An Abusive Personal Relationship May 13, 2009

An Abusive Personal Relationship

This post is by Jesse Galef, who works for the American Humanist Association

Via William Lobdell‘s blog, I found Dinesh D’Souzu‘s vapid piece in Christianity Today entitled “Why We Need Earthquakes.”  In it, he explains why earthquakes cause suffering but are really just another sign that God loves us.  I couldn’t help but notice some eerie parallels.

“If he’s hurting me, it must be for my own good.  I know he loves me.”

“It’s my fault.  I should have obeyed him better.”

“He’s just checking up on me, testing me.”

Do these sound like an abusive relationship or religious attempts to reconcile suffering with a just and loving god?  Hard to tell, isn’t it.

I’m not saying that being religious is like being in an abusive relationship.  But the same turmoil arises whenever a person tries to hold these two thoughts in their head: 1) this person loves me 2) this person is hurting me.  The result is either a distorted idea of love or a distorted idea of hurt.

But the most damning similarity – in all three major monothesitic traditions – is:

“If I leave him I’ll be punished.”

I can think of no better time to show this video of Alister McGrath and Christopher Hitchens on whether religion is voluntary or imposed:

[EDIT: Apparently I can’t embed videos in my current capacity. Until we get that sorted out, I recommend clicking the link above. it’s really quite an impressive exchange.]

EDIT the second: I just typed up a quick transcript of the exchange:

McGrath: …transformation being offered to me but not being imposed upon me. For me it’s about a god who offers but does not demand that I respond to him in this way. And I find that to be a very good summary of what the Christian faith is trying to say about a god who offers but does not impose… he leaves that action open to us.

Hitchens: Not imposed? Did you really say not imposed? What if you reject this offer? What have you been told for centuries by Christians? … If you accept it you can have eternal life and your sins are forgiven… “I don’t want it.” “Oh you don’t? Well, then you can go to hell!” This is not imposed? This has not been preached to children by gruesome elderly virgins backed by force for centuries? This hasn’t poisoned whole societies? No, of course it’s imp- it’s not voluntary!

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  • boštjan

    Yep it sounds like someone has a Stockholm syndrome

  • Tyro

    I can’t help but notice that the people justifying earthquakes aren’t victims themselves. Strange, that. I wonder if their perspective might change if they had lost loved ones in a natural disaster.

    If D’Souza is right and tragedy is a way of showing love, does that mean that those of us who don’t experience tragedy aren’t loved?

    If tragedy is a way of spiritually strengthening us, does that mean that D’Souza is weak because he hasn’t been properly tested?

    What an idiot.

  • medussa

    Tyro sums it up pretty neatly: What an idiot.

  • Clearly God loves California most. Take that rest of the states! lol!

  • Christie

    A former in-law of mine believes that her god gave her Multiple Sclerosis because she had an affair with a married man. She honestly believes that she ‘deserves’ the past fifteen years of suffering and her inevitable prolonged and painful death, and that her god — who loves her — is just in his punishment. The idea that god might love her enough to understand why she and her lover needed each other doesn’t hold water with her. She says it’s the only way she can live with the disease, and that if that weren’t the case she would be suffering for nothing, which is an idea that she finds offensive.

    There is nothing about her situation that doesn’t break my heart.

  • Polly

    Does anyone know of a book or website that analyzes Xianity and its doctrines from a psychological point of view? Something aimed at believers that highlights the manipulative nature of their religion’s tenets.

  • Robert M. Price touched on this subject in his excellent book, The Reason Driven Life.

  • Larry Huffman

    I think this fits with the god loves us so he makes us suffer theme:

    When my daughter was born with a terminal illness…and subsequently died 2 years later we heard a lot of this.

    Some people were bold enough to tell us that we must have had some great sin and needed punished (so god punished us by killing her).

    Some told us that god thought we were weak and our faith needed testing (so god tested us by killing her).

