Basic psychotherapy, wise woman counseling or woo woo will help too
March 21, 2018 7:06 PM   Subscribe

How to remove the 'original sin' belief?

Realizing that the 'original sin' concept severally warped my six year old self back in parochial school first grade.
"I'll never be good enough no matter what I do. I'm basically a 'bad' person", have denied much self confidence from actual accomplishments as well as causing other negative effects.
Does anybody have healing experience and/or tools for successfully removing this ingrained yet life-denying belief?
posted by Mesaverdian to Religion & Philosophy (19 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I was brought up in the church, but I was one of the Wise Men on Christmas Eve. One boy got sick and I had to put my hair up and walk down the church aisle. I was a girl, but I was a Wise Man.

I think also what helped me was my Dad saying Nuns beat him and made him kneel on rice or dried peas if they were bad. That's why he went into public education, I guess, and we never went into that sort of schooling. He was always a gentle man, my dad, despite having grown up in a Catholic school environment. As were his sisters, my Aunts.

I think they realized that it wasn't right to put kids through that, and none of us did, but we all heard stories. None of us were damaged, if that's what you're asking. My Dad was put through the Nun's torture, but he was a really gentle man, almost like Mr. Rogers, and went onto a career in education where everyone spoke about him kindly.
posted by Marie Mon Dieu at 7:26 PM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

Would it help to recast human fallibility in a non-moral form? Human beings do have intrinsically problematic judgment in many respects that could be regarded as flawed from the start, but there's not really a good or bad to it. I'm not normally a fan of computational metaphors for human cognition, but in this one respect, I feel like a lot of our psychology is akin to buggy software: frustrating, unreliable, and often yielding poor outcomes, but we typically don't think it would make sense to place moral blame on software itself. When it fails, it's just going down a path no one really planned out and reaching an error condition it wasn't really designed to overcome, so remediating or avoiding the error, e.g. by not allowing the software to run under the same conditions again, is purely pragmatic. We do feel like we achieved something when buggy software we're working with does something cool, though, and by the same token, it's reasonable to be proud of our successes.
posted by Wobbuffet at 7:49 PM on March 21, 2018 [6 favorites]

I would like to recommend to you the book When Bad Things Happen To Good People. It sounds awful but it was written by a Rabbi whose son had a terminal illness and is very much about grappling with not sin, but questions of goodness and omniscience and love.

Other reading I recommend:
Becoming Human by (Catholic) Jean Vanier
God: A Biography - dense but it will blow your mind. This is one of my favourite conceits - what if the Bible isn’t an instruction manual but a literary biography...who is this God guy, and who are his human friends?*

Basically...original sin is much smaller than questions of being human and even if being in relationship to the divine. I think if you refocus the question away from your “badness” to what is the position you want to have with belief in humanity, or God, or both, it might help.

I have a couple quick thoughts though.

I have an acquaintance who was working in an area where AIDS had devastated whole towns. One day a 6 year old child arrived with her 10 month old sister on her back. Her grandmother had died and she had been told if that happened to walk along the river for help. She did, caring for her sibling...for /3 days./

My children might or might not do that but I know they would try. If anything they astound me with their native capacities for goodness alongside cruelty.

I think if Popes and Apostles had held more babies in the middle of the night for weeks on end they would never have come up with such a doctrine.

* I’m not religious. I was abused as a child under religious guises including my obvious evilness though, so I have spent a good deal of time thinking on it.
posted by warriorqueen at 7:55 PM on March 21, 2018 [9 favorites]

The story of Carlton Pearson might resonate with you on this point. He was the subject of a very moving (to me at least) This American Life story a few years ago. A biopic is also about to come out on Netflix.
posted by minervous at 8:01 PM on March 21, 2018

Maybe you shouldn't think of this as a theological question or something to reason yourself out of. Those fundamental scary feelings of unworthiness tend not to be too responsive to logic, in my experience. In some ways, this is just another form of negative self-talk, developed in a context of abuse. CBT has helped a lot of people with learning to separate that voice that says "I'm 'bad'" from their actual selves. It's not a panacea, though.
posted by praemunire at 8:02 PM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

An alternative view would be the concept of Buddha nature. This article has a succinct definition of it:

"the Luminous mind of all sentient beings that eventually, cleared of all defilements, will become Buddha. In other words, all beings have the potential to be Buddha."

