Lately I’ve been struggling to find my voice in my non-fiction writing. A general fatigue has settled in, taxing my nerves. While I do want to write things that help people cope with the harm faith can cause, I certainly don’t want to be boring. Sure, some people might need to hear something repeatedly, but there’s a veritable buffet of blogs and publications out there which cater to that. If I had a general theme to what I’ve been writing recently, it’s putting a more positive focus on things. This is something I’ve needed to do as part of my coping with depression.
Sometimes, I find reminders of things that I’ve put behind me, but they still might trap others.
Specifically, I’m talking about the view of sin in Christianity. This post by John Branyan over at his blog “The Comedy Sojourn” sums up that view on sin quite excellently. He writes about how some Christians are trying to make sin this thing of beauty, but really it’s something ugly. It’s a stain that rightfully condemns people to everlasting torture in Hell. Calling it “brokenness” is sugarcoating a very bitter pill.
And he’s right about his portrayal of the concept.
Sin is this thing that is so offensive to the Christian deity that it merits exclusion from its presence. It is the thing that causes people to die, to have to suffer in their life, and to know what pain and agony mean. This thing called sin is what prevents people from knowing the Christian deity, from being good enough on their own to enter into communion with the Christian deity. Everyone is born with a nature that makes them sinful (either automatically or to have a propensity for it, depending upon denomination).
A corollary to this idea is that nobody ever is good enough for the Christian deity. Nobody can earn their way to a state of grace or goodness. There are no people good enough for Heaven. None can escape this condemnation.
Well, unless you receive the remedy that this faith just happens to have.
This is why it traps people in the Christian faith.
It doesn’t take much for people to feel disappointed in themselves; everyone has suffered some sort of personal setback in life. Sin capitalizes off of that, using its remedy of salvation to “forgive” people of that. For some people, that state of affairs works. But for so many other people, the guilt is staggering. And there are no apologies for it from fundagelicals. After all, it’s what encourages people to go to church on Sundays.
In this light, the doctrine of sin seems predatory. It can get worse for children, especially for ones who misbehave (or who have parents who think their kids misbehave). One example is how it affected me. From as early as seven, I remember thinking I was going to go to Hell. The fear is pretty real in someone who doesn’t have the ability to tell between fact and fiction. Nobody was there to remind me that one’s parents and other adults can be mistaken. All I had was the idea that I’d never be good enough.
That’s pretty merciless, isn’t it?
If Christians are right, we’re all doomed to eternal torture if we don’t truly and honestly accept the gift of salvation from the Christian deity’s sacrifice of itself to itself on our behalf. People who never hear the message are going to suffer this fate. Apostates like me are going to suffer this fate. Christians who didn’t fully accept Jesus are going to suffer this fate. All of this is because we suck at being perfect.
Admittedly, it took me not being religious to figure out how to be less merciless to myself. There are still times when I forget that. Most likely it will be a permanent struggle. At least now I don’t have to do it as a matter of course. Instead, I can chalk it up to the manipulation of a faith that would rather have distorted my perception of reality than argued its case.
According to Christianity, I will never be good enough. I can’t even try to be good enough. Is that really a message we want to tell people? To give into being as awful as you think you are because that’s how some invisible force designed things? Maybe there’s a better option, one that doesn’t rely on unproven divine forces to scaring people into submission.
36 thoughts on “Never Good Enough”
When you come across a promising “better option” I hope you’ll let me know what it is!
It really depends on what people think is better, doesn’t it? I mean, for some people, they derive satisfaction from receiving news that they’re stained with sin and being absolved of it. To them, they might not think a better option is out there.
But to other people, they might grow and develop a view that doesn’t require they be redeemed from cosmic worthlessness. Instead, they derive their worth from experience or maybe other belief systems entirely. They might find it “better” because it’s more efficient, or because it gives them greater satisfaction.
Is sin a real thing that requires atonement or is it something that can be ignored for efficiency or personal satisfaction?
Personally, I don’t think sin is a real thing.
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Is there anyone in the world right now doing things you believe they should stop doing?
Sure! There are (sadly) people who might be trying to murder other people. They should stop doing that for the sake of their intended victims (as well as for themselves, so they don’t squander their lives in prison).
What would you call the behavior that these people should stop, if not ‘sin’?
John, I cannot believe you are still at this sin business. It’s hogwash. People are human and they make mistakes, which I tried to tell you on that other thread. “Love me OR ELSE” is a sick message.
SB, you are exactly right that ‘scaring people into submission’ is a bully’s position. (Well, you didn’t exactly say that, but it’s the truth). The church I was a member of for almost 40 years did not believe in that doctrine – in fact, I heard that message from every minister who was ever in the pulpit – that they didn’t believe in scaring people into behaving. There were never any sermons about hell – that doctrine was never promoted. The emphasis was always on doing the best a person could do and trying to be good steward.
To me, it’s (emotional) child abuse to terrify children with tales of sin and hell. All one has to do is read the blogs of grown adults who are still freaked out over this idea; it’s deplorable and has left its scars on many people.
