Religion can be called selfish if their members harm themselves or others because of hurtful beliefs. Religions’ harms is a topic for serious discussion, especially because religion has been put on a pedestal that no one is allowed to address or question, lest they question God.
As a result of religious rules condemning selfishness, I carried a lot of guilt while growing up. When I was still little, my grandma gave me some change at a circuit convention. I bought a banana at the concession stand and ate the whole thing myself! Oh, did I feel guilty and selfish! I hid outside a service door to stuff the banana in my mouth before someone would “catch” me in the selfish act of eating the whole thing all by myself! Was I truly “selfish” to take care of myself by treating myself in this way?
Validating My Humanity
People might respond indignantly, “Oh, Esther. You’re making too much out of this!” Certainly, a person saying not sharing my banana with three brothers was proof of my “selfishness” has no idea how deep the self-accusations go. Children believe deeply that what their parents teach them is the truth. I certainly did believe I was selfish and undeserving.
The traumas children experience must be validated in order for healing to begin. Validation makes the person and the trauma real, and then a plan of action can be implemented to reclaim the lost parts of the self which was harmed by religion. So, when someone shushes my experience, they add to the guilt. Maybe not now that I’m a thinking adult, but certainly when I was a child. For example, what if someone in my family “caught” me with a mouthful of illegal banana? I say illegal, because I claimed the whole delicious piece of fruit for myself, instead of seeking out a knife to cut it up into four pieces — or even six pieces if my father and mother wanted a piece of my bought-and-paid-for banana, too.
The “empowering” message of assured healing is an important aspect of off-setting religious abuse. Jehovah’s Witnesses set their members up to fail upon leaving — one of the many dis-empowering aspects of their religion. How does the religion set members up to fail? They attract the most vulnerable people and — once under their spell — use mind control to keep folks in fear of god, the devil, apostates, the “world”, and Armageddon. Many new members are single and alone, with no next of kin. I personally knew vulnerable folks who were approached during a funeral, because Jehovah’s Witnesses go so far as to monitor obituaries, to seek out potential converts.
Nurturing the Soul is Self-Care
I believe in my Self, because I know now that change is possible. “You are so free that you can choose bondage!” Perhaps you have heard these words uttered. It is a true statement of belief. But, what happens when a person has been bound by an exacting patriarchal system put on her or him by fanatical parents? What if the person says, “Okay, my soul has experienced enough of that, so what’s next in my life of freedom? I want to leave now, but the elders/my parents/my partner won’t let me.” Or, “I would hurt the family if I left.” Which is it? — “self-care” or “selfish’ to leave a belief system that no longer nurtures my soul?
If a person comes to that crossroads of decision, no one can prevent her or him from growing into that next experience. The soul will naturally lead or guide an individual into their next growth step. Notwithstanding, leaving the family religion has the potential of being painful, depending on the strictness — or leniency — of what was taught. Seriously, self-care could look like selfishness to some, but it isn’t selfish at all to leave a religion that is stifling your growth and general well-being.
So as not to minimize the challenge, changing one’s inherent belief system is not as straight forward as one might initially think. It takes concerted effort to change damaging core beliefs. Certainly, the expression, “Religion is the opiate of the masses,” was not said in error by Karl Marx.
“Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature…It is the opium of the people. The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.”—Karl Marx
Deceive — Divide — Destroy
Using deception, Jehovah’s Witnesses create co-dependence with religion — capable of destroying the family unit by first destroying the natural familial bonds and replacing them with all the rules of their inflexible religion. Members are taught to love the religion first, before family members. This is how families become divided along religious lines. Families become “them” against “us” if anyone objects to the unyielding religious rules. My family is just one example of the truth of that statement. As an adult, no sooner I left the religion, I was disfellowshipped and shunned. Our family was literally ripped apart by the religiously-created divide.
Back to my illustration, eating one entire piece of fruit is not a sinful act. It isn’t selfish, either. It could even be described as self-care. It’s the most natural thing to have possessions — or eat food — that is all yours to enjoy. Perhaps much of my guilt was put on me for merely being a girl. My father valued boys more because they could work harder than me on the farm. Perhaps he measured my worth by how much work I did in comparison to my brothers. One girl could never do as much hard work as three boys! So, I grew up feeling devalued — unloved — selfish for wanting something for my Self, without sharing it with my brothers who were so much more “deserving” in my father’s eyes.
When I left the family religion, supports were imperative, since Jehovah’s Witnesses attempt to alienate members who wish to leave. They attempt to “force” or “blackmail” such ones back into the fold of religious co-dependence and dysfunction by using their shunning technique. If one truly desires to leave, one can see clearly the point where religious freedom ends. I lost my entire network of family and friends I thought I had within the religious group. No, again I wasn’t being selfish. Leaving was very much part of my “self-care”. My soul called me to make such a choice — I am sure.
Your Choice: Freedom or Bondage
In conclusion, Jesus words to the paralytic may apply to all who wish to grow beyond what they learned from their parents’ patriarchal religion, “…Get up, pick up your cot and walk.” (Mark 2:9) In other words, they are free if freedom is what they choose! Choice is not a sign of selfishness! It’s self-care — because now you’re free to be healthy if you’re walking away with your cot after letting go of the paralyzing religious fear!
I remember the last time I was in an airplane and heard the spiel about putting the oxygen mask on myself first, before trying to help others. Isn’t that a kind of self-care? And doesn’t it make sense to put the mask on myself first, before helping my small child?
Another way of looking at self-care is to realize you cannot share anything from an empty cup. If I were to fill my own cup first, then it would make sense to share from the overflow.
Overall, I believe oppressive religions will become a thing of the past. Patriarchal religious bondage will surely lose its appeal, as more knowledge of such clandestine, autocratic activities becomes available. With help and support, peoples’ fondest wishes for freedom and self-care will become a reality! Again, no reasonable person could label your choices for health as “selfish”!
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