"Toxic faith is a destructive and dangerous involvement in a religion that allows the religion, not a relationship with God, to control a person's life." Stephen Arberburn and Jack Felton
Today, we will take an indepth look at toxic faith and who is prone to become involved in this false religion. According to the book Toxic Faith, "people broken by various experiences, people from dysfunctional families, people with unrealistic expectations, and people out for their own gain or comfort seem especially prone to it. It is abusive and manipulative and can become addictive." (p. 19)
Arterburn and Felton explain that many people are susceptible to religious addiction; however, they explain that they have uncovered factors that characterize religious addicts:
Common Characteristics of Religious Addicts (p. 20)
– Rigid parents
– Experience of disappointment
– Low self-worth
– Victims of abuse
Let's see how each of these characteristics can lead to religious addiction.
As everyone knows, human beings are creatures of habit. We are usually drawn to that which is familiar to us. It should come as no surprise that a child who is reared by rigid parents is drawn to rigidity when (s)he reaches adulthood.
Experience of Disappointment
Arterburn an Felton discovered those most religious addicts have experienced a "deep wound from a major disappointment". (p. 21) It could be the death of a parent or parental divorce during one's childhood. According to the authors, "The loss and disappointment cause a tremendous fear of yet another abandonment. Addicts become attracted to and attached to any group that promises acceptance without risk." (p. 21)
Peer pressure can be devastating to the lives of young people. Why would anyone think that just because one "matures" peer pressure disappears? Sadly, if people do not believe they are valuable and do not have their own beliefs, they may fall prey to the pressure to conform. According to Arterburn and Felton, "They cross over a line from rational to irrational belief. Distrusting their ability to discern truth from manipulation, they go along with the group consensus, even if it invalidates everything they have been taught." (p. 22)
Individuals with poor self-esteem feel alienated and isolated, yet they yearn to to 'belong' and 'be accepted'. All of us know this to be true. Sadly, toxic-faith leaders know this as well. "Under the guise of ministry they cater to people's weaknesses until those people believe they are receiving genuine caring." (p. 22)
Victims of Abuse
According to Arterburn and Felton, "Childhood abuse, whether sexual, physical, or emotional, often leads to further victimization in adulthood. The abused feel detached and unloved." (p. 23) Unfortunately, these emotions can lead to further victimization by a toxic leader who again caters to the weaknesses of his followers.
Once the great deception has occurred, the victims of toxic faith are highly resistant to changing their beliefs. Because of their self-obsession, they want to believe they are absolutely right! The longer they spend in a toxic faith system, the more time, money, and energy they invest in toxic beliefs, which they often hold more sacred that God. Unfortunately, toxic beliefs take root and ruin the relationship with God. "These beliefs must be countered and replaced with truth," (p. 33)
Perhaps the best way to wrap up today's post is to leave you with the "toxic beliefs of a toxic faith". Stephen Arterburn and Jack Felton have identified twenty-one of them.
Twenty-One Toxic Beliefs of a Toxic Faith (p. 78)
1. God's love and favor depend on my behavior.
2. When tragedy strikes, true believers should have a real peace about it.
3. If I have real faith, God will heal me or someone I am praying for.
4. All ministers are men and women of God who can be trusted.
5. Material blessings are a sign of spiritual strength.
6. The more money I give to God, the more money he will give to me.
7. I can work my way to heaven.
8. Problems in my life result from some particular sin.
9. I must not stop meeting others' needs.
10. I must always submit to authority.
11. God uses only spiritual giants.
12. Having true faith means waiting for God to help me and doing nothing until he does.
13. If it's not in the Bible, it isn't relevant.
14. God will find me a perfect mate.
15. Everything that happens to me is good.
16. A strong faith will protect me from problems and pain.
17. God hates sinners, is angry with me, and wants to punish me.
18. Christ was merely a great teacher.
19. God is too big to care about me.
20. More than anything else, God wants me to be happy.
21. I can become God.
In tomorrow's post, we will examine the foundations of religious addiction, along with its dangerous progression.
Please know that I'm praying for those of you reading here who may be ensnared in a toxic faith system. Jesus came to set the captives free, and it is only through Him that you will escape spiritual abuse.