How Atheism affects my OCD

My atheism has an impact on my OCD as weird as that seems. In the book Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?” by Ian Osborn, Osborn explores how scrupulosity has evolved through the ages. It’s a fantastic book even though it focuses on Christianity and recommend it to any one, from any background, suffering from scrupulosity. While I’m not Christian, I would say that I found the profiles covered extremely fascinating and easy to relate to. I bring up this book because scrupulosity and other forms of OCD are related to how responsible one feels about morality. An example Osborn gives is Renaissance Christianity.

According to the Roman Catholic Church, scrupulosity was almost unheard of prior to the 13th century but had reached an “epidemic” by the end of the Renaissance. (p. 31) The question one may naturally ask is why? What changed? It just so happened that the Fourth Lateran Council was assembled at the behest of Pope Innocent III in the year 1213. One of the issues dealt with was called Canon 21 aka “Omnis utriusque sexus” (which translates roughly to “all of either sex”) goes into the sacrament of confession. It commands that everyone must confess their sins to a priest regularly.

This introduced an element of self-reflection that did not exist prior to this. Now people had to evaluate for themselves what a sin was. Was that lust in my heart because I saw an attractive person? Did wanting to curse after stubbing my toe, a sinful act? To someone who has OCD this is a major problem. OCD has an aspect, that Dr. Jonathon Grayson described best, as an intolerance to uncertainty. At risk of oversimplifying, coupling hyper-responsibility with the concept of “sinful thoughts” and you have yourself the source material for religiously themed OCD  (more or less). It may come to surprise those with religious OCD that even atheists can have it. Atheists are not God deniers necessarily, but simply lack belief in a deity. Whenever I’ve entertained the idea of Pascal’s wager, my anxiety can and has “gotten the best of me” despite what I “know” about God(s). The desire to be certain has made me into an amateur religion scholar. I’ve read all kinds of material from philosophy, theodicy, apologetics to the Bible, Quran, Buddhist Sutras and the like. 

To an extant, my atheism inoculates me from religiously themed OCD. I’ve tried to be religious, but Christianity just does not compute for me. It’s particularly strange for me because, to a degree, atheism was a moral choice as well. Yahweh is a capricious character. If Yahweh were a person, he would be in jail or in an asylum for the criminally insane. It’s hard for me to worship a being I’ve come to believe was a sociopath. I lost respect for my beliefs and then lost my faith. It has became a square circle to me. While I found Buddhism to be very attractive as a religious philosophy this too gave me scruples. I would feel the pressure to attain “Nibbana” (aka Nirvana) in “this lifetime” which is important to Theravada Buddhists. I guess faith and I don’t mix well.

That said I can understand why someone may change their relationship with their religion in order for someone to remain one of the faithful.  The link has a great story of someone who became a Christian Universalist from Christian Fundamentalist. I really related to his story and found that he had the same type of OCD as me and for roughly the same reasons. Others have found that they to had a hard time with their religion, so you’re not alone in scrupulosity.

To come full circle, I don’t necessarily encourage one to be an atheist. I have no dog in the race anymore, but if you find yourself suffering from scrupulosity and religious OCD, know that I’m not interested in deconverting you. I would also say that your story is important because, like you, I understand how scrupulosity can rob you of peace. There are too many people who suffer from this, and speaking up may encourage someone to not live in isolation and take the next step towards finding treatment.

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