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“Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them, it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason, it puts him into confusion.” Edmund Burke
Editor's 1-Minute Essay: Guilt
David R. Hawkins: "Guilt is really self-condemnation and self-invalidation of our worth and value as a human being."
Anthony de Mello: “When you are guilty, it is not your sins you hate but yourself.”
Monika Geidane: “That instant pain of guilt when you know you have betrayed the person that just trusted his life to you.”
Daniel Nayeri: “Guilt is a useless feeling. It’s never enough to make you change direction- – only enough to make you useless.”
Geoffrey Chaucer: “The guilty think all talk is of themselves.”
Eckhart Tolle: “People tend to dwell more on negative things than on good things. So the mind then becomes obsessed with negative things, with judgments, guilt and anxiety produced by thoughts about the future and so on.”
Luke Garner: “The guilt you feel finally comes to an end when you fully express how it came into your consciousness.”
Leonard F. Peltier, Prison Writings; “Innocence is the weakest defense. Innocence has a single voice that can only say over and over again, "I didn't do it." Guilt has a thousand voices, all of them lies.
Paul Ekman: “Shame is closely related to guilt, but there is a key qualitative difference. No audience is needed for feelings of guilt, no one else need know, for the guilty person is his own judge. Not so for shame. The humiliation of shame requires disapproval or ridicule by others. If no one ever learns of a misdeed there will be no shame, but there still might be guilt. Of course, there may be both. The distinction between shame and guilt is very important, since these two emotions may tear a person in opposite directions. The wish to relieve guilt may motivate a confession, but the wish to avoid the humiliation of shame may prevent it.”
William Channing: “No punishment is so terrible as prosperous guilt.”
Simon Mawer: “Grief and guilt. A powerful combination. Guilt like a liquid, a thin liquor, seeping everywhere, informing everything, saturating the whole--corrosive, like seawater, scented with the rich stench of ordure and corruption, and carrying with it hard, abrasive shards of grief.”
Kyra Sedgwick: “I was always fraught with guilt, and it's such a waste of an emotion. It keeps you out of the moment of being where you are.”
Stefan Zweig: “No guilt is forgotten so long as the conscience still knows of it.”
Nicholas Rowe: “Guilt is the source of sorrows; 'tis the fiend, the avenging fiend that follows us behind with whips and stings.”
Lynn Crilly: “Guilt is a destructive and ultimately pointless emotion.”
Horace Bushnell: “Guilt is the very nerve of sorrow.”
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross: “Guilt is perhaps the most painful companion of death.”
Charles James Fox: “He that is conscious of guilt cannot bear the innocence of others: So they will try to reduce all others to their own level.”
Junius: “Guilt alone, like brain-sick frenzy in its feverish mood, fills the light air with visionary terrors, and shapeless forms of fear.”
Robert South: “Guilt upon the conscience, like rust upon iron, both defiles and consumes it, gnawing and creeping into it, as that does which at last eats out the very heart and substance of the metal.”
Ken Wapnick: “Guilt is the sum total of: All the negative feelings we have ever had about ourselves! Any form of self-hatred, self-rejection, feelings of worthlessness, sinfulness, inferiority, incompetence, failure, or emptiness. The feeling that there are things in us that are lacking or missing or incomplete."
Nathaniel Branden: “What is guilt? It is moral self-reproach--I did wrong when it was possible to have done otherwise.”
Glenn R. Schiraldi: “Make friends with guilt. Guilt is a beautiful emotion that alerts us when something is wrong so that we may achieve peace with our conscience. Without conscience there would be no morality. So we can greet guilt cordially and with acceptance, just as we do all other emotions. After we respond to guilt, it has done its job and we can release it.”
Gregg Hurwitz: “Guilt is an indulgence, it entangles you in the past.”
Samuel Johnson: "Guilt once harbored in the conscious breast, intimidates the brave, degrades the great."
Edmund Burke: “Guilt was never a rational thing; it distorts all the faculties of the human mind, it perverts them, it leaves a man no longer in the free use of his reason, it puts him into confusion.”
Sabaa Tahir: “There are two kinds of guilt: the kind that drowns you until you're useless, and the kind that fires your soul to purpose.”
Joel Osteen: “You won't be free from guilt if you are constantly replaying the negative memories of your past.”
Bryant McGill: “Guilt can interfere with our desires to move forward, to heal properly and to become a person who has the mental health and means of proper recompense.”
