Surely no one feels that way! Surely this is only a caricature of Christians made up by atheists, who want to paint us all as timid, brainwashed cowards, trembling in fear of a vengeful deity so that we never have a moment's peace, in spite of all our insistence that Christ brings us joy.
|J-Jesus loves me, this I kn-know!|
I wish that were true. I wish that no genuine Christian lived under the shadow of such fear! I wish that it only ever happened in cults, or in anti-Christian political cartoons or the like. The reality, however, is that many legitimate Christians do deal with these fears, on a greater or lesser scale. And, at least sometimes, I'm one of them.
You see, there's a condition called "Scrupulosity." It's sort of like having a type of spiritual OCD, specifically the OCD where you think everything is filled with deadly germs. Only instead of germs it's sin, and instead of disease it's hell. At its worst, scrupulosity makes you see sin everywhere you turn. I'll give a personal example: There have been times when I thought that, just by having material possessions beyond the bare minimum needed to survive, I might be sinning. And in the most extreme moments of scrupulosity, I have feared that this would land me not even in Purgatory, but in Hell itself. That's right: For the heinous, unthinkable sin of having a nice home and several luxuries that most Americans (even those in poverty!) have, I feared I would roast for all eternity. That sort of thing is the power that scrupulosity can have, at its worst.
It's not always that bad. Most of the time, even when I suffer from scrupulosity, I'm able to keep the fear of hell on the back burner, but I still have the irrational fear that, even if I make it to Heaven, there will be some everlasting consequence I'll face for not eradicating some (quite probably imagined) sin out of my life. Even if it's only that, in Heaven, I'll be like one of those servants from the parable of the ten coins in Luke 19, who was not given charge over as many cities because he didn't earn as many coins as his fellow servants. And somehow, despite knowing that in Heaven everyone is happy, despite that in the parable itself these are all portrayed as happy outcomes except for the servant who literally did nothing with his original coin, I still worry that I'll be in distress over not having tried for "more cities" while I was here below.
|It's like a Cosmic board game!|
(But no rematch and the results are eternal...no pressure)
The main thing is that, when scrupulosity asserts itself, I second guess myself at every turn. Something I thought I'd finally reasoned was morally acceptable suddenly seems not so much. I begin to distrust my motives. Those arguments that once offered me freedom from thinking some minor thing is sinful start to look like transparent attempts at self-justification. Going to confession over anything but obvious mortal sin becomes far too much a hassle, because I'll begin to make a sin out of anything and everything, and then grow scrupulous about even confessing things (like owning material luxuries) that I obviously don't firmly intend to "amend."
So that's a glance at scrupulosity, for those of you who do not experience it yourselves. For those of you who do experience it, I don't have any enlightening answers. I hear that getting a wise spiritual director and obeying him in everything is a huge help for scrupulosity. I still have to do that, as of my writing this entry. I do know that Jesus, and by extension the Catholic Church, does not want us to be so petrified. This is not the "easy yoke and light burden" Jesus promised. So whatever else can be said, our scrupulosity is not just "part of being religious." Other than that, I have no advice. Just know that you're not the only one who is plagued by such fears, fears that you know must look ridiculous, but that you just can't seem to shake. I feel, and know, your pain.