In psychology we began learning about the effects of childhood guilt, which unchecked later turns into shame. This was spoken in the context of abusive family situations, and led into a long discussion on dysfunction.
I came to find that I suffer from these symptoms of guilt, but I was not “abused”: we just called it being Christian.
It can rightly be said that as a person believes themselves to be - so the are (or act). If you believe yourself to be fat, no matter how thin you get you see yourself as fat. If you think you are a loser, you tend to behave as one. If you believe yourself to be bad - you tend to behave that way.
Self-image tends to dictate all, and is a demon that is very hard to fight. For those who come from physically or mentally abusive situations there is this deep-seeded twisted sense of self that must be broken with a new sense of truth. This truth however becomes very hard to know or fully realize since it is in direct opposition to years of conditioning.
Now I was not beaten, and I was not abandoned. Nobody neglected me, or poked me with hot sticks. However, I realize that I have a very poor self-image: for I think that deep down I am bad, evil, sinful, and worthy of hell. This was the gift of my Christian upbringing, and as I think therefore I am.
As a child I was taught to believe that I was born a sinner, that I was born fundamentally flawed, displeasing to God, and that I was only capable of selfish acts of destruction. From the tender and impressionable age of 5 and upwards this fact was breathed into my soul by my loving parents, my pastor, youth workers, and a Christian school system. In church every Sunday, youth group, home, and in our Christian media I was bombarded with the knowledge of my regret for being born as myself.
There was nothing that I could do that was ever right or good. Nothing would ever be good enough to please these people, or my God. I am detestable, and utterly sinful. In fact, even if I somehow manage to do something good - it is really not me doing it, but it is God doing it through me: for I am only capable of evil.
In fact, the pinnacle of this religion is to be as little like myself as possible (since I am evil), and to try to “be” someone else (Christ) who is good. To the degree to which I am not like myself (or dead my self) and am more like another person (Christ) is the very degree to which I am pleasing God, others, can be “happy”, and am to measure myself.
Abuse and dysfunction also relates to kids who were abused by being told they had to be more like their “good” sister or brother. If God is the father, and we are all Christ’s sisters and brothers - then imagine the level of dysfunction we have here.There was nothing that I could do that was ever right or good. Nothing would ever be good enough to please these people, or my God. I am detestable, and utterly sinful. In fact, even if I somehow manage to do something good - it is really not me doing it, but it is God doing it through me: for I am only capable of evil.
Recently there was a lot in the news about a couple who named their son Hitler. He was later taken from them by Social Services. However, I think I can one-up them on that one:
I remember vividly a youth group retreat where the youth pastor spoke a very moving sermon to us all on Hitler and other evil men: killers, rapists, child molesters, gays, and um… cannibals. We were told that inside us was the very same evil just waiting to come out. That the only thing stopping it was Jesus, and that without Jesus in our lives we were destined to only hurt other people and ourselves. Quick, run to the altar and repent for being born: detest yourself, embrace the guilt, let the shame we give you control you and bind you to this religion.
It bound me so much that I actually believed it. I have been bound by this religion for so long due to this shame, guilt, and the fear of what would happen if I were to simply be myself (since my self is sin). In fact, I was initiated in this religion at such a young age that I can not think of a moment where I did not have this sense of fear and shame. It controls me, and keeps me in line or bondage to this religion.
Where is the Christian Socal Services to take this poor child away from this youth group? Where is the support group that I may attend as yet another Recovering Christian?
I tried a couple times to break free from it and just be a good person on my own, but I eventually did make some mistakes. It is impossible not to: who do you think I am Jesus? Then, immediately the voice kicks in: “See, you are evil and you are hurting others and yourself. You are a sinner, you are sinning, and you need to come back to the fold”. We hang our heads in shame and do one of two things: we either crawl back to an altar and repent, or we go off and hurt ourselves in self-hate or punishment.
I realized finally that I am not ready to enjoy the freedom of leaving Christianity until I can get over the guilt, shame, and negative self-image that it instilled in me. As long as I believe myself to be bad I am under its control, and I am also more-likely to self-destruct or behave poorly. Simply put, if I think I am going to leave and then be sinful then I most likely will do that (think therefore I am) and I just fall into the trap of self-fulfilling prophecy. Once this happens I am going to only “prove” to myself that I am bad and that I can not exist and be a moral human outside of the guidance of the Church.
As stated earlier self-image tends to dictate all, and this false sense of self can sometimes be the result of years of conditioning. Even if you “know” the truth in your mind it is not real knowledge until it makes its way into your belief system and actions. You very well may “know” now that you are not a looser, but until that knowledge becomes more than just a fact you are sill going to behave as one. That fact needs to break through the conditioning.
So what happens now? What is the first step?
Take a deep breath, and consider the following 5 things:
- You were not born evil
- It’s OK to be you
- You are capable of doing good without a God
- In fact there may not be a God
- But if there is one, He probably likes you just as you are, and I bet He gets a kick out of you