Rosamund Lupton: “I get up and pace the room, as if I can leave my guilt behind me. But it tracks me as I walk, an ugly shadow made by myself.”
Woody Allen: “When we played softball, I'd steal second base, feel guilty and go back.”
Criss Jami: “It has always seemed that a fear of judgment is the mark of guilt and the burden of insecurity.”
Dave Grohl Black: “Guilt is cancer. Guilt will confine you, torture you, destroy you as an artist. It's a black wall. It's a thief.”
Simone de Beauvoir: "Defending the truth is not something one does out of a sense of duty or to allay guilt complexes, but is a reward in itself."
Bishop John Shelby Spong: “Christianity is, I believe, about expanded life, heightened consciousness and achieving a new humanity. It is not about closed minds, supernatural interventions, a fallen creation, guilt, original sin or divine rescue.”
Joseph Prince: “Religious bondage is one of the most crippling bondages with which a person can be encumbered. Religious bondage keeps one in constant fear, guilt, and anxiety.”
Jonathan Swift: “Nothing more unqualified the man to act with prudence than a misfortune that is attended with shame and guilt.”
Eric Hoffer: “Self-righteousness is a loud din raised to drown the voice of guilt within us.”
Lawrence Darrell: “Guilt always hurries towards its complement, punishment: only there does its satisfaction lie.”
Fischer, Shaver, & Carnochan: “Guilt is, first and foremost, an emotion. You may think of guilt as a good way to get someone to do something for you out of a sense of obligation. Guilt is not a very good motivator. It's more accurate to think of guilt as an internal state. In the overall scheme of emotions, guilt is in the general category of negative feeling states. It’s one of the ‘sad’ emotions, which also include agony, grief, and loneliness, according to one comprehensive framework.”
Alice Miller: "Many people suffer all their lives from this oppressive feeling of guilt, the sense of not having lived up to their parents' expectations....no argument can overcome these guilt feelings, for they have their beginnings in life's earliest period, and from that they derive their intensity."
Les Parrott: "the disease of false guilt....At the root of false guilt is the idea that what you feel must be true."
Martin Buber: underlined the difference between the Freudian notion of guilt, based on internal conflicts, and existential guilt, based on actual harm done to others.
Marisa DeMeglio: “It’s this vague feeling that somehow you’re disappointing someone somewhere.”
Nietzsche: “We are the heirs of the conscience-vivisection and self-crucifixion of two millennia: in these we have had longest practice, in these lies our mastery perhaps, certainly our subtlety; we have conjoined the natural inclinations and a bad conscience. A reverse attempt would be possible: to conjoin the inclination for the beyond, for things contrary to sense, reason, nature, in short all previous ideals, which were all world-slandering ideals, with a bad conscience.”
Bertrand Russell: “I cannot find in the entire bible, one word in praise of intelligence”
The following represents a bits-and-pieces discussion of members, former and current, of various religions as they cope with Religious Trauma Syndrome, a church-inspired sense of pervasive, existential guilt.
Guilt can be viewed in terms of constructiveness versus destructiveness: "constructive guilt" is focused on forgiving one's ethical lapses and changing one's behavior, while "destructive guilt" remains mired in self-loathing and does not emphasize learning from one's wrongdoings and moving ahead with life.
The term “Catholic guilt” is generally used to describe the feelings of remorse or conflict in people who are or were raised Catholic. Sometimes this guilt is associated with specific church teachings, since when people feel that they have violated their faith’s laws they tend to feel guilty about it. The phrase also has a broader meaning, though. Many Catholic teachings emphasize the inherent sinfulness of all people, which can lead to a certain degree of self-loathing even in the absence of some obvious transgression. Guilt in this sense is usually related to inherent imperfections and daily failings that cause a person to feel that he or she is isolated from God and unworthy of reconciliation. Some scholars have linked this sort of religious-based guilt to obsessive compulsive disorder, though the results are far from conclusive.
Can’t get too far into a Catholic-oriented discussion without talking Original Sin. This is the idea that we’re all born deep in the red, sinfully speaking, and no matter how many good deeds we perform on Earth, we’re never getting back in the black. (Thanks a lot, Adam and Eve!) ... Catholic-wise: Your nature is to sin, and the devil’s waiting with his claws poised to exploit this, so you have to guard against it. With a foundation like this?—?of God looking down at us, wincing?—?it’s tough not to feel automatically guilty. That brings us to another possible origin of Catholic Guilt, the idea that there’s a Higher Power watching our every move, listening to our every thought.