John, if you are telling this bullshit to your grandchildren (it seems you’ve already brainwashed your daughter) you ought to be ASHAMED of yourself. I mean that sincerely.
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Ashamed of what?
I did link to JB’s post, so I’m kind of at fault for bringing up the subject this time.
That said, I can’t help but marvel at your experience in church. While Lutherans don’t harp on sin and hell, it still serves as the theme for services and study. At some point, I should probably write more about the different ways I’d heard about it. Still, it kind of amazes me that there are some Christian denominations out there that don’t have doctrines about sin and hell.
The United Church of Canada – the largest Protestant denomination (I think) has six million members/adherents – I’d have to check on that to be sure, but I’m on my iPad and I don’t find it as easy to cross-reference as my laptop. 🙂
The UCC is big on social action and it has ordained people from the LGBT community for years. It supports a woman’s right to choose. The drive is on right now to raise funds to sponsor refugees from Syria.
I have heard of individuals who did not have the same experience as I did in the UCC, however. Even though I no longer believe in their core spiritual beliefs, I support their Outreach efforts and I am very glad my church experience (and that of our entire family) was with that denomination. As I have said before, I have no negativity associated with the church or its people — I just came to a completely different understanding as I got older.
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As Carmen already knows Sirius Bizinus, my born-againism started in The United Church of Canada and it was all about hell at a United Church bible camp. Still today there are even within the church some very conservative members. Three years after being born-again I headed into Baptist circles and experienced a wide-range of hodge podge theology until I got out of those circles decades later.
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You know, somehow I’m less surprised by that, Zoe, and I don’t know how I should feel about that. I’m more familiar with churches that have conservative members domineering others than with liberal ones.
I don’t know if this happened in your church, but in ones I grew up in, people would eventually get run out when people in control of the church just decided not to like them anymore. It’s kind of scary.
Well, it depends on what kind of behavior we’re talking about. Some behavior should be stopped because I think it might be criminal or immoral (that is, outside my personal beliefs on what conduct is moral). Other behavior shouldn’t happen because I might consider it unethical (as per rules for professional conduct that many professions have). There’s also behavior which I find personally in poor taste (like wearing nothing but speedos to Wal-Mart on a noon shopping trip).
Just because I think it should stop doesn’t mean it offends some really high standard. That’s also why I wouldn’t call it “sin.” Sin is a Judeo-Christian construct describing why people are not deserving of entry into an afterlife on their own merits. Since I don’t believe there’s a deity to offend or an afterlife to avoid, I wouldn’t use that term.
“Just because I think it should be stop doesn’t mean it offends some really high standard.”
So what would you call those things that you think people should stop doing?
And wouldn’t you agree that they should stop because those activities are truly wrong, not just because you find them personally offensive?
“So what would you call those things that you think people should stop doing?”
As I’ve alluded to above in the comment you replied to, it depends on what sorts of things we’re talking about. I wouldn’t just blanket categorize behavior into one category.
“And wouldn’t you agree that they should stop because those activities are truly wrong, not just because you find them personally offensive?”
I’m not sure what you’re asking here. I apologize if I’ve used confusing language above. To be clear, I’m not saying that I’d classify behavior I think should stop just because I might find it offensive. Similarly, I’m not alluding to any sort of universal standard of conduct by which all behaviors should be judged. So, I’m not sure why that question is being asked.
Should people stop committing murder because it’s really wrong or is it just your personal preference? If there is no sort of ‘universal standard of conduct’ then none of us need worry about how our behavior affects others.
“Should people stop committing murder because it’s really wrong or is it just your personal preference?”
At the risk of repeating myself, could you please clarify what you mean by “really wrong”? The reason I’m asking is because I don’t think you’re talking about the same thing that I’m talking about, and I would like clarification to make sure.
“If there is no sort of ‘universal standard of conduct’ then none of us need worry about how our behavior affects others.”
I think that this concept is leaving the realm of what my post was about, and traveling into the sphere of a discussion on morality. To adequately explain my thoughts on it in a clear manner would require a post. Additionally, a new post would facilitate discussion for other people.
Something that is ‘really wrong’ would be a behavior that should be stopped regardless of your personal opinion about that behavior.
You stated that you do not believe sin is not real. If that’s true, there is no behavior off limits. Anything goes as long as it doesn’t violate the individual’s conscience. Is that what you believe?
So, if I’m understanding you, you’re saying that something which is “really wrong” is equivalent to sin. Would that be a fair restatement of your position?
Okay, so that’s where I think we’re not really talking about the same thing. I think that people can describe things as being wrong and take measures to prohibit and punish such wrongdoing without having to resort to religious standards to do so. A really good example of this are legal codes which prohibit murder; most every society I can think of has them. They exist independent of specific religious belief (or lack thereof).
In essence, I don’t need to condemn something into perpetuity in order to say it’s wrong, and people can agree with it in such a way to make it enforceable beyond personal preference.
