Sunday, January 16, 2011

Well-meaning Christians

CID recently posted about a guy he used to know when he was a born-again Christian stalking him on facebook. CID talked a little about how this guy would target people who were lonely and vulnerable and use their weaknesses to pull them into the flock. I found this interesting because in recent times I had a couple of well-meaning Christians effectively try to tell me that Jesus was the only way to really recover from depression. The same old story that I am sure many of us have heard in varying forms before.

I know where these people are coming from. And on a certain level I have more respect for the bible-thumping fundamentalist than for the vague Christian whose beliefs don't boil down to much of anything. And don't even get me started on the "I'm not religious but I'm spiritual" crowd whose beliefs seem to add up to the wonderfully enlightened "I believe there is something out there..."

When it comes to Christianity, the bible is ultimately the big book of multiple choice, which can be used to justify anything from pacifism to slavery and genocide. And Christianity is a dualistic religion in which there is good and bad, and if you aren't going to heaven, you're going to hell. And if this is the case, any good Christian must do all within their power to prevent that from happening. Even saving one soul from eternal damnation is worth a lifetime of work. I get it.

I get it, but I don't buy it. I went to church until I was about 15. I found it to be a terribly boring place to be. As many of the churches in Australia are, it was in the process of dying, and the vast majority of the congregation were aged 60 or above. My main memories of it are simply of being bored on the hard bucket chairs. At some point when I was around 15 I started actually paying attention to the words of the hymns, and I was appalled. They were full of toadying towards god, terrible self-loathing, and an incredible amount of fear.

They showed a world in which there was a god who created the universe and everything in it, who had unlimited power and knowledge. Yet they also showed a god so insecure that he needed his tiny creations to worship and praise him, to accept him as the most important thing in their lives. For all these creations were wretched sinners, so loathsome and defiled that god had found it necessary to sacrifice himself to himself on the cross to forgive the punishment that he himself had meted out to their ancestors for disobeying him and eating from the tree that gave knowledge of good and evil. A talking snake was involved, and it was never quite clear how Adam and Eve knew that disobeying god was wrong before they had knowledge of god and evil.

The story didn't make a huge amount of sense. But the thing that struck me most powerfully was that even if all of these things were somehow true, the god depicted in this story was far from being worthy of worship. He was petty and spiteful, and prepared to punish forever those who decided not to believe in him. And the way everything he did was justified simply by the fact he was god never seemed really satisfying. A mob boss has power, and can compel obedience. But that doesn't mean he is worthy of respect. It just means he is a mob boss who can compel obedience.

I don't wish this to turn into too much of a rant. But I think that life is a very tricky thing, full of challenges, setbacks, and problems. People are flawed and selfish, lazy and illogical. But we are not damned. And despite being a depressive who has thought pretty of terrible things about myself, I fail to see how viewing myself as an evil wretch who can only be redeemed by the grace of the god who cursed my ancestors for theft of a piece of fruit is a step in the right direction.

I don't think there are any saviors. No angels. No demons. Just us. And that is more than enough.


  1. I used to be a Christian. I called myself a quiet Christian because I didn't talk about it with many people. I went to Church. I was involved in the Church a lot. Had great friends there but was uncomfortable 'preaching'. It my my faith - no one elses.
    But after the last 12 yrs my life has really turned bad. So many bad things happened to me. I now live in poverty fighting a mental illness. Life is a big struggle. I have buried two children, watched my family turn their back on me so I am all alone (except my 2 daughters) so that got me thinking. I did all I was suppose to do as a Christian & yet my life is not good. I still believe in God. But I struggle with how he can let such faithful people struggle. I guess you could say I'm kind of mad & confused at God right now. I havent' been to a Church in 5 yrs. I prayed for his help but I felt ignored. Sad.

  2. Interesting post for me. My son Kenny and I both got invites to follow blogs of "savers". I can just blow them off but I don't know about Kenny. I will have to talk to him about it.

  3. Taken literally, the story of Adam and Eve and the talking snake makes NO sense. But please do a search: The First Scandal Adam and Eve.

