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Questioning Spoon-fed Faith

Ideally, religion would be a source of support in the journey of self-understanding and personal development. However, for many people it has created an ever-deepening wound -- the wound of disconnection from ourselves. Dr. Gabor Maté said, "Every human being has a true, genuine, authentic self. Trauma is the disconnection from it." Religion, when its focus is on a God outside of ourselves who is seen as the source of redemption, steers us away from ourselves and often even promotes a view of human nature as unworthy, if not outright evil. This leads to painful life experiences such as anxiety, self-loathing, self-destructive behaviors, disabling perfectionism, fear of expressing oneself, repression of emotions seen as 'negative', repression of healthy human sexuality, and disconnection from or even hatred of the body, among other things.

In the last few years, I have understood more and more about how religious indoctrination hurt me, and I am dedicated to living my life with recognition of my inherent worth, innocence, and wisdom, as well as to meeting others in the same light. Recently, I have begun offering IoPT with a focus on religious trauma. I have a six-week group starting in mid-May with spots still available. Please feel free to reach out if you are interested in knowing more.

I wrote the piece below in 2003, about my own experience of religion. The only change I would make now would be to replace "God within me" at the end of the article with "my 'I'".


Spirituality has always been a focus in my life although, at times, I would not have used the word 'spirituality' nor realized the breadth of its meaning. I grew up in a fundamentalist Christian tradition whose roots went back through many generations. Growing up immersed in this tradition with very little exposure to and many warnings against other spiritual paths, I did not bring into question what I was told about the inerrancy of the Bible as the only word of God, the idea that our form of Christianity was the only correct path to God, and the viewpoint that people are inherently evil and require salvation from the outside in order to be worthy of eternal presence with God.

By the time I was a high school senior, I had begun to question whether I was indeed inherently evil. I remember listening to a sermon in which the pastor was reminding us of our sinful nature. During his talk, I paused to notice that I did not feel like my nature was sinful. This was quickly replaced by the terrible thought that my lack of feeling sinful was probably indicative of great sin. It would be a couple more years before I seriously began questioning the religious teachings and practices that had been spoon fed to me.

I was attending a small Mennonite college in Kansas when the opportunity came to go to Chicago and earn credit studying urban issues, art, culture, and ministries. In 1984, I left the sheltered environments of Northern Idaho and rural Kansas to come face to face with the inner city. I knew I was in for some exposure and was ready to be challenged. My motto for the next eight months was, "I will be motivated by love, not fear." I believe that motto both saved my life, quite literally at times, and opened me up to more spiritual growth than I ever expected.

I lived in households in two of Chicago's poor south side neighborhoods. Our classroom was Chicago itself—its community organizations, social welfare offices, museums, churches, ethnic neighborhoods, political centers, housing projects, schools and homeless shelters. Our curriculum included just about any social, political, or economic issue one could imagine. The purpose of the entire experience was to provide exposure and to stimulate critical evaluation of our belief systems.

One of my first urban experiences involved visiting churches, synagogues, and temples rooted in all the major faith traditions and in many ethnic backgrounds. I gained a profound insight as a result of these visits—that it doesn't take a "Christian" to be one. This has become another motto in my life. I was struck by the reality that many non-Christian groups were more compassionately responsive to the incredible and often discomforting needs within their communities than were some of the Christian congregations that unquestionably held Christ as their guide. In fact, one protestant church we visited actually turned people away if they were not dressed or groomed appropriately. I realized with a clarity I had not had before that being a Christian was far more about compassionate living than about any particular dogma, ritual, or scripture.

I was becoming disillusioned with the set of beliefs and requirements that had been handed to me as I was growing up. I recall wrestling with the realization that I did not feel like reading my Bible every day and praying the kind of prayers I had prayed for so long. I wasn't even sure anymore about who or what God was. I feared that if I stopped performing the "requirements" of Bible study, prayer, and church attendance, I would be sent to hell. Later, I would come to understand the concept of hell in a more symbolic way, but at the time, it was a very real and frightening place. My way past this fear was to tell myself that if there was a God out there who would send me to hell for following my heart, I didn't want to be in heaven with that kind of God anyway. This was a difficult and lonely time for me because I was beginning to leave behind the only form of spirituality I had ever known in order to embark on the inward journey of self-discovery. There would be people who would emerge as supports on this journey, but for the time being, I had to rely on the deep sense from within myself that it was okay to call my faith into question and to challenge those things that had been presented to me as givens.

Throughout this process of turning my life upside down and inside out, an inner guiding spirit and strength carried me. I didn't know it at the time, but I now understand this spirit to be God within me—the God we meet through contemplation and self-discovery, the God who inhabits all people independent of their asking, their religion, or even their belief in anything labeled "God." I believe the message of Jesus was very specifically about living compassionately and justly. He came here not to promote a religion or preach dogma, but to show us how to be. I believe he would feel his life was not in vain if all people, regardless of religion, began to embrace one another out of the realization that God does not pick and choose where or with whom to abide, that there are no select groups or ideologies that are privy to salvation while others are left out. Contemplative spirituality is a practice that unifies people of all faiths in the universality of God’s presence within us. When we learn to sit with the stillness and know ourselves deeply, we learn to love ourselves. When we are able to love ourselves, we are in a position to see God in all people and to practice authentic spirituality.

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