The Psychology of Christianity Part III

Posted: October 5, 2008 in The Psychology of Christianity

“…I know that the Lord is always on the side of the right. But it is my constant anxiety and prayer that I and this nation should be on the Lord’s side.” — Abraham Lincoln

The Role of Satan

One of the common threads within the structure of the myth is the hero. This person is usually the central character in the story who must overcome adversity to triumph in the end or learn some valuable truth. There are many heroes within the pages of the Bible, but arguably, Jesus stands out as the central character. For every hero, there is also the villain or antagonist. This character represents challenge or adversity to the goals of the hero. In the case of the Bible, this character is none other than the mega-villain, Satan.

Typically, Satan is attributed to any sort of force opposing God’s work. Apparently, Satan is able to enter the human mind at will, speaking with a voice that is at least as clear as God’s own voice. So insidious is Satan, that he is able to organize sinners and angels to rebel against God. With a work ethic that must rival only God’s own, Satan works tirelessly to subvert the thoughts and minds of vulnerable humans, causing them to sin. He is also conveniently the force behind any doubtful assessment or contradictory criticism against Christianity itself. The eternal souls of humanity are what hangs in the balance of this cosmic tug of war between God and Satan. The Bible foretells of Satan’s ultimate demise (20:10), but despite this, he is as determined as ever to win his share of souls.

Satan has bore many names throughout the Bible including the Devil, Interloper, Adversary, Deceiver, Serpent, among others. While all of these personas, in actuality, were written in context as different characters, they have been generalized into one all-encapsulating villain.
What fascinates me is the degree to which “Believers” use Satan as a scapegoat. Blaming some unseen malicious character for the cause of evil that exists within humankind is a useful way to remain aloof from owning up to “sinful” impulses and behaviors as being part of the whole self. It is also a rather convenient reason to have God around. Many modern Christians especially like to embellish the idea that Satan is powerful enough to keep a person from hearing God’s voice. When challenged as to the Devil’s purported omni-pervasiveness as being equivalent to God’s, Christians often demur, claiming that Satan has multitudes under his command like some kind of grand army or bureaucracy. According to the way in which Satan is presented by the Church, he is at the very least, extremely efficient at what he does, lurking around every corner of the mind, just waiting for the perfect opportunity to inspire those of us who are susceptible to sin.

This whole idea plays into the fantasy of some grand cosmic drama taking place with humans placed at the center. This is not the only instance of a human-centric philosophy. Throughout our existence, humans have tended to believe in a misunderstood presumption that we are at the center of everything. We once believed that we were the axis of the which the sun revolved around, for instance. Unrestrained, the human ego may think that it is central to everything, and all else is a mechanism designed for the purpose of facilitating the ego. This is evident within Bible literature, whereas humans were given dominion over the Earth by God (Genesis 1:28). This is yet another representation of the cultural bias of the monarchial system, where one group rules over all others with God sitting on his throne at the top of it all. This is both exploitative and imbalanced with the order of ecology, a subject of little or no importance to the traditions of the Bible.

But each time the veil of understanding is lifted a little further, our perspective shifts, and we realize that the universe is much bigger and more complex than we have understood. The more we learn about the universe, the more we see that we are mutual players with other organisms and realize our interdependence with the whole scheme of totality. If drama is what the average “Believer” seeks, what better than the infinitesimally complex grander drama of interconnectedness that exists between all organisms, rather than the simplistic, limited scope that the Bible presents?

Heaven or Hell…Flip A Coin

“If you died tomorrow, do you know where you’ll go?” Such rhetoric is intended to provoke doubt in the un-“Believer,” and project some sort of secret knowledge from the part of the “Believer” as to the afterlife. Inevitably, any serious debate about Christianity will land on whether or not a given person will end up in Heaven or Hell. This is usually the final arguing point of any devout Christian, the proverbial “ace up the sleeve.” This argument doesn’t hold up to basic logic however. If God (the big ’G,’ remember?), is omnipresent, or is everywhere, then how can there exist a place where He/She/It is not? Furthermore, the idea of Hell surely illustrates God’s un-love. If He/She/It loves us all, as the Bible clearly says, why would anyone be sent to Hell?

