Book Review: Toxic Faith

Are you a religious addict? Is your church or group toxic to your soul? Even if you are certain these terms don’t apply to you or your group, you might want to read this book anyway.

I don’t recommend Christian books very often. In the not-so-distant past it was a different story; I was always reading the latest Christian self-help books and fiction novels and spent a lot of money during highschool and college buying and voraciously reading them. Then I had some…unpleasant experiences in which I grew up rather suddenly and shockingly (more on that in another post).

All those books I had bought before and read, now served to bring me very little comfort when I turned to them again. In fact, I was so disgusted with most of them and the false advice and teachings they contained, one by one they found their way into the recycle bin. The hard lesson was learned that anyone, for better or worse, can be an author. This in no way automatically qualifies them as an expert, which is a most important distinction to make.

But I recently stumbled upon a book that ought to have several copies in every Christian church’s library as well as a prominent place in every person’s (Christian or not) bookshelf. If I had the money, I would buy boxes upon boxes and begin mailing them out to every person I know. The name of this book, so highly esteemed by myself, is simply titled, Toxic Faith, and is co-authored by two Christians, Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton. Mr. Arterburn is…an author (I know, I know) and speaker, while Mr. Felton is a licensed therapist and ordained minister.

The authors state they want to see people freed from the toxic effects of religious addiction, and embrace the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Originally written in 1991, the book begins with an introduction, and then outlines the authors’ 21 beliefs of a toxic faith system (any faith system), elaborating on those and many other aspects of religious addiction and spiritual abuse throughout the rest of the book.

“Anyone can become addicted to anything.” (p. 120)

Several profiles of both group dynamics and individuals (including individuals from “clergy” to layperson who might be addicted to religion) as well as case studies are presented with lists, making it helpful to see a bigger picture. For example, if your church or group teaches any of the following, they are teaching a false belief. If they teach several of the following, you might just be in a toxic group.

Those toxic beliefs include:

  1. Conditional Love: God’s love and favor depend on my behavior
  2. Instant Peace:When tragedy strikes, true believers should have a real peace about it
  3. Guaranteed Healing: If you have real faith, God will heal you or someone you are praying for
  4. Irreproachable Clergy: All ministers are men and women of God and can be trusted
  5. Material blessings are a sign of spiritual strength
  6. The more money you give to God, the more money He will give to you
  7. Salvation by Works
  8. Problems in your life result from some particular sin
  9. Slavery of the Faithful: I must not stop meeting others’ needs
  10. I must always submit to authority
  11. Christian Inequality: God uses only spiritual giants
  12. Waiting for God to help and doing nothing until He does
  13. Biblical Exclusivity
  14. Heavenly Matchmaking
  15. Everything that happens to me is good
  16. My faith will protect me from problems and pain
  17. God wants to punish me
  18. Mortal Christ
  19. Impersonal God
  20. God wants me to be happy above all else
  21. You can become God

I wish I had read this book 10 years ago; it might have saved me from a lot of pain and confusion. I wish every highschooler could take a class over this book, and that every church would offer a Sunday school class or Bible study going over this book. It would serve to keep churches and pastors and Christian leaders somewhat accountable if they really do care about people, or at least serve as a warning if they don’t.

Do you or anyone you know espouse any of these beliefs? Does the church or faith system you attend preach these concepts?

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New Book Announcement on Religious Mystics

In a few weeks I hope to publish my third eBook through Amazon Kindle. This one is much longer than the first two, and takes a critical look at the life and writings of Medieval Catholic mystics. Stay tuned!

