You just need to love God better

Purtek’s recent post at The Hathor Legacy got me thinking about something I’ve wanted to say for a while, but wasn’t sure how.

I’m about to talk about a particularly hurtful privilege many Christians in my culture choose to engage in. Let me be clear: many Christians do not engage in this privilege (and instead do a very nice job following the example of a man who tried to think past privilege). And I’m sure many people other than Christians engage in something like this. I’m just sticking to what I know.

The privilege of which I’m speaking is telling others that if something bad happens to them, it’s because their faith is inadequate (or non-existent, as the case may be). This rationale gets applied to fellow Christians as well as people outside that religion. It is nothing short of victim-blaming. Got hit by a lunatic driver? You must’ve forgotten to pray. Tornado ripped your house’s roof off? God’s trying to tell you something about your wicked ways.

And then it gets extended to: is someone cheating you, abusing you, abusing your loved ones? Clearly, you need to pray much, much harder.

Like all victim blaming, it’s denial. It can’t be the system of privilege (which benefits me) that’s hurting you; it must be something you’re doing wrong.

But when you put this common privilege argument into a religious context, something especially ugly happens: it no longer needs to make sense, because it’s about faith. It’s the ultimate excuse for privileged people to rationalize away anything. And I do mean anything: wives have been advised to “pray harder” when domestic abuse lands them in the hospital, for one example. Because if the church acknowledges how often men abuse the power it gives them over their wives, it has to admit it’s time to go back to the Bible and see if we misinterpreted something, ’cause that dog don’t hunt.

There’s another added wrinkle religion brings to this privilege: when the religious people are the privileged abusers, it’s insane what they get away with. Ministers tearfully admit on TV, that yes, they had affairs/embezzled all the funds/etc., but Jesus has forgiven them, and so should you. And collectively, my society does forgive them because they’re a member of the right club. Meanwhile, the rest of us are responsible not only for our own actions, but for those committed against us.

Anytime I hear someone saying that some event or disaster is God’s way of punishing folks, I like to agree with them and add that yes, God really must share bin Laden’s disgust with the US because the way they hit the twin towers just right with nothing but a well-researched theory – that’s got miracle written all over it. (Yes, I’m being facetious to make a point.) 😉


  1. says

    So true. Being also Christian, I get some of this as well. I’ve been reading a good book that takes this attitude apart as exceptionally non-Christian (as you do, but with further emphasis on the question of what the purpose of suffering is if there is a benevolent God).

    It’s so apparent that it’s not really about the victim(s) in any of these thing, but about some psychological element for the people saying it, and yet that doesn’t stop it from being exceptionally hurtful.

  2. Firebird says

    I couldn’t help thinking about the book of Job while reading this. Job has a bunch of terrible things happen to him – as we, the readers, know, because god and the devil got together and decided to see if Job loved god for reals or because of all the Nice Stuff he had – and his “friends” come along and tell him if he would just confess whatever the hell he did to cause his miseries, god could stop punishing him and bless him again.

    Job sticks to his guns and insists that god is in the wrong and should explain himself to Job, and although god never does explain himself, and just asserts his power as justification for anything he chooses to do, god does decide to castigate Job’s friends for the fools they are.

    Of all possible lessons the book of Job could be said to be teaching, the idea that suffering cannot be explained by fault of the sufferer is central and unavoidable. And yet, although Christians invariably point to Job when they must discuss suffering (the problem of pain, as C.S. Lewis alliterates it), the all too common attitude you describe is never called to account, never realized for the gross torture it is.

  3. Jennifer Kesler says

    Purtek, I have a feeling the need to blame victims is more basic to human psychology than religion. Meaning, people already have it in their minds that bad stuff must only happen to people who did something wrong; as they learn about or embrace a faith, they just incorporate that assumption.

    Firebird, that’s a great point. I think Job is a really complicated story that gets taught in so many ways, they can’t all be right. As you point out, Job is as innocent in God’s eyes as a newborn baby. But I have a feeling people take the Job story as an exception to the rule, not as a parable about the suffering of innocents and why a benevolent God would allow the devil to hurt good people. Which I *think* is the real purpose of the story.

    To both of you, I’ve thought about this topic since I wrote this post and concluded that it’s not a particularly Christian problem. There are a lot of people who claim no religion or spirituality at all who need to believe bad things only happen to people who did something wrong. I think in fact that this idea is why people seek religion: they desperately need to believe there’s a purpose to all this suckage, so much so that it’s preferable to think they brought it on themselves to thinking horrible things happen indiscriminately to anybody at anytime. The fact that the religion contradicts them is something they would tend to filter out, as it doesn’t suit their purpose.

