Have you been exposed to toxic religion? In order to answer that question, you might ask yourself first what exactly is toxic religion? How could something that is supposed to be so supportive and uplifting become toxic? When something is toxic it is harmful. When we come into contact with it, it has a harmful effect on us individually. Think about coming into contact with harmful air say when the pollution count is high. What happens? Your eyes begin to water and burn. Individuals with weakened breathing capacity begin to suffer shortness of breath. And that can trigger other harmful reactions within the body. Think about eating toxic food, food that has gone bad. What happens. Immediately the digestive system begins to react and often becomes painful. This may trigger vomiting. If the toxic food isn’t released through vomiting, then it can cause further damage as it proceeds through the stomach and the intestines.
What happens when you touch something toxic. I bet most of us have at one time or another touched poison ivy. Your skin produces a rapid response that immediately tries to repel the toxin. This causes redness and blistering which leads to itchiness and discomfort. If the exposure is too high, it can lead to other more severe problems.
We have all experienced exposure to outside toxins. But what about being exposed to toxic thoughts? Religious teachings can become toxic, and it makes them harmful. In Christianity, there are several teachings that I believe have over time become toxic. The first that I want to mention is that the Bible should be taken literally. The bible is a book filled with stories. As with all literature, the stories that tend to endure over time are figurative stories. We are not so much concerned with the facts as we are with the deeper meaning of the story. The triumph of good over evil is told in all cultures. The hero’s journey is the story of virtue defeating corruption. There are many more examples. When the stories of the Bible are taken figuratively, there is much value in them. However, when they are interpreted literally, they become limiting and self-serving to those who are doing the interpretation. They create a rigid set of rules that must be adhered to.
The second toxic Christian teaching that I want to mention is the death of Jesus. The singular focus on the death of Jesus as the act of redemption for all our sins negates the teachings that he gave us through his actions and his words. Jesus lived his life as an example for all of us to follow. But he wasn’t afraid to call out corruption. He wasn’t afraid to challenge the status quo. Let’s focus more on the teachings of Jesus and less on the actions of those around him who were threatened by the example he provided. When we focus on Jesus as the redeemer, then we see his life as one dimensional. We validate the literal interpretation of the bible that humankind forever sinned against God and needed redemption because we are just inherently corrupt and incapable of saving ourselves.
How much exposure to these toxic beliefs have you experienced? And what can you do about it? How do you go about decontaminating your mind? There is a process that is generally referred to as Deconstruction that helps individuals identify these old toxic religious beliefs. Once the toxic beliefs are identified, you can begin to contemplate new beliefs that are supportive and nourishing. This is when things can begin to get tricky. Once you begin to question rigidly held beliefs, your family and friends might begin to treat you differently. A lot has been written about Deconstruction. There are many self-help books available. There are also online resources available. In addition, Spiritual directors work one on one with individuals to help them on their journey.
I ‘ll be writing more about the work of Spiritual directors. Stay tuned.