Does religious repression help?
Freedom is a very strong value for most people, but freedom can be misleading in many ways. You may appear to be free on the outside, especially if you “come and go” as you please, but if you are repressed by any type of controlling organization, no matter how well-meaning, you may be living in a virtual prison with invisible bars.
Although this article is written for anyone experiencing religious repression, it is not intended to point fingers or judge spiritual beliefs. Rather, the intention is to identify the serious repercussions of repression, while also enlightening a path to freedom. The first step is recognizing the dynamics of organizational repression and how it seamlessly operates through a system of disempowerment.
Repercussions of Repression
No doubt, many religious organizations use various forms of repression in order to control church members so that they obey the religious doctrine, but the irony is that repression does not stop people from indulging in “sinful behavior” and, in fact, it often results in the exact opposite. Statistics and direct experience clearly demonstrate that the more rules and consequences society has, the more “illicit behavior” develops. Although this applies to any religion where repression is pervasive, and we are not just talking about any one religion, the statistics found in Utah, USA exemplifies the cost of religious repression.
Although Utah is one of the most beautiful places on Earth, it is actually most known for its predominant religious culture. On the surface, there is a strong emphasis on family values, morals, and ethics – most people are kind and appear relatively happy, but if you look at statistics, you quickly discover that appearances are drastically deceiving, and, in fact, countless “white picket fences” cloak dysfunctional dynamics that top the national average.
Even though over 60% of Utah’s residents are Latter-Day Saints (members of the Mormon Church) and Mormonism forbids the use of drugs, including alcohol, tobacco, coffee, and even tea, Utah has one of the highest rates of prescription drug addiction in the USA, as well as related deaths caused by opiate overdose.
The church also strongly emphasizes family values, and yet Utah’s domestic violence homicide rate is 13 percent higher than the rest of the nation with domestic violence homicides accounting for 47 percent of all homicides in Utah in 2015. Utah’s child abuse statistics are also among the highest in the country, and, in fact, statistics show that more children are sexually abused in Utah than any other US state.
Taking all this into consideration, it is not surprising that a study by Mental Health America ranked Utah the most depressed state, which explains why Utah has the highest rate of anti-depressant drug use in the USA. Sadly, a devastating symptom of Utah’s excessively high prevalence of depression is the tripling of its youth suicide rate since just 2007. And, if all that is still not enough, with similarly high statistics on rape and sexual assault, Google search trends have ranked Utah the #1 porn capital of America, which is quite astounding when you consider that the Mormon religion condemns any sexual conduct outside marital relations, including pornography and even masturbation.
Although there may be ways to rationalize these statistics, they inevitably point to a serious issue that demonstrates the repercussions of repression. Many other studies conclude that the fall-out of repression commonly results in some form of escape that inevitably leads to an underworld of shame and secrecy, involving drugs, sex or other addictions, and often manifests as anxiety disorders, depression, and suicide.
As we explore the dynamics of religious repression, please remember that we are not singling out any one religion — we are talking about any religion that promotes judgment, obedience and therefore, disempowerment.
Watch out the video on recovering from religious repression and the journey to freedom
Why Repression Backfires
Repression virtually always operates through a system of fear that relies on self-judgment to drive self-regulation; this means that church members are taught to judge themselves according to religious doctrine, and consequently, their fear of disobedience is intended to prevent “ungodly behavior.”
However, this ultimately backfires because it is human nature to be attracted to those forbidden behaviors, and, therefore, those behaviors become compelling. As a result, one of two things occurs:
1) We suppress our desires, but suppression often results in psychological disorders such as anxiety and depression.
2) We act on our desires in secrecy, but the shame and secrecy of indulging in a forbidden behavior can create an addiction to the behavior or cause other types of dysfunctions.
When it comes to repression, every road leads to, and from, disempowerment — and when people feel powerless, their behaviors become dysfunctional.
The Purpose of Repression
Many religions began with pure intentions but whenever there is a hierarchy of power and the potential for monetary gain, the religion inevitably becomes a business and its church may even become a corporation. Although local church leaders may have high spiritual ethics, they don’t always realize that they work for a business and that many of the church’s rules and bylaws are intended to perpetuate profits. Just as retail stores need buyers, all religions need believers — followers — and this means that it is necessary to foster a parish that blindly follows the faith and doesn’t raise questions that could threaten the (financial) integrity of the organization — and therefore, repression is a necessary component to its survival.
Most local church leaders are completely unaware of the consequences that inevitably spring forth from religious repression, and because they have no idea that repression leads to the behaviors it is meant to inhibit, they unknowingly perpetuate the very “sins” they condemn.
When religious rules undermine the values they are meant to preserve, those rules are self-sabotaging and obsolete.
The Formula for Repression
The dynamics of repression are meant to be invisible from within the organization, but when you observe from outside, the formula for repression is easy to identify.
Step 1: Powerlessness
When a church is built on the premise that people are spiritually powerless without the religion, and must depend on the religion’s leaders, and/or following religious doctrine in order to have a relationship with God, it sets the stage for repression.
If you were born into a religion or any structured organization, you probably had no awareness of transferring your power to this entity, simply because you modeled your parents and other abiding members, and more than likely, you had no idea that you even had any power to give in the first place.
Nonetheless, any time we believe something has more power than us, power over us or the power to provide something we think we need, we instinctively relinquish power – inadvertently giving our intrinsic power to that external source. Once we give it away, organizations can use it to control us any way they desire, and in most cases, that powerlessness makes us blind to the very dynamic that causes it.
However, an external entity can never repress or imprison you unless you give it your power, and, in fact, it has no power over you without using your power against you.