The Role of God as Abuser

26Apr10

I was considering some of the ways that believers tend to minimize the less-than-savory traits exhibited by the God of the Bible, and was suddenly struck by the parallel between the way that God interacts with his Christian followers and the way abusers interact with their victims.

1. “I’m only doing this because I love you.”

Often, an abuser has convinced his/her victim that abusive actions are done out of love. Actions like keeping a victim from seeing friends (they’re bad influences; I want you to spend more time with me), keeping them from pursuing goals (I just don’t want you to get set up for a fall), even physical abuse (I’m just trying to teach you a lesson), are written off as acts of love. The victims generally believe in this, too – it’s one of the many ways abusers exercise power over their victims.

This is very similar to the way Christians interact with their God. They are told to stay away from “Satan’s” influence, to go out in the world to convert, but stay insulated from the secular aspects (in other words, “Stay away from them, they are bad influences”). They are told that all their merits are not their own, but given to them from God. They cannot take any pride in the positive aspects of their personality or actions, but must give all glory to God. (This has the same outcome as, “I don’t want you to get set up for a fall” – it takes away all potential for personal achievement.) On the other hand, all their bad traits are innate in them. And any commands that are not actually in the best interest of the people are still considered loving – take, for example, the command to people who are not heterosexual to go against their natural sexual preference. This is spun as an act of love – God just wants you to experience the “proper,” “complimentary” male-female pairing – but it is actually incredibly difficult for and harmful to people (and, of course, heterosexual relationships are no more guaranteed to be complimentary and successful than any other). God himself will say, “I ask for your unquestioning obedience, and will send you to hell if you do not provide it…because I love you.” “I require you to follow my laws, and will send my wrath down upon you if you do not…because I love you.”

2. “I’m the only one who could ever love/put up with you.”

Victims often stay with their abusers because they do not believe anyone else is capable of caring about them – or even dealing with them. In Christianity, this takes the form of telling people that no one will ever love them as much as God, and no relationship will ever be as fulfilling as their relationship with God (and is compounded by the previously mentioned belief that all bad traits are innate, but none of the good). As abuse victims repeat their unlovability to themselves as a reason to stay in a harmful situation, Christians repeat it to themselves as a reason to worship God. He loves them, therefore he deserves their love. Of course this isn’t the way it works – not everyone who loves you, or claims to love you, actually deserves your love.

3. “You don’t know what’s good for you.”

I want to go back to the obedience I mentioned before. The ways that God gains this obedience are similar to the ways abusers gain obedience from their victims. There is the assurance that they, not you, know what’s best for you…you’re too stupid, too flawed, too naïve (too sinful). There is also the threat of outside harm if you do not obey (“It’s for your own good…those people don’t love you, those people will hurt you. You just don’t understand the way the world works.”) And, of course, actual violence from the abuser in the face of disobedience – the God of the Old Testament did this very obviously, through wrath and destruction; the God of the New Testament does this through the condemnation to hell.

4. “If you loved me, you’d…”

The other side of the “I’m doing this because I love you” coin, also a tactic used to gain obedience. The victim, remember, has usually been convinced that because they are unlovable, the fact that the abuser loves them makes the abuser deserving of their love in return. Now they are required to prove this love. I think the use of this in Christianity is pretty obvious – it is most often shown through saying that Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the people, and in repayment we should love him. Because we love him, we should obey his laws. In truth, demanding a return for love does not work (if you’ve ever dealt with this in a personal relationship, you know this to be true…at best, it generates resentment).

5. “It’s your fault I act this way.”

I think this one’s pretty obvious… “If you didn’t make me so mad, I wouldn’t have to hit you.” “If you weren’t such a slut, I wouldn’t have to yell at you.” “If you weren’t so stupid, I wouldn’t have to embarrass you in public.”

One first things that came to mind for me is the story of Adam and Eve… It is Eve’s fault that they are kicked out of paradise, and Eve brought the pain henceforth associated with childbirth upon herself. If only she hadn’t eaten the fruit, he would not have to do this to her. (By the way, that situation is even more disturbing if you continue to consider it…if you believe God is all-powerful and all-knowing and Eve’s creator, then that act of disobedience was just Eve acting the way she was created to.) It’s a pretty prevalent theme, though…villages destroyed for disobedience (even once, according to the Bible, nearly all of humanity). We can’t forget Lot’s wife, in one such instance…her crime was merely looking back when told not to. And, of course, “If you would just love and worship me without any proof of my existence, I wouldn’t have to send you to hell.” (The threat of hell can be used quite diversely for control and abuse, in part because it is less overt than the acts of control and violence of the Old Testament God. This makes me think of an abuser who has gotten so good at abuse that his victims and those close to them are in constant doubt as to whether any abuse is actually occurring. It is, of course, which is why that situation is so horrible and terrifying…a victim whose abuser is obvious about his/her abuse will likely have friends who will be a support group, who will help the victim to break free from the control of the abuser. A victim whose abuser takes a less obvious tactic is more likely to be surrounded by people who will tell the victim that he/she is overreacting, that their abuser would never do that.)

In light of this, I think I understand a little more why people believe so wholeheartedly in Christianity while ignoring many of the inconsistencies. Of course, it is extremely difficult to convince a victim that they are being abused, and that they don’t deserve abuse. Such realizations often must come from within. Others can help it along, and assist victims in getting out of an abusive situation, but much of the realization of wrongdoing and determination to change must come from the individual. It is too easy for the abuser to say, “I don’t want you to spend time with them…they are bad influences, they are coming between us, they are just setting you up for a fall” (“Do not be of the world…the world’s influence is sinful, it will hinder your relationship with God, it may seem attractive now but later you will regret it”).

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2 Responses to “The Role of God as Abuser”

  1. 1 Edman

    Wow, good call. I hadn’t thought of it in that light…

    Also, Stockholm Syndrome.

  2. 2 inquisitivebutterfly

    This is an excellent post. I completely agree.


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