  4. Well, you know about me and my whole spirituality which you and I don't agree on. But part of my spiritual path is accepting that others aren't going to agree with me and even think I'm damned. I always tell those who insist that the Bible and the teachings of Jesus are the complete truth that if it really was the ultimate truth than everyone would agree about it and follow that way. I just say to those who try to convince me of their righteousness and say they'll pray for me, "thank you, I need all the prayers I can get" which for some reason shuts them up. And I never, ever liked Yaweh for the same reasons you do. If a God who is supposed to be so powerful and "loving" than why is he so demanding and "insecure" that people find spirit in different forms than the one "HE" supposedly comes in. I don't buy the whole "pray this way or act this way or else.." You're really existentialist in a lot of ways that you think and believe, D.R. which is a good thing in my book.

    Evil is the product of the ability of humans to make abstract that which is concrete.
    Jean-Paul Sartre

  5. I was also 15 when I stopped going to church. I eventually turned my back on Christianity and never regretted it. I'm glad that, as a teenager who was already dealing with serious depression, an eating disorder, self-injury and horrible low self-esteem, I still had enough faith in my own brain to know that I did not believe in that god and I did not need to believe in any nasty, hateful, racist, sexist deity in order to be a good person. Or any deity at all. I totally agree with your take on the whole "garden of good and evil" story.

  6. Hello all, thanks for coming by and posting. I usually don't reply to posts until I make the following one, but after reading the replies people have made I felt compelled to answer earlier.

    My Black Fog - I am sorry to hear about your story, losing two children and living in poverty fighting a mental illness. That is awful. If indeed some god exists, he obviously has not concerned himself with your wellbeing. Life is a big struggle, people do turn their backs on us.

    The idea of a god being out there was put into me at an early age, and has never really gone away. But at the same time, I've never seen any reason to believe that one exists. I'd be interested to know why you think one does.

    Suzie - I think that if a god existed and wanted people to believe in him, he would have better means for communicating this than people evangelizing online, or going door to door for that matter. The ways that religious ideas are spread is exactly the way other human ideas are spread, which makes me think it is just another one of those.

    Robert - I went to your blog and read about "Adam and Eve the first scandal". I'm glad to hear that you agree with me that the Eden story makes no sense. But your theory that the Eden story is an allegory showing how Adam and Eve's "real" crime was sodomy does not seem very compelling to me.

    And that's being polite. To me that idea tells me more about you and your hang-ups than it does about the Genesis story.

    Wendy - I think if any religions which claimed supernatural backing were actually true, then it would be very obvious. I think it is much more likely that they are just ways of trying to make sense of and humanize a world that can be very cold and harsh sometimes.

    Jen - I'm glad you made it through that time. I think the world is rough enough without having to be a wretched sinner who deserves to be tortured forever. There's a part from the song "I am the Satellite" by Bryan Steeksma that goes:

    "There ain't no fate except the one you make,
    And there ain't no hell except the shit you take everyday,
    So don't tell me life doesn't hurt,
    And that you don't need the people because you've got your church,
    You got to take your head out of the sky,
    Because there ain't nothing there but the satellites."

  7. Interesting post and comments. I especially like the quote from the song.

  8. I finally wrote a post on why I believe. It probably isn't what you were looking for but it is the truth as I know it.

    Oh, I originally didn't want to comment on this post because you pissed me off. :)

    But now that I am behaving like an adult I must say this. The Bible was written by man. Man is selfish and flawed and also well meaning and loving. I do not believe in the Bible 100% as I did when I was a child. It is just to contradictory. And on a side note...the Adam and Eve situation is in my mind more of a metaphor. For what, I do not know but then again I think most of the Bible is a metaphor for something or other.

  9. Dearest In The Pink and Dearest Depressed Reader.
    I too am a Lover of Books, and currently researching much by the way of the Honey Bee.

    I come to you from Snowbrush blog DR, because you commented on my wondering thoughts of old age. I have long thought about Dante's "Inferno and other Inferno Translations. Milton's "Paradise Lost" and most recently a 1926 Poem called "The Mango Tree".

    It is interesting to note, In The Pink you simply state The Adam and Eve situation is a Metaphor. I think many look at it this way.

    Beside the Olive Branch and the Olive Tree, and Possibly the Fig Tree, The Mango is old.

