In 2011, “psychotic” is still synonymous with “Satanic”

Is this graffiti Satanic? Photo by Flickr user stttijn.

Satanic \Sa*tan”ic\, Satanical \Sa*tan”ic*al\, a.
Of or pertaining to Satan; having the qualities of Satan; resembling Satan; extremely malicious or wicked; devilish; infernal. “Satanic strength.” “Satanic host.” –Milton. [1913 Webster]

If someone simply uses the word “devil,” is that Satanic? If someone thinks the devil emerges from his girlfriend when they fight, is that Satanic? If someone kills his girlfriend, then writes “The Devil inside” on the wall in her blood, is that Satanic? Nashville’s WSMV-TV thinks so. They say Maxmillian Ocon, suspected of murdering Rafaelia Ortiz, “wrote satanic [sic] messages on the wall.” That message turned out to be “The Devil inside.”

That phrase might call to mind an INXS hit or a horror-based video game. Instead, police say Ocon was referring to his belief that “the devil came out of his girlfriend when the two argued.”

Sure, by the first definition above, “of or pertaining to Satan,” the phrase “the Devil inside” is technically “Satanic.” If, indeed, it refers to the idea that Ocon thought his girlfriend was possessed, then it’s also psychotic. If the reporter had written, “A father accused of killing his girlfriend and writing psychotic messages on the wall in her blood was turned into police by his own son,” how does that change the message of the story? How does it change your perception of Ocon, or of the crime?

Maybe I’m just pedantic, but when I hear talk of “Satanic crime” or “Satanic messages,” I hear the implication that these crimes or messages came from someone who’s a Satanist. The problem with this is twofold. One, it connects Satanists with criminal activity, when in fact Satanists are fairly nonviolent people. Two, it implies that the actions of someone who has lost touch with reality — in the clinical sense — can be chalked up to evil incarnate. Nuh-uh. That isn’t how it works.

The idea that evil is somehow responsible for mental disturbances is a very old one, but it’s one we should have gotten past by now. In 2011, we know the markers of psychosis, if not the precise cause. We know for sure it isn’t caused by Satan. But calling Ocon’s alleged message “Satanic,” rather than “psychotic,” sets the clocks back hundreds, even thousands, of years on the public’s understanding of criminal (and mentally unbalanced) behavior.

In an era when we’re trying to make sense of violence — especially among teens — journalistic switcheroos like this one don’t help in the slightest. Sure, they sell newspapers — and lure us in to another story about the breadth of human nature. But they don’t get us closer to truth or understanding.

Parents, what do you think of when you hear the word “Satanic?” Have you ever come across anything in your child’s life that made you wonder if he or she was in danger of being exposed to evil? What was it, and how did you handle it?


One response to “In 2011, “psychotic” is still synonymous with “Satanic”

  1. Jonathan Bernier

    If Satan, which is a snake in the perineum, grows up the spine, and becomes a dragon with seven heads, make a person kill another, and write their name with their blood on a wall, then we say the person is not responsible for his crimes. The dragon inside him did the crime, in the guise of a mental illness. How can a judge bring in jail a dragon that rise up your spine? He can’t. The criminal is the person not filled from bottom to top with this dragon. The insane person is. The criminal is responsible, the insane is not. The real culprit is a dragon, with seven heads, burning and seducing the world into sinning greatly, and abundantly, asshole.

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