You’ve heard it before: “You’re crazy.” It’s what your friends might say when you come up with some off the wall idea: quitting college, moving to Alaska, or just doing something out of the ordinary. They don’t really mean crazy in the true psychological definition of the word. However, there are times when people use the accusation in an attempt to discredit someone, a new twist on the insanity defense.
I’m not talking about the legal defense where a defendant claims that he only committed the crime because he was insane and thus not responsible for his actions. I am talking about accusing someone you disagree with of losing his mind. The accuser is the one on defense. Critics pull it out when they don’t want to or can’t address their opponent’s ideas.
Often used by totalitarian governments to discredit their critics, it’s the last, desperate ploy to silence people you disagree with. It is an easy but lazy man’s tactic. The critic is defending himself from the harder work of rationally competing with what the person has said.
Jesus’ critics resorted to the insanity defense. They couldn’t contradict his teachings so they attacked him personally, accusing him of being demon-possessed, tantamount to saying that he wasn’t in his right mind, overcome by a force outside himself, considered a danger to others, unable to think rationally.
At least one of Jesus’ disciples suffered similar treatment. In Acts 26 the Apostle Paul discoursed on his conversion and the reasons for his faith but was accused by a Roman official of being out of his mind (See church blog post). Perhaps faith in a resurrected savior sounded crazy, or at least so far out of ordinary experience that it seemed far-fetched, relegating Paul to the fringe of sanity.
The accusation of insanity is not limited to religious experience. Recently several people have accused Donald Trump of being insane (see here for a psychologist’s take on Trump’s sanity). But this is nothing short of the insanity defense as I’ve defined it, an attempt to discredit the president.
Far from defending everything President Trump says and does, much less equating him with Jesus or Paul, a legitimate approach would be to counter his ideas with reason not some unprovable accusation. Resorting to calling him or anyone else insane is the indication of a small-minded person too lazy or close-minded to come up with better ideas. Crazy ideas are sometimes the ones that turn out to be life-changing, kind of like a resurrection.