Being a Good Christian: The Art of Self Loathing

Even at my most apathetic levels of belief there were certain truths I never let go of. I knew there was a god and that I needed him. That I was ultimately a broken image of what god had in mind for me and that I needed his grace and mercy to get to heaven because as Romans 3:23 constantly reminded me, I’d fallen short of the glory of god.

I’d been raised to accept, and I truly believed, that I was depraved without god. That my flesh and it’s desires were entirely revolting in god’s sight. I’ll never forget the immense shame and disgust I felt with myself the first time I masturbated. I prayed for forgiveness for being so weak! I was so undeserving of his love! I hated myself for being the way I was!

What I realized in my college years was that even the most upstanding of believers are, at some level, self loathing. It’s part of the deal when signing up for the Christian tradition. Growing up I had multiple people that I was in awe of because their walks with Christ seemed so holy and beyond reproach. They were what all believers, in my mind, aspired to be.

When I’ve tried to relay this point to believers, that Christianity goes hand in hand with self hatred, I’m scoffed at more loudly than normal. No, I wasn’t understanding what Christianity really was. It’s a relationship! It’s love!¬†

But when you break down the most basic tenets of what you’re accepting as a Christian, that you’re a sinner and deserving of hell without Jesus, you’ve already admitted that you’re flawed, broken and undeserving of happiness.

I really don’t feel there’s any need to take the illustration further because at it’s most fundamental core you’re accepting what’s stated above. And if you accept it, you’ve become repulsed with who you are and gladly submit to the authority of an ancient text that works only through assertions, fear, faith and circular reasoning.

That’s been one of the most amazing aspects of giving up belief. Realizing that I’m not garbage. People around me became even more beautiful to me than they already were. All their accomplishments and character traits and skills are all self attained and self realized.

I’m sure many people would say I’m focusing too much on the negative. That a joyous relationship with Jesus isn’t at all like that, but I’d disagree. I’m merely looking at all aspects of that relationship and the costs. In my practical mind if you have to accept that you’re unworthy of heaven or depraved without the love of Jesus, then that means you also accept that you’re damaged goods, unfit to sit at the table with the adults. It’s really quite gross when you look at it wholly.¬†

While I may never be a beautiful or unique snowflake in the grand scheme of the universe, I love that I am a person full of confidence, cheer and love. Sure there’s aspects of me that can always be improved, but the bottom line is that I’m my own man. I’m standing on my own 2 feet with a smile on my face and my arms outstretched to love people as they are.

Can Christians say that? They can say that about other believers in their god, but so long as you don’t match up with their ideologies they’ll accept and possibly even love you, but with caveats. Having grown up in belief I can say these things with confidence. I myself have been guilty of being extra friendly to non-believers or people of other faiths in hopes to show them the love of Jesus and to win them to Christ.¬†Believers will always be working just as I was, with some ulterior motive, even if it’s small, of winning you to the cross. Looking to shackle you with the same self loathing that they aren’t aware of themselves.

If you find yourself in such a situation do as Joseph did when Potiphar’s wife tempted him and run away. Even if that means leaving your cloak behind.


A Loving Summation of Atheism to a Worried Christian Mother

Yesterday, an old friend sent me a message on facebook to a pretty extraordinary page on reddit. The page, which can be found here, is a Christian mother asking for help on how to react to and treat her son which just announced his atheism to her.

I applaud such a parent that reaches out for help in the way she did. She may also have sought out or is currently seeking help from a pastor or other church leaders, but she deliberately went to the atheism thread on reddit and asked for help. Wow. Way to go, mom! What better people to ask about how to deal with this than other atheists that have more than likely gone through very similar situations themselves?

There was one response which blew me away. So far, it’s one of the most articulate, non-threatening, loving and diplomatic responses to a question like this I’ve ever heard or read. It’s not only good reading for believing parents of non-believing kids, but anyone that better wants an idea of where the atheism mindset is.

I’m just going to copy and paste it here because it needs to be seen by as many people as possible. Explaining my conclusions to my family was and continues to be some of the more strenuous points of my life….and I’ve seen some shit.

