This month’s Wired magazine has an interesting article by Chris Nashawaty about Jerusalem syndrome, a psychiatric disorder I had never heard of before. According to Nashawaty, every year as many as one hundred tourists, most of them evangelical Christians, arrive in Jerusalem convinced that they are the Messiah. Inspired by the powerful religious symbolism of the city, and I would argue an overly fervent believe in their own self-worth, these Jesus wannabes end up in psychiatric wards, but are usually calmed down and returned to their country of origin.
While colloquially named after the city ofJerusalem, the problem is not unique to city where a certain Jewish carpenter died. Other iconic destinations push people over the edge of reality into fervent delusions inspired by the historical, mystical, or mythical power of a place. Apparently any sufficiently devoted believer visiting a personally inspiring destination – Mecca, Paris, Graceland, the Apple store – could be overcome with giddily-psychotic delusional joy to warrant removal to the psychiatric ward. Call me a psychiatric voyeur, but it never ceases to amaze me how the human mind can break down in such utterly bizarre ways.
Nashawaty’s article maintained a serious tone, but one hilarious passage concerned a psychiatrist who, having two would-be Saviors land in his care on the same day, decided to lock them in the same room together, where they proceeded to argue for hours over who was the real Son of God and who was the imposter. And who said psychiatrists don’t have a sense of humor?