I have been reading Bertrand Russell's book "The Conquest of Happiness" and as with most reading it gives me thoughts.
In one chapter Russell examines what he calls the "sense of sin" and it's affect upon our lives. He says, "As a matter of fact the sense of sin, so far from being a cause of a good life, is quite the reverse. It makes a man unhappy and it makes him feel inferior. Being unhappy, he is likely to make claims upon other people which are excessive and which prevent him from enjoying happiness in personal relations. Feeling inferior, he will have a grudge against those who seem superior. He will find admiration difficult and envy easy. He will become a generally disagreeable person and will find himself more and more solitary. An expansive and generous attitude towards other people not only gives happiness to others, but is an immense source of happiness to its possessor, since it causes him to be generally liked. But such an attitude is scarcely possible to the man haunted by a sense of sin." (85)
I have lived most of my life with a strong sense of sin. I believed myself to be a sinner from birth and thus I grew up hating myself, though I would never have said it like that. The teachings of Paul, Augustine and Luther, who all maintain a high level of self-deprecation, shaped me and my worldview. The world was dark and wicked and likewise all those in it. God was the only source of love and light and offered us salvation freely though we did not deserve it. I of course tried to focus on the second part (grace) more than the first (sin) but in the end it is the first part that is the most vital because the good news (gospel) of grace can only be received after first tearing people down and ensuring that they see their own sinfulness. Both facts must be used carefully so as not to scare off (awaken) those it seeks to save (influence). One must believe that one is both loved and yet also worthless. This works best if one is told from the beginning (birth) that they are a sinner. The amazing thing about being a sinner is you don't actually have to sin to be one rather you just need to believe you already are one. Have faith in your sinfulness and you will be able to make-up all sorts of horrendous sins you have committed from which you need reprieve or terrible vices that you have from which you need release.* By age 12 I knew I had no inherent value rather it was only God's grace that gave me value. It is a system that has survived the centuries and a system that create me.**
Now the problem with believing you are worthless is that it prevents you from truly caring about or loving those around you and no amount of spurious grace can cover that fact. Your self-hatred makes you a chore to be around. In my shift from trying to live a godly life to trying to live a good life I find I no longer need to fabricate phony dichotomies between words like joy and happiness; gladness and pleasure; peace and comfort all in an effort to convince myself that not only is it okay but it is actually good if my life is unhappy, un-pleasurable and uncomfortable because somehow that means it is filled with joy, gladness and peace. These false dichotomies also allowed me to feel a perverse sense of superiority over those who were enjoying their lives as if they did not truly understand the world the way I did.
Surprisingly I have found that it is self-acceptance that is the key to charity. Confidence and contentment allow for one to be happy and happiness truly is contagious. It desires to be shared and grows ever larger when done so. With these discoveries I find myself liking myself more and more as the months past and unsurprisingly I find myself to be a better person and my life more enjoyable because of it. The fight is by no means over. My sense of sin still maintains strongholds in my subconscious and often pokes at me relying on long ingrained habits, conditioned worries and moments of loneliness but the hate has begun to ebb not due to divine salvation but due to the realization I never needed to be saved in the first place.
Amazing grace how sweet the sound that...I am not a wretch and do not need be saved
I never was lost so I never needed to be found
I was not blind so now I still see
*more than anyone I thank Augustine for this fact. The development of the doctrine of Original Sin really was an ingenious way to explain the needless evil and suffering in the world and maintain people's dependence upon the church as a cure to a disease it created. Augustine said, "Sub Deo justo nemo miser nisi mereatur." (Under a just God no one is miserable who has not deserved misery) It's that simple no one innocent ever suffers because no one is ever innocent.
**the system, Christianity, is by no means evil but neither is it all good or all true. It shapes different people differently and my personal experience is by no means normative in the sense that all people will fall into self-hatred if raised Christian. I know that is not the case. But the danger is real and where Christianity sets itself up to ensure that any and all fault must lie with the person I have seen that much of the fault lies in the system itself.