Rules of Religion
I sit in church, in agony, an oval of skin scratched raw between my thumb and pointer finger on both hands. I try to stop scratching my hands, but it feels impossible to stop. I feel like the worst person on earth for being in church, but the more I avoid going the harder it is when I’m actually there. My Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) has controlled religion for me throughout my life. Now, at 16 years old, I am finally realizing how OCD infiltrated religion for me.
My first memories of church are sitting with my parents because I had separation anxiety and refused to leave them to go to Sunday school. I remember words bad words, like sin, would always stick out to me. As I got older my attention would be draw to when the pastor talked about how we are sinners and imperfect, and I’d be so concentrated on that and feeling like a horrible person that I’d miss the part about how are sins are forgiven by God. I’d feel like an unredeemable sinner whenever I went to church so, naturally, I avoided going.
When I started confirmation in middle school (basically learning everything we needed in order to make the decision to confirm our faith) things started going down hill for me religiously. Whenever we would be learning things or reading from the Bible, my mind would come up with all of the questions and what if scenarios that it could possibly think of. Most of the questions didn’t really have answers, and the adults who were in charge of the small group I was in quickly got tired of my frequent questions (and I was only asking a tiny portion of what I thought). I felt like I wouldn’t ever be a true Christian because I kept questioning things.
I want definite answers, and religion doesn’t have answers to everything. They told me that God created everything, but who created God? I learned that the devil is completely evil, but is he really totally evil if he was at one point up in heaven with God? Satan was once with God and God forgives us, so can he ever forgive the devil and give him a chance to change? These are a few examples of questions that I will probably never get answered. Every time I have these unanswerable questions I feel extremely guilty for questioning the religion that so many people believe.
My confirmation attendance became rather sparing (mostly because I had volleyball practice). The times I did go became even harder. Pretty soon it came time to write my faith statement and get confirmed. I had no idea what to do, I still had so many questions and didn’t know what I believed. I didn’t want to be a fraud by having a faith statement I didn’t truly believe, but I also didn’t want to be forever condemned for not being Christian (I still haven’t quite figured out if that is realistic to be worried about or not, since Christians would probably tell me the fear is valid). I kept going back and forth about what to do, and I was in distress since my potential afterlife was at stake.
I ended up writing a faith statement (and also reading it in front of my small group and their families) and getting confirmed, while feeling like a huge fake and not sure I believed my faith statement. After that I dropped off the church radar for a while, afraid to go to church because I felt like such a fraud.
My next church experience came when some of my friend (who are Mormon) wanted me to go to church with them and see if Mormonism is for me. Not wanting to be rude (even though the idea of going to church, and this time a more strict version of Christianity, is terrifying) I agree and start going to church with them. Before I go on I want to say that there is nothing wrong with religion and I don’t think negatively of Christianity, not even Mormons. I say things how they feel to my because of my OCD, but I have a lot of respect for Mormons. In case you don’t know the Mormon religion is rather strict (3 hour service on Sunday, teens go to a seminary class before school, etc.) and my OCD loved it. I was shown a pamphlet talking about their standard and on it the dress code section said that shorts above the knee and bare shoulders are not appropriate, and I could no longer wear shorts or tank tops because I’d be a bad Mormon (even though I never converted to Mormonism). I tried following pretty much all of the rules, hoping that because the religion was more strict I would no longer have doubts.
However, adding more rules doesn’t fix an obsession, and my doubts got worse. My friends would ask me if I ever felt the Holy Ghost (also referred to as the Holy Spirit) and I didn’t feel a thing. They all said that they felt that church was so peaceful, an escape from their problems, but to me it was a battleground. I didn’t yet know what was going on, and I was terrified that God had just decided that I’m a terrible person and stopped forgiving me.
My parents saw me becoming obsessed with following the religious rules and trying to become a “perfect” Mormon, and told me that I couldn’t go to a Mormon church. They really meant well, but avoiding church gave my OCD all of the power.
I have since realized that my issues with religion come from my OCD, and I have recently started going to church. I’m not going to lie, it is really hard. While logically I know I am not an unforgivable sinner, at church I feel horrible, with the weight of all of my sins pressing down on me, reminding me that heaven is becoming less and less of a possibility for me (it really doesn’t help that I doubt that heaven is a real thing).
I quickly developed a compulsion of scratching my hands, somehow feeling that punishing myself makes my impurity less worse. However, since I feel the need to have symmetry, once I scratch one hand I have to do it to the other the exact same way. So, once I start I have a really hard time stopping scratching my hands since one feels more/less scratched then the other.
Despite how hard church is for me, I continue to go, and hope to be able to continue now that school has started (my OCD about school might interfere with me going). Going to church challenges my OCD, and prevents it from tightening its grasp on religion. OCD has taken so much from me, and an hour exposure every Sunday is a great and consistent way to slowly fight OCD as I am also working on other stuff. My goal is to be able to accept having uncertainty in my religious beliefs, and be okay with being an imperfect religious/non religious (whatever I decide) person.
I want to be able to believe what I want to believe about religion, even if it doesn’t necessarily fit into the mold of any religion. Each and every person is entitled to their own beliefs, but mine have been taken over by OCD. They are my beliefs, this is my life, and I won’t just sit back and let OCD control religion for my any longer.