That was the title of this morning’s sermon. The scripture text was from Mark’s Gospel from which I excerpt this:
23Just then there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, …25But Jesus rebuked him, saying, “Be silent, and come out of him!” 26And the unclean spirit, convulsing him and crying with a loud voice, came out of him.
Mark 1:23,25-26 NRSV
Wouldn’t it be cool to be able to do that to a birther? It’s easy to think of a birther as someone possessed by an evil spirit, and by an evil spirit I don’t mean a supernatural demon, but the infection of an evil idea or meme. While the birther mythos, especially when expressed using the seductive tricks of the propagandist, is an infectious idea, I do not think for many birthers that the idea is the real problem.
I see birtherism more as an anxiety disorder. Let me offer an example. Some people have a problem when they leave home: they wonder if they locked the door (turned off the oven, left the water running) and they go back to check. They are anxious in the presence of uncertainty, so they go back and check, and they go back and check again, and again, and again.
Birthers seem to have anxiety over an ineligible President; they check his birth certificate released in 2008 and then doubts and anxiety rise. So they check again and see that the Director of the Hawaii Department of Health states Obama was born in Hawaii. But after a while doubt and anxiety creep back. They find birth announcements in the newspapers; doubt and anxiety return. A long form birth certificate makes the scene; more doubt and anxiety. More certifications from Hawaii – more anxiety. Now birthers demand criminal investigations, Congressional investigations, access to microfilm, document analysis, kindergarten records (!), college transcripts, passport records, school papers, immigration forms and finally they demand legislation to set up a regime under which eligibility is certified by the government (or all 50 states!), thinking once and for all they will be free from uncertainty and the anxiety it causes. It won’t make any difference because birtherism isn’t about facts, it is about fears.
Behavior such as I have described is that of someone with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD, which coincidentally abbreviates Obama Citizenship Denial). OCD is typically a genetically-based disorder. It is often treated with a regimen of cognitive therapy and drugs. The barrier to treatment is first getting the person with OCD to realize that they have a problem that they want to change. Part of the therapy is to get the patient to appreciate that their anxiety is not reasonable (sure, it’s theoretically possible that the door is locked even after checking it once, but is that reasonable?) and then to learn to be more comfortable with anxiety through a series of exercises that make them uncomfortable.
Sure there are malicious birthers motivated by racism and political ideology (evil spirits), but a lot of them sound like folks with an anxiety disorder. Heaven knows they are consumed with anxiety about chemtrails, FEMA camps, creeping socialism, Armageddon, black helicopters, international bankers, and losing their guns. I hope some of them will get treatment.