Jun 22, 2022Liked by Steve Skojec

Everything about this article resonates so much of what I've been feeling and thinking for the past 4 years. My tiny brain can't wrap around the fact that we have someone who's supposed to be a loving father insist we suffer for him. Not only are we expected to suffer, we're expected to suffer with a smile on our face and gladness in our heart. I have MS and I can barely walk and my insurance won't cover the treatment I need to get to prevent it from getting worse. I've asked God to be healed or to provide some type of financial windfall to get the medication or to move to a more accessible home. I get nothing. When I tell people this, I get a multitude of stupid answers:

1. I have to make an effort before God can heal me and even then the healing I want is internal not external;

2. I keep trying to be in control. I have to let go and let God take the reigns;

(1 and 2 seem to be contradictory but potayto potatoe)

3. God will never let this suffering go to waste. The amount of grace that God gives is so much more than your suffering. (I can't buy a wheelchair with grace)

4. Be patient. God provides for all of your needs. (If all my needs were being provided for I wouldn't keep asking for the same things over and over again).

After a certain point you get tired of constantly being told "no" to everything you ask for yourself from someone who is so cold and silent. Ultimately, life is a losing battle.

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Jun 22, 2022Liked by Steve Skojec

Wow, another blockbuster! You're stretching and challenging me with well thought out and articulate essays like this

. Maybe because part of my family is Orthodox and I've always loved the Christian East I've had first hand experience of Christian faith unimpacted by Augustine and Anselm. Between the two of them their thinking and theologies have, in my very humble opinion, traumatized western Christians. How many Roman Catholics and Protestants have a Stockhom Syndrome "love" for God? How many live in agony believing that most of their family members and friends (and they themselves) will probably go to hell? How many view life as an obstacle course booby trapped with countless occasions of sin? This is good news?!

I have been led to believe that no one stands alone and no one is self sufficient. We need other people to survive, let alone remain sane. We need air to breath, food to nourish and water to drink. We also need God, who made us to share in His divinity and life. He IS beauty, goodness and love. In Christ God is even "now" drawing all, throughout all time and universes, to Himself. Only those who prefer something to joy will miss out.

Saints Isaac of Syria, Gregory of Nyssa, Macarius, Ambrose and Boniface have been very helpful to me

Thanks Steve for your honesty and willingness to share your struggles with faith. You have a strong intellect and raise excellent questions that are too often left to fester in people's minds..

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I agree that this attitude you detect in sections of Catholicism is evil and unhelpful. It amounts to "suck it up" and "it'll all turn out for the best", which is the uncompassionate view of Job's so-called friends; and I think stems from the undue influence of pagan philosophies (Aristotelian, Stoic) in the church. There's nothing of Christ's love in that sort of advice, and everything of worldly wisdom and vain philosophy.

However, I don't think this opposition to psychotherapy is entirely without merit.

I think what both these old-fashioned (pseudo-)Christian ethics and modern psychotherapeutic techniques miss is the very real influence of evil spirits in the realm of what we call "mental health", which is often out-and-out spiritual warfare. They both in effect cooperate with the evil spirit, either by gritting one's teeth and bearing its attacks, or by coming to some kind of manageable compromise with it.

Now I'm not saying that if one struggles with anxiety or depression that one has done something to deserve a demonic oppression, or that one is too weak-willed to fight off demonic oppression — these would in fact be unjust, demonic accusations themselves. Nor would I say that all forms of such ailment are reducible to demonic influence — rather it's the case that these evil spirits exploit the vulnerabilities and diseases which one already has, and works to make one feel "stuck" while feeding parasitically on one's despair, with the aim of turning the heart against God.

I'm not speaking theoretically here, but entirely from experience. I'm not a spiritualist. I'm naturally sceptical, and tend to seek what our age would call "rational" (i.e. material) explanations. But this is part of the problem in our society today, including the church... because we're so drowned in material causes and conditions (modern science), we tend to forget the very practical reality of the spiritual realm, by reducing it to allegories, myths, psychological narratives, symbolic representations, etc. But this too often isn't the case. I know it's a sticking point of our modern enlightened age to look back on ancient remedies (e.g. exorcism) as useless play-acting, if not harmful delusions; but in the case of mental health, I am personally convinced that we'd see a lot less mental disease in our society if exorcism WAS to be taken seriously. It's quite sad, honestly, just how much this facile scientistic bias has deprived us of so much help.

