I’m tired of abusive religion

I took a big risk and decided to be vulnerable in my latest memoir. The hard fact is that I couldn’t accurately talk about my faith struggles without describing the events that influenced the way I relate to God: namely, the rape and the abuse. Those things are absolutely critical to the way I related to God for years, and to this day I have a bend toward self-deprecating worship.

You know what, though?

I’ve had enough of that. And I’m really tired – no, more like angry – to see so-called human depravity glorified with catchy songs and slogans. Abuse survivors and depression sufferers just do not need this crap.

I’m not saying I don’t believe in sin. And I don’t consider myself a “good person.” But I do believe there is a world of difference between “not good” and “utterly depraved.” And I no longer see the need to dwell on my horridness to emphasize God’s goodness. I honestly cannot recall a church environment I’ve been to in which God was praised just for being God, without having to bring “But I’m so unworthy” into it.

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The comic artist sells the bottom left “evil heart” logo as a t-shirt in his online store.
Good marketing, huh?

I heard all about my unworthiness countless times in the five years I dated my last boyfriend, in words and through actions. He gradually taught me to hate myself. When I hear young, otherwise happy women in bible studies and small groups flippantly talk about their depravity, something in me breaks. I can’t help but think that this teaching is making them ripe for falling into the clutches of abusers (see When God talks like an abusive boyfriend).

I don’t say this to minimize the consequences of sin (though I admit I still struggle with the Jewish/Christian dichotomy between sin as action and sin as identity). I say this because I don’t see nearly enough affirmation of the worth of human beings in church (in this context, I’m referring to evangelical churches).

The Christianity I read about in my teenage years affirmed God’s passionate pursuit of humans. That Christianity showed a God whose heart broke to see his creation quantify their worth by their income, their social status, their number of relationship partners. That Christianity showed a God who used Jesus to say You don’t have to do anything to earn my love, you already have it! I made you and think you’re awesome!

The Christianity I encountered in college was radically different. It was a Christianity that said You’re disgusting. You’re pathetic. God sees filth when he looks at you. Only when you become a Christian do you deserve to be looked at with a little less contempt.

 Many Christians espouse the latter rhetoric and wonder why their numbers are dropping.

True, the word “love” is often misunderstood. But when Christian “love” looks a lot like condemnation, there is a problem. “Tough love,” on the other hand, often feels unfair, but that’s generally reserved for drastic circumstances; it’s not the kind of love you start out with. When starting a new relationship, you focus on what you find attractive about a person. You tell them what you like about them. You know they have flaws, and you might work with them to improve, but healthy relationships don’t use degradation to get someone to change.

I want a God who will challenge me, convict me of my wrongdoing, and enable me to let go of bad habits. But I’m running far, far away from the God who supposedly created me, made me “fearfully and wonderfully made,” yet thinks I’m a parasite.

To that I say, enough.

Humans deserve better.

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About Beth Caplin

Just an author, blogger, and editor working hard so my cats can have a better life.
This entry was posted in Theology and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

16 Responses to I’m tired of abusive religion

  1. wyattis says:

    Great read. It’s a real struggle because religion is a bandage or a crutch, not a cure. It becomes an easy tool for anyone looking to abuse it. I hope you get a chance to read some of my blogs. I’m a former evangelical who was looking to go into ministry. Most of my posts are about the logical failures within that culture and its effects. Keep up the great critical thinking!

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  2. Here, here! I agree.
    I agree that messages like “you are worthless” are fundamentally abusive. It feels weird to classify it as wrong, still, because I know so many good people who believe it. I just … I can’t anymore. It’s wrong, and it needs to stop.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Riley says:

    I was raised Catholic and stopped going to church when I realized it was making my depression worse. The Catholic homilies didn’t focus on depravity as much as it sounds like evangelical churches do, but the idea was still present. It was phrased more as “We are all born broken and made broken by the world and Jesus makes us whole.” In addition to that, there was the constant refrain of “We are the light of the world. We need to lead by example. You can always do more; you can always try harder. Strive for perfection.” (Paraphrases, not direct quotes.) It’s a struggle for me to explain this to others because those words aren’t in and of themselves abusive. Many people find them inspiring. But for someone who was already struggling with perfectionism and depression, they were making my religion and my life a living hell. I do take comfort in the cultural meme of “Catholic guilt” because that lets me know it isn’t just me who internalized all those messages in a harmful way.

