Now that the defense team for Immanuel Isaiah, aka Brian David Mitchell, is trying to show that the erstwhile street preacher is crazy as a loon by virtue of his bizarre religious beliefs, my colleagues and I in the Department of Strengthening Church Members Sub-Committee on Doctrine Risk Assessment and Testing (DRAT) have been working overtime to figure out what kind of spin the General Authorities should put on the case, whether he is found sane and guilty or insane and not guilty.
Most of us wish the former temple worker would just be thrown into a padded cell or tossed into the memory hole. Instead, we have this protracted trial where Immanuel/Mitchell’s religious beliefs, which are the fundamental beliefs of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, are laid out for everyone to examine.
In particular, we wish the psychiatrist from federal prison and the theologian from BYU would just keep their pie holes shut. The psychiatrist says his core religious beliefs are bizarre and unbelievable; the theologians say his core religious beliefs are coherent and well-reasoned. It doesn’t look too good for us either way, to tell you the truth.
We get tired of outsiders pointing out how bizarre Mormon beliefs are. Time and time again (eternally, it seems), Mormon bashers bring up polygamy (which, by the way, we will not be able to practice until we get to the Celestial Kingdom), baptism for the dead, eternal progression, plurality of gods, sacred undergarments, as well as secret names, handshakes, tokens, signs, etc.
We would like to know why Mormon beliefs are any more bizarre than Catholic beliefs, Hindu beliefs, Scientology beliefs, or any other religious beliefs. What about Transubstantiation, which boils down to eating the flesh and drinking the blood of our Savior? What about Transmigration of Souls, which means after you die you come back as a Jack Russell terrier or, if you’re lucky, a miniature poodle? What about engrams, E-Meters, Thetanhood and those other hobbyhorses of that Top Gun guy and sweathog Vinnie Barbarino?
The thing is, religious faith is, by its very nature, bizarre. And when you come down to it, no sane person, in his or her heart of hearts, really believes the bizarre beliefs bequeathed to him or her in childhood. Religious faith is just an accident of birth. As Mark Twain (we have a big file on him, by the way) said, “Faith is believing what you know ain’t so.” If you took a survey, as we did just last week, you would find that folks would give you a funny look if you asked them if they believe a handshake will get them into heaven, or that after death they will become either a god with many wives or a dachshund with short legs.
The problem with Immanuel/Mitchell is that he really believes the stuff he says he believes. The difference between him and me and you is that he actually believes in what ain’t so. He doesn’t know it ain’t so. The prosecutors argue that Immanuel/Mitchell just used his religious shtick to get money, booze and girls. Even for someone as squirrelly as Immanuel/Mitchell, there are easier ways to get money, booze and girls than to live in the woods, beg on the streets and rape at knifepoint. Of course, the important difference between Immanuel/Mitchell and the rest of us is that he is a violent sex criminal who should be punished by being locked up for life.
Religion and insanity should have nothing to do with it, but since the courts make possible an insanity defense, that’s what we have to deal with. Let’s say the jury of his peers finds him sane. Because we have had an eminent theologian from BYU testify that Immanuel/Mitchell’s religious writings are coherent and well-reasoned, it follows that his crime was a consequence of his beliefs, and therefore not a crime. His beliefs, after all, called for him to take a virgin as a plural wife, the first of seven times seven to enjoy what he called a “quargasm.” He is therefore not guilty by reason of sanity.
If, on the other hand, the jurors, persuaded by the psychiatrist’s testimony that Immanuel/Mitchell’s religious beliefs are bogus and bizarre, find him insane, it follows that Mormon beliefs are insane, since they are one and the same with Immanuel/Mitchell’s beliefs. Believe me, either way this turns out is not good for us down at headquarters.