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That’s your belief, sir.
September 23, 2011 2:00 PM   Subscribe

Two men say they're Jesus, one of them must be wrong. "In 1959, Dr Milton Rokeach, a social psychologist, received a research grant to bring together three psychotic, institutionalised patients at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan." All three believed that they were Jesus, and the doctor believed he should play god.
posted by bitmage (84 comments total) 20 users marked this as a favorite

 
Man, so much fun you could have before the IRB. Reading "The Three Christs of Ypslianti" was alternately mesmerizing and horrifying- Rokeach switched up his protocol seemingly with his own moods, working from an understanding of schizophrenia that is now demonstrably, horribly incorrect. The initial experiment is understandable enough in its 1950's way, but it's not too long before he starts writing letters to the different patients on behalf of their imaginary relatives and performing all sorts of other nonmalicious but still horrible manipulations, all with the justification that Dr. Yoder (the director) said it was OK. At the same time, he's a sensitive and empathic observer and the book is a very good portrait of the life of a group of severely mentally ill people during the late institutional age.
posted by monocyte at 2:19 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, well, you know, that's just, like, your opinion, son of god
posted by growabrain at 2:21 PM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I disagree with the premise. If we accept the Trinity, why not double Jesus?
posted by neuromodulator at 2:22 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


This reminds me of a story about Milton Erikson.
At some time in his career, Erickson worked in a psychiatric hospital where there was a patient who thought he was Jesus. One day, Erickson approached him and said, "I understand you are a carpenter". The patient could not deny this fact. Erickson told him he had a project that needed the patient's skills and set him to work making a bookcase. The story goes that the patient's recovery began at this point.
posted by daHIFI at 2:24 PM on September 23, 2011 [32 favorites]


Well, they were already crazy. What else could go wrong?
posted by perhapses at 2:24 PM on September 23, 2011


performing all sorts of other nonmalicious but still horrible manipulations

Yes. I thought the saddest point in the article was when Leon, having been receiving letters and gifts from his imaginary wife, goes to meet her. And is left standing in an empty room.

"I’ve found out whenever I receive something, there’s always strings attached and God bless I don’t want that."
posted by bitmage at 2:26 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I loved this line:

(This may be the much more gripping prototype of Big Brother, although in the modern version everyone in the house deludedly believes themselves to be celebrities or interesting.)
posted by TedW at 2:27 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Leon sounds perfectly sane:

‘I know I’m missing out on pleasure – eating, drinking, merry-making and all that stuff – but it doesn’t please my heart. I have met the world. I got disgusted with the negative ideals I found there.’

/have to go find this book now...
posted by hamandcheese at 2:31 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Not bad piece of research, they clearly have duplicates, and a positive control (being the psychologist) :)
posted by Space_Lady at 2:34 PM on September 23, 2011


I don't see how you could describe this researcher as "empathetic." If he were, he would have known the idea was stupid because delusions, are, well delusional and you typically can't talk people out of them otherwise they wouldn't be delusions. It is true that people can sometimes come to recognize that a delusion is a delusion, but when you try to force them, you are usually increasing resistance to change rather than helping.

The same is true with addictions: everyone has this idea that if only you are cruel enough and take enough away from addicts, they will "hit bottom" and be fixed. Problem is that they know drugs are the *solution* and they usually don't have a better one. Unless you are offering something better, they will cling to what they have ever more tenaciously.

Another unethical experiment, basically.
posted by Maias at 2:35 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


The patient could not deny this fact. Erickson told him he had a project that needed the patient's skills and set him to work making a bookcase. The story goes that the patient's recovery began at this point.

That only proves that the guy probably was Jesus. I doubt there was much of a demand for bookcases in 20 A.D.
posted by perhapses at 2:36 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Oops, I stand corrected! There were three psychotic patients, in which case they definitely need a better control lol. I wonder if they were all white Caucasians as well, with a curious fascination for lambs, children and a foot fetish.
posted by Space_Lady at 2:36 PM on September 23, 2011


An article from Slate on the same subject.
posted by TedW at 2:38 PM on September 23, 2011


C.S. Lewis:
Then comes the real shock. Among these Jews there suddenly turns up a man who goes about talking as if He was God. He claims to forgive sins. He says He has always existed. He says He is coming to judge the world at the end of time. Now let us get this clear. Among Pantheists, like the Indians, anyone might say that he was a part of God, or one with God: there would he nothing very odd about it. But this man, since He was a Jew, could not mean that kind of God. God, in their language, meant the Being outside the world, who had made it and was infinitely different from anything else. And when you have grasped that. you will see that what this man said was, quite simply, the most shocking thing that has ever been uttered by human lips.

