Do Christians Have “Stockholm Syndrome” And Make Excuses For Their Abusive God?

eternallyforevereverythinglove asked a question:

Hello! What do you think about the statement that Christians (and generally believers) have Stockholm Syndrome? I’ve picked this up somewhere and did some research. It’d make sense and it makes me feel weird about my faith now. Thanks and God bless!

Hey there my friend: I took some time to read about this, and it seems to be a new form of the argument that “Christians are brainwashed into unquestioning belief and indoctrinated to their oppressive church institutions and cultures.”

Like all accusations against the Christian faith, there is always an element of truth to them because people are people, and we cannot perfectly reflect a perfect God.  We’re messy creatures with mixed motives in a gray-space struggle.

What I mean is: Any argument against the Christian faith will make some kind of logical sense, because it will make sense against everyone regardless of their affiliation. We can blame religion just as much as we can blame human stupidity.

When someone says, “The church is full of hypocrites” — I always say, “Well that’s why you should go.”  Not in a mean way, but I’m saying: There are hypocrites at businesses, schools, hospitals, fraternities, non-profits, and the White House (gasp!), but the difference is, the church is the one place you can admit it and find healing.  Yes, hypocritical Christians have harmed many of us, and we need to confess that.  But as a tactic to dismiss faith, this is a cheap unthoughtful argument that’s a fluffy insubstantial defense mechanism.  Most of these arguments have NOT gone to the bottom of themselves, at all.

So when someone talks about “Christian brainwashing,” here are a few thoughts to consider.  As always, please feel free to skip around.

1) It’s true that the mainstream church has damaged people with cult-like behavior, and we must absolutely be aware of this and apologize.

If Christians can’t admit this, there’s no point to having this discussion.  When someone slams the church, I always end up agreeing with their criticisms.  I don’t mean that it makes me doubt God: but their feelings are valid and they’ve been genuinely hurt by the church.  We have to start there.  We need to talk about it.  We can’t defend all our behavior, because some of it has been atrocious, and we must apologize.

Also, here are Five Signs You’re Probably In One Of Those Cults.

2) We are all indoctrinated, into a particular system of belief, no matter where we roll.

Most Western individuals don’t realize that they live inside a Post-Enlightenment individualistic “rational” mindset that’s Pavlovian-conditioned to reject anything outside of naturalistic explanation.  Our dear brother C.S. Lewis called this chronological snobbery, in which we believe our current slice of time is far more advanced than other any other time in history.

We’re largely a product of our times.  We have ALL bought into paradigms that enforce certain restrictions on our values.  Even the value that “I’m above these values” is still a specific constrained worldview.  So when you accuse someone of being brainwashed, you’re just as brainwashed into the opposition of whatever view you’re accusing.

Of course, most Westerners who disagree with Christianity will say “You’re a narrow-minded intolerant bigot.”  A Westernized brain will instantly dismiss the spiritual realm and conservative values.  But dismissing an entire group of people because of their ideology is still an ideology.  To say, “I tolerate everything except intolerance” must deny its very own rule.

If you’re beholden to your own particular views in fear of betraying your camp or being ridiculed, you’re being held hostage, and this takes a blinding self-rationalization that’s — oh right, just like Stockholm Syndrome.  This happens with both the very religious and the very secular: and if you deny that it happens with you, you’re proving this exact point.  Everyone is a captive to their own particular set of beliefs, no matter where you turn.

I know what I’m saying will bother the typical Western person (and if you’ve been indoctrinated by secularism long enough, you’ll feel you’re superior to all this too.  You’re not, and neither am I).  But when I was an atheist, I became weary of atheists because they thought they were so enlightened.  When I was a Reformed Calvinist, I became weary of Calvinists because they thought they were so enlightened.

Really, they were both nearsighted and full of retconning, fanwanking, and preprogrammed defenses for their own little gods.  And as an Eastern-Western hybrid, I recognize the arrogant self-important myopia of both sides.

If you’re still not okay with this, let’s try an experiment.  Stockholm Syndrome says, “I understand why he abused me, it’s probably for the right motives.  I get why he’s correcting me, because there must be a good reason.”  Those are bad rationalizations that could get you killed.  But let’s take that to the opposite extreme.  What if every time my future spouse did the slightest thing I disliked, I suspected a false motive?  And what if every time my future spouse contradicted me, I shut her down?  That wouldn’t be a real marriage.  I’m demanding a robot.

