Does Your Religiosity Worsen Your Hidden Addictions?
Find Out By Looking For The 5 Symptoms Of Toxic Faith.
(Note: This is Part 6 of the 8-Part Series, How To Get Rid Of Bad Habits Now!)
Is your Faith Toxic?
Instead of healing, it kills.
Instead of blessing, it harms.
Instead of giving, it robs.
No, I’m not talking about your Brand of Religion. You could be Catholic, Born-Again, Muslim, Buddhist, or Hindu. It doesn’t matter. In each of these, you could have Toxic Faith.
It’s not the Brand of Religion, but the poisonous way you carry out your religion. It poisons you and it poisons others around you.
One of the clear signs that it’s Toxic Faith is that it fuels our hidden addictions.
I know of a significant number of religious people who are addicted to sex, alcohol, food, anger, materialism, and obviously, to religion itself.
In recent years, sex addiction has become a huge problem among religious leaders. I should know. As a 13-year-old boy, I was molested by a religious leader.
And in the process, I became a porn addict.
I wanted to run away from the pain within. I didn’t want to face my internal problems. So I sought solace in my religious activities. And in pornography.
This is my story.
But this is also the story of many people in the Church…
The Facts That Tell Us
There’s Something Terribly Wrong
In the US alone, there are 4,392 priests being accused of sexual abuse.
The problem is so acute, that in 2007, the Diocese of Los Angeles alone already paid $660 Million to over 500 victims of sex abuse. In total, the American Catholic Church has already paid over One Billion Dollars to sex abuse victims—and the numbers continue to grow.
But these statistics don’t compare to meeting a victim. To come face to face with a person sexually violated by a religious man.
I was a 13-year old boy when I went with my youth group to San Pedro, Laguna. We gave a Life in the Spirit Seminar in the parish. By evening, all of us retired to a private home. In the middle of the night, I woke up to discover a naked man on top of me. He was my religious leader. In my shock, I couldn’t move. I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t shout. I cried myself to sleep.
The next morning, I saw the bedroom empty.
I walked to the living room to see the most repulsive sight I have ever seen. I saw my youth group in a circle praying their morning prayer, with my religious leader at the center, playing the guitar and leading them into prayer.
My leader was not a priest, but he looked like one. He loved wearing a large crucifix around his neck. He liked carrying a big Bible wherever he went. He preached well. He prayed well. He sang well.
He also molested boys well.
I never told anyone what happened to me that night.
But one day, one of the friends in that youth group asked me, “Did he touch you?” Immediately, I understood. “Yes, he did,” I said. My friend said he was abused as well. We found out that he had molested almost all of us in the youth group like we were little plastic animals in a firing range.
Please hear me out.
I still believe the majority of our priests are wonderful human beings and holy men of God. But the problem is real and leaders can no longer sweep it under a rug.
Catholics and Protestants—We’ve All Got Problems
Sex scandals among Christian evangelists and pastors are not any different. How can one forget the scandals of big names like Jim Baker, Jimmy Swaggart, and most recently, Ted Haggard?
Jim Bakker, President of the Praise The Lord (PTL) empire, was accused raping his secretary Jessica Hahn and paying her $265,000 to remain silent.
Jimmy Swaggart, the biggest televangelist when I was growing up, called Jim Bakker on Larry King Live a “cancer in the Body of Christ” for his sexual indiscretions. He also exposed Pastor Marvin Gorman of having an adulterous affair with one his parishioners. In retaliation, Pastor Gorman hired a private detective to follow Swaggart, who photographed him leaving a motel with prostitute Debra Murphree. Swaggart tearfully spoke to his church and apologized. But in 1991, he was found again with another prostitute, Rosemarie Garcia.
Ted Haggard, senior pastor of a 14,000-member church and president of the National Association of Evangelicals, was accused of enjoying the services of Mike Jones, a male prostitute for 3 years and taking shabu to heighten the experience. Ironically, before this, Ted Haggard condemned homosexuality very strongly in his TV appearances.
Again, let me make this clear: I also believe most pastors and preachers are wonderful people and great servants of God. But these scandals call us to look deeper into our soul. Because whatever made Swaggart, Bakker, and Haggard fall is lurking within all of us. No exemption.
Why do religious people have hidden addictions?
There are many causes.
One of the major ones is Toxic Faith.
The 5 Symptoms of Toxic Faith
What is Toxic Faith? How do you know if you have Toxic Faith?
Frankly, this requires an entire book to explore (and I’ll probably do that one day), but here’s a brief exploration of this very explosive, highly controversial subject.
