There are a lot of things that influence our lives that are out of our control, like where we’re born, our skin color, sex, and many other happenstances. Sometimes when we take notice of the various influencers in our lives we may feel helpless and fall into a blame game of sorts. I think it’s good to analyze ourselves and our surroundings, but it’s not good to fall into this pattern too much because one may miss the fact that some things in their life can be within their control. With the exception of the severely mentally ill and retarded, I think it’s safe to say that how we behave is mostly in our control.
It can be both empowering and deflating to take responsibility for our actions. When I’ve done something which I feel was good, it’s very easy to pat myself on the back and take pride in my actions. I think many can relate when I say that when something goes wrong it’s very tempting to find things to blame other than oneself, admitting our mistakes and flaws never feels great. I think it’s our natural aversion to bad feelings that drives many of us to scapegoat in various aspects of our lives.
It’s my opinion that our natural inclination to want to scapegoat that has led many to be attracted to Christianity. The heart of Christian doctrine is the story of Jesus taking responsibility for the sins of humanity, or in other words, the scapegoat for humanity. Some sects of Christianity preach that if you just believe in Jesus as your lord and savior your sins will be forgiven and you will go to heaven. According to this logic the serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer who was baptized as a born again Christian went to heaven but someone like Carl Sagan who never hurt a soul and advocated for a better world is burning in hell fire. This dimension of Christianity has disturbed me for a very long time because it teaches its followers they ultimately don’t have to take responsibility for their actions. Besides the belief that god will forgive a Christian if they believe, there’s also the belief in the devil and he is often to blame for things that go wrong in Christians’ lives. Things like drinking too much or cheating on one’s spouse were because of temptation from the devil, there’s often admission of wrong doing but it’s not a full admission of responsibility. It also seems that believers don’t take much credit for the things that go well for them because they have to thank god for his blessings. For instance, the talent that got someone to where they are was a god given blessing and credit is barely given to the individual and the people around them that helped them along the way.
The concept of telling people they’re powerless really rubs me the wrong way. I once sat in on an AA meeting with friend for one of her school assignments, and if you’re not familiar, Alcoholics Anonymous is a twelve step support program for alcoholics which centers on spiritual and character development to help its members abstain from drinking. There is variation in the program around the world, some versions are on the very religious end of the spectrum and some are more on the secular side. The general rule for all AA groups is that a member does not have to be of a certain denomination or hold a specific religious belief. The one my friend and I sat in on was just for women and in a church basement, so unsurprisingly there was a lot of talk of god during the meeting. I knew going in to it that it would be depressing to hear women discuss their struggle with alcohol addiction, but I wasn’t expecting to hear things like “I couldn’t do it without god” or “I’m so powerless without god’s love” so much. Every time that sort of sentiment came out I felt my stomach twist a little more and it was very difficult to keep a straight face. I kept getting the sense that these women were led to their addiction partly because they had very little confidence in themselves, and I’m not an expert on human behavior but it’s my humble opinion that it might not be healthy to have people with low self-esteem repeat that they’re “powerless”.
I’ve struggled with depression and I can fully understand not feeling good about oneself, especially when there are many outside factors that influence how we form our opinions of ourselves. A turning point for me was when I noticed the simple fact that maybe I shouldn’t fall into a cycle of putting myself down so much. As I said before, there are a lot of factors in my life that aren’t completely in my control, but I doubt I’ll get that far if I’m constantly playing a blame game or scapegoating my problems. It’s silly, but sometimes I think of Al Franken’s SNL character Stewart Smalley and repeat some positive affirmations to myself. I also give myself a decent giggle whenever I try to mimic how the character spoke, so win-win, I think a good chuckle is always great for the spirit. I also think it’s better to credit loved ones for support and happiness than to credit a deity that you can’t prove exists. Ultimately I’m responsible for my actions and trying to make the best of the hand I’ve been dealt in this mortal coil and I think it would hold me back if I were to think “I’m powerless without god”.