Scrupulosity

I came across a new word. It describes a spiritual and a psychological problem. Psychologists coined the term--"scrupulosity." In its extreme, they see it as an obsessive-compulsive disorder.

"Scrupulosity is an extreme version of what is normally moral and devout," says Allen Weg, a psychologist who is vice president of the New Jersey affiliate of the Obsessive-Compulsive Foundation. "These people are always concerned that they are doing the wrong thing or are evil in God's eyes" (cited by Steve Chambers in a 1999 Religion News Service feature).

Since reading Chambers' article, I have thought long and hard about this thing called scrupulosity. Who suffers from it? How much of it is purely spiritual? Does it infect you and me? If I were to define it, I'd say it is always striving for perfection, always falling short, and always feeling guilty about it.

I have many questions: Can anyone who experiences the daily urges of original sin and knows the shame of sin not have symptoms of scrupulosity? Can anyone who knows the demands of our holy God escape it? How can we, when we know our own shortcomings, ever have a true sense of well-being? If you sense the shamefulness of sin, how can you not be driven by this compulsion?

I wonder about symptoms: Have you ever found yourself repeating the Lord's Prayer over and over again, fearing that you didn't say it quite the right way or didn't embrace its every thought? Do you beat yourself up mentally over errors you made long ago and for which you've asked forgiveness? Do you fear that if Jesus came today, you're not quite ready--haven't quite cleaned up your life enough yet? Do you continually repeat your own private rituals in an effort to make things "right" in your life? Do you tend to think that a less-than-perfect Christian may not be a Christian at all?

If you answered yes to any of the last five questions, you likely suffer from a touch (at least) of scrupulosity. Probably, no one else knows about it because you suffer it in silence. But you know.

In its extreme forms, scrupulosity drives addictive behavior for which a person should seek a psychologist's help. But, for our purposes, let's stay with spiritual concerns. You can suffer from a form of scrupulosity without needing a psychologist.

You do, however, need to scrupulously examine again what God has done for you. What we are dealing with here is not at all new. It has long been known as "works righteousness" or "perfectionism." It's safe to say that we all are infected with a measure of it because it is the tendency of our natures.

The spiritual antidote for this compulsion is so simple as to be difficult. We call it the good news, and we receive it in Jesus. In a word, it is "forgiveness."

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