I have a theory. When we're born, we have a built in mechanism to cry for help from big, all-powerful beings outside of ourselves - our parents. They are our perfect problem solvers. Maybe we have an instinct for looking up to powers greater than ourselves, and that instinct is what helps us survive through childhood. When we become adults, the instinct is still there, but we no longer accept our parents as perfect problem solvers, so we turn elsewhere, to a bigger and better Father. That's where cult leaders and supreme beings come in.
Excellent theory and well articulated. Thanks for sharing it here. Never quite thought about it from this angle. I really think you're on to something.
Discussing these issues with someone a year ago or so, he mentioned that there is something about the idea of God that short circuits the brain. He was right. Try it out yourself; think of God and the brain goes numb a bit in some ways. Critical thinking is shut off. I never really had any type of explanation for this, I could just see it happen.
If this is an instinctual survival mechanism from childhood, that would explain this type of reaction. Our critical thinking abilities needed to be shut off at these early stages of life. We needed to be totally receptive open vessels.
God is the mental projection of that supreme authority figure (this also happens in non-religious authoritarian areas as well as Corboy pointed out earlier in this thread). So we react to that idea in the same fashion as we did when we were infants. Human beings are so intelligent, yet when filled with this idea of a supreme authority figure, people say and do the most silliest and nonsensical things. I've always wondered why the intelligence of human beings could not penetrate through grossly simplistic and outrageous religious mythologies. But looking at this as an instinctual response that curtails critical thinking as an aid to survival in our early years, I can understand why this happens. Before I didn't know what to think. What you've come up with here makes a lot of sense.
As a philosopher, Jesus said many useful things. ... What Jesus said about loving your enemies and turning the other cheek is beautiful.
Did he say useful things? Is turning your cheek when someone hits you beautiful? When someone beats their spouse and the spouse becomes submissive -- is that beautiful? When a government goes out of control and starts putting people in labor camps simply because of their ethnicity, should we turn our cheek?
You say he said useful things as a philosopher. If you said that he said amusing things as a poet, that might be a reasonable statement. But living by this philosophy is not only potentially personally destructive, but potentially destructive to others as well by you 'turning the cheek' to their plight. The idea sounds beautiful on the surface, but when you really think about it, it's anything but beautiful.
If we turned our cheek to the slaps of cult leaders (and other megalomaniacs), they would keep on slapping and we'd find ourselves in a very dark world indeed. My idea of beauty is a little different than what Jesus proposed. I feel opposing tyranny is much more beautiful than being trampled by it.
I read an article writen by a team of historians and psychologists...and they found:
Evidence that Jesus had paraphrenia (violent type of schizophrenia)
Thanks for mentioning this. I found this very interesting piece on the subject from "Psychology of Prophetism" by Koenraad Elst:
Paraphrenia is a fairly rare mental affliction in which the patient develops a delusion (mostly genetic, i.e. concerning his parents or ancestry), which is triggered and fed by only rarely occurring hallucinatory crises. Starting from this delusion, he builds up an entire system complete with interpretative delusions (misreading events to make them fit, rather than disturb, the basic delusion). Otherwise he remains well-integrated in his environment. Paraphernia is sometimes classified in the larger category of “paranoia” and opposed to schizophrenia. In contrast to the schizophrenic, the paraphrenic remains adapted to his milieu, has a coherent thinking and a well-organized behaviour. Generally hallucinations are rare, but initiate a delusional state, often with a grandiose genetic theme. The paraphrenic is very sensitive to opposition to his ideas; he is therefore somewhat secretive, and often full of resentment and hate. This is exactly the image the Gospel has painted of Jesus.
If we assume this diagnosis, which is suggested by several striking events in Jesus’ life, and extend it to understand his whole life story, the Gospel narrative becomes coherent. One hypothesis will suffice to explain diverse elements for which the exegetes now need a whole string of hypotheses: methodologically, that is a very strong point.
Today, the theologians have caught themselves in a construction of difficult and contradictory hypotheses that is convincing no one. The fundamentalists who refuse to think and therefore just take the whole Bible as God’s own word, ridicule the theologians with all their difficult terminology invented to create a conceptual framework in which the diverse and contradictory Bible narratives might make sense. The real scientist is equally unimpressed by the patchwork of hypotheses to which the theologians resort in order to make sense of the Gospel narrative. The paraphrenia hypothesis takes care of the entire Gospel narrative at once.
