hearing voices in my head. . .
December 9, 2005 6:47 PM   Subscribe

Does anyone know of any existing studies, articles, etc. about parents who kill (or even attempt to kill) their children because God told them to? I'm curious about how common this phenomenon is.

I can think of a few instances off the top of my head--Andrea Yates being the most obvious, of course, and I'm recalling a recent example in which a schizophrenic couple actually cut their child's arms off because it was "God's will." I'm not really counting cases in which children die because of medical treatment withheld according to Christian Scientist beliefs, taboos against blood transfusion, etc., gone too far--I'm much more interested in the folks who feel they have direct communication with God or Jesus--i.e., mental illness masquerading as religious belief.
posted by dlugoczaj to Society & Culture (15 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Under the Banner of Heaven is ALMOST what you're thinking about. Except it's relatives (including child) and not direct child. But the God's Will part? Yeah.
posted by selfnoise at 7:09 PM on December 9, 2005

Slate article on when parents kill.

There are plenty of stories of parents who killed because they felt their children were not following what God wanted, which is different than God specifically told them to do it.

Tina Isa's murder by her parents (for becoming "too American") was caught on an FBI wiretap. John List killed his family for many reasons, one being that his daughter was in drama, and he thought that would lead her to sin.
posted by GaelFC at 7:10 PM on December 9, 2005

I don't know of any articles, per se. But for whatever reason you need this information (an assignment, article you're writing etc), it might be worth knowing the bible verses in Exodus, specifically;

21:15: And he that smiteth his father, or his mother, shall be surely put to death.


21:17: And he that curseth his father, or his mother, shall surely be put to death.

In other words, the Bible says it's OK to kill unruly children. That might be another way that parents who kill their kids might feel it's OK to do so by God. I don't know how useful you'll find that, but thought that if you were unaware of these two verses, they could prove useful to some degree in whatever endeavour you are persuing this infomration for.
posted by Effigy2000 at 8:39 PM on December 9, 2005

Under the Banner of Heaven is a great read, btw, if you haven't checked it out yet.
posted by fishfucker at 8:43 PM on December 9, 2005

By far the biggest occurrence these days seems to be Palestinian Muslims who encourage their children to kill themselves, telling them that is what God wants and that they'll be taken to Paradise afterwards.
posted by bemis at 9:18 PM on December 9, 2005

Probably the most spectacular (modern) example of religious-mandated mass murder/suicide was at Jonestown, Guyana (Peoples Temple) in 1978. Of the more than 900 victims, about one-fourth were believers' children. Of course, there are ancient examples: Masada, with a toll of similar number in the first century A.D., comes to mind.
posted by rob511 at 9:27 PM on December 9, 2005

A quick Medline search pulled a heap of journal articles on infanticide, and I'm sure you can find your answers there. This link to a free Medline search should help you out.

The article titled "Maternal Infanticide Associated With Mental Illness: Prevention and the Promise of Saved Lives" is quite interesting. I can email you a copy if you can't track one down.
posted by mule at 10:16 PM on December 9, 2005

Susan Smith? Andrea Yates? Marybeth Tinning? I think that they all killed their children because they heard "voices" or "God told them to." I remember that the Yates woman claimed 'post partum depression' but I recall reading that she saw the children as demons and God told her to.
There's a book on the subject at Amazon.com titled "Mothers Who Kill Their Children: Understanding the Acts of Moms from Susan Smith to the "Prom Mom"" that might be of some interest.

We've had a couple instances here in the Bay Area of women that threw their children into San Francisco Bay. ""She said that God told her to do that.""
posted by drstein at 10:26 PM on December 9, 2005

Not exact but related (and might be good for background research) is Nancy Scheper-Hughes' work in the slums around Brazils big cities. A google should bring an essay by her up, or at least a citation - the gist is that these incredibly poor women let their babies die because only the truly toughest can survive in these slums, and they can't afford any kind of medical care. They believe the babies are angels that were called back to God, too good to stay on earth.
posted by kalimac at 11:01 PM on December 9, 2005

lots of info on google
posted by fshgrl at 11:31 PM on December 9, 2005

Don't foget Abraham and Isaac
posted by exogenous at 7:10 AM on December 10, 2005

Even if they did hear voices (and I don't remember that from Yates), I think it's missing the point to say that mothers with postpartum depression/psychosis killed their children "because" God told them to. Hearing God and killing their children were both caused by the depression/psychosis. The most commonly-brought-up-by-shrinks reason I've seen why mothers off their kids has been that they feel so utterly terrible about themselves that they kill their children in order to "save" them from having to be raised by the horrible, loathsome, unlovable, evil, monstrous person that they feel they are.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 7:20 AM on December 10, 2005

You might do some Google searches on "child exorcism." Again, it's not exactly the same thing (religious motivation, but (no direct command from God), but there seem to be cases every couple months of a young child dying during an attempted exorcism.
posted by BackwardsCity at 7:46 AM on December 10, 2005

Don't know how common this phenomenon is but I bet it used to be a lot more common when there was more pressure to kill a child out of practical reasons, e.g. not enough food. People need to find an external reason for doing unpleasant acts, cognitive dissonance provoke you into making up an explanation. We all do it to some degree, although religious people are better at it then most it seams. God is a prime example of an external force (patriotism or some other fuzzy lofty ideal are also common). Also a very convenient reason since he's invisible and cannot really be asked if he/she/it really told you to kill your child. Culture can be surprisingly good at negating innate drives as love for offspring E.g. the ik tribe let their children fend for themselves completely from the age of 3 if I remember correctly.
posted by JeNeSaisQuoi at 7:57 AM on December 10, 2005

Have you seen The Rapture? There's a quite chilling scene of a mother killing in child in response to God in that movie. Not that it will answer your questions, but I find it an interesting film.
posted by TimTypeZed at 8:14 AM on December 10, 2005

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