The young friends (previous post) and I chuckled over Christian cliches a bit last night, as we both encounter a fair number of believers whose understanding seems to go no deeper. Their faith might, but not their understanding.
It's offputting, certainly.
Yet this morning I was rereading The Professor and the Madman - an excellent story told in a ludicrous style - and ran across secular cliches strung together. Bull Durham* for writers, perhaps. The symptoms described for Captain Minor are quite clearly a late-onset paranoid psychosis, probably schizophrenia. Simon Winchester doesn't give us much detail, and the misinterpretation of tastes as well as sounds might send us toward another category of illness in understanding the American Captain, but the organic, or biological quality is unmistakeable.
But Winchester, even as recently as the 1990's, doesn't bother to ask any actual professionals what was actually wrong with the man, apparently. He reads the biographical information and notes that he comes from a pious family, lusted after naked girls in Ceylon when he was thirteen, felt guilty about it afterward but still felt lust, and attributes his later psychosis to this constellation of circumstances. He as much as sighs that if the boy had only gotten laid a few times as a youth and not troubled himself over it, he might not have turned into a murderer.
I have not noted that any reviewers have objected to this idiocy. It's the cliche, the preferred narrative that missionary piety leads to pathological guilt, especially over sex (and more especially of the nice natural sex of exploiting native girls?), and the personality is forever warped. That many boys (or girls) of pious family experience lust as teenagers and feel guilty about it, yet don't go on to murder others and be locked up for life in institutions for the criminally insane, seems not to occur to Winchester. Or his reviewers.
*Crash Davis: You're gonna have to learn your clichés. You're gonna have to study them, you're gonna have to know them. They're your friends. Write this down: "We gotta play it one day at a time."