Tuesday, July 9, 2013


Most of you have probably heard of Battered Person Syndrome, commonly called "Battered Wife Syndrome."  Here are some of the symptoms of the cyclical abuse...

[from wiki]

  • The abused thinks that the violence was his or her fault.
  • The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
  • The abused fears for his/her life and/or the lives of his/her children (if present).
  • The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.

  • It goes on to say...

    The syndrome develops in response to a three-stage cycle found in domestic violence situations. First, tension builds in the relationship. Second, the abusive partner releases tension via violence while blaming the victim for having caused the violence. Third, the violent partner makes gestures of contrition. However, the partner does not find solutions to avoid another phase of tension building and release so the cycle repeats. The repetition of the violence despite the abuser's attempts to "make nice" results in the abused partner feeling at fault for not preventing a repeat cycle of violence. However, since the victim is not at fault and the violence is internally driven by the abuser's need to control, this self-blame results in feelings of helplessness rather than empowerment.

    Does anyone see the connection I'm pointing at here? How much of the following fits right into the above?...

    "I'm just a sinful worm! I don't begin to deserve even a drop of mercy! I deserve God's wrath and punishment! It's only through God's grace and the death and blood of Jesus! I'm totally unworthy of his love, mercy, and grace! I deserved death because I'd failed God, but instead, God gave me life by the bloodshed of his son! He's perfect, and I'm so much less! Just a worm! I deserved hell, and only through his grace and forgiveness will I see heaven! So my life has to be ALL about him and not about me!"

    If the relationship described in that last paragraph were between two people we'd be screaming for the person to get out and get help, screaming that the other person was dangerous, that nothing good or healthy could ever possibly come from it. And people wonder why, although still an intensely spiritual person, I no longer identify with traditional Christianity? The basic tenets of orthodox Christianity demand the mindset in that paragraph - you've failed God, you're utterly depraved (in some strains - merely a "wretched sinner" and worm in others) while God is perfect, you deserve judgment and death, only through innocent blood will you get life, and God is merciful.

    Look at just how low we've set the bar for God. 

    Or maybe I just don't know him the way you do. Right?


    1. Yes, exactly this... I saw this idea first here: http://www.funnyjunk.com/channel/atheism/God+is+an+abusive+boyfriend/otsaGbg/. It was horrifying for me to realize that the definition of love is actually abusive in many Christian circles. After a lot of time and processing of this issue and a few others, I realized that I need to call myself an agnostic instead of a liberal Christian. I don't think everyone needs to end up here where I am--it's just where I happen to find myself these days. Thanks for the interesting post on the topic!

    2. I never really verbalized the connections you're making here to myself, but I always felt something amiss in believing that Christianity was just a state of being saved from something awful by someone who was about to punish you. It didn't bring me the fulfillment and peace that they said Christianity was supposed to bring me.

      Eventually I read N.T. Wright and came to a narrative that I think feels more whole and sane, that of Jesus' sacrifice being the necessary piece to put together a broken world--a rescue rather than God shaking his finger and saying "SEE WHAT YOU DESERVE? BE AFRAID!" It also relieved me greatly to discover that a lot of scriptures I hadn't understood before made so much more sense within this framework.

      It has been interesting, though, to then look back at the more narrow view of God (where the payment of sin is the point of Christ's sacrifice rather than PART of a universe-redeeming/restoring action) and see, in retrospect, how limited it was. I find it hard to explain to others, and I find that the narrower view is the predominant one in modern Christianity, though that hasn't always been the case throughout church history.

      This is one reason that Christian universalism appeals to me so, because it embraces the narrative of God being out to rescue us rather than being out to convince us of our faults. But I'm not yet sure where I fall on the universalism spectrum.

    3. Lewis, I always enjoy seeing a COM posting in the e-mail. Your POV and your way of expressing it never fail to give me pause to think.

      I'm going to respond to Syndromed by telling you that until very recently, I let a phrase from a beautiful hymn batter me mentally. The hymn is "Jesus Sinners Doth Receive" and the phrase is "I deserve but guilt and shame."

      For way too many years, even though I lived and worked and enjoyed life as a well-catechized, thinking Lutheran, I would think of that phrase when on the receiving end of some harsh words. Finally at the end of my emotional rope, I told a good friend about it, seriously thnking that the lightning bolt would strike.

      My friend protested loudly, "That's not Christ. That's the devil, keeping you down. What's the next phrase in that verse?" You know - I didn't know. But as things happen, that hymn was the first one we sang the next day in church.

      And the next phrase begins and continues,
      "Yet His words, rich grace revealing,
      Pardon, peace, and life proclaim.
      Here their ills have perfect healing
      Who with humble hearts believe--
      Jesus sinners doth receive."