Find out if your faith is Toxic.
Let me describe five symptoms of Toxic Faith:
· You have a Distorted Image of God: He’s Judgmental
· You have a Distorted Faithfulness: You’re Legalistic
· You have a Distorted Image of Self: You Feel Condemned
· You have a Distorted Faith: You Practice Hyper-Faith
· You have a Distorted Faith System: You’re Spiritually Abused
Let me describe each of them one by one…
You Have A Distorted Image of God:
One day, a man came up to me and said, “Bo, I’ve been feeling guilty. I feel God is angry at me today…”
“Angry at you? Why?” I asked.
“Because I missed my prayer time today. I’m afraid that He’ll punish me and cause bad things to happen today.”
Friends, I know that feeling very well. Because for years—no, decades—I used to feel this way.
Yes, I once had Toxic Faith. (And if I’ll be honest, I still feel its residue in my soul.) Toxic Faith is based on a distorted image of God. For 20 years, I worshipped a judgmental, wrathful, vindictive, vengeful, and legalistic God. Though I would never admit that then. During that time, I was even preaching on God’s Love!
Why? Because our intellectual image of God is very different from our subconscious image of God. The latter is much deeper and more difficult to change.
A person with Toxic Faith will imagine God telling him, “Aha! You missed your prayer time today. Tsk, tsk, tsk. What an ungrateful creature you are…”
I used to pray daily because of fear.
Do you know how absurd that is?
Imagine a father calling up his son by phone and growling, “Ingrate! How dare you forget me? You don’t visit me anymore. I’m warning you. I’m going to put a curse on you if you don’t visit me right this minute…”
We call those fathers abusive monsters. And yet I imagined God to be like that.
Today, I still pray daily, but I do so because I love to pray. He blesses me, nourishes me, and fills my heart with love. If I do miss my prayers, He doesn’t throw lightning bolts on me. When my image of God changed, my whole world changed as well.
Why does Toxic Faith worsen addictions?
Remember what I said in an earlier chapter: Any addiction is a hunger for true love. I want to be loved, and because I can’t find real love, I search for a palliative. An anaesthesia, to cover up the pain. When my image of God is judgemental, legalistic, vindictive, and vengeful, what was supposed to perfectly address my hunger for love (God’s Love) makes the hunger more acute.
Do You Worship The Judgmental, Wrathful,
Vindictive, And Vengeful God?
According to Toxic Faith, God is judgmental, wrathful, vindictive, vengeful, and legalistic. If a person has a distorted image of God, your subconscious beliefs are as follows… (Check if you have any of them.)
· “God will love me only if I behave.”
· “God hates sinners and is angry with me.”
· “He wants to punish me. He’s written down all my sins.”
· “God is never satisfied with me.”
· “If I sin, God will throw me to Hell forever.”
· “I’m now sick with cancer. God is punishing me for not being good enough.”
· “Our business flopped. God must be punishing me for forgetting Him.”
· “We just met a car accident. You know why? We failed to pray…”
When you have Toxic Faith, it seems as though God is preoccupied with your sins. All He does the whole day is waiting for you to make a mistake. He’s also fickle and moody: When you don’t sin, He likes you. When you do sin, He doesn’t like you.
Their entire relationship with God is based on shame. He has ever-increasing demanding standards, like a target that keeps on moving, and they can never quite satisfy Him.
You Have A Distorted Faithfulness:
My friend “Melanie” believes that God wants her to pray at the exact time everyday—5:00AM. She’d feel very guilty if, because she woke up late or had to do something else, was forced to pray at 5:30AM. To Melanie, that wasn’t honouring God.
Toxic Faith produces very faithful people, but its expression of faithfulness is distorted: It’s legalistic and painfully scrupulous. Legalism in itself is an addiction.
To confirm whether Melanie had Toxic Faith, I checked for two signs: Did it lead to shame or to self-righteousness? (In other words, it’s either she felt shame herself or she shamed others.)
When Melanie was able to keep her 5:00AM prayer each day, she felt good about herself. She felt God accepted her and liked her—so she liked herself too. But she looked down on others who didn’t pray, who prayed late, or who prayed shorter than her. She became self-righteous. “You’ll grow up too one day,” she’d say condescendingly.
When Malanie was late with her 5:00AM appointment with God, she was filled with shame. She felt God frowned on her. She felt bad about herself. She was an ungrateful, undisciplined, insect before God.
She is the modern-day Pharisee that needs to hear again Jesus’ words: What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are careful to tithe even the tiniest income from your herb gardens, but you ignore the more important aspects of the law—justice, mercy, and faith.