One part of the claim tends to slip past us unnoticed because we have heard it so often that we no longer see what it amounts to. I mean the claim to forgive sins: any sins. Now unless the speaker is God, this is really so preposterous as to be comic. We can all understand how a man forgives offences against himself. You tread on my toes and I forgive you, you steal my money and I forgive you. But what should we make of a man, himself unrobbed and untrodden on, who announced that he forgave you for treading on other men’s toes and stealing other men’s money? Asinine fatuity is the kindest description we should give of his conduct. Yet this is what Jesus did. He told people that their sins were forgiven, and never waited to consult all the other people whom their sins had undoubtedly injured. He unhesitatingly behaved as if He was the party chiefly concerned, the person chiefly offended in all offences. This makes sense only if He really was the God whose laws are broken and whose love is wounded in every sin. In the mouth of any speaker who is not God, these words would imply what I can only regard as a silliness and conceit unrivalled by any other character in history. Yet (and this is the strange, significant thing) even His enemies, when they read the Gospels, do not usually get the impression of silliness and conceit. Still less do unprejudiced readers. Christ says that He is ‘humble and meek’ and we believe Him; not noticing that, if He were merely a man, humility and meekness are the very last characteristics we could attribute to some of His sayings.

I am trying here to prevent anyone saying the really foolish thing that people often say about Him: ‘I’m ready to accept Jesus as a great moral teacher, but I don’t accept His claim to be God.’ That is the one thing we must not say. A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell. You must make your choice. Either this man was, and is, the Son of God: or else a madman or something worse. You can shut Him up for a fool, you can spit at Him and kill Him as a demon; or you can fall at His feet and call Him Lord and God. But let us not come with any patronising nonsense about His being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us. He did not intend to.
posted by Trurl at 2:40 PM on September 23, 2011 [23 favorites]


(This may be the much more gripping prototype of Big Brother, although in the modern version everyone in the house deludedly believes themselves to be celebrities or interesting.)

Heh.
posted by Splunge at 2:42 PM on September 23, 2011


One of 'em must have the wise blood
posted by Cerulean at 2:45 PM on September 23, 2011


He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg

Yeah, I'm going to go with that one.
posted by King Bee at 2:49 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


performing all sorts of other nonmalicious but still horrible manipulations

I read this as "normalicious", and immediately inferred all sorts of stupid things about a therapy involving the phsychiatrist offering non-crazy behavior and phenomena with desirable outcomes as attractors, i.e. "normal+delicious"... It really is amazing the shit you can come up with when you start out by simply reading a word wrong.
posted by George_Spiggott at 2:51 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic—on a level with the man who says he is a poached egg—or else he would be the Devil of Hell.

Why can't he be a madman with beautiful ideas? Like John Nash, or Tom Waits, or Elmo?
posted by saturday_morning at 2:54 PM on September 23, 2011 [18 favorites]


Bad science, based on bad logic. While one can easily assume that not all three can be the same being, if all three claim to be the same being (Trinity aside), the Dr. clearly acts under the bad faith assumption that none of the men is who they all claim to be, which doesn't logically follow. A real scientist would have asked, "Is one of these men really Jesus, and if so, which one? There can be only one." A real scientist would have offered each man a sword, a fish, and loaf of bread, and simply recorded the results, without bias as to the expected outcome.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 2:56 PM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Previously.
posted by homunculus at 2:59 PM on September 23, 2011


Oh, and also:

Christ, Christ, and Christ, what an asshole.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:01 PM on September 23, 2011 [14 favorites]


Why can't he be a madman with beautiful ideas? Like John Nash, or Tom Waits, or Elmo?

I never understood the "if you think Jesus was a lunatic because he claimed to be god, then you must discount everything he said as complete lunacy" argument. It's probably because it doesn't make any sense.
posted by King Bee at 3:02 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


What if God is a lunatic?
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:04 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


Dr. Adso's diagnosis:

The original Jesus himself must have been a delusional man if he believed he direct connections to the Divine. If a man has delusions that he is a delusional man, then the delusions will cancel each other out, like a double negative.