Try it for yourself. The next time you experience a rush of anxiety, sadness, self-loathing, confusion, regret, anger, bitterness, etc., etc., say "Spirit of [Depression, Bondage, Anger, Sadness, Self-Rejection...] I bind you, and I cast you out in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ." Use this or a similar formula. Keep it short. Repeat it a few, or several, times. Name the spirit (condition) you are struggling with. Do it frequently, especially whenever you feel harassed. See the results.

I wouldn't recommend this if it wasn't for my own experience. Like I said, I'm not a spiritualist. But there have been times when NOTHING except this kind of prayer would help me — no amount of "positive thinking", no amount of "being kind to myself", or of confessing sins or making prayers of petition — nothing except this kind of direct prayer of exorcism/deliverance. And often I'm talking direct, immediate, and palpable results, going from feeling totally crushed and bound down with sadness, confusion, and despair — such that I almost feel suffocated — to physically feeling a sensation of liberation and peace and self-control. It's not always that dramatic, but it is often enough to be quite undeniable.

I'm not saying this to be pious, or to imply that you're at fault in any way. I think God allows us to undergo these demonic persecutions for his own reasons. As well, I'm not saying that it's purely a matter of harmful spiritual influence. No, I think there's a great deal of natural, psychological pain at the bottom of it; but the evil spirits sit at the floodgates of our soul and prevent all the garbage from being washed out, effectively blocking up all our bad emotions and stifling the healing process. The healing process still has to take place of its own accord, but if the evil spirit is allowed to inhabit us unopposed — it's like having someone constantly ripping one's scabs off and reinfecting the wounds. Jesus has to come in and bind the enemy before the house can be cleared out, as He says.

With psychotherapy, I'm afraid too often it's just a matter of dialoguing with one's demons and trying to make some kind of bargain with them. And with Roman Catholic virtue ethics it often is, as you said, a masochistic exercise of seeing just how much torture one can withstand at their hands. But that's not how it is in the Gospel. There Jesus Christ casts out demons and sets people free.

I think this warfare aspect of the Gospel is often missed entirely these days, with so much rationalism in the church. The right-wing rationalists reduce it to lack of good old-fashioned ethics ("man up"), whereas the left-wing rationalists think it can be handled with our modern scientific apparatus. I'm sure both of these have their relative merits, but they both tend to miss a crucial spiritual reality that we all are confronted with in this world. Again, try it for yourself. Say this sort of prayer when you feel harassed interiorly. After so long trying to fight this battle with endless introspection and tireless personal striving, I'm astonished just how effective this prayer has been for me. It's like letting out all the bad air and being able to breathe freely again.

One last thing: demons you've struggled with for a long time tend to flatter you in some way: try to convince you that they're your friend or ally, that they've been helping you along the way, and that, ultimately, it's God who is your real enemy and oppressor (you learn the meaning of that song, "Hello darkness, my old friend" lol). They are exactly like an abusive bi-polar partner, in that they'll rapidly switch from praising you to demeaning you, puffing you up to pulling you down, comforting you to terrorising you. When you come up against this attitude, you just have to be very clear and direct, and tell them you want them out. Demand that they leave, unconditionally. It's bizarre, but at times I've experienced them almost kicking and screaming, pleading with me to keep them around, telling me how long we've been together, and trying to turn my anger away from them towards old grudges, etc. It's truly bizarre to see them going from terrorising me like they are all-powerful tyrants, to suddenly (as it were) begging on the floor for me to stop and let them stay around. I wouldn't believe any of this if I hadn't experienced it so viscerally. Try the prayer.

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I don't know Steve. (And that's not 'I don't know' as a way to say 'you're wrong', I just don't know what I think about this) Do you find that the conventional mental health attitudes (which I agree are often inimical to Christianity) are actually worth much themselves?