The whole premise of Christianity only works if you believe in Heaven and Hell. The idea that humans are potentially Hellbound comes from the Biblical concept of original sin found in Genesis, chapter 3. According to the Scriptures, Adam and Eve sinned by rebelling against God who, in turn, doomed all of their offspring (the entirety of humankind) to the potentiality of sin and death. This fundamental belief asserts that all humans, babies included, are born as “marked souls,” whether or not they have committed any sins. This puts every person in the rather unfortunate position of automatically requiring a Savior and therefore, the institution of Christianity.

The concept of Heaven/Hell polarization reveals much about the psychology of Christianity. Firstly, it reveals the Christian’s obsession with judgment of Earthly, or material matters. To equate one’s short-term actions in this transitory world as having eternal consequences worthy of Heaven or Hell is both unrealistic and shortsighted. Surely when one dies, the agendas and values of their Earthly existence cease to matter, or at the very least, change. For example, you can’t take your house, or cars or worldly prestige, or accomplishments with you to the grave; once you’re dead, you’re dead. Even if there is a Heaven or Hell, the things that matter to us now surely pale in comparison to the things that are eternal. If one has the scope of eternity, how miniscule the dealings and drama of Earth would be. It is only through our short-sighted human eyes that we get caught up in the act.

Another aspect of the Heaven/Hell concept is how Christians use it as a point of exclusion. Essentially, if you are a Christian, you belong to an exclusive club. But it is only through another Christian that a person can find out about this club and join in. Once you are in, you will be rewarded with eternal life. If you don’t accept, you will suffer eternal damnation. This is an example of in- and out-grouping. One group has the “inside scoop” on matters dealing with eternity, a subject to which humans are dismally suited to explain. This in-group believes that they are in touch with God and therefore have the ability to mediate between He/She/It and the others, or out-group. This comes out in the form of judgment, self-righteousness, exclusion, and many other negative forms of separatism. This divisiveness extends into nearly every aspect of Christian principles which are deeply rooted in the belief of possessing “God’s favor” through “divine right.” This is at best annoying, and at worst, deadly. How is it that Christians feel that they are more qualified to discuss matters of the afterlife, than non-“Believers?”

The in-group maintains that they are God’s spokespeople in a world where God’s voice is conspicuously absent. Their only “proof” is the subjective method of “hearing God’s voice, and relying on the Bible, a flawed and fallible collection of culturally-biased, humanly-tainted, and politically-motivated literature. Who could ever argue against those who claim to be right with God? Here is a case of one group of humans trying to lever superiority over another group of humans based on the dubious claims of in-group mentality. Who feels compelled to dissent if they are the ones on the “winning side?”

Feeling Rapturous anyone?

The idea of the Rapture, the eschatological event which heralds the second coming of Jesus Christ and the subsequent rescuing of the Church by him, is a fascinating concept. True “Believers” alive and dead will be swept away with Jesus in the clouds, sparing them from the horrors of the ensuing Tribulations that will envelop the Earth. A whole industry has sprung forth from this idea. Fictional book series proposing possible “Doomsday” scenarios have become bestsellers. Websites such as “RaptureReady.com,” have sprung up, promoting preparedness for the coming Rapture. In extreme cases, “Believers” might refrain from any sort of financial investment towards the future, as they are convinced that Jesus will return in their time.
There have been many anticipatory Doomsday cult-like groups that have emerged over the last 2000 years, each fervently believing that it will be their generation that will witness the second coming of Christ. The political map of the world has indeed changed, witnessing robust empires rising and falling, which has influenced the tides of perception towards “End-Times” events, but still no second coming.

The concept of the Rapture illustrates a deeper desire for escapism among Christians. By design, the Rapture implies both a fast track to escape the coming calamities that God will unleash upon the Earth, and a means to “live on” by never actually dying. This thirst for the Rapture among eager “Believers” is congruent with their fetish towards immortality. Immortality is arguably, the most extreme form of ego attachment that exists. It is completely askew from the natural order that can be observed within nature. Death is just as natural a part of life as birth, and to try to escape death is a futile endeavor.

The Christian’s aversion to death betrays their underlying fear of death. To most people, the idea of losing it all, the ground they’ve gained, the honor, the lessons, knowledge, and acquisition that comes from experiencing life is a dreadful thought. But to the eternal traveler, the journey goes ever on. It is only the ego that we fear to lose in the transition from this life to the next.

