Rethinking My Beliefs about God Apart From Traditional Christianity

You Can Take Your Guilt And Shove It Where The Sun Don’t Shine

In Atonement, God, Life, Love, Relationships on February 22, 2011 at 6:34 am

Being brainwashed sucks. But the thing that really sucks about it is that we don’t realize, at the time, that our thoughts and desires are not our own. They generally belong to the persons or society that is conditioning us.

I have this tendency to cringe when I drive by a church and see a large flock of people walking through its front doors. I cringe because 30 years of my life was spent being conditioned and used by the institutional church. I was its slave. Yet I thought I was in the center of God’s will. I remember waking up one morning after I had stopped going to church and wondering if I felt similar to someone who had been date raped after someone had given me a roofie.

We are not only brainwashed by sitting under the teaching of a single pastor week after week, year after year, but we are conditioned by our own families, friends, teachers, movies, books, music and anything else that is continually inputing information into our vacuum of a cognitive facility. When we grow up, this conditioning affects how we behave in every area of our lives.

For example, let’s say we grew up in a family that continually said, “We can’t afford it.” Maybe it was a phrase we heard over and over again in our formative years. As adults this idea will become a self-fulfilling prophecy unless we replace our conditioning with a new belief. Our trained thought needs a comfortable environment for which to manifest itself. Somehow we will find ourselves always in a position of being unable to afford the things we would like to own, even if we are determined with all of our might to live a wealthier lifestyle than our parents. Conditioned beliefs control our minds, and therefore our lives, from the subconscious level. Scary, isn’t it?

For those of us who think we have no desire or ability to make a lot of money, we might want to look at our conditioning. Is it something we really believe or is it something we were trained to think? If it’s something we were trained to believe, we need to retrain our subconscious mind before our lives will follow suit. This is because we act according to our beliefs.

Concerning relationships, conditioning makes being ourselves and finding others who are genuinely themselves somewhat of a challenge. Relating inevitably takes place on a superficial level and there is the constant frustration of feeling like we just can’t get close to someone, no matter how intimate the relationship. This is because we are often relating from and to the conditioning as opposed to our naturally unique and personal disposition.

And this is why living in reality is so necessary for genuine love. This may also be why genuine love is the path to reality, but that isn’t my topic for today.

The subject for this post is guilt and more specifically, guilt that resides somewhere in the back of our conditioned mind.

Where does guilt come from? In my case, it came from hearing a lot of laws, commandments and demands from “God” every week which, right there, is a recipe for disaster. Not only was I forced to avoid thinking about myself (and my failures) but my only chance for survival was to utilize the sneaky tactic of blame-shifting.

Thus, our insatiable need for a scapegoat or the blood of an innocent person such as a savior. It was bad enough that the religious leaders killed the Christ (who was willing to be killed.) But to keep the religious ball rolling, there’s this crazy idea that his shed blood was the only way for God to love us.

Let’s put ourselves in God’s position for a moment. If we birthed a bunch of kids, would we withhold our love every time they made a mistake unless they sacrificed an animal for us? Or how about if we demanded that they cut themselves instead? What if we just weren’t satisfied with the sacrifice? What if we told them we wouldn’t love them unless they sacrificed another human being? We want blood.

Do you think that would exemplify our love? And do you think that would keep our kids from making any more mistakes? Do you think that killing a sacrifice to appease some Molech of a God would remove guilt or cause guilt?

If we have been taught to believe that we are sinners in need of shed blood in order to receive forgiveness from a holy God, let’s take an honest look at what kind of a life that belief will subconsciously create.

First of all, in order to place value upon a savior, we must first see our need for a savior. In order to see our need for a savior, we must see some need to be saved. This means that our identity, right off the bat, is not going to be a positive one.

Who could love a sinful wretch like me? Certainly not a perfect God. This was a message I heard over and over again as a child. Can you imagine saying this to your own kids? Eventually we begin living up to our label, because that is what we begin to believe about ourselves whether we think it’s true or not.  We become that sinful wretch that needs saving.

But we can’t stop there. No one wants to think of themselves as a wretch for too long. That’s where the sacrifice comes in. And we’ve got all kinds of sacrifices in the Christian religion. As if a tortured and crucified savior isn’t enough, we also need a sinner’s prayer and repentance. Repentance comes in the form of a changed lifestyle. All of a sudden we need to start attending church, tithing , reading the Bible daily, studying the Bible in depth, praying and evangelizing to the lost. Oh yeah, and we need to serve in a church ministry too. Hopefully that will all be enough to keep us from having to appease God’s judgment in an eternally burning lake of fire.

