An Open Letter to the Governor and Legislature on Mental Health and the Special Session

Aug 31, 2023 by David Fowler

An Open Letter to the Governor and Legislature on Mental Health and the Special Session
The legislative session that adjourned this week was an understandable reaction to a woman who thought she was a man going to the Covenant School in Nashville—a school she had previously attended— and murdering several children and adults. However, the purpose for calling the session seemed to devolve into something rather general and vague. The reaction of citizens who were hoping for gun reform and that of some members of the House, in both parties, who wanted to talk about mental health issues seems to confirm that. Whatever you do when you return in January, I hope you will consider the following on the matter of mental health, including my own story.
Mass shootings are not generally carried out by mentally healthy people. Therefore, and laying aside for the moment constitutional issues, mental health is critical to a healthy civil society. In my view, the increasing inability of all of us to carry on civil conservations indicates a lack of mental health in our society.
Important to any proposed mental health solution, whether tied to guns or not, is knowing what psychologists mean when they speak of a mental health problem. A failure to understand this will lead to an incorrect understanding of why, for example, a woman would think she is a man and think that shooting people at a Christian school she formerly attended was a good thing to do.
However, keep in mind that not everyone thinks mental illness was involved in how the Covenant shooter perceived herself, only in what she did at the school. This distinction cannot be ignored.
Thus, failure to understand what mental health is or is not may also lead to an incorrect solution regarding what to do going forward.
What Psychology Once Was and Now Is.
According to the American Psychological Association’s Dictionary of Psychology, the short definition of psychology is “the study of the mind and behavior.” But this definition is incomplete. The dictionary next adds: “Historically, psychology was an area within philosophy and emerged from it (see epistemology).” (emphasis supplied)
In other words, originally psychology was part of epistemology which, according to the same dictionary, is “the branch of philosophy concerned with the nature, origin, and limitations of knowledge. It is also concerned with the justification of truth claims.”
In other words, epistemology is thinking through how it is that we know things and know if what we know is real and true.
Don’t feel bad if you have never heard of epistemology, because the next sentence in the psychologist’s dictionary explains why.
[Psychology] is now a diverse scientific discipline comprising several major branches of research (e.g., experimental, biological, cognitive, lifespan developmental, personality, social), as well as several subareas of research and applied psychology (e.g., clinical, industrial/organizational, school and educational, human factors, health, neuropsychology, cross-cultural). Research in psychology involves observation, experimentation, testing, and analysis to explore the biological, cognitive, emotional, personal, and social processes or stimuli underlying human and animal behavior. (emphasis supplied)
In other words, the empirical sciences— the measurement and analysis of stuff, in this case what people are made of and what they do— replaced the pursuit of knowledge about the nature or essence of a thing.
Quite simply, whether a human has a nature or essence, different from that of an animal, i.e., not just parts that can be manipulated, or what makes a man not a woman and vice versa other than just physical parts, was lost. The issue became what does this “human stuff” do, how is it manipulated and affected by other stuff, and what can it be employed or manipulated to do?
This appears to be objective knowledge, because data is data, and who can quibble with that. But it hides the fact that the idea of a given and immutable nature was lost, not just for man and woman, but for the whole of our existence-- our cosmos, really.
What This Means for Mental Illness
When we no longer have a given nature, we can no longer know what our place is in the cosmos (remember, epistemology, or real knowledge, is dead). If you have ever been lost driving in a new city, imagine how lost and disoriented you would feel if it were the cosmos itself you were lost in!
Because the empirical sciences could manipulate stuff to make so many helpful advancements, we didn’t notice that the philosophical practitioners of those sciences played a mean psychological trick on all of us: They told us this cosmos has no meaning and no purpose.
They would be correct if evolution is true. However, that means all the “knowledge” we have left is data, empirically gathered. But what does the data mean in a meaningless cosmos? After all, meaning and purpose cannot be empirically measured.
What this means is that we must give the data that we think most important whatever meaning and purpose we think it should have, including where we think we “fit” in the cosmos we made up from the data we selected.
In sum, the empirical sciences told us we could be free of God, and we could be in charge. Hooray! Such liberation!
But it also meant each of us had to take on the god-sized job of creating a cosmos we could live in.  Having to create a cosmos to avoid a meaningless and purposeless life is bound to bring about psychological stress.
That job is made more stressful by the fact not everyone will agree to live in the cosmos we create.
