Curing My OCD Christianity with Pope Francis

July 31, 2013

You probably already know this…FrancisPlane

Basically, Pope Francis is a rock star.  He just finished touring South America, where he was mobbed by thousands of cheering people on beaches.  There is nothing solemn, reserved, or shy about him.  He is magnetic.  I’m not a Catholic, but I like this guy a lot.

And as if a successful tour of a continent weren’t enough, Francis really made news while talking to reporters, going off-script, as it were, and uttering these words:

“Who am I to judge?”

You may already know the context of those words.  But if you don’t, you can read about it here.

My first thought was, “Who are you to judge??? You’re the freaking Pope, that’s who!  You can judge whoever the heck you want!”

But as the utter profundity, the ironic contradiction of the Pope’s words seeped into my mind, I realized something:

That much of my life, my faith has been broken.  It’s been saddled with an illness, an illness not unlike obsessive-compulsive disorder.  You know, the condition where the guy has to have everything just right, everything in its place.

This is my Obsessive-Compulsive Christianity.

The Know-It-All

Knowledge is power, right?

I was always the kid who believed that, who soaked up every fact in science class.  I never saw science as competing with faith.  But I have often believed that knowledge was the same as faith.  If I could just gather enough information, if I could just think hard enough about God, if I could just come up with the perfect explanation for this or that, then I would have God figured out, and all my problems would be solved.

A lot of us are in this kind of fact-finding Christianity, because we’re afraid of the “anti-intellectualism” that leads to sloppy theology.  So we obsess and nitpick and get stuck in the weeds on the teeniest of theological tidbits.

And you know what?  Being a scrupulous detective, gathering all the evidence and demanding a verdict didn’t get me any closer to Jesus.  I started to see Jesus most clearly when I realized I couldn’t put him under a microscope and figure it all out.  It was when I relaxed my hands and stopped clutching so tightly every assumption I had about Jesus, and embraced his mystery that He finally began to come into focus.

Clean-Freak Christianity

It must be tough to be a germophobe.

I mean, germs are everywhere.  I’m only half a germophobe, to the point where when I’m in a public restroom, I’ll leave the water running while I get a paper towel – to turn the faucet off.  And I Lysol the markers and pencils in my art room.  Think about it.

But what’s even worse is having a germophobic faith – the kind that I’ve struggled with for so long where all I see is the dirt, the grime, all the ugliness and the problems that plague the world.

Seeing the world that way never empowered me to do anything.  I never found the strength to just do something.  From my perspective, the problems of the world were so great, I didn’t even know where to begin.  I just threw up my hands and wanted to give up, feeling helpless, powerless.

Being a clean-freak Christian is no way to live.  Because dirtiness is everywhere.  None of us are clean.  And the world isn’t going to get clean.  But the world is also not ours to save.  The people of the world are not ours to redeem.  That’s God’s job.  He doesn’t burden us with every problem of the world.  We are just called to our little corners of the world and let God do what He does.

Who Am I to Judge?

And finally, we get to Francis’ words: “Who am I to judge?”

Well, I’m Matt, that’s who I am to judge.

As if it weren’t enough that I thought I had to know everything about God himself, and be paralyzed by all the world’s problems, I have spent so much of my life taking the job of judge upon my shoulders.

The Pope’s words seemed to echo God’s words to Job: “Who are you?  Where were you when I created all of this?”

See, I’ve come to believe that as Christians, most of us are pretty impatient with God. We believe that that God can change a person, but that almost never happens on our timetable, so we try to speed up the process to make people conform to us.  If the Bible is so clear on the topics we say it is, then why don’t we just distribute Bibles to people and let God do what God does?

Sorry about that.  Of course, that would never work.  God can’t be trusted to get the job done.

So often, I’ve confused my job description with God’s, because I don’t ask the question, “who am I?”  

I am not the judge.  I am not the savior.  I am just Matt.

I’m trying to be a little less OCD, a bit less obsessed with gathering all knowledge, solving all problems and judging all people.  So let’s hear from you.  Are you a recovering OCD Christian?  What has been your obsession?

24 responses to Curing My OCD Christianity with Pope Francis

  1. My Christianity was a mix and my deconversion was a mix too.
    But “know-it-all”, “everything-in-its-place” mentality was part of it.
    Ironically, that mind played a big role in the unraveling of my faith.

    For as I looked at so many different claims of many faiths, and the nature of human mind. I saw how we were all doing the same thing: putting holy rhetoric over our preferences. I began to be humbled at the silliness of all that. I realized that NONE of us had answers. I began to be real comfortable with “I don’t know”. And I felt a huge shared commonality with other people, lack of tribalism and more openness to raw experience which quickly replaced the clutching “in-Jesus’-name-I-pray” magic Christianity.