    DR my statement about age to me is when Adam and Eve discover they are know longer in their youth and to be treated with kid gloves, they do now have a taste of knowledge, what it is like to think for themselves, but they will forever from this point begin to age. They are expelled from their garden of youth as everyone does learn to get on with gettin on.

    There is a Mango tree that is 4000 years old in India, and from reading a mans blog in Florida and from further studies, I don't think anywhere in Genesis or anywhere else in the Bible is it actually stated that it was an Apple Tree.

    It is widely known that the seed of the Mango can be poisonous, the stem and skin can cause an allergic reaction similar to Poison Ivy. Is this not the fruit that was forsaken. Is this not what upon seeing someone stricken with this infliction cause someone to respond "What have you done". As she hands it over, he takes it as an offering of resolution in avoidance of argument and he accepts it unknowingly acting in a complicit manner, sharing know in the same guilt. Thus man cannot speak against the one who was formed from his rib.

    Find The Mango Poem, and Find the Mango Dealer in Florida that believes in the Adam and Eve tale.

    There are over 133 varieties of Mango around the world, the most sweet is known as Magnifico.

    Lets not spread it around, I kinda like having the apple tree take all the blame, the way the blame was laid upon the viper who was to crawl on his belly for the rest of time.

  10. Wow, it seems like this post has stirred up a lot of interest. Thank you all for coming by.

    Hey Borderline Lil - The rest of the song is not too amazing, but the cool quote is the very last section. I found about it because it is often played on the intro of The Atheist Experience / Non-Prophets podcasts from the Atheist Community of Austin in Texas.

    Hello The Tusk, thanks for swinging by from Snowbrush's post. I don't want to make you feel bad, but to be honest, I find it hard to follow exactly what you are trying to say in your posts. You move from one point to the other without really being very clear what you are going on about. I think if you want to communicate clearly it might be better to draft things a little more before posting them.

  11. PS - In the Pink, thanks for posting despite being pissed off. I read the post on your blog and responded there.

  12. You're Australian. I overlooked that somehow. I bet I literally have a dozen or so Aussie followers whose blogs I also follow. Either I have some kind of bond with Australians, or every last person down there blogs.

    I'm sure you know how I feel about religion, but I do know where you're coming from about the fundamentalists actually knowing what they believe as opposed to the liberals and the "spiritual" people who simply can't be pinned down because their faith has feeling but no substantive beliefs.

  13. D.R. -
    I just wanted to let you know you're a recipient of the I Choose to Live Awards on my blog. I couldn't find an email address here to let you know that way. Feel free to copy and keep the graphic if you like to use it anywhere. It's here:

  14. Hi Snow, yep, I'm Australian. And don't get me wrong, I can get pretty frustrated with fundamentalists too. But I think you can have some kind of discussion if someone knows what they actually believe, even if they believe strange things for bad reasons. But if someone just has some vague feeling, there is no discussion that can really be had. I feel what I feel, you feel what you feel, and why can't we all just get along? I think it is very difficult to make any progress or learn anything in that kind of conversation.

    Hi Jen, thanks for the award! I've added the graphic to my blog's front page.

  15. New Age types believe that their feelings are a source of metaphysical belief. Traditional Christian types believe that the words of 2,000-3,500 year old "divine revelation" are an accurate source of metaphysical information. I would argue that both are equally irrational, although the latter is certainly more specific.

  16. Great post here, Depressed Reader. It's good to rant, I reckon, better to turn the anger outwards through your writing than to store it up in self loathing.

    Unfortunately most of us get into a bit of self loathing from time to time and we need help to get beyond the propaganda that reinforces self loathing wherever it comes from.

    It usually begin is families and moves along into such things as institutionalised religions, cults, and all the ideologies.

    I reckon the best way, as you say, is to rely on 'just us'.

    The odd fantasy or day dream can't hurt though, as long as you recognise it for what it is.

  17. Okay, The Tusk comment had me rolling in tears of laughter. It was all over the place but totally stream of conscious. Drafting would definitely help the cohesion.

  18. This is the first time I have read your blog and this was actually a really good post. You are a good writer- you have a very clear and honest way of writing which I really appreciate. Congrats on your award it was well- deserved.