St. Paul has powerful words for the legalist and the scrupulous: So why do you keep on following the rules of the world, such as, “Don’t handle! Don’t taste! Don’t touch!”? Such rules are mere human teachings about things that deteriorate as we use them. These rules may seem wise because they require strong devotion, pious self-denial, and severe bodily discipline. But they provide no help in conquering a person’s evil desires.
I’ve found this to be true. I recall a Bishop who was known to be very strict on others, almost rigid in his exacting ways, was exposed to have a mistress on the side. It was unimaginable when the news broke out. How could that be?
The external rigidity was a subconscious projection. He was trying to control what he couldn’t control within.
When Jimmy Swaggart was exposing Jim Bakker’s and Marvin Gorman’s sexual sins on national TV, he was really subconsciously exposing his own sexual sins which he couldn’t accept. When Ted Haggard was condemning homosexuality in the political arena and on television, he was condemning the homosexuality he couldn’t face within himself.
Are You A Religious Addict?
Legalism can be an addiction.
Rigidity can be an addiction.
Religiosity can be an addiction.
You can be addicted to anything. As long as it can give you an escape from your inner pain. And religion is the easiest thing to be addicted to because it’s something acceptable and highly admired.
How do you know if you’re a religious addict? If instead of facing your past wounds or resolving personal issues head on, you ESCAPE from your inner pain by drowning yourself in religious activities—prayer, bible reading, doctrinal studies, ministry meetings—then most likely you’re a religious addict.
Let’s move to the third symptom of Toxic Faith.
You Have A Distorted Image of Self:
You Feel Condemned
A person with low self-worth will be damaged by Toxic Faith.
I have talked to many whose language expresses a very negative picture of themselves. They say something like this, “I’m bad. My body is bad. I’m ashamed of myself. God wants me to disregard my feelings (because it’s of the flesh) and give up my valid and legitimate needs (because that’s selfishness).”
Toxic Faith will never allow us to love ourselves. Instead, it will urge us to call ourselves a wretch and a worm—and urge us to treat ourselves that way.
Some people actually pray in this way: “Lord, I’m a worm, a despicable, ugly, sinful worm. I don’t deserve your love. I’m so repulsive in your sight. I’m a beast, a infestation, a virus, a wretch like no other…”
Don’t get me wrong. I love singing that classic song, Amazing Grace, which goes, Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me…
It’s a beautiful song, but someone with a distorted self-image will focus on the “wretch” part and will not look at the other beautiful parts of that song.
Same goes with the prayer after the Rosary, Hail Holy Queen. One part says, To thee do we cry, poor banished children of Eve; To thee do we send up our sighs, mourning, and weeping in this valley of tears…
Someone with low self-worth we latch onto those words like a leech and live on them for eternity. “I’m a banished child of Eve, sighing, mourning, and weeping…” But before we’re children of Eve, we’re children of God. How could we forget that?
Toxic Faith will distort how you look at yourself.
It will also distort the very beliefs you believe in…
You’ll Have A Distorted Faith:
You Practice Hyper-Faith
I’m a preacher that gives hope to people. It’s my mission.
Every Sunday, I preach to a people that are tired and burdened from the daily grind of life. In our dark world, we need hope badly.
So I tell people to dream big dreams and pray for them everyday. I tell people that they’re surrounded by God’s abundance—and at anytime, they can tap into that overflowing resource for all that they need.
But there’s a thin line that I dare not cross: The realm of Hyper Faith.
Hyper Faith is a common ingredient of Toxic Faith.
Hyper Faith preaches, “If you only have faith, all your problems will be solved. If you just believe and pray, God will fix everything magically.”
That’s not true. I tell people that while they’re breathing, problems are a part of life. They don’t disappear just because we’re close to God. But in every problem, God will accompany us.
Real Faith heals, but Toxic Faith kills.
How? Let me give you a few examples…
When You Don’t Get Healed,
Is There Something Wrong With You?
My friend “Ren” has cancer. For some time, she’s been praying for healing.
One day, she was prayed over by a Pastor of the Hyper-Faith variety. After praying over her, this Pastor declared to her with the authority of an Old Testament prophet, “The only reason why you’re still sick is because you lack faith.”
Ren was devastated. She felt guilty. Sad. Confused. And angry.
She felt guilty that she had little faith.
She was sad that she couldn’t make it grow after all these years.
She was confused because she didn’t know what to do.
And she was angry at God that He was giving her healing but placed it beyond the reach of her small faith.