    I stopped pretending that my inner prayers were a real “conversation” with an all-powerful god with special access to forgiveness, wisdom and love, and started realizing that it was self-talk. Self-talk is fine, but no reason to dress it up in sacred clothing. And suddenly I was more able to share real conversations with real people. Forgiveness, confession, love all became more meaningful.
    Ironic, eh?
    Sabio Lantz recently posted..Your Banner: Women & Politics

    • Love it, Sabio. Thanks for sharing! I too realized how much of my prayers were self-talk. What has revolutionized my prayer life is discovering contemplative prayer as Thomas Merton taught it. Fewer prayers filled with anxiety, fewer prayers where I just ask God for stuff all day. Just resting in who God is.

      • Yeah, Matt. On my way out of Evangelical Christianity, I spent a year or so reading Thomas Merton and using contemplative prayer. It was at that time that I visited a Zen temple and realized that contemplation, without all the twisted theological mind-chatter, was more to my temperament. In fact Merton was far too Catholic for me. I always felt like he understood deeply, but that he could not escape his religion.

        Years later, as my blog reveals, even the stuff in Zen and other Buddhisms proved to be cloaked in presupposition and mind gymnastics.

        Just resting in silence, in a feeling, in a thought. All those are important to me now. Calling them “God” or calling my inner voice “God”, seems very odd.

  2. I love this, Matt.

    “And you know what? Being a scrupulous detective, gathering all the evidence and demanding a verdict didn’t get me any closer to Jesus. I started to see Jesus most clearly when I realized I couldn’t put him under a microscope and figure it all out. It was when I relaxed my hands and stopped clutching so tightly every assumption I had about Jesus, and embraced his mystery that He finally began to come into focus.”

    I absolutely believe that we should stand firm when it comes to Theology the Bible so clearly teaches, but we should also do so in a loving, winsome way. If the sun is going to harden the clay instead of melt the ice, then let the sun do its work without us getting in the way of that work.
    Don Sartain recently posted..Cicada Skins, The Glory of God, and Things Worth Saving

    • @ Don:
      Each sect of Christianity tells us very different opinions on the “Theology the Bible so clearly teaches”. I guess your saying we should “stand firm” in whatever conclusions you came to about Biblical theology.

      And if you came to the opinion that homosexuals should be stoned, women should not teach in the church or some other Biblically base theology, then we should “do so in a loving, winsome way.”

      Is that accurate?
      Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

  3. Calling that as sin that God my Father calls as sin is hardly being judgmental. Its called being a faithful son.
    Donald Borsch Jr recently posted..Post #6: I Love The Bible, But….

    • Donald, I guess you agree with Don. Heck with what the Pope says, the Bible tells us to oppress homosexuals and women and that is what we should do if we love God.

      Right? Maybe I am not hearing something correctly.
      Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

      • Sabio,

        No, you’re not hearing correctly at all. Calling something sin that God my Father has called sin is hardly seeking to be oppressive or hateful. Since they are not my words, but His, perhaps you should take it up with Him.

        As to what the pope says, who is he but a mere man? Was he there when God my Father made the heavens and the earth? Exactly. My God trumps all of man’s theology or opinions regarding the Truth.

        Now then, is calling sin as sin according to what God has said and says not what a son would do? It is exactly what a son would do, and is exactly what The Son did. To do otherwise is foolish and dangerous, even when a person seeks to challenge the holiness of God the Father by incorrectly using the love of The Son as justification, for do you honestly think Jesus would ever go against His Father’s will?
        Donald Borsch Jr recently posted..Post #6: I Love The Bible, But….

        • @ Donald Borsch,
          Actually, you are mistaken: your orthodox response shows that I understood your perfectly the first time.
          Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

          • Sabio,

            Your childish responses are tedious. You are not here to dialogue, but to complain. *yawn*
            Donald Borsch Jr recently posted..Post #6: I Love The Bible, But….

          • Sheesh–you two could’ve just saved yourselves some time and read each others’ blogs. It didn’t take a rocket scientist to predict how this exchange was going to shake out.

          • @ Donald:

            I am not sure what you are calling “childish”, but I think I understand your position and indeed, I think it is a classic orthodox opinion:

            — God wrote the Bible through men to convey his truths
            — The Bible is the unchanging truth of God
            — The Bible gives us moral standards that hold for all ages
            — We may disagree with what the Bible says, but we do so at eternal peril
            — If the Bible says homosexuality is a perversion and must be avoided, then it is true, no matter what you feel about the issue.

            That is accurate, isn’t it.
            And if it is, we strongly disagree with each other.
            And, I would wager that many Christians here disagree with you. There are lots of different kinds of Christianity. But I imagine you disagree with that too and think there is only one correct Christianity, yours. All the rest are either heresy or false teachings or some such thing.

            I think I understand you. Please do correct my childish foolishness if I am wrong.
            Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

          • @ Abby Normal,
            Yeah, I just looked at his site today — I was right from the beginning.
            I am surprised that more of your progressive Christians don’t challenge him here — but perhaps you know best to leave him alone.

