One of the most common characteristics I have seen amongst religious abuse victims is the shattering of their faith in the Living God. Many struggle with the reality that, at the time of their abuse, God did not help them and rescue them from it. Since God did not save them from the abuse, then surely there is no God! Because of this, the common question is: “If God is real, then where was God when I was being abused?” Another common characteristic that I have not only experienced, but also see in others, is the fact that through the deception of religious dogmas and rules, one’s faith can also be shattered once one comes to the realization of the lies believed. Then, there is the reality that the abuse was perpetrated by those that the victims trusted and/or loved – their pastor, other church leaders and, even family members! Following the abuse, is the secondary abuses where no one believes the victim and, those closest to the victim (family and friends) actually work to discredit their testimonies of abuse and shame and shun them! As a result of these traumas, it is easier to choose not to believe in God for many of these victims.
Because this is an issue that many struggle with, I want to share an excerpt regarding the Holocaust, from Jewish Wisdom by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin. If ever there was a race of people that rightly should NOT believe in God, it would be the Jewish people! How can a Holocaust survivor still maintain faith in a God that did not rescue them from the torture, nor save their family members from it? After this excerpt, I will then draw a conclusion that I hope will help many with this issue.
What Kind of Faith in God can Jews Have After the Holocaust?
Can one still speak to God after Auschwitz? Can one still, as an individual and as a people, enter at all into a dialogue relationship with Him? Dare we recommend to the survivors of Auschwitz, the Jobs of the gas chambers, “Call to Him, for He is kind, for His mercy endures forever?” — Martin Buber, “Dialogue Between Heaven and Earth,” in Will Herberg, ed., Four Existentialist Theologians, Page 203
We learned in the crisis that we were totally and nakedly alone, that we could expect neither support nor succor from God nor from our fellow creatures. Therefore, the world will forever remain a place of pain, suffering, alienation and ultimate defeat. — Richard Rubenstein, After Auschwitz, pages 128-129
A principle teaching of the Hebrew Bible is that God, Who created the world, intervenes in history. Thus, when Pharoah enslaved the ancient Hebrews, God acted to free them. (His intervention, however, came only after two centuries of slavery.)
God’s inaction during the Holocaust led Rubenstein to conclude in After Auschwitz, that, contrary to the Exodus story, there is no God Who acts in history. His work is among the bleakest and most disturbing Jewish books ever written. The alternate position (articulated by Rabbi Avigdor Miller, among others), that the Holocaust represented God’s inaction but rather his punishing of the Jewish people for their sins, was rejected by Rubenstein as repugnant: “If indeed such a God holds the destiny of mankind in His power, His resort to the death camps to bring about His ends is so obscene that I would rather spend my life in perpetual revolt than render Him even the slightest homage” (Power Struggle, page 11).
With the publication of After Auschwitz, Rubenstein became identified with the mid-1960’s “death of God” movement. But while the movement’s radical Protestant thinkers (e.g., Thomas Altizer, author of Radical Theology and the Death of God) saw God’s so called “death” as a fortunate event that would liberate human beings from God’s “heavy hand,” Rubenstein, who has a bleak estimation of human nature, found it cause for despair. Because the Holocaust has already happened once, he argued, similar acts of mass murder are more, not less, likely to recur, to Jews or to other people (see his The Cunning of History).
While empathizing with Rubenstein’s pain, two other Jewish thinkers, Eliezer Berkovits and Emil Fackenheim, view his conclusion that there is no God Who acts in history as representing an unintentional triumph for Hitler:
What, on account of the Jewish experience at Auschwitz, attempts to emerge as a Jewish version of a death-of-God theology has both an ironic and a tragic aspect. Its starting point is the problem of faith raised by the German barbarism of the Nazi era. In search of a solution to the problems, it arrives at a position from which one may not only not reject Nazism, but, indeed, find a “moral” validation for it as one of the man-created truths. [For if there is nothing higher in the universe than man, who is to judge which man-made truth is higher than another?] This is the bitterest irony. . . and presents us with one of the truly great triumphs of the Nazi position. It is of the very essence of [Rubenstein’s] proposition that there is no personal God who is concerned with justice, morality, or human suffering. . . — Eliezer Berkovits, Faith After the Holocaust, page 72
There emerges what I will boldly term a 614th commandment: the authentic Jew of today is forbidden to hand Hitler yet another, posthumous victory. . .
We are, first, commanded to survive as Jews, lest the Jewish people perish.