“[Jewish] guilt is insufficiency,” Finley says. “The guilt is they haven’t lived up to the standards and expectations of their people.” Which leads to the stereotypical manifestation of the guilt: The Jewish Mother. “Why don’t you see me more often? Why aren’t you a better son?” Finley says, going through the litany. “Why aren’t you as good as your bother Sheldon? Look at your cousin, look how great it is.” “Why aren’t you coming home for Passover?” Karen Pogoda says, echoing Finley. “Why haven’t you sent that thank you card yet?” “How many times you forgot to call your mother, or why haven’t you given her grandkids, or why you choose to not find your soulmate,” Sarah Goldberg says. “Or if you do, why isn’t he Jewish?” That prospect of outer-marriage?—?that is, marrying someone who’s not a member of the Jewish faith?—?is a big component of Jewish Guilt... And that is, perhaps, the crucial divide between the two. The Catholic version of guilt is coming from a more ethereal “on-high” place: a judgmental and all-seeing Higher Power. The penalty for not following the instructions of this being? Only eternal damnation. That’s high-pressure stuff, but also shouldn’t imply that Jewish Guilt is somehow weaker. That comes from a more tangible place, from your friends and family, from your community. The penalty for not following those instructions? Being ostracized. The weight of both are tremendous. The unanswerable question?—?unanswerable, seeing as Jews can’t pretend to be Catholics, and vice versa?—?is which is more threatening: an all-powerful deity or your mom? How about if you happen to be one of those lucky few who get to experience that sweet, sweet Guilt from both? “The Jewish side is, ‘You could do better,’ and the Catholic side is, ‘You’re a lost cause,’” says Katherine Spiers, who is ethnically Jewish but was raised Catholic. “I just always feel like I’m f****** up absolutely everything.”
The concept of “Catholic guilt” has become a cliche, a joke, a truism. But it’s real. For many of us who experienced Catholic childhood religious indoctrination, Catholic guilt is a pernicious and inescapable burden with serious lifelong repercussions. It clings to us, a dark spectre of our pasts, a cruel and vicious voice whispering to us, reminding us of the lessons of our childhood: that we are unworthy, that we cannot do anything right, that we do not deserve to be happy, that we are dirty tainted sinners who must constantly punish ourselves and atone for our sins, and that we are nothing. Nothing. And this voice cannot be reasoned with. It resides in a part of our brains that is immune to rationality. It’s not difficult to apply our reason to the question of whether or not God exists. We simply look for evidence, and, when we see that there is none, we realize that the only reasonable choice is to abandon our faith and to become atheists or agnostics. But Catholic guilt isn’t like that. The irrationality of the messages that we were told as children is irrelevant. Evidence and reason are powerless against guilt and shame that is this pervasive, vicious, and persistent. For those of us who grew up with this indoctrination, faith in God is optional. Catholic guilt, though, is not.
- From a psychological standpoint, Catholic guilt makes a great deal of sense. It’s no surprise that a child who is repeatedly reminded of their inadequacy, dirtiness, and worthlessness will most likely become an adult who struggles with feelings of guilt and shame, one who never feels clean, worthy, valuable, adequate, or forgiven. One who is never at peace.
Despite this, few people, psychologists or otherwise, take it seriously. Unlike other forms of childhood trauma, Catholic guilt and other consequences of childhood religious indoctrination are rarely given the consideration that they deserve. I imagine that there are two reasons for this: 1) Catholic guilt is an extremely common and widespread phenomenon, so common that it is easily ignored, and 2) admitting that childhood religious indoctrination has lifelong consequences is taboo. For example, when I try to discuss my personal struggles with Catholic guilt, I’m often accused of blaming religion for my problems. I’ve even had people laugh in my face. And that’s the problem with treating Catholic guilt as a cliche and a joke: it creates an atmosphere in which it’s easy to dismiss it and to laugh it off. For those of us who struggle with it, the fact that it isn’t taken seriously adds insult to injury. I think that we need to take it seriously. Because it is serious. It’s real and it’s immune to reason. And year after year, children continue to experience the indoctrination that, in one way or another, will haunt them for the rest of their lives. Until we as a society admit that childhood religious indoctrination has serious consequences and begin to give those consequences the consideration that they deserve, those of us who struggle with such issues will never be able to heal, even in some small way. And, more importantly, until society stops treating serious issues like Catholic guilt as a cliched joke, childhood religious indoctrination will never be seen for what it is: emotional and psychological abuse. We cannot even begin to fight back against childhood religious indoctrination until we admit that it does real damage and has real consequences, consequences that millions of people struggle with on a daily basis.
