Sin as OCD

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In a similar vein, I’ve already touched on the relationship between catharsis, repetition compulsion, salvation, and sin here

Man is an animal of repetition. Habits are formed so quickly. It never ceases to amaze me how quickly after a new semester starts, people settle on a specific seat that they will not give up for the life of them. After these unspoken seating arrangements have been decided, it is a major social faux pas to change seats mid semester. It is so interesting how much man hates change. Man does not really want freedom he wants a master. Obsessional neurotics are especially known for their rigidity and strict adherence to schedules (i.e. their hatred of choice). Obsessional neurotics not only fear God, but they try and usurp God. They want to occupy God’s position and control everything, also that way they don’t have to fear God’s wrathful judgment (i.e. their harsh internalized super-ego). Obsessional neurotics are most well known for their ritualistic obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors. Common compulsions might be washing one’s hands excessively or constantly counting. These repeated behaviors are often done against the person’s will, but he cannot stop because of the excessive anxiety that is generated if the ritual is not completed. Doesn’t this sound all too Pauline?

Romans 7:14-17:

14 We know that the law is spiritual; but I am unspiritual, sold as a slave to sin. 15 I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. 16 And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. 17 As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me.

Here I think we begin to come close to the relationship between OCD and the Chrisitan understanding of sin. Christ as liberator wanted to set people free. He enjoins us to not worry about tomorrow. His emphasis on radical freedom is the exact opposite of sin. Sin is that which enslaves us to death, evil, and the powers that govern this world. Sin is bondage, and the enemy of freedom. Sin is the No-saying to life. The OCD subject is here very close to the Pauline subject. The person is enslaved to patterns of behavior that they cannot help but repeat. They do not want to repeat them, but some inexorable urge compels them. These rituals are the ultimate No-saying to life as well.

How does one cure OCD? Interestingly enough, psychoanalysis is not a very good technique for ameliorating this condition. We could try and explore all day how the symptom developed and the cause behind the origin. Fortunately, it does not even matter for symptom relief. Research shows that using simple behavioral conditioning techniques are the quickest and most efficacious way to help relieve symptoms. Might we also be here given a hint as to how to re-think our relationship to sin? Isn’t it interesting that the Christian also looks so much like the person with OCD? A person with OCD often has the distressing idea that thoughts and behaviors are equivalent. For example, the idea of hurting someone makes him just as guilty as actually inflicting physical harm on that person. Christians are in a similar problematic position when they think that motivations are just as important as concrete behaviors (e.g. the way some Christians interpret the Sermon on the Mount). If the cure for symptoms of OCD is simple conditioning exercises, shouldn’t Christians also learn that the obsession with motives is really a big waste of time? If you want to no longer be enslaved to sin, stop worrying about motives and guilt and start learning how to implement pragmatic changes that will disallow this behavior. Otherwise, you’ll be stuck repeating the cycle forever. I guess I’m trying to say concerns with origins or motivations with regard to OCD or sin is really just an exercise in masturbation. And of course Lacan is right that masturbation is the jouissance of the idiot.

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4 Responses to “Sin as OCD”

  1. remy Says:

    I saw your post title and I thought it was Milbank’s sequel to his ‘psychoanalysis as modern confession booth’ comment, but I’m happy to say this is much more interesting.

  2. dbarber Says:

    “Obsessional neurotics not only fear God, but they try and usurp God. They want to occupy God’s position and control everything, also that way they don’t have to fear God’s wrathful judgment (i.e. their harsh internalized super-ego).”

    Isn’t there a possible positive sense here, though, of occupying God’s position? In the sense that one’s ritual action can mimetically harness some of the power of God while also warding off the capacity of this power of God to be turned against them? (Note that I may have in mind the proper definition of obsessional neurotic.”

  3. Jeremy Says:

    With regards to definition the difficulty is that the person with an obsessional character structure does not necessarily have the manifest symptoms I.e. (obsessions or compulsions). Whereas someone with an obsessional character tends to be very rigid, perfectionistic, mistrustful of emotions, and very interested in order and structure, the two do not necessarily overlap.

    I tend to think of the transcendent God-structure here as being an oppressive wholly Other force. So, I’d rather think the Godhead as kenotically emptying itself into the world and foreclosing the structure it previously occupied. i suppose there is a positive sense insofar as one can harness power by displacing God. However, what worries me about occupying the position is the fundamental Freudian lesson that the repressed often returns. I think this is what I was trying to hint at that even if they want to usurp God and occupy God’s position, they often internalize this No-saying God in their punitive super-ego.

    In his text on Nietzsche, Deleuze criticizes humanist who think they have done man a favor by divesting God of his position and putting man in his place. What I find especially convincing in Deleuze is his untiring refusal to allow transcendence, but rather maps out his entire philosophy on the plane of immanence. I’m sure you’re familiar with all of this, but I’m very drawn to a theology wholly divested of transcendence.

  4. dbarber Says:

    That’s a good point — definitely the dissolution of transcendence is preferable to the taking over of it. And I am interested, to put it mildly, in theology without transcendence. Looking over it again, I wasn’t thinking of the ocd subject so much in terms of occupying a place/position, but rather as “ritualizing” a force such that it can no longer operate as a transcendent other, and this precisely because of the ritualizing. A mimetic deflation or exhaustion.

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