Very few things are truer than this. Or at least in the U.S. Unfortunately.
This is something I often wondered growing up as I did, raised by a very devout Christian widow who…well…let’s just say it was very important to her that her children would go to heaven. Which is why to this day I have never told my mom I no longer believe, and haven’t believed in what is now three years or more.
If I were to imagine heaven, it would be a place where there are no tears, no sadness, no heartache, no despair, no disappointment, no discouragement, no worry, no regrets, no hunger, no thirst, no loneliness, no yearning for things to be different. Heaven would be all the best things I could ever imagine, like all the most breathtaking natural beauty the earth could offer, only so much more, the colors so much brighter, the sounds so much sweeter. The air would be like standing in a grove of lilac trees, or in the center of a greenhouse filled with roses. All would be so glorious you’d want to stand there forever, drinking it in, content to stay still in that moment forever.
As a Christian I had friends who were not, family who were not. And it bothered me. Really really bothered me. My dad’s cousin Evelyn died, and she was an atheist who told me once to my face she had never sinned. Because she did not believe in sin–which in her view was a man-made invention that made religion necessary. So when Evie died, I was very sad. I didn’t want to think of Evie in hell. It upset me to think of such a wonderful loving lady in such a horrible place.
I have heard it said that hell is not what the bible describes in a literal sense. Hell is to be eternally separate from God. Hell is to be able to gaze across a divide at all the joys of heaven, and not be able to go there, not be able to be among all those happy people, but to be stuck forever and ever in a place apart from God. That’s what hell is.
Now if I were one of those lucky people who managed to make it into heaven, and I looked across and I could see–or even if I couldn’t see, but I just knew, I had friends or family like Evie, in some other place, and they were suffering. If I knew that because of choices they made in their life as puny and ignorant mortals they were doomed to be punished forever, unforgiven, to a place of despair, of sadness, of pain, of separation, of never knowing the utter bliss I was getting to enjoy… Would that be very nice for me? Would I be in heaven? Would heaven be a happy paradise for me, if I knew across the divide there were people I knew and cared for, suffering–and doomed by my God to suffer forever? Would that be a happy thing for me?
The only way I would find Heaven a happy place for me under those circumstances, would be if God made my heart very hard so I wouldn’t care anymore. So I would regard those friends I once cared for and family I cared for as deserving to languish in agony and despair forever. They would be like my enemy and I would feel how right it was for them to suffer for eternity while I enjoyed happiness beyond my wildest dreams.
If I had to have my heart hardened for Heaven to be a happy place for me–for me to no longer care about people I once cared for now having to suffer, how much more brittle and hardened would God’s heart have to be, considering he supposedly is merciful and “love” is one of his names? For him to be merciful and loving by nature, and yet able to condemn billions of souls to eternal torment and still go on his merry way being happy in his paradise despite all that suffering going on….wouldn’t he have to shut his ears and harden his heart and cease to be merciful and loving?
He would no longer be a loving God. He would no longer be a merciful God. He’d be a cruel and unforgiving God–by so enforcing an eternal horrible punishment upon mortal beings who did for whatever reason, not jump through the right hoops while they were living, and so now they must suffer forever.
It would be different if the rule book were crystal clear and not subject to this interpretation or that interpretation. But the rule book is not clear. There are verses in the bible that contradict other verses. The bible says Thou Shalt not Kill and yet time and time again God kills, or orders his followers to kill. There is a verse that says not by works are you saved, but it is a gift from god, and there’s another verse that says good works are just a part of what you must do to have eternal life. There’s a verse that says you should make it known what good works you do, and another verse that says you should keep it secret, and not boast.
Which verses are the correct ones, and which are not? Why are there cities placed in the wrong countries in the bible? Why was there a census mentioned in the bible shortly after Jesus’ birth, but the year is off–there was no census at that time per actual history?
If God’s good news is so important, so critical that the punishment is so horrible indeed for those of us who don’t hear or hear but don’t believe…then why isn’t God’s word perfectly clear? Wouldn’t God insist on it being absolutely clear? Without flaw? Without human tampering? And if our salvation is so important to God, why does he not simply make his existence fact, rather than keep us all guessing? In all the world there is not one scrap of non-biblical proof of the existence of God, or Jesus for that matter. Now if God is real, and if his good news is real, and if our salvation is so important to him, so we don’t end up in hell suffering forever while he, God, is forced to shut his ears and turn his back and never forgive–why isn’t evidence of his existence or Jesus’ existence, as plentiful to find as the bones of dinosaurs are? Why doesn’t God appear and end the doubting that will ultimately cost so many eternal life? Or for that matter, why did God make Lucifer in the first place, or human beings so fallable as to be capable of sin and then place them right where he knew his imperfect angel was lying in wait?
Or if God doesn’t want to appear? If our salvation isn’t worth him revealing himself, why not perform the impossible to prove miracles really do happen? Like, allowing the amputee who has been praying really hard, to have his lost arm or leg grow back? Or give the woman who had her eyes gouged out by the chimpanzee, new eyes–regrow them in her head? If God can do anything, these things would not surpass his power–and would leave very little doubt that the supernatural exists. And yet he doesn’t.
