|THE RELATIONSHIP OF CHRISTIANITY AND OCD
An epidemic of clinical obsessive-compulsive disorder struck the
West during that great flowering of individualism known as the
Renaissance. The primary obsession that tormented large numbers
of Christians was fear of loss of salvation.
Remarkably, among those who developed what we now call OCD
were three of the greatest luminaries in the history of the Christian
religion: Martin Luther, John Bunyan, and Saint Therese of Lisieux.
Luther, architect of Europe’s sixteenth century Protestant
Reformation, is a figure of incomparable importance in entire the
history of Western civilization. Bunyan, author of the immensely
influential Puritan classic, The Pilgrim’s Progress, has perhaps
influenced almost as many people as Luther. Saint Therese, the
most popular Catholic saint of the present era, is also recognized as
a pivotal reformer in the development of Catholic doctrine in twentieth
century. Certainly all three of these remarkable individuals would be
included on any list of the dozen most respected and influential
Christians of the last millennium, and perhaps even of all time.
involved displeasing God and losing salvation. All three had other
types of obsessions as well, however, such as unwanted violent and
sexual thoughts. Their compulsions included endlessly repeated
prayers, confessions that could not be brought to a close, and
various repeated physical acts and gestures done for no reason
other than to fend off obseessional fears.
All three, even more remarkably, after receiving unhelpful advice from
their church elders, found a way to conquer their tormenting thoughts
through faith. Each found the same solution: Trusting absolutely in
God’s power and mercy. In psychological terms, they transferred the
responsibility for their obsessional fears to God.
It is worth noting that Luther, Bunyan, and Therese all believed that
their struggle with tormenting thoughts was, in the end, a very good
thing. It brought them to a closeness with God--a degree of faith and
trust--that they otherwise could not have accomplished. In this sense,
OCD proved to have been a grace for them. Their full stories are
contained in the book, Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive
Disorder?: A Psychiatrirst Examines the Role of Faith in Treatment.