We play along with the irrationality of it all because of our guilt which we are conditioned every week to believe. It doesn’t help that this guilt comes from the authority of the church, the Bible, the priest or pastor and the entire subculture of Christianity which all claim to speak for or represent God.

Believing that we are a sinner in need of salvation causes us to become and continually be a sinner in need of salvation. Believing that salvation comes from a crucified savior and a lot of religious rituals will then cause us to continually need a crucified savior and a lot of religious rituals. Our mind conditioning keeps us stuck in an environment where that mind conditioning can keep manifesting itself, until we consciously change our conditioning.

This is currently what I am in the process of doing. The only way to figure out what is going on in my subconscious mind is to look at the results of it – my actions. Often when I am experiencing some sort of emotional trauma, I can trace it back to my conditioning. For a long time I was nagged by loneliness. I thought it was because I had stopped going to church but after really examining my thought process, I realized it was coming from a conditioned belief. I remembered that I had felt lonely at church too.

I was led to believe that all kinds of bad things would start happening to me if I stopped going to church. I actually thought I was going to get into a car accident or something, until I remembered that Christians face tragedies too. But I thought God would start withholding his blessings somehow. I wouldn’t have forgiveness for my sins. I wouldn’t be able to grow spiritually in the Lord. And I’d have to start reaping what I sow. (Gasp)

If I didn’t catch this line of reasoning, I would start creating that life of self-fulfilled prophecy and my reactions to it. My beliefs about God and church attendance needed to change if I didn’t want my guilt to keep rearing its ugly head in the form of some kind of religiosity, even outside of the church system.

But the question was, what did I believe? I didn’t want to just be brainwashed again with a different belief. Anyone can recite mantras over and over again. Mind conditioning is powerful stuff.

So this is why I ponder my beliefs so much and question things down to their bare bones. Some people really get on my case about this. I realize it makes their securely conditioned beliefs uncomfortable but it’s really annoying when people make me feel like I’m messing up somehow, or that I need help when I’m not crying out for help. Why do we have to concern ourselves so much with what other people believe?

This brings us back to the scapegoat concept. If we don’t feel loved or okay about ourselves, there is only so much guilt we can take before we start putting the focus on someone else just to get ourselves a break. I’ve still got Christians in my life who are spouting off those guilt-inducing beliefs that I’m trying to forget. The more I hear them, the more I want to bounce them off of myself right back at them, or else aim them at the institutional church.

The church is an easy target because, at least in my opinion, it certainly is not innocent. It is also the actual perpetrator. Who else deserves the blame if not the system from which my brainwashing originated?

But if we remove the guilt, we remove the need to blame. Continue blaming and we only continue the guilt.

How do we get out of the endless guilt/blame cycle?

Ah, I thought you would never ask. It always seems to go back to love, doesn’t it? Replacing guilt with thoughts of love can completely transform a life. Isn’t this what we thought we were signing up for when we first “got saved” anyway? Love in place of guilt? Little did I know that the whole salvation idea requires a need to be guilty.

Although I mostly ignored my doubt, it never really made sense to me that God created me and would have to punish me for being exactly how he created me, unless I tried really really hard to be somebody else. I mean, wtf? God created me a sinner just to punish me for being a sinner?

But now that I’ve experienced some element of love, I can question that sin idea. From what I understand, love doesn’t say, “I’ll only love you if….” or “I love you but….” or “Sorry, but you don’t deserve to be loved.” Sure, Christianity says “God loves you” a lot but it always seems to have a silent subordinating conjunction at the end of it. Love simply loves because it is love. Love can’t help but love without ceasing to be love. It’s very nature is what causes it to exist.

Believing in love will naturally remove our guilt in at least two ways. First our belief will create an environment conducive to manifesting love. Our lives will naturally open up to being loved and loving others. Secondly, by loving others, we won’t have a whole lot to feel guilty about anymore. Accusations of any sort just won’t have a solid leg to stand on except from the irrationality of the brainwashed.

