Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

Patrick H
Gormley


TOXIC FAITH

Toxic Faith (a summary by B. Jackson)

1. INTRODUCTION

 

A. The following is a summary of the book Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton (Oliver-Nelson, 1991)

 

B. I wrote this during the most trying time of my life when the issues raised by Arterburn and Felton came as a godsend to me. They apply the insights of family systems theory and religious addiction to life in the church. I helped to father a church in Indianapolis that had aspects of toxicity and these principles and truths enabled me to understand and explain much of my history in both my family of origin and the church

2. INTRODUCTORY ISSUES

 

A. Religious addiction

 

1. Def. of addiction: when a person is excessively/compulsively devoted (sacrificing family, job, economic security, relationship with God, their bodies or mental health) to a substance, relationship or behavior
 
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In response to Point 1: Jesus Christ asked for excessive devotion to him. He said we must give up all our money, stay with our wives for life and have such a revulsion for sin that it is to be compared with the hatred of sin that a person feels if they cut off their hands to prevent themselves from sinning. He said that whoever is not for him is against him - this is very uncompromising and intolerant.

 

If there is a God, then we are insignificant. Christians believe that God didn't have to make us. They will answer the only way they can. They will say that God gives us importance for he loves us so much and he has a plan for us. We are to love God with all our feelings and our whole being - that is far more extreme than putting alcohol before yourself. At least then you still care about yourself a bit!

 

All religion, whether it manages it or not, is an attempt to nurture religious addiction in the vulnerable. The book says you can and should have a committed Christian faith without religion for it sees faith in terms of a personal relationship with God. This does not get away from the problem of religious addiction. You may see yourself as having a personal relationship with God and you may be very individualistic. You will deny that you are religious. But you are. You are trying to be your own religion with God.

 

2. When people suffer from not knowing they are secure and significant, things which should be learned from one's family of origin and ultimately from a relationship with God in Christ, they have a vacuum in their soul that demands to be filled


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In response to Point 2: To say that all people have a vacuum in their soul that can only be filled by God through Jesus Christ is to say that counselling and psychiatric and everything else should be Christian and anything that isn't should be banned.

 

Not all of us experience this vacuum. And the vacuum is emotional. It is a common mistake to assume that emotional problems are psychological problems and spiritual problems. Somebody that is feeling bad has had a bad chemical reaction to some event or situation. That is all.

 

It is a form of bullying to assume that we have this vacuum that only Jesus can fulfil. It also accuses those who have ditched Christianity of damaging themselves and going to to damage others.

 

Point 2 is a promoter of toxic religion not a repudiation of it.

 

The Christian is asked to base their faith on the idea, "Christianity fills a hole nothing else can fill," thus even the good Christians are only outwardly good. They base their happiness on a toxic principle. That has to lead to misery whether they admit it or not.

 

The idea that liberal Christians have, that all who are sincere in their religion are saved by Jesus whether they know him or not contradicts the experience of some that they were not saved or fulfilled until they explicitly knew of Jesus even though they were sincere in their previous faith. The notion that Christianity alone is the one true faith is highly offensive in today's world. It receives vehement opposition even from so-called Christians who are sick of the arrogance and division and hatred that are rooted in it and they fear the implications that could be teased out.

3. The pain in our souls was intended to drive us to God who, alone, can meet the deep longings of the heart.
 
Instead of getting the message, we pridefully fight relying on God alone to meet our needs. We avoid listening to the pain by playing self-protective games. Along the way, we often find patterns of behavior that dull the pain, thus making it easier to live with. These pain medications can be virtually any substance, relationship or behavior that provides relief. When a person develops a pathological (abnormal) relationship to a mood-altering experience or substance that has life-damaging consequences, addiction exists
  
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In response to Point 3: belief in God automatically leads to fatalism. If God is all powerful then randomness does not truly exist. If you win the lottery he has rigged the game. And if you ask him for a win you are asking him to fraud for you. Also, if God should hurt us in the hope of driving us to him that is vindictive. Christians try to manipulate people into having a relationship with a horrible God. They are trying to spread an addiction.

 

Religion is about being and doing not just believing.

 

People tend to form groups and be intolerant and sometimes violent. Violent means aiming to hurt. Even silence is a form of violence when engaged in with an intention to let harm take place. Religion may be violent against other religious groups. The religious tend to be disrespectful of those religious people who differ from them.

 

You might say, "Considering that, we see that even if religion disappeared tomorrow people would still be forming their exclusive little societies and causing division." But at least there would be no religious element. There is a difference between a golf club that excludes women than a religion that excludes sinners or other religions. The golf club prejudice is not as ingrained or as damaging.

 

Some experts say that religion is a wonderful maker of peace except when it exercises a high degree of control over and a dominant influence upon political and civic life.

