Anti-human Theology: Learning to Hate Yourself

billboardI have a confession to make.  I still struggle with a deep self-hatred which I inherited from my Christian upbringing.  It’s been nearly five years now since I “broke up with Jesus” and yet after all this time I still have this unhealthy undercurrent pulling me down, making me think less of myself than I should.  It most commonly rears its ugly head when I am under a great deal of stress.  I’m sure many could confirm that it’s when you are tired and your reserves are depleted that these things tend to come back to haunt you.  I hear some of this comes with age, too.  The older you get, the more you just get tired, and the longer you have to accumulate charges against yourself.  Some of that’s probably unavoidable, I guess, and is just a part of life.  It also doesn’t help me personally that I grew up around people with money, people from good gene pools, and people with talent, charisma, and intelligence oozing out of their well-cleansed pores.  I grew up around beautiful, successful people whose parents were beautiful, successful people as well.  The bar was set really high for some of us.  I’m sure that plays a role in this for me.

But there’s something else.  I was raised a Christian, and as such I was taught that people have something fundamentally wrong with them.  Like a thick vein of mineral coursing through bedrock, the notion of human brokenness runs beneath the whole structure of the Christian message.  It’s crucial to the belief system.  In order to need a savior you have to have something to save people from.  According to “the good news,” that something is ourselves.  When challenged about this, they will quickly backpedal and insist that it’s sin, not you, that you need saving from; it’s really something external to you, they will say.  But this isn’t exactly an honest representation of how most Christians are taught to think and talk about themselves.  When the public spotlight turns away and they begin to talk to each other and to themselves, the self-hatred and critical language begins to flow.  You hear it in their prayers.  You hear it in their favorite songs.  You hear it in their testimonies and read it on their blogs.  Negative self-talk abounds, and it’s inseparable from the narrative they recite to themselves every day.  I learned it well, and it still haunts me to this day.

This is wrong, and it’s incredibly unhealthy.  At bottom, it is really a kind of abuse.  Rather than building us up and affirming those parts of ourselves which are generous, productive, resourceful, and good, this discipline of self-loathing tears us down, reduces us, and teaches us to see ourselves in the worst possible light.  I was taught that anytime I do something right, that is God working in me, and anytime I do something wrong, that’s just me being me.  Think about that for a minute.  Imagine what 20 years of using that interpretive grid would do for a person’s self-image.  It’s no wonder most of the artistic expressions of both Christians and post-Christians exude a profound sense of inadequacy, indebtedness, and dependency.  Come to think of it, I was taught that dependence on God is the truest and most laudable relationship to which anyone could aspire.  But why?  We are taught to emulate dependency because we are supposed to see ourselves as incapable of producing anything truly good or valuable ourselves.  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “No one is good except God.”

Anti-human Theology

Anthony Pinn calls this antihuman theology, and I think that’s a perfect description.  At its core, the Christian message—or at least the Evangelical Christian message—is anti-humanistic.  Rather than affirming what is good within humanity, it begins with a condemnation of all that is bad (even resorting to calling some things “bad” which are nothing of the sort).  In order to do this well, it must magnify in us whatever isn’t as good as it could be.  It must focus on the human negatives, emphasizing every shortcoming people have.  Just like any good sales pitch, “the gospel” begins with trying to convince people that they have a need, and that what the seller has to offer can meet that need perfectly.  And just as any successful company knows, if you want strong brand loyalty, you’ll have to keep people coming back again and again to get what you have to offer.  You have to teach them to rehearse the sales pitch over and over again, reselling themselves on the perpetual need for being saved from whatever it is about themselves that’s so awful.  As Jerry Bridges famously put it, “You should preach the gospel to yourself every day.”

Some people aren’t that bad, though.  Some are quite kind, generous, empathetic, and diligent by nature.  For those people, you have to raise the bar even higher.  For example, since they’ve probably never killed anyone, you have to convince them that being merely angry at someone is just as bad.  Wow, that’s a stretch, right?  Or say someone is both careful and ethical in how they navigate sexual relationships, perhaps even avoiding sex altogether outside a lifelong contractual commitment.  For those people, you have to convince them that even fantasizing about others is bad.  You have to create a category of “thought crimes” and convince them that thinking it is just as bad as doing it.  And then for the incredibly self-controlled people who can both keep from being angry at anyone and keep from fantasizing about anyone, you have to get really creative and invent new kinds of shortcomings, like failing to let people take advantage of you, or mistreat you, or even physically harm you.  But wait a second.  I don’t think those are shortcomings at all, do you?  Who would have the nerve to say otherwise?  If you’ve never read Jesus’ take on these things, perhaps you should reread the first chapter of the Sermon on the Mount sometime.  Jesus took self-criticism to another level, and he paved the way for the Christian faith to become a framework for teaching self-hatred, self-neglect, and self-denial.

Just this week, a contributor for Christianity Today wrote a post exhorting women to resist the urge to masturbate.  This probably won’t strike you as odd if you grew up in a Christian subculture.  But anyone who wasn’t raised in a body-shaming tradition will laugh at this proposal, asking where this woman gets off (sorry, I couldn’t resist) saying such things.  Outside of the religious reality bubble, this practice is seen as a healthy and helpful practice.  But inside that world, it’s bad.  You shouldn’t do it.  Even though it’s a natural part of being human.  See, Christianity teaches that what’s “natural” can be a bad thing because, according to its own narrative, people are broken.  We have a “nature” that’s warped and distorted now, so that we’re not as we should be.  Consequently for this worldview, even if something’s natural it may still be “wrong.”  So better keep those hands to yourselves, folks!  Or as the contributor instructs us, maybe you should take John Piper’s advice and just think more about Jesus and how he’s really what you want.  Forgive me, but that’s just begging for satire.

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The stories we tell ourselves are powerful.  It may even be that the way we talk and think about what happens to us impacts us more than the events themselves.  That’s why this interpretive framework—and the self-talk it engenders—is so important.  We are careful to lovingly disagree whenever we hear a victim of abuse saying things like:

“I’m just getting what I deserve.”

“I’ve brought this on myself.”

“I’m lucky I have him because I don’t deserve him.”

“He only does what he does because he loves me.”

“Nobody else can love me the way he loves me.”

“Without him, I am nothing.”

But these statements sound eerily familiar.  They could have been ripped right out of a praise and worship song, or out of the prayers we were taught to pray.  What in other contexts would strike us as horribly dysfunctional, Christians have learned to call “good.”  That’s messed up.  And if you call them on it, they’ll swear that’s not how it is.  But then they get to church, or to their private devotional time, and the self-hatred begins to flow again.  It’s too central to the thesis of the Christian message:  You’re so bad that a guy had to die a gruesome death.  You deserved eternal suffering for who you are and what you’ve “done” (mostly in your head).  You can’t tell people that and then turn around and say you encourage a healthy, positive self-image.  That’s a lie, plain and simple.

Learning to Stand Up for Yourself

I left that ideological world nearly five years ago.  But I still live in a culture that’s thick with Evangelical Christianity.  It’s all around me, all the time.  On top of that, I live with the residual effects of having this negative self-talk drilled into me through 20 years of devout faith.  It can take a lifetime to undo the effects of something like that.  It flares up the worst when times are hard because there’s always room to say, “Things could be better if only I would…”  And sometimes that’s even partly true.  But instead of taking that cue and seizing the opportunity to grow (as healthy self-talk would lead us to do), the discouragement sets in and weighs us down.  The pervasive generalized sense of inadequacy and failure tends to rob us of our energy, sending us down into despair.   Thanks, Jesus!  ;)

What can be done?  I’ve written about this before, but it all bears repeating.  You can start by countering the negative self-talk.  First recognize the sound of that voice in your head and call it what it is.  It’s no coincidence that the bogeyman in Christianity is called “The Accuser.”  That’s actually a great name for this voice in your head.  Next you can work on reminding yourself of the ways that you’re not a failure.  Rehearse the challenges you’ve overcome.  Instead of keeping track of your failures, learn to keep track of your successes.  Write them down if you must.  Then you need to learn to recognize those people who encourage you and build you up.  Learn to listen to them and take their advice.  For example, one of those people whom I know once told me: “You should talk to yourself and about yourself like you would a dear friend.  Whatever you’re thinking, if you wouldn’t say it about your friend, don’t say it about yourself.”  That’s great advice.  Just don’t do it in front of too many people because then you sound kind of douchey :)

But do it you must.  It will take time and deliberate effort to counteract very many years of this subtle psychological abuse.  It is an anti-human ideology.  It is anti-you.  So don’t allow it in your life anymore.  And then when you’ve done some of what I’ve just described, come teach me how to do it, okay?

_______

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About Neil Carter

Neil Carter is a high school Geometry teacher, a tutor, a swim coach, a father of five children, and a skeptic living in the Bible Belt. A former church elder with a seminary education, Neil mostly writes now about the struggles of former evangelicals living in the midst of a highly religious subculture.

  • http://nevercertain.wordpress.com davewarnock

    Good post. I recall in my Christian days, being called a Secular Humanist was just a notch below the Antichrist. Now I consider it a compliment. Yes, I am a humanist; I believe in the best in humanity and I celebrate it.

    • http://gravatar.com/silenknight111 silenknight111

      Yeah, being a humanist meant you were putting your faith in horrible fallen mankind and that was the path to destruction. -_-

  • Herbie

    After reading this article, my respect for the Christian faith just dropped down a few more levels, something I did not think was possible.

    • Empire1432

      I feel the same way. It helped to clarify the thoughts I had already and really helped me connect the dots.

  • http://empiricalmeta.blogspot.com/ Sam Daniels

    Remember the old line — “Just because you are paranoid does not mean they are not out to get you”? I always think of this when I have all of these very same thoughts.

    Okay, so I got brainwashed as a child/teen, then left Evangelical Christianity. Now I am 65 and have suffered a lifetime of physical and mental maladies, including a genetic neuropathy and dysthymia, broken bones, multiple bouts of pulmonary embolii, etc. Then, there is the old OS conundrum. See — humans are “bad” from birth due to Original Sin. Your first act of evil was in being conceived. You are not condemned because you masturbated or thought about it — you are condemned because you are a human being. Try to ignore the fact that in order to be “Just”, punishment must not be dispensed on someone who is not in any sense either responsible or culpable.

    So, I will continue to eschew any belief system, as I have for the past 43 years, but I remain a prisoner of these depressing thoughts, not because my original tutors were so adept, but due to my micro universe. Illness tends to focus the mind, and I flagellate as I search for not only answers, but meaning. As time moves forward, I am only getting older and sicker. Then I’ll die. I cannot think my way out of the biggest questions. And on the macro level, humanity proves time and again that there IS something horribly wrong with our entire enterprise. Throughout recorded history, though we seem to be making progress, we are now on the brink of extermination of all life on the planet.

    • Empire1432

      This may be the greatest reason why I want to try and keep my children away from religion as much as possible at an early age. I sometimes think that by holding them back from experiencing religion, I am making their choice for them, but I look at religion the same way I look at drugs. I wouldn’t allow my children to experiment with drugs, but for some reason many people want their children to experiment with religion, before they realize what it is really all about.

      • John

        Yes, and yet here in Australia I have a choice between sending my kids to a crap public school (we tried it first), or a private religious school.

  • Jenn

    Thanks for sharing this. I’ve been deconstructing from a Christian upbringing for about 4 years now. I actually grew up as a Pastor’s Kid and I distinctly remember a time when my mother praised someone for their singing talent after church one morning, something completely benign like “your voice is beautiful” and the woman even turning that compliment around “Jesus gave me this gift” (not just thank you… or a smile… or ‘I work hard’)… My mother came home reeling over that response. One can’t even take a compliment because … Jesus ?? I was fortunate to grow up in a home where that way of self-deprecating was not condoned, but it is shocking what the Christian culture has created. It’s not ok to be proud of yourself because any success is due to Jesus. It’s not ok to feel accomplished because… Jesus accomplished whatever it was. It’s not ok to feel satisfied or peaceful or healthy… because Jesus. And it’s certainly never ok to see an opportunity and act on it without giving all credit to Jesus. You didn’t get that job because you’re the best person for it, or because you interviewed well or because you are intelligent or because you have excellent experience or because you APPLIED for the job. You got the job because… Jesus. I’m so glad we’re raising our 4 young children without all that nonsense, with the idea that they are in control of their own destinies – there are natural consequences for actions and that they are awesome on their own.

  • http://kindism.wordpress.com kat @ kindism

    Reblogged this on kindism and commented:
    Instead of learning to hate yourself, in Christian Science we are taught God is Love. We are “God’s Perfect Children” and we simply need to realize that. Any sickness, disease or “bad” things that happen to us are our failure to fully recognize that we are God’s Perfect Children – we need to realign our thoughts with God. Allowing Error/Mortal Mind/Malicious Animal Magnetism (all of which are unreal, because God created everything and behold it is Very Good) to enter our thought and cloud our judgment (and cause the problems that need to be “healed”). We must continue to vigilantly stand porter at the door of thought and be on guard against any un-god-like ideas. The end result is similar to that described by Godless in Dixie — there is quite a bit of self-loathing because people are not able to “heal themselves” by simply “aligning their thoughts with God.”

    Although Christian Science starts with somewhat prohuman theology — there is no “fall” we are perfect, but trapped in the Adam Dream, it quickly becomes antihuman because the Adam Dream is one so few Christian Scientists ever manage to emerge from — Ms. Eddy included.

    • http://empiricalmeta.blogspot.com/ Sam Daniels

      Wow. “The Secret” re-packaged. And it’s all my fault. I surely wish I had known about all this as I was praying so hard for an end to the torment as the only clubbed-footed 5th grader in the schoolyard.