Someone who says, “I don’t want a God who could ever do something I dislike” or “God can’t correct me” really just wants a robot-god.  And someone who is enslaved to Post-Enlightenment Western thinking has already determined their own robot-god too.

3) The old argument that “God will send you to Hell if you don’t worship Him, so He must be a terrorist” is a tired argument used by only the most earnest first-time philosophers.

For that, I will point you here:

– Hell and Heaven As Motivation For Faith: A Mega-Post

4) God’s heart for us is that we freely choose Him.

Christianity in its purest form will invite questioning.  It’s open to deconstruction.  If you’re frustrated with God, you can yell about it, ask about it, shake a fist and vent.  You can disagree and stomp the ground and throw things and yell “Why.”  Just read the Book of Psalms or Jeremiah or Lamentations.  None of the writers were rationalizing what God did, at all.  There was a ton of unresolved tension, and some of my first questions in Heaven will be about that crazy Old Testament.

But really, I believe the God of the Bible is open to our challenges.  He’s okay with all our fist-shaking.  As I’ve said before, I would much rather be mad with God than mad without Him.

Also: Our entire world of false dichotomies forces you into one fixed viewpoint or another.  Most people get upset if you try to re-arrange their bottle of dogma.  Most systems of belief are self-contained dominions where nothing goes in or out.  A Democrat is expected to act one way, a Republican another.

Which is why Jesus was so wholly unpredictable and angered both sides.  Jesus himself was a safe haven who is not defined by dogmatic party lines, but by his gracious solidarity with real human beings caught in the messy crossfire of a broken world.  There are no clean-cut solutions here.

I’ve managed to piss off both conservatives and liberals with my stance on homosexuality.  Take that how you will.  The Christian is able to keep multiple viewpoints within tension because true Christianity does not usurp our identity, but at once draws out the true self while creating a unified ground. 

In the end, God is not holding us at gunpoint here. He wants us to think for ourselves.  He also has our very best interests at heart, so of course, He would want us to choose Him.  If God was the most glorious being in the entire universe, He would be wrong not to point to Himself as the most worthy of all glory.  But neither He will ever force that upon us, because He gave us the free will to choose.  That’s what makes us human, and not hostages.  God wants the purest relationship with us, without coercion or agenda or even a mutual exchange.  How could we ever give to God more than He ever gives to us?  When we are with Him, it is always an abundance of grace.

I’ll leave you with two wonderful quotes by C.S Lewis once again:

“The happiness which God designs for His higher creatures is the happiness of being freely, voluntarily united to Him and to each other in an ecstasy of love and delight compared with which the most rapturous love between a man and a woman on this earth is mere milk and water. And for that they’ve got to be free.”

“The more we let God take us over, the more truly ourselves we become – because He made us. He invented us. He invented all the different people that you and I were intended to be. It is when I turn to Christ, when I give up myself to His personality, that I first begin to have a real personality of my own.”

— J.S.

4 thoughts on “Do Christians Have “Stockholm Syndrome” And Make Excuses For Their Abusive God?

  1. Thank you for this post. I’m struggling with voices in my head about the matter now and the second point really is refreshing to know. Talking about brainwashing, maybe the choice of free will and participation should divide by a line from brainwashing, and yep, I am another former atheist and I agree with you. Outside topic, I do feel quite a lot of grief from Christians falling away :/


    1. I know what you mean: it’s easy to deconstruct every point here because we’ve heard so many mocking voices that laugh off Christianity very quickly. But I think such an easy dismissal of faith tends to be a nervous exit away from serious reflection. I could probably argue for “both sides,” but in the end I make the choice for faith. And who knows, the ones who “fall away” may have only become disillusioned with modern church or pat half-informed theology.


      1. Right on! Religion is not God. God is love, and any religious expression which is not dying from love of others is, at the bottom, the worst of what people invent. Jesus is real, and that encounter transforms 2-dimensional bicolour living into multi-dimensional palettes of fragrant wonder. When religion is real-ly into the real Jesus real things really happen.


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