Anyway, I have digressed and I’m sorry. My point is, even if I were still a Christian, and even if I did make it into this paradise Christians look forward to. It wouldn’t be heaven to me because I would know my Aunt Evie was being punished in hell–and she was a really neat lady who does not deserve torment and pain for all eternity. So heaven would become hell for me, knowing Evie isn’t there and knowing there’s nothing I can do to appeal to this merciless deaf God to hear her cries of torment and forgive.
That wouldn’t be heaven for me, and that would not be a god I would even want to follow.
I’m not going to bore people with long paragraphs copied and pasted from other websites written by people who actually know what they’re talking about. For me it’s an interesting subject and so I’ve read up a little. If you want facts rather than my just throwing out thoughts of things I’ve read, there’s this thing called GOOGLE. You can Google the various words for one kind of human. They range from psychopath, sociopath, antisocial personality disorder. If you want the facts, and why the terms referring to the same personality type have changed over the years, you can read about it too, like I did.
So here are my thoughts about the two kinds of human that exist. Most of us know there are two kinds. We don’t need some psycho-babble label for it. There are givers and takers. I think we’d all agree on that–I’m sure every human being has met both. So what makes a taker a taker and a giver a giver? And what about users? Are they just like takers, or…something else?
Not to say being a giver is always a good thing. A lot of givers give in order to get, whether it be a thing, or a feeling, or attention, or love, or shelter or security, or children, or whatever. A lot of people with low self esteems are givers–perhaps because they feel they have to compensate for not being enough. I do that myself, and have done for years, making me a prime target for…that other kind of human. But I digress. Some people feel they have to give to fulfill their part of a contract or agreement. For example. say I’m married to you so we have sex (or at least early on we do until I tire of it), even though I don’t like sex and could live the rest of my life without it. Yes believe it or not, some people, men and women alike, don’t like sex. But they want to be married, they want love, they want a family and all the joys that come from having a family and companionship, so…they put up with the sex. They learn to enjoy things about it like…being close to the person they love. But the act itself…they could take or leave.
That’s a giver giving because he or she believes it’s part of the arrangement. Part of getting what they want means giving what the other person wants. The bad thing about this kind of giving is eventually the giver gets tired–and then perhaps that happy situation starts falling apart.
There are also those really wonderful noble people who truly love to give purely for the joy of giving and not to get anything back or achieve any agenda. This is a rare type of giver. Most people who give, if they are going to be completely honest with themselves, are giving hoping for something, whether it be a closer friendship with someone, or to show someone they care, or to repay someone for a kindness given…something. Most people give for some kind of reason, and some are very good reasons. Giving to the poor or less fortunate. In cases like this what do you get? You get the happy feeling that comes from knowing you helped someone. Same thing when you find a hurt animal and rush it to the vet. You’re not going to get anything for the act of kindness…you might even have to pay a hefty vet bill for an animal that isn’t even yours. But you get that feeling, and to some of us that feeling is a wonderful reward.
So what are takers? I think the line between giver and taker is rather blurred. A giver can also be a taker, if my above thoughts are correct. Any time I give hoping to receive or achieve something, in that way I’m passively being a taker. I think all of us are takers to some degree, just like I think all takers can also be givers.
So are there two kinds of human, or are we all capable of being both at any given time? Well, I do think we’re all capable, but I also think from what I’ve read, there are significant differences between the person with (most modern term for it) antisocial personality disorder, and well, the rest of us.
In the cetacean family there are two types of killer whale. The Orca, which is the whale you see mostly along the Puget Sound here in Washington State, or at Sea World, unfortunately, where these massive creatures will hopefully teach our young to appreciate the beauty and value of other life forms. But there is also the Sentient Killer Whale…and I’m hoping I have the term right. It’s been a long time since I took that cetacean class at the UW. Again I digress. Sentient killer whales travel in pods that are more like wolf packs. Or they might also hunt alone. They prey on larger baleen whales, and on seals or sea lions. Red meat is part of their diet. Whales of this sub-group of Killer Whale, again if my memory serves me, swim virtually silent in their pods, whereas the Orca pods like what you see in Free Willy communicate back and forth as they travel along.
Are there predatory people and people who unwittingly transmit signals they are easy prey? I believe so. From what I read of persons with antisocial personality disorder (and there are different levels to this from mild to extreme), they are either lacking in a conscience or are deaf to it. When I say conscience I mean that little inner voice that tells us something is right or wrong, and makes us feel badly after we unwittingly or deliberately hurt or wrong someone.
An extreme example of someone without a conscience–Albert Fish the cannibal from the early 20’s who preyed on and ate little children. He is what inspired the Hannibal Lector character in Silence of the Lambs. Add to this list any person who goes around brutally killing or raping people…likely this is a person who sees weaker people as prey or mere objects to use or manipulate, or enjoys feeling power over another person. This is the classic psychopathic personality people think of when they hear the word psychopath, and why the term has been changed because, probably 90% or more of people with antisocial personality disorder live next door, or work on your same floor, or ride in your carpool, or go with you on hunting trips, or drive your Taxi cab or style your hair or meet you at the bar to play pool. Sociopaths, or the more recent term antisocial personality disorder, are users, as opposed to just takers. We’re all takers, just as we’re all hopefully givers, even if sometimes for self serving reasons. But users? People who prey on the gullibility of others, take advantage of the desire to help that some of us have, or do good to prove our worth…these are the psychopaths who live among us every day. They are con artists. They are parasites who find lonely women (or men) to befriend and let care for them, buy for them, do for them. They are people who marry the older wealthy widower or widow for the money and then somehow manage to walk away with their pockets full.
