Have you ever had bad religious thoughts so bizarre and unexpected that you didn’t dare tell anyone? Intrusive thoughts about religion or bad thoughts about God?
And did those thoughts keep coming back, making you really anxious to find a way to get rid of them?
You’re probably dealing with something called intrusive thoughts. Let’s talk about religious intrusive thoughts, where they come from, and the best way for you to respond.
What Is Religious OCD, and Can It Make Me Have Bad Religious Thoughts?
Have you ever heard of religious OCD? It’s also called scrupulosity, coming from the word “scruples.”
Scrupulosity is when obsessive compulsive disorder manifests itself in your spiritual life.
And one of the hallmark tendencies religious OCD is bad religious thoughts that won’t go away and make us very uncomfortable and anxious.
So we do all kinds of things neutralize, reverse, or get rid of that thought, but it keeps cycling back and giving us more distress.
Does that sound like you?
If so, don’t feel bad. It is estimated that 5 – 33% of people with OCD have religious obsessions and compulsions. And this statistic can be as high as 60% in highly religious cultures. Often, these individuals who have religious OCD will get nasty, sticky religious thoughts that feel inescapable.
I’ll give you a few examples of the most common ones.
- Cursing God or Jesus with profanity or blasphemy.
- Envisioning Jesus on the cross with an erection.
- The urge to deny your faith
- The urge to sell your soul to the devil, or the thought that you already have
- Feeling that you’re going to lose control during a religious service
- Thoughts about harm or violence in a religious context
If any of this resonates with you and you’ve never heard of scrupulosity before, I would really encourage you to take a scrupulosity quiz. With a short quiz you can look at some of the other aspects of religious OCD to see if it may be something you have.
Yes, let me take a free scrupulosity quiz!
And now, let’s talk about WHY these bad religious thoughts occur.
Why Does OCD Give Me Bad Religious Thoughts?
Scrupulosity is a theme that surfaces within OCD, but the exact causes of OCD are not fully understood.
Researchers are fairly confident that there is both a biological and an environmental aspect to OCD.
As in, nature + nurture.
This means that some people appear to be genetically predisposed to this disorder, and are triggered by certain environmental aspects. In some cases it can even involve learned behavior — for example, from a parent who modeled extremely obsessive-compulsive behavior.
In my view, it’s not really important to understand the cause for religious OCD.
About 2% of people all over the world have OCD. Some of them end up getting really concerned about washing their hands; some of them get weird obsessions about possibly hurting somebody; and some of them have these bothersome, repetitive thoughts on religious themes.
We don’t know the exact genetic, biological, or environmental aspects that converge together to result in a full-blown case of OCD. But what we do know is that these bad religious thoughts coming from scrupulosity are not sinful.
If These Bad Religious Thoughts Are Caused by OCD, Are They Sinful?
Typically, people with the blasphemous thoughts of scrupulosity are VERY disturbed by these ideas and try very hard to make them go away.
They are not holding onto these thoughts. They do not love or cherish them.
They’re disgusting. They’re scary.
These thoughts make you feel like you’ve eternally offended God, that you’ve committed the unpardonable sin, and that you will certainly be lost forever. But the worst part is that no matter what you do, you can’t seem to make them go away.
Yes, intrusive thoughts are powerfully scary things. These can include bad thoughts about God.
But it’s important to remember that these thoughts are not sin.
Hebrews 4:12 says “The word of God is…able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.” God understands our thoughts better than we do. He knows what we intended to think and what has come, alien-like, from beyond our conscious mind.
It is a deep act of faith to accept that God is better at interpreting our intentions than we ourselves are.
Scrupulosity is a mental condition that will put you into a cyclical game of self-questioning: did I really have that thought? If the thought came into my mind, I must have agreed to it, right? But I don’t want that thought, so how can it come from me? But maybe I really DID blaspheme…!
It’s a never-ending cycle.
Ultimately, these bad religious thoughts are not your own. And God understands that.