It’s really important to replace our conditioned beliefs. We can’t just ignore our conditioning because it will continue to govern us. And we will most likely want to replace it with something we really do believe. We’ve all seen a love mask and those are not pretty. Our belief in love has to be a genuine belief. In order for it to be genuine, it has to be something we’ve experienced, not just something we talk about a lot – although, talking about it does play a role in renewing our minds.

What if there isn’t anyone in our lives who can genuinely love us? Actually, I would say that we all have someone who can love us and it’s not necessarily God – especially if we feel a distrust toward God at this point in our lives. It’s not necessarily a family member or even a spouse. But we can love our own selves.

This is going to be a huge building project for those of us who have a zero sense of self-worth. The fear of pride always kept me from really seeing and accepting my own beauty. I remember when I first started noticing my own words to myself. They were horrible! I used to call myself an idiot so much that I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Conditioned beliefs.

As we grow in love, the guilt factor will diminish I think. And so will the need for blame-shifting. Following is a list of some of the ways I notice the love of God (or some life source) for myself. May this encourage you, dear reader, in sincerely knowing that you are loved no matter what you think, say or do – just because love exists.

I know I am loved because:

There is life all around me and it is always in motion and growing.

Friendships exist.

There is an intrinsic value even in tears.

Morning always follows the night.

There is a purpose for darkness.

Puppies are cute.

Children are precious to their parents.

Falling down helps us learn how to not fall down.

Nothing ceases to exist but is transformed.

Grace makes everything beautiful in its time.

Did I mention friendships?

If love exists, why would I or anyone else be excluded from it?

Falling snow and intricate snowflakes are amazing.

Food, clothes, sleep, furniture, houses, walking, running, dancing, math, music, logic, geography, technology, nature, water, fire, chemicals, teachers, nurses, presidents, money, business, wars, peace, families, newborn babies, great grand-mamas… and anything else that makes the world go around makes up life. Everything has its place.

Life is happening and there doesn’t seem to be anything that anyone can do to stop it from happening. And somehow, some way, I get to be a part of it. Although painful at times, it sounds like love to me. And I refuse to feel guilty for living it.

  1. I am so sorry for the religious bondage you have been through. If I have any say in it, please live in the freedom that love and forgiveness can give you and be thankful for that gift…and forgive those who bound you with judgement.

  2. Oh, and be yourself, but don’t sing if you can’t and don’t dance if you can’t….you are allowed to fake it and just hover around the edges…that’s what I do (can’t dance at all)

  3. Elizabeth, every time I try to say something about new truths and realizations, to myself or someone else, I get really angry that the words seem to have bad associations instead of the freedom they should have. I wonder what I can do to get away from this taint that we have inherited.
    I just want to say that God, our father is not like they say! I know this from my personal experience just recently, after dropping the imaginings that have been used about Him and just living on the rest.
    I’m happy to say that I now know that Father is all of that – our loving Father who loves us all much, much more than we will ever know, and nothing we do will alter that. That is all we need to know dear friend. Can you hold onto that?

    I love you for who you are, how much you care and fight for good and truth and how you have helped so many of us dear friend. Hold on, you will live and find peace and contentment.

  4. (Just a note to get follow-ups via email)

  5. Have you ever heard (or read) Wayne Jacobsen talking about the Cross as cure, not punishment? I’d love to read your thoughts about that. You can find it here (see “Disc 4”):

    If you scroll to the bottom of that page, I also love the 3 talks listed at the end.

    I’m not one to recommend audio teachings, ever, with this sole exception. I guess I love listening to Wayne (and Brad on “The God Journey”) because I feel freedom and love coming through.

    • Andy, yes. Wayne and Brad were a great help to me when I was first detaching from the institutional system. (Steve McVey was also one of those stepping stones in my journey.) I highly recommend them for anyone seeking to leave the institutional church but have not yet made the break.

      Wayne points out the New Testament view of the cross, which was that Christ took all sin upon himself so that sin can now be a non-issue. But who needs to be set free from their guilt except those who feel guilty? Who needs this message of atonement except those under the law and who still think that sin is an issue to God? Who needs a new covenant except those who live under the old covenant? The religious and moral law was given to the Jews, not the Gentiles. The Jews were under the law and it was to the Jews, or from a Jewish perspective, that the New Testament was written. The whole Bible is a story about and for the Jews.

