satanism today and tomorrow

The Millennia of Silent Plague


I. Dogmatic religiosity as neuropathy

For a skeptical, rationally thinking observer who studies the behavioral patterns of “Homo religious”, one fact is clear: this is a dangerous and widespread disease that can be fatal. I other words, this is a sociopathic, psychopathic and (since all human experience is determined in the brain) neuropathic condition.

The amount of data on the relation between religious and moral fanatism and its prevalence over logic and rational thinking — and such well known psychopathic conditions as schizophrenia and, especially, temporal epilepsy, — is constantly growing. Perhaps, the most comprehensive work on this issue is “The Neural Substrates of Religious Experience” by J. L. Saver (M. D.) и J. Rabin (M. D.), which I strongly recommend.

Here I provide some excertps from it, which can be necessary for understanding of the further reasoning.

1) Contrary to the beliefs of so-called “anti-psychiatry”, psychotic conditions aren't just “non-mainstream thinking” or “extraordinary soul”. They manifest in irreversible damage of some areas in the brain, which can be detected by their morphological, biochemical and immunological signs.

2) At the tissue level, this means neurodegeneration, e.g. the death of some brain cells. Since the compensatory abilities of the neural systems are limited, any such psychotic condition ends in some form of dementia.

3) After starting in some localized area of the brain, neurodegeneration usually spread into neighboring and linked parts of the brain. Particular mechanisms of this “deadly chain reaction” are beyond the scope of this article; to those who are interested, I recommend to search for works on excitotoxicity, kindling and epileptogenesis.

4) Pathologies of emotional reaction and emotional processing of percieved information in the brain arise most often from damages in the temporal lobe. Excessive activity of the temporal lobe leads often to hallucinations and weird behavior. It can also initiate the “chain reaction”, mentioned in the previous paragraph: over-excitation of neurons leads to their damage and death (excitotoxicity). Most commonly, it happens to the neocortex of the temporal lobe.

5) The hippocampus is a component of the brain located behind and below the temporal neocortex, being closely linked with the latter. The hippocampus plays an important role in many forms of learning, especially in spatial memory. Storing the information from short-term memory into long-term memory is also a hippocampal process. The hippocampus is very prone to various kinds of injuries.

Now, after stating the basics necessary for understanding of the further material, we can view temporal epilepsy (which is traditionally attributed to religious behavior) in more details.

Temporal epilepsy is characterized by:
– Ictal states (seizures, or bouts) that are often accompanied with religious visions and ecstatic experiences. An excellent description of such bouts can be found in “The Idiot” by F.Dostoevsky. There is also a case, described by H.Morgan, of a patient that talked to Jesus during his bouts. X-ray examination showed that the patient developed a tumor (astrocitoma) in the right frontal cortex. After removing of the tumor, the patient's conversations with Jesus did not occur anymore.
– Inter-ictal periods of seemingly normal life. Waxman and Geschwind listed known personal traits of patients with temporal epilepsy. This list includes excessive religiosity with tendencies to pseudo-philosophical and pseudo-cosmological thinking, intensified affects (have you noticed how serious do relilgious fanatics take everything?), excessive scrupulousness even about minor and unimportant details, hypermoralism and rigidity in interpersonal relationships (yes, they are incredibly boring), aggressive excitability (history, and perhaps your own experience too, provides many examples), and hypergraphia (they tend to write much, long, and often with lots of syntax errors). Such a detailed list of temporal epilepsy symptoms that are also typical features of religious fanatics cannot be mere coincidence.

It's reasonable to ask a question of how this can be related to all those evangelicals preaching and singing about Jesus every day, as well as to pseudo-Satanists wasting internet traffic for their nonsence. Although they don't manifest any noticeable seizures, it does not say anything about the severity of their condition. Sometimes epilepsy bouts happen during sleeping, or are percieved as mystical experiences.

Also, there is much similarity between temporal epilepsy and schizophrenia. Some researchers even view them as different forms of the same disorder. Schizophrenics often demonstrate excessive religiosity and experience “divine” hallucinations. Schizophrenia, however, is a slowly progressing disorder without any bouts or seizures. In schizophrenia, damages of the temporal cortex are often observed since very young age, sometimes even in utero.

In addotion to epilepsy and schizophrenia, some other mental disorders that feature destruction of the temporal lobe are known. For the big picture, the particular psychiatric diagnosis does not matter so much as general pathological changes in the brain that are associated with the religious behavior, which is percieved asnormal and socially acceptable.

This pathological changes are prominent and localized in the particular regions of the frontal and temporal cortex, more often at the right side. Therefore, the diagnosis of religious mental disorder can be generalized as right frontotemporal dementia. This explains why:
a) not every patient with epilepsy demonstrates religious hallucinations — since they occur only when a particular area of the temporal cortex is damaged;
b) not every religious fanatic has other symptoms of epilepsy — the damage can be mostly located at the frontal cortex.

However, as already mentioned, at some stage of the disease progression the pathological changes will affect the neighboring regions of the brain. First it will manifest as their hyperactivity, which ultimately will lead to their disabling and death. This can lead to more surprising and severe consequences. Let's review the most probable directions of spread of the pathology:
1) Onto the frontoorbital cortex, which is the most common case. Atrophy of the frontoorbital cortex is well studied in psychopathology. Its main symptom is unreasonable, pathological cruelty, which is quite typical for fanatics. It entails also decreased sensitivity to pain, which is known in criminology as a feature of many serial murderers.
2) Onto the lower temporal cortex, which is involved in image and symbol recognition and emotional reactions on them. Hyperactivity of the lower temporal cortex manifests in excessive emotional reactions onto particular symbols (e.g. the cross) and looking for “hidden sacral meaning” in them, which is typical symptom of schizophrenia.
3) Onto the language axis. My friends and me wondered for a long time, why all those leaflets with religious proclamations tend to have spelling errors and weird syntax. Some people attribute this to low education level. However, there can be a more material reason for this phenomenon. The regions of the brain that are responsible for speech functions (the so-called language axis, which includes Wernicke's area, the superior temporal gyrus, the angular gyrus, and Broca's area) are closely linked with the temporal cortex structures. Spreading of pathological processes from the temporal area onto the language axis can lead to severe consequences. Inability to describe the “mystical experiences” is probably one of them. In the book “Satan speaks”, A.LaVey supposed that if a person cannot describe his feelings, it can be due to limited vocabulary. This is one possible explanation, but not the only one. Such condition can be also a result of brain tissue damage near Broca's area.
4) Onto the medial temporal cortex. Overexcitation of this area leads to auditory hallucinations; this is where all those “voices of angels” and “talking to Jesus” come from. A decrease in the volume of the medial temporal cortex is often observed in schizophrenia.
5) Onto the anterior cingulate cortex. Hyperstimulation of this area manifests as a mix of anxiety, fear and pleasure (e.g. religious awe). Further progression of pathological processes in this area leads to loss of will and becoming easily controllable by others.

Any combination of the symptoms mentioned above can be a feature of dogmatic religiosity. After listing the signs of the problem, let's go further and search for its primary cause.


II. Etiology and epidemiology of religious dementia: monotheistic religiosity as an infectious disease

A common (ad often effective) approach can be searching for a weak link in the chain of facts. If the damage usually spreads from one brain area to another, closely linked to the former, then the question is whether the frontotemporal atrophy is the main process, or just a consequence of another, original, damage somwhere nearby? Actually, more and more new data in support of the latter hypothesis are coming. A common sign of temporal epilepsy discovered in autopsy is hippocampal sclerosis. Now please scroll back and read the paragraph about the hippocampus again. In addition to being prone to strokes, it also tends to form pathological “short-circuit” connection between neurons, which generate epileptogenic impulses and transmit them into neighboring areas of the brain, first of all into the temporal cortex.

Also, consider the role of the hippocampus in the processes of learning, and the fact that people with “fundamentalist” character tend to be slow learners (which can be seen from the near absence of any art and science in theocratical societies).

Experiments on animals with removed hippocampus showed their greatly inceased difficulty in reaction on stimuli or switching the object of attention. They also demonstrated inability to change a behavioral pattern that was once learned. Does it look similar to fanatics of the one true god?

Another relevant observation: in the state of intensive fear (beware all those who preach the fear of god!), the hippocampal activity decreases to near zero, and the hippocampus can even degenerate. Therefore, it's not surprising that many of those who survived a near-death experience turn to monotheistic religion afterwards. This example shows that fear can potentially serve as an effective weapon. It can lower the enemy's cognitive abilities, make his behavior easily predictable, and even damage his brain.

The next step is to detect the cause of the primary damage in the hippocampus that starts the chain of other pathological processes mentioned above. Taking into account that the consequenses of the desease are very specifical and that it affects a narrowly localized zone of the brain (the frontotemporal cortex), it does not seem probable that any stroke can be its primary cause. Quite the opposite: there must be a very selective, but common and widespread factor.

Genes are what comes into mind first. The study of twins by Waller & al. shows a genetic component in the tendency to religious behavior. A clinical study of a family that suffers from frontotemporal dementia and hyperreligiosity (Bruce Miller, 1997) shows the linkage between this condition and an aberration in the 17th chromosome. However, taking into account the complexity and commonness of the disease, and the fact that non-religious parents can have deeply religious kids, it would be naive to suppose that everything can be explained by genes only, even with complex polygenic inheritance.

In cases of complex disorders of unclear etiology, modelling on animals is often done in order to determine its probable cause. Unfortunately, it appears to be very challenging to model human psychotic conditions on animals of other species. The possibility to reproduce the condition of human religious fanatism in animals seems questionable…

Anyway, a relevant observation of anomalous behavior in animals does exist!

This strange condition was noticed in primates, rodents and felines. The data presented here are based mostly on studies of Hominoidea apes. The pathological process in them proceeds in two phases.

In phase 1, a pursuit of social contact prevails, which is often described as a constant desire to disturb other animals without any reason. Some researchers describe it as anomalous boost of the herd instinct. At the same time, anxiety and increased aggressivenes are observed, often with a strange deviation: the aggressive behavior is ofted directed on animals of the opposite sex. Another interesting symptom of phase 1 is the tendency to self-harm and even self-mutilation. It's possible to make two conclusions from this symptom:
1) Self-harm is known to be the result of anomalies affecting the dopamine receptor (in this case, it's the death of a group of neurons including the dopamine receptor D1). Also, the dopamine hypothesis is the prevailing one about the cause of schizophrenia. (See above about the linkage between schizophrenia and religiosity.)
2) Self-harming behavior observed in rats is caused by the destruction of reward and reinforcing centers. Its mechanism includes replacing the destroyed dopaminergic nerves with 5HT-neurons, which grow from the medial raphe nucleus. The dopaminergic neurons in the nucleus accumbens and the ventral tegmental area are the axis of the system of reward and reinforcement, while the 5HT-neurons are mentioned by many researchers as responicible for psychological punishment and the feeling of guilt.

Other symptoms of phase 1 include depression and decrease in learning abilities, especially of spacial learning (which is, as we already know, one of the functions of the hippocampus).

When the desease progresses to phase 2, it becomes more severe. During phase 2, the animal is no longer anxious. It becomes apathic and loses any interest to the environment around. In this phase, it tends to stop any social behavior, leave the herd and live alone.

The previous aggressivity disappears as well and is replaced with passive helplessness (“turn to him the other cheak”, yes). The cognitive abilities worsen even more, and significant memory loss is also observed. If such an animal will not be killed by a predator, it will probably die of starvation.

The transition between phase 1 and phase 2 is not momentary; intermediate stages with symptoms of the both phases are also observed.

So, the phenomenon of animal behavior similar to monotheistic religiosity in humans is real. What is its cause, and can it be also the cause of such behavior in humans?

The cause is a virus, and this virus is widespread. It's named Borna virus, and it was also supposed to be the cause of temporal epilepsy, and of some forms of schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, especially in the forms that include self-harming and suicidal behavior.

I was shocked when I found where the Borna virus had appeared first. It was among herders of the Middle East in the biblical times.

Herders got infected from their sheep, horse-riders were getting the virus from their horses, and so on. The virus can be transmitted between humans as well. Excited prophets preaching to crowds of people also literally infected them with their religion. Some of them ended their life as hermits in the desert, got bitten by rodents, and those rodents brought the virus to other human settlements.

