Why Do I Have Bad Religious Thoughts?

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.

One of the hallmark tendencies of religious OCD is bad religious thoughts that won't go away.

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.

5-33% of people with OCD have religious obsessions and compulsions.

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.

There is both a biological and an environmental aspect to OCD.

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.

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.

Bad religious thoughts make you feel like you've eternally offended God.

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.

God understands our bad religious thoughts better than we do.

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.

Scrupulosity's 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.

Yes, 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.

less than 10% of people with OCD 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:

  1. 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!
  2. Educate yourself on scrupulosity. You can check out this and this popular post on my website, or check the videos I have on YouTube.
  3. Join a support group for scrupulosity. There are a couple of very supportive, private groups on Facebook.
  4. Read the book Can Christianity Cure Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder?” This is an easy read and full of powerful insights.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.

Conclusion

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. 

Having religious intrusive thoughts isn't your fault.

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,

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  1. 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

  2. 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

    1. Hi Greg,
      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,

      Jaimie

  3. 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!!! ??✨

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