We have all done it. We are all guilty of it. We have all turned against ourselves by allowing it.
One of the problems one faces in belonging to and being a member of an organized Christian Church is that, either consciously, or subconsciously , one places themselves under the authority of others. We say we do it willingly. We believe that there are special people groups and leaders under whose supervision we need to be. It is others who tell you how to think, what to do, how to act and what to believe based on some criteria that they got from those “over” them, or those who came “before” them. For some, this works. For many, it is a formula for physical, psychological and emotional disaster.
In the case of Christians, the Bible is used to proof text any particular perspective one wants to promote. Whether we can admit it or not, within the Bible are enough speeches, personalities and dramas, which if manipulated properly and with enough conviction and showmanship, are justifications for just about every human endeavor in the name of God, Jesus and the Church. Many have the near crippling inability to conduct their lives without knowing what God, Jesus or the Bible would have them do, according to others cat meme.
In a church setting it is presented in some form of from God to Jesus to the Church to the minister to the elders to the deacons to the laity…..to the women…to the children who get to lord it over their pets. I am reminded of the parent who watched in horror as their child filled a backyard hole with water and nearly drown the family cat with the ceremonial words “in the name of the Father, the Son… and in the hole you go.” Funny, but not for the cat!
This fear based chain is kept in place with appeals to biblical authority, fear of consequences for disbelief or misbehavior based on select criteria. It is reinforced with guilt (I did a bad thing) for failure to meet the standards set and paid for with an appropriate amount of shame (I am a bad person). The control factors are kept fresh every week with sermons or studies and every day with admonitions to study to show oneself approved or “pray about it.” The “it” can be your attitude which is not in sync with the system and your success with “it” is compliance and a good attitude. If you forget the criteria for success you can now go to a Church website and replay the sermons of those that control your mind and do your thinking for you. Throw in the idea that a human can have the unreachable goal of becoming perfect as their heavenly Father is perfect, which whether meaning real perfection or maturity, and you have formula for major guilt and shame and the control stays in place. I have never met any human being who is remotely mature or perfect like a god, and neither have you. Well ok, a few Buddhists. 🙂
In addition, others tell us that we are to grow in Grace (actually a nice concept few grow in) and Knowledge (a good thing but one which, in reality, the organization prays to God you don’t grow in), and one can never get out of the box without grevious consequences. Usually what growing in grace and knowledge really means is growing in adherence and compliance graciously and knowing that what you are being told to think is the truth and you need look no further. Personal looking and personal conclusions based on that looking, is bad for the individual and best left up to others who are more in tune with the conclusions that need to be drawn for your own good.
When we come to realize how manipulated we have been on the topic of religion, we usually get angry at others for doing this to us and get depressed, which is the anger we are directing at ourselves “for being so stupid” that we will not express properly. I believe the reason depression is so prevalent for those who come out of a bad religious experience is that we are so programmed not to express our anger, doubts and simple “hell no, I don’t believe that,” that it has no other place to go but inward and provoke the depression. “Be angry and sin not” often means keep it to yourself and don’t show it, unless of course you are higher up the authority chain.
Minister types seem to be in a perpetual state of anger of one form or another. Many of my clients tell me how tired they are of the minister being angry all the time in sermons and letting everyone have it. I say he is faking it and doing it because he is expected to by himself, his church and his concept of God. If ministers really spoke that way in public or in the workplace, they would be fired or at best labeled as wacko. I’ve sat through lots of biblically salted harangues. I once heard a curse put on someone publicly from the pulpit with a lot of anger. But that is the privilege of rank. Anger in organizations can only be expressed downward. Upward anger results in lynching of the laity.
One additional fact we need to keep in mind is that the the Bible itself is the source of every organizational and mission blueprint no matter how people use it to advance their perspectives. Most men and organizations aren’t out to deliberately deceive others. They too are the victims of the system before them and keep it going with their own fears, shame, guilt and hope for reward and peace. Peace is really what the soul craves but we go looking for it by repeating such tried and proven unworkable perspectives.
We usually stop the blame game and pity party with the people who advance the ideas and not the source. Few blame the Bible itself as the source of more human misery, war, prejudice, racism, chaos, family division, sexual repression, male abuses, female victimization and the evils of exclucivism than Christians are capable of admitting. Most would never take the time to study the dark side of Christianity and it’s rotten fruit.
