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It Isn't God Who Is Crazy
by Harold Williamson
September 4, 2004

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"I trust God speaks through me. Without that, I couldnít do my job." [1]

-- George W. Bush

Mark Twain would not have considered President Bush's piety to be genuine or unique.  In 1905 Twain wrote: "There was never a century nor a country that was short of experts who knew the Deityís mind and were willing to reveal it." [2]

In addition to the neocons who are running the Pentagon, it also sounds like Twain had Lt. Gen. William Boykin pegged too.  While describing a battle against a Muslim warlord in Somalia in 1993, Boykin said, "I knew my God was bigger than his.  I knew that my God was a real God and his was an idol."

Imagine Mark Twain presiding over a White House prayer breakfast with this petition:

O Lord our God, help us to tear their soldiers to bloody shreds with our shells; help us to cover their smiling fields with the pale forms of their patriot dead; help us to drown the thunder of the guns with the shrieks of their wounded, writhing in pain; help us to lay waste their humble homes with a hurricane of fire; help us to wring the hearts of their unoffending widows with unavailing grief . . . for our sakes who adore Thee, Lord, blast their hopes, blight their lives, protract their bitter pilgrimage, make heavy their steps, water their way with their tears, stain the white snow with the blood of their wounded feet! We ask it, in the spirit of love, of Him Who is the Source of Love, and Who is the ever-faithful refuge and friend of all that are sore beset and seek His aid with humble and contrite hearts. Amen. [3]

Unfortunately, Twain's incomparable sarcasm that reflected his remarkable insight into the human psyche would be lost on the mystical minds of this self-proclaimed "war president" and his religious-right supporters.

I will not practice psychoanalysis without a license.  However, there are others who are well qualified.  In Bush on the Couch [4], Dr. Justin A. Frank, a respected psychoanalyst and professor of psychiatry, has constructed a deeply disturbing and comprehensive psychological profile of President Bush.  By closely analyzing Bush's public statements as well as the written accounts of journalists and others who know him well, Dr. Frank has gotten to the root of what is a dramatic psychic split that has inevitably constrained Bush's ability to control his anxieties and caused him to view the world in stark dichotomous terms.  Dr. Frank is one of the few who are willing to tackle this crucial question: In light of his record of violence and cruelty, is George Bush psychologically stable enough to govern?

In his essay "Circling the Blanket for God" [5], Robert M. Sapolsky, a noted primatologist and neuroscientist at Stanford University, explains that contrary to the popular belief that schizophrenia is an unpredictable lurch between emotional extremes, it is primarily a disease of disordered thought that surprisingly has consistent patterns among those it afflicts.  And it is indeed one of the most catastrophic ways in which the mind can go awry.  Sapolsky writes that above all else, schizophrenics show "loose associations" and have problems with levels of abstraction, resulting in  literal interpretations of almost everything.

Being a wordsmith who enjoys the hobby of puns and wordplay where the point is to miss the point, I was chagrined to learn that this is also symptomatic of  schizotypal behavior -- a milder form of schizophrenia where abstract thought is difficult.  This is an apt description of those fundamentalists who interpret everything in the Bible in its literal sense.  Most people can hear a story and readily discern whether or not it is meant to be a factual, literal account of events, or a parable that is meant to be taken symbolically.  Schizophrenics lack that intuition.

Above all else, schizophrenics manifest loose associations, producing a plethora of non sequiturs with leaps in logic that, at the very least, have a strained connectedness. In contrast, most people can follow the logical progression of things and "connect the dots."  Schizophrenics are also prone to being delusional, inserting themselves into situations that aren't true and yet believing in the entire fantasy.  This behavior may very well be at the root of the eschatological beliefs that are the basis of US policy toward Israel, beliefs that are based on the ancient interpretation of visions, wrestling with angels, hearing voices, and so forth.  As the saying goes, when you talk to God it's called prayer; when God talks to you it's called schizophrenia. 

In his book Children of Prometheus (Perseus Books, 1998), Christopher Wills, a leading evolutionary biologist, remarked that genetic mutations resulting in the consecutive repetition of three base motifs such as CGG or CAG may be affecting human brain function more than any other organ.  However, this may not be valid because dysfunctional behavior is more readily apparent than, say, a slight liver aberration.  Nevertheless, he did speculate that common mental illnesses like schizophrenia are implicated in these long chains of "genetic stutters," and this could be far-reaching as these chains grow longer.  It is also interesting to consider that if other primates have fewer genetic stutters, this might  indicate that an increased frequency of mental illness in humans may very well be a cost of our runaway brain evolution.  Of course substantiating this empirically would also depend on diagnosing schizophrenia in chimpanzees and gorillas, as if diagnosing it in humans is not tricky enough.

Charles Darwin rejected the notion of progress in the evolution of primates with this description of the "savages" of Tierra del Fuego whom he had first met on December 18, 1832, on the voyage of the Beagle:

For my part, I would as soon be descended from that . . . old baboon, who ... carried away in triumph his young comrade from a crowd of astonished dogs -- as from a savage who delights to torture his enemies, offers up bloody sacrifices, practices infanticide without remorse, treats his wives like slaves, knows no decency, and is haunted by the grossest superstitions. [6]

Even though that was written in the nineteenth century, Darwin could very well have been describing the human condition as it exists at the beginning of the twenty-first.  God help us.

Harold Williamson is a Chicago-based evolutionary zoologist and independent scholar. He can be reached at:  Copyright © 2004, Harold Williamson

Other Articles by Harold Williamson

* Don't Trust Anybody Over Thirty
* Faith in the Postmodern World
* Remember Who The Enemy Is
* Obscenity, A Sign of the Times and the Post
* Thinking Anew: A Do-It-Yourself Project
* America's Blind Faith in Government
* Think Tanks and the Brainwashing of America
* Bully for the Bush Doctrine: A Natural History Perspective


[1]  George W. Bush, quoted in the Lancaster New Era, during a private meeting with an Amish group on July 9, 2004

[2]  Mark Twain ďAs Concerns Interpreting the DeityĒ (1905; repr. in What Is Man?, ed. by Paul Baender, 1973)

[3]   Mark Twain, The aged stranger, claiming to be Godís messenger verbalizing a congregationís unspoken prayer, in The War Prayer (dictated 1904-5; published in Complete Essays of Mark Twain, ed. by Charles Neider, 1963).

Justin A. Frank, Bush on the Couch: Inside the Mind of the President, Regan Books,  2004

[5]  Robert M. Sapolsky, The Trouble with Testosterone, Scribner, New York, 1997, pp. 241-288.

[6]  Charles Darwin, The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex, Vol. II, Appleton, New York, 1872, p. 387.