      Christianity has taken this Jewish story and has burdened the Gentiles under it, placing the whole world under the law while largely failing to present the new covenant of grace, which is the end of the story. This is why so many Christians are stuck under the veil of God’s law (re: brainwashed). Hearing the commandments of God over and over again (Deut 6:6-8) places us under the law. And this is why Christians, along with the Jews, need to hear and believe the story of redemption. This is where the atonement concept can be really good news. It’s like a stepping stone for people who are buried under the guilt of religion.

      The problem is that nobody seems to believe it. Why is that? Personally, I think it’s because substitutionary atonement never worked in the first place. The priestly sacrificial system never worked for Israel, and it clearly doesn’t work for Christians. Have you noticed that everyone still sins, suffers and dies even after the death and resurrection of Christ, including believers?

      This is because if we live under the religious law, it only brings guilt (and people get martyred for breaking these laws. Currently, the gays and heretics are taking most of this heat within the institutional church.)

      So personally, I think we need to get rid of the whole atonement concept altogether. It will only continue to add more guilt as long as we think we need a savior for our sin, instead of relieving any guilt. The sacrificial system was never meant to work. It was only meant to show the rest of the world that it doesn’t work and that it keeps us locked in the prison of religiosity.

      • Elizabeth,

        I thought about the question “Why did God need to sacrifice His Son?”

        Clearly religion does not give the answer. Imo you are correct to dismiss it. The way the sacrifice is taught only undermines our “faith“. In other words, the sacrificial religious systems undermines our “self-esteem“.

        To me self-esteem and faith are one and the same. And I agree with Paul in saying we somehow are not able to get to “Perfect Love” without perfect faith and hope nurturing us.

        Ultimately if my self-esteem (faith) is to rise, not just to a high and lofty level, but instead to the highest and loftiest level imaginable [God], I need to know how much I am worth.

        If I can not esteem myself properly, I will NEVER be able to esteem others properly. And thus, any hope of true relationship with others and God will always be lacking. We will always fall short of the true Glory for which we were created!

        “So God if you want me to put faith in how much you love me, then somehow you must show me how much am I worth. Because I have allot of reasons to doubt that I am worth everything you say I’m worth. I am afraid you don’t love me enough.”

        I think His answer was breathtaking. Jesus explains it in the parable of the man who found a treasure in a field and sold “everything he had” to purchase that field. The “man” was the Father, and what He sold was His Son.

        And by His answer, I am saved, not from some afterlife religious manure. I am saved from living a low self-esteem condemned life now.

        The word “Salvation” means “preservation, protection, wholeness, and prosperity”. You don’t need that after your body dies.

        And because of what He has done to prove my worth, I can never really doubt my value in relation to the universe anymore.

        I can really believe I am His child.

        Since self-esteem (esteeming God within) is the ultimate inner state we must realize, I can think of no better proof to get me there than what He has done by sacrificing His Only Son.

        I could not have fully believed in my worth any other way.

        So Elizabeth, you can focus on Love all you want. That is a good practice because you are focusing on God in everyone and everything.

        But you will never know how much you are loved, and how much you are worth to Him until you accept His “Vincent Van Gogh” proof.

        He loves you. He really loves you.

  6. I enjoy reading your articles. Thank you.

  7. Why is it that family is the most confrontive when it comes to church. I have a brother in law who I would classify as fundamental in his beliefs, tell me that he saw “red flags” because I was not going to church. Then to top it off he told me he and his wife prayed for me every night and then asked me if I prayed for them every night. Shame and manipulation in its classical form. This kind of stuff only makes me run away further from institutional religion.

    • I have relatives who do the same thing. I don’t have any advice as I still have figured out how to tactfully stop those conversations…but you’re not the only one!

    • Jay, I’m not sure how communication (or a friendship) is possible with people who view us as anathema.

  8. Good stuff! My sentiments exactly!!

  9. I wrote some posts on brainwashing a few weeks ago. Actual brainwashing…not just conditioning. My dad always bragged he brainwashed us with his “good” brainwashing, and after researching more into brainwashing techniques…I realized he really had. And yeah, it’s super hard to overcome!! Thanks for writing this.

  10. Elizabeth, love the title. You hooked me right there. haha So much of what you said rang true for me as well. I am so thankful that God crossed our paths this last year. Although I love the whole article the part about ‘If we don’t feel loved or okay about ourselves,it’s just a matter of time before we put it all on others to give ourselves a break.’ is an eye opener to me. So true. If we don’t understand our new identity, then we constantly try to live up to the expectation we ‘think’ we need to live up to. So as the pressure comes crashing down, we throw that ‘standard’ onto others because we just can’t bear the weight of it ourselves. It’s like when Jesus told the Pharisees that they couldn’t live up to their own laws either. This also helps me understand other people a bit better now. Thank you my dear friend.

