Wednesday, March 7, 2012

How Christianity Screwed Up My Moral Compass

Christianity screwed up my moral compass.

Not only that, but the further I get away from organized religion and institutional spirituality, the more clear I get about what I REALLY want, and the cleaner and more reliable that moral compass inside of me becomes.

But let's back up.

Fact: when people act based on something besides their inner moral compass, they and others suffer.

Fact: the individual, part of a group who is setting the rules, is conditioned to act based on the morality of that institution.

Fact:  Institutionalized rules and codes of behavior keep those without moral compasses in check, as long as the religious/civically-obedient person is motivated, for one reason or another, to follow those rules.

Fact: throughout history, deplorable acts have been done and deemed "righteous," "what God wants," "holy," "good for the country," etc.

Fact: when people act based on their inner moral compass, even doing the opposite of what the religious or civic institution tells them is "good," some of the most courageous, the most humane and the most world-altering acts in history have been done (i.e. Jesus, Ghandi, the Buddha, the saints in the Christian tradition, Martin Luther King, Abraham Lincoln, Mother Theresa, etc. etc. etc.).

What does this look like in real life?

In my experience, being taught to do/not do certain things because that is what people are supposed to do, because that is what the Bible or another holy book says to do, or because that is what my culture put pressure on me to do (and I am talking about the spiritual/religious cultures, as well as the wider culture I grew up in) caused the moral compass I was born with to be underdeveloped, atrophy, and become rusty and inaccurate. I knew how to obey the rules.

But get this ... I wanted to obey the rules and my under-used, under-developed moral compass was a part of why. Some part of me (the real me) KNEW that I had that moral compass and recognized the "good" in the rules and standards I was taught. But the real me also allowed itself to be deceived into believing that the rules could become my moral compass.

That's right. Being a good Christian, being a good citizen, or being a good whatever REQUIRED me to silence/shut down/not act out of what my moral compass could have and would have told me to do. Of course that's not what I was taught.

I was taught that the real me, unleashed from the rules of my faith, would lead me into everything that was bad, immoral, hurtful to others, hurtful to myself, illegal and ugly. "The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked; who can know it," I recited as a child. I believed that my "natural" self was evil, degraded and not-to-be-trusted. If I wanted something, I immediately heard warning bells go off in my head. If I longed for something, I could be pretty sure that it was something I should not do or have. My instincts were human, after all, and being human was the state in which I needed deliverance from. I could do nothing good or right except when the Holy Spirit acted through me, and that would always be actions and behaviors called "good" by Christianity and the Bible.

The thing was: the moral compass in me would never quite DIE.

I cried because that "me" inside would not be silenced. I begged God to remove the desires of my heart that weren't in accordance with what he wanted for me. I hated that I could not do as the Bible taught and fully put my humanity to death. I was ashamed of the way my mind insisted on grappling with what I seemed to be the only Christian I knew who experienced as inconsistencies. Why could I not just have simple faith, I wondered? Why could I not suspend those questions and doubts? Others seemed to have no problem doing so. I felt like something was wrong with me.


Now, at 35, I'm a self-professed former-Christian. I haven't been to church in something like four years. My five-year-old thinks cross necklaces are "lowercase letter 't' necklaces." I am not sure if there's a God. I don't believe in or feel any fear about "going to hell." I admire Jesus' life, but don't think he was any more divine than I am. I am comfortable with the fact that I don't know if there's a God or not, and I am pretty sure I won't ever know while my spirit lives in my body. And (oh, yeah) I know I am more than this body. There is something I experience as being connected to others in a non-physical way. There is something solid and deep underneath my physical existence that I can feel the edges of sometimes. It's fun to talk about, read about, think about and wonder about what that is. I am confident that until I am not in a physical body any longer I will not have any answers. Just more questions. And that makes me happy and excited.

And here's the thing.

As the post-Christian me that I am today, I am not the greedy, never-satisfied, mean, vindictive or ego-centered person I was told I would become without God.  It's just not true that when I do what I "want to do" I want only that which hurts myself and others. I am more compassionate. I feel more empathy. I am more thoughtful. I act with more courage. I take more responsibility for my actions that hurt others. I do less rejecting and more accepting of others' differences. I am a more nurturing mother. I am more honest. I am kinder. I am a better friend. I feel less fear. I connect with people more and better than I ever did before. I am not perfect. But I desire to lessen others' suffering more than I ever did. I am more aware of my foibles. I have a greater desire to, when I hurt someone, make it right. I love more. I accept love more.

How is this possible?

The real me ... is ... well ....


There is a moral compass that I am learning to use and that is beginning to function more and more naturally. And as I learn to use that compass, I find that more and more, what I REALLY WANT, when I drill deep down, is GOOD. It is not always what someone else would call "good." And of course I can look back and see that even when I was trying to do what was right, I hurt someone and/or myself. This helps me do better the next time. But more often than I ever thought possible, when I do what I (the real me/the spirit in me) wants to do, my actions are more consistent with many, even most, of what the Bible says is morally "good."

And this takes more courage and energy than obeying rules. Any robot can do that. But when I give from that real, inside me, or I love from that real, inside me, or I act on someone else's behalf from that real, inside me, it is more sincere, more heartfelt and more brave than any actions or behaviors I did because I was supposed to, should, or must.

This means I'm learning to ask myself some questions that the Christian me would never have DREAMED of asking ...

What do you want?
Are you doing what you want to do?
What are you doing that you do not want to continue doing?
What are you doing/working on/lending energy to that makes you feel good?
What are you doing/working on/lending energy to that makes you feel bad, dishonest, anxious, sad, or frustrated?

Slowly, surely, one day at a time, I am learning to be ME. And that's good.


Dena said...

Wait ... did you write this?

did I wrie this ...?


Brilliant, Cheryl - bingo and bravo, woman!!!

So blessed and proud to know you! So happy to have survived the trenches with you!


(thank you - more please!)

Cheryl Ensom Dack said...

Thanks, Dena! This certainly has been long in coming ... I feel like I've been writing "around" it for a couple years now, so to have it bubble up into a piece of writing felt great. It's rough ... and there's places I could write into that I didn't. But I'm glad you liked it, as is. Thank you for walking this journey with me the last couple years, Dena! :) Love you.

Brian - NZ said...

Hi Cheryl, very well explained. It probably says it for millions of other people who would find it difficult and maybe a little scary to put into words.

But don't limit yourself with a statement like, "I don't expect to discover whether there is a God or not during my life!" it's very certain you will never uncover the Christian concept of God - that one doesn't exist. However you may find, right under your nose, a whole new living concept of "God" who explains it all and has been there with you all the time. Keep tracking.

Cheryl Ensom Dack said...

Thank you, Brian! :)

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