Do Christians Suffer from Stockholm Syndrome?
When discussing religion, I find it interesting how even the most thoughtful and carefully-argued apologetic eventually comes down to simple, blind faith. However many clever arguments and justifications the believer puts forward, sooner or later there comes a point where those arguments have to be reasoned from first principles, and the first step, the basis of all subsequent beliefs, is reached from reasoning which more or less amounts to “just because”.
There’s not necessarily anything wrong with that – ultimately, we all have to begin with unprovable axioms, even if they’re almost universally agreed, or appear self-evident. For example, I believe that the laws of physics are consistent throughout space and time, that other people really exist and aren’t figments of my imagination, and that the universe didn’t spring into existence last night, with the whole of history and everyone’s memories created at the same time. They all seem like pretty reasonable conclusions to me, but even so, there’s no way of proving them.
So I don’t have any problem with unprovable axioms (except that they’re a frustrating roadblock if you’re interested in watertight logic), but I think – even though I can’t prove it – that they make more sense in some situations than others.
What prompted me to write this post is a discussion about the problem of suffering. It all followed the usual pattern, with back and forth between some people pointing to examples of suffering and other people trying to find reasons why an omniscient, omnipotent and omnibenevolent deity might allow them to happen, and lots of debate about the logical consistency of the various arguments. Eventually, the apologetic argument generally came down to a belief that there must be a reason, even if it wasn’t obvious what that was, because God wouldn’t allow it otherwise.
It struck me that this is very similar to when Christians try to justify genocide in the Bible. Most people, if faced with evidence that God allowed or – worse – ordered vile acts like this, would conclude that either the evidence was wrong or God is a monster. But there are some who attempt to redefine their terms – if God does it, it’s clearly not so bad, or it is bad if we do it but the rules don’t apply to Him, or even that His victims were asking for it – not an argument with a particularly distinguished history, regardless of its merits in this case.
Similarly, Christians generally end up acknowledging that there is suffering, but rather than amending their speculative, unprovable view of God (i.e. that He’s omnipotent, omniscient and omnibenevolent) they suggest that He must have a reason for allowing suffering, even if we can’t know it. To me, this looks uncannily like Stockholm Syndrome. However unpleasant or abusive God must be if their beliefs are correct, and however responsible He is for their current suffering, they still want to justify His actions and excuse His crimes. They believe He could stop all their suffering, they know He doesn’t, but nevertheless, He must be a nice guy and have His reasons.
Alternatively, why not try Battered person syndrome on for size, to explain why Christians continue to worship a God who, if He exists and has anything like the power they believe, looks very much like a serial abuser. Have a look at these common beliefs and attitudes:
Additionally, repeated cycles of violence and reconciliation can result in the following beliefs and attitudes:
- The abused believes that the violence was his or her fault.
- The abused has an inability to place the responsibility for the violence elsewhere.
- The abused fears for his/her life and/or the lives of his/her children (if present).
- The abused has an irrational belief that the abuser is omnipresent and omniscient.
With very minor changes, that looks to me like a perfect description of Christian belief: We’re all sinners, which is why there’s suffering in the world. God can’t force unregenerate sinners to change, or to love Him. If we don’t do the right things and plead with the abuser, He’ll condemn us to hell not just in this life, but for all eternity. And point 4 speaks for itself.
Maybe atheists should be setting up shelters for battered believers.