What’s the Harm In It?
By Thomas G. Shafer, M.D.
I grew up a Gentile. Thirty five years ago I was “saved” at a Baptist youth rally run by the Billy Graham organization. Within a few months, I began to have doubts about my new found faith, based mainly on the Christian Fundamentalist teachings disregarding modern scientific principles such as Creationism and Biblical literacy in general. (I was quite the budding young scientist in those days.)
Time for the big save. I expressed my doubts and was soon “pounced” by a youth minister sent to keep me in the fold. And what was his most powerful argument?
“What’s the harm in it?”, he asked. He went on to argue that, even if every statement in the New Testament were untrue, how could being a Christian do me anything but good? I’d lead a moral life, associate with nice folk, etc., etc. We’re talking your basic no brainer here. Since the results of believing his doctrine couldn’t possibly do me any harm, why not give it a try and hang in there a little longer to see what good would come my way. And, if he was right, I’d be savng myself a tr[p to Hell.
So, he was a pretty good salesman. I hung in there for almost thirty more years. But now I have converted to Judaism and I finally have an answer to his question… There is a lot of harm in it.
The most harmful thing that accepting this man’s doctrine did was that it totally destroyed any chance I had of developing self esteem. Think about it. Basic Christian doctrine teaches we are all miserable sinners who deserve the death penalty for our crimes against God and humanity. We are so rotten that God had to prepare a flaming Hell in which to roast us forever. Nothing short of this punishment would do.
Great place to start, eh? As if your average adolescent doesn’t have enough problems.
And look at the remedy for this condition. Since the Baptist God was totally inflexible, He couldn’t just forgive me for being such a misbegotten and miserable specimen. No. The death sentence had been passed long before my birth and somebody had to pay the price. So I had to make a public statement claiming the death by torture by someone who purported to be God’s son to escape my own eternal torture.
And where did this leave me? Where does this leave anybody? Totally cut off from God.
Consider for a moment what sort of God we are presenting here. What would people say if an earthly Judge pronounced a death sentence and then decided to pardon the criminal? What would they say if this Judge refused to grant a pardon but, instead, sent his own son to the gallows instead of the criminal because death sentences always have to be carried out and the law is the law? (I don’t think I would vote for said Judge next election.)
So this leaves us trying top relate to a God who is the ultimate sadist. And how do we relate to such a Being? Through fear and lots of it.
I’ve been a Psychiatrist for nearly 20 years, many of them in the Southern Bible Belt. And I’ve seen the results of this fear many times and in many ways. I’ve seen many suicidally depressed people who cannot reach out to the God they desperately need because the basis of their religious beliefs gives them no conception of true Divine love and forgiveness. And I’ve seen many people terrified by obsessions that they have somehow lost their salvation or committed some sort of unforgivable sin. They know “the fear of the Lord” all too well.
And, sadly, these poor people can’t even die in peace. I’ve talked to several people who have been dying or seriously ill who all had the same dream. They dreamt they had left their bodies and were flying through space. But no happy ending this time. Instead, they ended up hovering between Heaven and Hell terrified because they didn’t know where they were going to go.
And there are other consequences. Consider the other response when a person is repetitively told they are worthless and can do nothing to save themselves or even better themselves. That’s right, we are talking anger here, even rage. If I am so worthless even God can’t love me and can never do anything right, why don’t I just lash out at anyone who gets in my way? I am hopeless mess of a sinner anyway, so what’s one more sin on the list? And this other person (especially if they are of a different religion or color) is a worthless piece of human garbage anyway so what does it matter what I do to them?
So, if you are floating around that Fundamental Christian camp, come on back. If you are being besieged by missionaries and thinking of caving in, don’t leave. There’s a loving God waiting, One who is careful to love and forgive and not make any demands on us unless He is sure we can keep them. Forget all those half baked truths and arguments and listen to a moment to the words of our Prophet Moses from the 30th chapter of Deuteronomy:
- “Surely this Instruction which I enjoin upon you this day is not too baffling for you, nor is it beyond reach… No, the thing is very close to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to observe it.”
So God really loves us and He has given us a simple and attainable set of instructions to live our life by. And where is the harm in believing that?