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    • Beroli says:

      It’s a struggle for me to explain this to others because those words aren’t in and of themselves abusive.

      Oh, I think “You can always do more; you can always try harder. Strive for perfection” is in and of itself abusive. No one is perfect, or ever can be, and everyone has limits to what they can do and has a right to those limits.

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  4. Love this, Beth! I had never thought of the idea of God talking like an abusive boyfriend, but you’re right–he does talk like that in so many versions of “religion.” Looking forward to the new memoir!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. misifusa says:

    I feel that a relationship with God is personal and that each and every one of us has the ability to see the human foibles in religious teachings. My chosen view of God is a Divine Universal Being/Essence who is kind and loving, not harsh nor condemning. I endeavor to be a good, loving, compassionate, kind human being to all with whom I connect in order to continue God’s teaching that love is the universal cord that connects us all.
    Religion is the human piece that does its best to interpret what has been handed down generation after generation and perhaps misconstrued.
    I am saddened by your experiences and I wish you healing, love, hope and light in your life. ♥

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  6. Spotlight Gesundheit says:

    You may want to look into Noachide: 7 rules all based on being a civil, responsible human being.

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  7. “It was a Christianity that said You’re disgusting. You’re pathetic. God sees filth when he looks at you. Only when you become a Christian do you deserve to be looked at with a little less contempt?”

    Beth, I am 56 years old and a life-long Roman Catholic. I have visited and spoke at dozens, if not hundred of churches of different denominations and am constantly reading books about theology and different faiths. I have to say that I have never heard, nor seen, nor felt the words I copied above and I am saddened that you have. The Jesus I believe in and follow tells me that ” There is nothing you can ever do that will make me love you any less. Nothing” No church is perfect. . . because they are run by humans and as we all know, humans are not perfect. The key is to look past the failings of man and see the love that God has for us. I hope you can find that. Don’t take “no” for an answer.. . .RJV

    Liked by 1 person

    • Beth Caplin says:

      From the limited research I’ve done, it does seem like the idea of total depravity is confined to evangelicalism, or part of the Protestant tradition at large.

      My friend Neil wrote a thought-provoking piece about evangelicalism’s history of imposing negative self-esteem, which really spoke to me: http://www.patheos.com/blogs/godlessindixie/2016/04/03/so-long-self/

      Liked by 1 person

      • m8rk says:

        I read Neil’s blog. I’m a Protestant. Salvationist/ Methodist. I can say that what RJV says above applies to Protestantism too. I’ve known a person who was pretty much imprisoned by illness and made to believe they were the embodiment of evil due to the fact that they were ill. They wouldn’t accept that this isn’t a tenet of the Christian faith and not some abomination created by some sadly misguided people.

        Neil is correct, an underpinning of Christianity is the idea that human beings are flawed. In my understanding… the love of God is like bright sunshine relentlessly bathing us. Condemnation is us hiding from that love.

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      • Crystal says:

        Blame John Calvin for it. He’s one of the biggest pushers of the idea.

        Furthermore the idea “that we are all as an unclean thing” is one of many reasons why I don’t believe in the Bible anymore. Being raised with the Ray Comfort type of crap as a child (I wasn’t exactly raised on Ray Comfort but the Christianity I grew up with definitely taught we were undeserving of God’s grace because we were sinners, etc) I eventually came to realise that we all have good and bad in us. Also as we grew up as a family, our ideas changed somewhat (including one friend embracing – or at least seeing the good in – the Orthodox version of how to describe sin) but still this idea that we are somehow worthless is exactly what abusers tell us and we don’t need it anymore.

        I struggle with schizophrenia and OCDs and the voices constantly tell me I’m worthless and if I don’t obey them I will be a bad person. It’s terrible. I was a Christian for a while but I was so afraid of God’s control, constantly telling me I couldn’t believe and act the way I saw right, that I’ve quit. Let me tell you now, Beth, it’s glorious, the freedom you feel as an ex-Christian. I’ve made the step in my heart; now it’s time to make the step physically. And that will be a struggle but it is one I am prepared to undertake, as the alternative means nothingness and suppression to me.

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      • Crystal says:

        That being said, I completely respect your choices to stay in the Christian faith, and I apologise if I gave any implication otherwise through my comments about being an ex-Christian.

        Like

  8. m8rk says:

    Totally agree. Well said xx

    Like

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