Wednesday, August 3, 2011

The Day We Scattered Marne's Ashes

Marne was the kind of girl it was impossible not to fall in love with one way or another. Those who didn't want to date her still loved her like a sister. She was just that sort of person, gentle, soft-spoken and always kind. A pretty redhead from the Midwest who loved hiking and the outdoors, she exemplified the term "girl next door," the kind every decent man wants to marry and every parent wants to have for a daughter.

Marne had a secret, though. She suffered from a deeply buried mental disorder that grew more apparent during her college years. She barely succeeded in graduating, and then fell apart totally, wandering the country, losing touch with her family and friends for weeks at a time, and nearly starving herself to death because of her illusion that she was overweight.

Then her "visions" began. She thought that God told her to change her name to Mary because she had been appointed to be "the mother of mercy to all people." Marne was losing her mind.

Her new friends didn't see it that way, though. She found company with a group of ultra-Charismatics who told her the voices she heard were from God and she should obey them, even when they told her not to take her medications and to go on extended fasts that wrecked her health.

Her delusions got worse as her mind deteriorated. Once her family found her out in the yard in the middle of the night digging a hole in the ground. When they confronted her, she said that she was digging her way to the Holy Land where her husband and children were. Marne had gone insane.

She stuck with her new friends, however, who encouraged her to listen to the voices. Then one day she scrawled a note on a piece of paper saying she just wanted to be with her "beloved," doused herself with lamp oil, set herself on fire, and jumped out of a fifth floor window. She died on impact.

Her devastated parents brought her ashes back to Georgia, where she had gone to college. A group of her friends gathered on top of a mountain, where we held a memorial service for her. Then we each took a handful of her ashes and scattered them to the wind.

Marne didn't have to die. If she had received intervention in the form of group therapy, counseling, and medication she might be alive today. She perished from a fall, but the dying process began well before that, when fanatics encouraged her descent into madness in order to maintain their own delusional outlook on the world.

Did religion kill Marne? No. Her faith had sustained and guided her throughout the short years of her life. Fanaticism and ignorance parading behind a mask of spirituality destroyed her. To paraphrase Einstein: just as reason without faith is crippled, so faith without reason is blind.

The real travesty is that the blindness of Marne's killers was purely voluntary. They cling to their fairy tales because they don't have the courage to face the world as it is. They reject any call to critical thought or to appreciating science as an insight into the mind of God.

That's all well and good for them. But they didn't have to murder my friend.

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