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I don't know who it was who first said this to me, or where it originated, but I once heard: "if horses had gods they would look like horses." The book of Genesis, in describing human creation, says that humans were made in the image of God. However, as a psychotherapist, I have come to the conclusion that the reverse is more often the case; rather than God making man into his own image, man have often made God into his own image. Nowhere is this more clearly seen than in the labeling of God as male since most religions are patriarchal in origin, structure and hierarchy. I can’t help thinking that there is more than a little testosterone in most deities. Furthermore, if someone is a kind, tolerant, warm, liberal-minded individual, the God he or she worships is a kind, tolerant, warm, liberal-minded God, reflecting his/her own personality and values. On the other hand, if someone is strict, rigid, ruled-laden and intolerant, his/her image of God reflects that mindset too.
In recent years, we have seen an increase in radical Islamic terrorism. Clearly, these extremists do not reflect the beliefs and aspirations of the majority of the Muslim community. However, what they do show us is that religion is not always a benign influence. One does not have to look too far in the history of Europe to realize that this is not unique to Islam. In medieval times, where for centuries Catholicism held sway, divergence from the church-dictated moral norms or doctrinal orthodoxy was often punished by imprisonment, torture and even death. Such examples abound throughout human history. Religious tolerance is a relatively new creation and the road towards multiculturalism and freedom to practice the religion of your choice (or none) has not always been an easy one. One has to question the origin of the harsh dictates or behaviors of some religious communities; were they something inspired by the deity or was the deity called upon to rubberstamp the actions of its devotees?
Many people find religious faith a source of comfort and consolation, providing structure and celebration of their spiritual journey and part-and-parcel of the religious experience is belonging to a specific faith community. There is something very fundamental about being human that seeks community membership. Religious communities are normally the vehicle for their spiritual message. Like most things in human experience, communities of faith can be both a blessing and a curse. The needs that they meet can have very real psychological benefits for the individual; a sense of belonging, pastoral care, opportunities for service and the communal celebration of life events are among its blessings. However, the sense of tribalism that can set in can manifest itself in less than healthy ways; self-righteousness and “holier-than-thou” attitudes, intolerance of difference, judgmental attitudes and punitive behaviors designed to control adherents and enforce conformity. Any community, even those that start with good intentions, can become toxic.
Even if the above examples are extremes, we all know people who feel alienated, shamed, rejected and spurned by their religious communities today. In fact, some religious communities use alienation or shunning as a form of punishing their adherents who do not conform. Many people who are divorced, have had sex outside of marriage, had abortions or whose sexuality or gender identity are not the norm may be subject to these or other modes of punishment. Furthermore, it doesn't even have to be for moral reasons, some are ostracized from their communities simply because of their doctrinal differences with, or criticisms of, the party line. Such individuals often are faced with the choice of sublimating themselves to achieve conformity within the community or choose to depart from it under the threat of excommunication and possible eternal damnation. Either way, the ostracized can experience symptoms of depression, guilt and shame, low self-esteem or even self-loathing, stress and anxiety in addition to alienation from their once-cherished community.
Soul Source is a therapy group for individuals who feel damaged by religious or spiritual abuse.
We are here to help. We do not seek to attack any religion nor do we seek to impose a new set of dogmas upon the participants, we only seek to be a refuge and a place of healing for those who are suffering.
The aims of our group are simple:
Whatever religious background you come from, whatever reason you feel alienated or rejected by your community and whether you remain or have left that community you will be welcome here.
The group is co-facilitated by two experienced and caring mental health professionals, Psychologist, Dr. John Warrington and Marriage and Family Therapist, Sherry Villanueva.
A therapy fee applies. There will be two (2) partial scholarships available to qualifying individuals experiencing financial hardship.