"The mind is its own place, and in itself, can make heaven of hell or a hell of heaven." -Milton, Paradise Lost, Book I, line 253.
Betty used to be a bag lady in Chelsea. In 1966, after a visit from a social worker, she was diagnosed with schizophrenia and put into an asylum. Since then, psychologists have rethought, and under current doctrine, Betty should now be diagnosed as schizoid and let free.
'Free to do what?' She asks, and she has a point.
For the past 36 years, Betty has been living in her own personal cave. All she can remember are the flickering shadows on her wall of her own face and the nurses with trays of food. Betty inhabits her own personal paradise.
9 out of ten people, when asked if they regret any decisions they've made, will answer 'no'. 1 in ten people is schizophrenic. 1 in ten people is homosexual.
The world's great religions are always trying to convince us that human nature is fundamentally evil, and this is where they fail. 9 out of ten people know that they are the gods of their own personal paradises - perfect, sinless beings ruling over a world of beauty. 1 in ten has thrown this away to be a slave in someone else's paradise.
Betty is not one of these. She will die soon, and become the voice inside the head of one of those schizophrenics. There are very few schizophrenics who believe in God.
Jack was a soldier, drafted to fight in Vietnam. Upon his return, he was quietly discharged from the Army following the discovery that he had developed multiple personality disorder during his time away. He was put in an institution, where he still lives, far away from anything that might agitate him.
According to one personality, Jack is 17 years old and about to graduate from his suburban high school. According to the other, he is in a bunker in South Vietnam, sniping the Viet Cong.
Both personalities agree on Jack's paradise.
In Jack's private world, everyone has a visible companion who changes form according to their mood. The sky and everything under it is white, and there is a muffled sound of a fan in the background.
When the world was created, these paradises did not exist. The only paradise available to anyone was that of a slave in the garden of God. When Eve took the apple, she became like God. She became the perfect being ruling her own little world, if she chose to go there. God was conquered, until Abel, that one person out of ten, came along and threw away his sinlessness to discover a paradise full of guilt and redemption. You have to wonder if Jesus felt the same way.
Christina was an artistic teenager with a penchant for industrial music and gothic attire. Her parents' concerns led to her diagnosis with a dissociative disorder. She was put in a mental health unit with many others like her.
In Christina's little world, everyone is faceless and beautiful, and they express themselves by cutting shapes into their faces. Everything is white, and everyone sounds like an air-con fan.
Meet the New Hope Christian Life Centre.
Every Wednesday, the members of this fellowship meet in someone's living room and discuss their relationship with their maker. What none of them is willing to admit is that they mostly find these meetings deathly dull.
One in ten people spends one seventh of their evenings bored out of their skull trying to regain paradise.
Tonight, the passage for discussion is Genesis 3 - The Fall. One of the participants has a dangerous question.
'Verse 5 says "ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil." How can Adam and Eve be punished for eating the fruit if they don't know the difference between good and evil beforehand?'
The fellowship is struck dumb.
They eventually agree to go away and research the problem. When no solution is found, they will quietly ignore the point and walk straight past the door back to paradise that has been opened to them.
The man who asked the question, though, will not be able to ignore the seed of wisdom planted in him. He will one day, knowingly and willingly, undergo his own fall and discover paradise.
What am I doing here, you ask? Research and propaganda. I'm here to find out exactly what makes one in ten people leave paradise. I've been here a few years now, and I'm no closer to finding out. When I do, perhaps I'll stop coming. Then again, perhaps one of them, like our inquisitive friend here, just needs a nudge in the right direction. Perhaps a 'badly phrased' comment or question from my direction might plant a seed in him. While that possibility is still open, I feel morally obliged to stay around.
Every other day, I live in my own personal paradise. The sky and ground are bright white, and everyone has a mirror for a face. Daylight ends abruptly, and begins again with the harsh singing of an angel wearing a pocket watch and carrying a bed pan.