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False Choice And Abusive Relationships


HitchWithMe
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There are some great parallels in which to process the way people will defend their relationships with a deity.  Some of these are very unhealthy and bare striking resemblance to unhealthy interpersonal relationships between people.  While we can objectively see the pitfalls of abusive relationships in interpersonal relationships in which the abused defend the abuser, we frequently gloss over similar behavior when the same thing happens between person and deity.

 

When confronted with the god of the Bible I often see a moral monster.  He commands genocide, mentions women in the same sentences as “chattle,” and gives regulations concerning how to maintain slaves.  While this picture is often veneered as the “god of the old testament” by modern evangelicals, we must remember that Paul gave explicit accounts of how slaves were to remain loyal to their masters and meek and mild Jesus makes it perfectly clear that the law remains in tact by saying: “I tell all of you with certainty that until heaven and earth disappear, not one letter or one stroke of a letter will disappear from the Law until everything has been accomplished.”  While secularist will see two different gods in the new testament and old testament as confirmation of an evolving Jewish society, evangelicals cannot claim the same luxury.
 

So what do we do with a god who is concluded to be clearly immoral by nonbelievers and the epitome of moral behavior by believers?  While I believe in a spectrum of answers to this question I still have to acknowledge that someone must be closer to truth.  Much can be said about a person’s perspective by looking at where they are coming from.  Someone in an abusive relationship assured of their partner’s goodness is not always the most objective reasoning force.  Often times it is the feeling of two extremes and being forced to choose one or the other: accept and enable immoral behavior as moral or consider that you are not loved as you would like to think, quite possible because you are alone.

 

I was watching a youtube video of the atheist experience when a theist backed himself into a corner with this kind of divine doublethink.  The theist was asked: “if god had ordered you to kill a 4 year old girl would you do it.  His quick, knee-jerk response was to say “no” but when he realized that an answer like that negated his own belief system - he changed and said he would kill a four-year old girl if his order came from god.  Apparently he was more willing to negate his own morality than his clearly broken belief pattern. 

 

When they pressed him further asking how he could say such a thing he responded by saying that a 4 year-old girl was just as sinful as any adult and might very well deserve to die.

 

And this is when faith moves beyond harmful and adds a dash of tragic.  Believers are so willing to save face for an immoral god that they would tarnish the innocence of a child to maintain their point.  This is a sad, sad thing.  I want to believe that this man’s first response was his most honest and that killing a child would be so far outside his moral compass that he could not give it a second thought.  However, if one wishes to distance oneself from the mindset of sacrificing children to honor god he will find himself at adds with biblical heroes such as Abraham, Lot and Yahweh himself.

 

How do we come to a point at which we defend and celebrate brutish behavior that is clearly hallmark of time and culture as something divine and moral?  While a relationship with a deity may be argued to be dissimilar from a relationship with another person, it is hard to deny that the god of the bible maintains conspicuously humanistic emotions and behaviors – but more on that later. 

 

I’d like to move the discussion to more concrete relationships that exist between people.  Interpersonal relationships may not be far removed from a relationship with a deity as most Christian theists insist that god is a person or at least like a person. Let’s look at relationships that theist and non-theists can agree are unhealthy.  It is my hope that these short sentences reveal much of the magnitude through context.

 

“He only hits me because he loves me.”

“I know it looks bad but I deserved it.”

“This was all my fault.”

“I was a handful as a kid and I needed hit.”

 

These are some of the justifications people use in defending the abuser in a relationship.  None of them are true.  All of them are harmful and involve unjustifiable blame-shifting.  I know this because the last justification listed above is mine. 

 

“I was a handful as a kid and needed hit” was something that was carved into the wall of my cognition.  It was a lens through which I saw my world and my world did not begin to shift away from that created reality until I spoke the words out loud to another person and begin to consider the unnecessary weight of guilt I had been carrying for over 15 years.  I was 27 years old and realized for the first time that an actual person would be the beginning of vindication while Jesus, the imaginary person, had been and would remain indefinitely silent. 

 

I think we get caught in a false choice when we come to points in a relationship like this whether it is a relationship with a person or deity.  The false choice goes something like this: I can believe that I am unloved (without a god) or I can believe that I am loved and (with a god) deserve the way I am being treated.  It’s a very simple choice – but in thinking we have to choose one or the other we essentially believe a lie.  My mother did and said unloving things while still trying to love me – she was not perfect nor did she ever claim to be.  A god heralded as the perfection of love and justice does not have that same option.  So in the wake of god’s nature and horrible happenings people can choose to think god as immoral and imperfect or they can affirm his perfection and take the medicine he’s given.

 

I have met many people who have been physically abused as well as those who have dealt with verbal abuse.  My mother was a hitter, a screamer, as well as an excellent accuser; I had a bit of both.  My counselor’s words were the beginning of my healing and the abandonment of the “silence of god” as some kind of response.