      A later stanza goes:
      Now my conscience is at peace,
      From the Law I stand acquitted;
      Christ hath purchased my release
      And my every sin remitted.
      Naught remains my soul to grieve,--
      Jesus sinners doth receive.

      My point is that those Christians who continue to flog themselves and others with the words you quote in your excellent post are over-emphasizing Law, even though they try to dress it up as Gospel.

      It's not what we all do, and it's certainly not what we SHOULD do! Yet some of us, as intelligent and thoughtful as myself (I'm not being hyperbolic, I am intelligent and thoughtful!) let ourselves be deceived and abused.

      Jesus, God ... not about abuse. Mysteries of the highest order, but merciful. LIke the poster above me, I've become a Christian universalist. My credo is that "God knows our hearts, sent Jesus, and still knows our hearts." But I digress.

      Please, Lewis: continue to speak out against the hideous twisting treatment that some people use on the Gospel and the Law. God does not mean for us to slavishly flagellate ourselves with the Gospel! That is NOT the Gospel, if it commands action on our parts.

      I'm not expressing myself as well as I could, but want to say that yes, what you post makes sense and no, that's NOT the way the Christian's life is intended to be.

    4. Hello,

      I have been a lurker for quite a bit, first having been drawn in by your "The Joke Was On Me Series", then through the eerily accurate "Authoritarian Dictionary" and on to other articles. I am one of the many who can relate to a lot of these stories and mindframes firsthand.

      [Quick low-down: Authoritarian, patriarchal father, though unaffiliated with the organizations you mention. Submissive and dutiful mother who needed to hear God's approval for her to leave at first, but is now separated and raising me (19-year-old-daughter, the eldest) and three siblings, and has even put my father out of our current home when he tried to surreptitiously move back in.]

      But on this post I simply had to come out of hiding. This.

      This is what is wrong with my beliefs.
      This is what I have been struggling with, questioning and arguing with.
      This is the nameless dread that I feel when I pray at night...the Reason we (my pretty fundie family) have avoided.

      It is this that led me to study the femininity of the Holy Spirit (so as to not face a Father alone in prayer); it led me to ask if Love maybe really is the principle thing like other people keep saying.

      It has from childhood made me jealous/insanely curious about the so-called "pagans" and the "liberals" who apparently just weren't doing it right, but seemed more just and reasonable than our rather arbitrary, it's-not-wrong-if-God-expects-it standard.

      It made me question my faith in God, and even more my reasons for coming back to "the faith": diabolical fear.

      Thank you so much for clearing this up, for naming the figure in the dark. Now it's up to me to face it.

    5. I couldn't agree more. It's no wonder that abuse is so rampant in churches; believing in this type of abusive God permits church leadership and parents to exercise the same type of spiritual/emotional abuse on those under their authority. I have struggled for years wondering why I couldn't be a "good" Christian, and recently realized that it is because the God I was taught to believe in was really just an omnipotent version of my father. The question now isn't why am I not a good Christian, but am I a Christian at all?

    6. Been reading your blog over the last few days and quite enjoy it. A little off topic but thought you or P/QF survivors may enjoy this very old joke.

      A devote man was trapped in rising flood waters - a small boat attempts to rescue him by tossing him a life-saver. His reply was "Thank you, but my Lord will save me." the waters continue to rise; his situation was getting desperate when a helicopter came overhead - dropping a line down to him - he told the rescuers "Thank you, but my Lord will save me." shortly after he drowned. In heaven he asks God, "why didn't you save me? why did you let me drown?" God replied "my son, I send you a boat with a life-saver and a helicopter..."

      That too me perfectly sums up how religion can blind. That blessings can be varied and often surprising.

      I see many common forms of bc as the Lord trying to save women and the children alive right now from the excesses that say, having 5-20 children does to a woman, it can kill her and remove her from her living children. But, being to blind to see it. Ignore it.

      All forms of bc have also failed - which means an all powerful god can easily bi-pass the use of bc and make a woman pregnant.

      God gave us wonderful brains to create everything from pain medication, antibiotics to birth control. B/C of course doesn't mean one can then "sleep around" and it has other medical purposes.


    7. Hey Lewis,

      I'm not so sure that the mindset you describe is mandated by "orthodox" Christianity, but maybe so by the mangled form we've received of it via American Evangelicalism and ultimately Roman Catholocism. Maybe.

      Hate to spam your comment box, but this video by an Eastern Orthodox priest presents a different model of understanding the atonement that has felt very compelling to me. Who knows? I may actually convert.

      I would be curious to hear what you think if you have the time to take a listen.


    8. Hello!

      I'd like to HIGHLY recommend reading a book called 'Broken: 7 "Christian" Rules that Every Christian Ought to Break as Often as Possible', by Jonathan Fisk. I think you might find it interesting!