  • http://lukeaustindaugherty.wordpress.com Luke Austin Daugherty

    Great, thought provoking stuff! It is troubling to me when I hear believers say things like, “Without God, I can’t make it through a single day… I still fail Jesus daily, but he forgives me, etc…,” or, “I”m a very bad man without Jesus! You wouldn’t want to spend 15 minutes around me if I didn’t believe in the Gospel.” I actually have a certain amount of trepidation about the proposition of those types changing their mind due to evidence and reason coming at them. They may have some serious issues unless it was a long process that they could readjust to psychologically over time. On the other hand, their current self-hatred and loathing is damaging in other ways.

  • http://bananafaced.wordpress.com bananafaced

    Great post Neil! I guess I was lucky that growing up as a dependent in the Air Force I was around so many different people from so many backgrounds and religions that I was able to recognize the BS from an early age. By age seventeen I was agnostic. From the comments posted here, it could be argued that almost all mental illness could very possibly be traced back to a Christian upbringing. Looks like the psychiatrists and psychologists will be in business for a verrrrrrry long time.

  • Empire1432

    Great post. This is one that I just had to share on my Facebook page, which is filled with Christians from my home town. I sincerely hope they read it and think about it next time they go to church. Maybe their eyes will be opened to what is going on behind the scenes, while the pastor or preacher pulls the levers and switches behind the big green curtain. I have been to church with my wife a number of times, and this article just brought back so many of those feelings I got when I was sitting there trying not to listen to the pastor. I think of the dependency on Jesus or God in the same way an addict thinks about their drug. For them to be happy, they must keep using the drug and must continue to take more and more of the drug to get the same affect. I can proudly say that no matter how many times my wife takes me to church, I have never fallen into the trap of downgrading myself, in return for replacing my positive and happy thoughts with dependency on Jesus or God. I know that I am not perfect in relation to the morality that society tries to instill, but then again who is. I am not a flawed human being. I am just a human being trying to live my life the best way I know how. Nothing more nothing less.

    • http://bananafaced.wordpress.com bananafaced

      Now that I think about it, your drug analogy is spot on. My sister used to be addicted to drugs and alcohol. Now she is an evangelical Christian and it appears she has substituted her addictions to drugs and alcohol to an addiction to Jesus.

  • http://inconspicousness.wordpress.com brendan10211

    Thank you for this article. It’s really helped me understand myself

  • Tangled13

    I have been recently struggling with this as a deconvert of about a year now. Sometimes I sit there and something has gone wrong in my life and I think about myself in such negative terms. I tell my boyfriend that I feel so dark and evil inside. That I am selfish and spiteful and hateful. He always tells me that he would never love anyone who was evil or terrible and that I am not those things. But that talk just circles around in my head. It is nice to know that I am not alone in this struggle. That self-loathing that I was raised in is rearing its ugly head. Luckily, I escaped before my adult life really began, but the early indoctrination has left a mark upon me.

  • http://thescrupulousatheist.wordpress.com The Scrupulous Atheist

    I have OCD. In my case it usually takes on a religious form called scrupulosity. It would be wrong for me to say that religion “caused” it (OCD does in fact have a genetic component to it), but it would be equally wrong to say it didn’t have anything to do with it. To a degree, many of us who are atheist are recovering from the indoctrination of religion. Depending on the religion, the more virulent the strain, the higher and longer cognitive dissonance is sustained, the greater the levels of anxiety and guilt one feels. I would say it takes a long time to be completely free of the effects of religion.

  • http://thescrupulousatheist.wordpress.com The Scrupulous Atheist

    I have OCD. In my case it usually takes on a religious form called scrupulosity. It would be wrong for me to say that religion “caused” it (OCD does in fact have a genetic component to it), but it would be equally wrong to say it didn’t have anything to do with it. To a degree, many of us who are atheist are recovering from the indoctrination of religion. Depending on the religion, the more virulent the strain, the higher and longer cognitive dissonance is sustained, the greater the levels of anxiety and guilt one feels. I would say it takes a long time to be completely free of the effects of religion.

  • Pingback: The Secularite » The Heart is Wicked: A Postscript Inspired by Godless in Dixie

  • Pingback: The Secularite » The Heart is Wicked: A Postscript Inspired by Godless in Dixie

  • Pingback: The Secularite » The Heart is Wicked: A Postscript Inspired by Godless in Dixie

  • http://tiffany267.wordpress.com tiffany267

    Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
    READ THIS. YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD READ THIS!

  • http://tiffany267.wordpress.com tiffany267

    Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
    READ THIS. YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD READ THIS!

  • http://tiffany267.wordpress.com tiffany267

    Reblogged this on Tiffany's Non-Blog and commented:
    READ THIS. YOU ABSOLUTELY SHOULD READ THIS!

  • http://kurttappe.wordpress.com ktappe

    Take a step back and examine the metrics you are all using. Anytime you use the words “good”, “bad”, “fall”, “sin”, you are stepping into a trap laid by the church. As someone raised atheistic, I have trouble relating to any missive that uses these terms. I sympathize that you were indoctrinated with them, but my best suggestion is to stop using these terms and thoughts. I truly do not believe “sin” exists at all. The word has no meaning to me whatsoever. As long as you are not hurting someone else, you can do ANYTHING you want to. You can like or dislike something that has occurred, but to label it “good” or “bad” is to assign some non-existent absolute label. There is nobody out there who is keeping tabs on who “sins”, or what things you do are “good” or “bad”. Just try to not hurt anyone else, try to help as much as possible, have the most fun you can, and that is your life. Nothing more.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      The word “sin” is certainly a church word and I have no use for it except in referencing beliefs of the church.

      But good vs. bad is a distinction that began long before Jesus or Judaism or what have you. It’s a subjective category, yes, but a useful one.

      • Desert Tripper

        I only utter the word “sin” when singing along with Ronnie James Dio songs…

      • Jo-Dee

        I topic that can make the brain start to hurt is how do we even know there is a difference between bad and good? It’s not social or cultural… it doesn’t matter the “rules” of the cultural… only that universally, we know when we have been “wronged” and the need for justice…. why is that? We don’t see that in any other animal, a since of justice.

        • David W

          It is present in other animals; there is lots of research on this front.

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          If you’re interested, Frans de Waal has written a good bit about the clear presence of a sense of guilt, morality, empathy, and altruism in animals (primates are his specialty). I offer that reference, but experience tells me that most people offering the argument you’ve offered have already made up their minds that their religion is the source of those things. Still, might as well offer that, just in case :)

  • http://kurttappe.wordpress.com ktappe

    Take a step back and examine the metrics you are all using. Anytime you use the words “good”, “bad”, “fall”, “sin”, you are stepping into a trap laid by the church. As someone raised atheistic, I have trouble relating to any missive that uses these terms. I sympathize that you were indoctrinated with them, but my best suggestion is to stop using these terms and thoughts. I truly do not believe “sin” exists at all. The word has no meaning to me whatsoever. As long as you are not hurting someone else, you can do ANYTHING you want to. You can like or dislike something that has occurred, but to label it “good” or “bad” is to assign some non-existent absolute label. There is nobody out there who is keeping tabs on who “sins”, or what things you do are “good” or “bad”. Just try to not hurt anyone else, try to help as much as possible, have the most fun you can, and that is your life. Nothing more.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      The word “sin” is certainly a church word and I have no use for it except in referencing beliefs of the church.

      But good vs. bad is a distinction that began long before Jesus or Judaism or what have you. It’s a subjective category, yes, but a useful one.

      • Desert Tripper

        I only utter the word “sin” when singing along with Ronnie James Dio songs…

      • Jo-Dee

        I topic that can make the brain start to hurt is how do we even know there is a difference between bad and good? It’s not social or cultural… it doesn’t matter the “rules” of the cultural… only that universally, we know when we have been “wronged” and the need for justice…. why is that? We don’t see that in any other animal, a since of justice.

        • David W

          It is present in other animals; there is lots of research on this front.

        • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

          If you’re interested, Frans de Waal has written a good bit about the clear presence of a sense of guilt, morality, empathy, and altruism in animals (primates are his specialty). I offer that reference, but experience tells me that most people offering the argument you’ve offered have already made up their minds that their religion is the source of those things. Still, might as well offer that, just in case :)

  • http://kurttappe.wordpress.com ktappe

    Take a step back and examine the metrics you are all using. Anytime you use the words “good”, “bad”, “fall”, “sin”, you are stepping into a trap laid by the church. As someone raised atheistic, I have trouble relating to any missive that uses these terms. I sympathize that you were indoctrinated with them, but my best suggestion is to stop using these terms and thoughts. I truly do not believe “sin” exists at all. The word has no meaning to me whatsoever. As long as you are not hurting someone else, you can do ANYTHING you want to. You can like or dislike something that has occurred, but to label it “good” or “bad” is to assign some non-existent absolute label. There is nobody out there who is keeping tabs on who “sins”, or what things you do are “good” or “bad”. Just try to not hurt anyone else, try to help as much as possible, have the most fun you can, and that is your life. Nothing more.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      The word “sin” is certainly a church word and I have no use for it except in referencing beliefs of the church.

      But good vs. bad is a distinction that began long before Jesus or Judaism or what have you. It’s a subjective category, yes, but a useful one.

  • Laura

    This post really resonates with me. I’m only two years out from decades of being deeply involved in the evangelical community. This negative self-view is something so crucial to the Christian world-view, and something that those who have never experienced it I think can have a difficult time grasping. The fact that, for Christians, there is nothing good apart from God, means that anything I do or think as an atheist is always, inherently, inferior. Being part of a family with evangelical Christians means there is always this undercurrent of disapproval from which there is no means of escape in their eyes, save for (re)conversion.

  • Laura

    This post really resonates with me. I’m only two years out from decades of being deeply involved in the evangelical community. This negative self-view is something so crucial to the Christian world-view, and something that those who have never experienced it I think can have a difficult time grasping. The fact that, for Christians, there is nothing good apart from God, means that anything I do or think as an atheist is always, inherently, inferior. Being part of a family with evangelical Christians means there is always this undercurrent of disapproval from which there is no means of escape in their eyes, save for (re)conversion.

    • Jo-Dee

      I am so sorry this was your experience. In my Christian life, I have never heard the message of having a negative self view being crucial to the Christian world view. .

      • Courtney

        That’s the whole point of this post; it’s a subtle undercurrent of self-hatred. Christians are constantly told how “undeserving” and “unworthy” they are, often for something that was completely out of their control (like original sin). I didn’t eat the forbidden fruit, nor did I contribute to the death of a Jewish man nearly two millennia before I was born. Making people feel guilty for these imagined “sins,” and then telling them that they must atone for them, is damaging and abusive – full stop.

  • http://queenofzenk.wordpress.com queenofzenk

    Thank you so much for writing this, you put it all so perfectly into words!

    I haven’t been a Christian for about 7 or 8 years now.. (didn’t think to keep track of when it happened, haha). I still struggle a lot with a horrible self image and I didn’t quite realize why until the last couple years. Of course, recognizing the problem is only one step to being free from it, but now I know that it’s not my fault.

  • http://queenofzenk.wordpress.com queenofzenk

    Thank you so much for writing this, you put it all so perfectly into words!

    I haven’t been a Christian for about 7 or 8 years now.. (didn’t think to keep track of when it happened, haha). I still struggle a lot with a horrible self image and I didn’t quite realize why until the last couple years. Of course, recognizing the problem is only one step to being free from it, but now I know that it’s not my fault.

  • https://www.facebook.com/ryanjbell Ryan Bell

    Thanks, Neil. This is so true to my experience as well. It wasn’t until I stepped away from my faith that I could see and understand personally the pernicious nature of the CORE of the gospel. Utter dependence on an authority figure you can’t have an actual relationship with (not that the actuality would make it any better…perhaps even worse). When I started thinking along these lines a text came to mind:

    All of us have become like one who is unclean,

    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

    we all shrivel up like a leaf,

    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

    As poetry I can relate to this sentiment. Which of us hasn’t felt like a wind swept, shriveled leaf or a filthy rag (euphemism for menstrual pad)? But as a teaching of objective reality—which is how Christians read it—so dangerous!

    I wrote similar sentiments on my blog a while back. I think you’ll see a lot of resonance with what you’re experiencing.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/2014/02/28/the-good-news-of-slavery/

  • https://www.facebook.com/ryanjbell Ryan Bell

    Thanks, Neil. This is so true to my experience as well. It wasn’t until I stepped away from my faith that I could see and understand personally the pernicious nature of the CORE of the gospel. Utter dependence on an authority figure you can’t have an actual relationship with (not that the actuality would make it any better…perhaps even worse). When I started thinking along these lines a text came to mind:

    All of us have become like one who is unclean,

    and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags;

    we all shrivel up like a leaf,

    and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

    As poetry I can relate to this sentiment. Which of us hasn’t felt like a wind swept, shriveled leaf or a filthy rag (euphemism for menstrual pad)? But as a teaching of objective reality—which is how Christians read it—so dangerous!

    I wrote similar sentiments on my blog a while back. I think you’ll see a lot of resonance with what you’re experiencing.

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/yearwithoutgod/2014/02/28/the-good-news-of-slavery/

    • Jo-Dee

      i was always taught that the scripture you quote above was how we are unable to “save” ourselves through our own actions. That we are not perfect but we are made perfect in Christ. I God’s eyes we are perfect. I am sorry this was not how it was taught to you.

      • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

        Ah, but wait…save us from what?

        Humor me a bit and carry this thought to its conclusion.

        • http://newlybread.wordpress.com Jillian Armstrong

          Saved from hell which we do deserve because God is all pure, all righteous, and all holy. To me, this way of thinking is self absorbed and self consuming: all the answers to life are in ME. I actually find freedom in the fact that on my own, I cannot be perfect, as God is, but instead can receive the mercy of Jesus to cover my imperfections and be fully the incredible person I was meant to be through His strength and power. I think the breakdown of why some

          Christians are so self deprecating is because they are focused on self, not on freedom in Christ. When we do that, we are not relying on the power and love of the Holy Spirit to redeem our thoughts and speak truth!

