I’m a member of a Facebook group where we discuss difficult faith questions. We consider ourselves almost heretics, because a lot of what we discuss is what some would call heresy in that we are discussing things not normally ‘allowed’ in churches – things like Biblical inerrancy, Hell, Universalism; however, we assert very strongly that God is a God of Love, and that all that He does is infused through with His Love.
As a bit of background, it’s a good idea that I tell you that many of the Heretics come from a background of abusive churches (and some are still in them). These people have found, or are in the process of finding, their true freedom in Christ, without the strictures of man-made rules and regulations as imposed by these abusive churches. Don’t get me wrong, most churches are not abusive like that, but those still in abusive churches are trapped in the ‘system’ and many don’t even realise it. And so what we discuss in our group is freedom, Grace and God’s Love. And it can be difficult to communicate to other Christians just what that freedom looks like, and it can be scary for those still ‘trapped’ to see the freedom we enjoy. I have written on this before, and today’s blog post, a great piece by Anna Dialdas, a member of the group, complements my piece nicely. It’s phrased as as challenge to the Heretics, hence my title today:
One of the things I would like to explore is “How do we approach the healing of human beings trapped in toxic religious belief systems?” That is, how do we support the possibility of freedom and peace and wholeness of such people whose condition we all once shared in?
Now, I don’t know all the complexities of what constitutes any core belief but it does seem to be shaped by many influences which may include physiological, psychological, neurological, familial, social, personal and emotional mechanisms (amongst others) that develop over time inside a person. Moreover, conscious beliefs are often attached to a spider web of unconscious beliefs, that together have such strong emotional attachments that are fundamental to who we are as people.
Changing a core belief therefore entails changing one’s identity and developing a different sense of self. It is therefore unsurprising that when beliefs are tied to one’s identity and sense of worth as a person, there seems to be some kind of energy that binds a person to their beliefs, effectively creating a blinding and numbing effect that keeps all contradictory information out. The point I want to make here is that I am not convinced that this is the result of a moral deficiency. Although this may well be a product of the ego, it is a defensive shutdown essential for [the ego’s] survival and I don’t believe it is the consequence of anyone’s willful, conscious choosing. We all desire to be safe; we are all trying to survive, and this is not a desire that ought to be judged. This is important because recognizing this I think, will largely determine how we approach others who believe differently.
Whatever the combination of complex mechanisms that underpin our core beliefs, the fact is, people have reasons for why they believe what they believe – even if it is a lie. It is my suspicion, however, that the root or foundational belief that underpins a belief in retributive or sacrificial religion is the grotesquely wretched belief that one is defective at their core. What we are dealing with is a group of people with such a distorted view of their worthlessness, they genuinely believe that are evil, wicked, and vile and are using religion to obliterate, or perhaps to say more accurately, cover over their intolerable and unendurable sense of worthlessness; and to appease the wrath and punishment they think they deserve. And I think we can all agree that anyone who holds such a belief is suffering internally.
No matter how rigid or stubborn or self-righteous or angry a person may appear, I believe that EVERYONE who holds to toxic beliefs are themselves suffering and we need to recognize their pain and respond compassionately. However, what I witness online [speaking generally and not specifically to this group] are attempts to win an argument through shaming the opposition — something that will almost certainly result in resistance, resentment and rage. But, even more than that, what I also see are jumbles of automatic responses that are the reliving of past emotional experiences — reactions to buried hurts in the past that have been triggered by the conversation– that serve no purpose in the healing of another or self.
Painful situations can be avoided if we pause to observe our own mind- states as well as the mind-state of others before entering into an interaction. Before attempting to engage in conversation, ask yourself: “Why exactly am I offended by this person’s beliefs? Have I healed from the bitterness and resentment I have felt towards religion and religious authorities, or am I projecting my anger and pain unto someone else who is still trapped in that system of belief?”
To share a bit of wisdom I read recently, “the belief that anyone “should” be any different than he or she is is toxic to oneself, to the other and to the relationship. Although we may believe we are acting out of love, when we are critical of others or work very hard to change them, it is always about ourselves” [In the Realm of Hungry Ghosts – Close Encounters with Addiction. By Gabor Maté]
In summary, “tough love” in the form of harsh criticism and judgment is almost sure to fail. Beliefs have strong emotional attachments that are glued to one’s core identity, and to attack a person’s beliefs, is to attack their sense of self. The result is that the person will shut down, withdraw or snap back with emotional edge and what we end up with is an exchange of toxic emotions. Further, it dismisses the complex origins, nature and structure of belief systems, wrongfully ostracizing people for beliefs they hold to, as if it is a moral defect on their part. Finally, it ignores the suffering and pain that the human trapped inside a toxic belief system is experiencing – whether or not they are conscious of that suffering.
As heretics, defined by your Love, I therefore challenge you to approach your interactions with others of differing beliefs out of compassion and a true desire to end their suffering. Only when we have a clear recognition of a person’s suffering, can there be a true desire to help. The goal is never about changing anyone. Ever. But if we can assist in the healing of another human being, let us do so compassionately, remembering that we all once sat in their darkness and pain.
– Anna Dialdas