I'm not doing this right, am I?
posted by adso at 3:05 PM on September 23, 2011


I'm Jesus and so's my wife.
posted by Webbster at 3:09 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I don't see how you could describe this researcher as "empathetic." If he were, he would have known the idea was stupid because delusions, are, well delusional and you typically can't talk people out of them otherwise they wouldn't be delusions.

50 years is a long time.
posted by aspo at 3:13 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, IRB took all the fun out of social science.
posted by spitbull at 3:24 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


It's a good C.S. Lewis quote, but it's also a flawed argument. He is assuming the metaphysics of the judeo-christian doctrine, that of the absent god and the ephemeral present, and indeed accepting these premises, his conclusion seems to hold. But he even nods at an alternate possibility (pantheism) where his argument doesn't work at all. And also atheists, polytheists, etc are perfectly consistent to say that they agree with what Jesus said but don't believe he is the son of God. Basically it's only a critique of Jews and possibly Muslims holding that position, so, shrug.
posted by mek at 3:25 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


I toured the Ypsilanti State Hospital in the late 60's. The place was, as you would expect, pretty much a hell hole at that time, and I'm certain they showed us (College Students, psych majors) the best side of the place.

Pretty much a holding pen for those that we didn't want out in the community. The place was cold, hard, dank and dark. Clanking doors, the sound of key chains and locks being set, with nothing soft to stop the echoes and hollow sounds the hard surfaces created.

I'll never forget the trip through an underground tunnel between two of the buildings... scared the crap out of me.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest looked plush in comparison.

There was no science happening there, just as there was no treatment. It was a poorly funding holding pen for the rejects.
posted by tomswift at 3:31 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


What if God were one of us?

now get THAT earworm out of your head!
posted by tomswift at 3:32 PM on September 23, 2011


Nonsense. The bible is full of contradictions. God is not constrained by your human logic.
posted by LordSludge at 3:35 PM on September 23, 2011


That's just what God would say. Hey, waiiiit a minute.....
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 3:38 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


These things are always interesting to me, because, well, they're all right, of course. They ARE god, it's just that even with whatever doors of perception might have opened to show them that, they still hold on to the idea that they're separate from the rest of the universe. If they're even reacting to a revelation they weren't prepared for and it's not the direct equivalent to me believing myself to be the Queen of England, or a tangerine.

But, to paraphrase Alan Watts, "I am God, and so are you."
posted by cmoj at 3:41 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


now get THAT earworm out of your head!

Your grammatically appropriate but lyrically incorrect use of the subjunctive killed the earworm, sorry.
posted by liketitanic at 3:56 PM on September 23, 2011 [5 favorites]


I am God, and so are you.

I'm not.
posted by It's Raining Florence Henderson at 4:00 PM on September 23, 2011


they're all right, of course

[citation needed]
posted by East Manitoba Regional Junior Kabaddi Champion '94 at 4:08 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


...I am Dr Domino Dominorum et Rex Rexarum, Simplis Christianus Pueris Mentalis Doktor.’ (This, Rokeach explains, included all the Latin Leon knew: Lord of Lords, King of Kings, Simple Christian Boy Psychiatrist.)

The One True Sockpuppet Name.
posted by Chichibio at 4:08 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I'm also finding C.S. Lewis' argument a bit weak. Perhaps this guy Jesus was poached-egg crazy when it came to beliefs about his own divinity, but not too shabby a thinker when it came to other moral and ethical teachings? I think it's possible to be a lunatic AND a great moral teacher.

That sounds weird, but I think it's because of this common notion (which Lewis is clearly employing) that if someone is delusional about some things, that person is necessarily delusional about all things. Sanity isn't really a binary thing; none of us are free of delusions. Mainstream language doesn't really reflect this, though... sane/insane, lunatic, crazy, etc., all reinforce this notion that there's some well-defined line between "them" and "us."
posted by DLWM at 4:09 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lame joke aside, I find this completely fascinating and I can't wait to buy the NYRB reprint. I find tales of past medical experiments, now deemed unethical, to be the real hook: what will shrinks of the future condemn us for? Overmedicating children? Failing to recognize picky eating in the DSMV? Doctor Phil?
posted by Chichibio at 4:16 PM on September 23, 2011


they're all right, of course

[citation needed]


I'll start with the assumption that "god" is a word for the entire system that comprises the universe, which is pretty obviously what all the religious texts I've ever read are getting at.

