My thoughts belong to me alone, and I refuse to feel guilty about how they might hurt others. My words and my actions can and do have consequences, but my thoughts are how I sort it all out. And I believe the guilt I feel over what runs through my mind in any given moment is, perhaps, the last trace of God in my life.

But I am letting it go.

The idea that God knows our thoughts is one of the most damaging details of Christianity. What is the likelihood that a creator would know our thoughts, really? I enjoy looking at photos from NASA; and every time I see our planet from outer space I wonder: why did I ever think God knew my thoughts? It seems so silly from that perspective.

But the Bible says our God knows. He knows when we feel lust, jealousy, anger, hatred…. and those thoughts make us guilty whether we act on them or not.

In many ways the puzzle fits. After all, haven’t we all felt at one time or another that someone is listening in on our innermost secrets? Especially when we are not particularly proud of what we are thinking. Some would say it is our conscience; and Christians believe our conscience comes from God.

There were times as a Christian when I wondered if God did not know my thoughts in a literal way, but rather gave me a conscience which worked with the Holy Spirit to keep me on track. Maybe God himself wasn’t paying attention to every momentary lapse in thought purity. He could tap in, of course, because he is God—but why would he? Except, the Bible says anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and anyone who looks at another lustfully has already committed adultery. So I was guilty either way.

God knows hate and lust are thoughts which directly lead to those actions, and in that light we can see how it makes sense. But no matter what Christians believe about what we would do in the absence of God’s moral imprint upon our hearts—those thoughts do not always lead to actual murder and adultery. And how can we ever work a thing out in our head if we are always shutting those thoughts out to avoid being murdered by Orwell’s Thought Police stay right with God? And why did God create brains that are able to think this way in the first place?

(That’s not a real question. I know the answer now.)

Christians don’t appear to be too concerned over feelings of hate, but messages against lust are a never-ending distraction for them. I wrote a post over at Patheos a few months ago called “Everything Under the Umbrella of Lust.” It offers a little history on biblical lust and more than a few anecdotes on the evils of masturbation:

 

Maybe God isn’t thrilled with the amount of imaginary sex the average person is having with celebrities, fictional characters, and boy bands. Maybe we’re not thrilled that he’s watching. But the real crime is that Christianity is far too limited by its specific interpretation of God. They have taken a handful of verses about lust and turned them into a culture of rules designed to set themselves up for failure.

 

 

It may seem like an obsession within the Christian culture, but we create thought rules in the secular world, too. Always believing in the “slippery slope.”

But if thoughts can get us into a mess, they can also map out our escape. And I think it is far better to spend time mapping out a plan than it is to just hope the thought doesn’t get past the “God goalie” and cause an unplanned incident. (I think we have all seen that scenario play out.)

I am done apologizing to myself for daydreams of cruelty, jealousy, self-doubt– and yes, even lust. There is no one else holding me accountable for what I need to work through in my own head. My thoughts are not right or wrong, they are simply the way I filter what comes in and out. And for the most part, I am pretty responsible with them. I cannot see how allowing a judge and jury to analyze the process would benefit me in any way. The good news is that I no longer believe the judge and jury have access to those records.

 

 

(Photo credit: NeoGaboX via Foter.com / CC BY)

6 thoughts on “Slippery Slope

  1. In Dawkins’ the God Delusion, he discusses how the passing of what he calls cultural memes (Dawkins actually coined the phrase meme in 1976 when he talked about how cultural and societal values pass down from person to person, but today on the internet meme means something totally different) easily explain how the idea of God is passed down through generations, but he ultimately has to ask the question, well how would such an idea of a God originate. One of the hypotheses he posits which there is some evidence for is simply the voice in our heads. Our conciousness that is aware of our thoughts. He states that when are young and our consciousness really begins to become more mature we are not initially aware this voice that is aware of what we are thinking, commenting on what we are thinking, and seemingly converse back and forth within ourselves is actually us. It seems perfectly reasonable. It also explains why fMRI data that when people are asked what they think about certain issues, and what God thinks about the same issues, it activates the same area of the brain. If you’ve ever been in the mood to get academic about your consciousness it’s a befuddling idea. Why did I have that thought? Did I really want to do that action? Is it just more like a dream? Am I going to do something bad? And when you are younger, your moral center, or as Freud called the superego is still developing. You’re a lot of id (more base thoughts and actions) and a consciousness that makes you aware of those thoughts. As children we often have to rely simply on directions from parents to do or not do things as we don’t know appropriateness, we are unaware of the harm we might cause to others or ourselves when our emotions get the better of us. Anyway, it seems sensible to me that one of the originators for the idea of God would be an explanation to try and explain why there seems to be someone in our head, even if that someone is just us.

