First, a waiver - this is my experience alone, and I acknowledge that. This is by no means an attack on any person, friend or foe, who believes differently to myself. This is my blog, which means that this is my journey. Please do not take offense at what I write. Also please excuse the style of writing, this was very much a stream of consciousness that had to be let out!
Those who would dismiss the idea of God as a man-made construct point to the fact that every ancient civilization has had some process or ritual around looking out and up instead of into themselves, saying that humankind, as a species, have an instinctual need for something external to worship, to point to as a creator or a reason for their existence. Some even claim that this is what makes us human, what separates humankind from the animal.
While indeed most religious belief systems adhere to a Creator or Creators theme, I can only talk directly to Christianity as the religion I am most familiar with. And at the moment, it is also the religion I am most struggling to agree with.
One of the key elements on which Christianity is founded is that of the nature of sin. Without the concept that we, as lowly humans, are inherently faulty, we would have no need for a Saviour.
(Now, there are multitudes of problems that I see in the gender division and sexism within the concepts of Christianity which I am not going to address in this post, but do not doubt that I will!)
One of the most famous treatises of the Bible-believing Christian is that ‘ALL have SINNED and FALL SHORT of the glory of God’. In the first chapters of Genesis, we are given the story of two perfectly created beings, a man and a woman, who make a fatal error of judgement, thereby tainting all their future descendants, the whole human race, with Sin.
This is my story, my family’s story, the story of my people. This story of sin, of judgement, of everlasting gratitude to a saving God who has rescued us from eternal fire. The concept of a newborn child being born already faulty, with a Human Nature(thus doomed), is an old one that I unconsciously accepted as fact(even as a new mother, all the time staring at this perfect creature and wondering which part was the Bad part??). The disobedient preschooler, the cheeky toddler, even the infant who becomes more wakeful at night, all prove this point. We are evil. Humankind is inherently flawed. The good side of this story then is that we are given a second chance, a chance to embrace the saviour who has sacrificed everything to save us. Christians then supposedly live a triumphant life, yes with it’s ups and downs, but also blessed with the honour of having a personal relationship with the creator of the universe. What is this relationship based on? To me, the basis of this personal, close relationship seems to be a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid. We have been Bad from the Beginning, but we are fortunate enough to be saved from this Badness.
Those who we hold up as Excellent Christians, ones who we wish to emulate, are those saints and martyrs who have emptied themselves completely, and replaced all their concept of Self with the Holy Trinity instead. How does one empty oneself of all Self? Well, recognise that you are Bad, replace any self-satisfaction or self-love with self-loathing, and then pour all of this Self out onto the dirt at your feet, and fill up with ‘His’ love for you. ‘His’ gift of salvation. You now longer have your own needs or desires, but are filled instead with ‘His’ will.
Now I want to reiterate here that these are my ideas and my experiences alone. This may not indeed be experienced or felt by any other person on this planet.
Part of my journey - not all!!!(sometimes I have to remind myself that it is not all) - is the story of my lifelong depression. The sense of dissatisfaction, of longing for something more in life, of loneliness, self-doubt and eventually self-loathing, can be tracked back into my childhood. Maybe it was triggered by things that happened or things that didn’t happen, or maybe it was there all along, a seed of discontent in my heart from the beginning. Again, that is a story for another time, not now.
Whatever the reason, this black dog has been my constant partner for all of my conscious life, as far back as I can remember. Despite various medicative measures, prayers for healing, and involvement with mental health services as an adult, it was not until I began therapy in earnest, a few years ago, that I started really unravelling some of the cords that bound me.
Part of this unravelling process was attending a ‘Compassionate Mind’ group. I’ll spare you the intricacies of DBT here(google it!), but there were several ‘A-ha’ moments in it, which made me start to question everything I knew about my faith and how I was brought up.
What if, at the heart of my self-loathing, was this belief that from the beginning I was marred? What if it was actually OK to like myself? What if it was OK to take care of myself, nurture myself, believe in fact that I was worthy of love, by first loving myself??? What a bold and ridiculous idea. It was posited that to truly love others and show compassion, one must first truly love and show compassion towards oneself. This was an uncomfortable idea to me, as I had always thought of myself as a compassionate, kind person. Was I only being kind because that was the ‘Right Thing’ to do? A tiny crack opened in my foundation.
For a second, let’s be diverted by this idea of self-care, and nurturing. We do hear a lot more about caring for ourselves now, even in Christian circles. Mainstream culture has exerted enough of an influence on the church, that now they run ‘women-only days’, ‘pamper-retreats’ and so on. But there is a difference between the motivation to learn to love and care for oneself purely for the sake of healing and becoming a whole person, and the motivation in christian circles to care for and pamper oneself in order that women can be better mothers and wives…. to serve others. Again I digress, I’m getting too far into the issue of gender in the church.
As I began to look inwards, at how my own beliefs about myself were affecting how I heard and experienced the world, a transformation started happening, deep within.
This transformation is still going on now, as I peel off the layers and look with new, questioning eyes at the world and the people around me. Even in the last few weeks, my life has been full of strange occasions and coincidences, where I have experienced a swelling of human kindness in my world. HUMAN kindness. That is, people without the motivation of religious beliefs who have impacted my own and my children’s lives in such amazing ways, because they are kind, generous-hearted people. Not evil. Not sinners. Throughout history, as much as people have been moved to harm and to hurt, people have also been moved to act, out of a pure and beautiful part of themselves deep within, a spark of the Divine that I believe is in all of us.
I do not deny that there is another realm, of wild and unimaginable beauty and chaos, that we have access to, on a real and daily basis. But I can no longer marry this image up with a harmful ideology that we, humans, are essentially Bad creatures in our heart, that need fixing. I do not deny the huge amounts of hurt, wrongdoing and genuine evil in this world, that we see every day on our streets, in our corrupt governments, in the global news, but I am starting to question whether this is a natural state or a taught/learned state.
There is darkness in all of us, just as there is light in all of us, and there must be a careful balance. For myself, I believe I MUST be guided by genuine kindness and compassion(that starts within), just as much as I must NOT be guided by guilt, self-loathing and indebtedness. My mental health, and therefore perhaps my very life, depends on it.