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10/25/2007                                                                                       View Comments

Reason: the best counselor

By Bill J

I was reading up on an old friend from the ministry the other day. He went back to his roots in ministry and is providing counseling to people burdened by anger, depression and other issues. I recall his teachings and how they influenced me and others in ministry. Looking back I now see how narrow his views were and apparently still are.

It is unfortunate that people tend to look to pastors for a lot more than the pastors can offer. My friend sees much of the world through the eyes of religion and his unique version of counseling. He equates depression, addiction and financial problems with harboring secret or not so secret, hatred, un-forgiveness and anger toward people who hurt you. His solution is to talk people into reliving the emotional pain of past experiences and then encourage them to forgive. This brings up a whole host of issues regarding his method and his proof that it frees people from things like depression, addiction, etc. On his website, promoting his book, one of his claims is that his form of counseling sets people free from addiction to pornography. He claims there is a link between anger and viewing of pornography. So the theory goes that if one forgives the person they are angry at then they will be free from sexual addictions like pornography. As an ex-Christian, I know this type of shame based thinking regarding pornography. I'm sure he will have lots of youth ministers, pastors and missionaries clamoring for his special brand of counseling. Lustful thoughts and the guilt Christian males have over viewing pornography and masturbation runs rampant in Evangelical Churches. A good friend of mine told me about an alleged prophet of God who called out a spirit of masturbation from a young Christian man in his congregation. I don't even want to think of the shame that guy suffered from after that experience.

I remember telling my pastor friend about some of the classes I was attending in college. One of them in particular was anatomy of the brain. I was surprised when he wanted to know why I was taking that class for my counseling degree. He couldn't understand why it was important for a counselor to know about brain structure and chemistry like serotonin and other neurotransmitters.

Finding out that he is still into this type of counseling with no formal training in psychology other than a Masters in Divinity, is unfortunate. It is also unfortunate that many people who surround him speak highly of his counseling. The down side is that there are many who left his church and no longer count him as a friend because of the damage this type of counseling and viewpoint has done. It should be noted that when people disagreed with him and left his church, he often wrote them off as being unforgiving and angry. I remember him telling me how he forgave this person, or that person, for hurting him or leaving the church. It was like a shield against personal examination and responsibility for his part in the relationship. This type of rationalization was often married with the belief that the ex-parishioner was in sin and rebellion against God. Sometimes he would elaborate and state that they were influenced by the devil because they were angry and unforgiving. He liked to quote the Apostle Paul:
"Be angry, but sin not, because you will give the devil a foothold in your heart."


I think you get the picture. Some of his counseling involved casting out demons that lived in unforgiving Christians. That's a whole other theological debate that evangelical Christians have.

I recently spoke to him and asked him to testify for me regarding an issue involving my ex-wife (one of those people he counseled many years ago). He promised to meet with me when I flew down to Diego. I called him two more times to set up a dinner appointment with him and his wife. He never returned my calls and we never met while I was down in California. I did meet with an old friend who still attends his church. He informed me that my old friend, the pastor, finally gave up (after 10 years) on helping he and his wife with their marriage problems because he didn't know what else to do to for them. I guess the inner healing from bitterness and un-forgiveness didn't work and neither did the Christian teachings about submission and husbandly authority. I'm sure the pastor wrote them off as being unable to apply his counsel or God's word to their marriage because they were not dealing with some form of sin in their lives. I happen to know my friend's wife and I am fairly certain she suffers from an Axis II personality disorder. Only the pastor knows what reason he used to justify God's inability to change their marriage. Whatever the reason, I'm sure he washed his hands from any responsibility he might have had from preaching Biblical authority dogma and inner healing counseling to his church for decades.

Why he never returned my calls, well, maybe he never got them because his wife erased them or they had a power outage and my messages were deleted. Whatever the case, we did speak (he had my number) and he knew I was coming to San Diego. Maybe all the fires they are having in San Diego right now are a result of his un-forgiveness toward me. Don't Christians often claim God is judging us when calamity strikes? Knowing him has I did, my guess is that since I did not ask his forgiveness for leaving his church when we last spoke (I simply said lets just call it water-under-the-bridge and move on), he doesn't want to "cast his pearls before swine."

My experience with religious people is that they are very individualist regarding their beliefs. You can have 5 churches on the same block (much like in some areas of Alaska) and each with their own view on theology, ministry, counseling and spiritual gifts. What usually sets them apart isn't so much these type of beliefs as much as the image the pastor projects of himself/herself. If the image is what first attracts them, then it is the pastor's handling of relationships that usually repel them. This is not always the case, but it is often the case.

In my experience, people gravitate toward a church where the pastor's image makes them feel comfortable and accepted. That was how it was with me when I first attended his church. It wasn't until many years later that I was able to see through this image (and my own allegiance to him) and evaluate him without bias (he is a nice person, albeit, a mislead and self-protective religious person who often does as much harm as good). As Christians (especially Evangelical ones) we are taught to respect the pastor and revere him as "one who hears from God, or knows the Word". Obedience to God is first and foremost in the Evangelical Christian's mind and since the pastor "hears" from God.... well, you get the picture. At least I hope you do!