Child abuse and Catholic indoctrination: on being 'kindling wood for Hell' ... I myself am still living with “Catholic guilt”. I’m a recovering Catholic is my running joke, but as you have stated, it’s not a joke. I hope more blogs like yours end up getting the message out there that this is a very real problem and should be considered child abuse in my opinion.
Thank you, Kevin. I really appreciate that. & Yes, I think that it needs to be discussed more openly & frequently. Unfortunately, because so many people struggle with the after-effects of childhood religious indoctrination, I don’t think it gets the attention that it deserves. There’s also the element of religious privilege, i.e. it’s not acceptable to openly criticize the religious practices of others, even when they may be considered abusive to children.
I went through a similar experience in the fundamentalist Southern Baptist church. The indoctrination/brainwashing method seems from my experiences and study of Christianity to be roughly the same in various churches: 1) they convince you that you are a terrible person in the eyes of God who will punish you unless you are “saved”; 2) they convince you that theirs is the only true church, the only way to escape the wrath of an angry god; 3) when you express doubts they tell you that there is something wrong with you (in the Baptist church it took the form of telling us that it was the Devil putting those doubts into our minds. I went through all that and finally realized that the problem was not me—it was the church and more exactly it was the fault of the core teachings of Christianity. What helped me to escape the guilt trip was realizing that I was the one who had been wronged, Making the victim feel like the offender is part of the brainwashing process designed to keep you in the church or sect, and not unlike blaming a rape victim for being raped. I was the one who had been deceived, and I got mad as hell. Whenever someone tried to play the blame game on me, my reply was and still is, “No, it was YOUR religion.” I have absolutely no feeling of guilt for renouncing religion and refuse to apologize for being an atheist. I imagine that this method/process is so commonplace simply because it works. It works disturbingly well. It’s extremely effective and it gets them what they want, sadly enough.
Thank you both, for nailing the problem, which was mine for decades. Shaking off entirely any faith and boosting my self-esteem helped me to rid of that imposed by Catholicism guilt, feeling that I am nobody and unworthy of love and happiness. I truly feel sometimes like rape victim; that religion has raped my mind, when I was still a minor (well, is seems that pedophilia, is the Catholic Church’s specialty). After over 10 years of various readings and thinking on the subject I become an atheist, free of planted by the church guilt, much happier person than I used to be.
Celeste, that guilt will eventually fade away with life experience. Loving, accepting ourselves and the others helps to build positive emotions, which wipe guilt. I wish you all the best in your live journey.
I was raised in the Churches of Christ, a fundamentalist Christian sect, and still have nightmares about being in church, and being condemned for my apostasy by other members. I escaped 24 years ago.
Yes! I too still carry around a lot of “Catholic guilt”, despite realizing how irrational and ridiculous it is. It’s comforting to know I’m not alone. Oh yes, it’s definitely a relief to realize that others can relate. The fact that we forget that is yet another consequence of society stigmatizing it and not taking it seriously, I’d argue.
Like a couple other commenters noted, it’s not just Catholic guilt. I was raised in a fundamentalist church as well. It’s somewhat related to the Plymouth brethren movement of the 19th Century, I believe. We were Biblical literalists, and the emphasis was very much on one’s ‘walk with the Lord.’ We went to church twice on Sundays and had a Bible study every Wednesday night. The running theme was always how wretched we are, and how much we need Christ. But it was weird, too; it wasn’t a fire and brimstone kind of thing, but all the men (the only ones allowed to speak) seemed to revel in the fact that they were worthless sinners. And when they would opine on a passage of scripture, they would magnify the wretched state of whichever ‘antagonist’ was highlighted in the text.
To me, Christian guilt is a vicious cycle that feeds on itself, snowballs, and leaves one needing Christ’s salvation but at the same time being weirdly happy about it. I almost think that the people who don’t escape this cycle and remain within their religious community probably don’t feel the same inner turmoil. But we others, we ‘free spirits’ as Nietzsche would say, experience it as a brutal conscience that tyrannizes, and seems to carry with it an incontestable paternal authority. You’ve described it perfectly. If one is unlucky enough to go through a clinical depression, this ‘voice’ can damn near kill you. I don’t know what the solution could be. I’m 39, and I would think that people in my age range and older probably have the worst of it. Given some of the latest encouraging polls, it seems that the youth of the world are getting less and less religious – so maybe the inoculation of Christian guilt doesn’t ‘take’ on them. We can only hope. It really is very conscience-esque, and there indeed is a very cruelly paternalistic and domineering quality about it.
