Sunday, April 05, 2009

The Resurrection is Coming

In anticipation of Easter, the sermon on the 5th Sunday of Lent (which this year, was March 29, 2009), focuses on the gospel of John 11:25:

Jesus said to her, "I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die. Do you believe this?"

I may have long ago left the Catholic Church, but obviously the Church hasn't left me. After years of drilling, the liturgy and bible passages still remain buried somewhere in the recesses of the mind. This passage popped into my head when I read about the Ramkissoon case.

The remains of Javon Thompson, a 21 month old baby boy, was found stuffed in a suitcase in South Philly last year. The child's mother and four others were charged with his death. As the Huffington Post reports, Resurrected Child And Ria Ramkissoon: Plea Withdrawn If Son Rises From Dead:

A former religious cult member who helped starve her son to death believes he will be resurrected, but legal experts say her extreme faith doesn't make her criminally insane. The mother made an extraordinary deal with prosecutors Monday that her guilty plea to child abuse resulting in death will be withdrawn if her 1-year-old son, Javon Thompson, comes back to life. Law experts and psychiatrists said there was no problem with the agreement because Ria Ramkissoon, 22, was mentally competent and freely entered into the deal, and extreme religious beliefs aren't deemed insane by law.
The story itself is terribly sad. A mother, who was a member of a religious cult, 1 Mind Ministries, allowed her son to be starved to death, because he refused to say "Amen" before meals. The Inquirer reports, Mother of boy who starved admits guilt - on condition:

According to a statement of facts, the cult members stopped feeding the boy when he refused to say "Amen" after a meal. After Javon died, Ramkissoon sat next to his decomposing body and prayed for his resurrection.

Ramkissoon's attorney, Steven D. Silverman, said Ramkissoon believed the resurrection would occur. She agreed to plead guilty only after prosecutors said they would drop the charges if the child comes back to life, Silverman said.

* * * *

After the boy died, the cult members left his body inside the apartment where they lived until it began to decompose, according to police documents and the statement of facts. In early 2007, they stuffed the body inside a suitcase and filled it with mothballs and fabric-softener sheets to mask the odor.

The cult members relocated to Philadelphia, where they befriended an elderly man and stored the suitcase in a shed behind his home on the 700 block of South 13th Street. It remained there for more than a year before police found it, the documents say.

What is fascinating -- and equally disturbing -- is the aspect of the case that focuses on the beliefs of the religious cult. As the Washington Post notes, Death Opens Doors on Group:
Psychiatrists who evaluated Ramkissoon at the request of a judge concluded that she was not criminally insane. Her attorney, Steven Silverman, said the doctors found that her beliefs were indistinguishable from religious beliefs, in part because they were shared by those around her.

'She wasn't delusional, because she was following a religion,' Silverman said, describing the findings of the doctors' psychiatric evaluation.

* * * *

Silverman said he and prosecutors think Ramkissoon was brainwashed and should have been found not criminally responsible; prosecutors declined to comment. Although an inability to think critically can be a sign of brainwashing, experts said, the line between that and some religious beliefs can be difficult to discern.

"At times there can be an overlap between extreme religious conviction and delusion," said Robert Jay Lifton, a cult expert and psychiatrist who lectures at Harvard Medical School. "It's a difficult area for psychiatry and the legal system."(Emphasis added).

Religious extremism is flourishing and the inability to think critically seems to be a requirement for those religions.

The controversy over President Obama's upcoming commencement address at Notre Dame University is a perfect example of this. Obama Notre Dame Speech: Cardinal George Rips Invitation As An 'Extreme Embarrassment' To Catholics. That is, the right wing faction of the Catholic Church fiercely objects to the idea that Obama will even be permitted to speak at a Catholic insitution on any topic, because he does not adhere to all of the tenets of the Society, as promulgated by the Cardinal Newman Society (and he's a Democrat). See Obama and Notre Dame and The Politicization of American Catholicism.

In other words, according to this conservative Catholic contingent, no voice that does not comport with the orthodoxy of the Church should be permitted to be heard at all. Debate? Dissent? Not permitted. Rather, they dictate and the flock obeys. To hear other opinions might cause the faithful to question the rules. For this reason, thinking -- never mind critical thinking -- is heresy.

And the line between religous belief and madness is sometimes difficult to discern.

1 comment:

Susan said...

At the risk of sounding flip, this story reminded me of another Philly-related story about the discovery of a long dead body kept in a trunk stored in a house: Ira Einhorn and his girlfriend.