Like this article on Freethought Today. It's old but I keep coming back to it. It is an excerpt from an acceptance speech by neuroscientist Robert Sapolsky, for the Emperor Has No Clothes Award. In the speech, Sapolsky makes some fascinating suggestions about the origin of religion:
To get a real insight into this, we have to come 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. [laughter]