First, even if you believe yourself to be categorically separate from your neighbor, or a sea slug, or a yet-to-form black hole, you're part of that system. The entirety of the universe constitutes your present state. If that hydrogen atom orbiting Betelgeuse weren't exactly as it is, then you would not be exactly as you are in whatever infinitesimal way. You are the system, so you are god. Or part of it.

But you're not categorically separate from any of that stuff. Or, well, you're only separate by categorical convention. Your environment is you, even physiologically. Your body temperature, for example, is affected as much by the outside temperature as your attempts at homeostasis. You and your sense of self can't exist without the society you live in. So, why isn't that society also you? Why isn't the society also the planet it depends on? How is that planet separate from the solar system in exists within? Etc.
posted by cmoj at 4:23 PM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


Islands, Muriel Rukeyser

O for God's sake
they are connected
underneath

They look at each other
across the glittering sea
some keep a low profile

Some are cliffs
The bathers think
islands are separate like them
posted by liketitanic at 4:26 PM on September 23, 2011 [8 favorites]


I have my own messiah persona I use on stage. I'm not the only one.
We are our only saviors.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:56 PM on September 23, 2011


The Son of God is not subject to the Pauli exclusion principle.
posted by ocschwar at 4:57 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Thou art God. All who grok are God.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 4:59 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


I'm Keyser Söze
posted by fullerine at 5:09 PM on September 23, 2011


'This stopped clock is either right all the time or it can not be right ever! It's either always 2:18 or it can never be 2:18!
posted by kimota at 5:15 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


Stop trying to squeeze the Cosmos through a man-shaped keyhole.
posted by Horselover Phattie at 5:23 PM on September 23, 2011 [4 favorites]


I never understood the "if you think Jesus was a lunatic because he claimed to be god, then you must discount everything he said as complete lunacy" argument

It might help to consider that the argument tends to come from people who worship the lunatic as god
posted by crayz at 5:30 PM on September 23, 2011


"Double Jesus!" is a fine, fine expletive.
posted by davejay at 7:13 PM on September 23, 2011


What do you mean, His noodly appendages? They're mine.

but, uh, actually I guess yours too, if you're gonna be that way about it
posted by jfuller at 7:40 PM on September 23, 2011


Funny, I read the book at the same age as the author, at 16.

It was an interesting thought experiment, and had some correlation to the Watts and Laing I was also reading at the time, but it was not hard to reach the simplistic conclusion that all three were delusional and this was a fruitless experiment.
posted by kozad at 8:06 PM on September 23, 2011


Fucking around with mentally ill patients because you think it might be interesting is not science, it's arrogance.
posted by desuetude at 8:46 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


C.S. Lewis was fanatical in his belief in Christianity - his ducking and dodging to defend his worldview is not so different from what the men claiming to be God did to protect their own beliefs.
posted by SakuraK at 8:56 PM on September 23, 2011 [3 favorites]


I don't see how you could describe this researcher as "empathetic." If he were, he would have known the idea was stupid because delusions, are, well delusional and you typically can't talk people out of them otherwise they wouldn't be delusions.

Psychoanalytic theory at the time held that it was possible, though quite difficult, to talk people out of delusions, though you wouldn't make much headway by confronting them directly. Of course, we now know this to be hogwash, but they really didn't know this back then. Indeed, the book repeatedly bashes this fact in by example as Rokeach's progressively more elaborate attempts to undermine his patients' delusional belief systems is met instead with their elastic accommodation to whatever new constraint he tries to put on them. But psychoanalytic theory was the tool that psychiatrists were trained in at the time; antipsychotic drugs had been in use for mere years, and remained tools that could improve hospitalized patients but not always get them out of the wards. Psychoanalysis died a hard death in treatment for psychosis.

And besides, if you read the book, Rokeach really does present a sensitive portrait of his patients (except for Clyde, who is deeper down in his disease and definitely gets the short end of the stick) and presents an often beautiful, though crazy paternalistic, account of their personal successes and failures, even as he engineers them. He doesn't understand their disease, but he still can understand them as human beings. He wasn't a monster, or if he was he was the ordinary kind that any of us can become if we're not careful.
posted by monocyte at 9:09 PM on September 23, 2011 [1 favorite]


C.S. Lewis was fanatical in his belief in Christianity - his ducking and dodging to defend his worldview is not so different from what the men claiming to be God did to protect their own beliefs.

