Cruel God, Kind God – Book Review by Wendell Krossa

Here are some Lotufo quotes to give a sense of how certain religious beliefs damage mental, emotional, and spiritual lives.

Lotufo Quotes:

“My main interest is the cognitive and psychological aspects of the (malignant God) system and how people become predisposed…to associate power with cruelty, fear, shame, and guilt…Less easy to detect but nevertheless perceptible in the attitudes and behavior of Christians who have been affected by conservative theology, is the inhibition of the full development of personality…the doctrine of penal satisfaction implies an image of God as wrathful and vengeful, resulting in exposing God’s followers to guilt, shame, and resentment….these ideas permeate Western culture and inevitably influence those who live in the interior of this culture (p.5)”

“Beliefs do exert much more influence over our lives than simple ideas…ideas can also mobilize energy…the possible negative consequences that ideas and beliefs can produce when they generate energy in the interior of an individual…this negative side may express itself…in fanaticism and violence, or it may also produce anxiety and inhibitions that hinder the full manifestation of the capacities of a person…(p.8)”

 “The reader may object that God, considered a basic belief in our culture, is rejected or questioned by a large number of people today. Yet the fact is that the idea of God that those people reject is almost never questioned. In other words, their critique assumes there is no alternative way of conceiving God except the one that they perceive through the lens of their culture. So, taking in to account the kind of image of God that prevails in Western culture- a ‘monster God’, as Harold Ellens calls him- such rejection is understandable. As Walter Wink puts it, ‘Against such an image of God the revolt of atheism is an act of pure religion’”

 “There is in the Western world a psychological archetype, a metaphor that has to do with the image of a violent and wrathful God. Crystallized in Anselm’s juridical atonement theory, this image presents God as sufficiently disturbed by the sinfulness of humanity that God had only two options; Destroy us or substitute a sacrifice to pay for our sins. He did the latter. He killed Christ…Such a metaphor of an angry God, who cannot forgive unless appeased by a bloody sacrifice, has been ‘right in the center of the Master Story of the Western world for the last 2,000 years’. And the unavoidable consequence for the human mind is a strong tendency to use violence…Hence, in our culture we have a powerful element that impels us to violence, a Cruel God Image…it also contributes to guilt, shame, and the impoverishment of personality, and of the spiritual life (p.11-12)…

 “I use the expression ‘image of God’ to indicate the conjoining of beliefs and feelings related to the Supreme Being, beliefs that are largely unconscious…little or no research has been done on how the content of these (religious) systems (image and concept of God) affects mental health and personality development…religious ideas can exert remarkable influence on the psychical integrity and well-being of believers (p.12-13)”

 “the image and the concept of God…become a source of psychological disturbance…many traditional doctrines present God as severe and vengeful…the doctrine of penal satisfaction is the dorsal spine of the plan of salvation and of conservative theology as a whole…there is evidence that the beliefs that make up this plan of salvation are harmful to mental health and also to spiritual life…they produce negative psychological effects in its bearers, like guilt and anxiety, and obstacles to the full development of personality (p.22)”

“(God as monarch)…what a monarch wishes and specially demands from his subjects is obedience…If one perceives God to be chiefly a monarch, then that monarch’s central attribute is sovereignty, that is, power, and what human beings owe to that God-monarch is absolute obedience or risk being severely punished. A God-monarch demands obedience above all else. From a psychological point of view, there is evidence that people who see God in this way are more subject to affective disorders, such as anxiety, feelings of guilt, shame, and depression (p.24)”

 “(commenting on Jonathan Edward’s famous sermon ‘Sinners in the hands of an angry God’, a common Evangelical or Conservative Christian view of theology)…there is no way to associate the loving God from the Prodigal Son parable with the devilish and sadistic being who delights in crushing under his feet his own creatures in endless and meaningless torture…(p.42)”

“(commenting on suffering as a source of pleasure, as in Christian atonement belief)…Repulsive as it seems to us, the practice of submitting humans to horrible torture has not exactly been rare in the history of our species…and makes us ask what kind of perversion can make human beings submit his fellow humans to such atrocious torments. But it seems even more difficult to explain the mental distortion that… (believes and defends)… the idea that the Christian God is not only capable of such perversities but also takes pleasure in them….the defenders of the penal substitution doctrine (Christian atonement)…also defend doctrines like (eternal hell)…(but incoherently reject the idea that God takes pleasure in producing and watching the suffering of his creatures)…this compartmentalization protects such people from realizing the monstrosity of their propositions (p.54)”