          It freaks me out personally to be as self reliant as this article claims we should be. If I have to self talk my way through life, well, I know I can’t do it. I’ve tried. It’s making me, my god, which I just can’t believe is the end all be all.

          • http://empiricalmeta.blogspot.com/ Sam Daniels

            “Saved from hell which we do deserve because God is all pure, all righteous, and all holy. To me, this way of thinking is self absorbed and self consuming: all the answers to life are in ME.”

            Oh my dog! Exactly. I have been making this argument in discussions with Christian family and friends for years. The whole message of the Bible rests on belief, or faith in something unreal. First suspend disbelief, logic, and rationality. Then it HAS to be “all about me”, since your faith posits a belief in something/someone unreal, therefore an entire template must be manufactured around each individual ego and perspective. Very few people of faith ever think it through this far, however.

      • http://gravatar.com/aidinthel Aidinthel

        But what you just said is basically the same thing. It’s the idea that people are broken and need your god to fix them.

  • Thinker1121

    I agree with ktappe. I think you have to keep things in perspective and remember that “good” and “evil” are relative. Humans are wired to think and act in certain ways, but none of these ways of acting are inherently good or evil. You cannot say that something is good or evil without context. Good or evil with respect to what? My perspective? Your perspective? The church’s perspective? If Christianity is false, then all standards of good and evil set by Christianity should be abandoned unless they have a non-religious justification. So if you’re feeling like you’re not “measuring up,” maybe it would help to remind yourself that the reason is that you’re using a defective measuring stick. If I measure my height and the measuring tape mislabels feet as inches, then of course I’m going to feel short. :) But it’s a reflection of the bad measuring device, not you.

  • Thinker1121

    I agree with ktappe. I think you have to keep things in perspective and remember that “good” and “evil” are relative. Humans are wired to think and act in certain ways, but none of these ways of acting are inherently good or evil. You cannot say that something is good or evil without context. Good or evil with respect to what? My perspective? Your perspective? The church’s perspective? If Christianity is false, then all standards of good and evil set by Christianity should be abandoned unless they have a non-religious justification. So if you’re feeling like you’re not “measuring up,” maybe it would help to remind yourself that the reason is that you’re using a defective measuring stick. If I measure my height and the measuring tape mislabels feet as inches, then of course I’m going to feel short. :) But it’s a reflection of the bad measuring device, not you.

    • Courtney

      Good and evil are NOT relative. Raping a child is always evil. Enslaving another human being is always evil. Killing someone because you want something they have is always evil. I don’t care whether or not a culture permits any of these acts. That does not make it “good” or “right.” Simple rule of thumb: If you’re using moral relativism, you’re using a defective measuring stick.

      • Thinker1121

        You’ve piqued my curiosity. I totally disagree with you that good and evil are not relative. If you’d care to comment further, please explain how you know that raping a child or enslaving another human is objectively wrong. To me, such a statement is nonsensical. I’m especially wondering how you would define “objectively good actions” and “objectively evil actions.”

        • Courtney

          Sure. I know an action is objectively wrong when it’s harming another person against his or her will. A person can not choose to be raped or enslaved; that is forced on him or her without consent. As another example, female genital mutilation is still commonly practiced in many countries. The girls are bound up, “operated on” without any painkillers, and then left tied up on the floor of a hut for a week until they can walk again. Such a practice also causes irreparable damage to these girls’ bodies and leads to problems later in life (such as when giving birth). Since it’s a normal part of life for many people in those countries, does that mean it’s not objectively wrong?

          At the same time, there are legal exceptions where harming or killing others is considered acceptable, such as in cases of self-defense. While I agree that Person A killing Person B to save his or her own life is legally justified, I would still argue that the murder itself was objectively wrong. I would even go so far as to say we can determine such an action’s “wrongness” by the effect on the person committing the action, such as the high number of soldiers returning from war with PTSD despite the fact that their actions in battle were legally condoned.

          In the reverse, I know an action is objectively good if no one is being harmed and/or forced against their will. For example, I don’t consider prostitution in and of itself to be objectively wrong. If both parties are consenting and set terms they both agree on, it’s objectively good or acceptable. It becomes wrong if any of the parties involved are not consenting or are otherwise harmed.

          I’d also be curious to hear more elaboration from you, as I likewise find it baffling that anyone would not see rape or slavery as objectively wrong. In what situation are those actions ever not wrong? Do you consider an action to not be objectively wrong if the person committing it believes it is right? Or are we perhaps simply disagreeing over a choice of words? I appreciate the discussion!

          • Thinker1121

            Thank you for your feedback. I’m enjoying our discussion too!

            I think that all moral beliefs, all of our opinions about right and wrong, are ultimately rooted in our own subjective preferences and goals. For example, if my preference/goal is to build a world that maximizes the well-being of humans, I might make the case for a moral rule that states “it is always wrong to take an action that harms another person against his or her will.” I suppose this moral rule could be seen as “objectively correct” in that it supports my underlying goal, but since my underlying goal is ultimately based on a subjective preference (i.e., it’s only my opinion that we should maximize human well-being), it cannot be truly objective. For me, something can only be “objectively moral” if you can show that the moral in question does not ultimately derive from a human preference. I see slavery as evil because I agree that we should be building a world that maximizes human well-being. But that is simply a preference of mine – I cannot say that someone who has a different preference set is “wrong.” How can one person’s preferences be “better” than someone else’s?

            Now, having said that, I do NOT think that relative morality implies that we have to condone or tolerate moral systems that we do not agree with. For example, while I don’t think there is any way to objectively know whether Hitler’s morality is better or worse than mine (since each is based on our own subjective preferences), I have no problem saying that “I don’t want to live in a world where Hitler’s activities are condoned…therefore I am ok with supporting efforts to kill him.” It’s not necessary to see a moral system as “objectively wrong” to actively oppose it. The same goes for genital mutilation or rape. I have no problem with stopping these things from happening, even if the use of force is necessary. But I can’t say that my reasons don’t ultimately derive from my subjective preferences that we should build a world that maximizes human well-being.

            So when you ask, “In what situation are those actions [rape, slavery] ever not wrong,” I would say there is no situation in which they are ever not wrong. But, I’d have to qualify that with “in my opinion.” I can’t prove to you that I’m right. I can only base my opinion on more subjective preferences.

            I hope this was at least a somewhat clear explanation. Do you disagree with me? If so, how? Thank you again for your comments!

          • Courtney

            Thinker1121: For some reason, there’s no “reply” button attached to your comment. So, I’m going to reply to my own previous comment instead and hope you see it!

            I understand what you’re saying about morals coming from our personal opinions and goals. I think to some extent that’s probably true. At the same time, though, I don’t agree that our morality is solely rooted in our own subjective opinions. While humans may have created the labels “right” and “wrong,” I think those concepts exist outside ourselves, and are rooted in our biological instincts or intuition. When I hear about rape or murder on TV, I don’t stop to reason through whether or not I think those actions are wrong. My reaction is immediate and often visceral. I think that, as social creatures, humans evolved with this sense of morality as a means of survival.

            For example, “If I kill or harm someone in my tribe, I’ll be ostracized by the others, and since I can’t survive on my own I’ll die. Therefore, it’s bad/wrong to harm others.” Perhaps you could argue that that’s still a human “preference” (i.e. the desire to survive), but I consider a preference or goal to be something that is actively chosen, whereas a morality rooted in survival instincts would’ve developed on a subconscious, intuitive level.

            That being said, I can’t point you to any sort of scientific study or historical evidence to support my claim (to be fair, I haven’t specifically searched for any). I also would never claim that none of my opinions or choices are subjective. I honestly believe, though, that human morality – the way we feel “bad” when we do something wrong, and “good” when we do something right – has objective roots. It’s so universal that we label people who don’t experience feelings like guilt or remorse over harming others as sociopaths (i.e. something is fundamentally wrong with their brain chemistry).

            I hope that makes sense. Thanks for taking the time to explain your side! If I’m understanding everything correctly, we seem to generally be in agreement over how to “live out” morality, just not in where those ideas originate. Also, as I’ve never really discussed this idea with anyone before, when I heard “subjective/relative morality” in the past, I also heard “we have to allow everything because no one can say whether anything is right or wrong,” which was clearly an incorrect assumption on my part. So, thank you for so politely and thoroughly expressing your view so that I could see my mistake!

          • Thinker1121

            Courtney:

            I am experiencing the same problem with the “reply” button, so if this post shows up in an odd place, that’s why.

            I think our differences are just semantic, as I agree with pretty much everything you said in your most recent post. You stated, “When I hear about rape or murder on TV, I don’t stop to reason through whether or not I think those actions are wrong. My reaction is immediate and often visceral.” Yes! I totally concur. Intuition drives our morality, not abstract reasoning. In fact, there’s a book that I highly recommend by Jonathan Haidt called “The Righteous Mind.” You may have already read it, but Haidt is a psychologist, and in this book he identifies the six moral foundations that he claims all humans have and that we build our morality around. Humans are hard wired to see things like loyalty, compassion, fairness, etc… as moral, and their opposites as immoral. I think I understand your point that these things aren’t rationally “chosen,” so in that sense we can consider them objective instincts. I agree with you there. You don’t see a baby on the train tracks and think, “Hm…let me do a quick cost/benefit analysis as to whether or not to save the baby.” You grab the baby instinctively, just as you’d move your hand off of a hot stove instinctively.

            The only caveat I would offer is that I don’t think it will always be the case that there will be a single, objective, correct moral response to a situation. For example, it’s possible that a tribe would be able to function best by both treating other members of their own tribe with compassion and providing help as necessary and also by brutally torturing and killing someone who betrays the tribe for a rival tribe. So when a tribe member is “arrested” for betraying his tribe and is about to be tortured, you’d have multiple “correct” moral instincts activated among the tribe members…some who want to show compassion…some who want to punish disloyalty. Both would be objectively correct from an evolutionary perspective – and I guess you’d take a vote as to which moral instinct should be applied – which is pretty much the way democracies handle those situations these days.

            You also hit on another point I had never considered before, but which I think is extremely important regarding religion. It occurs to me that a lot of people I know who are religious are afraid of the secularization of society and of atheism in particular because for them, God is the only “defense” against allowing everything and anything (i.e., rape, murder, etc…) If God doesn’t exist, then anything goes. This clearly isn’t true, and I think that conversations like ours help us to think through these moral questions so that we can provide more effective feedback to religious people making that argument (at least it does for me!).

          • Courtney

            Thank you so much for the book recommendation! I’ve added it to my list!

            I completely agree that not all situations will have a cut-and-dry, objective response. We experience many different situations in modern times that our ancestors wouldn’t have had to deal with when our morality was first forming. We’ve come up with words like “white lie” to express the idea that lying is wrong…except when you do it to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or getting into minor trouble. If asked, most people would also probably say stealing is morally wrong. However, if then asked whether a child should be punished for stealing bread to feed his starving family, most would likely say “no” out of compassion. It’s not that lying and stealing are suddenly OK, but that we recognize situations in which we can “let the rules slide,” so to speak.

            I also think you’re exactly right in that many religious folks see their gods as a last defense against moral anarchy. When you’re taught that you can’t trust your own judgment because you’re “broken,” “sinful,” etc. then it naturally follows that you’d have to consult someone else on what’s right or wrong. But, since all humans are sinful and untrustworthy, that only leaves God. Without this universal authority figure – all rules apply equally to everyone, everywhere – Christians seem to fear there’d be no way to stop bad behavior. To correct that way of thinking, I think they have to realize that a) they can generally trust their own (and other people’s) judgment, and b) good morality benefits us all, which is enough reason to “be good” without the fear of eternal damnation.

            Thanks again to you, too, for the discussion. It’s been thought-provoking and very enlightening. :)

  • http://humanistfox.wordpress.com humanistfox

    Reblogged this on Humanist Fox.

  • http://humanistfox.wordpress.com humanistfox

    Reblogged this on Humanist Fox.

  • Jo-Dee

    As a Christian I am terribly sorry that anyone would receive these sorts of messages. I am not going sit and quote scripture or engage in a debate. I will only say, if this was truly yours or anyone’s experience, I apologize. This is not the message Christ brought to us.Taking an hour to read the the first 4 books of the Testament will prove this.

    • http://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com Paul D.

      “Taking an hour to read the the first 4 books of the Testament will prove this.”

      Check out the Christianity forum at Reddit sometime and see how day after day, people in emotional anguish post comments about how despicable they see themselves for having lustful/gay/unwanted thoughts and how sinful that makes them in Jesus’ eyes.

  • Jo-Dee

    As a Christian I am terribly sorry that anyone would receive these sorts of messages. I am not going sit and quote scripture or engage in a debate. I will only say, if this was truly yours or anyone’s experience, I apologize. This is not the message Christ brought to us.Taking an hour to read the the first 4 books of the Testament will prove this.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      That’s where we learned the self-criticism :)

    • DurianDrankFlues

      21 “You have heard that [k]the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be [l]liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be [m]guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘[n]You good-for-nothing,’ shall be [o]guilty before [p]the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be [q]guilty enough to go into the [r]fiery hell.

      27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you [w]stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you [x]to lose one of the parts of your body, [y]than for your whole body to be thrown into [z]hell. 30 If your right hand makes you [aa]stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you [ab]to lose one of the parts of your body, [ac]than for your whole body to go into [ad]hell.

      • DurianDrankFlues

        No thank you.

        He make it worse. Instead of just crime, now we must fear thought crime, because he seems it the same. And that only heaps more and more guilt and self-loathing.

        So, no, Jesus didnt fix anything; he made it worse.

    • http://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com Paul D.

      “Taking an hour to read the the first 4 books of the Testament will prove this.”

      Check out the Christianity forum at Reddit sometime and see how day after day, people in emotional anguish post comments about how despicable they see themselves for having lustful/gay/unwanted thoughts and how sinful that makes them in Jesus’ eyes.