A great example of a lesser sociopath, and by lesser I mean one who isn’t a serial killer, read or watch “The Stoning of Soraya M.” If you can stomach it, that is, and it’s a movie I watched that I will never watch again. Soraya’s husband is a monster. Literally. If there is a word for the slime around the base of toilets, that would be him.
There are lots of examples of users. The guy who gets a girl drunk (or visa versa) and then works for an hour to guilt trip him or her into having sex, or the person who convinces you to take him or her home and then you wake up in the morning and find your apartment’s cleaned out. Users like what you have and want it, so they pretend to be your friend. They let you assume what isn’t true, and let you come to trust what shouldn’t be trusted, and then they walk away laughing, leaving you feeling like a fool.
And they don’t feel guilt. You can cry and try to make them see what it’s done to you, their actions, and they feel nothing. They don’t understand, quite honestly, what the big fuss is, or why you’re upset. Their conscience is clear–because they don’t have one.
So that’s my little thing about the two kinds of human. I don’t know if really there are two kinds. But I do know I read that something like one in every three men tend to have some degree of antisocial personality disorder and one in every five women. So the people like myself with low self esteems wanting to please please please in order to have friendship, caring, love…really need to ask ourselves what signals we are putting out there. Do we walk around with a big SCREW ME OVER neon sign on our foreheads? How much using do we have to endure before we realize that it sucks to be someone’s prey and it’s better to be a little less trusting–a little more lonely. Sometimes lonely is better than giving your trust to a sociopath. Yes, really.
Bigot “One fanatically devoted to one’s own group, religion, race, or politics and intolerant of those who differ.” Such is the definition of the word in my badly abused and taped together Webster’s II dictionary.
Pretty much we all know what a bigot is, or what bigotry looks like. But I had a friend yesterday point out something to me–bigotry I am experiencing personally in my life, toward me.
When I think of a bigot I think of someone intolerant of someone of a different race, or religion or sexual preference. People tend to shun, avoid, stereotype, etc., people who look or think or act differently. Differences they don’t understand make people uncomfortable, and rather than feel uncomfortable which is often unpleasant, people try to avoid contact altogether with that person or persons, rather than try to understand, and in working to understand, learn tolerance or maybe even appreciation for what is different.
People who are depressed are different. We don’t think the same, or react the same. We behave irratically or are overly emotional sometimes. We might blow things out of proportion, or just seem whiny or petulant or childish. We might be high maintenance or act like drama queens. We might be needy or fearful or paranoid or laugh at the wrong times, or cry at the wrong times. Because depression is a chemical imbalance–it alters how efficiently our brain processes thoughts and feelings.
Meds do help. Talking over our problems help. But this is a physical illness, not a series of bad days or just not loving ourselves enough. We can’t wave a magic wand and say ok I”m normal now. Some people with depression have to battle it all their life. For others it comes and goes–people have episodes. Not everyone knows it when they have depression. In fact sometimes the ill person is the very last to know. All they might know is, it’s harder to get out of bed. It’s harder to deal with social situations. It’s harder to multi-task. It’s harder to care about one’s appearance or eating healthy food, or going to the dentist twice a year, or keeping the house clean. It’s harder to smile. It’s harder to look someone in the eye. It’s harder to believe you are likable. It’s harder to believe you have any worth.
Little things happen that add to this belief about self too, and the self esteem does, over time, slowly collapse. The person perceives they are different–they perceive that others around them are being treated differently than they are. They start to understand they are not someone people want to talk to, or be close to. They are being avoided. They are being shunned. No one seems to like them. What friends they did have, don’t want to deal with them anymore.
All these things only add to the problem, create more unbearable hurt on a person already in pain. This process of being avoided by others–being seen as different because your demeanor is not the same–isn’t this a form of bigotry? The person with depression experiencing bigotry for making people uncomfortable because of being sick?
Bigotry hurts, in all it’s forms. No one asks to be sick and everyone who is sick is trying very hard, every day, to feel better. A society that shuns the ill because they make the healthy uncomfortable…all that does is make it harder to be ill, and harder to get better. Depression is an illness and it’s one that’s unfortunately here to stay. There are some really wonderful, loving people in the world that suffer from this illness. People with good things to offer. People with something to say and plenty of love to give. By shunning anyone for being different, we are, as a society, not only making the hurt so much worse for the person or persons, we are cheating ourselves of the potential, the treasure that might be lurking just under the surface–if only we offered a hand instead of turning our backs. In every garden a seed has the potential to grow or die–and that potential is up to the gardener. Not all gardens are blessed with healthy soil. Some seeds are sown in rocky soil, or sandy soil, where the ability to flourish is harder. Do we give up on those gardens? Pull those plants that have to struggle more to bloom, or let the weeds choke them to death? Or do we give a little more work, a little more love–sprinkle on a little more fertilizer so that garden too might bloom and bring smiles to those who see it?
