rational as these hypocrites. These reality television stars wreck lives by leading others astray. Their damage to Society is profound. But because they and their sympathizers form the backbone of support for the likes of Tim Murphy and other conservative extremists, nothing will be done to contain them. They are the significant statistic, not the mentally ill. The scapegoating of those of us diagnosed with schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, autism, and other mental disorders by the media, the NRA, Timu Murphy, and certain self-identified mental health activists diverts the nation’s gaze to us.
Those who would force treatments on us without including us in the decision and those who would incarcerate us in mental hospitals from which we might never escape help the Duggars go unpunished, unregulated. No law protects children from this kind of parent. The so-called advocates for the mentally ill — the ones who direct our focus to isolated incidents that they claim mandate their extreme solutions — do nothing for the spawn of authoritarians. In their eyes child abuse is but a trivial affliction.
Shame on them.
*These same people are the loudest voices calling for Bill Clinton’s punishment for his affair with the consenting and adult Monica Lewinsky. Hypocrites every one of them, no?