March 21, 2019

Scrupulosity: Where OCD Meets Religion, Faith, and Belief

Scrupulosity: Where OCD Meets Religion, Faith, and Belief

Please take a minute and read the following article from the OCD Center of Los Angeles.  Many people probably have the notion that Obsessive Compulsion Disorder (OCD) is a somewhat harmless psychological problem that involves nothing worse than washing your hands a lot.  A somewhat more debilitating version of OCD was featured on the show “Monk” that starred Tony Shalhoub as the eponymous title character.  In the show, Adrian Monk is a brilliant San Francisco detective, whose obsessive compulsive disorder just happens to get in the way of his solving crime and living his life.  It was broadly played for comedic effect, although, to be fair, there were some poignant moments as well.

However, the real OCD variation known as “Scrupulosity” is not funny—at all.  Typical symptoms, according to the article, include:

  • ·         Repetitive thoughts about having committed a sin
  • ·         Exaggerated concern with the possibility of having committed blasphemy
  • ·         Excessive fear of having offended God
  • ·         Inordinate focus on religious, moral, and/or ethical perfection
  • ·         Excessive fear of failing to show proper devotion to God
  • ·         Repeated fears of going to hell / eternal damnation
  • ·         Concern that one’s behaviors will doom a loved one to hell
  • ·         Unwanted sexual thoughts about God, Jesus, or a religious figure such as a priest
  • ·         Unwanted mental images such as Satan, 666, hell, sex with Christ, etc.
  • ·         Excessive fear of having acted counter to one’s personal morals, values, or ethics

These thoughts torment the person suffering from the disorder to the point that they can’t hardly live their life at all.  They literally can think of nothing else.  It is not uncommon for the loved one in our family suffering this disorder to remain in bed all day and all night for days at time.  Other compulsions include:

  • ·         Repeated and ritualized confessing (to religious figures such as pastors, church elders, and/or to friends and family)
  • ·         Excessive, ritualized praying and/or reading of the bible or other religious texts
  • ·         Repeating specific verses from the bible or other religious texts (either out loud or silently)
  • ·         Mentally reviewing past acts and/or thoughts in an effort to prove to one’s self that one has not committed a sin or acted in a manner thy construe to be immoral or unethical or counter to one’s faith
  • ·         Ritualized “undoing” behaviors to counteract perceived sins and transgressions
  • ·         Excessive acts of self-sacrifice (i.e., giving away relatively large amounts of money or earthly possessions)

We have got our loved one into one treatment program, but they weren’t satisfied with it and quit.  We are trying to get them into another one.  I have commented before that the mental health system in this country is in bad shape.  There are not a lot of places that offer treatment and insurance coverage varies widely.  Unfortunately, the quality of therapist also varies widely.  In these situations it is very important that patient and therapist are compatible.

I’ve been meaning to post on this topic for a while, especially after Klasie Kraalogies shared his experience with mental illness in a loved one.  The intersection of faith/religion and mental illness is difficult terrain to traverse and is made much more difficult by many misconceptions that exist in church circles, especially charismatic and evangelical churches.  Far too many people still think that depression is a moral failing.  I’ve also lost count on the number of “deliverance” sessions my loved one has been to where demons are cast out.  I used to be somewhat tolerant of well-meaning fellow Christians, but no longer—because such “ministry” exacerbates the problem instead of relieving it.  Especially when so called well-meaning fellow Christians discourage the loved one from taking medicine prescribed for the condition.

One bright spot is the local conservative evangelical mega-church that we often attend.  They have some very sensitive ministry staff that don’t hesitate to recommend qualified medical professional help for mental health issues in their congregants, and encourage them to remain on prescribed meds.

The last issue I wanted to raise on this subject might be a little more controversial.  Some of you reading the article probably thought that the symptoms described as OCD Scrupulosity were mighty close to how you might describe some people you’re acquainted with at church.  Maybe not to the extreme in the article, but, still… uncomfortably familiar.  The bible says in Ecclesiastes 7:16 (NIV): Do not be overrighteous, neither be overwise—why destroy yourself?  Then there is this quote from the article:

Also, allow us to note that, before beginning the process of therapy, both the client and therapist should be aware that the result of engaging in CBT for religious Scrupulosity may not be limited to a reduction in distorted thoughts.  An additional result may be that the individual begins to challenge their global interpretation, experience, and practice of their faith. While this does not necessarily mean a loss of faith, it may mean that the individual transitions away from an excessively dogmatic view and practice of faith, and towards a less rigid interpretation.  It may also mean that the individual will develop a lifestyle without some of the specific practices that they previously found so vital to their faith, or even an entirely new perspective towards their faith.