Our society is a garden. We can help it grow or let it die. Whatever we decide, starts with how we tend the flowers.
It might seem odd to someone who doesn’t know me as a person, why my blog seems to be this odd mix of my celebrating my new-found atheism and….personal issues like depression, aging, stuff like that. I’m sure there will be more than just these two themes as I go, but these two are currently very much what I’m juggling in my life.
First I learned some really hard things about what had been my reality. When you start to mistrust the very ground you used to always take for granted would be solid, you start mistrusting everything, and searching for new solid ground. That’s where I am now.
I didn’t learn until about 6 years ago that the one parent who raised me had done so mentally ill. She was the one i was always scrambling to win points with. My brother was her golden boy . He could do no wrong. I, on the other hand, from the day I stood at the cemetery at my first and last visit to my daddy’s grave and as a six-year-old asked my mom if my daddy was really under ground and got slapped for it, until this very day, my mom has viewed me with suspicion. At that point or shortly after she suffered her first break, though I didn’t know it, and neither did my brother. Our house became haunted. I believed it because my mother did, and she took us kids away for a week fleeing these dark entities that chased us from hotel to hotel.
Anyway, it’s a very long story. She’s always known about the voices in her head, but never told anyone until six years ago when she really started unraveling after chemotherapy. I always wondered why she didn’t like me telling other kids about our haunted house. I think we moved out here from Wisconsin because my mom was afraid of losing us kids. My Uncle had the police out looking for us that week we were fleeing those demons my mother saw. I believe she feared he questioned her ability to raise two little kids.
So fast forwarding… I married the first guy who said he loved me back. There were lots of signs during my marriage that I chose to ignore, but in the end I was made to realize my husband didn’t love me and according to him he possibly never did. That was after 16 years of marriage and the last six of them with me trying to save my marriage because I still loved him very much, but he didn’t love me, nor did I feel any love from him those six years we didn’t touch, and he couldn’t even tell me if he loved me, he just said “I don’t know.”
The only way I could get away from that marriage was switch my focus, and I did. I found another person who was in pain as much as me, and I focused on cheering him up and along the way I fell in love with him. He found out and then proceeded to stay at my apartment and then my condo with me letting me care for him because he developed a life-threatening illness and none of his other friends were stepping up to the plate.
Long story short again, three years later after he got better he said “thanks, but I don’t need you anymore” and then proceeded to convince his friends whom I also had grown to like very much, that I had smothered him, when in fact his illness had prevented him from leaving a situation that apparently had grown wearisome to him–and yet it was nice for him not having to pay rent or contribute very little and have everything pretty much paid for him, including transportation.
So I turned to other friends for solace, and one of them was a head bartender at a popular restaurant all my theatre cohorts loved to go, and that bartender let me believe we were friends like he was friends with these other guys I had gotten to know. Long story short again, he too was pretending all so he could win my trust. And in the meantime he learned how lonely I was, how unloved and unlovable I felt–he took advantage of me. Then after that there were several years of head games from him–with me trying to believe he was my friend when in fact I guess or at least I have been told by another friend, I was just a big joke to him all along.
You have three men pretend with you, three men seem like they’re one thing and then they turn out to be something else altogether, you start having doubts about everything you thought was real about the world. Between that and the fact I learned my mother was a schizophrenic–suddenly I had to reevaluate everything I grew up to believe about myself, and all the things I just assumed were true.
I became very earnest about protecting myself from further hurt. I had always questioned the parts about my faith that I questioned and tried to ignore or shrug off. If I asked any pastor about them, I was given pat answers too, that never satisfied me. I’m sorry but “God works in mysterious ways” is not an answer.
Religion had taught me that I was a bad person. It reinforced everything my mother drummed into me. I could never be good enough. Oh, I was a Christian, yes. But I was always a very bad Christian because I didn’t go to church, or read my bible enough, or walk the walk enough, or whatever. It was never enough. I was never enough. A few times I would try to get back into going to church…
One time I started regularly attending the Westgate Chapel in Edmonds WA. They had a fabulous music program and I loved to sing, so it was enjoyable there for me. But I was also an amateur paleontologist volunteering for the Burke Museum in the U-District. Every year we had our little Dino-Days at the Burke, and I and my husband (I was still married then) would volunteer). I loved digging for fossils, cracking open rocks and seeing evidence of live no human eyes had ever seen. It fascinated me. It awed me. It put things into perspective re. how very OLD the planet is and how fleeting our little moment on this world is.
Then one Sunday service at Westgate the head minister stood up and told about taking his children to Dino-Days at the Burke. He ridiculed us, those of us who ran the event, as acting so sure about our belief that the planet was old, and the age of the fossils, and evolution itself. He made it sound like paleontology itself was the devil’s work.