When confronted with the stark facts of how the Bible has been used to control, shame, frighten and organize individuals, whether by early church father types, governments, churches or ministers, it is all to easy to say, “well they are not REAL Christians.” Well, yes they were and yes they are, just ask them. They do these things because they are using the book as their guide. They appeal to the examples of God, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Paul and Jesus, usually in that order. They are “living by the book” as they would say and the fruit is rotten, as we could say. They are doing what God would have them to do. Bible Atrocities They think that there is one continuum of truth that can never change, be clarified, reworked, or even dismissed and negated as ignorant. There is nothing new to know and keeping blinders in place is the same as being faithful. If God can say “I change not” and Jesus can be “the same yesterday, today and forever,” that works for them and better work for us too, context not withstanding.
Where do we go wrong when we allow others ideas of how things are to control us? It’s kinda like so many who take long trips to meet family holiday obligations. You don’t want to go. It’s expensive. It’s tiring and we have other things we need to do. The kids want to play with their friends and we want to just do nothing with the time we have off. It’s not that we don’t love or appreciate, though sometimes we don’t and the attitude we get home in is not the one we went with, but it is just too much effort. On top of that, we go because it is too much costly not to go. The tribe will be mad. Feelings will be hurt. Uncle Louie will be disappointed that John’s wife wasn’t there to leer at. And grandma won’t have the chance to drive you nuts yelling at your kids to be quiet and stop having fun. Dad won’t talk as usual and your sister will have that look that makes us all so pleased she came. But we did it… we gave away our power of choice and we did what we were expected to do for the benefit of others to to keep the illusion alive. Where do we go wrong?
We go wrong by giving up our own personal power. We go wrong by negating our own doubts. We go wrong by keeping that niggly question deeply stored in the back of our brains, never to be asked. We go wrong by saying we agree outwardly when we hate the idea or concept inwardly. We go wrong by letting things go and ideas we think are stupid pass. We go wrong by allowing some ancient text, idea or opinion pass as the only way to be. We go wrong by letting other humans with legitimate “authority” or only imagined to intimidate the reality and common sense out of us. We go wrong by letting others use the Bible to makes points that the Bible shouldn’t make in this day and age. We go wrong by finding meaning in a scripture that the scripture never meant for us to take. ….take a breath….ok… We go wrong by letting doing what our heart is not in and repress where our heart is. We go wrong belonging to something outwardly that hurts us inwardly. We go wrong saying yes to sermons we should say no to. We go wrong by letting advice become a command. We go wrong by letting another human being think that whatever they come up with to do or say is fine with us.
In short, we give up our power of discernment and choice. I know that some get very angry when phrases like “take responsibility for your choice” is said. We don’t like to hear that. I have hated it because it is costly and embarrassing. We come up with a dozen reasons we could not and that we HAD to give up our power. Realizing we did give our power to others is very very painful! “You weren’t there” is usually a good lead in to why one had to comply. “I’d get disfellowshipped” or “I’d be demoted.” “God would be mad at me.” “I might end up in the Lake of Fire.” “The Bible says…” We all understand how that worked. I participated in it. I preached it. I enforced it. I wish I had not. I am glad it was not personally for me as bad as it could have been had I not been willing many times to quietly ignore what I did not agree with and encourage others to do the same.
We wanted to do the right thing as perceived by others so we gave them our power. We even gave the Bible God our power by counting on everything from healing and good health to financial prosperity through generous giving. There were PLENTY of texts in the Bible to motivate us to do the right thing and believe it. Don’t blame men for twisting the Bible out of context. That happens enough. IN context, the Bible can promote plenty of grief. It makes promises it doesn’t keep and that is painful to admit. We still think that somehow we must still be at fault and that the Bible, or the Church or God, as defined by the Bible, can’t be the misleading factor here. It has to be our fault.
Well it is not. Whatever power I gave, I gave by choice. I can only speak for myself. Fault is not the issue here. It just is. People give up their power every day. Wives give up their power to say “enough,” to abusive husbands. Men give up their power to employers who abuse their time and capitalize on their fear. Members give up their power to Churches and Hierarchies that really don’t care much what you do as long as you are there when needed to give the appearance of credibility and the physical support needed to keep it going. And on and on.
Every day, and in may ways, both in general living and, in this context, in religious affiliations, we have the power to keep or relinquish our power. Anger, depression and the inability to move along in life are directly related to the skill of holding onto our power when we simply don’t agree or believe what the tribe, the government, the boss, the church or the minister say. Yes goes with no just like oceans go with sand. Every time I say yes when I mean no, every time I agree when I don’t and every time I am sitting down on the outside while standing up on the inside, I am giving away my power. Sometimes it may be temporarily discrete to do this. But as a life habit and practice…No. For the times we did, forgive yourself and don’t be the monkey on your own back. Giving up our power doesn’t serve us in the long run and will impede our progress in life in the search for peace and truth. If we weren’t looking for that in the first place, we probably would not have had this experience and I would probably not be writing anything about it.