The 3 jesus experiment
In 1959 a psychiatrist placed three patients who thought they were Jesus Christ in the same ward to see what would happen.
Professor Milton Rokeach conducted the study at Michigan’s Ypsilanti State Hospital. He later wrote a book about the experiment called The Three Christs of Ypsilanti which was made into a play, two operas and a film with Richard Gere and Peter DInklage in 2017.
His idea was that, once confronted by the other ‘christs’ they would realise they were wrong. It was based upon previous success stories in history where patients both believing themselves to be the same person were put together and realised the truth, that they were suffering from mental illness, such as Simon Morin.
In 1663 Simon Morin, a visionary and writer from Normandy believed himself to be the son of God until he was placed in a madhouse where he met another fool who called himself God the Father, and realised he himself was crazy.
“Simon Morin was so struck with the folly of his companion that he acknowledged his own”Voltaire – An Essay on Crimes and Punishments
However, if Roach had looked at the rest of this story he might have noticed that after Morin was released he soon went back to his heretical prophecies and was burnt at the stake for blasphemy.
The 3 ‘Jesus’ patients were all paranoid schizophrenics who had lived in mental hospitals from between five and twenty years. Alan Stone placed together for two years to see if it would break their delusions.
- Joseph, 58, writer – Claimed to be English even though he’d never been
- Clyde, 70, dementia
- Leon, 38, raised by a madwoman, looked like Jesus
When they first met they each introduced themselves as Jesus and a terrible argument ensued each accusing the other of lying. Leon described the session as mental torture.
Rokeach made sure that the three men were always in each other’s faces, he put them in adjoining rooms, seated them next to each other in the canteen, and gave them jobs together in the laundry.
But the experiment failed. None of the christs would back down, they continued to argue and each maintained that he was the true son of God. Two said the others were crazy, while one maintained the others were dead and being animated by machines.
Rokeach read them an article about how he was studying them and for a moment it broke their delusions, but they soon recovered. He even hired a sexy assistant to lure Leon away from his beliefs, he fell in love with her, but eventually recovered his belief that he was the one true messiah. After two years there was no change apart from that Leon changed his name to Dr. Righteous Idealized Dung. The experiment was ended.
Rokeach was criticized for putting the patients under undue stress and the experiment has never been repeated. Although he claimed it was more human than electro-shock therapy.
Messiah complex is often reported in people with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. A NY Times review of The Three Christs of Ypsilanti postulated that the complex was a way of dealing with personal inadequacies, just as some resort to alcohol or suicide, others develop complex personal worlds and their imagination must be admired. The book also makes us question our own identity and why we believe we are who we are.