St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, LA, by Developing Focus Photography
St. Louis Cathedral, New Orleans, LA, by Developing Focus Photography

Sin and Redemption in the Bible and The Epic of Gilgamesh

This post assumes the reader is familiar with The Epic of Gilgamesh, one of the earliest writings archeologists have to date. It is an ancient Sumerian epic poem and mythological account, with some fascinating similarities to the Bible. This post compares The Epic of Gilgamesh to the Biblical story of creation (Genesis 1-2). Neither account is very long, so I encourage you to read them to expand your cultural knowledge. 🙂

Read The Epic of Gilgamesh

Read Genesis 1-2

Let Us Compare…

There are interesting insights to be found in comparing and contrasting the concepts of sin and redemption in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible. In The Epic of Gilgamesh, the sins committed by Enkidu and Gilgamesh entail, “because they have killed Humbaba and because they have killed the Bull of Heaven” (Lawall, 26), for which Enkidu is chosen to die for retribution. In the creation story of the Bible, the sins of Adam and Eve are the direct disobedience of God’s one law, for which animal (and later, Jesus Christ) sacrifices are made.

In comparing the two ancient texts, three main similarities may be found. In both stories two people, in fact two life-partners, commit the sins. The gods/God in both tales required the sacrifice of a life for transgressions. At first, the God of the Bible requires animal sacrifices to atone for human sins, and then later Jesus is used as the perfect sacrifice for all people. The gods in The Epic of Gilgamesh take Enkidu’s life as reparation. “In my view, the Tanach (what Christians call “The Old Testament”) seems, more and more, to be the polar opposite of Gilgamesh” (Burell). In contrasting The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible, four major differences can be seen.

How the Two Works Define Sin

In looking to the concept of sin, it is much more difficult to discern just what the sin is that Gilgamesh and Enkidu commit since every god in their pantheon seemed to feel differently about the matter with Humbaba and the Bull of Heaven. “Then glorious Shamash answered the hero Enlil, ‘It was by your command they killed the Bull of Heaven, and killed Humbaba, and must Enkidu die although innocent?” (Lawall, 26) This is opposed to the God of the Bible who makes it clear to Adam and Eve what He expects, and what the sin is. “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree if the garden thou mayest freely eat: but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Lawall, 58).

In a similar vein, the pantheon of gods in The Epic of Gilgamesh makes it nearly impossible to please one god without angering another. What one god considered worship, another viewed as abomination and it seemed to be the squeaky wheel who got the oil in most cases (whichever god complained the loudest got what they wanted). Again, in the Bible there is only one God who makes it clear what pleases Him, what doesn’t, and what the price of sin costs.

Another interesting opposite is how the characters approached their sins. Whereas Adam and Eve were actively tempted by an evil, outside source (the snake or Satan) Gilgamesh and Enkidu boldly sought their sins out. “I am committed to this enterprise: to climb the mountain, to cut down the cedar, and leave behind me an enduring name” (Lawall, 19). Addressing the issue of redemption, while God in the Bible required willing, individual sacrifices per person per sin, Enkidu paid with his life unwillingly, for the two listed sins of both he and Gilgamesh. “So Enkidu lay stretched out before Gilgamesh; his tears ran down in streams” (Lawall, 26).

In Sum

The similarities between The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Bible are fewer than the differences, but the overall idea between the two remains that death is the ultimate price to pay for one’s sins against a god. The main difference between the two stories relates to the idea of sin. God in the Bible clearly states the rules and punishment for breaking the rules, whereas one never can tell in Gilgamesh whether one’s actions are seen as honoring or angering to the gods. There really is no such thing as “sin” in Gilgamesh because one cannot disobey a law never set forth.

Sources:

Burell, Clay. Beyond School: Good, Evil, Nature, and the Hero: Unsucky English, Lecture 5. 23 September 2008. 15 November 2009 <http://beyond-school.org/2008/09/23/gilgamesh5nature/&gt;.

Sarah Lawall, General Editor. The Norton Anthology of World Literature: Second Edition. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2002.

New E-Books!

Although I have yet to write anything literature-based in this blog, I have been working on writing, editing, and formatting literature-based e-books! I now have two published through Amazon Kindle, both having to do with Gothic Literature. For only $.99 each, these are great little additions to any reading curriculum, or for personal education.

Don’t worry if you don’t have a Kindle (I don’t, either). You can download Amazon’s Kindle for PC for free and read Kindle books on your computer, or you can use Amazon’s Kindle Cloud Reader to read Kindle books online, without downloading anything. My next e-book is about religious mysticism, and is in the process of being edited and reformatted. Stay tuned!