He was fanatical, but at least he put forward an argument, and discussed theology, which is more than I can say for any fanatic I've heard recently.
posted by Jimbob at 9:32 PM on September 23, 2011


but at least he put forward an argument

Eh, it's an argument that mostly goes like this:

* Factually correct statement
* Handwaving
* Therefore, you must accept my unsupported, unprovable metaphysical opinions.

Doesn't read much like an argument to me, more like preaching to the choir.
posted by Dr Dracator at 10:44 PM on September 23, 2011 [2 favorites]


Double.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:04 AM on September 24, 2011


CS Louis wasn't was just another in a long line of apologists. The only thing special about him was that he wrote in the modern era, when he should have known better.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:29 AM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Er, 'was just'...
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:29 AM on September 24, 2011


Actually, C.S. Lewis's views on the trilemma would likely be unintentionally supported by "New Atheist" fervently anti-theists such as Dawkins or Hitchens- thinkers who are so convinced of not only the illogical nature of religion, but the inherent harm of theism, that they would toss the baby out with the bathwater and call Jesus a loony and hence his moral teachings are as worthy of scorn and to be ignored.

Am I strawmanning, or isn't that the almost-emotional nature of New Atheist rhetoric?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:31 AM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


You're strawmanning.

C.S. Lewis's writings on Christianity are so poorly constructed that reading them converted me to atheism at an early age.
posted by benzenedream at 12:39 AM on September 24, 2011


I've read a fair amount of atheist literature, and I believe the typical response to the 'trilemma' is that the Biblical Jesus is a literary construct, and not real. The 'trilemma' assumes that the description of Jesus in the New Testament is accurate. That's something only an already-believer would assume.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:41 AM on September 24, 2011


That's not my point. My point is that C.S. Lewis would rather people believe Christ was a lunatic than a "great moral teacher" because in his view faith is all or nothing- you either believe Christ was the Son of God, or you believe that he was a two-bit phony or a loony. It is better for one to revile Jesus than to condescendingly regard him as a "moral teacher" when much of his teaching would have related to his less than secular teachings.

New Atheists, at least Hitchens, would say that whatever merit in the moral teachings that Jesus had, they are invalidated by the inherent folly and harm caused by the religious views held by him. (If they were to assume that a historical figure named Jesus the Nazareth existed and said those things.) My point is that if that's what the New Atheists would believe, it would be rather ironic that their opinion here would intersect with Lewis's, but for different reasons, no?
posted by Apocryphon at 12:45 AM on September 24, 2011


New Atheists, at least Hitchens, would say that whatever merit in the moral teachings that Jesus had, they are invalidated by the inherent folly and harm caused by the religious views held by him.

Yeah, you have a pretty twisted view of what the "New Atheists" think. See, for instance, here. Any kind of historical Jesus was probably religious (if not claiming to be God), so your hypothetical is true - but yet there Richard Dawkins is advocating Jesus' morality.

So, yes, you're strawman-ing.
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 12:57 AM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Besides, the New Atheists were wiped out in Morrison's run on Final Crisis.
posted by benzenedream at 1:29 AM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


Again, I understand there is a distinction between Hitchens and Dawkins, just the former seems to be more on the side of the spectrum that internet Youtube comments atheism is, at least wrt how little they think of religious thinkers.
posted by Apocryphon at 2:06 AM on September 24, 2011


I've heard Lewis' argument made frequently to me by Evangelicals who were upset by agnostics, weak atheists, 'all just a metaphor'-ists and the like, far more than by the Dawkins lot. (My somewhat scurrilous theory is that they saw in fundamentalist atheism a fanaticism that had the potential to be turned in the 'right' direction, but recognised that you were never going to get a wooly agnostic to be bug-eyed about anything.) They really wanted you to be either fervently for literalist Christianity, or angrily against it.

One thing that strikes me about the argument, rereading it, is how far it ignores the historical context in which Jesus was operating. Sure, he was Jewish, but he was in a place where Judaism coexisted side-by-side with various flavours of polytheism. It doesn't actually seem that odd to me that he came out with some ideas that are a bit foreign to Judaism, but completely natural within the Graeco-Roman tradition. Many of the early Christians' beliefs and practices were certainly cross-fertilised by pagan practices - most notoriously, they adopted the ceremonies of the Mithraic cult almost wholesale - and I really don't see why we're supposed to exempt Jesus from this and take it that he had some kind of theological purity which meant that what he was saying couldn't make any sense at all unless he had direct experience of it.
posted by Acheman at 2:07 AM on September 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


Dilemma!! Halp! I'm very interested in reading this book... and against all likelihood, I find it is actually available as an ebook from Amazon. But, the electronic version is priced higher than the paper version ($13.79 Kindle vs. $11.58 paperback), and I've always refused to pay more for an ebook version than the physical book.

