Saturday, 5 November 2011
Diagnosing Martin Luther
While reading through various blog posts this week, my attention was caught by this article called Beating myself up over religion from the BBC "Ouch! (disability) blog. In it the author, who is a Jew, but also describes his Roman Catholic mother experiencing the same reaction, writes,
"While the thread uniting every religion is the belief in revering the deity, improving yourself, and behaving in a proper manner, the dogma and doctrine can easily lead a person with an anxiety disorder to believe that anything less than perfection makes you an utter failure."
The author describes suffering from Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and finding that religious belief simply imposed more rituals, as well as the fear that he had to do everything "exactly right" and that the effect of religious faith was intense "worry and anguish". I immediately thought of Martin Luther and wondered if he too suffered from OCD or something similar? How many saints and mystics could be described as completely sane and balanced? I once read that many periods of mystical and extreme behaviour were then followed by periods of practical work and service. How far was this because those individuals, having wrestled their spiritual angels and demons, then found themselves free? I do not want to be too reverential about mental illness. I have suffered from it myself and would not wish a mental health condition, or even the dark night of the soul, upon anyone. And yet sometimes to struggle spiritually leads us to insight. William Blake said that "The road of excess leads to the palace of Wisdom, and Luther's early spiritual obssessions were a form of excess that led to wisdom.
I suspect that Luther might in this day and age be prescribed medication, counselling and cognitive behavioural therapy, no doubt enormously alleviating his problems, but perhaps preventing that journey that led him to rearticulate so powerfully something that was always there in scripture - that we are not perfect, just forgiven.