Should We Allow a Leap of Faith?

Bad UFOs: Skepticism, UFOs, and The Universe posted last week about a gentleman’s decision to make a leap of faith. A literal leap of faith. From this rock formation:

Image source

On December 21, 2012 Mr. Peter Gersten plans to hurl himself off of Bell Rock in Sedona, AZ. It is his belief that a cosmic portal will open at this time and in this place, and that he will be delivered into a new, unfathomable opportunity. He is fully willing to die if he is wrong about the portal.

Regardless of how we feel about Mr. Gersten’s beliefs, are we willing to let him die if he is wrong about the portal?

It is not a crime to commit suicide in the United States, but one can be committed involuntarily for psychological evaluation and treatment if one is deemed to be a danger to him or herself, i.e., makes his or her intention to commit or attempt to commit suicide known.

Our current understanding of the universe would suggest that Mr. Gersten has a very small chance of being correct about a cosmic portal opening when he takes his leap of faith. Given what we know of our world, we can assume that Mr. Gersten has a very high probability of killing himself. We might say it’s suicide.

So should we allow him to take this leap of faith, or should he be committed?

As a supporter of civil liberties I want to believe that Mr. Gersten should be allowed to do any dumbass thing that he likes as long as he doesn’t take anyone else with him or inconvenience others unduly. We allow people to do dumbass, life-threatening things all the time. If you want to risk death in a selfish endeavor, such as attempting to tightrope between two skyscrapers, raft down the rapids in March on the fresh thaw, climb Mount Everest, run across Death Valley, more power to ya.  And we won’t just cheer you on, we’ll send TV crews and journalists to livecast your attempt because secretly we’re all hoping you’ll slip on the tightrope, fall into the chilly swirling water, get buried in an avalanche or collapse from heat stroke 20 feet from the finish line. Then of course we want you to muster superhuman strength and catch your balance, climb back in the raft, dig your way out of the snow, or regain consciousness and drag yourself across the finish line to where an ambulance is waiting to restore you. And then we’ll go out and buy your autobiography and our kids will talk about how they want to be just like you!

But I digress.

Assisted suicide is illegal in 48 of 50 states (Oregon and Washington, since you were curious). If we allow Mr. Gersten to attempt his leap of faith, are we his partners in (non?)crime?

And even if we say no, that this is not a crime, that indeed Mr. Gersten should be allowed to pursue his ambition…who the heck is paying for clean up if he’s wrong? I’m not being facetious; If the portal doesn’t open up, rescue workers are going to have to climb Bell Rock to clean up bits of Mr. Gersten wherever they may land, possibly endangering their own lives in the process. And Mr. Gersten, having left this world by very natural means having nothing at all to do with cosmic portals, is going to be leaving us the tab. Hmmm…should we allow him his leap of faith if he were to find volunteers and money to fund clean up in the event that he is wrong?

Or – as one of the commenters at Bad UFOs pointed out – should we just ask him to bring a damn parachute?

Should We Allow a Leap of Faith?
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450 thoughts on “Should We Allow a Leap of Faith?

  1. 1

    I loved reading this post. While I don’t like to poke fun at other’s “faith,” I believe this guy is in the realm of sheer stupidity, lolol! Thanks for the morning chuckle! 🙂

    1. 1.1

      I’m really not trying to mock his beliefs (in this post), but I do think his leap of faith is dangerous and “dumbass” (as I implied above). I’m really curious about the man’s right to commit an act that is probably going to be suicide and how we’re going to react come Dec. 2012.

  2. 2

    I thought suicide was illegal… that’s why police intervene? Also, assisted suicide measures are working their way through the Montana legislature as we speak. Anyway, maybe dumbasses who want to die by jumping off rocks should have to pay in advance to the City of Sedona (or state of AZ) for the cleanup of his remains, just as a patient in a hospital would surely pay for their assisted suicide.

    1. 2.1

      Since 1990 suicide is not a crime in any state in the US. Police intervention occurs because anyone who attempts suicide is “automatically determined to lack the present mental capacity to refuse treatment” (wikipedia on “Suicide”). I.e. – they’re considered unable to make decisions regarding their own health and actions and will be delivered to the care of an emergency room if possible.

      I don’t think that a doctor or hospital could receive compensation for assisted suicide – that could create a business motivation for marketing and encouraging suicide, but a patient would probably pay for the hospital stay and postmortem arrangements (which might go directly to a funeral home rather than the hospital). Hmm…I wonder if insurance would cover the lethal drugs that would be needed?

      1. Interesting re: suicide legality, did not know that. I wonder why the law was changed.
        As for assisted suicide, I think the “business motivation” is partly one of the ethical consideration in the legality of assisted suicide (although obviously not the only one). I was referring specifically to the lethal drugs and other costs incurred by such an “end-of-life” treatment.

  3. 6

    His belief is no worse than any other. The only difference is that he is willing to put his faith to a “scientific” test vs. gravity. Darwin wins either way.

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