 

One of the worst feelings was that in word and thought I had defended both women: the woman who I knew loved me and the woman who beat me and said horrible things.  I had given the situation special credence and justified my mother’s behavior in a way that I would have proclaimed absolute nonsense if told to me by anyone else.  I had made a case of special pleading in my head because I was so afraid of the notion that the woman who hit me or the man who let it happen may have done so because they did not love me.  I may have been emotionally desperate but I wasn’t about to allow myself to feel utterly unloved.  So I made a decision: I deserved what was coming to me and I would find reasons to justify it however I could.

 

Do theists –especially evangelical Christians – make this same case of special pleading for their god?  I draw your attention to the description above concerning a man who said he would be willing to kill a 4-year old girl is ordered to do so by god.  In essence he has said that god is the source through which morality flows – god can do nothing immoral.  So if god commands something clearly immoral, that immoral action must be moral because ordered by god.  In a simpler form: my god does nothing immoral – until he does – then it’s not immoral.  We only have to take this example of being ordered to sacrifice children seriously if we take the bible seriously.

 

The sacrifice for our remaining in god’s good graces might well be our human dignity.

 

 

My time with a counselor may have been the first time that I allowed to consider that my mother’s behavior was unacceptable.  It was the first time that I began to think that much of what I had felt during childhood and adolescence was in fact not my fault.  And it was the first time that I didn’t feel caught between two options that I was unloved or that I was loved and my mother was justified in the way she behaved.  I was no stranger to a false choice and discovering a middle road between those two options was the beginning of a new life. 

 

 

My point here is not to rehash my counseling experience or celebrate my progress.  My point is to show that abusive and unhealthy relationships have elements and patterns which can be recognized and labeled as such.  This vision is especially clear for those removed from the situation not burdened by the emotions that arise from the situation itself. 

 

If we can see this so clearly in interpersonal relationships why can we not see it in our relationships with a deity? 

 

I have friends, neighbors and relatives who are in abusive relationships with a perceived deity.  They are in this relationship because they are responding to a false choice: consider the clear immoralities of god as moral OR be forced to begin to wrestle with the reality that no deity exists that is looking out for your own interests.  The stakes for true believers are infinitely higher as believing god to be immoral is a first class ticket to a miserable eternity.  This struggle for eternity combined with the intellectual schizophrenia induced by a vengeful god only clouds the air.  A person who is making decisions while considering eternal damnation in one hand or an empty cosmos in the other is hardly thinking objectively.  This unnecessary battle is often given to us as children and I have no idea how to go about finding a solution.

 

Real life is messy.  We are not perfect beings because no such being exists.  For theists who do believe in a perfect deity, the messiness of the world presents philosophical and theistic problems that go beyond the mess itself.  Anyone who has been in the clutch of any kind of abusive relationship knows it is possible to begin to believe things about oneself which are not necessarily true.  Theists do not have this option because they have brought infallibility into the equation of our shared existence with a perfect being.  No one should have to shoulder the weight of such a false decision.

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The relationship with a deity is definitely abusive.  "Believe in me or you will burn in hell" is the biggie.  I call it "faith at gunpoint".  I was born and raised in a fundy family.  I had a choice, sure, though the only choice was to believe.  That's how my relationship was with the Christian deity - believe or die.  That is a relationship based on fear and that is abuse.

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This reminds me of a sermon I heard yesterday that gave me a good laugh.

 

The pastor was talking about Stockholm Syndrome and what it does to people held in captivity by their desires or other people is they begin to downplay the terrible things those things did to them. He said the culture is in Stockholm syndrome with Satan and sin and how people have become convinced that sin's not that bad, but that it leads to misery and death (quite often by suicide due to extreme guilt). He then went on to say that "God" came and saved us all from the bondage of sin, so we are now free. I thought, "Oh really? Couldn't your relationship with your own god be a case of Stockholm Syndrome?"

 

This brought to mind a little idea for a script that sounded a bit amusing, but explains how with Christianity, believers are simply moving from one master to another, equally terrible master (though in my opinion, Christians still sin just as much as us nonbelievers do, so they are really still slaves to sin if they can't stop, right?) 

 

Satan/Sin: Come on slave, just one more shot or injection of that drug! You know you want it, now do it bitch! *cracks whip*

 

Human: This slavery to you is destroying my life! If only someone would come and help me!

 

Yahweh: Hello human, I have come to save you.

 

Human: Who are you?!

 

Satan/Sin (Facepalms): Aw hell.

 

Yahweh: You may not know me yet, but a long time ago, I sacrificed myself and brought myself back to life in order to pay the price for your soul. You are now free and will no longer need to be a slave.

 

Satan/Sin (burst out laughing): Damn, you sure got a good Poker face Yahweh! I guess you forgot to tell this human that his relationship with you would be very similar to a relationship with me, except you give some of your slaves fruit baskets more often than I do!

 

Yahweh: Shut the hell up Satan and get out of here before I drag your ass back into Heaven and have Michael the archangel beat the tar out of you again and throw you back out on the street.

 

Satan/Sin runs away in terror at the might of Yahweh.

 

Human: Yeah! I have been saved from Satan!

 

Yahweh: Yeah, you have, now begin worshiping me or I'll push you into a furnace and burn you into ashes.

 

Human: Well, you don't have a whip in your hand.