“Hi Unsuremother,

First, off, though I am an atheist myself, I want to empathize a little: this must be difficult for you and your family. Your faith commitment is an important part of your life and it is bewildering to have your own child turn away from this. I don’t know exactly what you believe, but you might be worried about his soul in the next life, or his behaviour in this one. If you don’t believe in God, how do you know right from wrong? If you reject God, how will you be reunited with Him in the next Kingdom?

The most important thing to understand is that these kinds of concerns, while very vivid and real to you, only make sense within a belief system your son no longer accepts. There is no sense in making threats of Hell or damnation anymore: atheists do not believe such a place exists. We don’t believe such a place could exist. The thing that is important to remember is that while we no longer believe that there are places beyond the world, the world he lives in has now become all the more important. That’s all we have. That’s all we ever have. His world is family, and school, and friends: all these things structure his life and he will need them more than ever. He needs you. He’s still a kid, and he’s a kid dealing with Really Big Questions in the only way he can: honestly and critically.

Most of us have come to this point honestly. This must be emphasized. We’re not angry at God, we’re not trying to get attention or going through some cultural phase. We looked at the arguments on both sides and came to the best conclusion we could. We only have 70 odd years on this planet. We make mistakes, too; we are fallible creatures prone to error and haste. We do our best. And sometimes our best is ‘well, I don’t think any of this is right.’ I don’t pretend to have all the answers. I don’t rightly know where the universe came from, or how life began at first. But I don’t need all the answers to know that some answers are the wrong ones. I don’t know, and I don’t think Christians, or Muslims, or Taoists know either. They claim to know; I claim to not know.

Suppose I’m wrong. Suppose your son is wrong. I’m standing outside the pearly gates and St. Peter, or God Himself, gives me one chance to explain myself. What would I say except “I’m sorry–I got it wrong. I really tried. But I got it wrong. I saw all the different religions, each saying different things, all changing over time. It seemed just a part of human culture, not ultimate truth. I saw unnecessary suffering and couldn’t make heads or tails of it, if you were good and all-powerful. It didn’t make sense to me to posit something existing to explain existence: that gets it backwards. I’m sorry, God, that I didn’t believe in you, but it wasn’t malicious–I just–I just screwed up.”

What would Jesus say to that? Would he send me to suffer forever? Do I deserve to be tortured eternally because I read Lucretius as a young man–the 2,000 year old Roman poet who professed his atheism before Christ ever walked desert sand? Because I looked at the ontological argument and found it wanting?

Or would he press me to Him and forgive me? And wouldn’t I desire that forgiveness—?

If there is a God that would send me to Hell for making this mistake, I don’t want it in my life. Nothing justifies torture. Nothing at all. And He would not be worthy of worship–or even respect. If He is merciful, then I will apologize. If I am right–and he doesn’t exist–then I live my life as a free man.

And that is how atheists live: under actual freedom. The German philosopher Nietzsche wrote that ‘freedom is responsibility’–genuine freedom. I am responsible for the consequences of my actions. So: how do I live? What do I do? Do I want to live in a society where everyone does what they can get away with? What standards do I hold myself up to? This is the essence of the atheist’s morality: his freedom, his rationality.

Before even Lucretius wrote his atheistic treatise De Rerum Natura, there was another man, Socrates, who asked a simple and startling question: Does God say something is Good because it is good, or is something good because God says it is? We must be careful here. If what is good is whatever God says is good, then we have no morality at all, but caprice. If God says: kill your son! it is good to kill your son. If God says: from henceforth, children shall be murdered–then it is good, by definition, that children be murdered. But that’s not morality. That’s authoritarianism. And if you say: “But God would never do that,” I ask: why? Because if there is a reason, then goodness is independent from God after all. It is grounded elsewhere. In what? Well: maybe in reason itself? Or maybe morality is just part of the universe–a different kind of part, not like your sofa or TV or the moon is part of the universe, but the way numbers, or relations (like ‘equal to’)–an abstract object, none less the real.

There is a very, very long tradition of ethical thinking that is, in fact, older than Christianity itself. In philosophy classes we teach wisdom that was recorded a millennium before Christ. If it is impossible to be good without God, there wouldn’t be one virtuous atheist. Yet there are millions of us non-religious men and women on the planet, and we live our lives, as best we can. Atheists don’t fill the newspapers with tales of carnage or debauchery–clearly we can figure it out on our own.

Well. Not quite on our own. We have each other. No one else–just each other. And that’s enough. So be there for your son.”