  • http://lifeafter40.net Logan GLT

    I can relate, as I was a Christian for 34 years and my church and Bible classes en-grained in my head that we all “have a sin problem”, and that “it’s the flesh” that’s evil, etc. I enjoyed the post. I recently decided to share what happened when “My son told me he’s an atheist”. http://lifeafter40.net/2014/04/20/my-son-told-me-hes-an-atheist/

  • http://lifeafter40.net Logan GLT

    I can relate, as I was a Christian for 34 years and my church and Bible classes en-grained in my head that we all “have a sin problem”, and that “it’s the flesh” that’s evil, etc. I enjoyed the post. I recently decided to share what happened when “My son told me he’s an atheist”. http://lifeafter40.net/2014/04/20/my-son-told-me-hes-an-atheist/

  • Bill Harper

    I’ve been an atheist for over 30 years and this post was a revelation to me. My wife has often called me out on being unable to accept praise or to be happy when things are going well.I often feel that I am undeserving of the wonderful life that I have. I worry that when things go well that bad will soon follow. I’m sure that some of this comes from growing up in the home of a fundamentalist minister where I was repeatedly told I was unworthy. I’m sixty years old now and its never to late to change life patterns. As a fellow southern atheist thank you so much for this post and for your blog.

  • Bill Harper

    I’ve been an atheist for over 30 years and this post was a revelation to me. My wife has often called me out on being unable to accept praise or to be happy when things are going well.I often feel that I am undeserving of the wonderful life that I have. I worry that when things go well that bad will soon follow. I’m sure that some of this comes from growing up in the home of a fundamentalist minister where I was repeatedly told I was unworthy. I’m sixty years old now and its never to late to change life patterns. As a fellow southern atheist thank you so much for this post and for your blog.

  • Bill Harper

    I’ve been an atheist for over 30 years and this post was a revelation to me. My wife has often called me out on being unable to accept praise or to be happy when things are going well.I often feel that I am undeserving of the wonderful life that I have. I worry that when things go well that bad will soon follow. I’m sure that some of this comes from growing up in the home of a fundamentalist minister where I was repeatedly told I was unworthy. I’m sixty years old now and its never to late to change life patterns. As a fellow southern atheist thank you so much for this post and for your blog.

  • David W

    Wow, I haven’t thought about this, the idea of the self-hatred embedded in Christianity for some time.

    The strain of Evangelical Christianity I grew up in had a really big focus on sex. I remember the first time I masturbated, I was completely panic stricken afterwards, I was convinced I had just sinned; I was ashamed and thought that something BAD might happen to me, something bad like eternal punishment in hell.

    The same is true for the first time I had sex.

    I have been out of Christianity for 8ish years, and I am STILL learning how to put this self-hatred behind me.

    My family has long told me that I need to be better at taking compliments; even now as atheist, I tend to dismiss a compliment or change the subject. It never occurred to me that I learned this *skill* from my family, the ones who raised me in Evangelical Christianity. How ironic.

  • David W

    Wow, I haven’t thought about this, the idea of the self-hatred embedded in Christianity for some time.

    The strain of Evangelical Christianity I grew up in had a really big focus on sex. I remember the first time I masturbated, I was completely panic stricken afterwards, I was convinced I had just sinned; I was ashamed and thought that something BAD might happen to me, something bad like eternal punishment in hell.

    The same is true for the first time I had sex.

    I have been out of Christianity for 8ish years, and I am STILL learning how to put this self-hatred behind me.

    My family has long told me that I need to be better at taking compliments; even now as atheist, I tend to dismiss a compliment or change the subject. It never occurred to me that I learned this *skill* from my family, the ones who raised me in Evangelical Christianity. How ironic.

  • David W

    Wow, I haven’t thought about this, the idea of the self-hatred embedded in Christianity for some time.

    The strain of Evangelical Christianity I grew up in had a really big focus on sex. I remember the first time I masturbated, I was completely panic stricken afterwards, I was convinced I had just sinned; I was ashamed and thought that something BAD might happen to me, something bad like eternal punishment in hell.

    The same is true for the first time I had sex.

    I have been out of Christianity for 8ish years, and I am STILL learning how to put this self-hatred behind me.

    My family has long told me that I need to be better at taking compliments; even now as atheist, I tend to dismiss a compliment or change the subject. It never occurred to me that I learned this *skill* from my family, the ones who raised me in Evangelical Christianity. How ironic.

  • Cheryl

    Wow, to tell you the truth, I love Jesus and I feel pretty good about it AND myself as a human too! Other humans have typically upset my life from time to time but, I’m grateful for my relationship. It’s not a religion to me. It’s a personal relationship. Sounds like a Jesus bashing here to me. Peace out:)

    • mikespeir

      A lot of us here used to say the same thing, Cheryl. I did, purposely blind to the realization that fear was in fact the whole rationale behind the religion. I was “in love” with Jesus because I was scared not to be. Things like, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” and “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” are never repudiated in the NT.

  • Cheryl

    Wow, to tell you the truth, I love Jesus and I feel pretty good about it AND myself as a human too! Other humans have typically upset my life from time to time but, I’m grateful for my relationship. It’s not a religion to me. It’s a personal relationship. Sounds like a Jesus bashing here to me. Peace out:)

    • mikespeir

      A lot of us here used to say the same thing, Cheryl. I did, purposely blind to the realization that fear was in fact the whole rationale behind the religion. I was “in love” with Jesus because I was scared not to be. Things like, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” and “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” are never repudiated in the NT.

  • Cheryl

    Wow, to tell you the truth, I love Jesus and I feel pretty good about it AND myself as a human too! Other humans have typically upset my life from time to time but, I’m grateful for my relationship. It’s not a religion to me. It’s a personal relationship. Sounds like a Jesus bashing here to me. Peace out:)

    • mikespeir

      A lot of us here used to say the same thing, Cheryl. I did, purposely blind to the realization that fear was in fact the whole rationale behind the religion. I was “in love” with Jesus because I was scared not to be. Things like, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” and “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” are never repudiated in the NT.

  • Cheryl

    Wow, to tell you the truth, I love Jesus and I feel pretty good about it AND myself as a human too! Other humans have typically upset my life from time to time but, I’m grateful for my relationship. It’s not a religion to me. It’s a personal relationship. Sounds like a Jesus bashing here to me. Peace out:)

    • mikespeir

      A lot of us here used to say the same thing, Cheryl. I did, purposely blind to the realization that fear was in fact the whole rationale behind the religion. I was “in love” with Jesus because I was scared not to be. Things like, “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge,” and “The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom,” are never repudiated in the NT.

  • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

    Isn’t conceit and pride another extreme to be avoided?

  • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

    Isn’t conceit and pride another extreme to be avoided?

  • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

    Isn’t conceit and pride another extreme to be avoided?

  • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

    Isn’t conceit and pride another extreme to be avoided?

  • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

    You would make a good pastor :-). I look at the message of Christianity slightly differently. I think, it’s important to acknowledge my shortcomings (a.k.a. sin) and strive for self-improvement. But I deem it pointless to dwell on my failures and lost opportunities. You are right that these thoughts can suck the life out of people. I think, that’s the idea of “letting God to take care of my problems”. I think, one of the attractive sides of religion is this comforting feeling of being loved unconditionally. I think, religion is about autosuggestion touted in many self-help books. Autosuggestion is a powerful thing, but it can work both ways and can be psychologically damaging.

    • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

      I think, I overused the words “I think” :-) .

  • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

    You would make a good pastor :-). I look at the message of Christianity slightly differently. I think, it’s important to acknowledge my shortcomings (a.k.a. sin) and strive for self-improvement. But I deem it pointless to dwell on my failures and lost opportunities. You are right that these thoughts can suck the life out of people. I think, that’s the idea of “letting God to take care of my problems”. I think, one of the attractive sides of religion is this comforting feeling of being loved unconditionally. I think, religion is about autosuggestion touted in many self-help books. Autosuggestion is a powerful thing, but it can work both ways and can be psychologically damaging.

  • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

    You would make a good pastor :-). I look at the message of Christianity slightly differently. I think, it’s important to acknowledge my shortcomings (a.k.a. sin) and strive for self-improvement. But I deem it pointless to dwell on my failures and lost opportunities. You are right that these thoughts can suck the life out of people. I think, that’s the idea of “letting God to take care of my problems”. I think, one of the attractive sides of religion is this comforting feeling of being loved unconditionally. I think, religion is about autosuggestion touted in many self-help books. Autosuggestion is a powerful thing, but it can work both ways and can be psychologically damaging.

    • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

      I think, I overused the words “I think” :-) .

  • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

    You would make a good pastor :-). I look at the message of Christianity slightly differently. I think, it’s important to acknowledge my shortcomings (a.k.a. sin) and strive for self-improvement. But I deem it pointless to dwell on my failures and lost opportunities. You are right that these thoughts can suck the life out of people. I think, that’s the idea of “letting God to take care of my problems”. I think, one of the attractive sides of religion is this comforting feeling of being loved unconditionally. I think, religion is about autosuggestion touted in many self-help books. Autosuggestion is a powerful thing, but it can work both ways and can be psychologically damaging.

    • http://thousayest.wordpress.com agrudzinsky

      I think, I overused the words “I think” :-) .

  • http://bobbyshideout.wordpress.com bobbyelhans

    I think it’s the same with all religions. If humans didn’t think that they needed to be absolved by a higher authority, there would be no religion. The end-note to the comment by agrudzinsky, “I think, I overused the words, “I think.”” speaks volumes about why we often just think but do not speak about what our heads don’t let us accept.

  • http://bobbyshideout.wordpress.com bobbyelhans

    I think it’s the same with all religions. If humans didn’t think that they needed to be absolved by a higher authority, there would be no religion. The end-note to the comment by agrudzinsky, “I think, I overused the words, “I think.”” speaks volumes about why we often just think but do not speak about what our heads don’t let us accept.

  • http://bobbyshideout.wordpress.com bobbyelhans

    I think it’s the same with all religions. If humans didn’t think that they needed to be absolved by a higher authority, there would be no religion. The end-note to the comment by agrudzinsky, “I think, I overused the words, “I think.”” speaks volumes about why we often just think but do not speak about what our heads don’t let us accept.

  • mk

    Your post reminds of two things. One, the parallels/overlap between religious believers and battered spouses. And two, a sentiment from David Foster Wallace: “If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.”

  • mk

    Your post reminds of two things. One, the parallels/overlap between religious believers and battered spouses. And two, a sentiment from David Foster Wallace: “If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.”

  • mk

    Your post reminds of two things. One, the parallels/overlap between religious believers and battered spouses. And two, a sentiment from David Foster Wallace: “If you can think of times in your life that you’ve treated people with extraordinary decency and love, and pure uninterested concern, just because they were valuable as human beings. The ability to do that with ourselves. To treat ourselves the way we would treat a really good, precious friend. Or a tiny child of ours that we absolutely loved more than life itself. And I think it’s probably possible to achieve that. I think part of the job we’re here for is to learn how to do it.”

  • http://Davidorris.com David

    Great piece. We share a very similar predicament. I’d love to talk with you.

  • http://Davidorris.com David

    Great piece. We share a very similar predicament. I’d love to talk with you.

  • http://Davidorris.com David

    Great piece. We share a very similar predicament. I’d love to talk with you.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Anyone can show common grace, whether or not they’re Christians. The question is whether that’s enough by itself for salvation, and as you’ve correctly explained, the answer is no in orthodox Christianity. But your choices do form your soul. Consider the noble heathen. My own perspective, shared by lots of other Christians if not all, is that the heathen’s nobility raises the odds that he’s the sort of person who WOULD accept Christ if the gospel were presented to him. Some Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of that process happening after death, but I don’t see why it’s an impossibility. And I completely disagree with the “Well duh, once he actually meets Jesus of course he’s going to believe in him” line, because many people will meet Jesus, or already have met him, and won’t want anything to do with him.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      I have to confess I laughed out loud at the “noble heathen” comment. How ever can we be trusted around children, heartless monsters that we are? Fortunately, a select few of us aren’t raving psychopaths. Because “common grace.” Which, being interpreted, means: “Whatever good you do, my invisible deity gets credit for that.” A facile assertion, to be sure. It reminds me of that quip making the rounds on Facebook:

      bluntcard

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Anyone can show common grace, whether or not they’re Christians. The question is whether that’s enough by itself for salvation, and as you’ve correctly explained, the answer is no in orthodox Christianity. But your choices do form your soul. Consider the noble heathen. My own perspective, shared by lots of other Christians if not all, is that the heathen’s nobility raises the odds that he’s the sort of person who WOULD accept Christ if the gospel were presented to him. Some Christians are uncomfortable with the idea of that process happening after death, but I don’t see why it’s an impossibility. And I completely disagree with the “Well duh, once he actually meets Jesus of course he’s going to believe in him” line, because many people will meet Jesus, or already have met him, and won’t want anything to do with him.

    • Courtney

      1) As an atheist, I do not believe there is such a thing as a soul. So, arguing that our choices form our souls is a bit moot.

      2) The idea of the noble heathen (aka the “noble savage”) is derogatory and racist. It was used by white colonists to describe their non-white conquered peoples, and is the idea that the “heathens,” despite being lesser beings, were capable of “noble” qualities like compassion, sentimentality, and intelligence. It’s the same reaction we have nowadays when, for example, we hear a story about a dog dragging its unconscious owner out of a burning building; we’re amazed that the dog had the loyalty and understanding to rescue the human (in other words, we’re amazed that the dog, a “lesser being,” is portraying what we consider to be human qualities). Colonists may have thought the “noble heathen” was more predisposed to accepting Christianity, but that was hardly a compliment.

      • Esther O’Reilly

        I wasn’t making an argument so much as an observation. Feel free to disagree. But you do have a soul, whether you choose to believe it or not. You know in your heart whatever choices you’ve made in your life, for good or ill.

