Religious craziness is a form of socially-acceptable insanity.
Case in point: Ammon Bundy is one of the militants who have taken over buildings at the federal Malheur Wildlife Refuge in eastern Oregon.
Here's a short 90-second excerpt from a longer video Bundy made where he talks about what led him to try to help Dwight and Steven Hammond, ranchers in Harney County who were convicted on arson charges when they burned rangeland illegally -- endangering hunters and firefighters.
Somehow Bundy believes that when he needed to clear his mind about what to do, it was the Lord who did this for him. (Me, I've found a nap and coffee work just fine without God.)
Bundy also says that with his mind all clear, he understood how the Lord felt about the Hammonds. And the Lord wasn't pleased about how they'd been treated by government prosecutors, a jury, and the courts.
Now, ordinarily if someone claims that an Invisible Friend left messages in their mind to do this-and-that, we'd be inclined to think that's crazy.
But if a religious person asserts that God is the Invisible Friend, a cloak of cultural OK'ness protects them from most criticism.
Except from secular skeptics like me.
I'm 99.99% sure that the voice Ammon Bundy heard in his head came from him, not God. Hey, I've got mental voices speaking to me all the time, as we all do. But since they sound just like me, and almost always are in tune with the way I see the world, I correctly conclude that my urge to do something emanates from moi.
Which is both psychologically true and socially beneficial.
Because what Bundy says in this video isn't far removed from how Islamic terrorists and other fundamentalist extremists see reality. They also believe that God is impelling them to engage in certain acts.
Granted, so far Ammon Bundy and his band of Malheur Wildlife Refuge occupiers haven't harmed anyone. However, they're armed. And previously the Bundy family was the centerpiece of an faceoff between federal officials and militants that came dangerously close to a shooting war.
Imagining that God is telling you to do something adds a lot of fuel to an extremist fire. An Oregonian story discusses the relation between religion and militancy in "Oregon militants: Why the Bundys' Mormonism matters."
"The Lord was not pleased with what was happening to the Hammonds," Bundy said in the video. "If we allowed the Hammonds to continue to be punished, there would be accountability."
Bundy and his brothers were among hundreds who protested Saturday on behalf of the Hammonds and later led a group of about 20 to take over an office at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge.
One militant interviewed by Oregon Public Broadcasting only identifies himself as Captain Moroni, a historic general who, according to church scripture, threatened to "stir up insurrections" and fight "until those who have desires to usurp power and authority shall become extinct" because he felt the government did not care about the country's freedom.
"I do not fear your power nor your authority, but it is my God whom I fear," Moroni said in the Book of Alma, "and it is according to his commandments that I do take my sword to defend the cause of my country."
An Oregon Public Broadcasting piece, "The Bundy Militia's Particular Brand of Mormonism," also dives into the Bundys' religious beliefs.
“I’m Captain Moroni, from Utah.”
That’s how one militiaman at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge responded to OPB’s Amanda Peacher when she asked for his name.
That name is not a silly response to deflect responsibility: In many ways, it encapsulates a deeply intertwined anti-federal sentiment mixed with Mormon symbolism. Captain Moroni is a crucial figure in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He’s also a heroic figure for anti-federalist extremists.
In the modern day west, Captain Moroni has become one of several powerful symbols for the Bundy militia’s anti-governmental extremism.
After Ammon Bundy called on militants to join him in Oregon, the OPB story says: "The man identifying as Captain Moroni said he was inspired by the call, and that the inspiration was validated by God in the form of a flock of geese he saw flying."
Well, I live near the Ankeny National Wildlife Refuge in western Oregon. I see geese flying overhead all the time. Yet I've never used this as a reason to claim God wants me to do something.
That would be freaking crazy. Unless you're religious.