Samuel Mullet Sr., bishop of his Amish sect, was convicted along with fifteen other people in September 2012 of hate crimes for having entered Amish homes in order to clip men’s beards and women’s uncut hair–both of which have religious significance to the Amish. The Amish men getting their beards clipped apparently went into hysterics as did the women getting the haircuts, even crying wildly and praying out loud. Apparently the “punishment” was meted out to Mullet’s foes, some of whom had refused to honor his shunning decrees against his foes. The Amish who dared to claim that such decrees constituted an improper use of Mullet’s power as bishop were met with shears used on horse manes. According to the New York Times, “Prosecutors argued that the attacks were intended to humiliate those who questioned [Mullet’s] cultlike methods.” Those devices included “forcing errant followers to sleep in chicken coops and pressing married women–including his own daughter-in-law–to accept his intimate sexual ‘counseling’.”
Both the devices and the revenge point to the danger that may be inherent as human beings assume religious office. Indeed, even the title “bishop” seems presumptuous for a man who would have his sons walk into peoples’ homes in order to clip their beards and hair. To be sure, crying wildly and praying out loud simply because one’s hair is being cut raises questions of how religious belief can have unhealthy psychological effects.
In other words, both the clippers and those clipped can be accused of reacting irrationally (i.e., overreacting). Religion can account for the loss of perspective that is in both Mullet’s presumptuousness and his victims’ reactions while getting the haircuts. Even if it were the case that a beard or long hair is salient in the preaching of Jesus, hair does grow back. It is not the end of the world (which, by the way, did not come “within this generation”). Therefore, in addition to the obvious danger in religious authority being assumed by people, a related and more subtle perceptual loss and related propensity to over-react may be said to come with religiousity. An alien from another planet studying our species would doubtlessly wonder why such adults had lapsed back into childhood. “They are religious,” one might reply. Doubtless the aliens would be utterly bewildered, and so should we.
It might be said that we are too used to the religious mentality that we give it too much of an excuse. Mullet should never have been allowed to get to such behavior, and the victims’ co-religionists should have told those with the clipped hair to grow up. Not that the crime can be excused, but to cry wildly and pray out loud indicates that the person has really “lost it,” albeit under the cover of religion. I contend that it is time to pull back the cover and expose the illness for what it is. Put another way, the manner in which religion interacts with the human mind should give us all caution both in terms of how carried away we as well as others get with our religious beliefs and practices. I suspect that part of the problem is that religion itself needs to be clipped back to its native fauna. Quietly focused on transcendence centered on a referent point beyond the limits of human perception and cognition (the accent thus being on the reaching rather than on the nature of that which is yearned for) need not involve putting other people in chicken coops or cutting off their beards (or crying wildly just because your hair has been cut). It can be said that religion itself can easily get out of control in the human mind without the latter having any sense of the gravity of the danger. The lack of any feedback loop in the brain with respect to religion magnifies the inherent danger that is in religion itself as it interacts with the presumptiveness of the human mind. If “bishop” Mullet was at all still steadfast in his conviction that he acted well and with good intention, in spite of having received the verdict of being guilty of “hate crimes” from a jury, then the depth and utter intractability of the sickness must surely be admitted. For to be so wrong and yet presume that one cannot be wrong in one’s religious rationale demonstrates just how dangerous religion can be to the human mind.