Monday, November 2, 2009
Brian David Mitchell
In this realm of the human. In this society we understand filled with cars, TV, politicians, ads, churches, movies, restaurants, laws…in this realm, in this American culture, there are shared symbols. Each single person will look at the same advertisement (or a thousand other things) in a different way based on their own upbringing, knowledge, memories, etc., but there is a basic shared language that exists between the bulk of the population. The shared collective symbols of right and wrong and beauty and ugly and funny and colors and laws is what allows millions of people to interact with each other through language and action. We can look around and see people behaving in generally the same way as we do, this we consider “sane.” Millions of people in America share the same “symbolic order.” The symbolic order are the words we use to explain our human experience. Words to describe our emotions, to describe our experience, words to describe our actions and understanding of events. Because of a general consensus that there is a God in the sky that created life on earth, because a majority of people share this “symbolic order,” (they use words like god, heaven, hell, creation, bible, etc) they all consider themselves normal and sane.
When there is a disconnect, when a minority of people (or perhaps one person) has a symbolic order (a collection of words used to explain their experience, etc) that does not fit within the larger symbolic order, there is conflict. These people are considered “insane.” They understand and explain the world with different words.
Brian David Mitchell believes he is a man of god. He was a street preacher in Utah in early 2000. Many people would have regarded him as a semi-delusional zealot who believes he can hear God. Many people pray to god. They talk to him, some think they hear answers, all of this is considered sane by the majority of the American public. But when a man does nothing but stand on the street and preach and shout and lecture to the passers-by about the word of God and Jesus, the majority, even the church going people, think that the mind has slipped.
Brian David Mitchell had constructed a world around himself, as we all do, to explain his existence. In his world, God speaks to him, God commands him. In his world, his symbolic system, men may have more than one wife. Men may do what they want with their women as long as they are married. Within his symbolic order, he believed that people must be humbled. They must experience the low-human state so they can one day experience a higher one.
There was one family that did not believe he was completely insane. The Smart family of Utah hired him to help repair their roof. He worked at their house for five hours one day. One night, he cut a hole in their screen, broke into their home and kidnapped Elizabeth Smart, the 14 year old from her bed in the middle of the night. He took her to the woods. His wife gave Elizabeth a robe and told her change to change into it. A small ceremony was performed and Brian David Mitchell proclaimed Elizabeth as his wife, he raped her afterwards, as he would many times afterwards. When his first wife complained that he was having sex with Elizabeth too often, he began to rotate between them. Elizabeth was found nearly a year later. "Anything I showed resistance or hesitation to, he would turn to me and say, 'The Lord has commanded you to do this. You have to experience the lowest form of humanity to experience the highest.”
Brian David Mitchell and his first wife are in police custody. They are both declared mentally unfit to stand trial. It is Mitchell’s explanation that the court sees as unstable. Although many people in this country pray, when God is used as a reason to commit a crime (actions the collective accepts as “wrong”) the general consensus of the explanation is “insanity.” This explanation is not shared in the symbolic order of the larger society.
The writer of a particular article about the Elizabeth Smart case used words like “horrific and sick” to describe Brian David Mitchell. This is the conflict. One man believes he is doing what God wants him to do. He is humbling a young woman so that one day she can reach a higher state. This is what he actually believes. This is how he actually understands the world. The police, the criminal justice system, her parents, neighbors, journalists, the Americana public see this act as the raping of a young girl by a crazy zealot. One deed is thought of as righteous, the same deed is seen by others as evil. Both are words used to describe an action.
Even in custody and in court, Brian David Mitchell continuously sang hymns to himself until he was removed from the courtroom. Perhaps the world around him seemed crazy, full of evil men who had no contact with god. Perhaps he sang to remind himself that he was the one with the truth. He was the one with God on his side. He had to sing to protect his world. He sang to protect his symbolic order, the world he had built for himself, the only world that still had a place for him.