It's been at least 11 years since I attended his church and I remember how confusing and painful it was leaving it. I was ordained and licensed through his church, and my most formative Christian years, as a young adult, were in his church. Now, thankfully, I rarely think about him and that church. When I finally came to my senses and put religion behind me, I was able to look at him, and many of the other pastors I knew, with a different set of eyes. The only regret I have, about my time as a Christian, is the amount of time, money and quality of life I wasted trying to be a one. We are what we believe and if we go against what we believe we will reap the effects. It's called cognitive dissonance. People will go to great lengths to fight their own internal beliefs or justify them. Some beliefs, such as religious ones, are false and when we realize this, those beliefs gradually or suddenly lose their power over us. That was how it was for me.

In conclusion, I must confess that my life experiences have made me what I am today and today I am much happier then I ever was as a Christian. To be bitter or unforgiving one must have an emotional attachment to someone or something, but when that someone or something doesn't matter anymore then there isn't anything to let go of. When my belief about life, religion and God changed, so did my inner life. I realized that what I used to hold dear, or value didn't mean much to me anymore. I gradually replaced them with reason and personal responsibility. When I did this, I became free from doubt, false shame and false guilt and I my confidence grew. Forgiveness wasn't in the equation and neither was bitterness or anger. Reason was the answer.

8 comments:

Angela said...

Many, many of us have felt the same thing. My post traumatic stress disorder, which has changed the size and shape of the amygdala (a brain structure!) must be the result of dwelling on my parents and army authorities. The last thing one does is "dwell" on unfortunate events as a defense mechanism. One develops elaborate sets of avoidance behavior.

My daughter, Margaret, has parkinsons from a Christian drunk driver who struck her head and back with his jetski in 3 feet of water. GUESS which one is not allowed at church??? I love how Christians want to perform exorcism on people who hear things, and yet say that God talks to them.

I am very sorry to read of your experiences and others in your post as well. One of the most important things my psychotherapist ever did for me was encourage me to apply logic to the statements of my co religionists. (He) Encouraged me to think for myself. The first thing he had to do was remove negative consequences of Christian counseling, without flatly telling me to give up Christianity. I have no idea how he even worked with me under these circumstances, but he did. If I were going to thank God for something--ironically-- it would be for the man who convinced me I could let go of said God. Your clients are lucky to have you!!! Thanks for reading thus far, and your post.

Lorena said...

Bill, it sounds like that pastor had a lot of influence in you. It looks like you are finally shaking it off, though. Good for you!

Christian psychology, as you point out, is seriously flawed on many levels. I think the reason is that they're using first-century techniques as preached by Paul on his writings--how awful.

It definitely is damaging that pastors with a know-it-all attitude and minimal psychological training claim to have all the answers to a person's mental health issues. Shame on them!

The forgiveness thing, is true to a point. It is nice to let go off bitterness, but the problem is that in the Christian world, they assume it's a matter of will and that you can just turn a switch on to suddenly forgive. Not so!

But what I found interesting was that as long as people told me I had to forgive, because God demanded it of me, I was unable to forgive.

Once I stopped expecting the instant cure and decided to just be angry for however long I wanted, the forgiveness came naturally.

So, once again, the stringent demands of Christianity made it impossible for me to practice the faith the way I was expected to.

Then I cured myself by leaving the faith. That was the best cure of all. I walked away from the bullshit and, since now I demand of me nothing, I naturally produce good behaviour which is inherent to being human: the good person I always was that Christianity was so badly screwing up.

Caleb said...

Good post Bill. This quote comes to mind;

All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth." - Friedrich Nietzsche

You know, power is given to people by others choosing to follow them. He probably questioned your studies because they were a threat to him and his system. People that set themselves at such a high level are always bound samson12to fall from it.

Caleb said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Caleb said...

Good post Bill. This quote comes to mind;

All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth." - Friedrich Nietzsche

You know, power is given to people by others choosing to follow them. He probably questioned your studies because they were a threat to him and his system. People that set themselves at such a high level are always bound to fall from it.

Laughing Buddha said...

Caleb, you're so right. Power is granted to people BY people, because those folks want someone to say and embody the things they want or wish they could be.

People that set themselves up high are always at risk of falling. That's why they have to challenge anyone that asks questions. The first time someone is ALLOWED to freely question the "exalted leader" is the time that the exalted leader's power-base is genuinely threatened. You can't imagine the human fire-power (gossip, slander, shunning) that has been brought to bear on those who have been questioners in my past church experiences.

Topple them all, I say. Anyone with a hold on something that they refuse to share deserves to be thrown down off their high fucking horse, anyway.

Bill said...

Forgiveness is mostly a spiritual belief. One should not forgive someone who has not changed or asked for forgiveness. The real issue for the bitter or hurt person is the belief system they are operating under. Usually thinking errors and a lack of personal confidence (fear) prolong a persons inner agony. Once you see the situation for what it is, and no longer doubt yourself you can move on. Some things are just plain wrong and there is no reason to forgive. On the other hand, if one is stuck and can not move on, it does not mean forgiveness is the cure. I new and meaningful perspective is the real cure.

Lorena said...

" Once you see the situation for what it is, and no longer doubt yourself you can move on. Some things are just plain wrong and there is no reason to forgive. On the other hand, if one is stuck and can not move on, it does not mean forgiveness is the cure. I new and meaningful perspective is the real cure."


I couldn't agree more, Bill