I’m just going to come out and say it.  Maybe, just maybe, getting shed of your fundamentalist mindset is part of getting mentally healthy.  Excessively scrupulous, dogmatic, rigid interpretations of scripture, over reliance on proof-texting, inability to reason outside of black-white thinking, inability to understand nuance, maybe these are not just a temperament, but they are indicative of a dysfunctional mind.  Wait… so Mike… are you saying if I’m a fundamentalist I’m mentally ill?  Well… not exactly (*).  What I am saying is there is a continuum or a spectrum from the dysfunctional severe mental illness of Scrupulosity OCD to a healthy and fulfilling religious life.  Where do you place yourself on that spectrum?  Maybe more importantly, where do those around you place you on that spectrum?

Rather than get mad at me, if you need help, get help.  Of course, the first step is recognizing you need help.



*Just to be clear, and for the record; the article makes it plain that the OCD behavior occurs not just in Christianity:  “It is worth noting that Scrupulosity is not partial to any one religion, but rather custom fits its message of doubt to the specific beliefs and practices of the sufferer.”  Also Scrupulosity OCD gets its own category of diagnosis expressly because the compulsion fixates on the religious components of the sufferer’s life.  But other aspects of one’s life can be subject to the dysfunctional compulsion that seems to afflict humans.  Ever run into a monomaniacal meat-is-murder vegan?  How about a constantly-virtue-signaling SJW?  Trekkies?  Ask HUG to give you a discourse on Fanatical Furries sometime.  My point is it’s a human condition.

How the Bible Actually Works (3)

How the Bible Actually Works (3)

Today we continue blogging through Pete Enns’s new book on the Bible.

As I’ve said in our recent posts on The Bible and the Believer, one of my tasks this year will be to work on answering two questions that Pete raises regularly in his writings and podcasts:

  1. What is the Bible?
  2. What is the Bible for?

Last time we discussed Enns’s point that the Bible is designed to lead us to wisdom. It is not designed to give us “answers” or to be a “rulebook” or “instruction manual’ for life. As Pete summarizes:

Rather than providing us with information to be downloaded, the Bible holds out for us an invitation to join an ancient, well-traveled, and sacred quest to know God, the world we live in, and our place in it. Not abstractly, but intimately and experientially. (p. 10)

In subsequent sections Pete Enns talks about the ambiguous nature of much of the Bible’s teaching, even in parts that we might think of as “clear instructions” — such as the book of Proverbs or the Law. Just a moment’s closer thought reminds us that even legal statutes must be interpreted and applied, and that this is the task of wisdom. When the Ten Commandments say, “Honor your father and mother,” or “Keep the sabbath,” the inevitable question is “How do we do that?” Turns out these “clear instructions” aren’t so clear and simple after all.

Then Pete takes up the idea that the Bible is a diverse book. He suggests that this is a key to understanding how to approach the Bible’s teaching and instructions.

The Bible’s diversity is the key to uncovering the Bible’s true purpose for us.

…The diversity we see in the Bible reflects the inevitably changing circumstances of the biblical writers across the centuries as they grappled with their sacred yet ancient and ambiguous tradition.

…The Bible (both Old and New Testaments) exhibits this same characteristic of the sacred past being changed, adapted, rethought, and rewritten by people of faith, not because they disrespected the past, but because they respected it so much they had to tie it to their present.

…The Bible isn’t a book that reflects one point of view. It is a collection of books that records a conversation—even a debate—over time.

When I began to see that for myself, a lot of things fell into place about the Bible’s purpose and what it means to read it with the eyes of faith. When we accept the Bible as the moving, changing, adaptive organism it is, we will more readily accept our own sacred responsibility to engage the ancient biblical story with wisdom, to converse with the past rather than mimic it—which is to follow the very pattern laid out in the Bible itself.

• pp. 76-78

This is the understanding of scripture that Michael Spencer wrote about in his classic essay, “A Conversation in God’s Kitchen.” He likens the Bible to the “Great Books,” which brought together significant writings from the history of the Western world in a set that allowed for a “conversation” to occur between the diverse voices across history yet also present an overall metanarrative we call “Western Civilization.”

The authors suggested we approach these books not as a single narrative, or as an education by installment, but as a great, roaring, unruly conversation across the ages. Greek dramatists debating with English scientists. Russian novelists sparring with German psychologists. Gibbon debating Homer. Augustine versus Tolstoy. It was a conversation that never occurred, but was allowed to occur by bringing all these writings together, and then studying them to hear what each writer had to say.