  11. I enjoyed this article very much. I especially liked the part where you said, “If we birthed a bunch of kids, would we withhold our love every time they made a mistake unless they sacrificed an animal for us…What if we told them we wouldn’t love them unless they sacrificed another human being?” I began questioning the idea that God couldn’t giv people salvation unless Jesus had died on the cross. I frustrated my Christian friends when I told them that Jesus pronounced forgiveness upon the paralytic even without (and before) the shedding of His blood.

    Anyway, thank you for this honest, heartfelt reflection on replacing old conditioning with new.

    • Kevin, yeah. It seems clear to me that God loved the world before John 3:16. Israel just couldn’t seem to believe it. The Old Testament seems to reflect that unbelief in many ways.

  12. New found knowledge in Psych 101 no doubt. Sure wasted alot of energy trying so ineffectively to disprove God.

  13. You amaze me and I only wish you knew how I say those words. You deserve such great things and such a wonderful life. To you Elizabeth, may you have greatness added to the greatness that is you!

  14. Wonderful, wonderful article, Elizabeth…..every word. Perfect! And I love it that you question all of your beliefs right down to the bones, lol. That’s the only way we ever get free. We have to understand why we do what we do, or we’ll just keep repeating the same.

  15. Wow, E.! That hit me like an adrenaline shot straight to my heart. Just EXACTLY what I needed today. 😀

  16. Elizabeth,

    you wrote:
    “I have this tendency to cringe when I drive by a church and see a large flock of people walking through its front doors. I cringe because 30 years of my life was spent being conditioned and used by the institutional church. I was its slave. Yet I thought I was in the center of God’s will. I remember waking up one morning after I had stopped going to church and wondering if I felt similar to someone who had been date raped after someone had given me a roofie.”

    Now compare what you wrote to this passage from Song of Solomon:

    [when I was young] My lover tried to unlatch the door [to my heart]and my heart thrilled within me.
    I jumped up to open the door for my love,
    and my hands dripped with perfume.
    My fingers dripped with lovely myrrh
    as I pulled back the bolt [of unbelief].
    I opened to my lover,
    but he was gone!
    My heart sank.
    I searched for him [I started attending a church]
    but could not find him anywhere.
    I called to him,
    but there was no reply.
    The night watchmen [the goats who run the IC] found me as they made their rounds.
    They beat and bruised me
    and stripped off my veil [rape],
    those watchmen on the walls.

  17. Most awesome posting. And I love the articles. I am trying to get my head around things. Coming from Mennonite background to being a fundie youth pastor to now being clean out of that shit. Now, did christ die on the cross or did mankind make that story up?

  18. […] Atonement, Church, Jesus, Life, Love, Relationships, Sin, The Bible on March 3, 2011 at 6:44 pm In previous posts, I explained the way religion doesn’t relieve guilt but actually causes one to live in guilt. […]

  19. […] so many contradictions in my religious beliefs, and especially the atonement doctrine, I was pretty much left with no other choice than to abandon the perceived security of my faith and […]

  20. Love your posts, they are well written.
    I too have left christianity, and I too have problems with the atonement issue, as christianity teaches it. I now have a different perspective on the atonement. The word means [at one ment… made one with]. In that light I see it simply as, made one with God and the whole human race.
    In the 1st testament they were created in the IMAGE of God. However they didn’t believe it, so, they started STRIVING to be in His image through the process of good and evil. They were given the law and they found out they could not keep it in thier humanity.
    In one of your post I believe you stated, the animal sarifices were given to make them feel better, but God did NOT need it. This is how I feel at the moment.
    The atonement should have been the end of that system, but unfortunatley it was not. Christianity continues to strive to be like Jesus.
    The atonement destroyed the IMAGE of God, THE ONE MAN ADAM, and brought in a new creation, the AT ONE MENT with God.
    In the atonement, we SHOULD now see ourselves as Holy, Righteous and perfect in the eyes of God.
    That allows for loving ourselves, and being ourselves.
    The world does not need another Jesus, or Savior. The world needs us to be ourselves.
    Just the way I see it now, but open to other views.


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