I’ve been silent for a while on the blog, and I really wanted to get back into some type of content here. There have been several topics I’ve considered, but I’ve had trouble settling on one. One thing I’ve been struggling with in my own personal life is my self worth. I know much of it is tied to my mediocre mental health, but I would argue that religion has contributed in a negative way as well.
I came across a sermon from the church I attended as a child. The sermon asked the question “What is Man?” What words did the pastor use to describe man: (like a) gnat, (as worthless as) dirt, stupid, sinners (bound for hell), and fragile. This is man. And while I have a nihilistic tendencies this is just a bit far even for me.
The sermon went on to elaborate that there is hope, though, g-d cares about the mote of dust that is mankind. And his love for mankind is where man can find his sense of worth. Only though g-d can man find meaning and purpose.
The sermon also stress mankind’s sinful and wicked nature. The “world” as a whole was described as being “ruled by Satan” and full of wicked people. Humanity was described as unable to be trusted with the care and taking of the world. And the earth as a whole was “cursed.”
I’ve discussed Original Sin before, but it seems to always circle back to that idea. That at one time humanity was a perfect race, but due to one man’s “sin” mankind as a whole is cursed. Wickedness abounds and only “god’s grace” can free humanity from “the curse of sin.”
I’d like to put a halt to the description of the sermon, and view how a child or a young adult interacts with this message. They are constantly reminded of their wicked / sinful behavior. Reminded of the fact that g-d is a g-d of wrath and justice, and that g-d hates your sin.
I was taught as a child that G-d is omnipresent (everywhere at the same time) and omniscient (knowing all), and he knows every wrong thing you ever did. Influential adults (Parents, Sunday School Teachers, Pastors) would list out your sins just to make it clear that children were by no means pure or innocent. Children were told they were liars, thieves, prideful, cheaters, and disobedient to god and their parents. You ever think hateful or angry thoughts about someone? That’s a bad as murder in g-d’s eyes. Teens were reminded that every single lustful thought was as bad as committing adultery with that person. You were literally cheating on your future spouse with your thoughts.
Speaking directly from my experience, as a kid it felt like I was always doing something “sinful.” And it did “weigh on my heart” as a kid. (I apologize for falling back into Christianese there). I felt that guilt heavily. My “conscience” told me I was wicked and evil for doing those things. (Even if that was something as simple as breaking a glass dish and hiding it instead of telling my parents.) I was conditioned into believing that I as a human being was worthless, sinful, wicked, and evil. And I fully believed that, and it formed a large part of my identity as I understood it. To be open, I still struggle some days with that thought. That I am depravity personified.
Christians are told that the great divine will willing take away that sin from your conscience and free you “from the bonds of sin” “washing you white as snow.” What was described to me was a complete forgiveness and a feeling of relief from all of the wickedness you had previously committed, a divine pardon of responsibility and feelings of guilt. Except, as a teen especially, I was unable to ever let go of those feelings of guilt and shame. And I got caught in a pit of shame that only seemed to grow deeper every time I reached out to the divine to ask for forgiveness (and never felt a bit of it).
Fast forward I’m in my late twenties and working on changing my outlook towards the world and humanity. Trying to see and acknowledge when humans get it right, and how humanity has a great capacity do great things. Trying to reshape my own views of myself. That I am much more than a “worthless sinner,” and that I can and will find good in myself.
I know fundamentalism will never change it’s theology regarding original sin, mankind, and wickedness. But I hope that the growing numbers of people leaving fundamentalism behind will continue to share their own stories of how these theological teachings and ideas have impacted them. And that hopefully that is enough to impact those still caught up in their harmful theological teachings.
You are not worthless, nor are you wicked. There is great worth, beauty, and strength in you.