|[from issue#1, 12/10, Religious Abuse]
i've lived with the continuing effects of my childhood religious training for all of my adult years. i'm 60 now (62, as of 6/12, ed.) and i've come to draw clear distinctions between religious faith, religious institutions, and religious abuse.
i don't adhere to any single faith but i am grateful for any and all religious truths. and i have established a reliance on a loving God in recent years that was lost to me in my youth.
i've come to feel that religious institutions should be viewed in the same way as other entities: when their practices are constructive, unifying and healing they should be credited and praised; when their practices are destructive, divisive and sick-making they should be challenged and criticized.
and, considering the special place that religious institutions generally claim in the public trust, particularly in moral and spiritual matters, they should be held to a high standard of conduct.
(GRN consumer survey, may 2007) i feel my therapists have failed to intervene with the ongoing effects of religious abuse. (while respecting the domain of religious faith) when a client exhibits the stress, pain or damage resulting from a religious teaching, it is the therapist's place, and responsibility, to say: i feel that this teaching or belief is injurious to your mental and emotional health. you are free to believe what you like, but it is my job to advise you against any belief which is harmful to your sanity and health.
recent news reports that pope benedict equates the ordination of women with child sex abuse triggered vestiges of the anger i've felt from the destructive experiences of my early Catholic schooling. experiences including what the psychologist john bradshaw called "poisenous pedagogy".
(editorial, 2006) "in the 60s i was educated in the concepts of grave, "mortal" sin, and eternal damnation. the horrifying belief in eternal punishment did not lead to healthy character development; it led to dread, obsession and perfectionism, lest i cross a wrathful and terroristic Creator; it led to fear of a "final judgement" which i might fail, and to feelings of hopelessness, depression, and supressed rage; and on the other hand, it led to self-righteous scorn for 'the damned'."
at 13, my natural discovery and investigation of my emerging sexuality was considered gravely sinful, "impure" and sick. it was equated with adult sexual infidelity, and threatened with eternal torment in Hell.
"i also received a schooling in physical intimidation and abuse, portrayed as discipline and Love, and i came to practice self-hatred as an expression of 'self-mortification' and Humility. [the film Heaven Help Us with donald sutherland accurately portrays the kinds of abuse in a Catholic grammar school of the time.]
as a result, i developed a deep moral confusion, and disbelief in any truly loving and forgiving God."
religion has not caused my mental illness, but it has made my survival and recovery from it far more difficult and painful.
the most painful realization is that an institution claiming to be The place of greatest comfort, healing, safety and guidance has been, for me, (after mental illness) the greatest source of frustration, sickness, suffering and despair.
the instruction to believe in The one, true God and to place no other, false gods before Him has, ironically, led me into the deepest confusion and sickness, as the God i was taught to believe in and to place my full faith in has proven to be utterly false, violent and insane.
"i intellectually rejected these teachings at 17, and at 56 i'm still recovering from the emotional effects." (editorial, '06)
judging from the current reports of child sex abuse by priests in Europe, and from the well-scripted expressions of dismay from Church and public officials, the lesson has not been learned over these decades; that is, the damaging effects of the clergy's privilege, hypocrisy and power, and of their ongoing indifference to the suffering of lay congregants.
before he died, pope john paul responded to the priest sex abuse scandal by instructing the faithful to "look at all the good priests". it was a classic example of enabling an abusive situation. and, 500 years after the actual events, he apologized for the mistakes and pain caused by the Spanish Inquisition. he failed to say that the murders, executions, tortures and degradations of non-believers were crimes and atrocities under any circumstances--and even more egregious when committed by followers of the One True God and the Prince of Peace.
for years i've asked if jesus truly died for me, because over my lifetime i have become critically ill--emotionally, mentally, physically and spiritually--for "jesus".
and i ask, if his sacrifice was a free and loving gift, why do some "christians"
threaten eternal separation from God if it isn't accepted?
(to the editor, november 2006) pope benedict's recent comments on the unreason
and violence within Islam invite consideration of a church whose founder walked on water and physically rose into heaven, and of a religion, Christianity, which instigated the Crusades and the Inquisition, and in America, fostered the institution of slavery.
jesus said "remove the splinter from your own eye first" (...before examining the corresponding faults within Islam.)
my initial focus has been on Catholicism because it comes from my own direct experience. other religious traditions have as much to answer for.
the twin towers immediately come to mind. the execution of adulterers, and the proposed execution of homosexuals. the governmental prohibition and expulsion of non-believers. religious prejudice against atheists and agnostics; the indoctrination of children against non-believers and infidels.
the assassination and threatened assassination of satirists and critics of ones beliefs. suicide bombers. the blowing up of a competing religion's shrines. the multi-generational war in Northern Ireland. the Serbian/Croat conflict. the Shiite/Sunni conflict. the Israeli/Palestinian conflict. the Hindu/Islamic separation in India and Pakistan.
the recent exaggerated and violent response from a substantial portion of the world Islamic community to the threat by a single Christian minister to burn the Koran gives support to the extreme charge that Islam is an unstable and violent--not to mention humorless--faith.
the entire record of human history is filled with religious prejudice, hatred, separation, privilege, hypocrisy, corruption, abuses of power, persecution, oppression, superstition, and delusion...
the continual damage done to individuals, groups, and entire peoples in the name of religious faith is a depressing indictment of its true nature.
giving a true account of religions' failings, here, in the present, is necessary for justice, healing and forgiveness, here; and necessary to prevent endless reoccurances, here (whatever comes after).
and a caution: that sincere belief in eternal punishment is the surest route to suffering it, judging from my own experience.
a final paradox: that the myriad abuses of religion in no way diminish the real truths taught by various religions, or the countless good works done by religious people and religious institutions.
"such welcome and unwelcome things at once, 'tis hard to reconcile." (William Shakespeare)
epigrams: equality is God.
forgiveness is completely selfish, and healing. resentments only contribute to more sickness.
no one in their right mind would choose to be mentally ill.
...some thoughts and affirmations:
a trinity: the wordless; an entity that cares for human beings; the human spirit.
the danger of fear is that it eats the body and shrinks the soul.
the danger of clarity is that when you think you've "got it", you ain't got it.
the danger of power, without humility, is that it eventually leads to delusion and death.
the beauty of ignorance is that you don't know something can't be done.
and, any time, the love you take is equal to the love you make.
biography: i have lived with mental illness for all of my adult years. nothing in life could have prepared me for the pain and struggle.
the essential reality is inconceivable, and the daily experience is often inexpressable.
i try to bring my recovery and healing into everything i am and everything i do.
my spiritual life is a constant source of strength and hope. and my Creator far exceeds the limits of my illness.
i've come to feel that, finally, serenity and joy are the greatest consolations and rewards.
afterword: i've tried to give a small sense of mental illness in the presentation of this journal: the disjointed, illogical daily narrative; the emptiness, and non-being; the confused, kaleidoscopic perceptions and untrustworthy reality; the extreme and unstable emotions in constant need of control, for safety and survival; the complete incomprehension and lack of curiosity from most "normal" people; and the abiding terror of extreme judgements and punishments from society.