After the service I approached this pastor because his words had me rather upset. I was in disbelief because the man had implied my favorite thing was against God. So I asked him, straight out, if it was wrong of me to dig for fossils. I told him I worked at the Burke and contributed like the rest of my group, NW Paleontologists, to the Burke. He looked at me and said “Do you think it glorifies God?” I looked him straight in the eye and said “yes, I do.” He gave me a look, and turned to talk to someone else and I felt completely snubbed.
So. I am put on this earth to glorify God. Writing this note, if it doesn’t glorify God, I guess I shouldn’t do it. Raising Canaries–if it doesn’t glorify God, I shouldn’t do it. This was the beginning of the end of my faith for me. That one day even before the ending of my marriage I walked away with a very sour taste in my mouth, and I was angry. I was angry that this man would judge me the way he did. Yes, I think science would glorify God, if a god existed. But I don’t believe one does because as far back as recorded history, religion has feared science, or has discouraged against it, or even called it a sin. Once upon a time people were afraid to look at the stars because “star-gazing” was banned by the church–it was devil’s work. We once knew as a species the world was round–our ancient forbears had compasses and knew how to navigate on the sea. Then along came religion to warn about there being an edge where boats just fall off and horrible monsters beneath the waves, inciting fear in people’s hearts. Fear to explore. Fear to discover. Fear to learn and fear to question. We were dumbed down as a species, and it was all so we could believe in fantastical explanations and live and exist the way the church wanted us to.
If there really is a God, science would not be a threat to any true religion that followed him. Science would be uncovering more and proofs for his existence, and would be welcomed, rather than feared.
I have always just wanted my life to be true, and what I am led to believe about the world, to be true. Most of my life has been one false belief after another. First belief in my mother. Then my husband. Then this man I thought was my friend who let me care for him thinking he was. Then the bartender who I confided all my insecurities to, who then used that knowledge to exploit and then slander me. And religion–that was one of the last dominos to fall, and the biggest. But have I regretted for a moment the loss of the delusion? No. No more than I regretted not getting to believe in Santa anymore. Do I want to live thinking everything I do has to glorify god? Like growing up, everything I did had to be about pleasing my mother, and during my marriage everything I did had to be about getting my husband to love me again, and then that friendship where I cared for that man who I thought was my friend and I thought if I did enough good and supportive things for him he’d appreciate me as the good friend I was…
No. This is the pattern in my life that has only caused me harm. I am living to glorify myself and I am living for myself and to find myself, who I am, and to live for me.
Funny how it always seems when I’m beating myself up the most, down in the dumps the most, letting other people’s opinions cut me up the most, that’s when a friend or friends will surely tell me that I need to try to love myself. Other’s cannot love me until I love myself. That sort of thing.
And it makes sense. Trouble is, for most of my life I have heard the opposite message preached at me by the Christian religion. We need to loath ourselves with our from-the-womb sinful natures. We need to put living for ourselves, our needs, our dreams, our hopes, on the back burner and live for God. We are nothing more than his instruments. Pawns at his disposal. We should gladly and with much praising sacrifice ourself to this greater being who made us, do his work, live for him, dedicate our every waking moment to that which glorifies him.
When I was still living with my mom, I’d be in serious pain over something going badly in my life. I’d turn to her for help, support, advice, solace, and what would she say to me again and again, “you’re not praying enough,” or “you need to take it to God.” And you know what, I actually did take it to God because she was never there for me. I prayed and poured my heart out to the empty room and the silent walls. Sometimes I’d even talk out loud, work my problems through verbally, and the sometimes surprisingly clear responses I’d hear myself say back, I convinced myself that was God. God, speaking with my voice.
The thing is, after awhile people get tired of hearing their own voice coming back. After awhile there’s this very human need for more tangible love, tangible support. I was getting mixed messages from the world vrs. from the church. I must die in the flesh to live in the spirit. I must be born a new creature in him, because my old nature was corrupt, sinful, ugly, bad, something like an abomination to God not fit to stand before him.
And yet…he made me. He was my creator, and I’m not fit? I’m corrupt and flawed from birth? I need to jump through this hoop to be good in his eyes, to be beautiful? Or else what? I’m garbage to cast into the fires of hell?
Does God make garbage? Why did he make me flawed? If he forgives sin, then why was I born inheriting sin? How can I love myself when my mother was passing the buck all the time telling me I needed to take it to God, pray about it? How can I love myself when the being I did take it to, time and time again, only responded with my voice, with my thoughts, from my own head and my own heart? All I was worth was my own self-counsel, and that’s what I gave myself growing up. I had no adults I could go to. I had no one except this higher power that never did anything. Take it to God, people said. Oh, and love yourself.
The below is taken from an article I thought worth sharing. It was written intended for men, but I found it helped me, reading it:
How to Recover from a Christian Upbringing
I grew up in a conservative Christian church-going family. During years of Sunday school, church services and various fellowship groups, I was fed a diet of deception which helped undermine my fragile self-esteem. My sensitivity and having emotionally disconnected parents who were in constant conflict didn’t help, and it’s difficult to judge exactly how much of the damage was due to religious indoctrination, and how much was simply due to the environment I grew up in. My parents could return from a church service where the minister preached on the theme of “Love”, and have a blazingly abusive argument. Throw in this level of hypocrisy, and you get a boy who grows up into one seriously confused adult.