    It’s also interesting to think about the reverse situation. Maybe it’s why so many Christians feel like they are good people simply because they have good thoughts and don’t really turn those good thoughts into good actions. Perhaps focusing on thoughts instead of behavior is the real failure of many religions and the people who follow them. “Oh you’re truly repentant for your crimes…okay you get to go to heaven!” Um, what?!! I mean I believe in redemption and forgiveness but I don’t think you can just think those things and completely transform. You have to turn it into behavior, and as we know now the brain is neuroplastic an the brain changes as a result of that behavior. To me only then are you truly reformed. Good deeds or bad may begin with a thought, but it is the action that matters.

    Anyway, wonderfully written post and although I did not have to de-convert from any deeply Christian faith, I still experienced many of the things you describe. Although annoyingly split into 13 parts on youtube, a great watch is Julia Sweeney’s one woman show “Letting Go of God” I think you’d identify pretty strongly with her story. It is a very hopeful one to me that simple through constantly thinking, questioning, searching someone can think themselves out of these narrow beliefs that blind you to how truly wonderous the universe actually is.

    1. Oh, what you said about the reverse situation…. It really is such a religion of thought, isn’t it? Over and over we hear how Christianity is different because it isn’t a “works-based” religion. That we cannot earn our way into heaven is the selling point; Christians have been offered a gift achieved through belief and acceptance– all things we can do from the comfort of inside our own head. Of course, the actions are supposed to follow. And if they don’t, it means that something is wrong “in our heart,” or we don’t have “enough faith,” which basically comes back to our thoughts again.

      The danger is that it can make perfect sense, for all the reasons you describe about our consciousness. And actions and thoughts will forever be intertwined.

  2. “My thoughts belong to me alone, and I refuse to feel guilty about how they might hurt others. My words and my actions can and do have consequences, but my thoughts are how I sort it all out”

    The secular writer Napoleon Hill made this fascinating and true statement back in the 1920’s. Of a truth, I tell you, thoughts are things.

    Yes mam. Not all our thoughts produce actions; but every single action, every single word we utter is the result of a thought! So like it or not, your thoughts directly and indirectly impact those around you.

    Why is it far-fetched to believe God knows our thoughts when experiments show that the way our genes are expressed (what you see physically) can be change based on our thoughts.
    “you are not controlled by your genetic makeup. Instead, your genetic readout (which genes are turned “on” and which are turned “off”) is primarily determined by your thoughts, attitudes, and perceptions!”

    Swarn Gill made a good point here: “as we know now the brain is neuroplastic an the brain changes as a result of that behavior. To me only then are you truly reformed. Good deeds or bad may begin with a thought, but it is the action that matters

    This is exactly what the Bible teaches. Be not conformed to the worlds way of thinking and doing things but be transformed through the renewing of your mind. This can only be achieved through the neuroplasticity of the brain. Mind changes brain…not the other way.
    It’s only when we choose to replace negative/bad thoughts with positive/good ones (or even if the reverse was done) you’d notice that actions are indeed a manifestation of one’s thoughts.

    In any event, look around you. Every building is the result of someone’s thought. A person’s life is the result of their dominant thought. Such is the power of a thought. A person is the way they think.

    1. So I guess you must agree that it’s a good thing I take time to think things through rather than push thoughts aside out of guilt for having thought them 🙂

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