 

When members of intolerant religious systems become easygoing and liberal and become religious moderates, this is due to their fundamentalism being distorted and "infected" by secular principles. The moderates are guilty of double-think. It is not religion that is good but the secular influence. The religionists don't have a strong enough faith to obey their vicious scriptures.

 

They hypocritically say, "Let us make our children religious and maybe they will not get pregnant before marriage or end up on drugs". Their efforts to keep their kids on the straight and narrow are destined to fail because who listens to hypocrites? 

 

Point 3 is ludicrous for the Christian doctrine that we must detest sin and love the person who expresses his sinful nature through the sin is pure hypocrisy. This implies that God is a God of judgment and hate.

 

More honest Christians reject the hypocrisy. They teach, "Sometimes it is said that God hates sin (impersonal) but loves the sinner (personal), but this attempt to mitigate the wrath of God is not really faithful to the biblical witness. Wrongdoing in the Bible is never disassociated from the wrongdoers, who are fully responsible for their actions. Retribution cannot be shifted to an impersonal level without it ceasing to be what it is. We cannot imagine a judge excusing a murderer who says he is sorry and offers to clean up the mess, as if the crime were all that mattered. However sincere his repentance might be, the murderer would still be held responsible for his sin, just as we are held responsible for our sins before God" (page 222, The Doctrine of God, Gerald Bray, IVP, Illinois, 1993).
 
Christians say that we need a general purpose of life. It bases this claim on its dogma that God has made us for himself so that we can have a relationship with him for all eternity. They are not talking about a purpose at all though they pretend they are. They are really taking about feeling you have a purpose.


4. Addictions can be divided into three basic types: substance addiction (e.g., alcohol), emotional addiction (letting an emotion run your life e.g., depression), process addiction (e.g., work, religion)
 
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4. Devotion to God may be caused by emotional addiction and process addiction. If you understand God as that which only really matters then you are telling yourself you should get addicted.

5. Addiction is ultimately idolatry, that is, the worship of a relationship, substance or behavior instead of God. The idolator worships what is not God. Anything can be an idol - not just a religious figure or a statue of a god. The idolater may say, "I cannot be happy unless I make money. I do this for the glory of God in my own way. I know even in my addiction and greed I am following a warped form of good. Indirectly, I glorify God."
 
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5. To worship a relationship with God is not the same as worshipping God. You can cherish your marriage rather than your spouse. It is easy to love what a person does for you and to imagine that you love the person. The person is bigger than what virtues they have. The Christians say you must love God not to fulfil any need in you but you must simply love him. If you love God, you will love him no matter what he does to you or what he becomes. Even if he were evil it wouldn't matter.

 

If you loved another person literally with all your heart and soul and mind, that would prove you have an addiction. According to Christianity, its not an addiction when the other person is God. Talk about double standards. And its even worse when you cannot relate to God like you can to yourself or another person.

 

6. Religion becomes unhealthy when our attendance and service flows, not out of faith in God who has loved us in Christ and given us opportunities to serve out of that place of rest, but out of a need to be loved and find worth. Religious addiction is hard to spot because it has to do with motive. Two people could be serving side by side and one is doing it by faith in God for an eternal reward (gold, silver and precious stones; 1 Cor 3.12) while the other is doing it by faith in the behavior for a temporal reward with no eternal dividends (wood, hay and straw). Religious addicts are also usually the best workers in the church so their dysfunction is not only overlooked but rewarded. Meanwhile, their lives head for disaster.
 
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6. Who knows if most Christians are suffering religious addiction? You can't tell such apart from those who are not suffering for this addiction. You can't disprove the possibility that all Christians suffer from this addiction.

 

Religious addiction tends to be more internalised than other forms of addiction. A person who is addicted to God will not show it the same way as a person who is addicted to alcohol would.

B. 21 erroneous beliefs that can fuel toxic faith (various forms and degrees of unhealthy Christianity)

 

1. Security and significance with God depend on my behavior
 
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1. The Bible and the Christian Church threaten God's punishments, including everlasting torment in Hell, on all who fail to behave. Christianity is the most toxic religion imaginable when it teaches that the lost who die will go to Hell forever. Even a sect that battered its recalcitrant members would be less controlling and mean.

 

A faith that says people will be damned for not having the right beliefs is worse than one that says people will be damned for failing to do good works.

2. When tragedy strikes, true believers should have a real peace about it
 
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2. Asking people to be at peace when disaster strikes them is asking them to become complacent in the face of evil. It is putting pressure on them to pretend to be happy. It is being unsympathetic. If the believer "should" experience a real peace then the believer is being accused of being somehow defective if he or she doesn't. And you can't make yourself feel peace in the midst of tragedy. You either feel it or you don't. There is no should about it.