            You may be surprised that I am very disliked by a large circle of atheists — known as an accomodationalist (a derogatory word in many atheist circles — not mine though). My background help my criticisms apply to both camps, actually. You might be surprised at my site.
            Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

  4. Man this is some great stuff!

    I conformed at an early age to what many churches said that Christians should look and act like on the outside. All it did was make me a legalistic prick, who thought that I was better than everyone else. God has since shown me otherwise. Naturally, judging came easy. Never out loud of course, but in my heart.

    Thanks for sharing!

  5. Yeah, I dig this new pope. He seems like someone I would enjoy hanging out with, getting a cup of coffee and shooting the breeze.

    I fully embrace the mystery that is God. I have dear friends who love Jesus passionately but often tell me that if I don’t have my theology one hundred percent perfect then I’m not doing my duty as a Christian. I respectfully disagree, I know I’ll never have God figured out because He’s too big for that. And if He is small enough to be fully comprehended by me then I say He’s not worth following.

    I need a great and mighty mysterious but loving Father, that knows me inside and out, accepts me anyway. Encouraging me to be better without hating me when I’m not.
    David Helms recently posted..Failing, Flailing and Required Reading

    • @ David Helms,
      Much of Christianity is about getting your theology straight for two reasons:
      (1) Most of Christianity is a “Believism” religion: get the right beliefs and you win heaven.
      (2) Most of Christianity feels the Bible is a text book for science, politics and more. Get it right, and you win here on earth too.

      So, you have to take the Bible less literally to escape those pitfalls, but progressive Christians have a hard time confessing that they realize that. Because such a confession exposes them as heretics among Evangelicals and many more.
      Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

  6. I’m kind of half amazed and half saddened by what the Pope has said.

    Amazed because it just boggles mind that “Who am I to judge?” is even considered such an earth-shattering notion.

    Kind of cynically depressed because I know that there are plenty of Really True Christians out there that are going to use this as yet more “evidence” that Catholics “aren’t really Christians anyway.”

    Even more depressed because in so many Christian circles, based on the comments I’ve already read regarding this issue, it’s still all about having the right opinion. How you treat anyone else doesn’t matter. Whether or not your actions are actually screwing up someone’s life, here and now, that doesn’t matter. Better to shun, mistreat, and screw with some of your fellow human beings than to risk giving them the idea that you might “approve of their sin”.

    I can’t read God’s mind, but I kind of hope that He’s more concerned with how I actually treat my brothers and sisters here on Earth than whether or not I’m sufficiently disapproving of them.

  7. Great article. I respect pope Francis. I just can’t support his office. It is like people worship him as if he were Christ himself. They believe that he is somehow ‘closer to God’ than the rest of us. The office of Pope basically takes away from the fact that all believers are kings and priests and all are one and equal in Christ.

    Isn’t it strange that at a time when the Catholic Church is coming under fire for child sex abuse rings, financial scandals and other scandals that Francis is ‘put on power’ much like a politician in order to represent the Catholic Church.

    The catholic doctrine still stands that the pope is the Vicar of Christ, Or representative of Christ or God in the earth.

  8. @ Dustin,
    Don’t you feel that many Protestants look at their charismatic preachers as “closer to God than the rest of us” also: Billy Graham, Jimmy Swaggart, N.T.Wright, Benny Hinn and many more.

    Looking for one person to teach us politics, biology, marriage principles, economics and more seems silly. Many do this with sport and movie celebrities. Some quote Einstein like his opinion matters in everything – not just physics.

    As for me, I think it is silly to do with Jesus too, but that is one step too far to you, I am sure. But my reason is the same.
    Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

    • Agreed. You bring up some valid points. In many cases, pastors have become the new popes in most Protestant churches. Many Christians believe that in order to hear a message from God, they have to wait until Sunday and hear it from their pastothrough a sermon.

      IMO, this has led to widespread spiritual complacency and has caused an unhealthy dependence on church institutions and pastors for spiritual growth. The Protestant reformation sought to re-establish the priesthood authority of every believer and do away with the hierarchical structure of the Catholic Church. But of you look around today, you will see a hierarchical structure still exists. Only instead of a pope you have a pastor.

      • Thanx, Dustin,
        The problem with the Protestant reforms is it also made Christianity into a “My Personal Jesus” religion. Everyone is a mystic and can talk to God and get the latest best truth — and so sect flourish.
        And now religion becomes a thing about getting that right feeling and the cult of Evangelical “my-personal-relationship-with-Jesus” developed. “Personal Relationship” — really? That is bizarre. (See my post on “Jesus, My imaginary Friend”, if you are interested.)

        Interesting thing is that these tensions exist in every religion. The pros and cons of Outer authority vs Inner Authority is a human phenomena. Religions put their own theological coats on it.
        Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

  9. Interestingly, I just found this post that a few commentors may like:

    Christian Pastor: Forget ‘Judge Not Lest Ye Be Judged’… You Should Judge People!
    Sabio Lantz recently posted..Most Christians Don’t Believe

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