We are commanded, second, to remember in our very guts and bones the martyrs of the Holocaust, lest their memory perish.
We are forbidden, thirdly, to deny or despair of God, however much we may have to contend with Him or with belief in Him, lest Judaism perish.
We are forbidden, finally, to despair of the world as the place which is to become the kingdom of God, lest we help make it a meaningless place in which God is dead or irrelevant and everything is permitted.
To abandon any of these imperatives, in response to Hitler’s victory at Auschwitz, would be to hand him yet other, posthumous victories. — Emil Facenheim, The Jewish Return into History, pages 22-24
. . . The most cogent, if coolly rational, critique of Fackenheim’s 614th commandment was delivered by the Orthodox Jewish philosopher Michael Wyschogrod:
Let us imagine that there arises a wicked tyrant who sets as his goal, for his own depraved and psychotic reasons, the extermination of all stamp collectors in the world. It is clear that it would be the duty of every decent person to do everything in his power to frustrate the scheme of that tyrant. Let us further imagine, however, that before the tyrant is made harmless, he succeeds, in fact, in murdering a large proportion of the world’s stamp collectors. Does it not follow [according to Fackenheim’s 614th commandment] that subsequent to the tyrant’s demise it becomes the duty of the remaining stamp collectors not to lose interest in their stamp collecting so as not to hand the tyrant a posthumous victory? . . . Would it be a posthumous victory for the tyrant were stamp collecting to disappear from the world as long as this disappearance is due, not to force, but to free choice? I cannot see why, if I am a secular, non-believing Jew, it is incumbent upon me to preserve Judaism because Hitler wished to destroy it. What was incumbent upon me was to destroy Hitler, but once this is accomplished, the free choice of every individual is restored and no further Hitler-derived burdens rest on the non-believing Jew. — Michael Wyschogrod, “Faith and the Holocaust,” a review of Emil Fackenheim’s God’s Presence in History, Judaism, Summer 1971 (20:3), pages 288-289
For Wyschogrod “the Holocaust was a totally destructive event which makes my remaining a Jew infinitely more difficult than it has ever been.” He can only marvel at Fackenheim’s attempt to deduce a commanding voice out of Auschwitz.
. . . Rabbi Irving Greenberg represents a position close to Berkovits and Fackenheim, but one that also acknowledges Rubenstein’s despair. According to Greenberg, the Holocaust has blurred the boundary lines between believers and nonbelievers, perhaps permanently:
After Auschwitz, faith means that there are times when faith is overcome. . . We now have to speak of “moment faiths” . . . interspersed with times when the flames and smoke of the burning children blot out faith, although it flickers again. . . The difference between the skeptic and the believer is frequency of faith, and not certitude of position. — Irving Greenberg, “Cloud of Smoke, Pillar of Fire: Judaism, Christianity and Modernity After the Holocaust,” page 27
— Excerpts from Jewish Wisdom by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, pages 311-315
The Holocaust is one the most tragic events in human history. How could anyone condemn the survivors of this tragedy if they willingly chose to not believe in God? Wouldn’t they be justified in their positions that there “is no God?” Would a God that one believes to be full of Love, Mercy and Compassion punish further those that are broken and bruised that lose their faith as a result of abuses perpetrated by evil people? The answer: Of course not! So, does it matter to God if someone loses faith in Him? I believe it does matter, BUT, I also believe that He will “suffer it to be so” for the sake of the victim and hold the abusers accountable for the loss of faith when all is said and done.
Today, the reality of religious mutilation, torture, sexual exploitation of women and children, sexual mutilation and abuse, physical abuses and, all the horrors that take place against men, women and children that are hidden under the “mantle of religion” have led to countless numbers of people that have given up their faith in God. The number one question being the same as the Holocaust survivors: “Where was God when I was being raped, molested, tortured or abused?”