    I read CID's post- I think it's too late to comment- and I honestly don't blame him for blocking that idiot on FB. I grew up in a church very similar to the one that he was talking about and it was taught that in order to store up treasure in heaven one has to "win" souls on earth. You have no idea how powerful that idea can be. Because of this people in the church often had selfish motives for finding people to convert. What CID said about people being "projects" and a "feather in the cap" was so true. I got so sick of it and left.

    By the way, I am someone you won't like very much because I am " vague" like you said, on my beliefs, it hurts- believe me I wish it was different

  19. Hey Snow, yes, I think they are both equally irrational. But regardless, I think that if someone's beliefs are based on some particular holy book or something that is tangible in the real world means we can start to have a meaningful discussion about it. On the other hand, if someone has a vague feeling that "something" is out there, there is not much we can really say about that.

    Hello Elisabeth, thanks for coming by. Ranting is a necessity from time to time - if you don't let out your frustrations you will eventually get physically or mentally ill, or at best wind up miserable and frustrated. Venting is a must.

    As you say, overcoming self-loathing is quite a job. I'm nowhere near there yet, but I am making some progress. I'm learning to be more forgiving to myself. I've still got a lot of frustration and anger, but I'm getting better at channelling it productively.

    Hi again In the Pink, stream-of-consciousness posts make my brain hurt. Despite the fact the internet allows instant communication, I think that makes it even more important that we consider what we are posting before we put it up for the world to see.

    Welcome Stephi, thanks for coming by and I am glad that you enjoyed my post. When it comes to evangelizing in the name of religion, I don't see how any intellectually honest Christian can avoid that duty. If the world really does consist of a battle between god and satan for souls, isn't it the only decent thing to do to try and win those souls? After all, the alternative is an eternity of torture. Inflicted by a "loving" god, but inflicted nonetheless.

    You say you are vague in your beliefs, but you seem pretty specific in your post here. If you have the time I'd be interested in hearing what you believe.

  20. Hi DP,

    Just so you know where I am from I have seen you around on Takashi's, Christine's and Susan's blogs and always liked what you had to say:)

    You won't like what I believe, I actually do believe in God but I am not kidding when I say I have massive doubts- I so empathize with Black fog because I know where she's coming from.

    I was raised in a Christian household- my mother is a wonderful Christian. I had a massive, terrifying breakdown four years ago that wiped out all my beliefs- I felt exactly the way you do now. It's really a long story and I don't think you'll appreciate me going on and on but a series of events have occurred in the last few months and now I can't shake the feeling that "He's" there and that there's something so much bigger than me.

    This may sound crazy but I actually envy you being so firm in your beliefs. You are right when you say being "wishy- washy" about God is nothing to be proud of. I respect what you believe, I really do. If there is anything I have learnt through this it's that you don't have to believe in God to be a good person.

    As for the converting crowd, yes, it's a Christian's God- given to duty to "witness" to others. I grew up in a church where that motive was used for selfish reasons. However, it is the people that silently witness to others through the way the live that has always made the greatest impression on me.

  21. Hi Stephi,
    Thanks for your reply. This is a big topic and we can always discuss it in greater length if you wish to. This will probably be something I'll be posting more about in the future. People may or may not be interested, or may or may not be offended by what I think, but that is up to them.

    If I'm honest, I've never entirely shaken the notion that there is some kind of god out there. I've never seen any reason to believe this, but having been indoctrinated from an early age, it became part of my way of thinking. Unsurprisingly, the vague notion I have fits pretty closely to what I was taught. For the vast majority of people, I think this is the case. Religion is generally a matter of heredity, much like other ideas that we hold - we learn it from our environment and the people around us.

  22. I do believe there is some sort of entity that has designed and created life. For some reason not one human has absolutely known for sure what or who it is and the reason for it. If we were meant to know then we would. Since we don't, then we are not meant to know. Simple I know.

  23. Hi 4-Lorn,
    I'd be interested to know why you think there is some kind of entity out there?

    Also, I am not sure that it follows that just because we don't know something, we are not "meant" to know it. There were plenty of things we didn't know before, but have learned them through study and research, trial and error. I don't see why the question of any kind of god is any different to anything else that people try to understand.