An Attempt to Control ‘Psychopaths’: One Possible Origin of Religion and Why that Attempt Did Not Work Part 1

This post is about one possible origin of religion, which may not apply to all religions nor exclude other origins.  I am not claiming it applies to all religions, but it will apply to many; indeed, I think it applies to the bulk of them.  I am aware there are various other origins, but that this theory I propose is not incompatible with any of them, excepting those that propose (rather, demand) that the origin is strictly from a supernatural phenomenon or supernatural phenomena (with Earthly intermediaries), that it is revelatory.  It is possible that instead of being an origin, it is instead a modifier.  I am not talking of a single instance, but this would occur several times.

I am assuming no one else has proposed this, but I would be surprised if no one else has.

Shortly, I shall state the theory and then discuss.  I have only one more preliminary.  By unorganised religion, I mean one that has no hierarchy (in paraphrase, no specialised clergy) to distinguish it from organised religion.  I say this instead of primitive religion because, firstly, I think the term primitive religion is quite dismissive; it implies that as someone is a (for example) hunter-gatherer, that means they cannot possibly have sophisticated thoughts, which is absurd (at least borderline racist), or be right (in some way).  Secondly, complex societies may have disorganised religions.  Even the highest intellects from advanced civilisations have been wrong or put forward absurd notions.

The theory is that when psychopaths were noticed in society, an attempt was made to make these persons useful to society by having an external supernatural force (for example, spirits, gods or ancestors to name a few – call them watchers) make them useful members of society.

There is a lot to discuss in this summary of the theory.

Firstly, I see the setting as being in a simple society (such as a hunter-gatherer one), where there are few roles in it; for example, you are either a hunter, a gatherer or a dependent (a child or someone infirm).  If you are not a dependent but expected to take one of the active roles (as a member of society) and you are not doing so or are carrying out the role only for yourself, then this raises issues for the society.  It may be your mental health is the cause and maybe you are (temporarily) categorised as a dependent.  Even after this reclassification of people into this role, this still leaves those who are not working for the good of society.  It could be they want to leave this society, either going solo or joining another society, or we can assume, instead of dissenting from this society, they have no empathy to help provide for all.  This last type I think we can classify as a psychopath (I think this fits in with clinical definitions), especially if they are taking from the society without giving anything back.

The society, composed as it is from those with empathy, would like the psychopaths to join in with them, but how?  It is at this stage I would propose, that someone from the society (call him/her, the elder) noticing that the normal bonds of empathy, internal to an individual, are not working tries to bring in an eternal source, that is, invokes the gods or spirits or whatever, claiming they are watching over everyone and expecting the psychopath to take part in society, to do his or her part in hunting and/or gathering, sharing responsibility and resources equally.  At this stage of the argument, it does not matter if the supernatural phenomena exist or are invention, for this argument to work.  If the people of the society already believe in these phenomena, the effect on the argument is only that this is not an origin, but a later modifier.

A psychopath would not be changed by these phenomena of watchers.  S/he would still have no empathy, so almost immediately, the elder invents punishment, that is, ‘the gods will punish you’.  The psychopath may believe this and become a useful member of society.  Of course, they may not.

There are potential drawbacks to the psychopath rejoining the society.  Empathy holding together the society is threatened with redundancy, replaced by threats of punishment; bonds of empathy are weakened, being displaced by avenging gods, spirits or ancestors.  Worse, if the psychopath believes the watchers do not exist or that s/he is special to the watchers, then this can become a weapon to take over any society that believes in the watchers, by convincing them that s/he should be given special treatment.

This second drawback may not have such an effect in a disorganised religion.  It is possible to reason that the punishment is not incompatible with the old way of empathy.  Or, as a disorganised religion has no orthodoxy and clergy to determine and enforce that orthodoxy, for persons to determine that the psychopath’s interpretation is just wrong.

This stage of the argument brings us to organised religion and will be the subject of my next post.

I hope to have some feedback on this post and this could alter the post as it stands.

1 thought on “An Attempt to Control ‘Psychopaths’: One Possible Origin of Religion and Why that Attempt Did Not Work Part 1

  1. Gitte

    I am not sure i can say anything usefull here. Or I just have to think for a month or two more. I think religion have been as long as human. We have a need to explain everything. Why does the sun raise in the morning. We need Gods we can call for when we need help.



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