3. If you had real faith, God would heal you or the one you are praying for
 
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3.Jesus himself said that faith heals. He started the deadly faith healing tradition that has contaminated the religious world since.

4. All ministers are men and women of God and can be trusted
 
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4. The tendency to regard all men and women of God as trustworthy is especially strong among Catholics. The Protestants see the men and women of God as holy and trustworthy just because they have a minister role but the Catholic sees the priests, for example, as being that and more. The priest is seen as another Christ and in possession of Christ's greatest powers. The Catholics have seen priests and nuns - but not Protestant ministers - as worthy of absolute trust. This led to the culture of cover-up for child abuse and other crimes.

5. Material blessings are a sign of spiritual strength
 
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5. The Old Testament God spoke of material blessings being a sign of his favour.

6. The more money you give to God, the more money he will give to you
 
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6. Christianity teaches that God rewards all who give money to his cause. It might not be the reward of more money but a spiritual blessing. In response to point 6, Jesus Christ himself is to blame for the teaching of some that the more money you give the Church the more you will get back. Catholics tend to believe that God will give you back double the money you pay for the upkeep of the Church. Jesus said that if you abandon all for him you will get more back from him in return.

7. I can work my way to heaven
 
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7. I can work my way to heaven is listed as a sign of toxic faith. Some people are happy to believe they have done enough to get in.
The Protestant belief that Jesus obeyed God for us to earn our heaven for us so that we can go there even if we are just after committing a murder is far more toxic.

8. Problems in your life result from some particular sin
 
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8. Christians think that problems are all in the mind and the reason we suffer is because we are too prideful to accept what God allows to happen to us. They think we make our suffering worse by refusing to accept God's will.

9. I must not stop meetings other's needs
 
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9. The Bible itself says that we must sacrifice ourselves to devote ourselves to the needs of others as if they were better than us. You are asked by Paul in the Bible to think of others as better than you.

10. I must always submit to authority
 
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10. The notion that, "I must always submit to authority" is condemned. If I say I don't, I am wrong. I submit to my own authority. Believers say we must always submit to God's authority. Point 10 seems to be referring to constant submission to human authority. What is the problem with that? If its simply bad to have to obey somebody all the time then its bad whether or not it is God that is being obeyed.


As for the notion that its different to obey God all the time, we meet the following problem. Is anybody who follows man necessarily better off than anybody who follows man's interpretation of God and his will? There is no difference in reality.

11. God only uses spiritual giants

 

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11 Nobody thinks that! Spiritual giants are no use on their own - they need to be of use to those who are not spiritual giants but who are just spiritual.

12. Having true faith means waiting for God to help me and doing nothing until he does

 

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12 Jesus Christ did that. He refused to walk away from his impending execution though he had the chance.
The believer argues God is in control. If you help yourself, all you are doing is co-operating with how God has decided to help you. So you are not really helping yourself. It is a short step from the notion that your efforts in themselves are unimportant to the notion that you may do nothing to help yourself or others for God will help anyway. In fact, if it is all about God then helping yourself is not really helping yourself at all!

13. If it's not in the Bible, it isn't relevant (all truth is in the Bible)

 

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13 True Christians believe that the Bible alone contains the essential knowledge that God wants us to have. This doctrine does not claim that there is no such thing as truth outside the Bible. Nobody would claim such a thing! But we do see that all that implies that the truth that matters and that we are obligated to accept is solely in the Bible. The one who truly accepts that cannot for example complain if somebody starts forbidding the creation of new medicines. To complain implies that there are truths outside the Bible that we have a duty to accept.

14. God will find me a perfect mate

 

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14 Christians seem to believe that. They believe in prayer even though it fails half time. And any seeming benefits or results could have nothing to do with it.

15. Everything that happens to me is good

 

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15 Christianity argues that evil is not a thing or a power. Rather it is merely good that is in the wrong place. Thus everything that happens to a person is in reality good.

 

God alone matters in Christianity. Thus the motive for assessing evil as not being a thing is to glorify God and give him a good reputation. It is not about helping people who demonise evil as if it were a power and who trap themselves in fear. It is not about compassion.


Suffering is real and no truly good person sees suffering as good that is in the wrong place and time.

16. A strong faith will protect me from problems and pain

 

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16 Suffering is experiencing what is useless to you and others. If you bring good out of your suffering it does not follow that the suffering is any less bad. The good appears in spite of it and not because of it.

 

There is more glory in seeing good coming in spite of suffering. There is more courage in the person who refuses to use crutches and blindfolds when it comes to suffering. There is more wisdom in that person and that person will only get stronger. The crutch helps temporarily but it will break and break hard. Helping you to get and keep a crutch is the job of priests and ministers. They are the real enemy. A real friend wants you to stand on your feet and throw the crutch away.

