Now we have to ask our evolutionary question: "Who are the schizotypals throughout 99% of human history?" And in the 1930s, decades before the word "schizotypal" even existed, anthropologists already had the answer.
It's the shamans. It's the medicine men. It's the medicine women. It's the witch doctors. In the 1930s an anthropologist named Paul Radin first described it as "shamans being half mad," shamans being "healed madmen." This fits exactly. It's the shamans who are moving separate from everyone else, living alone, who talk with the dead, who speak in tongues, who go out with the full moon and turn into a hyena overnight, and that sort of stuff. It's the shamans who have all this metamagical thinking. When you look at traditional human society, they all have shamans.
What I've just been considering is the superstructure of religion--the big building blocks: there are multiple deities, there is but one god and he is Allah, "I am who I am," any version of this--is an awful lot like schizotypalism. Who is it that invented the notion that virgins can give birth? Who is it who first came in with the extremely psychiatrically suspect report about hearing a voice in a burning bush? In most of the cases we don't know much about the psychiatric status of these folks. In the more recent historical cases, we certainly do, and schizotypalism is at the heart of non-Western and Westernized large theological systems.
In the last 30 years we've seen a whole new psychiatric disorder, of people whose rituals take over and destroy their lives. OCD: Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. These are people who don't merely find themselves counting when they go up a flight of stairs--these are people whose lives are destroyed by this disorder. They wash their hands eight hours a day. They stop eating most foods because of the conviction of contamination, germs. They get very ritualistic and phobic about entering spaces, leaving spaces. They can't enter a building until they've walked a number of steps that's a prime number. Very mathematical numerology comes through this, and it is an utterly paralyzing disease. This is one of these biological disorders that destroyed people's lives back when, up until 30 or 40 years ago, there wasn't even a word that described this. We can describe it now, and we know a lot about the genetics of this disorder, and the neurochemistry.
Where does this one fit in with religion? There's a remarkable parallelism between religious ritualism and the ritualism of OCD. In OCD, the most common rituals are the rituals of self-cleansing, of food preparation, of entering and leaving holy places of emotional significance, and rituals of numerology. You look in every major religion, and those are the four most common ritual forms that you see.
To get a real insight into this, we have to come back to that question, "Why is there this similarity between religious ritualism and OCD rituals?"
You could say, "It's just by chance."
Or you could say, "There's a biological convergence going on there." It's not random that we're most concerned with rituals about keeping our bodies healthy, our food clean, that sort of stuff.
But another answer in there has got to be, "People with OCD invented a lot of these religious rituals."
Let me give you one example of this. A 16th-century Augustinian monk named Luder for some reason left a very detailed diary. This is a man who grew up with an extremely brutal father, had a very anxious relationship with him, was very psychosomatic-illness-oriented. One day he was out walking in the field. There was a thunderstorm, and he got a panic attack, and vowed, "If I'm allowed to survive this, I will become a monk and devote the rest of my life to God." He survives, becomes a monk, and throws himself into this ritualism with a frenzy. This was an order of monks that was silent 20-some hours a day. Nonetheless, he had four hours worth of confessions to make every day: "I didn't say this prayer as devoutly as I should have. My mind wandered when I was doing this, doing that." The first time he ran a mass, he had to do it over and over because he got the details wrong. He would drive his Father Superior crazy with his hours and hours of confession every day: "God is going to be angry at me for doing this, because I said this, and I didn't think this much, and I didn't do this the right way, and I . . ." until the Father Superior got exasperated with him and came up with a statement that is shockingly modern in its insight. He said, "The problem isn't that God is angry with you. The problem is that you're angry with God." The most telling detail about this monk was, he washed and washed and washed. As he put it in his diary: "The more you wash, the dirtier you get." Classic OCD.
The reason why we know about this man Luder is because we know him by the Anglicized version of his name: Martin Luther.
Wednesday, March 07, 2007
The Biology of Belief
The Freedom From Religion Foundation has an excellent excerpt of a speech given by Robert Sapolsky (the professor of neurology at Stanford University) on genes, brains, neurological disorders, religion, and how they all tie in together. It is a very entertaining and informative read, so go check it out. Here are a few snips: