Shared Psychosis and Religions

Shared psychosis is a phenomenon wherein a group of individuals share a delusional belief or an absurd alternate reality. For instance, if you and your folks believe that the moon will crash onto the earth on December 31, 2025 and erase all life, that is a delusional belief. It is absurd but a small group of people has developed a strong shared belief around it. And perhaps there could be a reason for this shared belief best known to them.

Recently, I watched a documentary on Netflix that narrated a disturbing event. In 2018, a family of 11 committed mass suicide by hanging themselves. To cut the long story short, among the dead was a 45 year old man who influenced everyone to die along with him. But the seeds for this event were planted in 2007 when the psychologically disturbed man started writing notes on how the family should behave. He was seen as the family leader and a patriarchal guiding light. The notes were elaborate and dictated each member of the family to behave in a certain way, follow routines and mannerisms. It was a cult practice. What was more shocking was the consistency with which the notes were written. One note-book per year was written. Everyone lived by the book and kept it a family secret. Even the kids followed the doctrine diligently. The date and process for the mass suicides were also dictated as per the book.

Now let us look at religions. Without naming any religion, don’t you think every religion is somewhat a shared belief. We call it a shared belief and not shared psychosis because religions are seen from the lens of divine idealism. Millions of people follow it, most follow it blindly and few consciously. Obedience is virtue. Thousands of years back the seeds for the hundreds of religions and cults were probably sown through shared psychosis. Absurd but surreal beliefs of one single individual that percolated across a small group.

Few religions reached an inflection point where they could gather the followership of masses. These religions succeeded because the ideas and philosophy transcended beyond the individual who incepted those. Apparently those ideas were sustainable and to a degree conducive for human sanity long after the founder passed away. Inflection points for young religion or cult practices happens when the greater good and wellbeing of followers supersedes the vested interest of the founder. In the case of the mass suicide mentioned earlier, this inflection point manifested in form of death.

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