Every day I read blog posts from people who’ve left the faith, Christianity, and the relief they felt realizing that it wasn’t their fault that Jesus had to die an agonizing death. Their years of anxiety and low self-esteem, wanes. Their shame slashed. Still, for many, it may take quite a while to overcome years of indoctrination from shame/fear based religions.
In 1766, author Richard Allestree wrote: “The newborn babe is full of the stains and pollution of sin, which it inherits from our first parents through our loins” — The Whole Duty of Man (London, 1766), p.20
Most Christians believe in what is called penal substitutionary atonement. This is the view that humans, due to their sinfulness, stand under a “death sentence” before a holy God of justice. But, because God (Yahweh) loves you so much, he sent his son, Jesus, who takes on this penalty, dying in our place. This “substitution” (Jesus’ life traded for our own) makes atonement, reuniting Yahweh and the person.
I don’t think that people who never went deep with their faith or never had faith to begin with can really relate to the inner turmoil that can take place in a person who accepted this as a fact.
I’ve sometimes read where people have said “how could anyone take this nonsense seriously? I knew it was BS by the time I was nine?” You have no idea how much I envy you. I can understand how someone like me may have been perceived as stupid, gullible, naive, whatever. I bought it hook, line, and sinker because I was conditioned from an impressionable age, during crucial brain development, to feel shame — to accept part of the blame. Not so much from my parents but from clergy and Sunday school teachers. Today I call them travel agents for guilt trips, a.k.a. child abusers.
Dr. Brené Brown, after 10 years of research about the impact of shame, stated that shame is epidemic in America. Is anybody surprised by this finding? I’m not. Dr. Paul Eckman, from the University of California, states that shame is the most private of emotions, and that humans have yet to evolve a facial expression that clearly communicates it. Psychiatrist Peter Loader states that people cover up or compensate for deep feelings of shame with attitudes of contempt, superiority, domineering or bullying, self-deprecation, or obsessive perfectionism. The findings from Dr. Brown’s research also showed that shame is highly correlated with depression, addictions, and eating disorders.
Your Need for Grace is Your Fault
“I used to sit, silently, in deep meditation, every communion, in deep gratitude for what I thought Jesus did for me. Although I didn’t admit it at the time, it was humiliating to have that gratitude. The trauma of realizing how Jesus suffered crippled my psychology, I think. I don’t think it does this to everyone — but if you really feel, deep inside, what Jesus did for you, profoundly and sincerely…I think your sense of gratitude would also be perpetual and overwhelming. And with every smile and laugh in relief, you’re reminded that the fact you need grace is your fault.”
What truly loving parent would want you to feel this way? Mosley nails it when he states:
“It’s like being accused of murder, and then getting pardoned for it. You’re grateful for the pardon, but every week you go to a building and thank the one who pardoned you. You also hear constantly about how terrible what you did was, and how incredibly nice it was to be pardoned. This makes you cry in gratitude. It changes your life and the way you see yourself on a fundamental level.
A child’s self-identity is shaped around the things they hear about themselves. A study of schoolchildren found that only 4% had not been the targets of adult shaming; including “rejecting, demeaning, terrorizing, criticizing (destructively), or insulting statements” (Solomon & Serres, 1999).
You Can Never Be Good Enough—Unless You Accept This
In his superbly made deconversion video series, Prplfox states:
“Christians can acknowledge many ways a person can become an ex-Christian except for one, except for the most genuine: a broken Christ-follower who tries desperately to not become an atheist, but is finally forced to accept that the message of Christianity—that Christ died for your sins, that you are defective by your nature, corrupt and lost without God—is not true. And if that happened to you would it be your fault, or would that make your life an involuntary testimony to the poverty of Christianity? What would that mean about other Christians? And what would it mean to those you care about?
What if you were 21 and you thought you were the only one?
If an idea can’t stand on its own truthfulness, it has to find another way to survive. And often the way that happens is by the gradual, unintentional, or intentional refinement of the hijacking of our emotional architecture. Possibly the most effective, most powerful way a belief could do this would be to devalue or eliminate all other sources of self-affirmation— which Christianity does with devastating efficacy—so that there is no hope, or beauty, or meaning, and more importantly, no integrity of the self without it.
If a belief can do this to you, you will have almost no chance of being able to critically evaluate its truthfulness. Christianity alters your identity to ensure the survival of itself. And the ones who are the most vulnerable to this message are the ones who already deal with the insecurity of feeling like they are not good enough: young people who want to understand love and truth, and what it means to be good, which is the very nature of being an adolescent. And to them, as the adults they trust and look up to, while believing we are doing what is loving, we tell them that you can never be good enough—unless you accept this: this is what love is, this is what you deserve for your flaws. That is the Gospel—the death of Jesus has no meaning unless you first believe that it should have been you.”
Guilty of the Worst Murder in History
Richard Sennett is a Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University He has been a Fellow of The Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. He states: “Shame has taken the place of violence as a routine form of punishment in Western societies.”
“And you eventually, after 28 years of thinking, every day, that you needed this grace desperately, find out that the murder of this great, great human being was not your fault. In fact, it didn’t even happen nearly the way it was described, if it happened at all.
Maybe you would fall to your knees and cry and smile in relief. Maybe all those years of psychological torment would fade away. Maybe you would collapse in the sheer shock that this…all of this…was not your fault.
That’s what it was like for me.”
And that’s what it was like for me, too. As my brain began to thaw, years of suppressed emotions surfaced.
But the difficult thing is that I still see people in Christianity who are lied to. Who are told they are guilty of the worst murder in history because of their supposed sins. Who are controlled by the lie, and grateful to the very people who perpetuate it because they voice “forgiveness” for it.
So there’s anger in seeing it. There’s anger in people still trying to tell others they are guilty, and that if they are ungrateful for the “pardon” their sins will land them an eternity of torment. That does make me upset.”
Me, too, and this is why I care, why I share. It’s why I advocate and educate. It’s why I put up with the accusations that I am a messenger of Satan, and why I’m willing to take the heat in discourse. Not because I think Christians are stupid, gullible and naive for believing in a god. It’s because I’ve experienced, first hand, the psychological harm caused by toxic shaming in the name of love, and I see the fallout of this inhumane teaching everywhere I look.
It’s not your fault!
“The wounded recognized the wounded.”
― Nora Roberts