    Some told us the converse of the above…that we were so strong in our faith that he wanted to prove us (again, god killed her to prove our faith).

    Some told us that SHE was such a strong spirit that she was to be taken back to god (he was so pelased with her he killed her).

    And we even had a couple of people tell us that perhaps she was a weak or defiant spirit that was being punished for some sort of spiritual misdeeds…but when pressed for examples, they just looked stupidly at us.

    We got all of these little gems…from a lot of people…of all different faiths. These were VERY common views…not one-offs.

    And…she suffered a great deal. Her poor little life was one of pain and misery and very little peace and comfort. There was never a shortage of chrisitans who could explain or at least offer a couple of possible explainations as to why god would allow such a thing.

    So…yeah…I am quite familiar with the notion that god loves us so much he makes us suffer. You see…after any one of these explainations, they were usually smiling and trying to tell us it was done out of love. Bah.

  • Tyro

    Larry’s story just shows how it’s better to be loved by your family and other humans than by god.

    Clearly “love” in that context means something very strange indeed.

  • David D.G.

    Larry Huffman: Commiserations, man. You have my most profound condolences, both for your personal tragedy and for the thoughtlessness of those who said such things to you. People can be such stupid, stupid beasts.

    ~David D.G.

  • Larry Huffman – it saddens me to hear such lack of compassion and thoughtlessness from those of faith.

  • Larry Huffman

    Thank you all…I know I mention her a lot. Her little life and death taught us more about love and life than any holy book could have ever taught us, and so her story is part of who we are. I was not fishing for sympathy though…just thought the calousness of the views fit the topic.

    The sad part is, my wife and I just would numbly nod and except many of these. We wanted to be good believers and followers of god, so we kind of bought into it.

    Not completely though. There was a part of each of us who knew better and as time went by, and our faith began to waiver…we began to look back on this and rethink it. I have had christians imply that my daughter’s death made me angry at god and that is why I left…which further points blame on me and my faith…but that is just not the case. The doctrine and the total contradictory nature of god (of which the death of babies certainly played a role) was my real reason. In fact, I refused to be angry at god because of this. By the time I was angry about this, it was at the people who said this and religion…not god…since by then I knew god was man made and fiction.

  • Andrew

    “He’s just checking up on me, testing me.”

    When I read quotes like this, it illustrates to me the role of the ego in fundamentalist beliefs.

    Honesly, wake up Dinesh! You are just one person of billions on a pale blue dot (as seen from only within our system) in an vast, expanding universe (possibly of many). And you are arrogant enough to not only claim regular divine intervention in your life, but you actually believe it…

    Makes me wonder what my ego is hiding from me…

  • Reginald Selkirk

    I can see a new set of T-shirts for Christians:
    God’s Beeyotch

  • Michael Nietzsche

    What a stupid, uneducated moron Dinesh D’Brainless is……….! Doesn’t he know that Earth Quakes are part of the never-ending evolution of the life of our 4.57 BILLION YEAR OLD EARTH? The Earth cares little about us humans, or our human created ghuords; Earth Quakes have been, and will continue to happen whether D’DOUSHBAG’S Ghuord has anything to say about it or not! Get real D’DOUSH, YOUR IMAGINARY GHOURD HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH IT!

  • Reginald Selkirk

    Does anyone know of a book or website that analyzes Xianity and its doctrines from a psychological point of view?

    I would be careful with that. Only after presenting the lack of evidence for God’s existence would I go there. Otherwise you end up looking like Rick Warren and Paul Vitz, trying to call your opponent crazy instead of establishing that he/she is wrong.

  • Andrew

    Larry, thanks for the posts.

    I’m 26 and left faith shortly after High School. I went through a lot of personal stuff when my mother left my sister and I with our Dad and took off when I was a young teenager. I went to Christian schools and non-denominational church… I heard the same things about my anger being the cause, etc… In your case, it is all the more insulting. And even more wrong!