The Borna virus was spread in Palestine already by 4th or 3rd millinium BCE. Not just people, their cattle and rodents were affected; it was also cats, dogs and even ostriches. (Ostriches lived in the Middle East until the 3rd millenium BCE and then died out there. One hypothesis to explain it is that the Borna virus desease is fatal for ostriches. Attempts to reintroduce ostriches in Israel in 1980s failed because all of them died of Borna-induced encephalitis, having caught it from sheep. This case shows that the Borna virus is still widespread in the Middle East.)

It's interesting to look on the correlation between the spread of the Borna virus and of monotheistic religions. Cattle used to be, and still is, the main carrier of the virus and the most common source of infection for humans. However, there is one common animal that is completely immune to the Borna virus and cannot event spread it: pigs! Not accidentally, pigs are prohibited by Judaism and Islam. This means limiting the people to grazing only those animals that spread the Borna virus.

Another aspect of the monotheistic religions that facilitates the spread of the Borna virus is their negative attitudes to cremation of the dead. It's known that cremation of infected animals (and humans) is a way to hinder the spread of the infection.

But what about Christianity? It's tolerant towards pigs and worshipped mostly far from the original source of the Borna virus. Don't forget the historical fact: Christianity is a relatively young religion, which appeared 3000 years after the Borna virus had got widespread in the Middle East. Human settlements on the infected territory grew in size, urbanization began. Therefore, human to human transmission became the most common path for spreading of the Borna virus. Then the Roman army brought the virus into European parts of the empire.

Note that the Borna was not alone. Two other viruses were also brought by the Romans from the Middle East: influenza and smallpox. The symptoms of the “plague”, described in Greek and Roman sources, show that it was actually smallpox; the first real plague epidemic happened in Europe in 5th century CE, in Justinian's times.

Therefore, the process that preceeded the spread of Christianity could be the evolution of the Borna virus that made it independent of the climatic conditions of the Middle East and facilitated its spread from human to human. Now, a herd of sheep is no longer needed for the virus to spread; a herd of human “sheep” is enough!

One more observation: think bout the difference between Judaism with its “eye for eye, tooth for tooth” prinicple, and Christianity with “turn to him the other cheak”. Does it look similar to the transition from phase 1 to phase 2 of the disease described above? With the progression of the disease, more and more affected people shift to phase 2.

From this viewpoint, Islam is another interesting story. It looks more similar to the traditional way of spreading of the disease: close contact with carrier animals, spreading mostly in regions with a climate similar to the Middle East, and prevalence of phase 1 symptoms in affected humans. Can it be the sign of a new strain of the Borna virus that appeared in Arabia? The fact that Islam originally (until 11th century) was less obscurantist than Christianity can be explained by the possibility that in the beginning the new strain could not transmit from human to human and, therefore, was not common in urban environment. But now it seems to be the most aggressively spreading variant of the Borna virus. Note also the conditions of the Middle East favorable for the virus: the climate, lack of proper hygiene, and close contact with several species of carrier animals.

Now, let's return to Europe. Here the manifestations of the infection decrease since the Renaissance era. There can be several explanations of it:
1) Since the existence of the virus depends on humans, its evolution can lead to decrease of lethality and severity of the symptoms. Syphilis can be an examples of such process. When syphilis was first brought to Europe, it was a rapidly progressing fatal deseased that killed the infected people in several months. When the first cure for syphilis was invented (by Paul Erlich in 1904), people were living for decades with the infection. Something similar could have happened to the Borna virus.
2) There can (and must!) be an evolutionary advantage in having immunity to that virus. Maybe such people exist, and their share in the population is growing, which has its effect on history.
3) Maybe a direct contact with the region of origin (the Middle East) is still important for the preservation of the gene pool of the virus. N.Vavilov discovered that the greatest biodiversity of species is usually observed in the region of their origin. What if this rule is applicable for viruses too? Think about the difference between the modern Christianity and modern Islam. Can it have some microbiological roots? Time will show. And, thinking about direct contact with carrier animals, it has significantly decreased with industrialization. If you are not a farmer, you hardly can get the Borna virus from animals.

Another interesting aspect to mention is the very fact of discovery of the virus. Such discoveries are usually made in places that are both highly infected and have research infrastructure. In fact, the Borna virus was first discovered in horses in Switzerland and southern Germany. Do you know, when and where the last (hopefully) person was burned for witchcraft? It was in 1845 in Basel, Switzerland.

Translated by Milchar