I've been trying to figure out why it is so difficult to get believers to even listen to why we left Christianity. Even though some of us experienced decades of solid Christian belief, we are dismissed as having never believed, or never "truly" believed. No matter what evidence we bring, no matter if we are aggressive or kind, there always seems to be an invisible wall of condescending resistance to any criticism or evidence against Christianity.
This may not be a new concept to some of you, but it all fell together for me today. The pattern so clearly fits with another relationship pattern among humans that it startled me. Christianity is a form of abuser/victim codependency.
I know the word codependent seems way overused, but hear me out. Codependency is the perpetuation of an abusive relationship by two or more people, each of whom derives enough emotional support from the relationship that it outweighs the strife. In fact the strife itself fuels the emotional intensity of the relationship. Sure there are good times of singing, music, friends, and even an intense feeling of God’s presence. This is what kept us coming back and enduring the abusive side of the religion.
“Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?” Right away, I anticipate that believers reading this will say “Abuse? What abuse? My God is the Shepherd of my soul, the Lily of the Valley, the bright Morning Star. He doesn’t abuse me. He may discipline me, but he does that because he loves me.” Many of us felt the same way, and clung to God just as fervently as any believers do today. The abuse I speak of is sometimes physical, often verbal, and always mental/emotional.
Just like in a human-to-human relationship, a believer invests trust, time, money, and emotion into the faith until the religion itself defines normality, and that person becomes quite unwilling to believe anything negative about the religion. The abuse may come through fellow believers or authorities in the religion, as well as in self-abuse over by guilt imposed by the religion. But ultimately the abuse comes from the God of the Bible. The believer is conditioned to think that the abuse is deserved due to his or her inherent sinfulness. Some go so far as to mutilate their own flesh because their natural desires conflict with the religious ideal and therefore must be subjugated to prove loyalty to God. Jesus himself said, “If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” (Matt 5:29)
But even if the believer becomes desperate enough to want to quit the relationship, the circle of codependency is sealed by the fear of what will happen if the believer leaves the "relationship" (damnation).
Allow me to demonstrate how the Bible validates and promotes this abuse as right and proper. Compare what you typically hear in an abusive relationship to what you hear in the Judeo/Christian faith:
*If you leave me, I'll kill you (Exodus 20:3; 22:20)
*If you ever look at another man, I'll beat you black and blue you fucking whore! (Jeremiah 13:25-27, Nahum 3:1-7)
*I love you so much honey. I'm the best thing that ever happened to you. Look at all I do for you. You were nothing before you met me. You’d best start giving me what I deserve. (Exodus 20:4; Ezekiel 16) [Additionally, in Ezekiel 16, he says he raised Israel like a daughter until she started looking good, then wanted some sexual payback. When she rejects his advances, he calls her a whore and says he’ll strip her and let her be raped by groups of guys. But if she’ll change her mind and submit, everything will be peachy keen.]
*I don't think you love me enough. You better show some appreciation. (Psalm 2:11-12)
*My dinner better be ready when I get home. Thank you? Why should I thank you, it’s the least you can do, and you’re good at doing the least. (Luke 17:7-10)
*Do what I tell you to do and we’ll get along fine. Mouth off or start doing things your own way, and you’re gonna be in a world of hurt. (John 15:14)
*I should've aborted you. You're stupid and useless! (Genesis 6:5-7; Deuteronomy 32:6l; Jeremiah 5:21)
You are worthless! Without me you’re nothing, and every day you do something stupid and prove me right. Stand up like a man, you fucking pussy! I work my ass off, I put food on the table, I fix shit around the house, and you do nothing but sit around on your ugly ass and complain. You think you’re my equal? If I left you, you’d fucking die, and you dare to mouth off to me? (Entire book of Job)
You say you love me, but you keep going off to your parents. They hate me and I hate them. You aren’t worth the time and effort to deal with all their shit. Do you love me or not? If so, I don’t want to see their faces ever again. You owe me that much. (Luke 14:26; Matt 10:35-36; Matt 19:29)
(Holds a propane torch up to her face) You see this blowtorch, bitch? You piss me off again and I’ll burn you! I’ll take my sweet time, too. (Rev 14:10)
Enabling the abuse
Believers perpetuate the relationship through submissive dependence on the abuser. The submissive one minimizes her sense of self-worth, while actually defending the perceived good qualities of the abuser. Believers justify this abuse because "God is holy, and if he hadn't gone to extremes to show us mercy we'd all be damned." So there is this sense that we owe God big time for making a way of salvation, and that we really are unworthy of his presence, and very worthy of torture in fire for all eternity. (Matt 18:7-9; John 15:6; Rom 7:21-25; Rev 3)
The church is taught to take all this and more, and to respond with agreement, worship, reverence, and most of all obedience. This allows the abusive "god" to continue his reign of terror, and his henchmen to carry out his directives. The church is afraid to do anything but submit, because of the threat of torture in hell, or at the very least the withholding of blessings.
As in regular human relationships, codependency in religion is a hard behavior pattern to break. I never even saw it when I was a believer. It is only now that I am on the outside looking in that I see the inherent abuse in these verses and in the thousands of sermons that echo the same attitude. To compound the strangeness of this relationship, the abuser (God) never really does anything since he doesn't exist [well, at least the Bible god and all like him don’t exist]. The fear of damnation or at least being judged is enough to get the church to punish itself. This is also how the inquisitions were justified, since clearly God wasn’t going to do anything to the “sinners”. I preached hellfire myself because it was the orthodox faith. I didn’t like it, but I believed it was true.
