One of the largest impact craters Christianity left behind in my life was my sense of personal identity. This was further compounded through my homeschooling, as I was philosophically isolated in a way that restricted my knowledge development into a very specific mental model.
I do not think my parents thought of it this way at the time, nor did I as I grew up in it. But as a 40 year old man who has lived half of my life trying to expand that mental model in order to exist in the realities of this world, I see the experience for what it was: lonely, isolated, and without context beyond the teachings of Christianity.
All Christian teaching is valid from an orthodox view. However there are a few specific teachings that are fundamentally required in order to be a Christian and one of these must be confronted at the very onset of belief. In all actuality, it is the most important concept to the entire story of Christianity. Without it, Christianity has no merit.
The teaching centers around what theologians refer to as the total depravity of man(kind). Now, to wrap you head around this fully, you must drop your current understanding of human existence and place yourself into the mind of a person who truly trusts the Bible and the way Christian authorities throughout the years have interpreted it.
So to simulate this, take a deep breath in and out, focus your mind, and let this next series of statements be your understanding of the earliest human history:
- A singular deity (known to you as “God”) created the world 10,000-15,000 years ago.
- Evolution is a false idea made up by Satan to discredit the existence of God.
- At some point near the very beginning of time, this God created the earth, sun, moon, and stars out of nothing. He also created all of the animals in their current form (remember, no evolution). He also created a single man.
- This man was lonely, so God took a rib from the man while the man slept and used it to form a woman. God gave this woman to the man as his wife.
- God lived in a garden with this couple and they would talk together. They had a relationship of sorts where God helped take care of them and provided food in the garden and safety from anything that would harm them.
- At some point, the woman broke the most important rule that God had made, which was to not eat any fruit from this one type of tree. She ate the fruit and this one act of disobedience to God broke their relationship with God. This act of disobedience was the very first human sin.
- When the man found out what the woman had done, he went ahead and ate the fruit also. So the man also sinned.
- Because of these sins, God 1) threw the man and woman out of the garden that they all shared together, 2) cursed the woman and said that her childbirths would be painful from that point forward, and 3) cursed the man and said that he would have to work to eat and maintain his existence for the rest of his life.
- From this point forward, all of the people born through this couple’s lineage perpetuated the “stain” of their sin and this is why God cannot exist with humans at this point in time. This original sin that has “stained” all of humanity is the reason that Jesus needed to live his life and die as a sacrifice for those sins.
All of those specifics come directly from the Bible in the story of Adam and Eve. There aren’t any additional layers of interpretation. Just a simple literal reading from Genesis.
From here, however, Christian theologians have built a framework of thinking around what this story implies about the fundamental nature of humans and the net result of sin. The orthodox understanding is that because this stain of sin exists on every single person ever born, no one is inherently “good” and nothing “good” can come from the effort of people without God’s help. This belief is also stated openly later in the Bible as an interpretation by Paul (see Romans 3:10-23).
Furthermore, this sin stain is ultimately what requires that people go to a place of fire, darkness, and eternal pain in the afterlife (commonly referred to as hell). If you die without being a Christian (“saved by Jesus from your sin”), then your sin stain requires that you go to hell.
From this perspective, the way I viewed myself as a child was rather worthless. Now, Christianity also teaches that if a person will 1) believe that they are worthless on their own and 2) trust Jesus to save them, then they are “saved” and they are no longer required to go to hell. They get to go to heaven, which is where Jesus and all of the good things in the afterlife exist.
And this is where I struggled with my own identity as I left Christianity. Up to that point, any “good” in my existence was there because of Jesus. When I removed Jesus from the formula, all that remained was a sinful human that was worthless.
In my opinion, this one teaching is where the lack of empathy in Christianity perpetuates itself because these individuals have never been taught how to love their own selves well. How can they love others well if they do not know how to love their own selves?
This isn’t an excuse or defensive statement. Just a simple observation I’ve made in my exit.
So let’s break this all down into something salient:
Christianity prohibits any sense of self love
I can hear the perspective now:
“The greatest way to love yourself is to love God and obey his teachings.”
“Don’t follow your heart.”
“You have no right to be mad about that. God allowed it to happen for a reason and it’s your job to pray and listen to him to understand why it happened.”
“Don’t listen to your feelings. Feelings are fickle and will lead you astray.”