Childhood religious teaching has a pervasive effect. For many years into adulthood I continued attending church before I wised up, and even became involved in the church leadership. At the time I believed I was doing the right thing; but looking back I can see how appallingly narrow-minded and naïve I was.
Realising that I had been misled was painful, and didn’t suddenly undo overnight the damage that had been done to my psyche over many years. So here are some tips on what I learned in my attempts to recover from a Christian upbringing:
Learn to Forgive Yourself
At the core of Christianity is the doctrine of salvation: we need a saviour because we are all inherently sinful. This resonates with us because of course we all make mistakes which hurt other people and feel guilty from time to time. We’re taught that we’re sinful and need Jesus’s death to atone for us, loading us up with a truckload of unnecessary guilt in the process. Little old me caused God’s only son to die, when I wasn’t even born. And if I don’t get “saved”, most brands of Christianity teach that we will burn for all eternity in hell.
What a load of baloney.
You are not a bad person. You are capable of forgiving yourself, apologising and making amends when you hurt other people. Let go of perfectionist guilt that triggers whenever you get anything wrong. You do not need to be perfect. Start acknowledging your mistakes, especially with the people who have been effected. Tell them that you’re sorry, and mean it. If you’re not, do some emotional healing work to enable yourself to feel more empathy for other people. Make amends when you feel guilty, and recognise when your guilt is out-of-proportion with you have actually done; that’s probably the old religious thing rearing its ugly head again. Deal with any remaining guilt and shame by telling a friend you trust.
Heal Your Shame
Shame is probably the most long-lasting after-effect of a religious upbringing. Taking on some level of shame while growing up is probably inevitable, but religious teaching broadens the scope and drives it much deeper. When you’re taught that there’s a God watching over your every move, you get to feel self-conscious even when you’re by yourself. Here are some perfectly normal masculine traits that I learned to be ashamed of:
- Thinking for myself
- Sexuality and wanting to have sex
- Interest in Women
- Being interested in and attracted to attractive women, rather than just plain ones
- Masculine power
- A thirst for wisdom and knowledge
- Knowing the truth
The way to heal shame is by exposing the things you are ashamed of to other people who are willing to offer you love and acceptance in return. Start seeking out men and women in your life with whom you can be really honest about the things you have been shamed about that still control or restrict you from being your true self.
Shame is the biggest and most insidious insecurity we have, so this is the most powerful thing you can do to boost your self-confidence. For more on healing shame, see Step 13: Heal Your Shame in Confident Man.
You have every right to be angry with the people, possibly including your parents, who taught you to believe things that weren’t true before you were old enough and wise enough to discern the difference for yourself. The people who taught you these things were old enough to know better, and the fact that they operated out of fear and ignorance is no excuse.
The God of the Bible is a personification of human qualities projected by primitive people desperate for someone to be in control of the often hostile universe they found themselves living in. But you weren’t to know that when you were just a kid. You were probably taught that getting angry was bad and inappropriate, right about the same time that you were taught about this jealous, angry God of the Old Testament who got away with anything he liked.
You may still have trouble getting angry about this, and other things, because Christianity taught you to be subservient instead. If this is the case for you, see Step 16: Get In Touch With Your Anger in Confident Man.
Learn to Trust Yourself
If you were anything like me, you probably noticed that the God that you were being taught about when you were a kid never actually showed up. But some adult you trusted told you he was real, so you went along with it anyway. At times perhaps you had some unexpected emotional reaction that people encouraged you to interpret in spiritual terms, because they were unaware of how human emotions work and keen to find any evidence to validate their flaky beliefs.
In doing all this, you learned to stop trusting your own intuition that told you that the God they spoke of was every bit as real as Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny. After years of this kind of self-delusion, you may find it difficult to trust your intuition now. The way to restore your intuition is to assess people and events based on gut instinct, and refine your opinion each time you get information that confirms or denies your original opinion. Stop being neutral about things to avoid conflict, and start having an opinion.
You’re likely to be pretty bad at this to start with, but the more practise you get, the better your intuition will develop. It helps to have a supportive environment to do this, so that people don’t just come down on you like a ton of bricks when you get it wrong, which inevitably you will at first.
Experience Love From Non-Christians
The Bible teaches that love comes from God, but that’s just another example of Christian arrogance and self-righteousness. Love is a normal human emotion with an evolutionary basis just like our other emotions. Its purpose is to bond people together, which enhanced our ancestor’s survival. In modern western society, physical survival is for the most part no longer at stake due to lack of love, but mental and emotional health sure are.
Seek out non-Christians who have the capacity to show love to you, and give them every reason to do so. In other words, show them some love first. This will help you to reprogram two flawed beliefs: firstly, that non-Christians are somehow bad people for not accepting Jesus as lord and saviour, and secondly that only Christians are capable of genuine love. Once I began to experience the inclusive love of open-minded non-Christians, I was able to see how shallow, restrictive, judgemental and controlling the love that many Christians offer is.
Christians are also capable of showing genuine love; it is, after all, a basic human trait not restricted to any particular ideology. But when it comes packaged with a flawed belief system that they want you to adopt, it gets messy to separate the two.
