Century Marks

Century Marks

Jerusalem syndrome

An estimated 50 to 100 pilgrims to the Holy Land each year are afflicted by what psychiatrists call the Jerusalem syndrome. Most of them are evangelical Christians. One woman was convinced she was Jesus' mother, searching for her baby in Bethle­hem. Another man was convinced he was King David. In some cases, people come to think of themselves as the Messiah. "There's a joke in psychiatry: if you talk to God, it's called praying; if God talks to you, you're nuts. In Jeru­salem God seems to be particularly chatty around Easter, Passover and Christ­mas--the peak seasons for the syndrome," writes Chris Nashawaty in Wired magazine (March). The best cure is to leave the Holy Land.

Doubt about doubts

In a public debate last month with Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, atheist Richard Dawkins surprised the audience by conceding a bit of doubt about his conviction that there is no such thing as a creator. But the evolutionary biologist swiftly added that he was "6.9 out of seven" certain of his long-standing atheist beliefs. "What I can't understand is why you can't see [that life started from nothing] is such a staggering, elegant, beautiful thing, why would you want to clutter it up with something so messy as a God," Dawkins told Williams. The archbishop replied that he "entirely agreed" with the "beauty" part of Dawkins's statement, but added, "I'm not talking about God as an extra who you can shoehorn into that" (RNS).

Bible clues

The late Stieg Larsson, author of the hugely successful Millennium trilogy, grew up in the northern part of Sweden sometimes known as the Bible Belt. While the Lutheran church was the state church of Sweden until 2000, renewal groups emerged in the 19th century, especially in the north. These groups emphasized a personal relationship with God, daily Bible reading and a rigorous personal morality. While Larsson's own upbringing was in a family dominated by communist and Social Democratic workers, this Bible Belt milieu seems to have acquainted him with the Bible. The first novel in the Millen­nium series, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, uses scripture texts as codes in the mystery (Eva Gab­rielsson, "There Are Things I Want You to Know" about Stieg Larsson and Me, Seven Stories Press).

Misquoted

In his stump speeches Mitt Romney has been using a line that is wildly popular with his audiences: "In another era of American crisis, Thomas Paine is reported to have said, 'Lead, follow, or get out of the way.' Mr. President, you were elected to lead, you chose to follow, and now it's time for you to get out of the way!" But Paine never said those words, according to a representative of the Yale Book of Quotations. The line was likely uttered by George Patton. The Romney campaign may know the attribution is in­correct, hence the use of the word reported (John Fea, Patheos, February 8).

The unanticipated galaxy

Poet Donald Hall, 83, teeters when he walks. He stopped driving at age 80 after having had several accidents. He spends much of his time looking out his window—at the birds that come to his feeder, at squirrels ("tree rats with the agility of point guards"), at the barn on his farm or at the workers in the fields where he and his grandfather used to cut hay with a horse-drawn mower. "However alert we are, however much we think we know what will happen, antiquity remains an unknown, unanticipated galaxy," Hall writes. "It is alien, and old people are a separate form of life" (New Yorker, January 23).