This post is part of a series.
I have previously catalogued my exodus from the bondage of Arminian Holiness to the peace of Reformed Theology, and was reminded of its horrors today when listening to a recent episode of This American Life (Show 507), in which Catholic priest Fr. Thomas Santa discussed, somewhat nonchalantly, the seemingly common and well known problem of pathological scrupulosity in Catholic circles.
Essentially, scrupulosity is a form of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) that is, in my observation, often CAUSED by (not just exacerbated by) works-based religious systems – that is, systems whose forgiveness is based upon strict obedience to good works, which is the majority of non-Christian religions in the world.
Not surprisingly, this is such a big problem in Catholicism that there is an entire subculture dedicated to describing, treating, and (mis)-understanding its origins and treatment, including Santa’s book Understanding Scrupulosity.
This interview put a bee in my bonnet because this horrific torment would not exist if it weren’t for Catholic and Protestant (primarily Arminian) churches that poison the gospel with works-righteousness and sanctification. It’s offensive and cruel.
The Interview I Heard
Read this partial transcript of the show and listen to the priest try to treat scrupulosity as if it’s not the fault of the Catholic works-based emphases, I find it sickening:
Father Santa says that there are two different kinds of scrupulosity. There are the people who are just not sure what is a sin and what is not a sin, and they’re getting very stressed out about that. That is pretty straightforward to deal with, he says. A priest just needs to patiently talk these people through what counts as a sin. And usually over the course of months, the anxieties fade.
Much more difficult are the people who have an actual psychological disorder, whose scrupulosity is tied up with what priests have come to understand in the last three or four decades is obsessive compulsive disorder. Like for instance, a man who felt that he could not get out of bed in the morning until he believed that he was doing it in a pure way that would not offend God. Or people who believe that they are constantly blaspheming God.
Or a woman who thought that if she left her house unlocked, it would put her whole family in danger, which she believed was a sin. So she would check the lock over and over and over and over.
Father Santa says that in confession, these people describe their sins without feeling. They do it almost mechanically. They ask the same questions over and over, not accepting the answers that they’re given. He calls this the scrupulous ritual. He says that the only thing that can help these people is therapy, behavior modification, drugs.
Does he not see that people are getting very stressed out because works-based religion makes people legalistic and insecure based on the reliance on performance to please God?
Many outside of Catholicism have never heard of scrupulosity – but it exists in Protestant camps too, esp. within the holiness churches, and it is deadly to faith.
To be saved from this false gospel, you must realize that you don’t need to do one bit of good to be saved from your guilt, nor do you have to attain perfection in any sense. I’ll cover the whole reason why in Part III. Until then, take this passage into your heart and let it give you peace.
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. ~ Ephesians 2:8-9 (NLT)
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. ~ Ephesians 2:8-9 (NKJV)
NEXT: Part 2