Do you know someone who tries to follow every commandment, injunction, rule, and ritual of his or her religion absolutely correctly? Within their faith they probably are considered to be exemplary examples of rectitude.
Religious belief, and membership in a faith community are important factors in the lives of many individuals. In addition to moral and spiritual guidance, they can provide a sense of purpose, structure and community. For certain individuals, religious beliefs become compulsive, joyless behaviors.
The individual may constantly worry that he or she might say or do something blasphemous. He may fear that he has committed sin, forgotten it and then neglected to repent for the sin. He may spend long hours searching his mind to try to ferret out evidence of un-confessed sins. He is unable to feel forgiven.
Specific obsessions and compulsions vary according to the individual's religion. An Orthodox Jew might worry that he did not perform a particular ritual correctly. He might obsess about this for hours. A Roman Catholic might go to confession several times a day. Another individual could believe that anything he does might be sinful. This individual might become so paralyzed with doubt, that he or she becomes afraid to do or say anything at all.
Sapient said that members of Radha Soami Satsang Beas, an India-based group with which I was associated for many years, are especially prone to scrupulosity, with many taking medication for anxiety problems.
I'm inclined to agree, though I also resonate with one of Roland deVries' (a RSSB official) favorite sayings about initiates: "Satsangis are run of the mill people." Meaning, they're as messed up as everyone else in the world.
I certainly had my own tendencies toward scrupulosity during my deeply devoted decades. RSSB initiates are supposed to meditate two and a half hours a day. I wore a watch with a countdown timer and set it for 150 minutes. I wouldn't let myself go to sleep at night until the timer had counted down to "0:00" and beeped at me.
It was ridiculous, really. There I'd be, sitting in as good an imitation of a meditation posture as I could muster late at night, half-heartedly/ mindedly passing the mantra repetition time until I could say, "Vow fulfilled for another day!"
Other initiates would obsess over the possible presence of eggs or animal rennet in some restaurant food, as if eating a few specks of something not on the official RSSB diet plan would make all the difference to their salvation.
These are symptoms of scrupulosity, for sure. Fear and anxiety replace positive emotions such as love and optimism. The religious experience becomes narrowly focused on not doing anything wrong, rather than on opening up to an expansive confident spirituality.
When I Googled for more information about scrupulosity, I found that the Catholic Church is well aware of its dangers and warns against falling prey to an excessive fear of sinning.
The idea sometimes obtaining, that scrupulosity is in itself a spiritual benefit of some sort, is, of course, a great error. The providence of God permits it and can gather good from it as from other forms of evil. That apart, however, it is a bad habit doing harm, sometimes grievously, to body and soul.
I particularly enjoyed browsing through some issues of the "Scrupulous Anonymous" newsletter. It's aimed at overly scrupulous Catholics, but contains wisdom for the overly rigid of all faiths.
I liked the message of Rev. Thomas M. Santa, C.Ss.R. in "Dance like no one is watching."
It doesn't matter if you are dancing with the music or dancing in spite of the music. To dance like no one is watching you is to experience the unburdened self.
Now imagine if you can, never being free enough to even give yourself permission to dance, even when no one is watching. Imagine yourself so burdened by guilt, so burdened by a false sense of responsibility, so burdened with a preoccupation of what another person might think or say if they observed you dancing.
To be burdened in such a way that you cannot experience a sense of freedom even when you are alone—what a burden that would be!
I believe that many scrupulous people are so burdened with guilt, fear, and anxiety, and with the preoccupation that they are always being measured and in some way come up short, that they have never experienced freedom. In fact, I believe that some members of our little group are so burdened that they mistrust any feeling of freedom.
It is almost like they have become so accustomed to not being free, that they seem to prefer it, even when an opportunity is presented that might lead to something new.
I believe that there are members of our little group who have never enjoyed the experience of dancing by themselves (and it really doesn't matter if it is dancing, it could be any other experience of pure freedom), and I am saddened by this thought.
I am saddened because I believe that the kingdom of God is a kingdom of freedom, especially freedom from burdens that are unnecessary.
How can a person who does not feel free become free? How can a person lay down the burdens of guilt, fear, and anxiety? It is possible, but it is not easy. Unfortunately, to become free you have to be willing to risk, to take a chance.
To become free, to experience freedom, means you have to be willing to take the chance of being discovered, observed, measured, and be willing to accept the consequences. In a very real sense, it means that you must be willing to step into the unknown, the uncharted, and the seemingly dangerous arena of faith.
In order to experience the freedom of a child of God, you must be willing to experience ordinary and everyday human activity without making the judgement that to be ordinary is somehow displeasing to God. To experience freedom means you must be willing to experience being human, and being human means being less than perfect.
For some people, the thought of not being perfect, or at least not trying to be perfect, is a very paralyzing thought and something that is very difficult to imagine, let alone experience.
Yes. But for RSSB initiates there's another complication. Many believe that the master who initiated them is perfect, a satguru, and also demands perfection of his satsangis.
As Rev. Santa observed, they aren't able to imagine that spirituality can be divorced from perfection. Being ordinarily human is unthinkable.
Well, each to his own. But it's difficult for me to believe in a God who demands such scrupulous attention to every command.
Flowing with the river of life, dancing freely to our own music – I think the oh-so-worshipful Tina gets it right.