        I’m not quite sure why you’re bringing up racism, but the “noble heathen” is essentially short-hand in theological debates for somebody who has never even heard about Jesus their whole life long. This is simplest to imagine for far removed tribal cultures where even missionaries never manage to reach (although I have a friend from Germany who said that he actually never heard the gospel until he was an adult, even though his family attended church nominally through his youth). It’s certainly not regarding these people as “sub-human.” What kind of bizarre knee-jerk reaction is that? Quite the contrary, as free moral agents with souls, created in God’s image, their salvation plays out, we presume, the same as any other man’s. Right and wrong are the same the world over, and people in any time or place can choose either. Why would I be surprised to observe evil men being evil and good men being good in any culture? However, the disagreement among Christian denominations comes in arguing whether it’s necessary for a person to make a choice specifically about Jesus in this life or never. When there has literally been no opportunity at all, I myself would say it’s not logical for the isolated soul to be damned by default.

        • Courtney

          I was unaware that modern theologians had co-opted the idea of the noble savage, but just because they have that doesn’t negate the centuries of history behind the term. It’s used to denote surprise or astonishment that “savages” or “heathens” possess some of the same qualities as “real people.” As I already stated, white colonial powers used the term to reference peoples they conquered (such as Native Americans). It’s the idea that there’s hope for the “poor brutes” after all, and they just might be able to be civilized. I called it racist because it is.

          If you wanted to suggest that people who have never heard of Christianity can still be “saved” upon death, I find it strange that you would choose to express that sentiment through the use of a clearly derogatory term. It makes me wonder if the theologians using the term are actually aware of what it means.

          Also, I checked. Nope, no soul here! I know which choices I’ve made in my life, and I acknowledge that those choices contributed to shaping the person I am today. I think we’re in agreement that reasoning through choices and making decisions has that effect. I just don’t believe there’s any soul that’s effected by those choices.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      I have to confess I laughed out loud at the “noble heathen” comment. How ever can we be trusted around children, heartless monsters that we are? Fortunately, a select few of us aren’t raving psychopaths. Because “common grace.” Which, being interpreted, means: “Whatever good you do, my invisible deity gets credit for that.” A facile assertion, to be sure. It reminds me of that quip making the rounds on Facebook:

      bluntcard

      • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

        One thing to add. You said, “Right and wrong are the same the world over.” But that’s patently false. One culture views misogyny as discriminatory, while another sees it as a healthy division of roles. One sees slavery as “just the way things are” (as the writers of the Bible seem to have) while others insist it is immoral to own another person. Spousal rape is acceptable in one place and not in another. Even treason, as they say, is a matter of dates.

        It seems obvious to me that some are naturally attracted to members of the same sex. But some religions insist that’s improper. These are social constructs, and they change even within the canon of the Bible itself. The universality of morality is an illusion, a fantasy.

        • Esther O’Reilly

          Courtney said “I checked. No soul here!” I think that’s unintentionally funny. :)

          Neil said, “Whatever good you do, my invisible deity gets credit for that…”

          Only in the general sense that part of being human is having a conscience, and the human race was created by God. What you choose to do with your conscience is up to you. If you pay attention to it, that’s a good act of will on your part.

          What seems to be clouding the issue for you is that you seem to think “If a person hasn’t committed a crime that would doom him to the death penalty in this life, then he must be the kind of person who should be welcomed into heaven.” That doesn’t follow. A person could spend his life just being your average run-of-the-mill Joe A@@hole. But in the process of becoming Joe A@@hole, he’s still making decisions that create a progressively uglier picture of what humanity can become left to his own devices.

          All I meant by saying “Right and the wrong are the same the world over” is that every human being has a conscience (which some disregard and some don’t), and rape, arrogance, etc., are still objectively wrong no matter who in what culture is exhibiting them.

          • Thinker1121

            I don’t think you can assume that just because everyone has a conscience, it must follow that everyone’s conscience is in agreement has to how to act in every situation. What my conscience tells me is definitely not the same as what some of my friends’ consciences tell them. But we’re both equally convinced that we’re right.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Of course I reject at least two of your assumptions, namely that there is such a thing as heaven, and that “left to his own devices,” people become something ugly. Clearly you share the standard Christian interpretation that people gravitate toward bad behavior. The point of this post is to judge this as anti-human theology. It assumes the worst about people.

            …rape, arrogance, etc., are still objectively wrong no matter who in what culture is exhibiting them.”

            What about the other three examples I gave? Misogyny, slavery, and homosexuality? Do you feel any of these are objectively right or objectively wrong?

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Sorry, I didn’t check back here for a while to see your response.

            I do think slavery is wrong in any culture. I think homosexuality isn’t necessarily an orientation one chooses, so if we’re just talking about being attracted to members of the same sex, no I don’t think that’s necessarily a sin. But I do believe homosexual acts are sinful. That’s presumably what you meant. As for misogyny, this is an oft misused blanket term, so I would need specific examples to give a moral judgment. If by misogyny you mean wife-beating, forced marriage, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, blaming every divorce ever on women, etc., then of course yes, I believe misogyny is wrong.

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            When a Christian institution prevents women from holding leadership positions because they are women, or when Christian colleges prevent women from teaching men, do you not feel that is misogynist?

            And do you have any “objective” basis (i.e. something other than “it’s in the Bible that way”) for saying that same-sex activity is invalid, or wrong? Because I thought we were talking about things which are objective, things which “everyone knows.”

            And of course, if slavery is objectively wrong, it’s an indictment of the Bible that it never condemned the practice. You would think revelation from a divine being on whose character all morality is based would communicate something about that in those pages.

          • Esther O’Reilly

            Have you read the book of Philemon?

          • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

            Never addresses the institution of slavery. Never once indicates that a person shouldn’t be the property of another. Just basically says to be nice to them.

  • girlintheD

    Thanks for another insightful post…you’ve hit a nerve with this one. As someone who is in the middle of the rather painful process of disentangling myself from the Christian faith, I’m only beginning to see just how damaged I’ve been by this theology of worthlessness. Even more horrifying is seeing the way “brokenness” has become the buzz word du jour in Christian circles. If you’re not broken, God can’t use you. You need to let God break you before he can work through you. (And here I start having visions of Rocky IV where the Russian dude says to Rocky, “I must break you…”)

    Someone even recently told me my issues with the Christian faith come from the fact that I won’t allow God to “break” me. He used the analogy of a wild horse being broken by a cowboy. Yeah…have you ever seen a wild horse hobbled and whipped into submission? It’s not pretty. Eventually that horse will submit to a bridle and a saddle and a rider and become something useful to man. But not because he trusts the cowboy or has some sense that the cowboy is working for his benefit. He submits because he is AFRAID.

    And that, right there, is what I have found at the core of Christianity. Fear of eternal punishment, fear of not being good enough, fear that you have no worth in and of yourself.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be another saddled ass with a “broken” spirit. If that’s what God requires — then he’s not the loving, merciful God Christians make him out to be.

    • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

      Good word. Thanks for sharing. I know the brokenness talk all to well. The subculture I came from was enamored with the concept, and they romanticized it just as your friend did. But it’s an abusive concept. And the only reason it’s not readily seen as such is because once you’ve created a special category of Being who is above all rules, logic, and moral standards, you can portray him as doing positively monstrous things and no one can say anything.

      Case in point: Note the collective Evangelical horror over the psychotic behavior of Noah in the recent Darren Aronofsky film. They strongly objected to Noah’s determination to drive a dagger through the hearts of newborn babies, yet expressed ZERO moral outrage at the notion that Yahweh was killing presumably millions of babies the world over.

      If you ever take the actions of Yahweh and put them into a human being, the awfulness of it all becomes painfully apparent. You have to keep Yahweh in a special class, above all rules. We call that special pleading.

    • Empire1432

      I love the analogy of a broken horse in relation to accepting god. People don’t accept god because they love him, they accept him out of fear of what he might to do them if you don’t love him. Some churches may not say this in such simple terms, but its always in the undercurrent of their sermons. Making yourself feel small and insignificant is just part of what religion does to us.

  • girlintheD

    Thanks for another insightful post…you’ve hit a nerve with this one. As someone who is in the middle of the rather painful process of disentangling myself from the Christian faith, I’m only beginning to see just how damaged I’ve been by this theology of worthlessness. Even more horrifying is seeing the way “brokenness” has become the buzz word du jour in Christian circles. If you’re not broken, God can’t use you. You need to let God break you before he can work through you. (And here I start having visions of Rocky IV where the Russian dude says to Rocky, “I must break you…”)

    Someone even recently told me my issues with the Christian faith come from the fact that I won’t allow God to “break” me. He used the analogy of a wild horse being broken by a cowboy. Yeah…have you ever seen a wild horse hobbled and whipped into submission? It’s not pretty. Eventually that horse will submit to a bridle and a saddle and a rider and become something useful to man. But not because he trusts the cowboy or has some sense that the cowboy is working for his benefit. He submits because he is AFRAID.

    And that, right there, is what I have found at the core of Christianity. Fear of eternal punishment, fear of not being good enough, fear that you have no worth in and of yourself.

    I’m sorry, but I don’t want to be another saddled ass with a “broken” spirit. If that’s what God requires — then he’s not the loving, merciful God Christians make him out to be.

    • Empire1432

      I love the analogy of a broken horse in relation to accepting god. People don’t accept god because they love him, they accept him out of fear of what he might to do them if you don’t love him. Some churches may not say this in such simple terms, but its always in the undercurrent of their sermons. Making yourself feel small and insignificant is just part of what religion does to us.

  • Rob

    One of the key factors in my leaving the church was it’s continual repression of emotion and feelings under the guise of “living by the fruits of the Spirit”. Being in therapy helped me to re-claim a sense of internal identity and authority, which is antithetical to everything I was taught (and am now working to deconstruct) in the church. What I’ve noticed is that this type of thinking makes the “bad” emotions the real you, and the “good” emotions God/Spirit. From a psychological point of view, I’ve come to see emotions and feelings as just different self-states. I don’t privilege the “good” or the “bad”. I used quotes because good vs bad is a whole other discussion.

    Does anyone know of any good books that look at the psychological effects of such a christian narrative of repression?

  • Rob

    One of the key factors in my leaving the church was it’s continual repression of emotion and feelings under the guise of “living by the fruits of the Spirit”. Being in therapy helped me to re-claim a sense of internal identity and authority, which is antithetical to everything I was taught (and am now working to deconstruct) in the church. What I’ve noticed is that this type of thinking makes the “bad” emotions the real you, and the “good” emotions God/Spirit. From a psychological point of view, I’ve come to see emotions and feelings as just different self-states. I don’t privilege the “good” or the “bad”. I used quotes because good vs bad is a whole other discussion.

    Does anyone know of any good books that look at the psychological effects of such a christian narrative of repression?

  • Rob

    One of the key factors in my leaving the church was it’s continual repression of emotion and feelings under the guise of “living by the fruits of the Spirit”. Being in therapy helped me to re-claim a sense of internal identity and authority, which is antithetical to everything I was taught (and am now working to deconstruct) in the church. What I’ve noticed is that this type of thinking makes the “bad” emotions the real you, and the “good” emotions God/Spirit. From a psychological point of view, I’ve come to see emotions and feelings as just different self-states. I don’t privilege the “good” or the “bad”. I used quotes because good vs bad is a whole other discussion.

    Does anyone know of any good books that look at the psychological effects of such a christian narrative of repression?

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  • http://constantcognizance.wordpress.com/ T.S.

    Reblogged this on Constant Consciousness and commented:
    This is just dead on accurate. I can’t stand when I hear certain religious types saying we’re all flawed human beings. Cast off that stigma! We shouldn’t have to carry the weight of guilt from the second we’re born. The author does a great job of analyzing this feeling.

  • http://constantcognizance.wordpress.com/ T.S.

    Reblogged this on Constant Consciousness and commented:
    This is just dead on accurate. I can’t stand when I hear certain religious types saying we’re all flawed human beings. Cast off that stigma! We shouldn’t have to carry the weight of guilt from the second we’re born. The author does a great job of analyzing this feeling.

  • http://constantcognizance.wordpress.com/ T.S.

    Reblogged this on Constant Consciousness and commented:
    This is just dead on accurate. I can’t stand when I hear certain religious types saying we’re all flawed human beings. Cast off that stigma! We shouldn’t have to carry the weight of guilt from the second we’re born. The author does a great job of analyzing this feeling.

  • http://constantcognizance.wordpress.com/ T.S.

    Reblogged this on Constant Consciousness and commented:
    This is just dead on accurate. I can’t stand when I hear certain religious types saying we’re all flawed human beings. Cast off that stigma! We shouldn’t have to carry the weight of guilt from the second we’re born. The author does a great job of analyzing this feeling.

  • kstamps89

    haha, This is actually hilarious, because I think you totally nailed it, and I am still super proud I am a Christian. It’s a crazy thing to believe that I need and depend on the God who created me.

  • kstamps89

    haha, This is actually hilarious, because I think you totally nailed it, and I am still super proud I am a Christian. It’s a crazy thing to believe that I need and depend on the God who created me.

  • I Am I Think Free

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing. I’m no teacher but I’d like to share a bit about how I did it.

    I grew up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, Mississippi. Around age 8 I clearly remember realizing that I simply did not believe that some invisible, arrogant god up in the sky set the world up, made up 10 rules (some really weird ones) and then disappeared. Today we call this type of person an absentee father (aka deadbeat). And, then there are these other commandments, but they weren’t on the tablets, then some more rules later… but none of the rules matter because you can shout “I love Jesus!” right after you rape and murder someone and you’re dying because you got hit by a car as you made your escape. As long as you have the good fortune to confess Jesus right before your last breath, youbare golden. However, if you ever took the Lord’s name in vain at any point in your life, your ticket to hell is already booked?? My 8 year old mind just couldn’t make the transition from logic to faith in such insanity.

    I had particular difficulty locking on to the idea that God picked some goat herders from the desert a couple thousand miles away to handle the business of correctly disseminating to the masses the most important message of all time.

