Poor Self-Concept

How are you?

“Better than I deserve,” comes the reply. It’s a standard Christian reply, probably popular because it lets you tell people how humble you are. But that is the genuine philosophy taught by most religions. We are unworthy creatures before God. We deserve to be set on fire and left like that for eternity. In the midst of agony, we might cry out for relief, but not in indignation, because we know that we deserve it all, and that one such as us can never suffer too much.

Our greatest works of righteousness are described as “filthy rags” by the Apostle Paul. We are unclean, and unable to do anything about it. We have no way to control our destiny or our goodness. All we can do is hope that some other being will take care of it for us, because he loves us.

I can’t imagine this is good for our mental health. Especially if you think it’s righteous to think this way; that you’re supposed to think this way…

You feel bad. You want to make up for it somehow (this is a documented psychological effect of feeling guilty). So you want to do something righteous. On the list of righteous things to do, we have “realize how much of a sinner you are; that’s a good thing.” So you focus on it and really try and understand how unclean and hopeless you are without someone else to save you. You try and appreciate why “filthy rags” is an appropriate description of the greatest things you’ve ever done, and why everything else you’ve done is even worse than that.

Of course, now that you feel all guilty about stuff, you need to do more righteous stuff. Back to dwelling, and the cycle is complete.

You are told to appreciate just how merciful God is, and the only way to do that is to realize just how undeserving you are. So you have to try and understand why you’re so bad that you deserve to be lit on fire forever. Or worse.

Some religions teach that the fire of Hell is just a metaphor for even worse suffering. I’m not sure why they think this is more palatable. Or, if I had to guess, it’s just because it’s less vivid as a mental image.