How I can empathize, Miranda! Guilt and shame is just as pernicious in the Mormon Church, the main tools its authorities use to subjugate, manipulate, and castigate its members. Fellow ex-Mormon, here. You are right, and how! I seem to remember a virtually non-stop succession of face-to-face interviews with adult authorities, all meant to ascertain my “worthiness” for this or that. It was positively ridiculous how the most insignificant peccadillo (and, in retrospect, things I wouldn’t even consider peccadilloes) became a huge issue, either in the eyes of the interviewer or simply in my own mind. At 13 (!) I was denied the opportunity to go on a youth trip because I wasn’t a full tithe-payer! It was made very clear that you absolutely needed to have a blank “sin slate” before judgment day arrived, or you were going to be in for some pretty awful awfulness. I really can’t understand how those adults weren’t disgusted by their own behavior.
Thanks for sharing your stories about Mormonism. I think it’s important to talk about all sorts of childhood religious indoctrination, as doing so (one hopes, at least) can perhaps help both ourselves and others. It’s so important to let people know that they are not alone and that there are others who have gone through the same nasty and damaging experiences and can relate to the after-effects of those experiences.
I, too, was made to feel worthless and rejected by my parents’ fundamentalist Church of Christ religion. I suppose my being different and unaccepted due to my sexual orientation had much to do with my being discomfited with religion. That and just feeling that Christian answers to questions were so inadequate and confusin, along with being disgusted and morally incensed by some of the stories in the bible. Nothing describes my experience with religion better than “psychological abuse” ( thank you Dr. Marlene Winell, who has described this so well). I too wonder how it is that others can experience religion in a benign way. Even after years of being a happy and devout athiest I still suffer from Catholic damage. But what to do…hmmm…how about a class-action lawsuit (for psychological pain) against the Vatican? They seem to think that they’re above Earthly law, but one billion Catholics vs Ratzi should shake them up.
Thank you, Brad, I think that it will take a government and/or U.N. crackdown to make the Vatican take legal responsibility for their various crimes. I’m not terribly optimistic that that will happen anytime soon, but it would certainly be satisfying if it did.
Excellent post Miranda. I see the doctrine of original sin as a denial of the fundamental integrity of human nature. Teaching a child that she must mistrust herself, blame herself, and fear herself is a contemptible lie and a potentially grievous injury...
I think you’re absolutely correct about the doctrine of original sin. It’s an incredibly damaging, destructive, and powerful force that, in essence, trains a child’s brain to oppress itself.
Well said and thanks for bringing a serious issue to light. I was raised very Catholic, and got so seriously into it that I spent a year in a monastery. The guilt and shame and self-hatred it instilled in me led to some very serious depression and a suicide attempt. Catholic guilt is no joke. I am now an atheist and a lot happier than I ever was as a Catholic, but I still feel guilty for leaving ‘the faith’, and I cannot go into a Catholic church or look at a crucifix without feeling like that helpless little child again, being told I’m a ‘sinner’. Reason is enough to lead to atheism, but reason alone cannot get rid of the emotional response to such abuse.
Thank you. And I really like how you put this: Reason is enough to lead to atheism, but reason alone cannot get rid of the emotional response to such abuse. Yes indeed. & That’s the problem: the emotional after-effects are, it seems, completely immune to reason and rationality. That’s what makes them so powerful, disturbing, and persistent.
Catholic guilt seems to sound a whole lot like PTSD caused by childhood sexual abuse… I cannot help but wonder if the reason that Religious institutions seem to attract so many Child abusers could be that the type of thinking that those institutions insist on appeals to Child abusers. After all there are plenty of other career choices that give these people access to children.
Catholic Guilt (and its Jewish counterpart) has given us many of our greatest stand-up comics. It’s all in how you process your abuse. Some sink into depression and self-destruction, others use it productively to (among other things) tear down those abusive institutions. Even if you’re not a performer, find a way to tell your story and look for applications of your experience that will help prevent others from suffering the same experience. “Religious education” is a contradiction in terms.