This idea, of a great conversation taking place over time and culture, and then selected and presented for my benefit, has become my dominant idea of what is the Bible. It has proven increasingly helpful in a number of ways.

The great conversation model has allowed me to jettison any defense of the Bible as single book whose human origins and methodologies present significant difficulties that must be explained. For instance, I view the Bible as a selection of purely human literary creations. I may lay aside my faith, as many critics do, and study the Biblical material purely in their historical and cultural settings. This eliminates the need to force the Bible to be divine in origin, and gives me the freedom to hear each Biblical writer saying what he/she had to say in the way he/she chose to say it.

Or I may read the Bible with my eyes, mind and heart alive to the faith that is at the center of the Biblical conversation. The humanity of the conversation is not an obstacle, but an invitation to understand the Bible even as we understand ourselves and our histories, experiences and cultures.

The rich diversity of the Bible is frequently lost in our fear that seeing a book as exactly what it appears to be will ruin the inspiration and divine authority of the book. Is God so small that the humanity of a text matters to His use of it? Further, the particular “voice” or style the text uses to talk about God may come to us in ways that are strange and uncomfortable to modern ideas of reality and truth. But if we are listening to a conversation and not predetermining what it must be, these factors are almost meaningless.

The Bible is “timeless,” not because it is characterized by propositions and teachings that transcend the various times, places, and circumstances in which its different parts were written (“timeless truths”), but precisely because of what Pete Enns calls “its unwavering commitment to adaptation over time” (p. 80). The Bible was not written to us, but it was written for us and for people in all generations and cultures. In order for the Bible to speak to us, we must take words written for others in vastly different circumstances and seek God’s wisdom to know how to walk with God faithfully in our own day.

The Bible shows us that obedience to God is not about cutting and pasting the Bible over our lives, but seeking the path of wisdom—holding the sacred book in one hand and ourselves, our communities of faith, and our world in the other in order to discern how the God of old is present here and now. We respect the Bible best when we take that process seriously enough to own it for ourselves… (p. 82)

Tuesday with Michael Spencer: Is This the “Better World” You Were Talking About?

Note from CM: A piece by Michael from 2009. Some of the cultural references are dated, but in the light of yesterday’s post and discussion, I thought it might be a good reminder that we here at IM have always seen the online life as something which needs constant monitoring because it incessantly challenges our calling to stay grounded in earthy and human reality.

• • •

Is This the “Better World” You Were Talking About?

I grew up as television was growing up. I was born in 1956 and lived through the “Golden Age” of network television.

Television was part of my childhood and teenage years, but I had no reference point before television. Captain Kangaroo had always been there on the black and white television in the corner of our modest house.

My parents also lived through the “Golden Age” of television, but they had many years of life without television. They had grown up in rural America in the first quarter of the 20th century. Nether had education beyond high school. They grew up around the birth of radio, but television was something new to them.

I remember the many experiences we shared together around the television. The Cuban Missile Crisis. The Kennedy and King assassinations. The Space program. Sporting events. Vietnam.

Every evening, the news with Walter Conkrite was the touchstone for my family’s view of the world. Yes, we had a local newspaper, but the immediacy and authority of television worked its way into our lives as it did the lives of so many Americans.

I never thought much about what television meant in our family until years later.

My dad had many anxieties, and one of his worst was the weather. He was extremely afraid of storms and he was devoted to the local television weather reports, the weather warnings on local radio and the information from his weather radio.

All of this before the Weather Channel and the endless hype about weather on every television channel.

When storms were coming, my dad was terrified, and the weather media helped him stay agitated and frightened for hours.

If my dad had lived to see the Doppler Warnings on today’s weather reports and the endless focus on weather disasters on 24 weather channels, I’m pretty sure it would have caused strokes, heart attack or a complete nervous breakdown.

But that’s how the world has changed. My dad didn’t know all kinds of things that I know, whether I want to- or need to- know them or not. And that seems to be a good thing.

I now have media telling me about every disaster, every danger, every warning, every piece of research, every scary statistic and every threat to world peace imaginable. If I don’t imbibe the media kool-aid myself, I’ll meet ten people every day at work who have information bombs to explode.

(Christians are so susceptible to media gullibility that it’s frightening. When I sit down to lunch in the cafeteria and hear the sentence, “I’ve been researching his on the internet,” I know I’m very likely about to hear 1) complete distortions and untruths 2) swallowed whole, digested and now spit back up with authority that would make any scientist blush.)

Last week, one of the major internet news outlets did a front page piece on 5 ways the world might end. Have a nice day America. Here’s your water cooler topic. For a whole day, we learned how a solar storm would take us back to the Neanderthal age. (If you believe in that sort of thing.)