    When I learned to look at things from an objective standpoint, it helped me not only find the truth about my faith, but it also helped me to understand and tolerate, civily, Christians and their ridiculous bull shit. They can’t help it. They are indoctinated, like I was. When things pop up that question their faith, their egos step in to defend themselves.

    I started really questioning my faith in high school because of the influence of easily the most arrogant Christian I have ever personally known. Now I can see that I sensed the weakness of his beliefs and how his ego was totally transparent to me. I won’t go into the story, but that Bible teacher turned me into a skeptic in one day after a lifetime of Fundamentalist indoctrination.

    When I was 19, I caught my cousin/roommate with his girlfriend. At the time, I wasn’t going to church anymore, and my cousin was already further into unweaving his rainbow than I was. I remeber being so mad but not really understanding a rational reason why. So I didn’t make a deal of it, and of course had my own girls soon after… lol! In retrospect, I think my initial reaction showed the depths at which our minds embrace different ideas and hold on to them.

    I’m saying this because when you lose your faith, it changes you to the core. It has to, and it takes time. But it’s worth it to me, as I see the world in a way that I wouldn’t trade for what I used to have. You’ll lose friends but make new ones. And my family came around and around again after they realized I wasn’t going through a phase.

  • Richard Wade

    I guess God really loves the Chinese. 90,000 of them died in an earthquake one year ago.

    Loved ’em to death.

    D’mented D’Souza is a waste of flesh.

  • Polly


    Thanks for the suggestion.

    @Hey Reginald Selkirk,

    Maybe I should be more clear.

    I am speaking here of someone whose response to being shown a direct contradiction in the Bible is:

    “Well, god will make it all clear in Heaven.”

    I don’t want to imply (or a book to imply) that they’re crazy. I want something that can possibly help someone see beyond the bubble they’re stuck in.

    Something that can point out the beliefs and notions that religion entails that serve to lock one into the faith; the “little tricks”, if you will.

    Maybe if they are laid out more openly and analyzied more skillfully than I could do, a die-hard believer (immune to logic and evidence) would see that they are being duped.

  • Brooks

    I still think this video by the heretical Christian, John Shelby Spong, helps show everything that’s wrong about traditional Christian beliefs about prayer:

  • Andrew

    Polly, it has nothing to do with tricks. Christianity is a firmly rooted meme. It’s self-replicating and effecient enough to defend itself using its own system.

    It has nothing to do with craziness. It’s just how our brains work. If you want to understand how peolpe can believe that stuff, than you should look into psychology. But looking only at Christians wouldn’t show you how these same processes work with other religions as well.

    The only way to root it out is education and the promotion of objectiviy as a more productive value to our society than blind faith.

  • Neidermeyer

    Reginald Selkirk,

    Try this

    It’s could be edited down to half the size, so if you get bored scroll down to the 7 mindgames of christianity.

  • Epistaxis


  • AxeGrrl

    Christie, my heart goes out to your in-law with MS, but this comment of hers boggles my mind:

    if that weren’t the case she would be suffering for nothing, which is an idea that she finds offensive.

    What does she find ‘offensive’ about the idea that she simply got the disease without a ‘reason’? frustrating, infuriating, yes…..but ‘offensive’?

  • AxeGrrl

    Tyro wrote:

    Larry’s story just shows how it’s better to be loved by your family and other humans than by god.

    Clearly “love” in that context means something very strange indeed.

    Perfectly said.

  • Welcome to my life from ages 10 to 27. In all seriousness, nothing describes what was my “relationship” with God any better than that.

    I’m glad I’m out of it now, but what hurts is seeing close friends continue to struggle with trying to love an unlovable, horrible, sadistic, cruel, petty, insane, jealous, incompetent and psychotic imaginary man in the sky who lets tsunamis drown families and AIDS ravage Africa, but demands repentance when you cum or lose your temper.

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