Bad Religious Thoughts and Scrupulosity

Why Do I Have Bad Religious Thoughts?

FAQ

Have you ever had bad religious thoughts so bizarre and unexpected that you didn’t dare tell anyone?

And did those thoughts keep coming back, making you really anxious to find a way to get rid of them?

You’re probably dealing with something called intrusive thoughts. Let’s talk about religious intrusive thoughts, where they come from, and the best way for you to respond.

What Is Religious OCD, and Can It Make Me Have Bad Religious Thoughts?

Have you ever heard of religious OCD? It’s also called scrupulosity, coming from the word “scruples.”

Scrupulosity is when obsessive compulsive disorder manifests itself in your spiritual life.

And one of the hallmark tendencies religious OCD is bad religious thoughts that won’t go away and make us very uncomfortable and anxious.

One of the hallmark tendencies of religious OCD is bad religious thoughts that won't go away.

So we do all kinds of things neutralize, reverse, or get rid of that thought, but it keeps cycling back and giving us more distress.

Does that sound like you?

If so, don’t feel bad. It is estimated that 5 – 33% of people with OCD have religious obsessions and compulsions. And this statistic can be as high as 60% in highly religious cultures. Often, these individuals who have religious OCD will get nasty, sticky religious thoughts that feel inescapable.

5-33% of people with OCD have religious obsessions and compulsions.

I’ll give you a few examples of the most common ones.

  • Cursing God or Jesus with profanity or blasphemy.
  • Envisioning Jesus on the cross with an erection.
  • The urge to deny your faith
  • The urge to sell your soul to the devil, or the thought that you already have
  • Feeling that you’re going to lose control during a religious service
  • Thoughts about harm or violence in a religious context

If any of this resonates with you and you’ve never heard of scrupulosity before, I would really encourage you to take a scrupulosity quiz. With a short quiz you can look at some of the other aspects of religious OCD to see if it may be something you have.

Yes, let me take a free scrupulosity quiz!

And now, let’s talk about WHY these bad religious thoughts occur.

Why Does OCD Give Me Bad Religious Thoughts?

Scrupulosity is a theme that surfaces within OCD, but the exact causes of OCD are not fully understood.

Researchers are fairly confident that there is both a biological and an environmental aspect to OCD.

As in, nature + nurture.

There is both a biological and an environmental aspect to OCD.

This means that some people appear to be genetically predisposed to this disorder, and are triggered by certain environmental aspects. In some cases it can even involve learned behavior — for example, from a parent who modeled extremely obsessive-compulsive behavior.

In my view, it’s not really important to understand the cause for religious OCD.

About 2% of people all over the world have OCD. Some of them end up getting really concerned about washing their hands; some of them get weird obsessions about possibly hurting somebody; and some of them have these bothersome, repetitive thoughts on religious themes.

We don’t know the exact genetic, biological, or environmental aspects that converge together to result in a full-blown case of OCD. But what we do know is that these bad religious thoughts coming from scrupulosity are not sinful.

Bad religious thoughts coming from scrupulosity are not sinful.

If These Bad Religious Thoughts Are Caused by OCD, Are They Sinful?

Typically, people with the blasphemous thoughts of scrupulosity are VERY disturbed by these ideas and try very hard to make them go away.

They are not holding onto these thoughts. They do not love or cherish them.

They’re disgusting. They’re scary.

These thoughts make you feel like you’ve eternally offended God, that you’ve committed the unpardonable sin, and that you will certainly be lost forever. But the worst part is that no matter what you do, you can’t seem to make them go away.

Bad religious thoughts make you feel like you've eternally offended God.

Yes, intrusive thoughts are powerfully scary things.

But it’s important to remember that these thoughts are not sin.

Hebrews 4:12 says “The word of God is…able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God understands our thoughts better than we do. He knows what we intended to think and what has come, alien-like, from beyond our conscious mind.

God understands our bad religious thoughts better than we do.

It is a deep act of faith to accept that God is better at interpreting our intentions than we ourselves are.

Scrupulosity is a mental condition that will put you into a cyclical game of self-questioning: did I really have that thought? If the thought came into my mind, I must have agreed to it, right? But I don’t want that thought, so how can it come from me? But maybe I really DID blaspheme…!

It’s a never-ending cycle.

Ultimately, these bad religious thoughts are not your own. And God understands that.

Scrupulosity's bad religious thoughts are not your own. And God understands that.

What Should I Do With These Blasphemous Thoughts?

I have seen people with scrupulosity get hung up on their intrusive thoughts for hours.

Yes, hours.

At its worst, religious OCD can be severely debilitating. In fact, the WHO estimates that OCD is one of the top 20 causes for illness-related disability, worldwide, for individuals aged 15-44.

Unfortunately, there is often so much shame connected with OCD of any kind that people who suffer from it don’t seek help. In fact, they estimate that less than 10% of people with OCD actually receive treatment.

less than 10% of people with OCD receive treatment.

These obsessions and compulsions can feel embarrassing and shameful. They can make you feel like you can’t talk to anybody about it without being seen as an apostate sinner. But there are ways to get these bad thoughts to go away.

The problem, though, is that the way to get them to stop is very counter-intuitive and feels very unnatural for the OCD brain. For this reason, it’s usually difficult to make progress by yourself. It’s really important to ask for help and not suffer alone.

If you have bad religious thoughts and believe it may be from religious OCD, here are some very practical steps you can take to get better.

Yes, that’s right — you CAN get better from this!

Here’s what you can do:

  1. Make an appointment with a mental health professional and get a diagnosis. Try to find an OCD specialist in your area if possible. And don’t be shy to share your intrusive thoughts — believe me, OCD specialists have heard it all!
  2. Educate yourself on scrupulosity. You can check out this and this popular post on my website, or check the videos I have on YouTube.
  3. Join a support group for scrupulosity. There are a couple of very supportive, private groups on Facebook.
  4. Read the book Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?” This is an easy read and full of powerful insights.
  5. Talk to your loved ones about the disorder. Ask them to be involved in understanding your struggle and helping you get the treatment you need.
  6. Get consistent help to move beyond this disorder. Seek out a therapist who specializes in OCD or a pastor/priest/life coach who knows how to guide you through scrupulosity.

Conclusion

If you have bad religious thoughts, it’s important to remember that you haven’t done anything wrong to make this happen. However, there are many things you can do right in order to get better. 

Having religious intrusive thoughts isn't your fault.

What has been your experience with religious intrusive thoughts? What have been your biggest struggles in finding effective treatment — lack of awareness, lack of professionals in your area, embarrassment, lack of insurance coverage…? Drop me a comment below.

Best wishes on the journey,

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Jaimie Eckert

Scrupulosity Coach

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