I’m a good person, pretty much down to the bone.
The religious indoctrination of conservative Christianity had me convinced for a large chunk of my life that I was a terrible person filled with darkness and dark desires, and that only the blood of Jesus could hold me back from depravity and hedonism.
A life of sin was portrayed as tempting for short term satisfaction, but eventually it would leave the sinner sad and despairing and worn out. Based on some current and historical examples I can think of, I’m not sure that’s true even if someone lived a life of actual hedonism and depravity – but the conservative Christianity I grew up with had a hilariously hyperbolic view of hedonism and depravity. Basically, anything that wasn’t explicitly focused around Church and Biblical Theology and Christian Culture and Patriarchy was depravity and hedonism.
Taken to its logical extreme, it becomes the teachings of asceticism and Gnosticism. Just about anything that involves pleasure is bad because the body aka “the flesh” is bad. (Unless, of course, you can dress pleasure up as a spiritual experience, then it’s a-okay.) This Gnostic attitude is exemplified with what the Apostle Paul wrote: ‘who will free me from this body of death?’
My first solid idea that I was not, in fact, a body stuffed full of dark sinful desires jostling to get out, occurred when I was introduced to the concept of Calvinism and predestination. For those unfamiliar, John Calvin (cancerous pustule on humanity’s anus) believed that there were some souls that were the Elect, and some that were Vessels of Wrath. It was determined before humans were created which would be good people that would go to Heaven and which would be bad people that would spend eternity in Hell.
There are verses in the Bible that can be used to support a theory of predestination. So when I, still a conservative Christian at the time, still a believer that the Bible was God’s Word, found out about the theology of predestination, I was rocked to my core. What if I wasn’t one of the Elect? What if I was one of the Vessels of Wrath?
I asked myself what I would do if I knew for sure that I was a Vessel of Wrath? Would I immediately go out and start living a life of hedonistic depravity since that was my apparent role in life? The answer to that… was no. I truly had no interest in hedonistic depravity. Besides which, I had people in my life that I cared about. I didn’t want to live like a selfish ass, doing whatever I wanted no matter who it hurt in the process.
So, my answer was that even if I was a Vessel of Wrath, intended for Hell, I’d continue living life with moderation and kindness.
I didn’t change when I stopped believing in Hell, or when I stopped believing in a literal, inerrant Bible, or when I stopped believing in the existence of the God I was raised with, or when I set aside Christianity and decided I did not care to pursue the question of whether or not there was any spiritual existence or spiritual truth to be found somewhere out there.
I’m not a narcissist. I’m not a bully. I’m not violent. I don’t want to live my life focused around consumption. I don’t want to hurt people, I don’t want to push them around and I don’t want to take their stuff. Most of the time I don’t even feel a desire to be unkind to people I dislike, I just want to avoid them.
It was trying to live life according to patriarchal conservative Christian values, living life riddled with guilt, living life trying to unmake who I was so that I could become pure and acceptable to them and to their God – that’s what left me sad and despairing and worn out.
(Addendum: it should be noted that while I don’t usually feel a desire to be unkind, there are exceptions – if you’re a conservative Christian and you behave like an asshole and stick your judgmental, hypocritical worldview in my face I’ll enthusiastically tell you which orifice of yours that worldview belongs in.)
(Addendum the second: if someone wanted to try and be clever and suggest that my innate goodness means I must be one of the Elect, let me assure you I couldn’t possibly be: I’m bisexual, I voted for Hilary Clinton, and I think healthcare and education are human rights.)