The escape from impending Earthly doom alludes to a deeper belief in the Earth as being a diseased, temporary planet. Just as God opted for a do-over according to Genesis 6, leading to the Great Flood and subsequent annihilation of life on Earth, He is foretold to seek vengeance against future generations by means of the Great Tribulation and destruction of Heaven and Earth. If one believes in such stories, they also believe that this world is a temporary, sickly planet which will be destroyed by God who will create a new Heaven and Earth. If this is true, why put forth energy into any sort of ecological conservation? This view is practiced in part, by those who put off any sort of future plans or investment into the environment and future generations, who claim that it is pointless to be good custodians of the Earth when clearly the Bible states that there will be a new Earth. They view humans as somehow being separate from everything else. Christians are taught that the world belongs to the Devil, and will be subsequently destroyed with him.

Putting It All Together

So what does all of this mean? Why have I spent so much time and energy on the subject of the psychology of Christianity? The sheer organizational capacity and staggering industry of Christianity should be a cause of concern among moderate-thinking individuals. Do I believe that Christians are inherently evil? By no means am I suggesting that the sincere believer in higher morals is out of touch with reality or has no inspiration toward doing good. Obviously, there are those who draw inspiration from the example of Jesus, and are therefore motivated in a positive direction. Sincere practitioners from different faiths have done the world at large a good service. But it is the very practice of division, exclusion, bigotry, intolerance, and absolutism that the extreme dogmatism of the Bible promotes, and which inherently undermines the greater need for progressive humanitarian objectives. Just as the institution of slavery has been abolished in most civilized societies, so should religious intolerance. There has been no greater need for humanity to draw together under the umbrella of our common inheritance.

We are at a crucial moment in our history, as the lines between church and state have been blurred in a frenzy of fearmongering brought on by fundamentalist groups pushing their agendas. The ultimate direction that they would take us is a new American Theocracy based on Christianity. This movement has used “freedom of religion” to promote their agenda, but in actuality, they would use this precept of liberty to undermine religious freedoms from other religious groups in America. Pastors and other Church leaders continuously flaunt our nation’s laws against campaigning for, or endorsing political causes from the pulpit, which is in violation of their tax-exempt status as a non-profit organization. According to section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue Service code, organizations with this classification are prohibited from conducting political campaign activities to influence elections to public office. This nation, contrary to popular belief, was not founded as a Christian nation, but a strongly secular one. Regardless of the spiritual leanings of the Founding Fathers, they advocated the separation of church and state, which, like parts the Bible, some Christians have conveniently chosen to ignore.

We live in a dangerous time when our elected leaders skillfully use Christianity to appeal to those who believe that current world events are tied to the whole storybook fantasy of the Bible and exploit this belief to spread fear, hate, and push America back towards a society of intolerance. For those Christians who have taken to warmongering and believe in a militant Christian nation, I would direct them to the teachings of Jesus, who advocated peace, turning the other cheek, and loving one’s enemies (Luke 6:27-31). Jesus was an iconoclast, fervently anti-imperialist and who scoffed at the institutional religions of the time. These are undeniable facts about the teachings and philosophy of the central character that Christianity is based around. So before you rush to call yourself a “Christian,” or follower of Christ, you might want to study and really learn about what he stood for. There’s some good stuff in there…

FINAL NOTE:

This essay on the psychology of Christianity has been a labor of love for me. It is something that I have had in the works for a very long time, and it feels good to finally have it finished. It has taken me years of working through the psychological damage of indoctrination and oppression that the institution of Christianity brought to be able to articulate my feelings on the matter. There are many forms of prison, some without bars, and some that we create for ourselves. Now that I have put aside the blinders of Christianity, I have been able to experience a richer, fuller life and to seek a much broader divinity, which I believe, resides within each and every one of us.

Comments
  1. Ron says:

    What you say resonates with me and I agree with a lot of it. I think that people and groups tend to invoke God when it suits their purpose. For example, the tunic belt buckle of German soldiers in WW2 had the inscription “Gott Mit Uns”..which translates as “God is with us” on it and according to popular culture Islamic Fundamentalist terrorists shout “Allah Ukbar” or “God is great” before giving their life in a suicide act. Now it seeems to me that a just and good God could not in all honesty ally himself, herself or itself to what happened in Nazi Germany or to the atrocity that was 9/11. I think it was Marx who said that religion is the opium of the masses and I think that some governments throughout history have used religion as a control mechanism. Of course at a micro level you could argue that if even one person believes in God then God does exist. That however may be the subject of a discussion one day over a pint of Smithwicks. I thank you for the obvious thought you have put in to these three pieces of work.

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