The Null Device

Scrupulosity

Mental disorder of the day: Scrupulosity is a debilitating form of obsessive-compulsive disorder which takes the form of excessively fastidious religious observance, often in completely arbitrary ways, and fear of not being sufficiently devout or virtuous. It most commonly affects teenagers and recent religious converts:
Ciarrocchi has had patients who spend as much as 12 hours a day praying. He says he once treated a Third World-based priest who, after conducting his weekly outdoor Mass, would crawl on the ground searching for slivers of Communion wafer. In his mind, a priest had to be perfectly fastidious about discharging his holy responsibilities or else risk the wrath of God.
"Many people who are scrupulous have a notion that they're being watched," he says, "and one false move, it's curtains."
He recalls an Orthodox Jewish teenager who made so many promises to God — to drink only so many sodas a day, to visit 7-Eleven only so many times a week, to never switch radio stations midsong — that keeping track of them got logistically impossible. It became debilitating.

"He couldn't move," Mansueto says. "He literally couldn't get out of his chair."
The first five months of his new life were blissful. Then he became increasingly scrupulous. He would retreat into his room for hours at a time, memorizing about 300 Bible verses word for word. He'd dissect church sermons and agonize over his prospects of salvation.

" 'Do you really think I'm saved?' He'd probably ask me that 10 times a day," his wife says.

"It became a huge tormenting thing for me," he says. "I started fearing I was never converted or saved. I would have blasphemous thoughts, cursing God in my mind. I'd have to pray to get rid of it."
Evidence of the phenomenon of scrupulosity goes back to at least the 9th century (when the Christian church brought in the ritual of confession, and compulsive confessors were first encountered), and some say that famous religious figures throughout history, including St. Ignatius of Loyola and Martin Luther, were afflicted with this condition. (Of course, had they been "healthy", they may well have lived their lives out in contented obscurity.)

Fortunately, drugs such as Zoloft and Paxil can be used to treat scrupulosity. I wonder how many potential saints the world loses every year to modern psychopharmacology.

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