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May 24 2014

Religion’s terrible guilt trips

One of the worst aspects of most religions is that it lays down major guilt trips on people. It does this by making people believe that that a whole range of things (thoughts as well as actions) that we would consider normal are actually sinful, then it postulates an omniscient being who knows everything including those thoughts, and then promises a lifetime in hell for those who transgress. True, it allows for absolution for those who grovel appropriately but it surely must be keeping people in doubt as to whether they have groveled enough to avoid eternal damnation.

A good example of this kind of self-flagellation is Toni Braxton who has a son diagnosed with autism. She says in a memoir that her god may have caused this to happen to punish her for having had an abortion many years earlier.

The 46-year-old singer confesses that for weeks afterward she was wracked with guilt, the result of growing up in a fanatically religious home where she was not allowed to wear pants, would be forced to fast for two weeks a time during Lent and was forbidden to go to the movies. Homework was usually neglected because children at the church where her parents worshiped were obliged to memorize 26 scriptures a week.

Years after the abortion, when Braxton’s youngest son, Diezel, was diagnosed with autism she felt she was to blame. “Is God punishing me for that abortion?” she writes.

Braxton realizes that might sound odd, but says she “believed that God’s payback was to give my son autism.”

The “Breathe Again” singer was so consumed with guilt over the abortion that she questioned if God was punishing her for it with lupus and her parents’ messy divorce. (Braxton writes that her father married his mistress 30 days after he got divorced.)

Having an autistic child is challenging enough to deal with but to add to that the feeling that the child is being punished for something you did must be a terrible burden for a parent to bear.

7 comments

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  1. 1
    Menyambal

    Why would she be in any doubt that God would do exactly that?

    I speak as one who is forbidden the congregation of the Lord because of a sin of my grandfather’s. I dunno if he got punished for it, but his bastard son and all his descendants for seven generations are on the shit list.

    Of course, all of us are being punished for the sin of a couple of people who had no concept of what sin even was. And children were killed just so God could show off …

  2. 2
    smrnda

    I have to say, growing up outside of that nonsense has been great, and I feel very sorry for people who were raised within. Even people I know who turned their backs on the religions they were raised with still seem to feel guilt and shame over things they know, intellectually, are not wrong, but which they were taught were wrong.

  3. 3
    Marcus Ranum

    the child is being punished for something you did

    That’s a tremendous argument for how immoral religions can be: the idea that there is a god that would inflict severe birth defects at a child in order to get back at its parents…. Is… beyond disgusting.

  4. 4
    lanir

    I think the essential element of that trap, what makes it so awful for the people who have been in that situation is the assumption that your actions determine the fate of the universe. Somehow the things you do (and often only the “bad” things) can alter any event or circumstance.

    Growing up I got a bellyful of religion but I began asking inconvenient questions and being skeptical of the answers by the time I was in third grade and it simply progressed from there. My home wasn’t an extreme fundamentalist one, it lacked that bit where everything is magically your fault. The trap lacked that particular barb, which made it easier to escape. And that’s why so many of the disgusting assholes who pimp that nonsense are so determined to keep people not knowing how the universe really works, ignorant of it’s scale and how incomprehensibly tiny we ourselves and everything we know of, care for, or even dislike are on the vast scale of it. Yet how incredibly important the things around us are because they provide our perspective, our viewpoint on all the rest. And that makes that particular spot in the universe uniquely ours.

    They’d rather sell us all into a horror movie plot. A vengeful ghost, it knows what you did last summer, and it’ll hit you with one deus ex machina after another until it just sort of stops on it’s own. And the bit about after you die makes even that hideous mess seem like a stupendously enlightened plot by comparison, which it definitely isn’t.

  5. 5
    Max

    Isn’t it unfair to blame religion for Toni Braxton’s misinterpretation of religion? The fault here is that Ms. Braxton was not promptly reassured that supposed divine retribution does not work this way, or that Christian teachings are so vague that any number of misunderstandings are possible. From a logical point of view, since the Christian document is self-contradictory in as lease a few instances, any statement whatsoever can be logically concluded from Christian precepts, according to the theory of logic. This gives Christianity a lot of wriggle-room.

    But to get back to the Toni Braxton case: I’m not religious, but this seems one of the poorer arguments against religion.

  6. 6
    Mano Singham

    @Max,

    The point is that Braxton’s interpretation is a common one in religious circles. The idea of vicarious punishment runs through the Bible. Remember that ALL of the world’s suffering is because Adam and Eve did something wrong in the eyes of god.

    Whenever some disaster falls the immediate reaction is “Why did god allow this?” because they think that even if god did not actively seek that outcome, he did not prevent it when he could have so he must have had a reason. In that search for reasons, punishment is the most plausible explanation so it should not be surprising that people believe it.

  7. 7
    left0ver1under

    You can’t offer a solution if you don’t invent a problem to solve. And you can’t make people feel guilty about natural acts without unnatural acts such as religion.

    Control mechanisms come in many forms, whether chains on limbs, walls with armed guards, or guilt and fear inside the mind. If you can’t control and beat someone physically, doing it mentally is just as effective.

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