    Burning bushes, parting waters, plagues and talking snakes. But *none* of the above nowadays?? My point is that I realized that I did not honestly *believe* it. Any of it. Not even the sweet parts about unconditional love, but who could believe that, given that the conditions involve surrender of thinking, and honesty. That’s what hung me up. I had confess a lie or be damned to hell.

    At the time I dared not share my thinking. And, it would be 20 years before I could muster the courage to seriously entertain my disbelief, then another 10 to fully and honestly eject the baggage.

    I did it by zooming out, in a sense. According to the bible I am supposed to believe the Jesus story, which not only lacks documentation by the 10 or so historians of his time, but which is also a contradiction in logic. But the New Testament demonstrates that Paul, the greatest salesman in the world, took creative license with the story of Jesus, in fact enhancing it beyond belief for the purpose of setting himself us as the leader of the new religion he simultaneously created (see Galatians 1 & 2:16-21) by putting PR spin on the meaning of being one of his followers.

    But even if I didn’t have my anti-proof I would still have found salvation-by-telepathy just too difficult for a simpleton such as I to grasp, and since the creator is spying on my every thought, then dishonestly claiming that I believed (out of fear) wouldn’t solve the problem either.

    Toss in the seemingly never ending series of unfortunate events in my life that I invited God to improve and/or guide, but that seemed only to improve as the result of my hard work and effort, I honestly grew tired of sharing the credit! Let me be clear, my attitude was not one of entitlement to good experiences and praying for/whining about fairness.

    However, I did start thinking about who Jesus was and who he was supposed to be. If he existed and simply wasn’t interesting enough for the historians of the time, then let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. He was the leader of a Jewish sect and was executed for crimes against Rome. End story. We know that Paul later revised the Jesus story and invented zombie Jesus and placed himself directly beneath Jesus through this strange triangular power structure (the trinity).

    Stop. And just consider all the above and let us contemplate whether a god, any god, who felt it important to make a bible, and demonstrate power and authority, and reveal himself to the chosen goat herders to ensure that mankind knew what he demanded of them would screw it all up on such an epic scale at every turn in the process? I think not. But on the other hand, man would invent God (what’s one more god?) and adopt it as the state’s official religion in order to gain control on a scale that had not been possible before its conception and revision.

    At the end of the day, I just couldn’t honestly make the claim that I believed. I am comfortable with it now. I am free from guarding my thoughts against invasion and it is quite liberating to think free!

    Like you and many others, I am not going to be comfortable with engaging the deeply indoctrinated as a matter of practice here in Mississippi, as I can’t foresee any good coming out of that. I did find the Atheist Meetup group in Jackson and look forward to making it to more meetings as well as some of you in the future.

    I doubt that I have said anything new, but I hope at least you know you have one more advocate in your corner encouraging you to make good choices for your thinking in the same way you have learned to make smart choices for your body!

  • I Am I Think Free

    I enjoyed reading this. Thanks for sharing. I’m no teacher but I’d like to share a bit about how I did it.

    I grew up in the Buckle of the Bible Belt, Mississippi. Around age 8 I clearly remember realizing that I simply did not believe that some invisible, arrogant god up in the sky set the world up, made up 10 rules (some really weird ones) and then disappeared. Today we call this type of person an absentee father (aka deadbeat). And, then there are these other commandments, but they weren’t on the tablets, then some more rules later… but none of the rules matter because you can shout “I love Jesus!” right after you rape and murder someone and you’re dying because you got hit by a car as you made your escape. As long as you have the good fortune to confess Jesus right before your last breath, youbare golden. However, if you ever took the Lord’s name in vain at any point in your life, your ticket to hell is already booked?? My 8 year old mind just couldn’t make the transition from logic to faith in such insanity.

    I had particular difficulty locking on to the idea that God picked some goat herders from the desert a couple thousand miles away to handle the business of correctly disseminating to the masses the most important message of all time.

    Burning bushes, parting waters, plagues and talking snakes. But *none* of the above nowadays?? My point is that I realized that I did not honestly *believe* it. Any of it. Not even the sweet parts about unconditional love, but who could believe that, given that the conditions involve surrender of thinking, and honesty. That’s what hung me up. I had confess a lie or be damned to hell.

    At the time I dared not share my thinking. And, it would be 20 years before I could muster the courage to seriously entertain my disbelief, then another 10 to fully and honestly eject the baggage.

    I did it by zooming out, in a sense. According to the bible I am supposed to believe the Jesus story, which not only lacks documentation by the 10 or so historians of his time, but which is also a contradiction in logic. But the New Testament demonstrates that Paul, the greatest salesman in the world, took creative license with the story of Jesus, in fact enhancing it beyond belief for the purpose of setting himself us as the leader of the new religion he simultaneously created (see Galatians 1 & 2:16-21) by putting PR spin on the meaning of being one of his followers.

    But even if I didn’t have my anti-proof I would still have found salvation-by-telepathy just too difficult for a simpleton such as I to grasp, and since the creator is spying on my every thought, then dishonestly claiming that I believed (out of fear) wouldn’t solve the problem either.

    Toss in the seemingly never ending series of unfortunate events in my life that I invited God to improve and/or guide, but that seemed only to improve as the result of my hard work and effort, I honestly grew tired of sharing the credit! Let me be clear, my attitude was not one of entitlement to good experiences and praying for/whining about fairness.

    However, I did start thinking about who Jesus was and who he was supposed to be. If he existed and simply wasn’t interesting enough for the historians of the time, then let’s give him the benefit of the doubt. He was the leader of a Jewish sect and was executed for crimes against Rome. End story. We know that Paul later revised the Jesus story and invented zombie Jesus and placed himself directly beneath Jesus through this strange triangular power structure (the trinity).

    Stop. And just consider all the above and let us contemplate whether a god, any god, who felt it important to make a bible, and demonstrate power and authority, and reveal himself to the chosen goat herders to ensure that mankind knew what he demanded of them would screw it all up on such an epic scale at every turn in the process? I think not. But on the other hand, man would invent God (what’s one more god?) and adopt it as the state’s official religion in order to gain control on a scale that had not been possible before its conception and revision.

    At the end of the day, I just couldn’t honestly make the claim that I believed. I am comfortable with it now. I am free from guarding my thoughts against invasion and it is quite liberating to think free!

    Like you and many others, I am not going to be comfortable with engaging the deeply indoctrinated as a matter of practice here in Mississippi, as I can’t foresee any good coming out of that. I did find the Atheist Meetup group in Jackson and look forward to making it to more meetings as well as some of you in the future.

    I doubt that I have said anything new, but I hope at least you know you have one more advocate in your corner encouraging you to make good choices for your thinking in the same way you have learned to make smart choices for your body!

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  • Laney

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been going to counseling on and off for 2 and 1/2 years now post divorce. I have started coming to terms about many things about that and my childhood/teenage years, but it has really only been in the past few months that I have started to realize how much damage my years spent as a Christian caused me. I first began doubting nearing the end of high school and my first couple years of college really brought the questioning on strong. The only reason I “turned back” to Christianity while letting it go is because the man I eventually married wouldn’t date me unless I believed in God. When I first met him, I considered myself agnostic. Then I caved. He called it a sign from God, God showing me his true love right when I was about to “go down the wrong road.” Actually, those were his words that I swallowed because deep inside of me I was convinced I didn’t deserve love (wonder where that came from). Anyway, without too many details,that marriage ended and I am no longer forcing myself to believe or practice a religion that beats me down and leaves me feeling less capable than I am. I’m just happy to have found this blog this morning.

  • Laney

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been going to counseling on and off for 2 and 1/2 years now post divorce. I have started coming to terms about many things about that and my childhood/teenage years, but it has really only been in the past few months that I have started to realize how much damage my years spent as a Christian caused me. I first began doubting nearing the end of high school and my first couple years of college really brought the questioning on strong. The only reason I “turned back” to Christianity while letting it go is because the man I eventually married wouldn’t date me unless I believed in God. When I first met him, I considered myself agnostic. Then I caved. He called it a sign from God, God showing me his true love right when I was about to “go down the wrong road.” Actually, those were his words that I swallowed because deep inside of me I was convinced I didn’t deserve love (wonder where that came from). Anyway, without too many details,that marriage ended and I am no longer forcing myself to believe or practice a religion that beats me down and leaves me feeling less capable than I am. I’m just happy to have found this blog this morning.

  • Laney

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been going to counseling on and off for 2 and 1/2 years now post divorce. I have started coming to terms about many things about that and my childhood/teenage years, but it has really only been in the past few months that I have started to realize how much damage my years spent as a Christian caused me. I first began doubting nearing the end of high school and my first couple years of college really brought the questioning on strong. The only reason I “turned back” to Christianity while letting it go is because the man I eventually married wouldn’t date me unless I believed in God. When I first met him, I considered myself agnostic. Then I caved. He called it a sign from God, God showing me his true love right when I was about to “go down the wrong road.” Actually, those were his words that I swallowed because deep inside of me I was convinced I didn’t deserve love (wonder where that came from). Anyway, without too many details,that marriage ended and I am no longer forcing myself to believe or practice a religion that beats me down and leaves me feeling less capable than I am. I’m just happy to have found this blog this morning.

  • Laney

    Thank you, thank you, thank you. I have been going to counseling on and off for 2 and 1/2 years now post divorce. I have started coming to terms about many things about that and my childhood/teenage years, but it has really only been in the past few months that I have started to realize how much damage my years spent as a Christian caused me. I first began doubting nearing the end of high school and my first couple years of college really brought the questioning on strong. The only reason I “turned back” to Christianity while letting it go is because the man I eventually married wouldn’t date me unless I believed in God. When I first met him, I considered myself agnostic. Then I caved. He called it a sign from God, God showing me his true love right when I was about to “go down the wrong road.” Actually, those were his words that I swallowed because deep inside of me I was convinced I didn’t deserve love (wonder where that came from). Anyway, without too many details,that marriage ended and I am no longer forcing myself to believe or practice a religion that beats me down and leaves me feeling less capable than I am. I’m just happy to have found this blog this morning.

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  • http://physeter42.wordpress.com The_Physeter

    Wow, how did I miss this when you first posted it? Excellent work, Neil!

    Or say someone is both careful and ethical in how they navigate sexual relationships, perhaps even avoiding sex altogether outside a lifelong contractual commitment. For those people, you have to convince them that even fantasizing about others is bad.

    Probably my favorite part. It’s weird because I used to think the Sermon on the Mount was beautiful, incredible teaching, something that even atheists could appreciate. But it really isn’t. It’s damaging.

    I occasionally feel anxious, even panicky, for no reason at all. I am slowly learning to tell the difference between genuine worry that is warning me about something, and fake worry that is only in my head. But when I was a Christian, I always thought this worry was proof of God speaking to me, and I thought I had to take it totally seriously.

  • http://physeter42.wordpress.com The_Physeter

    Wow, how did I miss this when you first posted it? Excellent work, Neil!

    Or say someone is both careful and ethical in how they navigate sexual relationships, perhaps even avoiding sex altogether outside a lifelong contractual commitment. For those people, you have to convince them that even fantasizing about others is bad.

    Probably my favorite part. It’s weird because I used to think the Sermon on the Mount was beautiful, incredible teaching, something that even atheists could appreciate. But it really isn’t. It’s damaging.

    I occasionally feel anxious, even panicky, for no reason at all. I am slowly learning to tell the difference between genuine worry that is warning me about something, and fake worry that is only in my head. But when I was a Christian, I always thought this worry was proof of God speaking to me, and I thought I had to take it totally seriously.

  • http://physeter42.wordpress.com The_Physeter

    Wow, how did I miss this when you first posted it? Excellent work, Neil!

    Or say someone is both careful and ethical in how they navigate sexual relationships, perhaps even avoiding sex altogether outside a lifelong contractual commitment. For those people, you have to convince them that even fantasizing about others is bad.

    Probably my favorite part. It’s weird because I used to think the Sermon on the Mount was beautiful, incredible teaching, something that even atheists could appreciate. But it really isn’t. It’s damaging.

    I occasionally feel anxious, even panicky, for no reason at all. I am slowly learning to tell the difference between genuine worry that is warning me about something, and fake worry that is only in my head. But when I was a Christian, I always thought this worry was proof of God speaking to me, and I thought I had to take it totally seriously.

  • http://physeter42.wordpress.com The_Physeter

    Wow, how did I miss this when you first posted it? Excellent work, Neil!

    Or say someone is both careful and ethical in how they navigate sexual relationships, perhaps even avoiding sex altogether outside a lifelong contractual commitment. For those people, you have to convince them that even fantasizing about others is bad.

    Probably my favorite part. It’s weird because I used to think the Sermon on the Mount was beautiful, incredible teaching, something that even atheists could appreciate. But it really isn’t. It’s damaging.

    I occasionally feel anxious, even panicky, for no reason at all. I am slowly learning to tell the difference between genuine worry that is warning me about something, and fake worry that is only in my head. But when I was a Christian, I always thought this worry was proof of God speaking to me, and I thought I had to take it totally seriously.

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  • http://bananafaced.wordpress.com bananafaced

    Now that I think about it, your drug analogy is spot on. My sister used to be addicted to drugs and alcohol. Now she is an evangelical Christian and it appears she has substituted her addictions to drugs and alcohol to an addiction to Jesus.

  • http://bananafaced.wordpress.com bananafaced

    Now that I think about it, your drug analogy is spot on. My sister used to be addicted to drugs and alcohol. Now she is an evangelical Christian and it appears she has substituted her addictions to drugs and alcohol to an addiction to Jesus.

  • http://empiricalmeta.blogspot.com/ Sam Daniels

    Wow. “The Secret” re-packaged. And it’s all my fault. I surely wish I had known about all this as I was praying so hard for an end to the torment as the only clubbed-footed 5th grader in the schoolyard.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    That’s where we learned the self-criticism :)

  • DurianDrankFlues

    21 “You have heard that [k]the ancients were told, ‘You shall not commit murder’ and ‘Whoever commits murder shall be [l]liable to the court.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be [m]guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘[n]You good-for-nothing,’ shall be [o]guilty before [p]the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be [q]guilty enough to go into the [r]fiery hell.