Find A New Community
One of the compelling things about religion is the sense of community that all religions offer. People need community and religious people tend to report higher levels of happiness than non-religious people as a result. The sense of community and the ability to discriminate “us” from “them” addresses a basic human need.
Find yourself a community of like-minded people to hang around in. Seek out other men who had a Christian upbringing and have managed to break away and recover from it. Commit yourself to living the most inspired, conscious, loving life possible and don’t let baggage from your past get in your way of doing it. Learn from other men ahead of you on the road, and let them be your inspiration.
Choose any community which participates in regular activities that you can enjoy. Many people find community by joining a sporting team. That way you’ll get your social and exercise needs met all in the one hit, keeping you fit psychologically and physically; both of which are great for your confidence.
Learn to Trust Other People
Having been misled by misguided people about something so fundamental as the meaning and purpose of life and where we all came from, it’s natural that you might be a little hesitant to trust other people again. Learning to think for yourself and doing the other things recommended in this article should help give you a stable basis for discerning when people are telling you the truth, and when they’re feeding you self-serving dogma.
Ultimately you need to be comfortable taking risks when it comes to trusting other people. Some will be trustworthy, some will not. Developing your intuition will help you in discerning between the two. You also need to drop your perfectionism that makes it hard for you to forgive yourself when you get it wrong. As you get better at discerning who’s trustworthy, you’ll be more comfortable putting increasing amounts of trust in them without fear that you’ll just be fooled again.
Speak The Truth
Start speaking the truth at every opportunity. Don’t hold back just because you’re worried about what other people will think. There are other men out there waiting for your leadership to help free them from the tyranny of religious indoctrination. They need your inspiration but they won’t even hear from you if you don’t speak up.
Forget about converting the rest of your family though. They’ve got to learn to grow up in their own time. There’s too much emotional baggage within a family for anyone to be objective about anything; much less such an all-consuming topic as religion. There’s no point harping on at your mother/sister/brother/father that their belief system is made-up when they invite you to the Christmas Day church service. Just decline politely, move on, and prove the point that Christianity is an oppressive religion by taking your personal growth beyond what was possible within its narrow constraints. Commit to becoming a positive example by having the most powerfully loving life you possibly can now that you’re liberated from it.
Find Your Mission In Life
If your mission in life up until now has been to “preach the gospel”, to “serve God” or anything else based on your old religious beliefs, you need to find a new mission in life, and possibly some new passions. Your mission should be something sufficiently engrossing for you that nothing would stand in your way of working towards it. This is important to keep you motivated when life throws obstacles in your way. Without a mission, you’re likely to wander a little aimlessly, feel restless and think that life has no meaning.
Keep in mind that you’re biologically wired to want to connect with other people, so this is likely to factor in your mission somewhere. It has taken me some time to determine my new mission in life, and to begin working towards it in a focused way. It’s still a work in progress. Remember that life is all about the journey, not the destination. This may seem counter-intuitive if you grew up with the Christian notion that heaven and the after-life is when you reap the rewards of what you sow in this life. It’s not: this life is where you both sow and reap, and having a mission to guide you in the journey helps you stay focused and avoid taking detours.
Work towards aligning your mission, the things you are passionate about, your relationships and your career, and you’re headed for the good life.
Be Patient With Yourself
I was involved in Christianity for at least 32 years; about 20 of those professing it as my own. The damage this did was spread over many years. You don’t just undo 30+ years of mental programming over night. It takes time. So be patient with yourself. On the days when the shame seems overwhelming or you just feel like you hate yourself, remember that you were taught to feel these things when you were very young. Don’t beat yourself up for taking a long time to get over it. Stick at it, get support from other guys who have been there before, and you will get there.
I sometimes think, now that I’m becoming aware just how many people out there feel like I do, feel all the same feelings…that we’re more like a subgroup of society. We start out, probably many of us, outcasts as children. Either outcast by our families, or outcast by our peers, or both. We grow up lacking confidence other kids take for granted. We are always trying. But there’s always some reason we don’t fit in. We’re not good looking enough, so people of the opposite gender look at us and think “I can do better,” like having outward beauty or our programmed notions of what beauty is–makes some people “better” than others?
Regardless, we grow up, those of us who didn’t quite fit in, or came from homes that didn’t really want us, and as adults we still try. But the long nights of crying ourselves to sleep, losing sleep, or just huddling in fear of some real or imagined terror…now there’s something stuck in our heads. Something wrong. We are either mentally ill, or our brains are wired wrong or we have a chemical imbalance or a combination of the above. Because we grew up trying harder than other kids, the popular “better” kids. And now what are we? We’re that sub-group of society that end up alone. Our friends aren’t there, despite how we try to be there for them. Our families…sometimes it’s not good being around the people that caused the harm in the first place or trigger memories of the harm that was done.
So we’re alone. And here we still are, trying. Trying to fit in to that other part of society we too have been programmed to believe is normal. Thinking if we do this or this or THIS we might be accepted and loved and wanted like other people.
