Recovering from Religion - Phoenix Message Board › Christianity and the Self-Concept Part I

Christianity and the Self-Concept Part I

user 2326427
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 216
The “born-again” Christian experience, when combined with deep Bible indoctrination, tends to create intrapsychic conflict in the sincere “believer,” often fragmenting the self-concept and sometimes resulting in an identity crisis. Devout evangelical Christians within the born-again Christian subculture fondly promote being “born-again” as a critical, defining moment in life, which they believe is absolutely essential for a person to undergo in order to (1.) achieve “salvation” within the context of evangelical Christian theology and (2.) experience what they call the “abundant life,” which they claim is characterized by overwhelming positive feelings such as love, joy, and peace (the so-called “fruits of the Spirit” listed in the Bible in Galatians 6:22-23). However, many new converts to evangelical Christianity often lack an in-depth knowledge of the biblical concept of “salvation” and thus fail to comprehend the potentially adverse mental health consequences of being “born again”. Just what did the authors of the Bible mean when they used the term “born-again,” and how can this experience, coupled with deep Bible indoctrination, produce intrapsychic conflict in the sincere “believer”?

Oddly, the expression “born again” appears only three times in the King James version of the New Testament. The historical Jesus of Nazareth is purported to have proclaimed the following: “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3). How do evangelical Christians interpret this Bible verse? The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association offers this definition of a born-again Christian:

"A born-again Christian is someone who has repented of their sins and
turned to Christ for their salvation, and as a result has become part of
God’s family. All this takes place as God’s Spirit works in our lives."

Precisely how does a person become “saved,” or “born again”? Despite ambiguity in the Bible itself concerning the specific requirements for “salvation,” the Rev. Billy Graham provides the following instructions:

"By a simple prayer of faith, tell God that you know you are a sinner, and
you are sorry for your sins. Then ask Christ to come into your life and
save you. When you do, God will come to live within you by His Spirit,
and you will be born again."

The terminology used in the above salvation formula is not readily understandable to many ordinary (or lay) persons, but clearly presents the “born-again” experience as a mystical process by which a spiritual entity (“God” or the “Spirit”) takes up residence in the sincere “believer” (exactly where “God” or the “Spirit” dwells within the “believer” is often debated, but for purposes of this essay it is presumed to be in the mind of the “believer”). The new convert to Christianity of necessity must rely on the Bible to develop a more complete understanding of what he or she has experienced by being “born again”.

In his second letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul supposedly wrote “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17) This distinction between “old” things and “new” things underlies the fragmentation of the self-concept that is often associated with the “born-again” experience. The Book of Romans, again attributed to Paul, states that “our old man was crucified with Him (Christ), that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.” (Romans 6:6). The New Testament writers also refer to the “old man” as the flesh, the outward man, and the old nature. In all cases, what is meant is man’s so-called sinful nature, which evangelical Christians argue that every person possesses from birth (i.e., the doctrine of original sin).

Evangelical Christians also contend that, at the moment of conversion, the “believer” instantaneously receives a new nature, which is variously described in the New Testament as the Spirit, the inward man, and the new man (it might be helpful at this point to re-read Billy Graham’s salvation formula quoted earlier in this essay). Thus, in the mind of the new “believer,” deep Bible indoctrination, in association with the “born-again” experience, fosters a conscious awareness of a divided self which consists of an old nature (the flesh) and a new nature (the Spirit). It is important to recognize that it is the “believer’s” conscious awareness of this divided self that invests the concept with psychic, or mental, energy, since there is no objective evidence to support the validity of the underlying theological beliefs.

Evangelical Christians freely admit that the presence of these two “natures” in the mind of the “believer” will invariably lead to internal, or intrapsychic, conflict. Rev. W. Tullian Tchividjian writes that “the Christian life is a life of internal conflict.” He refers “believers” to certain Bible passages, presumably authored by Paul, which further describe the conflict between the flesh nature and the Spirit nature. The Book of Galatians states “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh, and these are contrary to one another, so that you (the believer) do not do the things that you wish.” (Galatians 5:17) The Apostle Paul himself supposedly wrote the following:

"For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do,
that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do
it, but sin that dwells in me. (Romans 7:19-20)"

Paul summarizes this internal conflict in Romans 7:25, which reads: “So with the mind I myself serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin.” Rev. Tchividjian opines that “this remaining presence of sin in the Christian will inevitably involve conflict in their heart and life” (the word “heart” being a euphemism for consciousness), a conflict that he stresses is “lifelong”.

The obvious question is: why would any otherwise mentally healthy person subject themselves to a lifetime of intrapsychic conflict by adopting the evangelical Christian belief system, as detailed in the Bible, and participating in the “born-again” experience? The most direct answer can be found in the passage from the Book of John, attributed to the historical Jesus of Nazareth and quoted earlier in this essay, which reads in part: “. . .unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3) Thus, it is the fear of being eternally separated from God (presumably in Hell) which motivates the new convert to subscribe to evangelical Christian theology and undergo the “born-again” experience. But the ramifications of this experience (when combined with deep Bible indoctrination) for the new “believer’s” mental health can involve much more than being condemned to a lifetime of intrapsychic conflict.

Dana D.
user 90187162
Surprise, AZ
Post #: 2
This also brought to my mind the verse of Mathew 18: 3 from the NIV where Jesus said "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven."

The child as the most trusting, obedient and humble example that an adult is expected to emulate when it comes to faith and religion, the antithesis of skepticism and doubt.

I would agree, it is the fear of eternal separation from God that would prompt one to become "born-again" and myself coming from a Catholic background initially, the cushion of Purgatory was an option. Contrasting that to Evangelicalism which leaves only two options, heaven or hell, increasing the stakes for opting wrongly but by then it becomes harder to leave.
user 2326427
Phoenix, AZ
Post #: 227
In the final analysis, the primary reason that fundamentalist evangelical "Christians" believe is because they're afraid that, if they didn't believe, they would literally burn in hell for all eternity. How pathetic is that? And when they force their idiosyncratic belief system on innocent children, regardless of their intentions, their actions become a form of religious abuse. As Dr. Winell wrote in Leaving the Fold:

"Especially for children, with their vivid imaginations and unclear notions of reality, the imagery of a fiery hell is intensely frightening. (A parent threatening a child with such tortures before death can easily be seen as abusive.)" pg. 64
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