 

 

Faith forbids you to see suffering as useless for an all-good God cannot allow useless suffering to happen. He would be evil himself if he did. So this doctrine suggests that a strong faith will not keep problems and pain away but will protect you a bit.

17. God hates sinners, is angry with me, and wants to punish me
 

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17 The Bible repeatedly speaks of the anger and wrath of God. The teaching that Jesus has died for us on the cross claims that the anger and wrath is directed at us and Jesus just took the punishment for us. It's still our punishment though he bore it for us.

18. Christ was merely a great teacher
 

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18 Surely the teaching of Christ if its useful and good is more important than Christ himself?

19. God is too big to care about me

 

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19 The Catholics pray to saints for they don't want to deal with God directly. That's an example of a religion that thinks God is too big to care about people. But typically, it pretends not to think that!

20. More than anything else, God wants me to be happy (free from pain)

 

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20 By condemning that view, Christianity shows its true colours.

 

The Church hates that view. It accuses God of needlessly allowing evil to happen. The Church argues that the reason God puts up with them is that it is his plan to make us good and happiness takes second place. If there is a choice, he wants you to be good and not happy.

 

A believer who thinks God opposes pain and suffering could be seen as motivated to fight them. But it won't last for it contradicts reality.

21. You can become God
 
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 21. The book condemns you thinking you are God. If God can allow evil to happen, why can't you think you are God and taking on human vulnerability for some purpose? In fact a religious faith that forbids you to think you are God is toxic. It insinuates that you are offending God and it doesn't matter if it helps you to think you are God.

 

Those who say they are servants of God are lying. They are servants of what they want to think about God. In other words, they hide their self-interest and call it God-interest. The God they give you is an idol they have created from perceptions and doctrines. By implication, they are the real gods for they give you God and create God for you. To honour their God is to honour them more. It is really honouring them not their creation.

C. 7 irrational thinking patterns common in religious addiction
1. Thinking in extremes: driven by an all or nothing, black or white mentality (no gray; my way or the highway) that causes the addict to be very hard on himself/herself and others

 

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1 There is nothing more extreme than the Christian division of people into saved or unsaved and those ready for eternal Heaven and those fit only for eternal torture.

2. Drawing invalid conclusions, not based in reality; global thinking i.e., using words like "never, always."


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2 Don't Christians say that God never lets you down? They deny that being let down is really being let down. Don't Pentecostal Christians often encourage taking stupid risks to prove your faith in God to be true? Don't Catholics say that blasphemy and sex outside marriage is always wrong? Don't Catholics say that Jesus was an ordinary man who was also God and who struggled to get himself to risk his life in the hope that God would raise him from the dead?

3. Filtering out the positive and distorting reality. These people selectively hear only the negative and are consequently negative about everything, especially themselves; in response to positive input they say, "yes, but..."
 

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We are all selective.

 

The problem with religion is that it gives us extra stuff to be selective about!

4. Filtering out the negative and distorting reality. These people selectively hear only the positive to shield their already low self worth. They allow in themselves what they would condemn in others. A lot of relational wreckage; the weight of restitution can be crushing when they finally see it

 

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If the Churches took point 4 seriously they would not last much longer.

5. Thinking with the heart; feelings become the basis for reality because I think my perception is "certainly accurate."
 

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The Bible claims that God enables us to know what we do not know. Christians claim to know their faith is true. This doesn't make sense so they say its a miracle of God. They are in reality just pretending to know. All religious war mongers and bigots start off thinking they somehow know what they cannot know.

6. "Should, ought" thinking; constant self condemnation of not being able to measure up
 

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Christianity says we have an evil nature. How's that then for self-condemnation?

Instead of thinking "I should" I should always think, "I could".

7. Co-dependency; egocentric feeling of being responsible for everything; must be in control; eyes always on the needs of others at the expense of their own
 
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Jesus Christ was an all or nothing teacher. He said that whoever is not for him is against him. He exaggerated how bad the unfulfilled willingness to sin is. He made out that looking at a woman in lust is committing adultery with her in one's heart and that the one who hates should be treated like a murderer.

 

Christians themselves engage in global thinking. They say God always answers their prayers. Even when they don't get what they ask for they say he gave them something better so he did answer them after all.
Believers often feel that if they feel something is true that makes it true. An atheist would see through the folly of doing that. But the believer imagines that his feelings are a communication from the Holy Spirit. The believer is more likely then to be irrational than the atheist.

 

It is interesting that the list condemns "should" thinking when the Bible is full of commandments from God and Jesus about what we "should" do.