However, I can't order the physical book, because shipping would be crazy (I'm not in U.S.), and the cheapest price I can get from the Amazon UK (independent sellers) is $14, ditto eBay.

Those who have read it... is it worth it to sacrifice my principles and cave in to stupid ebook pricing for this text?

.............................

Also: so, so not trying to be a thread nanny, but man, I avoid religious threads like the plague, but I love psychology topics/threads. Is there any chance we could avoid making this a religion thread (I mean outside of the world view/identity of the Ypsilanti patients or similar)? Cuz otherwise Ima hafta bail. AND WE DON'T WANT THAT, DO WE?
posted by taz at 2:19 AM on September 24, 2011


In high school -- 40 years ago, give or take -- we took a trip ( !! ) to one of the storehouses of and for mentally ill people in Illinois, in Dixon. (Yeah, that Dixon, Ronnie Reagan's hometown.) And yes, it was a *field* trip -- yellow school buses, an hour away, maybe a bit more than that, lots of noise, chatter, laughter, no one thinking seriously about where we were headed at all, lots of us high (early 70s), a big festive thing, ha ha ha ha ha.

And then we got there. And then we began to walk through some of those warehouses.

Did you ever, when you were high -- or even if you're not very high -- did you ever hit what was to you a very surreal experience, something you *know* is very heavy and important but you're high and you're stunned and you kindof can't get your feet on the ground all the way and you just get knocked, sideways, hard, out of your present understandings?

It was an amazing day.

We wound through these buildings, which were these peoples home -- it was their home remember, this is where these people lived -- we walked through looking around like they were animals in a zoo. Oh, except that we were in their cage, you see, or that there wasn't a cage -- no walls, no boundaries, we're right in there, hello lion, hello tiger. Stunned to silence, looking these people dead in the eye, can't get away from that part, they're right here right now hello hello hello, how are YOU today? from two foot away, and some of them further than that but we were absolutely in their home, their turf, their world.

I remember as yesterday a man, his body broken and twisted, arms and legs coming seemingly from wherever they wanted, angled this way and that, but his soul very, very aware it seemed, and as we passed through his life he was looking us dead in the eye, huge intensity, total intensity, and he was screaming, right at us, twisting toward us as best he could with that broken body, wanting to reach us, and wanting us to know his life -- it was horrifying, and it was terrifying, too. This man, this human being -- our brother, my brother, yours -- stuck in that warehouse room and too many others stuck in that room with him, their beds right next to his, and this man stuck in that fucking bed, stuck in his body, stuck in this life, and we're passing through it, tourists -- it seemed he wanted to let us know all about his homeland, he sang us its anthem, and he sang it with a real fervor, too.

The smell? Urine, of course, and also of bodies maybe not real clean, and too close together, and maybe some of them sick, and the smell of an old institutional building, with those flat institutionally painted walls, scuffed beiges and scuffed soft ugly green, exactly that lifeless flatted green that you're thinking of if you think to put yourself in that room, and impregnated into the walls of that building and everywhere else in it the smell of despair, terror, of repression, the smell of lost souls, aching, confused brains, broken hearts. Hopelessness does have a smell, it's very distinctive, you can smell it tonight if you'd like to, if you can get onto a locked ward in a big-city mental hospital. But you'll only get whiffs of it on a locked ward today, compared to the smell in that yesteryear warehouse in Dixon; even in Phoenix, that absolute, complete, total shit-hole of a city, which has two desperately dangerous, hopeless locked wards -- downtown on 24th Street, and Buckhorn also -- even there, the smell, though it's plenty strong, it just can't stand compared to Dixon. A spritz of a bad room freshener compared to a whole damn bottle of the stuff broken in a small space, if you catch my drift.

