Gods, Prophets and Schizophrenia

Talking to God

In various religions many different prophets, apostles, and men of God have been the witness to and involved in some strange, miraculous, and sometimes disastrous events.

  • Abraham took his only son to sacrifice him as per God’s instructions.
  • Ezekiel lay on his right side for almost four hundred days before he thought God told him to roll onto his left. Mohammed, the prophet whose visions led to much of Islam’s teachings, said the revelations were delivered to him by the angel Gabriel.
  • Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon religion, witnessed visions of an angel named Moroni.
  • In the 90’s an ascetic monk under the moniker Brother David underwent castration to rid himself of sexually impure thoughts he believed interfered with his spirituality.
  • Moses thought God was speaking to him through a burning bush.

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Are these accounts truly instances of divine intervention or are they simply symptoms of profound mental illnesses such as schizophrenia, delusions of Grandeur, and psychotic tendencies? What do many of these prophets and religious founders share in common that have attributed them so many devotees and followers to their religions?

Qualifications required

If we were to generate a job description what would it look like:

  • The thought that they are being spoken to from above or by a higher power.
  • An aura and way of thinking that makes them think they are above others.
  • The ability to convince others to follow their commands and religious beliefs blindly.
  • High charisma and above average communication skills.
  • The ability to put people at ease and have a calming effect over them.

Below we’ll examine the multitude of religious prophets whose psych profile may come into question in modern times as well as the connection between established world religions and mental health.

In the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition, Schizophrenia is defined as a brain disorder that affects the way people perceive, feel, and think. Associated with Schizophrenia are symptoms such as hallucinations and delusions.

At times delusions of grandeur can accompany Schizophrenia symptoms leading to the sufferer of the ailment to believe that they somehow posses superior qualities such as genius, fame, or wealth. Or in this case perhaps the belief that they are in touch with a divine power and integral to his master plan?

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Delusions of grandeur have also been associated with psychotic and bipolar disorders. Today, we have no problems in assuming that many modern ‘prophets’ or cult leaders suffer from these mental health disorders. Men like David Koresh, Jim Jones, and Marshall Applewhite are often named when discussing religious fanatics and sufferers of mental illnesses.

However, could we apply the same light in which we view these religious leaders to more accepted and followed prophets and Apostles? Is it possible that the voice speaking to Moses, Abraham, and other leaders was brought upon by a Schizophrenic illness just as the one who spoke to Ezekiel, Joseph Smith, and Brother David may have been? Many times religious zealots and prophets like the ones mentioned above share a group of common traits that have contributed to their amassing followers and devotees to their religion.

Again, its easier for us to apply these traits to men like Charles Manson, Osama Bin Laden, and Luc Jouret, renowned religious fanatics and cult leaders, but is it not also possible to apply these same traits to our greatest religious founders? Mohammed, Moses, Ezekiel, and thousands of other holy men have been convinced they were being spoken to by a higher power. When Abraham took his son on the mountain to sacrifice him he convinced him it was right.

Before John Smith’s death fourteen years after founding the latter day saints movement he had attracted tens of thousands of followers. Could this not be considered the ability to develop blind followers? Another popular theory for many prophets and apostles supposed incidents of divine intervention may also be contributed to by false memories.

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Scientific facts

False memories are a psychological phenomenon in which a person recalls a memory that never actually occurred. Commonly this occurrence is related to the psychiatric diagnosis of one of many hysterical disorders. Hysteria comes along with symptoms of the need to be the center of attention, which could describe many of the prophets discussed throughout this article.

There have also been various studies around Epilepsy and religiosity. Extract from the US National Library of Medicine:

“Revered in some cultures but persecuted by most others, epilepsy patients have, throughout history, been linked with the divine, demonic, and supernatural. Clinical observations during the past 150 years support an association between religious experiences during (ictal), after (postictal), and in between (interictal) seizures. In addition, epileptic seizures may increase, alter, or decrease religious experience especially in a small group of patients with temporal lobe epilepsy (TLE).”

In conclusion, it is hard to be one hundred percent certain of any mental health issues prevalent in historic and religious figures due, ironically, to the supreme lack of information we have about their day to day lives. However with so many parallels able to be drawn between the religious infatuation of many prophets, religious founders, and holy men, it is important that we are ever vigilant in our research to determine the truth.

Regardless, or perhaps because of, the mental state of any of the men of God discussed in this article, they have changed the face of religion, spirituality, the psychiatric community, and the world.

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