Charles Colson likened the classification of extreme bias as a mental illness to totalitarian detention of Christians

Video ››› ››› MAX BLUMENTHAL

Watergate felon and Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Charles Colson likened the psychiatric diagnosis and treatment of extreme bigotry to the oppression of Christians by totalitarian governments like the former Soviet Union -- apparently suggesting that some forms of bias are uniquely Christian.

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In his December 15 BreakPoint commentary, "Extreme Bias Makeover," broadcast on over 300 Christian radio stations nationwide and printed as a column on the conservative website Townhall.com, former Watergate felon and Prison Fellowship Ministries founder Charles W. Colson -- who identifies himself as a born-again Christian -- argued that discussions in the psychiatric community about whether pathological bias should be classified as a mental illness are "the beginning of a process that has long been popular with tyrants. In the Soviet Union, Christians were sent by the hundreds to mental institutions." Colson warned that once psychiatrists declare extreme homophobia a mental illness, "it's a short step to saying that belief in the Bible, which labels conduct sinful, is also a mental disorder."

Colson's commentary came in response to a December 10 Washington Post article by staff writer Shankar Vedantam about a discussion within the mental health community on whether pathological bias should be classified and treated as a form of mental illness. The report provided examples of people who have sought treatment for that sort of extreme, disabling bias, including a recovering alcoholic whose homophobia became so extreme he was afraid to attend 12-step meetings for fear of encountering gays; a waiter who flung plates on tables when waiting on blacks, and a woman who believed she would contract diseases by being in the proximity of Jews.

Colson denounced the psychiatric trend by asserting that while bias can occasionally exceed an acceptable threshold, "it's not true that racism or homophobia always signals mental disorder. And if we do not make that crucial distinction, we are asking for big trouble."

What sort of trouble was Colson warning of? He continued:

"It may sound extreme, but this is the beginning of a process that has long been popular with tyrants. In the Soviet Union, Christians were sent by the hundreds of thousands to mental institutions. The state was officially atheist, so if you believe there was a God, you were insane. And it's still a wonderful tool for oppressors in places like China and North Korea."

In likening the psychiatric diagnosis and treatment of extreme bigotry to the oppression of Christians by totalitarian governments, Colson appeared to suggest that some forms of bias are uniquely Christian. And indeed, he concluded his commentary by warning that the classification of extreme bigotry as a mental illness -- in particular, extreme homophobia -- could one day lead to the criminalization of belief in the Bible. Colson stated:

"But if the day should come that opposition to homosexual conduct is labeled homophobia, and homophobia labeled delusional, then it's a very short step to saying that belief in the Bible, which labels that conduct sinful, is also a mental disorder."

To reinforce his criticism, Colson claimed a psychiatrist (whom he did not name in his commentary) told the Post that "if we began to call bias a mental illness, it would let criminals off the hook for any behavior." In fact, Colson misleadingly paraphrased Sally Satel, a psychiatrist who was quoted in the Post warning that if pathological bias was classified as a mental disorder, hate-crime perpetrators "could use it [mental illness] as a defense" in court.

According to the article, Satel is a resident scholar at the neoconservative American Enterprise Institute (a fact the Post neglected to mention in quoting her) and author of "P.C., M.D.: How Political Correctness is Corrupting Medicine," (Basic Books, 2002) a book alleging that a vanguard of politically correct "indoctrinologists" has overrun the medical establishment advancing multicultural politics and fringe causes that are at odds with good patient care. In a review of Satel's book for Salon.com, Ivan Oransky M.D., the deputy editor of The Scientist and editor in chief of peer-reviewed journal Health and the Media, described her as "a conservative ideologue in a white lab coat" who "fails completely in her attempts to show that the menace posed by political correctness to medicine is anywhere near as serious as she contends."

From Charles Colson's December 15 BreakPoint commentary:

Is hate a disease? Some psychiatrists think so. This was the subject of a recent Washington Post article, entitled "Psychiatry Ponders Whether Extreme Bias Can Be an Illness." The title suggests the ominous implications.

The Post explains, "Mental health practitioners say they regularly confront extreme forms of racism, homophobia and other prejudice in the course of therapy, and that some patients are disabled by these beliefs. As doctors increasingly weigh the effects of race and culture on mental illness, some are asking whether pathological bias ought to be an official psychiatric diagnosis."

In short, several psychiatrists are now pushing for racists and people who suffer from "homophobia" to be labeled mentally ill.

Could such a label possibly be justified? Well, the Post tries to make the case by telling about a man who turned down a job because he feared a co-worker might be gay, and who wouldn't go places where he thought he might run into a gay person. Now that was an extreme case. The man did indeed have a phobia, which was interfering with his life, and probably needed help. The man's psychiatrist told the paper, "He felt under attack, he felt threatened." Normally, that would be called paranoia. We wouldn't be developing some new mental illness.

But, just think about where this could lead: In short order, we might begin to put people who strongly oppose homosexual behavior on the same level as people who suffer irrational fears of gays, and declare both people mentally ill. After all, the American Psychiatric Association says homosexual behavior is normal. So, to strongly oppose it would be irrational. It's a very short step from there to saying that this person is suffering from "pathological bias."

Already, the California Department of Corrections is experimenting with drugs to eliminate prejudices. "We treat racism and homophobia as delusional disorders," reported Shama Chaiken, the department's chief psychologist. A number of distinguished scientists agree that the "clinical experience informs us that racism may be a manifestation of the delusional process." Now, sometimes that's true, as with a woman mentioned in the Post who was deathly afraid of Jewish people. But it's not true that racism or homophobia always signals mental disorder. And if we don't make that crucial distinction, we're asking for big trouble.

It may sound extreme, but this is the beginning of a process that has long been popular with tyrants. In the Soviet Union, Christians were sent by the hundreds of thousands to mental institutions. The state was officially atheist, so if you believe there was a God, you were insane. And it's still a wonderful tool for oppressors in places like China and North Korea.

There's another side to this. As a psychiatrist told The Washington Post, if we began to call bias a mental illness, it would let criminals off the hook for any behavior. It will take a few years, of course, to go all through the medical and clinical analyses and deliberations of the American Psychiatric Association.

But if the day should come that opposition to homosexual conduct is labeled homophobia, and homophobia labeled delusional, then it's a very short step to saying that belief in the Bible, which labels that conduct sinful, is also a mental disorder.

Frightening? Indeed. Impossible? I'm afraid not.

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