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Recovering from Religion - Phoenix Message Board › On Christianity and Self-Esteem

On Christianity and Self-Esteem

user 2326427
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 198
NOTE: I wrote the following essay to address the issue of fundamentalist Christianity and self-esteem. Although I concur with what Richard Yao wrote on this subject in his recovery program booklet, I felt that the topic was important enough to the recovering ex-fundamentalist Christian to warrant a deeper exploration.

Devout fundamentalist evangelical Christians who have experienced being “born again” claim to have a “personal relationship with God through Jesus Christ.” This assertion is, in my opinion, a personal fantasy that the individual “believer” shares with other like-minded “believers.” In its collective form, this fantasy constitutes the foundation of the “born-again” Christian subculture, into which the sincere “believer” has presumably been fully acculturated. More importantly, this fantasy, when coupled with deep Bible indoctrination, may have profound negative implications for an individual “believer’s” self-esteem.

Just what is self-esteem? Dr. Nathaniel Branden, a psychologist and psychotherapist, defines self-esteem as “the sum of self-confidence and self-respect,” self-confidence representing a person’s ability to cope with life’s challenges and self-respect being a person’s acknowledgment of the right to be happy. According to Dr. Branden, positive self-esteem is a cardinal requirement of a fulfilling life. How could slavish adherence to the fundamentalist evangelical “born-again” Christian belief system, as contained in the Bible, impair positive self-esteem?

The Bible depicts human beings as essentially bad and warns that they cannot be trusted. This pessimistic view of human nature, encapsulated in the concept of original sin, appears throughout both the Old and New Testaments. In Psalm 14:2-3, the psalmist wrote the following:

The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there are
any who understand, who seek God. They have all turned aside, they have
together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one.

In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul purportedly wrote “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells. . . .” (Romans 7:18). Believing that you are essentially bad can negatively impact your self-esteem. Not only does the Bible declare that human beings are bad and cannot be trusted, but it also teaches that people should not trust themselves. Readers of the Old Testament are admonished to “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.” (Proverbs 3:5). What are the implications for your self-esteem if you truly believe that you cannot trust your own thinking? Dr. Branden contends that “our ability to think is the basic source of our competence. . . .” By casting doubt on the efficacy of human cognition, the Bible only serves to undermine a person’s self-confidence and thus lower their self-esteem.

The Bible also devalues the importance of earthly life and warns against the pursuit of happiness, as depicted in the following scriptural passages.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world,
the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world – the lust of
the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life – is not of the Father but
is of the world. (I John 2:15-16).

If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where
Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not
on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in
God. (Colossians 3:1-3).

According to Dr. Branden, “the fact that we are alive is the basic source of our right to strive for happiness” and freely exercising that right strengthens our self-respect. If a fundamentalist evangelical “born-again” Christian takes the above biblical passages to heart and sincerely believes that he has “died” and his “life is hidden with God in Christ,” it is doubtful that he will experience genuine happiness in this life. By discrediting the things of this world and interfering with the naturally human pursuit of happiness, the Bible weakens a person’s self-respect and, again, lowers their self-esteem.

What do fundamentalist evangelical “born-again” Christians think about the importance of positive self-esteem? The following quotation is an excerpt from a book by Dr. Jay E. Adams (a conservative theologian who founded the biblical counseling movement) entitled The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image.

"For a Christian, the alternative to self-love, self-esteem, self-worth, and any other
kind of self-centered teaching that might appear in the future, is clearly self-denial.
When you seek to gain yourself, you can only lose it; when you are willing to lose
yourself for Christ, you save it. It’s that simple – and that profound."

Attempting to operationally define what Dr. Adams means by the phrase “willing to lose yourself for Christ” is beyond the scope of this essay, but the phrase may involve the use of “logocide,” a term coined by Dr. Edmund D. Cohen to describe a psychological device by which “believers,” including the authors of the Bible, attach unique meanings to words that serve primarily to reinforce their idiosyncratic belief system and secondarily to baffle non-believers.

In summary, the fundamentalist evangelical “born-again” Christian experience may have a profound negative effect on a “believer’s” self-esteem. Individuals who have been deeply indoctrinated in the Bible, and believe that its meaning can be ascertained by a literal reading of the text, cannot help but be affected by the biblical verses quoted above, which are only a sample of what the Bible teaches about the depravity of human nature and the unimportance of life in this world. By undermining a person’s self-confidence and self-respect, indoctrination in the Bible tends to promote negative self-esteem


Holy Bible, the New King James Version. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1982

How to Raise Your Self-Esteem, by Nathaniel Branden. New York: Bantam Books, 1988

The Biblical View of Self-Esteem, Self-Love, and Self-Image, by Jay E. Adams.
Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 1986

The Mind of the Bible-Believer, by Edmund D. Cohen. Buffalo, New York: Prometheus
Books, 1988

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