Christianity, Self-Worth and Conspiracy

Christianity, Self-Worth and Conspiracy

Where do self-worth and self-esteem come from? By definition, they have to come from inside yourself. Knowing that you are loved by others is important, but it’s not enough. Especially if you are told that you are loved unconditionally — loved despite your flaws — loved anyway, then this love is no help to your self-worth. In fact, this kind of declaration of love asks us to debase ourselves, to admit and agree that we are not worthy. The tricky part is that it upholds the idea of your worth in the eyes of someone else but asks you to reject your self-worth at the same time. It says ‘I love you, but not because you deserve love.’

A quick Google search for the “Christian view of self worth” lead me to “What does the Bible say about self-worth?” which basically makes my point for me.

But notice the wording in each of the above phrases: “are made,” “are fearfully and wonderfully made,” “were written,” “God chose His children,” “we are God’s own possession,” and “we have an inheritance.” These phrases all have one thing in common: they are things done to us or for us by God. These are not things we have done for ourselves, nor have we earned or deserved them. We are, in fact, merely the recipients of “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Therefore, we can conclude that our worth is not really of the “self” at all; rather, it is worth given to us by God. We are of inestimable value to Him because of the price He paid to make us worthy—the death of His Son on the cross.

This is not the end of it. The Bible says we should doubt our own reason (“lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5)), that wisdom from outside Christian teaching is really foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:17-31) and that we should distrust our feelings (the heart is “deceitful” and “wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9)). A hallmark of the abusive tactic known as gaslighting is that it makes its victim doubt her own memories and judgement — to make her feel that her reasoning and feelings are not to be trusted. Similarly, in fundamentalist Christianity you must believe things without evidence, pushing down your mind’s very tendency to question, on fear of some kind of punishment after death — even in the face of contradictory facts in “the world” (that is, everything outside the Christian church). In some fundamentalist and evangelical denominations it is even taught that Satan is essentially running the world therefore everyone outside the church is involved in a conspiracy (though they may not know it) to turn you away from God and cause you to lose your salvation. The most obvious example is in the rampant denial of the Theory of Evolution and all cosmological theories of the beginning and evolution of the universe because they are not compatible with the creation myths in Genesis.

For an example of how the conspiracy theory is constructed, here is the explanation from a creationist text I was given as a child to explain why many scientists don’t believe in God. Basically, according to the author of this book, the atheistic scientists all have some sort pact to suppress all the evidence that might point to a supernatural creator of the world. So don’t trust science and don’t trust the scientists. Don’t even trust your reason if it leads to doubt their teachings. This sort of thinking is not only in books from my childhood, but is also present in the Ark Encounter park which was just opened in my home state.

“The only reasonable explanation we can imagine [for the existence of the universe] is God. But still there are many people who don’t believe in God! Why? Romans 1:18 says men who don’t believe “suppress the truth.” That is, they simply will not believe, whatever the evidence!”

“It’s also important to realize that some scientists even argue for their theories against the evidence because they exist on trying to explain things without God.”

source: It Couldn’t Just Happen: Amazing Facts about God’s World, by Lawrence O. Richards

I grew up believing that I was a sinner. No one ever told me explicitly that I deserved hell, or that I was unworthy. They didn’t have to, because those concepts were fully engrained in the songs we sang and the scriptures we held to be the ‘Word of God.’ I could put two and two together. God loved me because he created me and he chose to love me, though he would never tell me personally for some reason and it wasn’t because I had any merit whatsoever on my own.  “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” I always had to keep in mind that I was sinful and unworthy because if I didn’t I’d be guilty of spiritual pride. There were also the countless ‘testimonies’ I heard from adults declaring that when they tried to do what they wanted with their own lives rather than submitting to God’s will, they ended up mired in drugs and alcohol or financial ruin or depression or some other really bad situation. “When I tried to live my own life, according to my own thoughts and feelings” they all declared in their own words, “I was a complete and total failure.” The implication being that if I tried to run my own life instead of waiting for God to tell me what to do, the same things would happen to me.

What better way to imprison the mind of a child? I can’t help thinking maybe other kids growing up in the church had other mitigating social influences from outside — from school guidance counselors, perhaps, or participation in youth sports — but I guess I wasn’t so fortunate in that area in my teen years. My world opened up tremendously in my college years, but my lack of confidence in myself and my fear of failure lasted long after I gave up my belief in God. Even when I successfully graduated with a bachelor’s degree and got a job in my field soon after, showing that I was fully capable to reach my goals.

I have been an atheist for over ten years now and living my life as I wish, and it all hasn’t gone to shit yet. In fact, I have a wonderful marriage, a beautiful baby daughter, and a community with relationships richer than any I found within the church. I suppose those who do well in life without God don’t return to their church to give their side of the story though, do they? I’m still working on some issues of self-worth and on trusting my own judgement and feelings, but I’ve certainly come a long way from the fear of God’s disapproval and of all things “worldly.”

Now my goal is to protect my own daughter from being taught those same messages of unworthiness and distrust of science and reason. No one will teach her that she is defective or unworthy on my watch, even if their intentions are golden.