That’s why I asked what you would call behavior that should be stopped. If not ‘sin’, what would you call it? Legal codes is a decent alternative concept.
You referred to the guilt brought about by the concept of sin as ‘staggering’ for some people. Guilt is not a concept unique to religion. The legal system refers to people as ‘guilty’ as well.
Would you say that legal codes are predatory and harmful to a person’s self esteem?
In my post, I thought I made it quite clear that sin is not just a statement of morality by Christians. Treating it as such would be dishonest of me. To be clear, sin is a Christian doctrine which explains why people are destined for eternal torment if they don’t adhere to other principles of the faith. Morality and immoral behavior are only part of that scheme. Prohibited thoughts are considered sinful, as well as violating other standards that the Bible or some denominations set forth.
It would be disingenuous to pretend that sin only talks about morality. For the reasons I cite (and those I’ve given above in response to your other queries), guilt in a legal sense is not equivalent to guilt in the Christian sense. Thus, they do not share the same qualities.
Arguments like the one JB presents above, show how difficult it is to talk about morality and moral reasoning.
“Realism” is particularly vexing, because it means something much narrower than we imagine.
For example: there is no reason I shouldn’t live forever (or spontaneously kill my neighbor). Some organisms are practically immortal, and my physiology differs little.
The fact is, I will die (and fail to spontaneously kill my neighbor – which, in fact, nobody does, despite its metaphysical standing as an open possibility. Even the people who wake up and kill their neighbor because the voices command it, do so because the voices command it.).
Each case is factual, but only one is “functional”, and therefore real.
I think the colloquial summary is: “If a frog had wings, it wouldn’t bump its ass a’hoppin’.” True that, but…
Your speedos comment brought back memories of a very very old Kiwi ad on TV 🙂
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That ad is awesome. If they showed it here in the U.S., people would buy their stuff.
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Interesting. So often foreigners don’t get our ads. That particular ad was shown in Australia as the product was sold there too, but they had to change the voiceover to say “bathers” instead of “togs”. The other two terms that often don’t translate well, “undies” and “budgie smugglers”, were left in place for the Aussies.
non fiction is hard… fiction is hard… writing is hard… if it wasn’t, everybody would do it well…
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You do it well enough, Art. I’ll be getting to your chapters soon, btw. I’ve just been nitpicking at my own book trying to get it polished. Sadly, when the muse strikes me, she uses a sledgehammer and a rag with chloroform on it.
I know the feeling… but I am ready whenever you are
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SB, I agree with you that the doctrine of sin is abusive to put it mildly. That being said, I do understand JB’s question – I still struggle with it. Who decides what is right and wrong? If I understand correctly, you don’t believe in a universal standard. Personally, I have resolved that I have my own values and that many atrocities grieve me, but that does not give me the right to judge another who does not have the same values as me. It appears that this is consistent with the perspective there truly is no universal standard and I’m further grieved by the thought that such meaningless suffering is experienced in the world, including that of children and I have no assurance there will never be any cosmic remedy for those who suffer so intensely, so needlessly and die without healing. I’m a sensitive person and it hurts.
About continued struggles with the terrors of hell, those experiences in the Christian faith prior to deconversion are so impactful that it leaves lasting damage on the mind regarding beliefs about sin that were associated with the God we knew to be as loving – a type of brain washing hard to overcome. I still deal with it at times, even though I no longer believe in it. (My apologies for the long post – following your blog now 🙂
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Long comments are fine; I have a tendency to leave them myself at times.
Moral standards can be tricky to describe, especially when deconverting. Fortunately, there are ways you can have your moral cake and eat it too; it just requires not resorting to deities to enforce things. I really will try to write something more on this to describe what I’m talking about in more detail.
To give a quick and dirty answer right now, I’ve found it helpful to think of things in quality of life standards. Thinking about morality and being a moral agent isn’t a function of promoting universal standards, but rather improving the quality of life for future generations. After all, they’re the ones who will have to live with our moral decisions. In that manner, morality is more of a duty and a call to action than just something that lets me judge others while doing nothing.
Where did American Christians get such a perverted idea of sin from? No one is born sinful. It’s a perverted idea I see in the few evangelical and fundamentalist groups in this country, but why on earth would it become a predominant theme in American Christianity? Surely sins are those actions that involve exploitation of another person. Why all the extra trappings?
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Actually, this view of sin is consistent with Biblical principles (Romans 5:12-21; 1 Corinth. 15:22). It’s been around for a long time, and it just hasn’t left U.S. churches yet. Part of the reason why it persists is that it gets sugarcoated (like the article I linked in the post argued).
Some churches are backing off from the harshest measures of the doctrine, but it’s happening as consensus is forming between denominations and geographical locations. With so many places out there, it’s not going to change quickly.
I think Paul has a lot to answer for. His world view seems so contrary to the message that originated in Jesus. He doesn’t seem to me to be a particlarly nice person before his road to Damascus experience nor after.
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