What Should I Do With These Blasphemous Thoughts?
I have seen people with scrupulosity get hung up on their intrusive thoughts for hours.
At its worst, religious OCD can be severely debilitating. In fact, the WHO estimates that OCD is one of the top 20 causes for illness-related disability, worldwide, for individuals aged 15-44.
Unfortunately, there is often so much shame connected with OCD of any kind that people who suffer from it don’t seek help. In fact, they estimate that less than 10% of people with OCD actually receive treatment.
These obsessions and compulsions can feel embarrassing and shameful. They can make you feel like you can’t talk to anybody about it without being seen as an apostate sinner. But there are ways to get these bad thoughts to go away.
The problem, though, is that the way to get them to stop is very counter-intuitive and feels very unnatural for the OCD brain. For this reason, it’s usually difficult to make progress by yourself. It’s really important to ask for help and not suffer alone.
If you have bad religious thoughts and believe it may be from religious OCD, here are some very practical steps you can take to get better.
Yes, that’s right — you CAN get better from this!
Here’s what you can do:
- Make an appointment with a mental health professional and get a diagnosis. Try to find an OCD specialist in your area if possible. And don’t be shy to share your intrusive thoughts — believe me, OCD specialists have heard it all!
- Educate yourself on scrupulosity. You can check out this and this popular post on my website, or check the videos I have on YouTube.
- Join a support group for scrupulosity. There are a couple of very supportive, private groups on Facebook.
- Read the book “Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?” This is an easy read and full of powerful insights.
- Talk to your loved ones about the disorder. Ask them to be involved in understanding your struggle and helping you get the treatment you need.
- Get consistent help to move beyond this disorder. Seek out a therapist who specializes in OCD or a pastor/priest/life coach who knows how to guide you through scrupulosity.
If you have bad religious thoughts, it’s important to remember that you haven’t done anything wrong to make this happen. However, there are many things you can do right in order to get better.
What has been your experience with religious intrusive thoughts? What have been your biggest struggles in finding effective treatment — lack of awareness, lack of professionals in your area, embarrassment, lack of insurance coverage…? Drop me a comment below.
Best wishes on the journey,
I have started having these awful thoughts just recently like the last few days this has never happened to me and I can't shake it I just want it to stop as it is effecting my mood on a day to day basis I have two wonderful children that I feel like I'm barely present for right now thank goodness they have a wonderful Dad to pick up the slack not only are these thoughts terrifying but never ending and make me feel like I am damned or convicted already to hell I would never want anything that these thoughts say maybe it is OCD just very confused cause this has never happened to me I am going to see a psychiatrist this week but I just want to know I am gonna be ok.
Hello— I’ve been afflicted with this condition for quite some time. Through religious counseling, seeing a psychiatrist, and medication, the symptoms subsided and eventually went away after several years. However, after a few months it seems to have come back… actually the past week or so has been particularly distressing; in order to overcome my obsessions, my compulsions were to start to ‘give in’ , for lack of a better term, to the obsessions (though not completely)— just a little to get the obsessive energy out. (These obsessions included horrible thoughts, etc.— even selling / promising soul, etc.). I know I would never do such a thing- I am committed to the Holy Trinity. So now I am REALLY going through compulsions because I feel guilty that I gave in a bit. I pray and meditate and keep trying to believe all is forgiven, but I feel awful and think i am corrupted and evil. It’s so hard fighting this— I am a committed Christian but now I feel that my soul may somewhat be compromised. PLEASE help.
So I have your typical religious OCD, but sometimes I question if the thought was intended or not, and I think I have done this so much that it takes me longer and longer to realize if the thought was intended or not, and now I simply resort to repenting it was with my full intention.
Thanks for taking time to do this, I watched a violent film recently with stabbing and heads chopped off and then i started having thoughts about this happening to Jesus and virgin Mary. I felt awful for this and apologised to God . I have been told by a therapist I have ocd. Will God forgive me for these horrible violent thoughts/images in my head? I really hate them.