I’m glad my dad didn’t have to deal with that amount of information. Or the story just below it: Oprah Gushes Over Winslet’s Breasts. Or the next day’s proclamation that the national debt won’t be paid off unless Jesus gives us the money.

My dad didn’t have Bill O’Reilley or Keith Obermann ranting five nights a week about all the terrible things the ordinary person can’t get by without knowing and getting furious over. C’mon, ordinary Americans. Are you pissd off yet? Well WHY NOT!!) Of course, the irony is that most people get by without knowing those things quite easily, but if you watch the media flamethrowers, western civilization and the existence of God are all up for grabs every night .

The farmers, illegal immigrants, working Joes and people in the nursing homes seem to get by just fine without knowing there is a desperate crisis every ten minutes.

The whole world is now drowning in undifferentiated information; everything is a panic and a crisis. Everything must be heard, everyone must pay attention. All the bad news that has happened and could happen must be paraded out for panic drills. All the unsolvable and uncontrollable situations must be heard about so we can demand the governments solve the problem.

Contemporary life must be lived with maximum information and maximum hype. It’s a crisis!! All the time!!! But first….ANOTHER CRISIS!!! AFTER THE COMMERCIALS!!!!!!

My mom and dad lived through the onset of the television era when we still had some sanity regarding the amount of information a person needed to live. The Cuban missile crisis really was more important than……I’m actually afraid to write anything ridiculous here because some of you will go nuts no matter what I mention.

The world is the world as its always been. But now we know about our carbon footprint. Now we know there’s a war on Christmas. Now we know what President Obama’s pastor once said in a sermon somewhere. Now we know what Sean Hannity and Chris Matthews consider to be worth writing a book about. Now we know how many pets were displaced by Hurricane Katrina and how big Paris Hilton’s lips are after the injections.

This isn’t a better world than the world of my parents. Oh sure, there’s better health information in there somewhere amidst all the hype, spin, ads and unadulterated crap. I guess we can all be grateful that we’re able to see the problems in the world we can each solve with a small monthly check, just before we learn if Tom Cruise really has Katie locked up in a tool shed on a Scientology ranch.

The information age is the ultimate double-edged sword. It’s brought to you by the same technology and information pipeline that brings you this blog. (A blog where, by the way, posts on egg nog are right next to the ones on starving children in the Sudan.)

My parents grew up in a world where a crisis was the ’37 flood taking away the farm or a world war taking away your brothers. They grew up in a world where television entertained and only occasionally sought to tell you what was important.

For my parents, what was important happened in your family, your neighborhood or maybe your county. Events in Washington or around there world were distant, and when they touched you, it was for reasons of obvious importance.

Were they ignorant? Were they under informed? Would their lives have been better if they could set in front of Fox News or CNN and watch the stock market’s every move?

I don’t think so.

They trusted a few sources of information. They believed that what they heard in church and Sunday School was what was really important. (And that came from their own pastor! Not a religious channel!!)

They believed in talking to their neighbors and family about what was going on in the community. Perhaps they needed to be overwhelmed by information, so they would know they couldn’t be happy without the stock market at 14,000 or a flat screen television. Perhaps they needed to be wired into the world-wide information superhighway, where “friends” are tiny pictures on facebook that may never say a word to you and “neighborhood” is the a collection of property belonging to other strangers you never talk to.

No…I think their world was better. And I say that with full knowledge that I never saw my parents read a book or listen to music that wasn’t on the radio. They were deprived of a lot, but their world wasn’t utter and complete chaos.

They didn’t believe the nonsense we believe. They weren’t enslaved to the consumer religion. They didn’t judge their children in comparison to anyone other than Wally and the Beaver. They didn’t judge their lives in comparison to the houses on the Better Homes Channel. They didn’t judge a meal by Rachel Ray or a church by Joel Osteen.

Media occupied its place in their world. They didn’t serve as pawns in the world of media.

And that’s what many of us have become. Pawns in a game where we hardly exist except as an audience for the information, consumer and entertainment establishment.

Shall we talk about pornography? The entertainment addicted personality? The damage to American health by the couch potato lifestyle? The philosophical relativism that lies at the heart of this construction of reality? The loss of our souls? The loss of simplicity and blissful ignorance?

For another day. For now, I’m just remembering the lives of my parents, and wondering if anyone has lived through the same sad revolution in the quality of our lives?

Would you consider anyone who lives submerged into today’s media culture to have much of a dependable idea of what it means to be a normal human being?

Yeah, me neither.

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