A friend this morning called to chat and vent about a blog post she had read that said that if someone will just read the bible enough, systemically enough, that they won’t have difficulties in life and that the decisions they face won’t be hard. Her response was the same as mine and it fits right into the ongoing theme of what I am working on which is deconstruction.
This kind of thinking can be found in any religious or spiritual belief system but because of my life and experiences, I will be focusing on where this thinking is in christianity and why it is wrong.
The idea that someone is sick or is facing challenges in life because they aren’t praying enough, reading enough scripture, or doing enough is such a toxic one because if you follow it to it’s logical conclusion, not leaving the path of that logic at all, you will end up having to agree with these beliefs:
- A woman is genetically predisposed to having breast cancer and her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother all died from it, but it is her fault for not praying enough and reading enough scripture that she gets it and also dies.
- A young boy is forced to kill his own parents in order to not be killed himself because he didn’t read the scripture enough and pray enough. It is his fault, not the fault of the warlords that came into his village and put him and every other boy child in the position of having to choose murder if he would live.
- A teenage girl is raped daily by strangers because she is the victim of sex trafficking. It is her fault for not having read the scripture enough or prayed enough, not the fault of the men who lured her to the place where she was kidnapped and where she was repeatedly raped, tortured, and drugged until she would no longer fight them. It is her fault.
- A small child is sexually and physically abused by their family members, beaten with a riding crop, emotionally neglected, sexualized by the adults, molested by other siblings. It is their fault for not having read the scripture enough or prayed hard enough. It is not the fault of the abusive family members.
- A baby girl is raped repeatedly by a man in her household… Her fault because she can’t read the scriptures. It is not the fault of the man who raped her.
- A baby boy is thrown up against a wall and beaten to death with fists… His fault because he didn’t pray hard enough. It is not the fault of the person who murdered him.
I think I’ve made my point.
Toxic thinking is always toxic. There isn’t a level of toxic believing that is healthy or acceptable. I grew up in the church so I know that the answer many very churchy people would give is that in these cases it isn’t their fault but for the rest of us, we need to pray more and be more fervent in our systematic reading of the bible or we will have many difficulties and our decisions will be hard because we aren’t connected enough to god.
I am not saying that it isn’t good to have faith or good to pray or good to read scripture. Psychological research continues to highlight the importance of honoring and fostering faith in mental health, meditating, growing in resilience, and finding support in a community of like minded believers. I know that I have always leaned on my faith. However, there is a difference between faith that comes from love and hope and healthy mindsets and boundaries, and faith that comes from fear, guilt, abusive thinking, gaslighting, and the blatant disregard for the impact of your words and beliefs on others. If the source of the belief or statement is toxic, the fruit of it is also going to be toxic.
Toxic positivity is a thing. It is a thing that says that no decision is hard if you just read the bible more, or pray hard enough, or have enough faith, or call the good from the universe to you, or hop on your foot under a full moon naked in a dry riverbed in March. It dismisses the experiences of those who have been victims of the crimes and sins of others, and sometimes the victims of a genetic lottery that they lost, by saying it is their fault that the bad things happened to them. It diminishes the fact that there are a lot of hard choices in this life that are never mentioned in the ancient scriptures people read and rely on. There is no precedent for decision making with regard to modern medicine, modern warfare, modern technology. There is no precedent for a life without slavery and where women are not the property of men. Sometimes you end up between a rock and a hard place with choices that are impossible.
The night before his crucifixion, Jesus bled from his face because he was so torn by the choice he had to face and god did not answer him, and as he hung on the cross he cried out asking, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
But we are supposed to believe that if we just read the bible more and pray harder that it will be easy for us and the reason things are hard is because we don’t?