That's possible because, according to Buddhism, nothing inherently exists. Everything is dependently originating out of causes and conditions. Therefore there is no inherently existing anything that cannot be changed.
posted by jazzbaby at 8:09 PM on March 21, 2018 [2 favorites]

i'm not completely sure, but i tend to think the idea of "original sin" may be correct in some sense, in that even the best humans don't seem capable of acting morally all the time. this is like a very abstract idea, though, and I no longer personally beat myself up over it.

CBT is I think over-recommended but i found that this kind of distorted thinking is where it worked best. writing down thoughts and listing cognitive distortions and writing rebuttals can seem really silly but it did work for me. despite the self-help trappings it is a kind of philosophical exercise, you've got to be Socrates showing why these negative thoughts don't actually make any sense under scrutiny.
posted by vogon_poet at 8:16 PM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

What you describe sounds very much like the "defectiveness schema" in schema therapy (which is a subset of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). It's not uncommon!

One definition of the schema is this:
The feeling that one is defective, bad, unwanted, inferior, or invalid in important respects; or that one would be unlovable to significant others if exposed. May involve hypersensitivity to criticism, rejection, and blame; self-consciousness, comparisons, and insecurity around others; or a sense of shame regarding one's perceived flaws. These flaws may be private (e.g., selfishness, angry impulses, unacceptable sexual desires) or public (e.g., undesirable physical appearance, social awkwardness).

The idea of a "schema" is that as children we can't determine the real causes of the circumstances in our lives that make us feel bad, so we come up with reasons that make sense to our undeveloped minds. The beliefs we come up with are the schemas, and they can continue to influence our thinking and the way we make sense of things long into adulthood.

A simple, common example would be having a parent who is harried, depressed or otherwise emotionally unavailable for some reason. As children we find our interactions with the parent unsatisfying, saddening, insecure-making, but we don't know why. We come to the conclusion that there's something fundamentally wrong with us because we're not sophisticated to understand how parent/child interactions should work, or what might contribute to them. When we learn about the concept of original sin we might determine that that's the thing that's wrong with us.

An easy way to see if this might be a useful framework for you is to check out the book ReinvenMy ting Your Life. There are also psychologists who specialize in schema therapy if you decide it would be helpful to tackle the problem through schema therapy.

Good luck! You're far from alone. In kindergarten or first grade I would lay awake at night thinking about how I should kill myself so that I could be "reborn without sin" because I had been introduced to the idea of being a "born again Christian," was vague on how that worked, and was internalizing my parents' treatment of me as evidence that I had done something wrong on an unfixable level -- that I was wrong on an unfixable level. My parents weren't physically abusive, or anything like it. Just people who were struggling and depressed themselves, and not in a place to make a child feel loved or cared for.
posted by mrmurbles at 8:47 PM on March 21, 2018 [8 favorites]

Lumina, Joan Osborne

... Eve took a fruit, Eve picked a fruit
Juice ran down her chin
Babies will put things in their mouths
Never heard of sin...

posted by Iris Gambol at 9:54 PM on March 21, 2018

Read about toxic shame. That's what it sounds like you're grappling with.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 10:18 PM on March 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

I was a scared little Catholic girl too, but it was not the concept of original sin that scared me, it was my personal sin that had to be confessed to the priest. As I understood original sin, it applied to the entire human race, but baptism took it away, but then as a little Catholic kid, you started committing your own "unspeakable" sins, stealing a friend's toy, talking back to mom, missing Mass etc. Nobody could measure up to the examples of the martyr saints that the nuns loved telling us about, but somehow I got the idea that I was especially bad, and that I had committed some dire sin that I forgot to confess. This was made worse by stupid priests in confession scaring me with thoughts of hell, and horrible sermons during Lenten missions. PLus being female, there was the misogyny in the church and the idea that Eve, the first woman ruined everything.

