We don’t need no stinkin’ salvation…
In times of crisis we often look for salvation. When you believe you can’t save yourself, you look for someone or something outside yourself for hope.
In a pandemic we look for a medical doctor with all the answers.
In a recession we look for the government to shore up the economy.
In a dark night of the soul we look for a priest or minister to deliver salvation.
It’s shocking when we realize that life doesn’t actually work that way.
Doctors don’t have all the answers. Most governments are incapable of self-managing much less controlling something as incorrigible as the economy. And, all too often, religion lives up to its label as the opiate of the masses.
Why do we act as if life is a movie with a hero delivering salvation to save us from ourselves?
Children depend on adults for life itself
Babies are totally dependent on others for everything. Yet, even babies know what they want and what they don’t. They are not shy about letting everyone know when they’re not happy.
I remember my newborn daughter kicking and screaming as a nurse tried to get her foot print for her birth record.
Around the age of two children struggle between reliance on their parents and their desire for independence. It’s called “the terrible twos” because their parents now have to deal with a person demanding their own way.
Most parents end up with some version of the carrot and the stick to control their children. You get rewarded when you’re “good” and punished when you’re “bad”.
This starts a dance between parental control and personal autonomy that continues for the rest of our lives.
It’s not just Mom and Dad that want parental control
The term in loco parentis is Latin for “in the place of a parent.” It refers to the legal responsibility of a person or organization to take on some of the functions and responsibilities of a parent. It’s this principle that allows schools to act in the best interests of their students.
Unfortunately, what the school decides is in the best interest of their students may violate the students’ civil liberties.
Most people consider that a small price to pay for having their children warehoused while they’re working. After all, they lived through industrialized schooling and came out okay.
School continues to reinforce the idea of rewarding “good” behavior and punishing “bad”. Children quickly discover the wisdom of following the rules that authority dictates.
It works so well that those with power learn that treating everyone as children is a good way to keep their power. That’s how most religions work.
Religion promises salvation to keep control
Christianity is the only major religion based on the concept of original sin. By this doctrine, we’re doomed from birth and it’s only by the grace of God that we may escape burning in hell forever.
You must find salvation in the church because you can’t save yourself. After all, they know what God wants you to do.
Blasphemy is the crime of assuming to oneself the rights or qualities of God. That means religious leaders who claim to understand the mind and wishes of God are actually blaspheming the deity they claim to worship.
What an odd flip of reality!
It’s like when parents about to beat their child say, “This hurts me more than it does you.”
Tribal chiefs, kings, prime ministers and presidents join forces with religion to build and keep their power using exactly the same principles. They mandate one powerful belief.
“You can’t save yourself. Your only hope for salvation is to follow my rules.”
What happened to government of the people, for the people, by the people?
We give up power and depend on mutual cooperation for the good of all.
When we agree to live by law we lose the right to do whatever we want. That’s the cost of gaining protection from criminals.
If we want good schools, roads, hospitals, and other public infrastructure we lose the right to keep all our money. We agree to pay taxes to fund these works.
Long ago we discovered the benefits of living in a community. Communities require management. So we elect people to manage our governments and grant them power to make decisions and take action for us.
This concentration of power results in a small number of people deciding what’s good for everyone. Far too often that ends up being what’s good for them, not what’s good for all. It’s presented as a greater good but reality says otherwise.
Dudley Do-Right is nothing without Little Nell
But the whole story hinges on Snidely Whiplash.
Writers learn that the hero can only be as good as the villain is bad. A weak villain is too easy to beat. The ultimate villain requires an ultimate savior.
The third leg of this stool is a helpless victim. It’s not their fault and they can’t save themselves without the hero.
So, the salvation dynamic has three parts – an evil villain, a helpless victim, and a savior.
In Christianity, we have Satan, every human, and Jesus.
In the United States (according to the Republican party), you have China/fake news/Democrats, every US citizen, and Donald Trump.
For some people, it’s the government, sovereign citizens, and William P. Gale followed by Richard McDonald.