But what was the truth? I knew Ren. My friend has great faith.
She trusted in God even in the midst of her sickness.
But Hyper-Faith will not allow that.
If You Want To Be Wealthy, Just Tithe?
This is their belief: If you’re close to God, you’ll be healthy and wealthy. You’ll never get sick and you should never be poor.
I don’t teach Hyper-Faith. Instead, I preach real hope.
I also preach the practical things that people need to do to reach their dreams. Some people call me a Prosperity Preacher. I’d rather that they call me a Practical Preacher. Because not everything happens just by praying. (People criticize me for that too. They say I’m too practical. Oh well, you can’t please everyone all the time.)
For example, some preachers say that tithing is the key to prosperity. I once read an entire book of financial prosperity, and for 11 chapters straight, the author just talked about giving and nothing else.
But here’s the big question: Why is it that there are people who tithe and remain poor? Lack of faith again?
Here’s why: Because tithing is only one of the keys to prosperity. There are other practical keys that one has to do to become prosperous. Like what? Like living simply; And saving regularly; And learning how to invest and knowing where to invest; etc… That’s the stuff that I love to teach people.
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That’s another distorted belief of Toxic Faith: Having true faith means not doing anything but waiting on God to do it for me.
Let me give you other distorted beliefs…
Other Distorted Beliefs Of Toxic Faith
Have you heard this before? “God will find me a perfect mate and give me signs that it’s him or her.”
No, He won’t. He’ll ask you to think and use your mind.
I met a woman who’s married to an incredibly irresponsible guy. He doesn’t have a job, lies to her constantly, and is addicted to gambling.
“We met in the prayer meeting,” she said, “and when he courted me, I prayed to God if he was the man for me. I knew he didn’t have a job when I met him, and couldn’t keep one for a few years. So I asked for sign from God. And He gave them to me. So I thought it would be a great marriage…”
So what if you met in a prayer meeting? That means only one thing—that he’s charismatic. But is he responsible? Is he honest? Is he faithful? Use your mind, sisters! Find out for yourself. Don’t depend on supernatural signs. Look for natural ones! The mere fact that he couldn’t hold a regular job for years was a natural sign to choose someone else!
Here are three other insane beliefs of Toxic Faith I have no time to explain:
· A strong faith will protect me from problems and pain.
· I should accept everything that happens to me as God’s will.
· If it’s not in the Bible, it not true or relevant.
There are others, but let me now go to the fifth symptom…
You’ll Have A Distorted Faith System:
You’re Spiritually Abused
Toxic Faith is usually supported by a Toxic Faith System.
Which is spiritually abusive.
I must confess that my community, Light of Jesus, had, at one time in our history, elements of this Toxic Faith System. Why? Because I was the leader of the group, and I had Toxic Faith. When the leader of a group has Toxic Faith, he creates a Toxic Faith System in his group. I think any religious group is open to such tendencies, and we need to be very careful. (I have asked for forgiveness for being spiritually abusive from my community many times.)
To find out if your group, family, community, ministry, organization, or church has a Toxic Faith System, look for these 7 Elements:
1. The Leader claims special access to God and maintains control and authoritarian rule
Only he or she (or they) can make decisions for the group and the individuals within the group. You can’t question this Leader or you’re seen as questioning God. You need to totally agree with the Leader or get out.
2. The Leader is punitive, judgmental, and castigating
There is a constant purging from the ranks. If you ask a question that is deemed questioning his authority, you’re labelled a rebel, someone with a critical spirit, and will be removed.
3. The Leader isn’t accountable to anyone
This is very dangerous. Even the Pope has a College of Cardinals and Bishops—and his teaching authority is linked to them.
4. No real Communication between Leaders and Members
Someone or some people—the Leader’s inner circle—shield the top Leader from what the members are actually saying or experiencing.
5. Members feel it’s their group “Against the World”
The members feel that their group is in the cutting edge of God’s work in this sinful world. That their group is the best. That their group is especially chosen by God as either the only way of Salvation, or at the very least, His hand-picked SWAT team against evil. Other groups simply cannot compare.
6. Members are suffering
But in reality, members are suffering. Emotionally, they’re burned out; Physically, their tired; Financially, they’re not growing (the organization may be getting richer, and the Leader is getting richer, but the members are not); and spiritually, they’re stagnant—because their highest loyalty is not to God anymore but to their Leader and the System.
7. The priorities taught to members are as follows:
· Submit to the Leader at all times.
· Don’t ask, don’t doubt, don’t think. (This is what submission means.)
· Never express feelings except positive ones.