Abuser/victim codependency also explains the anger I have when I hear Christianity being called something good. It was and is an abusive relationship and I want it exposed as such, not held up as something wonderful. I realize there are some teachings that are healthful to mankind in the Bible, and I'm not spitting on those. But the primary thrust of the scriptures is that man is separated from God and worthy of punishment. This is why verses like the ones above were written. This concept, and the imaginary god that is the kingpin of the system, are what I revile.
Of course, many believers will scoff at this whole concept, proclaiming their joy and love for God, and their enjoyment of his love for them. "My God would never be an abuser. He is a gentleman. You’ve obviously never tasted of my Jesus." The problem with this "pop" faith is that it is made up on the fly, it is not based in scriptures and yet it is still labeled Christianity. The most common theme throughout scripture is the anger and judgment of God against wicked humans. To selectively only hear the love parts fits in quite well with my diagnosis of codependency, since the abused one doesn't recognize abuse as abuse. Instead she defends the abuser as "a good father" "a good husband" "I don't know what I'd do without him" “I need to quit being so selfish” “He really knows what is best” “I should have no secrets from him” “Though he slay me, yet will I trust him.” (Job 13:15)
Have you ever been told that the love of God is unconditional? What do you think now that you’ve read the verses above? You did bother to read them didn’t you?
Remember that according to the Bible, Israel would not have been in captivity if God hadn’t arranged it. He told Abram back in Genesis 15 that they would be enslaved for four centuries. He even arranged the famine that drove them to Egypt and turned Egypt from a place with individual landowners to a fiefdom where the land and people all became property of the king. This was all so they could be dependent on him when he “called them out”. Then he continually compares Israel to a whore, and boasts about coming to her rescue after allowing her to be brutalized by other kingdoms.
Mysticism and Stockholm Syndrome
Some Christian mystics describe the death of self and utter submission to God as a deep and wondrous thing, likening it to the passion of two lovers. They seem to wallow in their complete subjugation and humiliation. But many of us who have come out now see the relationship as a betrayal of our love and expectations. We heard about God's love for us and were drawn in by the promises in scripture and the friendships we found in church. Then when we started hitting sour places in our "walk with God" and the promises fell flat time and again, we were told to have faith and continue pursuing God, or to act as if our prayers had been answered (1 John 5:14-15). Or else we were taught that our own desires were sinful or tainted, and that we should learn to be without any desire except for more of God (James 4).
This concept of not only validating the abusive attitude of God, but venerating it as well generates a lot of anger in those of us who have left the faith. It’s like telling a woman to trust her abusive husband and see his abuse as helping her to overcome her selfish nature, when all the while she knows that something is wrong. Her boundaries are being violated, her body is beaten, her self-esteem is crushed, and she wonders if it would have been better not to have been born at all. But then the abuser woos her again with words of kindness, and she thrills to the sudden sense of being loved by this powerful person, and thinks it all must be right after all and that she was stupid to have doubted his love.
Those that actually do surrender their sense of self are exhibiting a form of Stockholm Syndrome, which is a behavior that captives exhibit to lessen the stress of being different then their captors. In order to remove the threat of harm (and ultimately, to fit in with the group) a captive will take on the cause, values, and manner of the group. Being abused no longer seems odd; it seems normal. Reality gets redefined according to the rules set by the abuser. The abuser is seen as a great benefactor or lover. The victim glories in the patience and self-sacrifice the abuser has shown by stooping to rescue the victim from the shame of being different from the abuser.
A popular Christian song is indicative of this attitude:
“King of dreams, now You’ve got it all
All I ask is that you show me how to live without them
Show me how to live with only You”
An older hymn expresses the idea more clearly:
“Alas! and did my Savior bleed
And did my Sovereign die?
Would He devote that sacred head
For such a worm as I?”
In secular counseling, one of the most often referenced images of a codependent family is the elephant in the living room. Everyone bumps into it, and it really is inconvenient and difficult to live with, but nobody wants to talk about it. “Problem? There’s no problem. You’re the problem!” Rather than deal with the thing causing the problems, people invent solutions for living without having to correct the obvious issue. Similarly, questioning the faith openly or questioning God’s character isn’t tolerated for long in most churches. And rather than really answer questions, the responses range from instant rebukes to phrases like “Well, it’s not that you can’t believe, but that you don’t want to believe”, implying that the questioner only wants to enjoy sin rather than submit to God, and that any questions are mere impertinence rather than legitimate issues.
This issue of God as the abuser is one that needs to be brought to the front more often. The church uses this all-encompassing love to draw in the unwary. It is generally later that they are introduced to the bloodthirsty nature of this deity, and slowly they are taught that this bipolar attitude is normal and good. A few preachers still start out with hellfire and then use love and mercy as a contrast to draw in those that were spooked by the stories of hell. But reduce it back down to the nature of this god, and you still find a being that is willing to set people on fire and not let them die because he sees that as right and just. He is an unapologetic abuser. We were right to dump him.