Tag Archives: Guilt

Self-loathing, suicide, seminary

People hate, hurt, and kill themselves at seminary. I’m not writing this to attack seminaries, but to dispel notions that seminarians have their shit together more than anyone else. We’re broken people, too.

A friend told me last week that she had been considering suicide. Not all the time, but occasionally. She might still be. I love her a lot, she has good friends, and she’s doing better in her classes this semester than last. But all the same emptiness and self-hate surge through her life. She made relationship decisions she wasn’t proud of last semester, ones that reverberate still. Family hasn’t been very supportive. Thoughts of finding work and paying off her amassed debt after graduating are depressing.

A recent study conducted by Duke showed that ministers are twice as likely to suffer from depression than the general population (Clergy More Likely to Suffer from Depression, Anxiety). The reasons for this are many and I don’t really want to get into them all here. I think a lot of it though comes from unreal expectations/thoughts that laypeople have of their “Christian leaders”. And I hope to disabuse them of some of these beliefs.

It seems the primary belief to address is that Christian leaders are qualitatively different from the rest of us. This explains how they can do so much, and have energy to comfort so many hurting people and effectively minister to believers and non-believers alike while still looking good and raising decent children. If this is what you think, you need to think again. I would say look again, but as argued in my last post (The abuse of sharing “my testimony”), you don’t have a right to your leader’s personal life and depending on the situation and leadership style it’s good for the leader to have some distance from her flock.

Christian leaders are just people. Your favorite one probably verbally abuses his children when parishioners are gone or masturbates over hardcore porn when her husband is out or has trouble mustering the courage to ask his neighbors to put their dog inside when it’s barking like crazy. If you have the opportunity to get to experience the hospitality of Christian leaders, I advise you to take it. I have had this privilege, with some “spiritual giants” of our generation. More beneficial than receiving strings of spiritual pearls of wisdom or fare of godly conversation, I came to see my heroes were just as flawed, backwards, broken and normal as I was.

I heard recently that the two groups CAPS, Duke’s counseling/psychological services center (I’ve found it helpful: http://studentaffairs.duke.edu/caps) sees most are Divinity School students and PhD students. Yes, seminarians are messed-up, perhaps more so than other people. But I like that they know it. And I hope we can grow in that knowledge, and the people we serve can appreciate it.

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Accepting homosexuality: Millstone? Freedom?

The issue of homosexuality has been a major stumbling block in my faith since coming here.

I’m coming from a background which has not historically accepted any physical-sexual practice outside of marriage between one man and one woman. I believed that tradition’s teaching and was comfortable with it. (Perhaps I believed it because I was comfortable with it?) I’ve entered a place where some of my peers are homosexual and in homosexual relationships and practicing Christians. Anymore I don’t know what I believe although I have to confess I’m not fully comfortable with Christian homosexuals (or non-Christian homosexuals). (But I still want to be friends!) I’m sure it’s part of my upbringing and preferences, just like I was verbally and non-verbally raised to avoid parts of downtown because there were “blacks” there, probably “with guns”. I won’t even completely pass the buck — I continue to entertain thought and affection patterns which reinforce my biases. If only I didn’t!

I am glad that it’s not up to me to solve this issue for everyone. But, it’s an ambiguity I may need to solve for myself before committing to any philosophy.

Jesus has heavy words for both those who would try to lighten his followers’ loads and those who would try to bog his followers down. Check it:

“… whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” –Matt. 18.6

“[The religious leaders] tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people’s shoulders, but they themselves are not willing to move them with their finger…. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces.”  — Matt. 23

Which side is right? Certainly none of us want either option, do we? We don’t want to be condoning something wicked in God’s eyes that could disrupt or jeopardize others’ relationships to God. Nor do we want to force someone to deny themselves in a soul-crushing way. More to the point, we don’t want a millstone tied around our necks and we don’t want the charge of wrongfully morally burdening others.

I hope this post hasn’t been insensitive (though with my luck it probably has). I just want to share one of the hang-ups I have when it comes to faith (or ethics pursued outside of faith). Can anyone relate? What words would you share?

Other questions: To what lengths will we go, and what “biblical/theological” means will we employ, to justify fulfilling our desires or stay in society’s good graces?
It’s been shown, by people like Peter Enns, that Israel’s laws were not particularly unique when compared to those of surrounding Ancient Near East cultures. For example, the Bible speaks to a context in which slavery was accepted; Israelites and early Christians happened to view it as God-ordained. In our world today we reject slavery. Should we also reject “traditional” (heterosexual — etc., etc.) romantic love as the only acceptable kind?

Ditching guilt

One of the best outcomes of my move from Christianity so far has been ditching guilt.

As a Christian I was constantly measuring myself up to some Christian superhero I thought I had to be. I was supposed to pray (briefly if necessary, but best on my knees and for a significant amount of time) and read my Bible (spending enough time with it to generate or receive some significant insight) every morning. I had to express my love to God somehow through worship too; this meant me thinking towards God “I love you! You are great!” I had to look at fewer persons lustfully than the day before and avoid touching myself. The list goes on.

I had concluded that feelings of spiritual inadequacy and guilt were feelings I was going to struggle with my whole life, because I indeed was spiritually inadequate. And I was resigned to this: everyone has his own cross to bear. I may continue to struggle with a notion of being inadequate or not good enough through my life, but for now I am so glad to be (relatively) guilt-free!

Some of my Christian friends celebrate with me my drop-kicking guilt to China (well, somewhere else, anyway). I know many good Christian people who want others to live guilt-free. I think it is possible to live mostly guilt-free as a Christian. I do not think I felt guilt because I viewed God as a Judge waiting for me to make a mistake. It is possible the guilt I felt (and may feel again) is more related to psychological issues (e.g. self-loathing).

Whatever the reason, since calling myself an agnostic I have not stressed about the following – praying, reading my Bible, worship, my sexuality, evangelism. And that has been great! It has been so freeing.

Questions: A) Here I have used “guilt-free” as an antonym for “guilt”. What opposite emotions/terms might you posit for guilt and why? B) If I still believe some acts I commit are wrong and believe god might exist, why do I feel so little guilt after my wrong-doing right now? C) Christianity could cause someone to feel more or less guilt than she currently does – how would you persuade a person to convert when she lives fairly guilt-free and has no wish to adopt a system which could add guilt to her life? D) Where do we draw the line between healthy guilt and unhealthy guilt in one’s life?