I'm a theologian by academic training, and I'm absolutely fascinated – okay, annoyingly obsessed – with what I see as a theological poison in the heart of western religion. That poison is the idea that God judges and punishes us for what the churchmen call transgressions, but the rest of us call human mistakes. The unresolvable clash between the "God of pure love and forgiveness" and the "smiting God" has created a whole culture that fears and mistrusts the creator of the universe, which spends a great deal of life energy addicted to proving themselves worthy in the eyes of God and others as unworthy. God kicked us out of paradise for using the free will he gave us, now we are born sick with original sin, and our soul falls from grace into a corrupt and disobedient body in a world run by the devil. God loves you unconditionally, except for all those conditions. Why would a loving God send us into such a world?
Capitalism sprang from this poisonous theology – an economy of winners and losers, saved and damned, where the "invisible hand" decides who climbs the ladder to heaven to drink champagne with the other worthies, and who falls into poverty hell with the other lazies.
Whether you grew up religious or not, being born into western culture means having this religious trauma of cosmic unworthiness embedded in you on the energetic level. It's no wonder people are leaving churches, and the young are not knocking on churches' doors, even though the 11 AM service has electric guitars and fog machines. It's no wonder that so many people no longer want to work in the "worthiness factories" offered to them by the capitalist culture.
I believe that westerners are attracted to indigenous traditions because they see in them a wildly different theological paradigm about worthiness. The Holy Ones, the Great Spirit, the ancestors, the spirits of nature, our spirit guides – none of them see us as unworthy, as fallen. They want us to be in this world, they helped prepare us for this world, they want us to blossom as true human beings in this world; our soul loves being here, in this body, among all of this vast, awesome creation.
Dr. Gábor Máté is a recognized expert in trauma and its effects on the body and psyche. He says that trauma (and I'm including religious trauma) disconnects us from our true self. Addictions and other self-destructive compulsions are the expression of that disconnection. He says the very core of all of our human work is about healing the disconnection we have with our own self. The True Self has no absolutely no sense of unworthiness; we have to be convinced of our unworthiness, by people who fear their own unworthiness. Our task is always, in the end, to come into our own sure sense of worthiness.
Worthiness is a feeling, not an intellectual construct. You cannot ultimately heal unworthiness through mental work or language alone. This is why affirmations only go so far, why sermons about unworthiness drop like lead weight in the ears, and frankly it's why therapy is fantastically helpful, but 95% of my clients say the same phrase: "But there's something therapy doesn’t…quite reach." And you cannot heal unworthiness through actions alone - changing laws will do a lot, but won't heal us. Unworthiness can only be healed in the heart center, blossoming out into the intellectual centers and physical (action) centers. All true spiritual practices bring you into felt sense of fundamental worthiness.
Back to my morning experience: Spirit never punishes you. That voice went on to say: "Only humans punish. They punish themselves and they punish each other. They can waste whole lives on punishing. Spirit, your spirit guides – they will allow you to enter into the energy field of punishment if you insist, because apparently that is the well of experience you want to drink from. When you are ready to learn in another way, Spirit will be there to assist you in finding a new road."
If you want to be part of a huge revolution, there is a ridiculously simple thing you can do. It's so simple, it sounds like total woo-hoo, unicorn-fart fantasy, one that could not possibly work in this terrible world. It's this: Practice seeing every human being – including yourself - as an embodiment of the divine, as filled with God's breath, as a drop of the sacred ocean held inside an animal wineskin in order to explore this beautiful world. If you practice this while driving, while in line at the store, while in conflict with someone, if you practice it when you're judging someone, practice it on someone you utterly despise – it can transform the world, and create a new one – and this is what the Creator does.