So Many Sick People
A sea of sick people. Not bad people. Just regular people who’ve joined at least one cult. I believe that bad religion, religious abuse, and spiritual trauma hurt the individual, the community, and the world. Right now, the United States has more than one pandemic on its hands. Bad theology creates opportunity for power-seekers to abuse people who are looking for something outside themselves to believe. We can become violently ill with bad religion; it makes us vulnerable to narcissistic leaders who use people for their own gain.
Bad religion looks like . . .
- Secret self-loathing
- Fear of the “other,” the “outsider,” the “un-believer,” the culturally different (from you)
- Belief in “evil” that lurks everywhere, waiting to entrap you
- Sense of one’s inherently flawed/sinful self
- Belief that the world is broken and you must stay away from “worldly” people
- Wanting people to be punished for their mistakes/sins
- Belief in the superiority of your race, your faith, your sexual orientation, your country . . . over others
- Feeling that God is judging you and everyone else and being disappointed
- Belief that “judgment day” is coming and you’d better be ready
- Attitude that this life doesn’t matter; only the “afterlife” matters
- Practice of “breaking the will” of children; belief that children are born immoral/evil and must be shaped into something more presentable to God
- Belief that you cannot trust your emotions or thoughts; you must listen to your religious leader for what to do next
Lumping Things Into “Good” and “Bad”
Sorting things into categories of “good” and “bad” limits our thinking. And I realize that every faith tradition brings something of value to its members; even a church that I see as toxic provides something to someone, even if it’s temporary. No religion can be all good or all bad.
But in light of last Wednesday’s events at our nation’s capital, I’m choosing to label some American religious threads as simply bad. Bad for you: like eating too many candy corns or skateboarding on the freeway. These doctrines prescribe what you should think, how you should vote, and what pronouns God prefers for you.
On the other hand, good religion nurtures your spirit and encourages you to get quiet and listen to your inner being. It’s not always so black and white (an intentional, if overused metaphor), and our spiritual needs change over time. But I know this for sure: good religion makes you a better person, a kinder, more reflective, aware, and peaceful person. No matter where you find it (e.g., in the woods, a cathedral, a concert hall, a classroom) good religion creates space in which you can hear, see, sense the divinity in every small creature and every tree. Practicing good religion calms your parenting and your nervous system and instills hope for a better world here and now . . . one where everybody has dignity and worth, just as we are.
I know I won’t convince you to leave a church where you strongly identify. But if you want to leave a bad-for-you church system, this coming series is for you. Stay tuned . . .