Religion’s abuse of the mentally ill
There has always been a stigma attached to mental illness and conditions such as epilepsy, which cause alarming seizures in otherwise healthy individuals. When society did not understand the cause of conditions that science has learned to identify and treat, people turned to religion to cope, and the results were at best scarring for the individual and at worst, deadly.
A young German woman that had suffered seizures all of her life was killed after ten months of exorcisms because her family believed that she was possessed by demons. Denied food and water, subjected to violent rituals, the 23 year old died horribly and needlessly at the hands of people blinded by their own ignorance.
Another epileptic in Pakistan was tortured by a witch doctor after his family asked that he be exorcised of his demons. He was attacked with iron rods and his fingernails pulled out all because he had suffered several seizures. By the time his family decided that he needed medical help, he succumbed to the injuries.
The two cases I’ve cited might easily have come from medieval texts or church records from another century, but they did not. The first case might be familiar to many, for it occurred in 1975. The victim’s name was Anneliese Michel and the movie “The Exorcism of Emily Rose” was based on her case. It was this tragedy that prompted the Roman Catholic Church to offer exorcists medical training in order to distinguish between a medical condition and a demonic possession.
The second case occurred in 2010, and the victim, Asif Qadri sparked a murder investigation, but it was too little too late for him. A father of two whose only crime was epilepsy died miserably because of religious superstition.
The sad fact is that people in the modern world are using exorcism as treatment for epilepsy, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disease. This is not happening in primitive villages in remote places. This is happening in modern Europe, Asia and North America. An east London exorcist told BBC Newsnight in 2012 that demons can “deceive doctors” into treating possession as mental illness.
See the backwards thinking here?
The Catholic Church, known for exorcisms, claims to perform the ritual only when the person in question has been cleared of any medical conditions. This is still not acceptable, because it is always a medical condition. The only evil possessing the victim of mental illness or epilepsy are those that deny a person proper medical care in order to partake in a superstitious ritual that has no place in modern society. Outside of Catholic clergy, the people performing exorcisms are being paid thousands in order to abuse a human being.
What does it say about our society when something like this is legal? Vatican approved or not, exorcism involves denying an epileptic medication that could prevent seizures. It involves terrifying a mentally ill person that may already dealing with something frightening within themselves and causing irreparable damage. It involves physical abuse, including beatings, asphyxiation, starvation and methods of torture last seen in Spanish dungeons during the Inquisition.
The moment a vulnerable person is subjected to this sort of cruelty is the moment that religious rights to mete it out should no longer apply. There is absolutely no justification for this sort of brutality. Until a better effort is made to educate people and it is made illegal, people will continue to suffer and die in the name of nonsense, and the unfair stigma attached to mental illness and other conditions people mistake for demonic possession will remain.