Monday, November 8, 2010

Short Essay: Sin, Sacrifice and Codependency

This is a new segment I'll be posting under every so often, the "Essay" segment. Sometimes it'll be short, sometimes it'll be long, but it's usually a combination of opinion piece and independent research. Feel free to offer criticisms or correction; unlike some of the works I refer to and criticize, my work is not sacred :D

In the Old Testament (specifically, the book of Leviticus), God explains that blood is life and life is the price of sin, and that is why the Israelites were not supposed to eat the blood of any animal. It's also the reason why they were ordered to mutilate animal corpses and offer them as bloody "sin offerings" to "make atonement" (or "ransom," depending on your translation) for their lives, or their sins.

I understand that Christians think that everyone can be "saved." I also understand that this desire to "save everyone" was probably born from the realization that, by OT laws, the guilty were punished harshly or put to death while the innocent were allowed to live in peace (mostly). It seems to me that Christianity was not born from the hearts of the innocent, who obeyed the laws they believed were right (and for whom society was more or less acceptable and sustainable), but from the guilty, who were unwilling to accept their own faults and actions and instead desired a scapegoat onto which to project these transgressions (in fact, the ritual of Azazel/scapegoat is described in detail in Leviticus 16:20-22). This need to "prove one's innocence" to an external witness is a common psychological trait of people who are unwilling or unable to cope with their own "cognitive dissonance," actions which are inconsistent with their own moral beliefs. It is, by and large, considered very unhealthy to seek external validation for an internal conflict of judgment --- this sort of behavior can lead to codependency and obsession, whether with God or with another person. Have you ever heard a person say to someone, "What are you trying to prove?" Or, perhaps, "Who are you trying to convince?" Chances are, they're talking about this sort of situation.

If this system of sacrifice were to, in some way, allow both the innocent and the guilty to overcome their transgressions, then it would at *least* be consistent. But rather, what it does is sacrifice the innocent to "cancel out" the sins of the guilty. I see this as no more than the particularly violent coping mechanism of a people which had not learned to deal with their own imperfections as human beings, created by God or not, and so they codependently and violently projected this dissonance onto an external recipient.

This is one important thing that I find wrong with Christianity; we are not encouraged to accept ourselves and our faults, and our flaws, and our imperfections, but rather reject them as unholy, evil, and terrible, and to consider ourselves as unworthy of anything without God's grace or acceptance. An important stage of the personal and moral development of a mature human adult is learning to accept oneself and have realistic expectations of oneself; I see modern Christianity as running counter to this vital process, attempting to mire us in our own desire for perfection, talking down to us and convincing us that we have no value on our own, that we can never be "good enough," that we need some external source to verify us and tell us it's okay and that we're worth something. We are encouraged to deny ourselves and refuse to give our own lives personal meaning that we can relate to, and instead we're encouraged to seek external verification and purpose, relying on something outside of ourselves to establish the identity that forms the center of our relationships with the very external forces we seek to identify with.

Seeking meaning and importance in others is not a bad thing, of course; however, it's a kind of bridge-building. If I may lapse into order to build a bridge between two places, there must first be two individual places which someone desires to be connected. Which means, you (and the person you are having a relationship with) should really have a firm understanding of yourself and what you expect of yourself before you try to build a relationship; everything else comes as a result of the interaction of your identities. You can't really, truly and honestly interact with someone if you aren't being honest with yourself and admitting who you are and what you expect of yourself, and what you're capable of. Seeking verification of your intrinsic "self" in the intrinsic "self" of another person is dangerous because that person, like you, is mortal and finite and can disappear at any moment. You must be ready to answer the haunting question, "What will I do if this person disappears?" Is this person a fundamental part of your identity? If so, you are codependent --- you rely on others to define yourself and who you are. This is what the Judeo-Christian mythology teaches us, to allow an external source to define us as individuals, before we even attempt to reach out and touch other people through relationships, such that we never really have a chance to be honest with ourselves or try to build natural, realistic expectations of ourselves; instead we abide by the commands of someone whom we endeavor ceaselessly to please, in the hopes that this entity will validate us in the way that, we have been taught, we cannot validate ourselves. I believe that this is a negative teaching and a negative pattern of behavior; if I were going to sum it up into a catchy book title, I might go out on a limb and say that "Judeo-Christianity makes us codependent."

--Tim D.

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