    27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’; 28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye makes you [w]stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you [x]to lose one of the parts of your body, [y]than for your whole body to be thrown into [z]hell. 30 If your right hand makes you [aa]stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you [ab]to lose one of the parts of your body, [ac]than for your whole body to go into [ad]hell.

  • http://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com Paul D.

    “Taking an hour to read the the first 4 books of the Testament will prove this.”

    Check out the Christianity forum at Reddit sometime and see how day after day, people in emotional anguish post comments about how despicable they see themselves for having lustful/gay/unwanted thoughts and how sinful that makes them in Jesus’ eyes.

  • http://isthatinthebible.wordpress.com Paul D.

    “Taking an hour to read the the first 4 books of the Testament will prove this.”

    Check out the Christianity forum at Reddit sometime and see how day after day, people in emotional anguish post comments about how despicable they see themselves for having lustful/gay/unwanted thoughts and how sinful that makes them in Jesus’ eyes.

  • DurianDrankFlues

    No thank you.

    He make it worse. Instead of just crime, now we must fear thought crime, because he seems it the same. And that only heaps more and more guilt and self-loathing.

    So, no, Jesus didnt fix anything; he made it worse.

  • Jo-Dee

    i was always taught that the scripture you quote above was how we are unable to “save” ourselves through our own actions. That we are not perfect but we are made perfect in Christ. I God’s eyes we are perfect. I am sorry this was not how it was taught to you.

  • Jo-Dee

    I am so sorry this was your experience. In my Christian life, I have never heard the message of having a negative self view being crucial to the Christian world view. .

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    Ah, but wait…save us from what?

    Humor me a bit and carry this thought to its conclusion.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    Ah, but wait…save us from what?

    Humor me a bit and carry this thought to its conclusion.

  • http://gravatar.com/aidinthel Aidinthel

    But what you just said is basically the same thing. It’s the idea that people are broken and need your god to fix them.

  • John

    Yes, and yet here in Australia I have a choice between sending my kids to a crap public school (we tried it first), or a private religious school.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    If you’re interested, Frans de Waal has written a good bit about the clear presence of a sense of guilt, morality, empathy, and altruism in animals (primates are his specialty). I offer that reference, but experience tells me that most people offering the argument you’ve offered have already made up their minds that their religion is the source of those things. Still, might as well offer that, just in case :)

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    If you’re interested, Frans de Waal has written a good bit about the clear presence of a sense of guilt, morality, empathy, and altruism in animals (primates are his specialty). I offer that reference, but experience tells me that most people offering the argument you’ve offered have already made up their minds that their religion is the source of those things. Still, might as well offer that, just in case :)

  • Courtney

    That’s the whole point of this post; it’s a subtle undercurrent of self-hatred. Christians are constantly told how “undeserving” and “unworthy” they are, often for something that was completely out of their control (like original sin). I didn’t eat the forbidden fruit, nor did I contribute to the death of a Jewish man nearly two millennia before I was born. Making people feel guilty for these imagined “sins,” and then telling them that they must atone for them, is damaging and abusive – full stop.

  • http://newlybread.wordpress.com Jillian Armstrong

    Saved from hell which we do deserve because God is all pure, all righteous, and all holy. To me, this way of thinking is self absorbed and self consuming: all the answers to life are in ME. I actually find freedom in the fact that on my own, I cannot be perfect, as God is, but instead can receive the mercy of Jesus to cover my imperfections and be fully the incredible person I was meant to be through His strength and power. I think the breakdown of why some

    Christians are so self deprecating is because they are focused on self, not on freedom in Christ. When we do that, we are not relying on the power and love of the Holy Spirit to redeem our thoughts and speak truth!

    It freaks me out personally to be as self reliant as this article claims we should be. If I have to self talk my way through life, well, I know I can’t do it. I’ve tried. It’s making me, my god, which I just can’t believe is the end all be all.

  • http://empiricalmeta.blogspot.com/ Sam Daniels

    “Saved from hell which we do deserve because God is all pure, all righteous, and all holy. To me, this way of thinking is self absorbed and self consuming: all the answers to life are in ME.”

    Oh my dog! Exactly. I have been making this argument in discussions with Christian family and friends for years. The whole message of the Bible rests on belief, or faith in something unreal. First suspend disbelief, logic, and rationality. Then it HAS to be “all about me”, since your faith posits a belief in something/someone unreal, therefore an entire template must be manufactured around each individual ego and perspective. Very few people of faith ever think it through this far, however.

  • Courtney

    Good and evil are NOT relative. Raping a child is always evil. Enslaving another human being is always evil. Killing someone because you want something they have is always evil. I don’t care whether or not a culture permits any of these acts. That does not make it “good” or “right.” Simple rule of thumb: If you’re using moral relativism, you’re using a defective measuring stick.

  • Courtney

    Good and evil are NOT relative. Raping a child is always evil. Enslaving another human being is always evil. Killing someone because you want something they have is always evil. I don’t care whether or not a culture permits any of these acts. That does not make it “good” or “right.” Simple rule of thumb: If you’re using moral relativism, you’re using a defective measuring stick.

  • Courtney

    1) As an atheist, I do not believe there is such a thing as a soul. So, arguing that our choices form our souls is a bit moot.

    2) The idea of the noble heathen (aka the “noble savage”) is derogatory and racist. It was used by white colonists to describe their non-white conquered peoples, and is the idea that the “heathens,” despite being lesser beings, were capable of “noble” qualities like compassion, sentimentality, and intelligence. It’s the same reaction we have nowadays when, for example, we hear a story about a dog dragging its unconscious owner out of a burning building; we’re amazed that the dog had the loyalty and understanding to rescue the human (in other words, we’re amazed that the dog, a “lesser being,” is portraying what we consider to be human qualities). Colonists may have thought the “noble heathen” was more predisposed to accepting Christianity, but that was hardly a compliment.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    I have to confess I laughed out loud at the “noble heathen” comment. How ever can we be trusted around children, heartless monsters that we are? Fortunately, a select few of us aren’t raving psychopaths. Because “common grace.” Which, being interpreted, means: “Whatever good you do, my invisible deity gets credit for that.” A facile assertion, to be sure. It reminds me of that quip making the rounds on Facebook:

    bluntcard

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I wasn’t making an argument so much as an observation. Feel free to disagree. But you do have a soul, whether you choose to believe it or not. You know in your heart whatever choices you’ve made in your life, for good or ill.

    I’m not quite sure why you’re bringing up racism, but the “noble heathen” is essentially short-hand in theological debates for somebody who has never even heard about Jesus their whole life long. This is simplest to imagine for far removed tribal cultures where even missionaries never manage to reach (although I have a friend from Germany who said that he actually never heard the gospel until he was an adult, even though his family attended church nominally through his youth). It’s certainly not regarding these people as “sub-human.” What kind of bizarre knee-jerk reaction is that? Quite the contrary, as free moral agents with souls, created in God’s image, their salvation plays out, we presume, the same as any other man’s. Right and wrong are the same the world over, and people in any time or place can choose either. Why would I be surprised to observe evil men being evil and good men being good in any culture? However, the disagreement among Christian denominations comes in arguing whether it’s necessary for a person to make a choice specifically about Jesus in this life or never. When there has literally been no opportunity at all, I myself would say it’s not logical for the isolated soul to be damned by default.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    I wasn’t making an argument so much as an observation. Feel free to disagree. But you do have a soul, whether you choose to believe it or not. You know in your heart whatever choices you’ve made in your life, for good or ill.

    I’m not quite sure why you’re bringing up racism, but the “noble heathen” is essentially short-hand in theological debates for somebody who has never even heard about Jesus their whole life long. This is simplest to imagine for far removed tribal cultures where even missionaries never manage to reach (although I have a friend from Germany who said that he actually never heard the gospel until he was an adult, even though his family attended church nominally through his youth). It’s certainly not regarding these people as “sub-human.” What kind of bizarre knee-jerk reaction is that? Quite the contrary, as free moral agents with souls, created in God’s image, their salvation plays out, we presume, the same as any other man’s. Right and wrong are the same the world over, and people in any time or place can choose either. Why would I be surprised to observe evil men being evil and good men being good in any culture? However, the disagreement among Christian denominations comes in arguing whether it’s necessary for a person to make a choice specifically about Jesus in this life or never. When there has literally been no opportunity at all, I myself would say it’s not logical for the isolated soul to be damned by default.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    One thing to add. You said, “Right and wrong are the same the world over.” But that’s patently false. One culture views misogyny as discriminatory, while another sees it as a healthy division of roles. One sees slavery as “just the way things are” (as the writers of the Bible seem to have) while others insist it is immoral to own another person. Spousal rape is acceptable in one place and not in another. Even treason, as they say, is a matter of dates.

    It seems obvious to me that some are naturally attracted to members of the same sex. But some religions insist that’s improper. These are social constructs, and they change even within the canon of the Bible itself. The universality of morality is an illusion, a fantasy.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    Good word. Thanks for sharing. I know the brokenness talk all to well. The subculture I came from was enamored with the concept, and they romanticized it just as your friend did. But it’s an abusive concept. And the only reason it’s not readily seen as such is because once you’ve created a special category of Being who is above all rules, logic, and moral standards, you can portray him as doing positively monstrous things and no one can say anything.

    Case in point: Note the collective Evangelical horror over the psychotic behavior of Noah in the recent Darren Aronofsky film. They strongly objected to Noah’s determination to drive a dagger through the hearts of newborn babies, yet expressed ZERO moral outrage at the notion that Yahweh was killing presumably millions of babies the world over.

    If you ever take the actions of Yahweh and put them into a human being, the awfulness of it all becomes painfully apparent. You have to keep Yahweh in a special class, above all rules. We call that special pleading.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    Good word. Thanks for sharing. I know the brokenness talk all to well. The subculture I came from was enamored with the concept, and they romanticized it just as your friend did. But it’s an abusive concept. And the only reason it’s not readily seen as such is because once you’ve created a special category of Being who is above all rules, logic, and moral standards, you can portray him as doing positively monstrous things and no one can say anything.

    Case in point: Note the collective Evangelical horror over the psychotic behavior of Noah in the recent Darren Aronofsky film. They strongly objected to Noah’s determination to drive a dagger through the hearts of newborn babies, yet expressed ZERO moral outrage at the notion that Yahweh was killing presumably millions of babies the world over.

    If you ever take the actions of Yahweh and put them into a human being, the awfulness of it all becomes painfully apparent. You have to keep Yahweh in a special class, above all rules. We call that special pleading.

  • Thinker1121

    You’ve piqued my curiosity. I totally disagree with you that good and evil are not relative. If you’d care to comment further, please explain how you know that raping a child or enslaving another human is objectively wrong. To me, such a statement is nonsensical. I’m especially wondering how you would define “objectively good actions” and “objectively evil actions.”

  • Courtney

    Sure. I know an action is objectively wrong when it’s harming another person against his or her will. A person can not choose to be raped or enslaved; that is forced on him or her without consent. As another example, female genital mutilation is still commonly practiced in many countries. The girls are bound up, “operated on” without any painkillers, and then left tied up on the floor of a hut for a week until they can walk again. Such a practice also causes irreparable damage to these girls’ bodies and leads to problems later in life (such as when giving birth). Since it’s a normal part of life for many people in those countries, does that mean it’s not objectively wrong?

    At the same time, there are legal exceptions where harming or killing others is considered acceptable, such as in cases of self-defense. While I agree that Person A killing Person B to save his or her own life is legally justified, I would still argue that the murder itself was objectively wrong. I would even go so far as to say we can determine such an action’s “wrongness” by the effect on the person committing the action, such as the high number of soldiers returning from war with PTSD despite the fact that their actions in battle were legally condoned.

    In the reverse, I know an action is objectively good if no one is being harmed and/or forced against their will. For example, I don’t consider prostitution in and of itself to be objectively wrong. If both parties are consenting and set terms they both agree on, it’s objectively good or acceptable. It becomes wrong if any of the parties involved are not consenting or are otherwise harmed.

    I’d also be curious to hear more elaboration from you, as I likewise find it baffling that anyone would not see rape or slavery as objectively wrong. In what situation are those actions ever not wrong? Do you consider an action to not be objectively wrong if the person committing it believes it is right? Or are we perhaps simply disagreeing over a choice of words? I appreciate the discussion!

  • Courtney

    I was unaware that modern theologians had co-opted the idea of the noble savage, but just because they have that doesn’t negate the centuries of history behind the term. It’s used to denote surprise or astonishment that “savages” or “heathens” possess some of the same qualities as “real people.” As I already stated, white colonial powers used the term to reference peoples they conquered (such as Native Americans). It’s the idea that there’s hope for the “poor brutes” after all, and they just might be able to be civilized. I called it racist because it is.

    If you wanted to suggest that people who have never heard of Christianity can still be “saved” upon death, I find it strange that you would choose to express that sentiment through the use of a clearly derogatory term. It makes me wonder if the theologians using the term are actually aware of what it means.

    Also, I checked. Nope, no soul here! I know which choices I’ve made in my life, and I acknowledge that those choices contributed to shaping the person I am today. I think we’re in agreement that reasoning through choices and making decisions has that effect. I just don’t believe there’s any soul that’s effected by those choices.

  • Thinker1121

    Thank you for your feedback. I’m enjoying our discussion too!

