On God and Relationships with Others

On God and Relationships with Others January 8, 2013

Blogger Lana has posed a fascinating question: Why does theology affect how we relate to each other? The related question, of course, is how theology affects how people relate to each other. Here is what Lana has to say:

I think ideas do matter. Because we are not just emotion, but are also mind, our ideas effect how we relate to other people (and if your a Christian, your view of God).

For example, I no longer believe everyone who is not a Christian goes to hell. This has changed my view of other people a lot. It has also changed my view of God. When I was a Calvinist, I saw God as one who saved who he wanted — for his glory — and dammed other people to hell — for his glory. On a homeschool forum in high school, I even started a thread entitled, “Is God selfish?” where I argued that God could not be selfish because the definition of selfishness is not focusing on God (admittedly my Calvinistic definition); the hypocrisy of the whole argument is that inside I was deeply troubled by a God who was more concerned with his glory than giving others a chance for salvation.

When I gave up Calvinism, and later the traditional understanding of hell, I was able to see God as much more loving, and I also felt more comfortable socializing with those who were not a Christian. I felt more free to share God’s love with them because I began to see salvation as an inward experience of God rather than an event or prayer that keeps people out of hell.

It makes sense that my understanding of theology effects my ability to relate to other people.

Kacy, another blogger, has written an excellent and thought provoking response to Lana’s question in God, the Third Wheel.

One of the reasons I left religion is because I realized I loved my own children more than I loved God. I knew that if someone threatened to kill my children unless I denied God, that I would deny God in a heartbeat and never feel bad about that decision. It was then I realized that PEOPLE were more important than personal beliefs about God and that I didn’t want to belong to any religion that said God had to be number 1 (pretty much all of them). I had a similar experience to the way I related to my husband in our marriage. There was always God, the third wheel, and I was told that keeping God close would enhance our marriage. It really didn’t. In fact, I realized I could be more open and honest with my husband when I didn’t feel the need to temper my speech through Christian-ese. Leaving Christianity has freed my heart, to love others, without the mediation God as a third wheel in human relationships.

I think both Lana and Kacy bring up some extremely important points.

Like Lana, when I stopped believing that everyone who didn’t trust in Jesus’ blood for their salvation was doomed to eternal torment in hell, the way I related to and viewed those around me was completely transformed. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: becoming an atheist has made me a kinder and more compassionate person. Leaving my conservative evangelical beliefs behind freed me to truly love people as people. I no longer make every relationship about converting people, I no longer view those who don’t share my beliefs as somehow “other” and doomed or sinful, and the result is that I can view others as people rather than through a filter of sorts.

I also love what Kacy said about God being a third wheel, because my experiences mirror hers exactly. Like Kacy says, I was always taught that having God involved in your relationships with others improved and deepened those relationships, and that those who didn’t believe in God could never truly love anyone but themselves. Here is an excellent example of what I was taught, complete with a diagram I remember being shown in church and Bible club:

Here is a diagram that I drew on a napkin for someone once to help explain how every relationship we have here on earth has to be a “relationship triangle” or it won’t work. This applies to every relationship; husband & wife, boyfriend & girlfriend, parent & child, brother & sister, etc. No matter how hard you try to get close to each other, you will never get closer than the opposite sides of the wall that divides you. The only way to get truly close to each other is if each person in the relationship is focusing on their personal relationship with God. As you both grow closer to God, you will both grow closer to each other.

The closer each person is to God, the closer they get to each other.

The further away each person is from God the further away they get from each other.

At the time, of course, I believed every word of this. But in the end, my own experiences have been very much the opposite. Like with Kacy, God functioned as a third wheel in every relationship I had, be it with a significant other or with a sibling or with at friend. Trying to get closer to God didn’t bring me closer to other people in my life as I was promised it would. Indeed, God was the silent third partner in every relationship, always present and not infrequently threatening to come in between me and others in a variety of ways. God simply got in the way.

Anyway, many thanks to Lana for posing the question and to Kacy for taking it up in such a very adept and eloquent way. What about everyone else? What are your thoughts and experiences on this issue? How would you answer Lana’s question?

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