And when we can’t fight our illness hard enough, we are forced to endure more loneliness. When we do have our little triumphs, there’s nobody around anymore to see.
I hate depression. I hate this illness nobody understands or wants to make any effort to understand. I have been locked in closets all my life and I still am. All because of this belief we carry around, that we grew up with, that to be like one of the crowd is better, our ultimate goal that’s always just out of reach…to fit in…that’s what gives us worth–that’s the key to being wanted, being successful, being SOMETHING. And until we have it, until we get over this illness we’re being punished for having, we must be shunned. We must be outsiders. We must be looked right through like we’re not even there.
This is what I say to that. Bullshit. What kind of society does this? Banishes its ill from the mainstream? They did that to lepers once; you would think in 2000 years our society would be a little more aware, a little more educated, a little more understanding. But no. We have not evolved very much at all, have we?
So how do we break from this box they’ve put us in? We say bullshit. We are not less than anyone. People look at us and say they can do better? Excuse me–we might be ill but we’re still whole people, and worth it. If you know us you’ll get to know the beauty we still carry around inside. All of us, like any other people. Like you we are unique, full of dreams and hopes and love and caring. Shame on anyone who dares to look down their nose and outcast us for having too many bad days when here we’ve put up with other people having many bad days too. Why is the playing field so one-sided?
Who decides worth of a person? How is it measured? Is it measured by looks? Popularity? Is it measured by how much money someone has or what kind of car they drive or what neighborhood they live in? Or is it measured by the kindness and caring a person has in their heart?
I see a lot of value in us. This little sub-group that finds ourselves struggling with our depression or anxiety all alone…punished for being ill, rejected by friends for being ill, despite how tired we are from always trying, despite how lost and despairing and scared and hurt we sometimes feel.
You know who I think has worth in our society? You know who I think are really great people–the kind of people I wish I could be? People who can still give of themselves when they themselves have nothing, and care and encourage, when they themselves feel their world is crashing down.
I am most thankful for the kind of people who can still care for others, even despite the hurts they feel themselves. If we have to be separated and made some kind of subgroup, I’d rather be counted as someone like this.
You don’t even know it’s happening to you. It begins when you’re little, and you find yourself forgotten a lot. Standing in a corner, or sitting by yourself, during family gatherings, surrounded by people who supposedly love you but ignore you like you’re not even there. It picks up momentum at school when you’re the odd man out, the one last chosen by a team, the one forced to play alone, or when some other sibling is favored, or you without knowing it, are being raised by someone mentally ill.
You know it so well, that feeling you get when you’re being ignored. It becomes familiar to you, so familiar you expect it, and in time you make it happen yourself, so you don’t have to feel that bite of rejection. You try to make it your own choice, your decision. You retreat into yourself, convince yourself this is what you really want, tell yourself you don’t need love, or family or friends–people.
Then one day you realize how very sad you are. You haven’t protected yourself at all, by self-isolation, and in fact it’s only allowed the roots of the seed to entwine like constrictors around your heart. Feelings of worthlessness are now a part of you. You no longer believe you deserve those things you once hoped for. Every situation, every room you enter, every person you meet, becomes a new hope and a new failure. You go in hoping this time they will see past your walls, see the love in you, the compassion, the caring and good qualities. But the worthless feeling keeps you from looking in their eyes enough, or looking in their eyes too much, or laughing nervously at all the wrong things, or saying something stupid, or trying too hard, pretending to be what you’re not, anything, everything, just so that for once, finally, it can be you who is wanted, loved, appreciated, SEEN.
It never happens, and every time it never happens the grip of darkness weaves itself tighter. It is familiar, like a favorite shirt, or an old teddy bear. You feel like it’s a friend, the one thing you have in this whole world…that feeling of utter hopelessness, so strong it makes your heart hurt, your joints ache, your eyes burn, and sleep becomes impossible, or you can’t seem to ever wake up and all you want is to sink forever deeper into your mattress until no one can find you.
Depression. You walk with it. You see through it, it covers you, it drags at you. You want to know what it’s like without it, but you don’t know and can’t remember. All you know is this, and deep down you’re convinced it’s all you deserve. So you carry it, and you hold it like a sign to the world saying this is me, you don’t want me, I don’t deserve you, I’m nothing worth loving, I have no worth.
Until it kills you finally, either in spirit or in body–and you fade out alone, starved to death of all the basic things your heart has craved and has been denied for lack of skill at finding, like Chris Candeless in the wilderness, crying out in pain how very alone and hungry you are, and there’s no one listening, no one caring–everyone agrees it’s something you don’t deserve.
Don’t tell me depression isn’t real. Don’t tell me it doesn’t take lives. It’s the only illness that takes your life before you’re dead, takes away everything you ever loved, until you reach the point there’s nothing left, and to die is not such a terrible loss after all.
Those of us who refuse to surrender, those of us who fight it every day. I hear it over and over, you have to LOVE yourself before you can love others. As if I don’t! Why am I here still in this world? Why am I getting out of bed every day and facing the same old pain, the same old battle? Because I DO love myself, and have always deep down, believed this is not what I deserve. I deserve better, and I am the only one at the front of the line, taking the blows, fighting the battle for me.