 

Yahweh: Of course! This is a free choice for you to make, just make sure you choose me!

 

Human: Well, you did come along and save me from Satan and my sin, thank you for saving me, once again!

 

Yahweh: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just make your damn choice already! I mean, uh, take your time making your choice.

 

Human (rubs chin): Well, Yahweh, you did sacrifice yourself in order to buy me back and you did scare Satan away by flexing your muscles, so you must be good!

 

Yahweh: So, will you choose to be my slave or will you choose to burn in the furnace.

 

Human: Well, I certainly don't want to burn in the furnace, but that's not why I'm going to be your slave. I will do it because you were so kind to me!

 

Yahweh: That's the answer I wanted to hear! Now, go out and tell everyone else to become my slaves.

 

Human: Who do I tell?

 

Yahweh: Tell Satan's other slaves to come to me. Even if they are happy with it, convince them that their sin makes them all miserable and they do not know it.

 

Human: But not all sin makes everyone miserable. It only makes some people miserable.

 

Yahweh opens the door of his furnace.

 

Human: Here I go to convert people into slaves for Yahweh! *walks away whistling*

 

Yahweh (crosses his arms): Yeah, I did it again.

 

Secular scientist (Screaming from inside of the furnace): Human slave of Yahweh! Run away from this prick! He's an immoral monster! Run! If you decide to think for yourself he will burn you in this furnace no matter how good of a person you are!

 

Yahweh: Shut the fuck up you stupid scientist! *slams door of furnace shut*

 

 

THE END

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This reminds me of a sermon I heard yesterday that gave me a good laugh.

 

The pastor was talking about Stockholm Syndrome and what it does to people held in captivity by their desires or other people is they begin to downplay the terrible things those things did to them. He said the culture is in Stockholm syndrome with Satan and sin and how people have become convinced that sin's not that bad, but that it leads to misery and death (quite often by suicide due to extreme guilt). He then went on to say that "God" came and saved us all from the bondage of sin, so we are now free. I thought, "Oh really? Couldn't your relationship with your own god be a case of Stockholm Syndrome?"

 

This brought to mind a little idea for a script that sounded a bit amusing, but explains how with Christianity, believers are simply moving from one master to another, equally terrible master (though in my opinion, Christians still sin just as much as us nonbelievers do, so they are really still slaves to sin if they can't stop, right?) 

 

Satan/Sin: Come on slave, just one more shot or injection of that drug! You know you want it, now do it bitch! *cracks whip*

 

Human: This slavery to you is destroying my life! If only someone would come and help me!

 

Yahweh: Hello human, I have come to save you.

 

Human: Who are you?!

 

Satan/Sin (Facepalms): Aw hell.

 

Yahweh: You may not know me yet, but a long time ago, I sacrificed myself and brought myself back to life in order to pay the price for your soul. You are now free and will no longer need to be a slave.

 

Satan/Sin (burst out laughing): Damn, you sure got a good Poker face Yahweh! I guess you forgot to tell this human that his relationship with you would be very similar to a relationship with me, except you give some of your slaves fruit baskets more often than I do!

 

Yahweh: Shut the hell up Satan and get out of here before I drag your ass back into Heaven and have Michael the archangel beat the tar out of you again and throw you back out on the street.

 

Satan/Sin runs away in terror at the might of Yahweh.

 

Human: Yeah! I have been saved from Satan!

 

Yahweh: Yeah, you have, now begin worshiping me or I'll push you into a furnace and burn you into ashes.

 

Human: Well, you don't have a whip in your hand.

 

Yahweh: Of course! This is a free choice for you to make, just make sure you choose me!

 

Human: Well, you did come along and save me from Satan and my sin, thank you for saving me, once again!

 

Yahweh: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Just make your damn choice already! I mean, uh, take your time making your choice.

 

Human (rubs chin): Well, Yahweh, you did sacrifice yourself in order to buy me back and you did scare Satan away by flexing your muscles, so you must be good!

 

Yahweh: So, will you choose to be my slave or will you choose to burn in the furnace.

 

Human: Well, I certainly don't want to burn in the furnace, but that's not why I'm going to be your slave. I will do it because you were so kind to me!

 

Yahweh: That's the answer I wanted to hear! Now, go out and tell everyone else to become my slaves.

 

Human: Who do I tell?

 

Yahweh: Tell Satan's other slaves to come to me. Even if they are happy with it, convince them that their sin makes them all miserable and they do not know it.

 

Human: But not all sin makes everyone miserable. It only makes some people miserable.

 

Yahweh opens the door of his furnace.

 

Human: Here I go to convert people into slaves for Yahweh! *walks away whistling*

 

Yahweh (crosses his arms): Yeah, I did it again.

 

Secular scientist (Screaming from inside of the furnace): Human slave of Yahweh! Run away from this prick! He's an immoral monster! Run! If you decide to think for yourself he will burn you in this furnace no matter how good of a person you are!

 

Yahweh: Shut the fuck up you stupid scientist! *slams door of furnace shut*

 

 

THE END

 

I like the skit - it's a nice parallel for a false choice. My favorite part was the bit about the fruit basket :o)

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