Here’s the latest post I’ve done for Recovering from Religion: So Much For Never Getting More Than You Can Handle.
I’ve talked before about this incident, but I think it was time to revisit it and talk a little more about one of the major aspects of it that Wayne and I encountered. I know not all Christians subscribe to the idea that their god never gives them more than they can handle, but the simple truth is that most Christians do.
And this thinking is not only demonstrably wrong but can be downright dangerous.
When someone commits suicide, this thinking is what keeps Christians from showing compassion for the person who lost that monstrous fight.
When someone suffering from a terminal disease chooses death with dignity, this thinking is what keeps Christians from minding their own goddamned business and letting that person decide how much is enough to endure.
When someone commits a crime–be it a financial misdeed or whatever else–this thinking is what keeps Christians from seriously engaging with the motivations that led that person to that crime.
When someone suffers a mental illness, this thinking is what keeps Christians from compassion, sympathy, or even rational thinking regarding medications and effective therapy.
But this thinking isn’t just restricted to Christians by a long shot. When you hear someone saying that if they can do something so can anybody else, that’s the kind of thinking on display: this conviction that someone knows better than another person what that other person can and cannot endure. That’s the kind of thinking that leads someone to try to control another person or dictate that person’s life choices–or invalidate someone’s experiences or choices. “You could have done this better” is a powerful tool to use to negate somebody. “You should have just endured more.”
The person suffering gets told to just “man up.” “Suck it up and drive on.” Just handle it. Just use some willpower. Just tell the street-harasser honestly that you’re not interested. Just forego the junk food. Just ignore the depression. Just pray to become straight. Just do this, just do that. The people saying this shit say it like it’s the first time, the very first time!, that anybody has ever thought of this stuff and like the person they’re addressing never once ever thought of trying that.
And oh it gets worse; the implication here is that the person giving this sage advice did that and it totally worked like aces so we should all just do it this way and we’ll have the same exact result.
We beat ourselves up with this thinking too. “We should have just been able to handle this problem,” we tell ourselves when our world crashes around our ears. “We shouldn’t have succumbed to that temptation.”
It’s not true, and it just makes the stress worse. That’s why that meta-study about prayer that I mentioned recently found that some people who knew they were getting prayed for actually did worse than people who either didn’t know or hadn’t been the recipients of prayer. I’m betting the people who got prayed over thought they should have been improving more than they actually were, and when they didn’t improve more, it devastated them.
In the same way, when I was Christian of course I had setbacks and stresses like anybody else (almost as if there was no god preventing me from having them!). Knowing that I should have been able to handle those stresses without freaking out, losing my temper, or committing a sin of some sort just made those stresses worse. Clearly I was doing something wrong–but I didn’t know what. And every time I heard about a suicide or someone who’d had a major stress episode or whatever, it made me wonder why that person had gotten more than they could handle–and how that person had known that it was too much.
Christianity, as a religion, as a whole, tends to push the idea that someone always knows us better than we know ourselves. The concept of “dictating someone’s experiences” isn’t unique to the religion, but it’s almost impossible to run into a really toxic Christian who doesn’t do this with every breath. It can be a real challenge for ex-Christians, once we’ve left the religion, to disentangle ourselves from that bad habit.
And I know it might really challenge Christians to know that why yes, actually, their “god” regularly seems to give people more than they can handle–that really bites hard into the entire myth of Boyfriend!Jesus, the loving father-god who just wants his followers to be blissfully happy, luxuriantly healthy, self-actualized, romantically-attached, and wealthy. When someone doesn’t show those attributes, many Christians will assume that their peer is doing something wrong, or sinning somehow. But stress is a reality of the human condition.
Moving away from the myths might be painful at first, but in reality we really are on our own here and sometimes we do get more than we can handle. That’s why I say we’re all in this thing together: when that happens, when we realize that there’s more there than we can handle alone, there are resources out there for us to reach out for, and people out there who will stop whatever they’re doing to help us get through those patches.
There really isn’t anything that we’re truly alone in facing. Someone, somewhere, has our back.
About the only mistake a suffering person can make is thinking that this someone is a god.