    I think that all moral beliefs, all of our opinions about right and wrong, are ultimately rooted in our own subjective preferences and goals. For example, if my preference/goal is to build a world that maximizes the well-being of humans, I might make the case for a moral rule that states “it is always wrong to take an action that harms another person against his or her will.” I suppose this moral rule could be seen as “objectively correct” in that it supports my underlying goal, but since my underlying goal is ultimately based on a subjective preference (i.e., it’s only my opinion that we should maximize human well-being), it cannot be truly objective. For me, something can only be “objectively moral” if you can show that the moral in question does not ultimately derive from a human preference. I see slavery as evil because I agree that we should be building a world that maximizes human well-being. But that is simply a preference of mine – I cannot say that someone who has a different preference set is “wrong.” How can one person’s preferences be “better” than someone else’s?

    Now, having said that, I do NOT think that relative morality implies that we have to condone or tolerate moral systems that we do not agree with. For example, while I don’t think there is any way to objectively know whether Hitler’s morality is better or worse than mine (since each is based on our own subjective preferences), I have no problem saying that “I don’t want to live in a world where Hitler’s activities are condoned…therefore I am ok with supporting efforts to kill him.” It’s not necessary to see a moral system as “objectively wrong” to actively oppose it. The same goes for genital mutilation or rape. I have no problem with stopping these things from happening, even if the use of force is necessary. But I can’t say that my reasons don’t ultimately derive from my subjective preferences that we should build a world that maximizes human well-being.

    So when you ask, “In what situation are those actions [rape, slavery] ever not wrong,” I would say there is no situation in which they are ever not wrong. But, I’d have to qualify that with “in my opinion.” I can’t prove to you that I’m right. I can only base my opinion on more subjective preferences.

    I hope this was at least a somewhat clear explanation. Do you disagree with me? If so, how? Thank you again for your comments!

  • Courtney

    Thinker1121: For some reason, there’s no “reply” button attached to your comment. So, I’m going to reply to my own previous comment instead and hope you see it!

    I understand what you’re saying about morals coming from our personal opinions and goals. I think to some extent that’s probably true. At the same time, though, I don’t agree that our morality is solely rooted in our own subjective opinions. While humans may have created the labels “right” and “wrong,” I think those concepts exist outside ourselves, and are rooted in our biological instincts or intuition. When I hear about rape or murder on TV, I don’t stop to reason through whether or not I think those actions are wrong. My reaction is immediate and often visceral. I think that, as social creatures, humans evolved with this sense of morality as a means of survival.

    For example, “If I kill or harm someone in my tribe, I’ll be ostracized by the others, and since I can’t survive on my own I’ll die. Therefore, it’s bad/wrong to harm others.” Perhaps you could argue that that’s still a human “preference” (i.e. the desire to survive), but I consider a preference or goal to be something that is actively chosen, whereas a morality rooted in survival instincts would’ve developed on a subconscious, intuitive level.

    That being said, I can’t point you to any sort of scientific study or historical evidence to support my claim (to be fair, I haven’t specifically searched for any). I also would never claim that none of my opinions or choices are subjective. I honestly believe, though, that human morality – the way we feel “bad” when we do something wrong, and “good” when we do something right – has objective roots. It’s so universal that we label people who don’t experience feelings like guilt or remorse over harming others as sociopaths (i.e. something is fundamentally wrong with their brain chemistry).

    I hope that makes sense. Thanks for taking the time to explain your side! If I’m understanding everything correctly, we seem to generally be in agreement over how to “live out” morality, just not in where those ideas originate. Also, as I’ve never really discussed this idea with anyone before, when I heard “subjective/relative morality” in the past, I also heard “we have to allow everything because no one can say whether anything is right or wrong,” which was clearly an incorrect assumption on my part. So, thank you for so politely and thoroughly expressing your view so that I could see my mistake!

  • Thinker1121

    Courtney:

    I am experiencing the same problem with the “reply” button, so if this post shows up in an odd place, that’s why.

    I think our differences are just semantic, as I agree with pretty much everything you said in your most recent post. You stated, “When I hear about rape or murder on TV, I don’t stop to reason through whether or not I think those actions are wrong. My reaction is immediate and often visceral.” Yes! I totally concur. Intuition drives our morality, not abstract reasoning. In fact, there’s a book that I highly recommend by Jonathan Haidt called “The Righteous Mind.” You may have already read it, but Haidt is a psychologist, and in this book he identifies the six moral foundations that he claims all humans have and that we build our morality around. Humans are hard wired to see things like loyalty, compassion, fairness, etc… as moral, and their opposites as immoral. I think I understand your point that these things aren’t rationally “chosen,” so in that sense we can consider them objective instincts. I agree with you there. You don’t see a baby on the train tracks and think, “Hm…let me do a quick cost/benefit analysis as to whether or not to save the baby.” You grab the baby instinctively, just as you’d move your hand off of a hot stove instinctively.

    The only caveat I would offer is that I don’t think it will always be the case that there will be a single, objective, correct moral response to a situation. For example, it’s possible that a tribe would be able to function best by both treating other members of their own tribe with compassion and providing help as necessary and also by brutally torturing and killing someone who betrays the tribe for a rival tribe. So when a tribe member is “arrested” for betraying his tribe and is about to be tortured, you’d have multiple “correct” moral instincts activated among the tribe members…some who want to show compassion…some who want to punish disloyalty. Both would be objectively correct from an evolutionary perspective – and I guess you’d take a vote as to which moral instinct should be applied – which is pretty much the way democracies handle those situations these days.

    You also hit on another point I had never considered before, but which I think is extremely important regarding religion. It occurs to me that a lot of people I know who are religious are afraid of the secularization of society and of atheism in particular because for them, God is the only “defense” against allowing everything and anything (i.e., rape, murder, etc…) If God doesn’t exist, then anything goes. This clearly isn’t true, and I think that conversations like ours help us to think through these moral questions so that we can provide more effective feedback to religious people making that argument (at least it does for me!).

  • Courtney

    Thank you so much for the book recommendation! I’ve added it to my list!

    I completely agree that not all situations will have a cut-and-dry, objective response. We experience many different situations in modern times that our ancestors wouldn’t have had to deal with when our morality was first forming. We’ve come up with words like “white lie” to express the idea that lying is wrong…except when you do it to avoid hurting someone’s feelings or getting into minor trouble. If asked, most people would also probably say stealing is morally wrong. However, if then asked whether a child should be punished for stealing bread to feed his starving family, most would likely say “no” out of compassion. It’s not that lying and stealing are suddenly OK, but that we recognize situations in which we can “let the rules slide,” so to speak.

    I also think you’re exactly right in that many religious folks see their gods as a last defense against moral anarchy. When you’re taught that you can’t trust your own judgment because you’re “broken,” “sinful,” etc. then it naturally follows that you’d have to consult someone else on what’s right or wrong. But, since all humans are sinful and untrustworthy, that only leaves God. Without this universal authority figure – all rules apply equally to everyone, everywhere – Christians seem to fear there’d be no way to stop bad behavior. To correct that way of thinking, I think they have to realize that a) they can generally trust their own (and other people’s) judgment, and b) good morality benefits us all, which is enough reason to “be good” without the fear of eternal damnation.

    Thanks again to you, too, for the discussion. It’s been thought-provoking and very enlightening. :)

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Courtney said “I checked. No soul here!” I think that’s unintentionally funny. :)

    Neil said, “Whatever good you do, my invisible deity gets credit for that…”

    Only in the general sense that part of being human is having a conscience, and the human race was created by God. What you choose to do with your conscience is up to you. If you pay attention to it, that’s a good act of will on your part.

    What seems to be clouding the issue for you is that you seem to think “If a person hasn’t committed a crime that would doom him to the death penalty in this life, then he must be the kind of person who should be welcomed into heaven.” That doesn’t follow. A person could spend his life just being your average run-of-the-mill Joe A@@hole. But in the process of becoming Joe A@@hole, he’s still making decisions that create a progressively uglier picture of what humanity can become left to his own devices.

    All I meant by saying “Right and the wrong are the same the world over” is that every human being has a conscience (which some disregard and some don’t), and rape, arrogance, etc., are still objectively wrong no matter who in what culture is exhibiting them.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Courtney said “I checked. No soul here!” I think that’s unintentionally funny. :)

    Neil said, “Whatever good you do, my invisible deity gets credit for that…”

    Only in the general sense that part of being human is having a conscience, and the human race was created by God. What you choose to do with your conscience is up to you. If you pay attention to it, that’s a good act of will on your part.

    What seems to be clouding the issue for you is that you seem to think “If a person hasn’t committed a crime that would doom him to the death penalty in this life, then he must be the kind of person who should be welcomed into heaven.” That doesn’t follow. A person could spend his life just being your average run-of-the-mill Joe A@@hole. But in the process of becoming Joe A@@hole, he’s still making decisions that create a progressively uglier picture of what humanity can become left to his own devices.

    All I meant by saying “Right and the wrong are the same the world over” is that every human being has a conscience (which some disregard and some don’t), and rape, arrogance, etc., are still objectively wrong no matter who in what culture is exhibiting them.

  • Thinker1121

    I don’t think you can assume that just because everyone has a conscience, it must follow that everyone’s conscience is in agreement has to how to act in every situation. What my conscience tells me is definitely not the same as what some of my friends’ consciences tell them. But we’re both equally convinced that we’re right.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Sorry, I didn’t check back here for a while to see your response.

    I do think slavery is wrong in any culture. I think homosexuality isn’t necessarily an orientation one chooses, so if we’re just talking about being attracted to members of the same sex, no I don’t think that’s necessarily a sin. But I do believe homosexual acts are sinful. That’s presumably what you meant. As for misogyny, this is an oft misused blanket term, so I would need specific examples to give a moral judgment. If by misogyny you mean wife-beating, forced marriage, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, blaming every divorce ever on women, etc., then of course yes, I believe misogyny is wrong.

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Have you read the book of Philemon?

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    Of course I reject at least two of your assumptions, namely that there is such a thing as heaven, and that “left to his own devices,” people become something ugly. Clearly you share the standard Christian interpretation that people gravitate toward bad behavior. The point of this post is to judge this as anti-human theology. It assumes the worst about people.

    …rape, arrogance, etc., are still objectively wrong no matter who in what culture is exhibiting them.”

    What about the other three examples I gave? Misogyny, slavery, and homosexuality? Do you feel any of these are objectively right or objectively wrong?

  • Esther O’Reilly

    Sorry, I didn’t check back here for a while to see your response.

    I do think slavery is wrong in any culture. I think homosexuality isn’t necessarily an orientation one chooses, so if we’re just talking about being attracted to members of the same sex, no I don’t think that’s necessarily a sin. But I do believe homosexual acts are sinful. That’s presumably what you meant. As for misogyny, this is an oft misused blanket term, so I would need specific examples to give a moral judgment. If by misogyny you mean wife-beating, forced marriage, sexual harassment, verbal abuse, blaming every divorce ever on women, etc., then of course yes, I believe misogyny is wrong.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    Of course I reject at least two of your assumptions, namely that there is such a thing as heaven, and that “left to his own devices,” people become something ugly. Clearly you share the standard Christian interpretation that people gravitate toward bad behavior. The point of this post is to judge this as anti-human theology. It assumes the worst about people.

    …rape, arrogance, etc., are still objectively wrong no matter who in what culture is exhibiting them.”

    What about the other three examples I gave? Misogyny, slavery, and homosexuality? Do you feel any of these are objectively right or objectively wrong?

  • Thinker1121

    Courtney:

    I am experiencing the same problem with the “reply” button, so if this post shows up in an odd place, that’s why.

    I think our differences are just semantic, as I agree with pretty much everything you said in your most recent post. You stated, “When I hear about rape or murder on TV, I don’t stop to reason through whether or not I think those actions are wrong. My reaction is immediate and often visceral.” Yes! I totally concur. Intuition drives our morality, not abstract reasoning. In fact, there’s a book that I highly recommend by Jonathan Haidt called “The Righteous Mind.” You may have already read it, but Haidt is a psychologist, and in this book he identifies the six moral foundations that he claims all humans have and that we build our morality around. Humans are hard wired to see things like loyalty, compassion, fairness, etc… as moral, and their opposites as immoral. I think I understand your point that these things aren’t rationally “chosen,” so in that sense we can consider them objective instincts. I agree with you there. You don’t see a baby on the train tracks and think, “Hm…let me do a quick cost/benefit analysis as to whether or not to save the baby.” You grab the baby instinctively, just as you’d move your hand off of a hot stove instinctively.

    The only caveat I would offer is that I don’t think it will always be the case that there will be a single, objective, correct moral response to a situation. For example, it’s possible that a tribe would be able to function best by both treating other members of their own tribe with compassion and providing help as necessary and also by brutally torturing and killing someone who betrays the tribe for a rival tribe. So when a tribe member is “arrested” for betraying his tribe and is about to be tortured, you’d have multiple “correct” moral instincts activated among the tribe members…some who want to show compassion…some who want to punish disloyalty. Both would be objectively correct from an evolutionary perspective – and I guess you’d take a vote as to which moral instinct should be applied – which is pretty much the way democracies handle those situations these days.

    You also hit on another point I had never considered before, but which I think is extremely important regarding religion. It occurs to me that a lot of people I know who are religious are afraid of the secularization of society and of atheism in particular because for them, God is the only “defense” against allowing everything and anything (i.e., rape, murder, etc…) If God doesn’t exist, then anything goes. This clearly isn’t true, and I think that conversations like ours help us to think through these moral questions so that we can provide more effective feedback to religious people making that argument (at least it does for me!).

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    When a Christian institution prevents women from holding leadership positions because they are women, or when Christian colleges prevent women from teaching men, do you not feel that is misogynist?

    And do you have any “objective” basis (i.e. something other than “it’s in the Bible that way”) for saying that same-sex activity is invalid, or wrong? Because I thought we were talking about things which are objective, things which “everyone knows.”

    And of course, if slavery is objectively wrong, it’s an indictment of the Bible that it never condemned the practice. You would think revelation from a divine being on whose character all morality is based would communicate something about that in those pages.

  • http://godlessindixie.wordpress.com godlessindixie

    Never addresses the institution of slavery. Never once indicates that a person shouldn’t be the property of another. Just basically says to be nice to them.


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