· Don’t trust outsiders. (Just listen to our teachings.)
· Don’t do anything outside your role.
· You need to give money or else.
· Protect the image of the organization at all costs.
Jesus said, Beware of the false prophets, who come in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. False prophets don’t have to be cultic leaders or strange guys who call themselves Messiah. When any leader-a priest, a bishop, a pastor, a lay leader-robs people of their ability to think, controls them by his use of guilt and fear, manipulating them to strengthen his power or to enrich himself, he is a false prophet.
When a Leader creates his own exacting standards and tells people that unless they follow them, they’ll not enter the Kingdom of Heaven, he is shutting Heaven’s gates to them. About them, Jesus said, Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
God, a Woman, and a Tiger
Let me end this chapter with a beautiful story.
One day, a young woman went to the mountain Hermit seeking help.
“I need a potion for my husband’s depression,” she cried to him. “He came from war and doesn’t speak to me. He doesn’t listen to me. I try to caress him but he brushes me aside. I serve him food and he pushes it and angrily leaves the room. He then goes up a hill and just stares out to sea… Oh kindly sir, make me a potion so that I could give it to my husband and heal his depression!”
The Hermit closed his eyes and thought for a long while. After what seemed like a very long time, he then said to her, “I will make a special potion for your husband. But it needs a special ingredient. Get me a whisker of a live tiger.”
The woman was shocked. “Sir? I cannot get that…”
“But if you want your husband to get well, you will,” said the Hermit.
The woman ran home, prepared a bowl of food, and carried it deep in the forest—where a tiger lived inside a cave. She placed down the bowl of food at the opening of the tiger’s cave and called on the tiger. “Tiger, I brought food for you. Come and eat!”
But the tiger did not come out.
The next day, the woman came again with a bowl of food and called on the tiger to eat. But the tiger did not come out again.
She kept doing this everyday, and tiger was getting used to her voice.
After one month, the tiger would peek through the opening, but he still would not eat her bowl of food.
After two months, the tiger finally left the cave and felt secure looking at the strange woman giving him food.
After three months, the tiger would finally eat the food as the woman watched from the distance.
After four months, the woman could actually sit beside the tiger as he ate.
After five months, the woman could wrap her arms around the tiger as he ate. She was now a friend and he was totally at peace with her.
After six months, as the woman caressed the tiger and as the tiger playfully rested his head on her lap, she whispered to his ear, “I hope you won’t get angry, but I will get something from you—for my husband whom I love.” She then snipped one of his whiskers. The tiger did not even flinch.
After which, she ran to the Hermit and said, “I now have the whisker of a live tiger! Please make the potion for my depressed and angry husband…”
The Hermit took the whisker from her hand and threw it into the fire behind him.
“Nooooooo!” the woman screamed, “why did you do that?”
“You don’t need a potion,” the Hermit said, “because you are the potion to your husband.”
“I don’t understand,” the woman asked.
“What is more fierce? A tiger or a man? A tiger of course. But for six months you learned how to tame his anger. You were able to bring him out of his cave. With patience. With care. With love. Now I want you to use all that and bring your husband out of his cave and heal his depression.”
Do You Know The Difference Between
Toxic Faith And Real Faith?
I share you this story because I believe that God is like that woman.
We are that tiger. We are in darkness. We are in that cave. Like that woman, God comes to us with a lot of gentleness and a bowl of food. The food of His love. The food of His grace.
He will not force us to eat His food. He will not impose His power, His rule, His authority over us. Instead, He will wait, patiently and gently, for us to learn to trust Him. Day after day, week after week, month after month—year after year.
When we are ready, He will feed us.
When we are ready, He will wrap His arms around us.
That’s the difference between Toxic Faith and Real Faith.
Toxic Faith imagines God as a Judge that condemns and forces us to follow Him, using threats and intimidation. Toxic Faith requires that His followers do the same—impose, judge, label, pull rank, and intimidate.
Real Faith is very different. It imagines God as a woman patiently waiting for the tiger to leave his cave, so she could feed him and caress him. Real Faith requires that His followers do the same—love, forgive, share, care, bless, and serve.
I choose Real Faith.
Real Faith heals my addictions. Toxic Faith worsens them.
Choose Real Faith.
I remain your friend,
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Action Plan: Examine yourself and your religious group, blood family, or organization. See if there are elements of Toxic Faith in your own personal faith, and see if there are elements of a Toxic Faith System in your organization. Get rid of these elements!
 Matthew 23:23-24
 Colossians 2:20-23
 Matthew 23:13