This brings about the added psychological stress of needing to use the law or guns to reshape the existing cosmos to fit us. When we fail to enact the laws we think are necessary to create the cosmos we need for us to fit and have a place in the world, mental health problems begin to set in.
The Key to Mental Health and Where to Find It
If you want to know the key to mental health, here is my borrowed advice:
Go to the ant, thou sluggard! Consider her ways, and be wise: which having not guide, overseer, or ruler, provides her supplies in the summer and gathers her food in the harvest. (Proverbs 6:6-8)
I used to think the point of the proverb was planning ahead and being prepared (like a Boy Scout), and that is certainly good advice.  However, a study of the ant will tell us what some highly educated psychology graduates don’t know (and many preachers won't tell us, even months later, because the context is political, and politics is taboo).
I think the larger point of the proverb is the ant has a nature and “understands” how the cosmos works and how she fits into it. The ant is perfectly in tune with the given nature of things and carries on with her environment in wonderful harmony.
The Lie the Empiricists Tell Us
The empirical sciences, which now include psychology, by and large deny that we can know the nature of the cosmos and know our place in it. They have told us there is nothing that could give this cosmos anything but an accidental order.
Worse yet, some have told us that the appearance of order is a trick of the mind. According to atheist Richard Dawkins, a renowned empirical scientist, the appearance of a divine order and nature is “an illusion.” But the ant reminds us that our mind is not playing tricks on us by telling us there really is an order and a nature to things.
However, when those represented to us as being smart people tell us we can’t trust objective realities like the way we are made to give us any true knowledge about the nature of things, and that such knowledge is instead playing a trick on our minds, then you can begin to see why mental health problems would emerge.
If a young woman swallows the cosmological lie fed to her by people who hate the idea of a personal God like the Triune God who created things to reflect who He is, it’s no wonder she can think she is a boy. I can see why she would think her body is playing a trick on her mind like the rest of the cosmos, and she’s a boy. Therefore, she needs surgery and hormones to change the objective reality so that it is no longer playing a trick on her mind, and she thinks those who don’t go along are mean and evil, maybe even worthy of death in her cosmology.
How This Mental Health Matter Applies to Me
Until recently, I went through my life with a kind of mental illness: only believing in an abstract and rationalistic sort of way that God created our cosmos.
But, believing it is my Father’s world in a personal and comprehensive way is a different kind of thing. Even as I read the proverb about the ant in a limiting way, I read nature the same way. I didn’t realize I was so evolutionary and hostile to God in my own thinking.
For example, when the Apostle Paul used the metaphor that he “planted and Apollos watered, but God caused the growth” and that individually the two of them were “nothing” in connection with that growth (1 Corinthians 3:6-7), I spiritualized the verses like any good gnostic.
How? I believed God causes spiritual growth, when I should have known He causes this because He also causes plants to grow. That sounds crazy to modern ears, but let me explain why.
Science told me that plants grow when they are watered and told me that watering was part of a network of “laws” that operate on plants to cause them to grow. However, I know that I can water two plants of the same kind and that does not mean both will grow. One lives and the other dies. God really does uphold and move all things by the word of His power because it is always fully His (Hebrews 1:3). C.S. Lewis helped me understand this.
Essentially, I was leaving God out of His cosmos. Leaving God out of any aspect of His cosmos and its operation is to not see the cosmos correctly, and that is the form of mental illness I suffered from.
How This Applies to You and Me.
As governing officials, you can certainly streamline processes in our mental health network and pump more money into it. However, it would be a form of mental health problem like mine to think that any law you enact will address the root cause of the mental health problems in our society and keep an unhealthy person from being motivated to go on a killing spree. Again, mentally healthy people with guns are not our problem.
I would even suggest that funneling more money to those who tell troubled people they can create their own nature and everybody else must agree to that may add fuel to the underlying problem.
Of course, many of your constituents may think laws and money can solve our mental health problems and reduce the likelihood of another mass shooting. And that, I understand, presents a political problem.
But perhaps being honest with people about the root nature of the problem and the limited function of law, which cannot make us good but can impose swift and just punishment on people who murder others, may be the best thing you can do.
As a former Senator, I know it is hard to tell constituents what they may not want to hear, but they might find such forthrightness better than thinking you are ignoring their concerns. At least that was my experience.
And I suspect that having more Christians who believe in a Divine order and a given nature to the cosmos join you in being honest about the problem and where the solution lies, would be a huge help.
I’m trying to do my part, small as it may be. And I’ll be praying that my Heavenly Father will grant us all mercy and great grace going forward.

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