I have come to realize that there are two groups of religious abuse survivors. There are those religious abuse survivors where, throughout there abusive experience, the closeness of God is imprinted on their hearts and minds. They can say with all sincerity that, “God was there with me and carried me through.” I am in this category of believers. God was very near, although I believed he hated me and I could never be “good enough” to please Him (a mindset derived from the brainwashing). As I look back, I see his hand of protection and his hand of blessing in my life and, remember feeling “wrapped in his arms of love and care” even when I thought I could not go through another day. The memories of the sweet communion with God after extracting myself from the abusive cult and its brainwashing will forever be emblazoned in my heart and mind. Although I was deceived and acted in accordance with that deception, I WILLINGLY chose God. If I had not done so, then in my mind, the Great Deceiver would have won the victory. For if I give up my faith in God, I would be carrying out the will of the one who wishes for me to do so — Satan. Therefore, Satan wins. Is maintaining my faith easy? No. It is difficult. Especially when I read the countless stories on my blog of abuses of women and children where the perpetrators of the abuses are still free and not behind bars; especially when I read the countless news stories of women and children abused and killed at the hands of Islamists the world over under the guise of “Honor Killing.” This is where I reflect on Irving Greenburg’s quote mentioned above – “We now have to speak of “moment faiths” . . . interspersed with times when the flames and smoke of the burning children blot out faith, although it flickers again. . . The difference between the skeptic and the believer is frequency of faith, and not certitude of position.” We will all experience lack of faith only to have it resurrect again.
Is my position regarding my faith, right? Yes.
The second group of abuse survivors are those that have turned away from not just religion, but God. God does not exist to them and is only a figment of the imagination. There is so much evil in the world that takes place every day against men, women and children, that there is no way there is a God that is “Love” that could allow such tragedies. Since these tragedies take place and God does not stop them, then there must be no God. Many of these abuse survivors have found peace in removing God from their lives. In doing so, they have been able to answer the question, “Why did God allow this to happen to ME?” If there is no God, then what happened was the result of circumstance and evil people. This removing of the “why” eliminates the emotional and mental anxiety that the mere question poses in the mind of a victim. Truly, it can free them from the emotional trauma that this brings and, for many, give them the strength to move on with their lives.
Is this position regarding turning from the faith, right? Yes.
Now, let me say this from my own personal standpoint. I am sure many will disagree with me on this, but please, allow me to have my opinion and let’s “agree to disagree” amicably.
Because I now know a God that is full of Mercy, Love and Compassion INSTEAD of a God that is vengeful, exacting, incites hatred toward those that believe differently, or will send people to hell if they don’t believe, I now understand “unconditional” love. Unconditional love allows people to believe what they believe in order to cope with the trials and evils that will come their way. God will not judge them for their lack of faith. He will “suffer it to be so” in order for a victim to cope and move forward. If God is LOVE, then he will love regardless of belief or lack thereof. Therefore, what right do believers and non-believers have to judge each other and condemn each other? They have no right to do so. God knows circumstances and motives. He knows the responsible party to every single abuse. He knows victim’s inner most thoughts and struggles. He’s seen every tear shed and, more than anything, desires to see victims of abuse and tradegy have their pain and heartache eased. For those that lose faith and it eases their burden and gives them strength to carry on, “suffer it to be so.” For those that retain their faith and it eases their burden and gives them strength to carry on, “suffer it to be so.”
For me, my many years in an abusive religious cult and the struggles that I went through, have molded me into who I am today. The experiences have enabled me to be a help to those who feel alone in their pain and are emerging from abusive religious institutions. Had the tragedies in my life not happened, I could not have written my books or be able to handle the many burdens of other survivors. Truly, I would crumble under the weight of the emotional turmoil and, the question of “Why, God?”
If you do not believe in God, do not believe in God, still. If you believe in God, believe in God still. He KNOWS. HE UNDERSTANDS. He loves you UNCONDITIONALLY. Let that sink in! NO CONDITIONS ARE NECESSARY! Religion puts conditions on God’s love and acceptance; God does not. Religion tells us we will suffer eternal punishment for turning from God; God does not (read my book, Religion’s Cell on this subject.). Religion judges you for your sins; God does not! He SO loves us and desires for everyone to have peace and happiness. It is time that we realize that whatever faith, or lack thereof, you have is OKAY. God is for peace and is compassionate toward broken and wounded people. Find that peace however you can so that traumas inflicted by evil people do not destroy you AND, give the abuser the victory or, Satan the victory in your life. When you find that peace, you win, you overcome and you can move forward. Peace allows you to find happiness and, to be able to love again. Sometimes, I believe that the biggest struggle in a survivor’s life is the struggle between believing in God and not believing in God. Until one makes the choice, one will not find peace. Because I know how great and compassionate MY God is, I say make the choice that allows you to move forward and gives you peace. In doing so, you are released from emotional turmoil and bondage to “theology” and freed to be who you are in the Lord (even though you may not realize this). God understands. HE IS THAT BIG AND THAT AWESOME!