Religion and Spirituality

Trusting The Heart

Image is of a red heart-shaped padlock hanging from a rope. Stock photo from Pexels.

When I was a young child, the most important aspect of my education was memorizing selections from the Christian bible. I was in a program called AWANA, an acronym based on the bible verse 2 Timothy 2:15 – “Approved Workmen Are Not Ashamed.” The idea is that you can’t be ashamed of Jesus, or else you won’t gain his approval.

In retrospect I recognize that this organization, which has helped indoctrinate millions of children for almost 75 years, was designed to preempt whatever challenges might come up against Christian children. If anyone told us that it was ridiculous to believe that the myth of Jesus is true, there was a built-in safeguard against being convinced. We were taught to fear falling out of favor with god. We also believed it was part of being a good Christian to meet ridicule for our beliefs.

One major teaching that reinforces this concoction of lies to deeply involve children in Christianity from a young age is the emphasis on a recurring theme in the bible: that you can’t trust yourself, especially your heart.

Jeremiah 17:9 was one I remember so well from memorizing it early on that I still remember it off the top of my head:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. Who can know it?”

Jesus agrees with this Old Testament notion, expanding on it and reinforcing it. In Mark 7:20-23, the following teaching is attributed to Jesus:

And He said, “What comes out of a man, that defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, proceed evil thoughts, adulteries, fornications, murders, thefts, covetousness, wickedness, deceit, lewdness, an evil eye, blasphemy, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within and defile a man.”

AWANA emphasized these verses and had a solution: bible memorization. Psalm 119 is often cited to bolster this concept, because it says that the “word of god” is worth “hiding in your heart” so that you don’t sin.

I refer to bible passages carefully these days. I refer to the things Jesus apparently said as what is attributed to him because much later in my life, I would learn that none of the “gospels” – that is, the first four books of the New Testament, or Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John – were firsthand accounts written by Jesus’ followers. The man himself didn’t write anything, and neither did anyone who knew him personally. As a result, any of his so-called teachings are mythological in nature.

Image is of a stack of open books. Royalty-free photo accessed through Pexels.

Another thing I was always taught was that whenever the bible used the terms “word of god,” or “scripture,” it was referring to the bible itself. I was a young adult before I realized this didn’t add up. If the Old Testament was written hundreds of years prior to the New Testament, how could a line from the book of Psalms possibly be referring to a letter from Paul? Growing up, the answer was simple: because the bible was inspired by god, and god made it cohesive across the centuries. The reason I even questioned this in the first place was that I learned about the biblical canon. The Catholic bible, for instance, is similar to the Christian bible, but they have additional books in the canon.

Who made the decision to remove these books from the Protestant bible? A group of men who believed expressly that god no longer inspired anyone to change “scripture.” I wondered, how could they simultaneously claim that they were not hearing from god, yet decide to alter what they called the “word of god”?

By targeting young children (starting as young as 2), AWANA was able to avoid the kinds of questions adult converts to Christianity might ask. The phrase “word of god” and the word “scripture” were both simply treated as synonymous with “the bible.”

This is, in fact, the shaky foundation upon which the entire validity is based. Ask a Christian theologian how they know the bible is the “word of god,” and they’ll cite 2 Timothy 3:16:

All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness.

If you ask how the term “scripture” can refer to the 66-book Protestant canon if it wasn’t formed until centuries after the writing of this Pauline letter, the answer is the same as before: because it’s the word of god, and the hand of god was in the formation of the bible.

Basically, it would be circular reasoning if people who claim to follow the bible believe it’s true because it says it is, but this statement isn’t in the bible at all. The above verse is as close as it gets to referring to itself. The entire bible stands on a wobbly foundation at best.

Image: a brown rope forms the shape of a heart with a loose pretzel knot. Stock photo from Pexels.

Ultimately, it takes a lot of untangling and careful reflection to find a way out of this indoctrination. The vast majority of people who were indoctrinated into Christianity as children never find their way out. This is partly due to the familial/cultural factor – most people follow in their parents’ religions, with some deviation in recent decades.

It would take a long time to look back and realize that Christian indoctrination relies more heavily on getting people to distrust themselves than it does on logic. If people think their own hearts, their own desires, and their own instincts are evil – as these oft-cited selections clearly state – they cannot even form the questions that reveal Christianity’s faulty system.

I’ve been pondering these things for the past couple of weeks because on April 5th, a new video from a favorite musical artist was released on YouTube. It’s called “Hertan,” a proto-Scandinavian word that translates to “Heart” in English. I love Wardruna because their music contains mysterious pagan chanting in Old Norse or Norwegian. They sing in haunting tones to instruments that have been used in Scandinavia since ancient times. Their music videos use symbolism from nature, with a focus on sacred rituals. Each video is masterfully produced with a chorus of passionate singers and musicians.

This video is no exception, and it begins with a rhythm imitating a heartbeat, with solemn faces shown in icy tones amongst winter scenery. The words are translated in the closed captions, appealing to multiple allegories:

“The heart counsels the rider of decisions…like a seed I find strength, in the mould and the murk. That which costs you deeply rewards you deeply (my shell is shed). I wheel with the sun and dance with the moon. Like a tree, I shed leaves. Like a fish returning home (I melt with the ice), I swim upstream. From light to womb (swim upstream with the fish), I hibernate with bears!”

The contrast between what I was taught to value as a child, and what I appreciate now in this music, is stark. I find the music and artistry moving, but not in a way that insists I distrust myself. Rather, it inspires me to look within, appreciating my heart and instincts as a part of nature. My nature is sacred and ancient, the culmination of billions of years of evolution.

This matters a great deal because I can appreciate the spiritual and mysterious aspects of what it is like to be human. My love matters. Art and music and all the things that make life beautiful matter. Patience with the seasons matters, as does patience with sitting in meditation and listening to my deepest awareness.

Embracing my queer identity required learning the basic truth that who I love matters, and being myself matters. As I learn to care for myself and practice compassionate mindfulness, I am learning what it means to be patient like a seed underground, with the might of a bear hibernating.

Christianity is opposed to identity and self-trust, at its core. That is why Christians teach young children and converts of all ages that they cannot trust themselves. It makes it easier to flood them with a host of other falsehoods.

Image: a person making a heart shape with their hands around a setting sun. Stock photo from Pexels.

“But if people are taught to trust themselves, where do ethics come in?” The Christians sputter, desperate to maintain control. If you need to distrust yourself in order to be a good person, then you are not a good person at all. If you need to tell young children that they are evil so they listen to you, then you are doing great harm. If these are the foundation of your ethical system, it deserves to collapse.

Those who insisted for so long that my heart is evil just wanted to control me.

I am so grateful to be more connected than ever before spiritually, emotionally, physically, and mentally. I am a human, and that makes a tiny drop in the mighty ocean of history on this planet. I am along for the ride of life. God is not real, and I am so grateful for that. I can appreciate the life and love that is in my heart, and it is good.