In an unusual twist on playing God, psychologist Milton Rokeach took three psychiatric patients who each believed himself to be Jesus Christ, the one true son of the Father, and had them live together for two years in the 1950s. As neuropsychologist Vaughan Bell explains in Slate, Rokeach — somewhat unethically — had the men argue, fight, and correspond with fake wives and hospital chiefs, to see if any of them would see their madness. Rokeach's book, The Three Christs of Ypsilanti, reveals that it wasn't just the Jesuses who were a little mad. Here's an excerpt of Bell's article:
"[The three men's] early meetings were stormy. 'You oughta worship me, I'll tell you that!' one of the Christs yelled. 'I will not worship you! You're a creature! You better live your own life and wake up to the facts!' another snapped back. 'No two men are Jesus Christs. … I am the Good Lord!' the third interjected, barely concealing his anger....
"Frustrated by psychology's focus on what he considered to be peripheral beliefs, like political opinions and social attitudes, Rokeach wanted to probe the limits of identity. He had been intrigued by stories of Secret Service agents who felt they had lost contact with their original identities, and wondered if a man's sense of self might be challenged in a controlled setting. Unusually for a psychologist, he found his answer in the Bible. There is only one Son of God, says the good book, so anyone who believed himself to be Jesus would suffer a psychological affront by the very existence of another like him."
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- The U.S. is about to sell weapons to Vietnam. That's bad news for China.
- Why is the Pentagon stuffing caves in Norway full of tanks?
- What the Middle Ages can tell us about the GOP's big charity myth
- An open letter to #brands about Gamergate
- Did the media get Ferguson wrong?
- The most sensible GOP alternative to ObamaCare comes from a Senate candidate who is almost sure to lose
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- Gamergate has backfired spectacularly on its nincompoop perpetrators
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- When Khomeini said no to Iranian nukes
Subscribe to the Week