“Yield all of your desires, rights, interests, and feelings over to God. Let him have them, and let him give you the right desires, rights, interests, and feelings so that you can live your life for him!”
“Loving yourself over others is sinful and selfish. And choosing to do what you want over what God wants for your life will send you straight to hell. Even if what you want to do isn’t sinful. If it isn’t what God wants for your life, it is outside his will for you.”
Are you picking up on the pattern here?
The Christian identity is not your own. It is the identity that God has already prescribed for you. And unsurprisingly, it often looks much like those who have gone before you. Or at minimum it is the identity permitted by your parents, your pastor, your church, or your perspective of God.
This was my understanding growing up. Who I felt I was in my humanity was sinful and in direct opposition to a God who chose to save me through the sacrifice of Jesus.
Without Jesus, I had no worth.
Christianity requires people to believe they are not valuable in their own selves
What would happen if you tried to use Chinese Yuan cash to purchase groceries at your local supermarket in the United States? Do you think they would accept the foreign currency?
Of course not.
Such is the concept of human value in the context of Christianity. Even though your humanity may bring value in certain situations, it will NEVER bring value in the situation that matters most: your situation with God.
At its core, Christianity requires you to believe that you have no value on your own. Left to your own devices, you would be worth nothing but tinder for eternal fire in hell.
This belief of complete worthlessness instills a sense of unworthiness to be given such a gracious gift of salvation from sin at the expense of Jesus’ sinless life. Furthermore, it enforces a surreal sense of gratitude that such a sacrifice would be extended for a such a wretched person as me.
There are songs that are regularly sung in Christian churches that say these things on repeat. The philosophy is deeply instilled in Christians that they carry no value as individuals. Their value comes from Jesus.
This dissociation is not a temporary psychosis for faithful Christians. Rather, it is an overarching mental model that rejects any acceptance of personal value in self or in the acts of service many Christians participate in.
And so you have people who believe that they have no inherent value performing acts of service that create immense value for those benefiting, and yet those expressing this effort believe their part in it was of no value without the hand of God touching it.
I was taught growing up that I should never just say “thanks” when someone paid me a compliment or recognized my effort. I was to say thank you AND also say “it is only by God’s grace”, thereby excusing all praise and deflecting it from myself.
Owning the reward and value of my own actions that created good in this world is still a foreign feeling to me. I don’t feel like I create anything good as a result of those deeply embedded early beliefs.
The other side of this belief is that it also creates layers of accountability gaps in which there is an excuse for sinful behavior because all humans are inherently evil. This is actually the general explanation for why bad things happen in the world.
This lack of personal value can encourage loneliness and depression, along with a belief rooted in circular reasoning that if you serve God more and give God more, he will in turn bless you and take care of you more because of your faithfulness to him. All the while, the individual struggles through an understanding of who they are in the context of the difficulties in their life and what they are living through. Their faith that they serve a good God that takes care of all of their needs (but not necessarily desires) is enough for many people to sacrifice their sense of identity for their entire lives in order to maintain their belief that they are completely worthless without Jesus.
Christianity necessitates the belief that people are only valuable because of Jesus and for the cause of Jesus
So what happens when you believe that your only value comes from serving God and deferring your desires and interests to God? You do the thing that provides the greatest sense of security and reward: you continue to serve God and defer your desires and interests to him.
This is where so much aggression and oppression comes from Christian circles toward non-Christians. They carry such a deeply rooted belief that their personal value comes from a 3rd party named Jesus and without Jesus they are worthless.
Jesus must exist in a context for that context to be “good”. Without him, there is only evil and sin continually. And this belief persists in both the individual context and the collective context, whether that be at home, school, church, or city, county, state, or nation. Without Jesus, there is no value.
Which is yet again why Christians struggle so much with empathy and understanding non-christian perspective and culture. They literally do not believe those perspectives and culture have any value, particularly if they do not carry a similar perspective on humans, sin, and Jesus.
So when I finally decided that I could no longer claim Christianity as my belief construct, I was met with this huge question:
Who are you? Who is Josh?
That answer is still evolving. But after years of work, I finally have a pretty good understanding of Josh and what Josh needs to be happy, exist, and maintain appropriate boundaries around self care and self love.
But it required letting go of the beliefs that created the huge gap in the first place and choosing to believe that maybe, just maybe, there might be something inside of me that was worthy of value.