The…Jerusalem syndrome is the phenomenon whereby a person who seems previously balanced and devoid of any signs of psychopathology becomes psychotic after arriving in Jerusalem.
Why wasn’t I warned? Isn’t it enough that we live without air conditioning?
Ask any city-dweller and you’ll hear that Jerusalem is overrun with stray cats and crazy people. (Some believe there is hope for the cats.) But the Jerusalem Syndrome, the clinical explanation of why so many people claim to have “a religious experience” when they visit here, cannot be the entire answer, if an answer at all.
It’s true that scores of people walk the streets of Jerusalem eager to share visions or claiming to be Messiah, but the Jerusalem Syndrome is not about them. The Jerusalem Syndrome hopes to explain why historically mentally healthy people leave the rails once they visit here. The explanation assumes that something must be wrong with them. Read a little about it (here and here if you like) and see if you don’t agree that it embraces the following assumption…
If one claims to experience the supernatural, he or she is mistaken.
It’s (soft) science, after all, and expecting a scientist to explain religious experience is a lot like asking the Pope to inspect a nuclear plant–but at least the Pope would concede that nuclear power exists.
Limiting reality to include only those things which can be measured dismisses everything spiritual at the start. Regardless, rational people continue to visit Jerusalem and to experience things immeasurable. One may claim to hear from God at the Western Wall, another may see a vision in the Judean Hills.
We’ve met some of these people. Some have moved here, lived happily and never looked back. They do not seem to have lost their minds.
When Marcia and I met Miriam, our landlady, she warned us, “I’m not so normal as I look.” She explained that she seems led to care for a number of cats; usually around a dozen. She takes in strays as the need may arise and gives them love, food and veterinary care.
Now and then, because of how brutal it is for strays on the streets and despite Miriam’s efforts, one dies. Miriam allows that her purpose is simply to help those strays who find her to be comfortable as long as she can. She is not alone.
Others in our neighborhood are led to put out cat food every morning on fences along the streets. (It doesn’t necessarily help the population problem but their hearts are in the right place.) Some here cannot pass a beggar on the street without giving him or her a shekel. Some preach on the streets and some live here simply to pray continually for Israel and the peace of Jerusalem.
Can they all have lost their minds?
How many Jerusalem Syndromes can there be?