****

I wonder about that man, the one who sang us his song -- it's possible that his mind was not damaged, that he was warehoused because of his physical problems and then had no chance of using his mind -- if a person wasn't screwed in the head when they got there, they'd be screwed in the head pretty goddamn fast. Many people who have fine minds but don't get a chance, their minds just can't develop, think of those babies without human contact, psychological Marasmus... So if his mind was not damaged but just not trained, not given love, not given a chance ... A dark thought. I wonder if he is still alive. If he is still alive, I wonder if he's been able to find any peace -- the torment in his eyes was liquid fire, rage, and outrage, he's on my mind forty years on. One hell of a powerful field trip.
posted by dancestoblue at 2:48 AM on September 24, 2011 [19 favorites]


Again, I understand there is a distinction between Hitchens and Dawkins, just the former seems to be more on the side of the spectrum that internet Youtube comments atheism is, at least wrt how little they think of religious thinkers.

Then why did you lump Dawkins with Hitchens, and ask about the "almost-emotional nature of New Atheist rhetoric?"

Here is Hitchens, advocating the teachings of Jesus (through the Golden rule and the Good Samaritan parable).

So no, neither Dawkins nor Hitchens "toss the baby out with the bathwater and call Jesus a loony and hence [consider] his moral teachings are as worthy of scorn and to be ignored."
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 2:49 AM on September 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


why not double Jesus?
posted by neuromodulator at 10:22 PM on September 23


I think one has done more than enough harm, thanks. :-)

So no, neither Dawkins nor Hitchens "toss the baby out with the bathwater and call Jesus a loony and hence [consider] his moral teachings are as worthy of scorn and to be ignored."
posted by Philosopher Dirtbike at 10:49 AM on September 24


I'm afraid when it comes to dealing with those who insist on misrepresenting Dawkins, Hitchens et al, you're flogging a dead horse. These days I just take that sort of dishonest anti-"New Atheist" noise as a reassuring sign that they're hitting some tender spots. It's less tiresome and time-consuming than painstakingly waving actual evidence in front of people who simply don't want their anti-atheist prejudices refuted.

As for Jesus being delusional or not, well, assuming he even existed and assuming any of the stuff written about him in the gospels is true (both pretty big assumptions, of course), it certainly doesn't seem unreasonable to me to consider that he may not have been firing on all cerebral cylinders. There are some pretty classic examples of the guru complex there - by which I mean that the man is presented as a fanatical believer in himself, as a "chosen one", and as a man seeking followers. He has a tendency to self-contradict when excited and to become petulant and petty when crossed (even by a bloody fig tree, for pity's sake). The big difference between Jesus and most such folk is that he (or those who wrote about him) managed to hit the right psychological balance needed for followers to achieve critical mass, and bingo: a successful religion was achieved.

It's a good C.S. Lewis quote, but it's also a flawed argument.

Well, there's a turn-up!
posted by Decani at 3:19 AM on September 24, 2011 [2 favorites]


At any rate, just from reading this much about the experiement/case, it certainly seems that of the four of them (including Dr. Rokeach), Leon did the best job of fulfilling his self-determined role. I'm far more impressed with Leon, Son of God than I am with Rokeach, Visionary Scientist (slash Capable Psychiatrist). The imaginary wife story was horrifying.
posted by taz at 6:03 AM on September 24, 2011


C.S. Lewis was fanatical in his belief in Christianity - his ducking and dodging to defend his worldview is not so different from what the men claiming to be God did to protect their own beliefs.

"Fanatical" has a perjorative flavor that I resisted. But then again...
“Say what you like,” we shall be told, “the apocalyptic beliefs of the first Christians have been proved to be false. It is clear from the New Testament that they all expected the Second Coming in their own lifetime. And worse still, they had a reason, and one which you will find very embarrassing. Their Master had told them so. He shared, and indeed created, their delusion. He said in so many words, ‘this generation shall not pass till all these things be done.’ And he was wrong. He clearly knew no more about the end of the world than anyone else.”

It is certainly the most embarrassing verse in the Bible. Yet how teasing, also, that within fourteen words of it should come the statement “But of that day and that hour knoweth no man, no, not the angels which are in heaven, neither the Son, but the Father.” The one exhibition of error and the one confession of ignorance grow side by side. That they stood thus in the mouth of Jesus himself, and were not merely placed thus by the reporter, we surely need not doubt. Unless the reporter were perfectly honest he would never have recorded the confession of ignorance at all; he could have had no motive for doing so except a desire to tell the whole truth. And unless later copyists were equally honest they would never have preserved the (apparently) mistaken prediction about “this generation” after the passage of time had shown the (apparent) mistake. This passage (Mark 13:30-32) and the cry “Why hast thou forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34) together make up the strongest proof that the New Testament is historically reliable. The evangelists have the first great characteristic of honest witnesses: they mention facts which are, at first sight, damaging to their main contention.
Once you get into "apparently discrediting evidence only reinforces the truth of my belief" territory, a fanatic is what you are.
posted by Trurl at 7:42 AM on September 24, 2011


"When did I realize I was God? Well, I was praying and I suddenly realized I was talking to myself." -- Peter O'Toole in The Ruling Class
posted by ottereroticist at 7:46 AM on September 24, 2011 [3 favorites]


Man, so much fun you could have before the IRB.