Programming a child is easy. Many parents have a distorted sense of ownership of their children, instead of viewing them as adults in the making. Parents assume they have the right to indoctrinate their kids resulting in children doubting their own sense of reality, having low self-esteem, withdrawing from relationships, becoming mistrustful or misinterpreting the world around them. Miranda, you were manipulated at an age where you had no defenses. Shed that guilt. Don’t let what happened to you define you. In a perfect world, children should not be allowed in churches just as they are not allowed in bars until they are old enough to understand their choices.
This is very good, my wife is a recovering Catholic. I agree that it’s essentially child abuse, but the tough question is, how to you regulate how parents raise their kids? That’s a very difficult area, people are largely left alone to do what they will with their kids, so long as there is not physical abuse, but I can imagine a time when something is different so that this mental abuse is also not tolerated by society. California was considering a law preventing spanking, and I think this is a step in the right direction. Mandatory education for parents? I don’t know the answer, but it’s a question we need to keep asking. Thanks so much for your post.
It’s all about choice. I grew up in Catholic world and knew it for the irrational superstition it is from the age of 7. I was stuck there for another ten years with the idiocy, the condescension and the attempts at sexual abuse. I kept my thoughts to myself and as soon as I was done with school, I got out. I made a choice that it would not ruin my life, nor, indeed, have much effect on me at all. That choice is as easy to make as choosing to wallow in self-pity and shame. After all, when you do that, you’re only giving in to them.
I too grew up in a fundamentalist christian church called The Gospel Hall which is something like The Brethren I would say. The negative effect of hearing from as far back as I can remember that I’m a worthless sinner headed for hell not to mention I’ll be left behind when my parents are raptured any minute has been great. Their most used tool is fear, especially when they meet some resistance the fiery rhetoric gets amped up past 10; you name it I heard it including my mother showing me where she kept her will in the freezer when I was 9 because I was going to be left behind any day if I didn’t repent. I can go on all night with stories like that after being in the church for over 20 years. It’s so clear now that it was abuse but at the time that was all I knew. I’m just starting to search for answers and reasons for why I am the way I am today, this has been a help.
Try being raised Mormon. At least once a month from the time I could speak I was told to say the following: “I “know” the Mormon church is the only true church, I know Joseph Smith was a Prophet of God, I know the Book of Mormon is true, I love my Mom and Dad and brothers and sisters”. So Mormons not only have Christ guilt, but we have the connection ingrained between our love of family and our belief. I have recently decided to leave the Mormon church and it has felt like I was leaving my family as well. I would love to see a study linking the connection between the feeling of love and security linking me and my family to the Mormon faith as well do to this indoctrination done every week my entire life. You are not leaving your family, you have a greater family of concerned people who do not villify you for outrageous reasons.
I was searching the internet and Amazon for books on ‘Catholic Guilt’ and there seems to be little to nothing out there on the subject. Catholic Indoctrination is EVIL, it cuts us off from the God within, and fills us with fear and guilt! It is no accident! It is abuse for the sake of power. It is vile psychological abuse and programming! People who are ‘nothing’ are easy to control! Religion says “that we are unworthy, that we cannot do anything right, that we do not deserve to be happy, that we are dirty tainted sinners who must constantly punish ourselves and atone for our sins, and that we are nothing. Nothing.”
I am finally learning to deal with my catholic guilt as I approach my 60th birthday, denounced as a heretic at convent school assembly for questioning the infallibilty of the pope at the age of 12.... I am finally learning I have worth and value in my own right but it has been an uphill struggle all the way and I am still working at it.
Now in my sixties, it took me 25 years to “undo” the harm of my religious upbringing. The three phases for me: 1) shame and fear when I discovered I really did not believe at age 16. 2) Anger and ridicule at those that do/did believe, especially my family for many years 3) Eventual release and liberation and focusing on the joy of this life, but not till in my late 50s. My wife was born non-religious, and watched in amazement while I spent all those years going through this process.
Ditto! Except for many years as a young person I have tried to conform to my religious friends. Being brainwashed from early childhood I could not understand what was wrong with me, that I lack that religious enthusiasm my friend exhibited. Years of readings, thinking, discussing things with other “doubting Thomas” finally helped me understand that there is something wrong with religions, not with me. What a relief and happiness it is not to bother anymore with “sin”, confessions, guilt, praying, trying to figure out the “mystery” of “holy trinity”. I am happy for you that you also shook off that burden. I am in my early 50-ties but for about 10 years now I am completely free of that holly crap. Live long and prosper.