Jesus had, on all hands, a problem with the identity of his father. In the apocrypha, he is called “son of a whore”. According to the Jewish tradition, he was the son of the Roman soldier Pandera and the local girl Miriam (Mary), the hairdresser. The existence of a Roman soldier with that name has actually been verified. A few years after the start of the Christian Era, he was transferred to the legion in Germany, where a grave bearing his name has been found: perhaps the only left-over of the Holy Family. At any rate, the Gospel narrative is explicit enough that Jesus’ conception was a matter of scandal: his social father Joseph wanted to break off his engagement with Mary when he found she was pregnant. In a village, such a circumstance could not possibly be kept secret from the child Jesus. In the playground he must have been reminded often enough of being an illegitimate child.
The first sign that Jesus is trying to work out his inner problem with his parentage, and at the same time that people think there is mentally something wrong with him, is his visit to the temple at age 12. For lack of a physical father, the only father that was left to him was the Creator, Yahweh. Like many boys of his age, he wanted to know more about his origins, and he looked for information in the Scriptures. When he went to the temple, he went to the house of his Father. There, he expected to learn more from the Scribes. The questions he asked them must have sounded strange to them. Jesus was hanging around for three days, without telling his parents anything. And when he returned home and his family got angry for his causing them so much worry, he replied: “Don’t you know I belong in my Father’s house?” He claimed the right to solve his own identity problem, even if that implied insensitivity to others’ feelings. At that age, this behaviour is not abnormal, except that few youngsters would have taken Scriptural imagery so literally as to believe that their personal fatherhood problems could be solved by identifying God as the missing father.
The little bit of information about this childhood episode indicates a prodrome of the later crisis. By itself, the temple episode need not be pathological, it could have been a fairly ordinary event in the difficult puberty process of self-discovery. But it does betray a psychological setting in which a deeper mental disease can develop.
The first real crisis we hear of, is the baptism in the river Jordan. There, Jesus sees a bird coming from the opened sky, and hears a voice bringing an enormous message: “You are my son, in whom I take pleasure.” Seeing light, perceiving a bird (zooscopy), hearing a voice with a short message in the second person and which is absolute and takes away all doubts: that is the description of a typical sensorial hallucination.
The famous Flemish theologian Edward Schillebeeckx sees in the baptism episode “Jesus’ vocation meaningfully surrounded by interpretative visions”. This implies that the visions were literary embellishment, meaningful but nonetheless unhistorical and invented by human beings. Progressive theologians like Schillebeeckx abhor the traditionalist more literal interpretation. They dislike supernatural things like “visions” and voices from the sky. But with that, they fail to give a coherent explanation of why this imagery is being created (and why, as we have seen, John tries to make his audience believe that the events were very real). In this case, the literal interpretation is the more scientific one: the bird did appear, the voice did speak from the sky - but only as a subjective experience of the mental patient Jesus, rather than as an objective cosmic revelation directly from God the Creator.
In the Bible numerous texts mention the hearing of voices, especially the voice of God. Current exegesis interprets these texts as metaphorical: “hearing the voice of God” is simply the expression for a vocation by God. Sometimes, this metaphorical interpretation is justified: to take an example from outside the Biblical tradition, when the Greek philosopher Parmenides says that “a god has revealed” his philosophy of Being to him, it is just a manner of speaking, not an actual auditory hallucination. In psychopathology however, “hearing a voice” is a common expression for an auditory hallucination, often accompanied by other sensorial hallucinations, esp. visions (other phenomena include feeling of heat or of being pierced by needles). That the voices heard by Jesus were hallucinatory, is even admitted by Albert Schweitzer.
Important supportive information for the paraphrenia thesis is furnished by the apocryphal Gospel of the Hebrews. It relates that Jesus’ family thinks he is possessed by a demon, and that they want him to try this baptism as a possible way of exorcising the demon; he is at first unwilling (all accounts mention a preliminary discussion between Jesus and John the Baptist). It seems that Jesus’ behaviour had been strange for some time already, and now that there is an exorcist in the neighbourhood, the remedy should be tried: if it doesn’t help, it doesn’t harm either. But the emotionally charged baptism experience triggers a “revelation” that will plunge Jesus completely into a distorted self-image.