 “What factors have contributed to the fact that inflicting suffering could be considered as a source of pleasure…to the point where its use became official in criminal law and theological doctrines of the Christian West? (p.54)”

 “(what drives) the belief largely widespread in humanity that all guilt leads or should lead to suffering and all suffering is a consequence of guilt…how the painful punishment…becomes…a substitute for payment…this does not even begin to attempt to analyze the psychological mechanism by which one starts perceiving the pain of others as a source of pleasure. So the question Nietzsche himself poses with insistence- ‘How can hurting someone be a satisfaction?’- remains intact (p.56)”

 “(We) can shed some light on the factors that lead so many people to accept explanations such as Anselm’s that the Christian God reaps pleasure from human suffering…the simplest and most direct answer is that it is a pathology resulting mainly from a cerebral dysfunction of genetic origin. This is how today we tend to explain the psychopathic personality…traits of emotional insensibility… narcissism, the absence of remorse, the lack of empathy…some psychopaths manifest the strange perversion of obtaining pleasure in causing pain (p.57)”

 “I propose that the core of sadism…is the passion for an absolute and unrestricted control over another living being, be it an animal, child, man or woman…the exercise of power… seeks personal exaltation and control over others for his own benefit…the association of power with cruelty that deserves primary attention here…Sadism…is the transformation of impotence in the experience  of omnipotence; it is the religion of the psychic cripples…to the sadist character there is only one admirable quality, and that quality is power…wishes to control the helpless and those who cannot fight back…they reach positions of importance from which they can cause much suffering… (p.57)”

“The sufferings of human beings thus become the deserved consequences of both original sin and individual’s personal sins as well as instruments of God to purify the soul and lead it to salvation…(commenting on how authority figures-harsh parents or harsh school teachers- shape human views of God)…the irate schoolmaster of Augustine’s childhood becomes the punishing God that purifies the soul through the many punishments of life… (this is spiritual abuse)…I am witness to struggling human beings who have experienced terrorist-like attacks on their inner souls…the irony is that this horrible damage is done in the name of God…(p.63)

“What has become clear in this section, is that to gain pleasure by producing or contemplating the suffering of others is a manifestation of a grave mental disturbance, absolutely incompatible with what can be considered a mature personality…(p.64)”

 “What socio-psychological factors can lead certain people to attribute a partial, arbitrary and often cruel justice to God? We have already seen that the image one has of God decisively influences all of a person’s other beliefs. Thus, if the image is of an evil God, all the individual’s other theological ideas will likely reflect this assumption- and it will be hard to rid oneself of that assumption. However, once incorporated in a solid theological system, these ideas will become a serious hindrance for a person to free himself from the negative image of God that previous experiences have instilled in him. Fear is the cement that gives consistency t these theological buildings grounded in a frightening image of God. Fear inevitably stems from believing unquestioningly that God is authoritative and punitive, and it hinders the full development of personality and spiritual life (p.107)”

 “Constituting a powerful instrument of control and always on hand, fear and guilt have always been widely used….guilt based on fear, as far as I can see, is always destructive. Hence, the symbiosis that many forms of religion- especially conservative Christianity- establish with this feeling results in one of the most serious problems, both in terms of psychological damage to personality development…the guilt and fear are linked to the image of God whose justice is essentially vindictive. Not just in the popular use and threats of divine punishment to control children but also and mainly in the fundamental doctrines of the varieties of conservative Christianity, doctrines such as those dealing with the condemnation of all humankind because of original sin, the torment of the unsaved in the eternal flames of hell, the sacrificial death of Christ as the only  means of satisfying divine justice, and so on, have their roots in the ideas that revenge is inherent to the character of God, and that suffering is just and appropriate compensation for the offense that are made to  him. Thus, the dysfunctional guilt and anxiety associated with it, related to the Christian religion, is rooted in the fear of being the target of divine justice, understood as revenge (p.148-9)”

Wafa Sultan is a psychiatrist which gives some credibility to her analysis of the impact of cruel God images on human lives. She notes that people consciously or unconsciously become like the views of God that they hold. Hence, the brutality of Islamic culture. I need to communicate to people like Anne Wooten (Facebook comment) that this is why I tackle these “negative” aspects of religion. The long history of incalculable damage to human life and society. This is the monster I am going after, to slay. Yes, its a lot more than a windmill..