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Rites & Mental Illness?


Raven
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I'm currently at the beginning of Levitacus in my Bible study, and my goodness - all those finicky rules! Like Exodus wasn't enough, with this many cubits and that many colours of embroidery threads... now it's this type of sacrifice and that type of sacrifice... yikes. :blink:

 

Anyway, it called to mind something I'd heard somewhere before (school lecture perhaps?) - the theory that some of the specifics of religous rites are the result of people with OCD, or other types of mental illnesses. I wish I could remember more of the information, but it was years ago ... I remember examples like specifics of washing, levels of cleanliness, repeated actions. I do remember that it wasn't specific to Christianity.

 

Has anyone else heard this? I thought it was interesting.

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Anyway, it called to mind something I'd heard somewhere before (school lecture perhaps?) - the theory that some of the specifics of religous rites are the result of people with OCD, or other types of mental illnesses. I wish I could remember more of the information, but it was years ago ... I remember examples like specifics of washing, levels of cleanliness, repeated actions. I do remember that it wasn't specific to Christianity.

 

Raven, I have not heard this, but Haidt (in "The Righteous Mind") writes quite a bit about ritual. He sees ritual broadly as a mechanism for uniting a group of people and raising them above their individual focus to a collective focus. We see this in sports, nationalism and other activities as well as religion. At sporting events we have ritual songs, cheers, attire. We have national anthems we sing together, pledges of allegiance, flags we wave, etc. Many social and fraternal organizations have their rites. These all serve to bring a collection of individuals into a united community.

 

George

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Raven, I have not heard this, but Haidt (in "The Righteous Mind") writes quite a bit about ritual. He sees ritual broadly as a mechanism for uniting a group of people and raising them above their individual focus to a collective focus. We see this in sports, nationalism and other activities as well as religion. At sporting events we have ritual songs, cheers, attire. We have national anthems we sing together, pledges of allegiance, flags we wave, etc. Many social and fraternal organizations have their rites. These all serve to bring a collection of individuals into a united community.

 

George

George,

 

I think those are excellent points by Haidt, While i do see rites raising the individual to a collective focus, it seems obvious enough to me it doesn't differentiate between whether that collective focus leads to well being or harm. :mellow:

 

Joseph

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While i do see rites raising the individual to a collective focus, it seems obvious enough to me it doesn't differentiate between whether that collective focus leads to well being or harm. :mellow:

 

Right. Our collective focus and identity can lead to good or bad. Ritual, in itself, is neither benign nor malevolent.

 

George

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Drawing from personal experience, I can tell you this. Several years ago a woman I know quite well was experiencing rather severe psychological difficulties. How these came about is a long and sad story. Attempts to treat her problems through the usual mediical protocalls failed. Eventually, she sought refuge in rites and rituals familar to her. Her path was guided by a group of Buddihist monks. I assume they knew what they were doing as they come from a shared background of adapting to trauma. Today, my friend is functioning very well and enjoying life again. That is enough.

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- the theory that some of the specifics of religious rites are the result of people with OCD, or other types of mental illnesses.

 

Heh! That's funny. I never thought about it like that, but in our more Orthodox communities, the morning prayers, ritual washings and food preparations do make one think of someone with OCD.

 

In the Reformed community, the rituals are seen for their symbolic content rather than something to be obsessively obeyed. The Talmud explains the reasons for The Law was to single out the Jewish community from amongst their neighbors. In early Judaism, the people lived alongside animists, pagans and people who worshiped tree frogs. The vast quantity of very specific rules, rituals and festivals seems to have been a bronze age game of one-upmanship, or 613 reasons to leave your idol.

 

Christianity, on the other hand, seems to relish the thought of disobeying the G-d of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob at every turn. As in Reformed Judaism, the 613 Laws to Christians are seen as mainly symbolic, but go out of their way to gloat about being "saved by grace," as if that were enough to kibosh 5,000 years of history.

 

Personally, I don't think that religion is the result of mental illness. I think it is a part of our intellectual evolution as human beings, and may have served as a kind of social glue - or feudal whip - in order to keep the more quickly evolving sorts in line.

 

NORM

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Many of these rituals may have been a response to a problem/issue that a people had.

 

example might be:

 

a village was having trouble with people getting sick from food (poorly preserved or something like mushrooms where some are good and some are poison) so the church leaders decide all food has to be checked by , you guessed it, the church ....dah dah .... Kosher foods

 

Bead colors might be harder to explain.

 

steve

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http://www.geonius.com/ocd/religion.html

could be a good starting point to looking into this topic, with links to the connections between ocd and different religious practices.

 

from the introduction:

"Religion is an important or the primary factor in many people's lives and, not surprisingly, the same is true, with a twist, for many who suffer from OCD. For some, unfortunately, their religion is an integral part of their obsessions (e.g., scrupulosity) and/or compulsions. For others, fortunately, their faith provides a means of dealing with and/or overcoming their OCD and its attendant problems."

 

Martin Luther, John Bunyan and Saint Teresa have all been labelled as 'having ocd', although of course this is applying a psychiatric term developed in a very different social context to those in which they lived. I have thought before that pre-modern society offered a stronger refuge for certain types of people we are inclined to label as mental health sufferers today. Maybe it's more accurate to say that people whose 'visions' fit within a religious framework have the benefit of social support denied to those whose 'hallucinations' are dismissed as symptoms of a disease.

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While I have read and entertained suggestions about various diseases of the saints I think there are two or three errors which should limit our speculations.

 

1. Each culture and age has diseases which are and are not recognized as disease regardless of the science available.

2. It is an error in evolutionary thought to use today's conditions and knowledge to be certain in evaluating past stages in development. Evolutions repurposes exisitng things into totally new and different things.

3. AnnieG, I agree that pre-modern times provided a better refuge. Myron said something precious to me: maybe the disease allows us to experience something of the Divine.

My memory may not serve me but isn't a deep wounding sometimes a sign that an individual is closer to the Divine. Jacob wrestling with God, for example.

 

Dutch

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Pacal Boyer (in Religion Explained: The Evolutionary Origins of Religious Thought) examines OCD and religious ritual. He says that "Many authors have noted the similarities between this condition and ritual performance [in religion]." In examining the question, he says, "Most anthropologists concluded that such similar features [OCD and religious ritual] may well be coincidence."

 

Since there are many people without OCD who engage in religious rituals, religion would not appear to cause OCD or be the result of it. I am unaware of any studies that correlate people with OCD with religious rituals. The similarities, IMO, do not imply that religious ritual is a manifestation of OCD any more than other repetitive behaviors like brushing our teeth, bathing, eating several meal a day are.

 

Also, most religious ritual is a group activity. To my knowledge OCD is an individual activity - I am not aware of any 'Southern Compulsive Hand Washers Convention.' In addition, as Haidt has noted, group rituals are not limited to religion - we see them in sports, politics, civic organizations, etc. In fact, it is hard for me to envision any social institution with no rituals.

 

George

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