Typical for the delusion that gets articulated in such a sensorial hallucination, is the absolute certainty with which the patient believes in it. Jesus will doubt no more: he is the son of the heavenly Father. Later, when a Church theology was developed, this notion of God as the personal Father was made into a central theme in Christianity, setting it apart from the Mosaic ‘Old Covenant’. In the latter, God was a vengeful ruler, who only stood by His chosen people on condition of its total obedience. Now, God became a loving Father. What this interpretation of the baptism revelation overlooked, is that the vengefulness of Yahweh was now transferred to His Son. Jesus did not have an army, like Mohammed, but he was very intolerant of skepsis and full of hatred against the indifferent world. In his own hallucinations, he himself would be the avenger on the Day of Judgment.
After the baptism crisis, Jesus retires to the desert, where he doesn’t eat for forty days, and gets visions of angels serving him and the devil tempting him. This period of extreme introversion after the shocking hallucination, as if to digest his new self-understanding, is again very typical. He is offered nothing less than the power over the whole world, but he turns down the offer. This is a typical rationalized delusion, with a reasoning which we can imagine along these lines: “To me the power over the world has been given. Then why do I not effectively have the power? Because I spurned it, though it is rightfully mine and I could have taken it.” Still, the subsequent episodes show that he has started ascribing extra-ordinary powers to himself.
Dr. Somers makes the diagnosis: “Psychopathological investigation discovers in Mark, Luke and Matthew, regardless of the fact that Luke especially adapted the original version, a number of well-known symptoms of a hallucinatory state: hearing the voice of the devil, seeing wild beasts (zoopsy), having the desire to fly (vestibular hallucinations, having visions of the ‘whole world’, suffering from anorexia (fasting). In this light, the vision of the baptism episode is also certainly another manifestation of this hallucinatory state: a well-localized (heavenly) vision, the seeing of light (opening of heaven), of a bird, the hearing of a voice speaking in the second person and communicating a grandiose genetic message (‘you are my beloved son’). The whole picture is coherent with regard to the psychopathological symptoms. In the text therefore, one finds the correct description of a delusional hallucinatory state. Moreover, the Gospel also mentions circumstances which are coherent with this pathology.”
After this bewildering revelation, Jesus starts to live up to his new self-image. He becomes a wandering god-man, doing miracles.
The next hallucinatory crisis is on Mount Tabor. He goes up on the mountain with his disciples Peter, James and John. There, in a sea of white light, he meets with Elijah and Moses. Again, a voice from the clouds speaks: “This is my Son, the Beloved. Listen to Him.” According to Luke (9:28-36), Jesus spoke with Moses and Elijah about ‘his going-out which he would perform in Jerusalem. Then, the scene stops and Jesus is alone with his disciples, who have not seen Moses and Elijah: they merely wake up when they hear Jesus talk to somebody. In the testimony of Mark (9:2-10) there is the same revealing contradiction: while it is contended that Elijah and Moses appeared, only Jesus is described and it is said that finally the apostles saw nobody but Jesus.
This crisis marks the beginning of the predictions of Jesus’ suffering and death, which had been the topic of his conversation with Moses and Elijah. Taking inspiration from a description of the “Servant of Yahweh” in Isaiah (53:7), he understands he will be led unto his slaughter like a lamb. He reads into Scripture the indication that the Son of Man will go into his glory through suffering and meek submission to this expiatory sacrifice. According to the logic of the delusion, he must now go to Jerusalem and provoke his death by entering as king. He predicts he will rise on the third day and thus enter his Kingdom.
A third report of a hallucinatory crisis is only given by John (12:20-36). During the entry in Jerusalem he hears the voice of the Father saying: “I have glorified him and will glorify him again.” The people said it had thundered, some said an angel had spoken to him, i.e. to Jesus. So it was only Jesus who had heard the words.
Contemporary theologians like E. Schillebeeckx ascribe these stories to the imagination of the primitive Church, which wanted to glorify Jesus. But, asks Dr. Somers: “Why should the Church invent a number of stories which caused nothing but difficulties? Why should the son of God be baptized? Why should he be tempted by the devil, and that with such extravagant temptations? Why should he fast during 40 days? Why should he see wild beasts? It is quite inconceivable that the primitive Church invented these strange stories for the glorification of Jesus. On the contrary, the primitive Church leaders tried to interpret and to adapt the existing story in order to demonstrate the divine origin of these phenomena. Of a hallucinatory visionary state, they made objective supernatural events. But they were sufficiently ignorant so that they could not mask the pathological background of the events they recounted.”
These hallucinations, few in number but elaborating the same theme, together with the testimonies of people thinking he is “possessed” or mentally disturbed, point to the paraphrenia syndrome. What confirms this tentative diagnosis and makes it into the first coherent explanation of the entire Jesus narrative, is Jesus’ behaviour.
The paraphrenic patient has some marked characteristics, other than the rare hallucinations and the delusional state, e.g.: a great hostility against those who contradict him, often also a familial rage, as the family usually contradicts him; autistic behaviour, in the sense that the criterion for judgment and action is not reality, but his subjective will; an interpretative delirium, i.e. interpreting events and utterances as pointing to him and to his delusion; concealing his conviction and temporizing as long as circumstances seem unfriendly. All these typical features can be found in the Gospel.
Jesus threatens Bethsaida, Kapharnaum, Jerusalem, because they did not believe him. If the Son of Man comes with heavenly power, all those who did not believe will be killed, along with all kings and mighty men. Jesus insults the Pharisees, because they disbelieve and criticize him. Jesus is especially angry with his family which tried to prevent his preaching. A number of logia (= sayings of Jesus) are directed against the family, and in the Gospel one cannot find any friendly word to the family and especially to his mother. Spurning his mother and brothers who are waiting at the door, he points to his disciples: “These are my mother and my brothers, who accomplish the will of God” (Mk 3:35). The disciples of Jesus should hate their fathers and their mothers (Lk 14:26) because the true enemies of man are his family members (Mt 10:35; see also Mk 11:30; Mt 10:35; Mk 13:11).
A highly irrational act is Jesus’ cursing of the fig tree when, out of season, it is not bearing fruit (Mk 16:20-25; Mt 21:18-22). The tree is behaving normally, but Jesus punishes it: never again will it bear fruit.
Jesus is also violently sensitive to things relating to his supposed Father. The violent scene he makes against the traders in the temple (Mk 11:15-17; Mt 21:12-13; Lk 19:45-46), where he objects against the transportation of any object, is motivated by what he perceives as their dishonouring his Father’s house. Modem preachers say that Jesus was protesting against materialism, that he was making an important ethical and religious statement. But in fact, Jesus’ behaviour vis-a-vis the traders in the temple premises was highly unadapted to reality. Those traders were not doing anything unethical or irreligious. They had an important function in temple life, where sacrifices were the normal and statutory practice. Even if their activities had been misplaced, so was Jesus’ tirade that they were making “his Father’s house” into a “robbers’ den”: traders are not necessarily robbers, theirs is an honourable profession, and eventhough God may be our Father, we shouldn’t take disrespect for God’s house so personally.
Another, more specific detail is that he attempts to keep his status as Son of Man secret: “Do not talk about this with anyone”, he says several times. Only when his disciples, and later the priests during his trial, ask him straight if he is God’s son, he consents, saying that they have said it. But to theologians, it has always remained a riddle why Jesus should be so secretive about his glorious mission. Paraphrenia patients are very aware of the attitude (and possible lack of understanding) of their fellow men. That is why Jesus temporizes, in expectation of more auspicious circumstances.
A final symptom is the anti-sexual attitude. As the studies of Bultmann have shown, the primitive church has cleansed, adapted a number of logia. A relevant example is provided by the logia about the children and the reign of God: unless you become like children, you cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. In the apocryphal Gospel of Thomas, some logia have been preserved which explain the periscopes of the Gospels: to be a child is to be asexual and free of sexual shame (log. 12, 21; cfr. also log. 37, 114: if you make masculine and feminine one). In the canonical Gospels it is also said that in heaven there is no marriage, and virginity is exalted, as it is in the Apocalypse. The theme is constant: virginity, inhibition of sexual activity, as well in the canonical Gospels and the Gospel of Thomas as in the Apocalypse.
Jesus’ behaviour during his trial is in conformity with the diagnosis. We should keep in mind that from the vision on Mount Tabor onwards, Jesus has been mentally preparing himself for death. The priests accuse him of blasphemy: he has insulted Yahweh by calling himself His son. Normally, they have to produce witnesses to prove this extremely serious allegation. But Jesus saves them the trouble: he commits an even greater sacrilege right on the spot, by pronouncing God’s name aloud. Strictly following the prescribed procedure, the high priest tears his mantle into two. Jesus stands convicted of sacrilege. The Gospels make no secret about Jesus’ guilt of this sacrilege, which was well known to be a capital offence.
He commits what is blasphemy before the priests, with a straight face, because he is fully prepared to die. For months he has been mentally readying himself for it, announcing that this would be the road to his glorification. When you think death is the end, the prospect of dying may be a bit horrifying. But when you think it is the way to the glory, it is alright: “Death, where is thy sting?” His frankness in the face of a certain death penalty must certainly have added to his superhuman aura.