I have gone to confession since might I add.
Thanks for taking time to do this, I watched a violent film recently with stabbing and heads chopped off and then i started having thoughts about this happening to Jesus and virgin Mary. I felt awful for this and apologised to God . I have been told by a therapist I have ocd. Will God forgive me for these horrible violent thoughts/images in my head? I really hate them..
Will God forgive me for a sexual thought of him??? I feel so weird having to even ask this.
Don’t feel bad for asking. This is OCD, and OCD is weird. OCD tries to make up the worst possible horror stories to scare you and get your obsessions and anxiety running. People with OCD have reported having sexual thoughts about God, about saints, about animals, about children, and more. The fact that these thoughts pop up and are severely disturbing and sticky is what makes them “ego-dystonic…”
Short answer: I do not believe ego-dystonic thoughts are sinful. They are symptoms of a mental health disorder. Therefore, there is no forgiveness to be sought. God has only understanding and tenderness for you.
Thanks for a valuable page and helpful article. You touch on so many good points and I wanted to share a piece of scripture that I found in the Bible that offers consolation and salvation for those suffering with this awful issue. From Romans chapter 7:
21 So I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body that is subject to death? 25 Thanks be to God, who delivers me through Jesus Christ our Lord!
So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in my sinful nature[d] a slave to the law of sin.
Forgiveness is available in spite of the body doing that which the mind did not will.
Great thoughts, Dirk–thank you for sharing! 🙂
I'm so thankful I found your articles. I don't feel so alone in this. I struggle with unwanted thoughts but the worst ones are the thoughts I have when I get angry, sometimes really angry and frustrated. I then have angry, violent, and extremely disrespectful thoughts about God. Since I'm feeling angry while having these thoughts, it really seems like I'm having them on purpose since it seems like the feeling of anger backs these thoughts up. I'm then filled with fear and anxiety that I've blasphemed God and can't be forgiven. I also have disrespectful thoughts towards God or the bible when I'm trying to use scripture to help myself in any given situation. It's like I'm rejecting God and blaspheming Him. The worst part is I really feel like it's on purpose and I feel doomed. Is this normal with this type of OCD? I ask God to deliver me but so much of the time I feel afraid, frustrated and condemned.
What is “normal?” God created us to be perfect, sinless beings in the Garden of Eden, and that hasn’t happened. So in a way, none of us under the curse of sin are “normal” according to the original pattern. But I can tell you that it’s very COMMON for people with scrupulosity to experience what you’ve described–angry thoughts towards God (sometimes for a specific reason, sometimes not) and lots of confusion as to why our thoughts and feelings seem so uncontrollable. What I can tell you is that God understands your struggle and does not condemn you. He’s FOR you and will help you through this.
Thank you for your reply. Your articles have been very helpful!
I cried the first time I found your page and now I find myself every single time I come back for reassurance so I know I’m not going crazy. I thought I was doomed, damned forever, I still get so scared and think why am I thinking this? What does this mean? And I obsess over it all the time. I never even realized it could be ocd until I paid attention to all my other symptoms,m. Saying words over and over until I feel better, making sure all the drawers in my room are closed or I feel like I’m going to have a night made, counting to the number 7 because I believe it’s holy and these have been happening for years. I would sleep with a rosary every single night or I felt I was gonna have nightmares. And recently I’m going through a divorce and it’s been terrible turned evil, bad thoughts, bad dreams, like I felt like the devil is in my head just so many things I hated, suicidal thoughts then I found your page… and when I say it saved me I mean it.. thank you for bringing clarity to my mind and heart you’ve helped me in more ways than you realize.. 🤍
I’m so glad to hear that you’ve found some clarity and insight into what’s happening. Praise God! It sounds like you’re going through a stressful time with divorce plus OCD…but you will pull through this. It’s interesting that you mention “making sure all the drawers are closed,” that’s not a purely “scrupulous” thing but is more related to symmetry OCD, and YES I have some of the same (I have an urge to close all closet doors 100%, but as I’ve worked my way through OCD I no longer give in to the urge). Fears of being lost and damned are very scrupulous and I can assure you that this is not the case; you are a beloved child of God and His hand is over your life, even in these dark moments. I do believe you would benefit much from seeking help for OCD and seeing if you can find a specialist in your area. You can actually check to see if there’s someone near you who specializes in scrupulosity by checking at iocdf.org/find-help/.
