Religious Rituals Originated From Obsessive Compulsive Disorder

For many who are rational critical thinkers, this  link between religious rituals and OCD is quite obvious.


OCD sufferers tend to create rituals in their own mind that they must follow to avoid uncomfortable or even perceived disastrous outcomes.

Sometimes these rituals are not even rationally connected to the outcomes they are trying to produce or avoid.

Very much like those pigeons in B.F. Skinner's experiments which became compulsively superstitious.

To briefly recap his experiment: 

Skinner had pigeons in cages where he introduced an automatic feeding system that fed a pellet of food at certain intervals.  The very hungry pigeons noted that the food occurred at a time when they performed some particular action (a different action for each pigeon), so they repeated this action, hoping for another pellet of food.  If the food arrived within a time window after they performed this odd action, it reinforced the connection between the activity and reward.  This is known as operant conditioning.  So the pigeons would continually repeat this, sometimes weird action or even set of actions expecting more food, and if reinforced often enough became a obsessive compulsive activity, which they would still perform, in spite of not receiving the reward.  The pigeons had become superstitious.

Many religious/superstitious rituals and beliefs appear to have developed in the same way as Skinner's pigeon's activities.

Such as the old superstition of bad luck if a black cat crossed your path.

Possibly invented by somebody suffering OCD who noticed after having a bit of bad luck, noted that previously a black cat had crossed their path, and thus attributed causation to that cat.

So from that time onwards, they would obsessively peer ahead to make sure no black cats are moving across their intended path for the rest of their life.

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BTW: Many superstitions are completely derived from OCD.

Though some religious rituals are obviously OCD derived, such as many Islamic rituals.

Either Muhammad or the Caliphs who designed these rituals were OCD sufferers.

As with many, there is no rational/logical connection between the ritual and the perceived outcome.

Such ambiguity is a sure sign of OCD influence.

There is some research evidence of a functionality behind irrational rituals. Many cultural rules and taboos were built around separating insiders of a group from outsiders. Esoteric ritual seems to be a function in group cohesion, interestingly, the more irrational the better.

Researchers examined the long term success of kibbutzes in Israel. Some were relatively secular centered around philosophic or political beliefs (for example socialism), while others involved moderate religion and some extreme religion (strongly orthodox, or other binding rituals like Kabbalah ). Over decades, the organizations based around extreme ritual remained more cohesive whereas the more 'rational' groups tended to split up and fade.

The suspected reason for this is that an outsider would have less likelihood to learn and follow a complex ritual behavior pattern over time and would ultimately leave or be discovered. Only the true believing members (hence most 'reliable' within this framework) stick around.

Under this analysis, the truthfulness of the belief is immaterial. It's the groups total acceptance that creates the bond

Thanks for that Jay,

Yes, I think you may be right, as we really find it difficult to go back to the origin of many beliefs and ritual and somewhere along the way, they may have been connected rationally.

Though a ritual such as prayer, which is practised daily will have good and bad things occur on the day of prayer, will only have the good things attributed to the act of prayer.

This brings up the other problem of superstition, Confirmation Bias.

People believe that prayer only brings good, thus they will ignore the bad, due to their confirmation bias.

This in turn creates operant conditioning of the fallacious/subjective kind.

Bias filtered conditioning.

Many OCD sufferers would latch onto this and overemphasise the importance of the ritual and thus increase the ritual of prayer from once a day to five or more times a day.

i.e. Islam.

It is obvious that much of Islamic ritual has OCD influences.

Though on the other hand, as you have pointed out, there may be deliberate mind control usefulness of having multiple rituals in a day, since occupying the time of the usurped, keeps them from thinking outside the belief system.

They become so involved with the internal rituals that they have no time for outside influences and ideas.

Thus, I think both OCD an deliberate mind control exist as underlying principles behind the development of religious rituals.

I have rituals but they may not be superstitious. For example, I double check everything and especially when leaving. I check to make sure that everything is off that is supposed to be off.

This started a few years ago when people I know got an urgent message and left the house quickly. They left the stove on and it almost burned their house down. They had damage in 3 rooms because of that stove.

I also do not leave the coffee pot on all day long. Lots of house fires are caused by a coffee pot. I'm not that trusting of a 50 cent switch, so when I'm done I unplug it rather than leave it on all day.


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