Exploring the role of guilt in the formation of the Christian religion
Since the time of its inception, Christianity has been a religion rife with conflict. One such conflict is the 2000 year old battle between the two sides of the Christian message – that which is based in fear and the other which is rooted in love. Understanding the experiences out of which Christianity emerged, one has to wonder, is the religion of Christianity merely an expression of the unresolved guilt and shame experienced by the disciples who denied and abandoned Jesus at his greatest hour of need? When we look at the long dalliance between Christianity and guilt, one has to wonder.
What follows is a “fictional” account of what may have happened:
Once upon a time, there was a bunch of fishermen who met this dude named Jesus. They thought this Jesus was pretty cool. First he taught them a better way to fish, and then he showed them how to walk on water. After the theatrics he taught them how to love. These fishermen thought Jesus was the next best thing after leavened bread – something that was a luxury for fishermen – because which one among them had time to wait for bread to rise?
Things were really cool with this Jesus guy. They got to travel. Meet new people. Hear amazing stories. They got invited into the homes of those they never thought they’d be able to dine with. They saw amazing things happen and miracles performed. The sick were healed. The blind were able to see. And Jesus spoke in a way that made their heart feel warm and their soul feel at peace.
But then one day, people started to become angry over Jesus’ words. Angry words were exchanged and the next thing the fishermen knew, their buddy Jesus was hauled off to prison and brought before the Roman governor where he was tried for treason. Treason? (They also heard words like blasphemy….and other scary words). Jesus was just trying to teach people how to love. The fishermen were surprised, but mostly they were afraid. If people came to know that Jesus was their friend, would they be imprisoned and tried too? So they hid.
And they kept hiding. They heard that Jesus’ trial didn’t go well and that he had been sentenced to death. Now they were really afraid. So they kept hiding. They hid all the while the women knocked on their door saying, “Come out. Come with us. We need to support our friend. We need to be with him. We need to offer our love and support.” But the women’s pleas could not break through the fishermen’s fears. So they continued to hide.
They hid after the women came and told them Jesus had been crucified and that he had died. They hid after the women came to tell them Jesus had been buried. And they continued to hide until three days later, on the morning after the Sabbath when Mary Magdalene (Jesus’ favorite) knocked on the door and proclaimed that Jesus lived. But even then, they only opened the door a crack, and then swiftly slammed it in Mary’s face. “She must have lost her mind. Jesus cannot have survived a crucifixion. And ‘he has risen?’ What does that even mean?”
But then, Jesus himself showed up. He walked right through the closed and bolted door and showed them. “See. I have not died so as never to be seen or known again. I am now with you, always, along with the Spirit who is with and in me.” Only then did the fishermen open the door to Mary Magdalene who stood there tapping her feet with her arms across her chest…saying with her eyes, “I told you so!” For a brief moment, the disciples hung their head in shame – first because they had not listened to the Magdalene, the one Jesus favored above them all; and secondly, because they had abandoned their friend at the time of his greatest need. But just as quickly as the guilt and shame surfaced, they began to make their excuses.
Jesus listened to their bargaining and then began to remind them of all he had taught them about peace and love and how they could experience the kingdom of God right here in the midst of the human experience. Jesus continued to teach them, empowering them with the light of his Spirit so they might go forth and share the good news he had proclaimed: “Turn your gaze only toward the Divine within, for here is where you will find the kingdom of God.” (While the disciples were being tutored for the umpteenth time, Mary Magdalene and the other women were already about their mission of teaching people how to love.) Then Jesus told the disciples, “I must ascend,” and took off for good. Now the disciples were on their own, so they did what Jesus told them to do, “go out and preach the good news.”
This would have been all fine and good except that the male disciples could not let go of that sense of guilt and shame over having abandoned their friend. The wound of shame festered and soon, they could only remember Jesus’ message through the lens of their unhealed shame. As a result, they went forth preaching “the good news,” but soon it took on a new flavor. This message was not the pure message of love Jesus had proclaimed and which Mary and the other women continued to share in the world. Instead, the message became tainted by shame. Instead of the overwhelmingly uplifting message of unconditional love, the love of God became conditional and wrapped in fear. God was no longer the prodigal father of which Jesus spoke; instead he became a wrathful God making impossible demands on his children with the overarching and overwhelming threat of eternal punishment in a place called hell. The cause of Jesus’ death became the sin of humanity. Judas was Jesus’ betrayer and it was the Jews who killed him. Women and sexual intercourse became the cause of original sin. As the wound of shame continued to fester, the message of love became eclipsed to the point where it no longer remained.
But, while the disciples who retained the wound of shame preached a message tainted with fear, those who had no shame, because they had stood by the side of their beloved teacher and friend – Mary Magdalene, Mother Mary, Lazarus, Joseph of Arimathea, Martha, the other Marys, the youngest disciple (and Jesus’ own brother) John, and a few others taught a message of love. They went out into the world doing what Jesus taught them to do. They began with showing people how to connect with the Divine within. Then they supported them in coming to know that this connection – which felt like peace, love, contentment and joy – was their original nature and what Jesus called “the kingdom of God.” Then they taught them how to connect with their own unique gifts and to hear the voice of the Divine which led them to their truth and to the purpose of their life path. They gathered in community for meditation, contemplation and prayer. They broke bread together and shared all things in common for the sake of the common good. They went out into the world teaching, healing, supporting and empowering people – showing them how to be free by teaching them how to love. In this expression, God was not to be feared but was instead, the source of unconditional and unmerited love. In this they came to know that there was indeed no separation – only love – and they lived in peace and walked softly upon the earth while diligently praying that their brothers and sisters might find healing and self-forgiveness for the guilt and shame they have been harboring for the past 2000 years.
Lauri Ann Lumby, OM, OPM, MATS provides support for your unhealed wounds of guilt and shame, including those experienced through institutional religion. She provides this support through one-on-one spiritual direction/counseling, her writing and online courses. You may contact Lauri directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.