God’s blessings always,
I get this bad. And it’s u wanted, I count to seven all the time too because it’s holy, anything to do with 6 makes me feel dirty even though 6 alone is just man’s number, continuous whispering in my head that I’m damned no matter what and that I should really kill myself, it doesn’t help I’ve kind of been more or less alone the past four years, a vicious and sickening cycle indeed.
Hello, I don’t feel like myself. I feel like these thoughts just take over throughout my whole day. I hate these thoughts and they cause anxiety and fear. I just want them to go away. I don’t know if it’s me or the OCD. I know I don’t hate the Lord. These thoughts seem so crazy.
I get really bad thoughts about god every time I feel these thoughts are intentional
Thank you so very much for this article. I have been struggling with Religion OCD for a really long time now, and I would usually try to suppress it. It is enlightening that I'm not the only one( for a moment I thought I was going insane) going through this. I would appreciate some prayers for me, and I will continue to pray for everyone.
One thing I can tell you is that you are definitely not going insane! This is real struggle that many people with obsessive-compulsive disorder experience. Keep looking up!
I've suffer from blasphemous thoughts against the holy spirit since I was 15 when I first heard a preaching about the unpardonable sin and a bad thought imagining someone baseman popped up and I felt so guilty that it became an obsession, I've been to the borderline of going mad or feeling like if demons are taking over and I've also developed panic attacks and social anxiety as a result. I'm 36 now but this episodes of scrupulousity have lost months as an adult and a couple of years in my teen years, they seem to intensify when I seek God the most trying to live a life of holiness and service. I've taken zoloft prescribed by a psychiatrist of course, and it seemed help a little bit but I quit it because the thought of chemical dependency and the side effects of the pill bothered me.
That sounds like a really tough time you’ve had. Scrupulosity is no joke! It really can steal years of our lives if it isn’t managed and if you don’t have anyone to tell you HOW to manage it. The answer to these intrusive thoughts is very simple to understand but difficult to implement. Simply put, we learn to not respond to unwanted thoughts. I’m sure you know this already, because it’s easy to understand what “needs” to be done. But actually implementing that can be made easier by a few things:
1) Recognizing that you are NOT guilty for having unwanted thoughts pop into your mind, no more guilty than Jesus was when Satan tempted Him with unwanted suggestions
2) Developing a deep understanding that EVEN IF we are guilty of something, Jesus Christ is our Advocate and Savior — basking in what it really means to have God on our side can soothe and comfort the soul
3) Learning about the main attributes of obsessive-compulsive order to be able to more clearly identify the difference between valid spirituality and obsessive-compulsive spirituality. These broad attributes include chronic doubt, false guilt, control addictions, misconstruals of the character of God, spiritual trauma (in a minority of cases), and emotional reasoning. These are the 6 hit categories that I work through with my clients, and I always tell them that scrupulosity is very predictable and limited. It only plays around in these six areas.
Take courage in knowing that you don’t have a terminal disease. Scrupulosity does not have to last forever and it will not kill you. You can get through this and live life again.
God’s blessings always,
I greet you Jaimie. I really appreciate you making this page for OCD sufferers like me. It is quite helpful. In addition to blasphemous thoughts tormenting me, I am tormented by the doubt of having said them verbally. It's exhausting and at times I don't know how to deal with them. I send you a great and affectionate greeting. God bless you
I totally understand, Matías. Very exhausting! But you’ll make it through. God bless you!