Then you have big-box stores, Mom and Pop businesses, and the local planning and zoning board.
Don’t get me wrong. I know real life isn’t this simple. But it keeps being sold that way by those in power. Even when we truly do need help to survive.
When it truly isn’t our fault
We need hospitals, health professionals and emergency responders. We need laws to protect us from bad actors creating harm to everyone. Most of all, we need friends who are willing to help us when we need it.
But the core idea of external salvation in the Christian belief system is summed up in the words of the old hymn, Amazing Grace.
“Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me.”– John Newton
A wretch is a despicable or contemptible person.
Why must we feel despicable?
Is it possible to appreciate the gift of life, the beauty of nature, the love of friends and families, the joy and passion of music and art, the incomprehensible majesty of the universe without needing to be saved by an all powerful creator?
Why is that creator imagined as a supreme white man?
Why is there the carrot and stick of heaven and hell?
Because that’s how the people in power got that power and it’s how they’ll keep it. They keep telling you that you can’t save yourself, you need us for salvation.
But you do not have to believe them.
How to take back your power and create your own salvation
Here are three things you can do.
1) Tolerate nothing
Thomas J. Leonard, the father of personal coaching, published a book called The Portable Coach. One chapter in that book that I’ve found useful is titled, “Tolerate Nothing.”
Leonard describes the cost of tolerating things in our life and offers a way to deal with them.
He says we can look at what we tolerate, decide if it’s worth it and, if not, we can change it.
We can vote different people into office and demand accountability and transparency. We can change our purchase decisions. We can move to a place that’s in alignment with our values.
Just like reviewing your expenses and deciding if you’re getting your money’s worth, you can review your agreements and decide if they are worth the time and effort you’re spending.
2) Question Authority
“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men…”– John Dalberg-Acton
Many people have heard the first part of this quote. The second sentence is not often used. But few people know about the person who said it.
John Dalberg-Acton was an English baron in the 1800’s. He was a racist and supporter of the American South in the US Civil War. He influenced many British politicians to believe that Abraham Lincoln was a dangerous radical. He thought slavery was not inherently evil and needed to be decided on a case-by-case basis.
He’s not a person most of us would hold up as a great role model. But, even though we may not share his values, most people agree with the statement.
We have lots of proof that men in power often do bad things.
But is it true for all men in power?
And, if so, how do we manage to govern ourselves?
Recognize that anyone promising salvation is casting you as someone that can’t save themselves. When you agree that you need someone to save you from yourself, you agree to live as a victim.
Yes, we all need the help of friends and we benefit from social services in ways that may truly save our lives. But, it’s the promise of salvation and the abdication of personal responsibility inherent in that promise that creates life-long victims.
Learn to recognize the difference between leadership with competent management instead of power mongers promising salvation. Hint: beware of those who keep warning about an evil villain.
3) Increase your personal power
Reviewing your current agreements is a step that increases your personal power. Taking action to align those agreements with your values increases your personal power. And looking at where you have outsourced your responsibilities and owning your decisions increases your personal power.
You may also find two of my previous articles about personal power useful.
Lessons from childhood are difficult to unlearn
I was raised in a fundamentalist, right-wing Christian environment in a small town in West Texas. I remember revival meetings in the heat of Texas summers. Fire and brimstone preachers pleaded with sinners to repent, confess and beg forgiveness or be doomed to eternal hell.
A verse from the Old Testament of the Christian Bible shows that religious leaders have known for millennia the power of training children to be submissive.
“Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”– Proverbs 22:6 King James Version
All children depend on others for their lives. Virtually all children are trained to be submissive. It’s no surprise that most all adults fall into that same pattern.
But you can take control of your life. It’s worth the effort to increase your personal power and stop praying for someone else to save you from yourself.
In truth, you don’t need salvation.
NOTE: I know that many churches provide meaningful help to people in need and a supportive community to their members. I value spiritual practices that enhance lives. The problems arise from organized religions with deep power structures. Look at the history of these organizations and the reality of what their leaders have done.