IIRC, I think institutional review boards originally developed in the post-World War II after the revelations about the Nazi medical experiments at the Nuremburg trials. For this reason, IRBs then mainly focused on informed consent for biomedical procedures, while paying much less attention to work in psychology or sociology. IRB's did not focus so much on potential psychological harms to research subjects until the Milgram Experiments, which weren't performed until 1961, two years after the Three Christs of Ypsilanti.
posted by jonp72 at 9:46 AM on September 24, 2011


I think I mistook the New Atheists with their internet following. What a subversion of the quote, "I don't dislike God, it's his fan club I can't stand."
posted by Apocryphon at 11:08 AM on September 24, 2011


This one is the real reason you cannot do an experiment like this ever again.

(Being sane in insane places.)
posted by bukvich at 12:12 PM on September 24, 2011 [1 favorite]


IIRC, I think institutional review boards originally developed in the post-World War II after the revelations about the Nazi medical experiments at the Nuremburg trials. For this reason, IRBs then mainly focused on informed consent for biomedical procedures, while paying much less attention to work in psychology or sociology. IRB's did not focus so much on potential psychological harms to research subjects until the Milgram Experiments, which weren't performed until 1961, two years after the Three Christs of Ypsilanti.

The United States didn't establish IRBs until well after the Nuremburg code. Leaked info on Tuskagee in 1972 spurred the United States to finally act. Who knows how much longer it would have taken without that whistleblower.

The National Research Act was passed in 1974. The National Commission for the Protection of Human Subjects of Biomedical and Behavioral Research prepared the Belmont Report in 1979. A clear, succinct summary of the history of research ethics.
posted by desuetude at 2:47 PM on September 24, 2011


This one is the real reason you cannot do an experiment like this ever again.

From your link:
The second part involved an offended hospital challenging Rosenhan to send pseudo-patients to its facility, whom its staff would then detect. Rosenhan agreed, but sent no pseudopatients. Yet, out of 195 new patients in the following weeks, the staff identified 42 ordinary patients as impostors and suspected 48 more.

The study concluded, "It is clear that we cannot distinguish the sane from the insane in psychiatric hospitals"


Wow, Rosenhan just PWN3D!
posted by -harlequin- at 4:29 PM on September 24, 2011



Psychoanalytic theory at the time held that it was possible, though quite difficult, to talk people out of delusions, though you wouldn't make much headway by confronting them directly


My point about the man not being truly empathetic was that his theory prevented him from seeing them as people, which is how psychoanalytic theory did and in some cases continues to do an enormous amount of harm. We're all obviously prone to hold tightly to our precious, organizing, self-confirming ideas (terror management theory is all about how we do this to cope with fear of death), however, when we do so in the face of other people's suffering, it cannot be seen as real empathy.

The absolute worst harm is done by people who believe they know what's good for us and if we die in the process of learning that, it's our fault, not theirs, they were just trying to help. This is how you get things like putting poison in alcohol during Prohibition, which happened and killed thousands of Americans. It's also how you get teen boot camps, addiction "tough love," etc.
posted by Maias at 4:49 PM on September 24, 2011


I think I mistook the New Atheists with their internet following. What a subversion of the quote, "I don't dislike God, it's his fan club I can't stand."

No, you're straw-manning them (us) too.
posted by callmejay at 7:47 AM on September 25, 2011


C.S. Lewis's false trichotomy (Liar, Lord, Lunatic) always pissed me off. Why pretend you're making a logical argument when you could easily tear it to shreds if you didn't already agree with the conclusion?

Arguing with delusional people about being Jesus has to be especially difficult if your belief is that they aren't Jesus, but a man who was also God really did come back from the dead.
posted by callmejay at 7:50 AM on September 25, 2011


Leon’s standard response to any claim from the others that went against his delusions was ‘That’s your belief, sir,’ and then to change the subject.

Seems like a fairly good way to go about things.
posted by Harald74 at 1:03 AM on September 26, 2011


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