I would not doubt that there were other things in your childhood and adolescence that damaged your self-esteem on top of the Catholic garbage. I know there were for me. I hope you find something that helps you know you are good and worthy and that the Church was wrong.
posted by mermayd at 5:10 AM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

Read all the Mr. Rogers threads in the metafilter archive. When somebody would ask Mr. Rogers to condemn someone's religion or orientation, he would tell them, God loves you just the way you are.
posted by mmmbacon at 5:59 AM on March 22, 2018

I went a form or two of pagan (wiccan and others). There isn't a concept of sin, which was really really really liberating for me. It just doesn't exist in the religion.

It really helped me to place sin as a religious concept not some dark mark following me around.
posted by AlexiaSky at 6:28 AM on March 22, 2018

I'm getting flashbacks of living most of my life with that same underlying hopelessness. I've also just realized that I no longer carry that toxic shame (A+++ comment above St. Peepsburg) and I think most of it can be attributed to therapy that focused on reinforcing I'm worthy of love and taking up space. I also discovered Metta (Loving Kindness) meditation - I'm not the best practitioner of meditation, but during my darkest days I've turned to it and it's helped me reframe those early indoctrinations away from the self-hatred to a more loving and centred place.

It's a horrible concept to have been brought up with and to carry with you. And I have some complicated thoughts about how this was a way to keep most of the masses down (because how many bishops/cardinals/rulers seem to feel this same way too? None of the ones I met and interacted with seemed to). But the world is thankfully evolving and we don't have to believe in those same things anymore.
posted by A hidden well at 9:17 AM on March 22, 2018

How to remove the 'original sin' belief? Question the premise. Consider:

a) In other creation stories, humanity has a divine spark which can never be extinguished.

b) In other creation stories, missteps by the god or gods cause humanity to be torn from paradise.

c) What if the 'original sin' story isn't a parable about disobedience, expulsion, and generational misery? What if it's about creation itself?

What if Eden = the mind of the creator, and Adam and Eve are ideas? Eve is created from Adam, as ideas can beget other ideas. Eventually, they are cast out of Paradise (out of their creator's mind, out of flawless abstraction) into the “real” world, where there is toil, pain, suffering, and consequences. Perfection is stagnant, and unsustainable, while the real world is a crucible. Until they acted, until they knew, until they fell, Adam and Eve were not truly human. (There is a crack in everything/That's how the light gets in - L. Cohen)

The creative process is an idea, its development, and its final construction. When shared with the world, ideas forfeit that spotless, solitary connection to the creator. In this view, the 'original sin' was the necessary step to break with the originator. It's just that in other traditions, the break is not always the fault of the human creations, and/or humanity's not stained for all time for it.
posted by Iris Gambol at 12:50 PM on March 22, 2018

The book (Regardless of What You Were Taught to Believe) There is Nothing Wrong With You: Going Beyond Self-Hate by Zen teacher Cheri Huber (and then later her other books) helped me a lot with this kind of thing.
posted by Lexica at 1:16 PM on March 22, 2018 [1 favorite]

This has helped me over the years:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars that you have established; what are human beings that you are mindful of them, mortals that you care for them? Yet you have made them a little lower than God, and crowned them with glory and honor.
(Psalm 8:3-5)
posted by 4ster at 5:44 AM on March 23, 2018

Wow, thank you all for responding!
I look forward to reading and absorbing your shared kindness and wisdom.
posted by Mesaverdian at 4:09 PM on March 27, 2018

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