I have stated before that there is a part to Christianity that is somewhat intrinsic to a poor understanding of the idea of Original Sin and Grace. Unfortunately, when we all learn about this – at least for those of us who were raised as Christians (regardless of how conservative/liberal or how fundamentalist vs all-inclusive that it may be).
Original Sin, at its base, simply means that we – as humans – are not perfect, and cannot ever even hope to be perfect.
But when we learn about it as children, all we have to compare that simple fact of imperfection is when we are bad, and punished by our parents or others who are raising us. And because they are human too, and thereby imperfect, they were taught in the exact same way.
Look, I’m not talking about the discipline/punishment argument out there of whether or not you should spank your child. I’m talking plain and simply the fact that every person responsible for a child teaches them right from wrong, usually in some way in a related fashion to how they themselves were raised (either by copying their caregivers’ choices, or by intentionally doing the exact opposite of their own caregivers’ choices).
And it is an important part of every child’s development to learn how to live in the rules and customs of their society.
And, this, is where yesterday’s post on socialization can become troubling. When we learn about ethics, personal responsibility and being able to be conscious of the concepts of right and wrong, these things can often be colored by how your caregivers and your society reacts to you the person.
Let’s go ahead and take me as an example here, because I really can only tell things like this from my own personal, subjective perspective. As a child, I experienced quite a lot of anxiety, fear and negative anticipation when dealing with my parents and any other form of authority figure. Notice, please, how I am stating that. I am NOT in any way stating that my parents or teachers caused those emotions.
But, it comes down to feeling that I was disappointing my caregivers and those under whose authority I fell. I wasn’t good enough for the doctors, the psychologists, the dietitians because I was OBVIOUSLY (to them) lying about my food intake. I wasn’t good enough for my parents or grandmother, because I would hear conflicting messages – both that I should be proud of myself and do my best because I was special, but that also if I didn’t somehow “measure up” to their expectations, then — in my mind — I was obviously bad.
This, my friends, is how easy it is — even when your parents are doing their absolute best to raise you in a healthy way — to assimilate shame, self-directed guilt, and yes, even that excessive self-criticism that many of us refer to as self-flagellation.
And, sadly, in many ways, Christianity — at least for me, and for some of the individuals I have ministered to in the past — sets us up to assimilate these issues.
It isn’t just about the fact that martyrdom is considered an extremely blessed way to die; that giving up your life for your faith is the ultimate sacrifice stated clearly in many different places in the Bible. It’s that suffering, humbleness, allowing others to take advantage of you are all considered things a “good Christian” is supposed to do.
We are, by the faith we are raised in, set up with an expectation that we “deserve pain” and therefore “must be punished.”
But, what about all of those Christians out there who haven’t assimilated that with their mother’s milk?
All I can say is what I have seen. If a Christian has been able to work through those false understandings that many of us assimilate as children, and can ALSO assimilate that while they, as imperfect human beings, cannot be saved by themselves but only by the “Grace of their God” then they will, most likely also be able to work through that internalized shame and guilt (eventually, even for the best Christian, it’s a tough prospect).
But, for those of us who – no matter how hard people have tried – just cannot accept that grace, are as many Christians say “wandering in the dark.”
Just because we may be “wandering in the dark” does not mean we necessarily stay in that emotional and spiritual wasteland. For me, it was finding Wicca and Neo-Paganism – that grace my church and my family spoke of was never real to me until I found and started practicing witchcraft. And for someone else, it may be Hinduism, Buddhism or even atheism.
And, yes, I do still struggle with that internalized self-flagellation. But, I am working through it and couldn’t do it without the support of the Divine. For example, I made an error that could cost us money. In the past, I would allow myself to sink into that well of self-criticism and whip my emotional darkness into a frenzy of self-hate. But, all that does is destroy what I am trying so hard to rebuild. Take accountability for the error? Of course. Make amends, if possible? Definitely. Allow myself to suffer and be taken advantage of because I made the error? NOT!!!
This is one of the major changes I have been making over the last two years. Part of why it was so easy for my ex to gaslight me was because I remained fearful of disappointing anyone I believed I loved. I expected to have him disappointed in me. I expected to be blamed for every bad or difficult experience we had, and more often than not beat him to the punch and blamed myself. And I expected that if I could just be closer to being perfect, then he would suddenly treat me the way I so desperately wished to be treated. That it wasn’t his fault, that I just didn’t love him enough to save himself from himself.
Do I still fail at times? Definitely. Sometimes I do slip into that spiral of self-hate. But, I also have reminders that I am not intrinsically evil and that I do NOT deserved to be punished for my very existence. And that is one huge step forward for me.