Sunday, January 28

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Do mad people go to hell or heaven?

by Don Chezik



Do mad people go to hell or heaven?

The insane, mentally impaired, people who are incapable of making healthy, rational thoughts.


Back when I was a fundamental Christian this problem troubled me a great deal. Christianity (which is the religion I am most familiar with) teaches belief in Christ is necessary to escape hell.

The only problem is, belief requires cognitive capability - you have to have a functioning brain to believe something.

It is assumed that intellectually immature children are given a pass on the “belief requirement.”

In fact, Jesus even said “Unless you become as a little child you shall not enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt 18:3). Animals probably fall under the exclusion clause as well...do they?

So can crazy people understand they are sinners (or are they?) and “believe in” Christ?

It probably depends on how crazy they are. If a chronic schizophrenic confined to a psych ward for 20 years were to be informed that they were sinners and needed to believe in Christ or go to Hell, they would be hard-pressed to meet the belief requirement.

And what about Milton Rokeach of the Three Christs of Ypsilanti? (I actually had a class from him at Michigan State!)

Rokeach's book dealt with the story of three paranoid schizophrenics who actually believed they were Jesus Christ.

On July 1, 1959, at Ypsilanti State Hospital in Michigan, the social psychologist Milton Rokeach brought together three paranoid schizophrenics: Clyde Benson, an elderly farmer and alcoholic; Joseph Cassel, a failed writer who was institutionalized after increasingly violent behavior toward his family; and Leon Gabor, a college dropout and veteran of World War II.

The men had one thing in common: each believed himself to be Jesus Christ.

Their extraordinary meeting and the two years they spent in one another’s company serves as the basis for an investigation into the nature of human identity, belief, and delusion that is poignant, amusing, and at times disturbing.

Displaying the sympathy and subtlety of a gifted novelist, Rokeach draws us into the lives of three troubled and profoundly different men who find themselves “confronted with the ultimate contradiction conceivable for human beings: more than one person claiming the same identity.”

Now would you tell people like these they needed to repent and “believe in Jesus”?... when they themselves already believe they are Christ.

They’d probably think you were nuttier than they were.

But for the moment let’s say that crazy people (like children) are given a pass both on morality and belief requirements.

I think the guardian of Heaven’s Gate (Gabriel? Michael?) would simply motion them in without asking questions.

Now that they’re in heaven (picture all these souls interacting joyfully — maybe singing some hymns glorifying God - Amazing Grace and The Old Rugged Cross come to mind), what would the crazy people perceive/think/feel?

Will they still be crazy?

Or are they going to become instantly rational and happy?

Do they say to themselves, “Wow! I’m not crazy any more! Geez! All the things I missed out on back on earth! So this is what it’s like to be sane! — Cool!”

It’s really hard to imagine a crazy person going to heaven.

It’s funny how when I express these things, their absurdity becomes so obvious that I wonder at how I (or anyone else) could ever have been a Christian!

So, do crazy people go to hell or heaven?

My Answer: Because crazy people either lack the will or knowledge necessary to sin, I don’t see how a just God could sentence them to hell (if there is one!).

Maybe God would just take away their consciousness without prejudice!

Always, I’ve wondered how belief became a criterion for salvation in Christianity.

What is the merit in believing something? Why is belief more important than good works?

I have to think about this some more!

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Don Chezik has a PhD in Clinical Psychology and Physiology from Indiana University Bloomington (1971).

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