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Emotional First Aid

In my last post, I wrote about why I was disappointed by bell hook’s book All About Love. On further reflection, I think it reminds me too much of how I’d listen to sermons in church that would lay out the very real human problems of emotional pain but then — while I was eagerly waiting a good bit of advice — would say something like “keep your eyes on Jesus” or some such useless guidance. I did read further into hook’s book, but the next chapter went into a sermon about how “perfect love casts out fear” according to the Bible and therefore if your love has any fear in it is not perfect. Sorry what? I think the problem here is the idea of searching for some sort of perfect transcendent ideal spiritual love — which, sorry, we are always going to fall short of. But that is fine because it not what we need. That is still basically religion. While hooks doesn’t advocate anything like fundamentalist religion — even harshly criticizing  “organized religion” frequently — there is still this sense that we are broken as human beings and need something spiritual to fix us. But really what we really need is belonging and acceptance and personal worth and social support, not some unattainable ideal of “perfect love.”

I returned the book and went was looking for an alternative, and I think I found a good one. I was going searching though TED talks for something inspirational to watch and came across this.

After watching the TED talk I went ahead and got his book Emotional First Aid on my Kindle.  While you can’t expect to buy a self-help book to solve all your problems, I have found this one to very accurate in describing basic emotional wounds — failure, loneliness, rumination, and others — and very simple and practical ways of helping them heal. (Also, importantly, there is guidance on when simple ‘first aid’ isn’t enough and you should probably see a professional therapist.) It’s what I always wished from those sermons but never got. And none of it involves praying, or looking to a higher power, or any spiritual fluff. It’s not an atheist book exactly, and I have no clue what religious beliefs the author might hold, but it’s godless in the best kind of way.

After my complaints about the other book, I decided it would be good to mention a good alternative. So here it is.

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Upcoming Series: Why I am an atheist.

“Why are you an atheist?”

“Why don’t you believe in God?”

I have gotten these questions before. I actually have quite a lot of reasons that I am an atheist, but I’ve found that when someone just asks me point blank I freeze up because I can’t think of where to start. Because I’m not always sure of which reason would be the most effective for the asker to understand, because I don’t usually know their background or what their concept of “god” looks like. While considering this situation, I thought maybe instead of trying to jam my reasons for being an atheist into a single post why not have a series of posts where I can address each reason one by one? So, over the course of the next few months I will be writing and posting a series of essays on the various reasons why I am an atheist.

As a preview, here are some of the reasons I am looking forward to explaining:

  • The conspicuous absence of God, and my repeated observations of God being “given the glory” for human actions and chance events.
  •  The historically dubious origins of Christian doctrines, including early church disputes about the nature of Jesus himself.
  • Moral philosophy and the “Divine Command” theory.
  • The soul: how I became convinced that mind=brain and that the idea of the soul is superfluous.
  • Sexism and injustice in the Bible (probably other holy books too, but I don’t know the other books well enough to comment on them.)
  • The constant replacement of supernatural and religious explanations with understandable scientific ones.
  • Evolution, the origins of life, and creationist lies I was told when I was young.

And this list may change during the series, as I think of other things. If any of these intrigues you, make a note in the comment section and I will try to get to that reason sooner rather than later.

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My Take on the “Straw Vulcan”

I was thinking of doing a bit of a writeup on the “Straw Vulcan” talk but it looks like Greta Christina beat me to the punch. I hate to merely regurgitate what I have read on someone else’s blog, but I do have a bit to add from personal experience. I have always been a bit puzzled and irritated by depictions of reason and logic as being cold, inhumane, and totally oblivious to all human desire and opposed to all emotion. Mr. Spock in the original Star Trek is a good example (though I think the character has improved with time), but I can think of another more recent example in the movies. I am thinking of a scene in I, Robot (2004, staring Will Smith).

The movie is not based exactly on Isaac Asimov’s book I, Robot but it does borrow from his famous “Three Laws of Robotics.” A robot in Asimov’s model must obey these laws because they are built into their positronic brains. If a robot were to somehow fail to obey one of these laws, for instance if a robot fails to prevent harm from coming to a human being, it causes a conflict in the brain that can totally destroy the robot. Most of Asimov’s stories center around robots being put into situations where they face a dilemma in obeying the Three Laws.

  1. A robot may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
  2. A robot must obey the orders given to it by human beings, except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
  3. A robot must protect its own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.

To make a long story short, the society in which Detective Spooner (Will Smith) lives is manufacturing and using a bunch of pretty humanoid robots to do errands, housework, etc, for their human owners. Spooner does not like the robots, and it turns out he is right to be a bit paranoid. The robots are all hooked up to a huge super-smart, super-logical supercomputer called V.I.K.I. (acronym for something, but I do not remember what), who, after much thought, comes to the conclusion that humans are a danger to themselves and that the only way for “her” to obey the First Law of Robotics is to make all humans captives in their homes so that they cannot harm themselves or others. She claims that her logic is perfect, and no one ever challenges her on that front. (Sonny, BTW, is a robot in the story who was programmed to “evolve” by his maker and has developed human-like feeling and self-identity. For more information, just watch the movie.)

V.I.K.I.: Do you not see the logic of my plan?
Sonny: Yes, but it just seems too heartless.

Movie quotes from http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0343818/quotes

This bothered me. V.I.K.I.’s logic is NOT perfect here, as it is clearly based on a two-dimensional misunderstanding of humanity. Locking up humans against their will does do them harm, but no one seems to think of explaining that to V.I.K.I. Maybe if they had, she might have frozen up from inability to obey the First Law. Her conclusions were way off, and therefore her logic was clearly not perfect.

But is this how our society views logic and reason? I should hope not.

Anyway, here is a link to Greta Christina’s blog post, and below I have also posted the video of the original talk at Skepticon. Enjoy 🙂

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