I suffer with the exact same thing! Worrying whether I might have verbalized an intrusive blasphemous thought randomly.
Hello and thank you for kind of explaining some of this to me. I fight on a daily basis with unpure thoughts that just come into my head. Ive been saved since 2000 and was very deeply rooted in my faith to the extent of being a small group leader, Sunday school teacher and even an Awana leader. I ran into some health problems in 2007 and it really hurt my relationship with God as i almost died and was in a coma. My family and I had been church nomads for years until we found our current church, but im still not rooted, and since the Covid we havent been to church since April of this year. As im non highly susceptible to getting things, as well as my son who has a rare kidney disorder. For some reason impure thoughts about God just started popping up in my head. I dont know if its because i got out of the word and started reading secular books by various authors or what. But things about God pop up out of nowhere and as much as I pray and pray for those thoughts to stay out of my head they just keep coming back. The latest one was something about Mary Jesus mother, i forget exactly what it was but it wasnt nice. Where do these things come from? I cant really talk to anyone about this stuff as im deeply ashamed and dont even know what i would really say. I do take medication for social anxiety, but im also a little OCD as well and like things to be in order, eat the same things practically every day, etc.. I took the Scrupulosity test and it said i was only 10% and a very low likely of having it. I guess its just nice to get it off of my chest to someone if you actually read this or not. Ive been afraid for years to even type any searches online as I feel like that would leave myself open to more evil in this world if I typed it and a target for Satan. Anyway if you do read this, and could give me any kind of guidance or even pray for me I would greatly appreciate it. This stuff is killing me. I love the Lord even though i dont act like it alot of times and I can never be grateful enough of the sacrifice he made for me. – Thank you
Thanks for sharing your experience. I’m sure there are others who will resonate with it. There are a few things you’ve mentioned that are common for people with scrupulosity, such as having unwanted and repetitive intrusive thoughts, deep shame about these thoughts, and ritualistic avoidant behaviors. It doesn’t mean you have scrupulosity, but probably you have a few things in common with us. 🙂 Not everyone with scrupe will check off everything on the test, so it could be that a) you don’t have scrupulosity strongly enough to rank high on the test, or b) your OCD only manifests in a few specific areas.
Anyways, I’m not the one to diagnose you — you would want to go to a mental health professional for that. What I try to help with is the spiritual interpretation that we put on these troublesome thoughts.
So let me interact with a few things you mentioned. You mentioned the possibility that these thoughts are popping into your head because you drifted from the Word and were reading other secular authors. One way you can figure out if these troublesome thoughts are doubts caused by your other readings or if they are OCD-type intrusive thoughts is to analyze the pattern of these thoughts. Are they repetitive, anxiety-inducing, unwanted, and temporarily answerable? OCD-type intrusive thoughts can be soothed by a good answer today but will pop right back up tomorrow. On the other hand, genuine theological doubts will be more or less consistent until you change your beliefs OR find a really good answer, after which point they will go away.
Not knowing what your exact thoughts were, this is the best I can suggest. If your “impure thoughts about God” and Mary are things like “maybe the virgin birth is a myth,” that would fall under the above category of theological doubt vs. OCD doubt. If it’s something more like unwanted sexual thoughts about Mary or Jesus, and is accompanied by panic, disgust, and fear, I would automatically classify that as a religious intrusive thought.
Don’t know if that helps you categorize or analyze in any way, but hopefully it gives a little direction.
Whatever the case, remember God understands your thoughts better than you do! He’s got you in His hands. You’ll make it through.
All the best,
Hi, I'm a Christian and God is so amazing! I try my best not to forget to thank Him everyday. And I recently I've been getting bad thoughts about Him and it effects me a lot, especially since I love God very much and am trying to build a better relationship with Him. I try to make them stop and I try to do everything I can to make it stop, but reading this, helped me a lot. Much love. ❤❤❤
God bless!!! ??✨