Hey Margaret, thanks for that. Of late I am beginning to feel a sense of responsibility to push the gentle wave of reason to encourage more of us to find that release; or, better still not be infected to begin with. Societies that have left religion behind seem to function so much better on all fronts. In order to reduce strife and violence in this world, there needs to be a sense of urgency to speed up the spread of reason and encourage life without religion, or at least without the religious fervor that creates intolerance and hatred.
Christopher Hitchens said it best……“Violent, irrational, intolerant, allied to racism, tribalism and bigotry, invested in ignorance and hostile to free inquiry, contemptuous of women and coercive toward children: (organized) religion ought to have a great deal on its conscience.”
I will participate only in those things that feel right to me. Putting peace in my heart toward all others is one such choice I have made.
I have just found your post and to say I found it comforting would be understating. I am Catholic and have recently become engaged to my partner of 7 years. The guilt I carry in having a relationship with the person I love can be crippling. The struggle is finding a manageable mix, I am not yet convinced it is possible. How does one hold onto faith in the modern era. I belief that change is inevitable and required to survive yet or faith remains unchanged despite the progress in society. Thank you for normalizing my problem it had been greatly comforting.
Marc, you clearly suffer, and I am very sorry that you are hurting. I understand your anguish as I also has been brought as catholic. Being though a “doubting Thomas” all my life, I questioned the dogma, especially how suffering of a human being (Jesus) is necessary to “save” a lot of good people that I could see around me, who beg for forgiveness for…what? What are those sins, that someone must be mutilated for, tortured in such a nauseating way? Then I realized, that the “salvation” story is just a story, which serves clergy to keep control over millions of innocent people. I realized that sin has been invented for that only reason, so a person felt guilty so much, as to submit to an authority, whomever will offer a relief from that pain of guilt. The good news is (not a “Good News” brought by Jesus) that human inventions can be get rid of, shed like an old rug, like dirt that sticks to our skin to bother us... Christian mythology is cruel and inconsistent, it insults our mind, but being conditioned from childhood to believe in it, we have problem with understanding that simple truth, that all that “salvation” story is just one more horror story sold to us, as little kids, to control us by ruthless, cruel, dishonest people, hungry for power only, not to ease our fear, and our need for spiritual life… What a relief, and freedom I feel now! The process of getting rid off old beliefs, habits, routines is difficult, and takes time, but at the end, there is happiness,
Here is my story me being raised as a mormon child. The consequences were immense and very tragic. Mormon church is a fraud and a cancer of society. Therefore, I have initiated a formal lawsuit against the so called mormon church and my parents.
Now that my daughter is of Kindergarten age, my wife and I are having months long major disagreements about Catholic schools vs Public. My wife feels that Catholic schools provide a good education and more importantly a nurturing, safe environment. I have had the opposite experience; I am terrified of what could happen in Catholic schools as my experience mirrors this post. I can think of at least 10 different therapists/psychologists that I’ve seen trying to shake my belief that I’m a sinner, impure and my fear of eternal damnation. I’m mostly OK now, but it still pops up from time to time. She insists my experience is rare and therefore won’t happen to our children, especially with parental involvement. But I don’t see how what we say will matter versus the alleged word of god. I would probably have thought my parents are fallible but the bible is not.
Larry, I see your point and the problem. I would ask your wife to explore reality of catholic schools by herself before she sends your child there. Especially experiences of catholic schools’ student from Ireland. “Nurturing” catholic environment may mean that your child will have the same problem down the road as you have now. Someone said that religion is like a dangerous disease – not only contagious, but also hereditary. You and you wife are standing before the decision whether to pass that disease to your daughter. I think that religion should be like movies rater R, for adults only. History of Catholic Church is like the most scary thriller, horror with pornographic elements and lots of violence. Ask your wife to learn more about the heritage of doctrine she consider so “safe and nurturing”, which denies people their humanity by calling their true nature sinful. I have sent my children to the first communion under family pressure. My smart daughter after that event, when asked to go to church again the following Sunday in order to get communion, said: “I have already had communion, thank you very much”. That was the end of her religious experiences, as I did not insist either to continue that circus. My son, whom my mother-in-law lead to a holy mass (mess?) every Sunday called the church the center of boredom. Children often have healthy instinct, don’t they? It took me about decade to get rid of not even very aggressive religious brainwash from childhood. I am in my 50-ties now, finally free and happy. I wish the same to you and your family.
