Searching for Angels: A Field Experiment Via Harley Road King. Part One.


Okay, I want to warn you that this entry is going to be a bit unusual.
In my last blog I talked about that passage from Hebrews 13:2 where we are admonished: “Be not forgetful to entertain strangers: for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” It got me thinking about a psychological experiment that was conducted over forty years ago. A professor knew that the psychiatric profession was pretty good at labeling people with a mental illness diagnosis, but he wondered how good were they at detecting “sanity”. Yeah, sanity. How do you tell the difference between sane and insane people? And if a person is ever given a mental health diagnosis, can they ever recover? Not have to carry that diagnosis with them their entire lives? Bear with me for a minute because this does relate to the blog’s topic of “searching for angels”. Anyway, this professor (See: Being Sane in Insane Places) decided to conduct an experiment. He sent eight people (including himself) to twelve psychiatric hospitals in five states in the USA. They were to tell the same story to the admissions officers about hearing voices (auditory hallucinations). They were all admitted. Once in the hospital they told the staff that they felt fine and were no longer hearing voices. So how long would it take for the hospitals to decide that these people were now sane? Well, the fact is that none of them were ever identified as being sane, healthy. Their stays were from 7-52 days with an average stay of 19 days. That’s with them acting entirely normal once they were admitted. In fact, in order for all of them to get out they had to admit to having a mental illness and agree to take anti-psychotic drugs. Before they were released all but one were diagnosed as having schizophrenia “in remission”. Nice label to take with you the rest of your life, huh? When the professor published his findings the hospitals “flipped out”! They complained that his experiment wasn’t fair. That he should have informed them that he was sending fake patients to the hospitals to give them a fair chance at catching them. Fair enough, he replied and he agreed to redo the experiment with one particularly aggrieved hospital. He would send patients to them over the next few months and see if they could identify the fake ones. Over that period of time that hospital had 193 admissions and they reported that they believed that 41 of the patients were fakes. That’s when the professor informed them that he actually hadn’t sent anyone into the hospitals!
Can you see where I’m going with this? If the professionals couldn’t detect sane people then how good are we at detecting angels among the strangers we meet? That quote from Hebrews gives us a warning that we might not spot them! Emerson said that they might be “disguised and discredited” folks. I know that the story in Hebrews was a long time ago but there’s no reason at all to think that God has stopped sending angels in disguise to us. Maybe God is running the same kind of experiment. “I’m going to send angels to you disguised as strangers and I want you to treat them with hospitality. I’m watching. I want to see if you can identify them.” Well we were kind of warned in Hebrews. And this idea of showing hospitality to strangers is highly recommended in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles and the Koran.
So, I have decided to do an experiment. Over the next week or so I’m going to see if I can identify angels in the strangers I meet and I’m going to treat them hospitably. Should be a “piece of cake” as we say in the USA or “wee buns” as they say in Ireland (I have no idea as to where these expressions came from!) Wherever I go I’m going to be scouting them out. I’m going to be eagle-eyed so I can catch these rascals. Think they can pull one over on me and Big Red, do they? We’ll see about that. I’ll report back to you in due course. And, I’ve got an “insane” idea, or is it “sane”? Why don’t you try doing it too and see how many angels you can find? We can compare notes.

To be continued…

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