  4. andy says

    i cant read to well went to church untill they said i smelled like piss and i was not dressed good enuff.yep lol my family took good care of me i went with a friend.his parents said to stay away.35 years later i still dont like people who us a book to tell me im going to burn in hell they kicket me out now they come to my house.WTF kick me out then want to take over my home as everyother weekend or so i sit in my underwear looken like shit fighting not to laff as i ansewer my bong on the tabel my girlfriend with the old bible gearing up for the big debate shes the brains.they start talking i ripped off a huge hit and asked why god wants my money ask them why he dont burn down my family for my young life of hell.they where red faced enbarested when i stood and streched my back im disabeld i scratched my ass rubbed my eyes asked if they smoked medical marijuana and if so i would load a bull for them they realy got uncomterbull when i reached my hand down my underwear and started scratching my nads 6 inchs from this dudes face.then my girlfriend wanted them to pray for there forgiveness i couldent beleave it they just got up and left..i will admitt i never laffed so hard in my life it took all i had not to bust out laffen through the 5 or 10 min ordeal.sorry i cant quote scrip if that or even remotly close to that is what a bibel wants me to be no thanks.why should i give my money time and soul to people who act so nice once they get it tell me im going to burn in hell.if i want that shit i will go around my family.

  5. Kryss LaBryn says

    I have a friend be told by one of her fellow church-goers that the contractors she had to hire (after her husband died suddenly) to finish the basement they were working on messing up and not sealing a sewage pipe correctly was God’s punishment because she “hadn’t cried enough” over her husband’s death.

    What absolute bullshit.

  6. Jennifer Kesler says

    Kryss LaBryn,

    Wow. That’s… so out there on so many levels. It would be hilarious to assign this church person to interview, like, 300 people who’ve gotten lousy work from contractors and figure out why God did this thing to them, LOL. How absurd!

  7. And Despite Her Medicinal Compound Sadly Piccalilli Died says

    Christianity isn’t the only religion in which many of it’s adherants engage in victim blaming, either.
    I dabbled in Nichiren Buddhism for a while, was a member of Soka Gakkai International and “Recieved Gohonzon” and everything.
    One of many books on this particular sect of Buddhism, and which is sold in SGI bookshops, is “The Basics Of Buddhism: Key Principles and How To Practice” by Pat Allwright… and something she wrote in the chapter on Karma influenced by decision to get the fuck out of Buddhism:

    Here’s what she said *Trigger warning for victim blaming, and using the concept of reincarnation as a tool for blaming victims of child abuse and neglect*…
    …”Our dominant state of life remains fixed in death and we are reborn into the same life-state. We are born into circumstances which are exactly right for us. So, from the Buddhist point of view, conception involves not only sexual union of the parents, but also the entity of life of the potential child.
    It may be misleading to give specific examples, as life is complex. However, for the sake of clarification, suppose someone was extremely selfish and misused other people’s love for those selfish ends. This would be making the cause to be unloved in the future. Hence, this person may be reborn to parents who are undemonstrative and never cuddle their child. Later in life, the person might think it was the parents’ fault that he or she is unable to develope a loving relationship. However, in the light of Buddhism, it was the child who determined this outcome as an effect of causes made in a past life. To put it another way, these cirumstances offer the opportunity to change this selfish tendency. This is not to make a moral judgement, but to acknowledge that selfishness is small-minded and makes us unhappy. A large part of happiness is to be able to give freely to others. Of course, tensions in child/parent relationships are also determined by the life-condition of the parents. So, the right circumstances for birth depend on parents and child as well as environment.”

    • Jennifer Kesler says

      I’ve had that conversation with Buddhists before, and they explain that – as the person you mentioned above did – it’s not meant to “make a moral judgment”, and anyone saying, “Well, you deserved to be victimized because you were probably a serial killer in a past life” is not applying it correctly. Which I get. But I honestly can’t understand whether a person who’s been victimized and chooses Buddhism is supposed to then believe she was victimized because she did something awful in a previous existence. It’s kind of like original sin. It’s not meant to be an excuse for bad things done to you, but rather an explanation. And yet, human beings are obsessed with the issue of blame, so what many of them take away from doctrines like this is that it’s the victim’s fault AND NOT the perpetrators. That’s absurd, and I don’t think any correctly taught religion means to imply that… but it’s what a lot of people take away from it.

  8. And Despite Her Medicinal Compound Sadly Piccalilli Died says

    So yeah, the last big SGI event I went to, I walked out in disgust when I saw that the merchandise on the bookstand included “The Basics Of Buddhism”… when I explained to one or two Nichiren Buddhists why I have a problem with that particular book – that I have no time for ‘victim blaming’ particularly when it comes to abused and neglected kids – they genuinely didn’t seem to understand what my problem was.

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