- I am afraid the only way to set yourself free of catholic, or any kind of christian guilt is to become rationally thinking person, who does not believe, what other people say without a proof. Any kind of religion that calls for obedience to authority and blind belief of a dogma is an instrument of human minds’ manipulation. Superstitions, obsessive-compulsive way of thinking and guilt caused by such a state of mind are the products of religious upbringing, ignorance, and gullibility of immature personality. My advice, as former catholic, is to let your inquisitive mind overcome religious superstitions, to find your own answers to important life questions. Be observant, skeptical, seek knowledge by yourself using other people’s expertise, not other people’s opinions based on their personal problematic beliefs. For me the hope lays in possibility of human mind, reason, human kindness, in presence of loving others – friends, family. I do believe, perhaps somewhat naively, that humanity is able to pull itself by its bootstraps into a better future thanks to capabilities of our gifted minds, rational thinking, and science that let us recognize reality with high certainty. False religious hope is like telling fairytale to a scared children. Any stories not supported by facts are as good as fairytale – they solace us, but at the same time cut us from reality. Distract us from solving real problems, lull our reason to sleep. As history teaches us, however, that “The Sleep of Reason Produces Monsters”.
When I returned to the Catholic Church after a long time away, I made a general confession and started fresh with a clean slate. Confession of sins to a priest in the Sacrament of Reconciliation is truly good for the soul. Of course, committed Christians should do our best to avoid offending God. Unfortunately, some of us can go too far with vigilant concern for sin in a way that is spiritually and psychologically unhealthy.
- Editor's note: This "God" needs to attend an anger-management seminar. What a pathetic concept: "do our best to avoid offending God"!
I actually like guilt. Believe it or not, guilt can be good, giving us a great sense of responsibility for what goes wrong. We all fail occasionally. That’s simply a manifestation of our humanity. When we fail or forget something, a twinge of regret sweeps over our Irish Catholic psyche. It’s what keeps us honest. So in my book, there’s nothing wrong with a little guilt.
[Religion keeps] people coming back to ask forgiveness. In other words, Catholics feel guilty because they have been brainwashed into feeling guilty by a organisation which is in the business of guilt relief.
The guilt culture has theological roots that stem directly from Augustine’s teachings on “original sin” back in the fifth century. Basically, he taught that all human beings have in some mystical way participated in the sin of Adam and Eve, and are therefore automatically “guilty” from birth on. In other words, guilt is a condition you inherit! …That’s why the original Christian tradition regards the whole notion of original sin / inherited guilt as lunacy. You can’t be held responsible for something you didn’t do (seems pretty obvious, right?). And, of course, Augustine’s theory requires a judgmental God who condemns your failures, as opposed to the God of direct mystical experience who, as the original tradition says, “only bestows blessings and never does harm”.
But religious indoctrination can be hugely damaging, and making the break from an authoritarian kind of religion can definitely be traumatic. It involves a complete upheaval of a person’s construction of reality, including the self, other people, life, the future, everything. People unfamiliar with it, including therapists, have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create and the recovery needed. My own awareness of this problem took some time. It began with writing about my own recovery from a fundamentalist Christian background, and very quickly, I found out I was not alone. Many other people were eager to discuss this hidden suffering. Since then, I have worked with clients in the area of “recovery from religion” for about twenty years and wrote a self-help book called Leaving the Fold on the subject.
There is a lot of guilt and I react to most religion with panic attacks and distress, even photos, statues or tv ... I guess although I was willing it was like brainwashing. It’s very hard to shake. . . It’s been a nightmare. I felt despair and hopelessness that I would ever be normal, that I would ever be able to undo the forty years of brainwashing. My form of religion was very strongly entrenched and anchored deeply in my heart. It is hard to describe how fully my religion informed, infused, and influenced my entire worldview… It took years of overcoming terrific fear as well as self-loathing to emancipate myself from my cult-like upbringing years ago. Still, the aftermath of growing up like that has continued to affect me negatively as a professional (nightmares, paranoia, etc.).
The important thing to realize is that Religious Trauma Syndrome is real. While it may be easier to understand the damage done by sexual abuse or a natural disaster, religious practices can be just as harmful. More and more people need help and the taboos about criticizing religion need to be questioned.