When this phrase popped into my head I realized this often a reason behind Christians (as well as believers in other religions) doing some pretty terrible things to people. Take this woman who is treating her son as if he is dead (for getting married to another man). But she must behave like this because Jesus says you must love Him more than your family (according to her interpretation of certain verses).
I used to be able to understand where this woman is coming from. We must sometimes make sacrifices for God because we love Him and He loves us. At least that is how the reasoning goes.
But here is the problem. The unspoken threat hovering over all this love is that God will hurt us (if we don’t obey/love Him) and He will certainly hurt those we love if they don’t get their act together in time. Essentially…God’s got a gun to your head.
Don’t waste my time arguing about God’s justice, how offensive our sins are to Him and how anyone who ends up in hell made that choice. Justice isn’t torturing people (not even in this world). No one had a choice about being offensive to God besides the first two people He made. And God was the one who made the choice to make a universe/realms that would include hell knowing He would be sending most of the people He created there. And to top it all off He could only be appeased by the slaughtering of animals culminating in the slaughter of a human being. (I no longer understand why we think other religions/cultures who engaged in human sacrifice were so barbaric). Even the one true God (of Christianity) demands someone’s blood had to be shed in order to be pleased with people again. Even though it was His own Son laying down His life there is no getting around the fact that God still “needed” a human sacrifice in order to give Himself permission to love us. Many Christians basically present God like an abusive spouse rather than a loving parent. (This is a summary of some things I heard and learned growing up in Christian communities. I don’t necessarily hold to all these ideas anymore).
Anyway back on topic…
I also (used to) get the fear part of all this. Though at the time I didn’t realize I was admitting God’s love was too weak and ineffective to fully redeem and restore most if not all the people He made. And unfortunately as history often bears out fear keeps people in line as much if not more so than love.
Another sad aspect to this is the fact that some people would like to believe that God is better than the one we’ve been told exists (This is elaborated on quiet well over at Fred Clark’s blog). We wish we could believe that God loves more than just a select few. We wish someplace like hell didn’t ‘have to’ exist. We wish we had the freedom to just love others without judging and shunning them when necessary. But God does not give us that permission. If we start diverging from the abusive narrative we’ve been given of Him we risk Him pulling the trigger on us. Better safe (with an abuser) than to be one of His victims.
One of the things that got me thinking along these lines comes from a passage from a book I read recently. The book is entitled ‘Scared Selfless’ and is the true story of a woman who was horribly abused by a sadistic pedophile throughout her childhood. She developed multiple personality disorder ( aka dissociative identity disorder). Eventually as an adult she sought therapy, started remembering the terrible things she suffered and went on to get a Ph.D in psychology and to help others who have suffered trauma. Here is one of the parts that stood out to me the most.
“ Any victim who wants to stay alive knows it’s in her best interest to make nice with the sociopath in charge. Ironically, though, the victims decision to placate the perpetrator actually binds her to him more effectively than chains ever could. This is because in order to form a bond that can ensure her safety, the victim must seek out whatever is relatable and human in the abuser while ignoring all that is bad and monstrous. This herculean feat of pretense requires that the victim ignore her true judgements, intuitions, thoughts, and feelings.
This is the essence of brainwashing. Once a victim has made the mental leap to pretend that the monster abusing her is really a decent guy, she is primed to believe just about anything that monster says…
Ultimately, this is the goal of every brainwashing campaign, whether explicitly waged or not: to convince victims that they are powerless and that their only hope for salvation is the guy abusing them. In the victim’s mind, the abuser becomes an all-powerful being, capable of controlling anyone and anything. The victim has no choice but to submit.”
Now interestingly the author rarely mentions God or her relationship to him in her book. What she is describing above is in terms of what her abuser did to her as a child and how she related to him in order to survive. But frankly I can’t see any difference in this description between this child abuser and the way many Christians present and understand God to be.
While I don’t actually believe God has a gun to anybody’s head I am still working on deconstructing some unhealthy ideas and doctrines that have simply become standard orthodoxy in many if not most corners of Christianity. Sometimes I wonder if it should really be this hard to believe in someone/something good. So far all I can say is I believe the truth about Him is far more beautiful and is therefore still worth seeking after.