Like of course 'you are enough' would get laughed out of church. But 'you are enough' is an untrue and (worse) unhelpful statement in so many of life's most challenging situations. I had a moment last year where I was confronted with a guarded glimpse of a friends deep wounds, and I saw how much she was hurting, how unable she was to undo the damage of certain past parts of her life. And I saw that there was nothing at all I could do. She wouldn't, I think couldn't, open herself to me and if she had I couldn't have fixed her. It was so clear that nothing I could do would be enough that I think the words 'I'm not enough' may have actually run through my head in that moment. And those words were right. 'You are enough' just doesn't ring true in life's hardest moments, because life's hardest moments are precisely the moments of inescapable defeat where nothing you do could be enough. Maybe it gets laughed out of church for the wrong reasons, and maybe the church isn't any good itself, but I don't see that the secular culture of 'you are enough' has anything at all to say to, like, someone left behind by a suicide.

Incidentally, Steve, I think it's precisely the moments of my own greatest insufficiency to help, my most direct view of the shells of hurt that people throw up to protect themselves from more hurt, that persuade me that Heaven, if it exists, is indeed a desirable thing. So much of the detritus of our lives, it seems to me, is a product of the inability in so many times and so many places to truly meet another person without the mediating presence of all our accumulated hurt. Precious little of the unity we can have with another in this life is unencumbered. And so when I get to thinking about Heaven, and why on earth any form of infinity might actually be desirable for a finite being, I have to think that Heaven must be perfect communion. The ability at last to meet my friend without her wounds, and without mine, and to know her better than I ever can while sin and wounding abounds. (And I think there are soteriological implications of this view- how could one imagine a perfect communion from which any soul is really, forever, excluded? I can't.)

I don't know. That was a digression I guess. I appreciate your thoughts Steve

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I really suggest you look further into Orthodoxy. God bless you on your search Steve.

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I come for this the Episcopal/Anglican tradition, with my grandfather being the first native-born Chinese rector of St. Paul's Episcopal Church in Hong Kong, and my father being a preacher's kid who was a practicing psychiatrist. I also come from the perspective of "God is Love", by James Quinn, SJ, and from 1 John chapter 4.

And so if those attributes of Toxic Christianity are truly representative of Traditional Catholic Christianity, then to me, one of three things must be true. (1) These attributes are not a true representation of Traditional Catholicism; (2) Traditional Catholicism has gone badly astray; or (3) Traditional Catholicism is not the most authentic form of Christianity. It *certainly* is not consonant with 1 John 4:16-19:

"And so we know and rely on the love God has for us. God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love."

There are many strains of Christianity out there; and certainly what you have described is not at all recognizable as Christianity in my tradition --- if it were, I would be objecting to it outright.


As I mentioned, my father was a preacher's kid and a practicing psychiatrist. One of his favorite metaphors that he would use in his practice was of what might be the issue when someone is having a bumpy ride. Potential causes could be problems with the road, the car, the driver, and the map, or some combination of these four.

The road represents environmental conditions; if you are Ukraine and there are artillery shells falling around you, this is going to have an impact on your mental health. And if you are able to move from that environment, that might be one of the best things you can do, or someone can do for you.

The car represents biological dysfunctions. If the car's transition is all out of whack, or the timing is off leading to premature ignition of the air/fuel mixture, you're going to have a rough ride. And that's not a problem that can be fixed by superior driving skills; you have to go to a mechanic. And in the psychiatric context, this is when prescribing certain types of drugs would be appropriate. (And since my father had a Ph.D. is psychopharmacology, in addition to being a medical doctor, he had quite a lot of expertise in this area.)

But not all problems can be treated by drugs. And this is where problems with the driver --- the decisions that a person might make --- and the map: what is the meaning of life, and issues that are the unique province of religion come into play. You can be a superb driver, but if your map is wrong, you might be driving to the wrong place. And you might have an excellent map, but if you're lousy driver, well, that's not going to work out all that well, either.

So in this model, people who only have one tool in their toolkit, may assume that any problem is a nail, and religion is the only valid tool, and they will start hammering away on the person. And that's not going to lead to a good outcome. Similarly, if you only have drugs or talk therapy in your toolkit, that's not going to solve problems that might be truly religious or spiritual at their root.

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Jun 22, 2022·edited Jun 22, 2022

Also Steve, I think you may be unfairly representing one of your references. That site chastitysf is run by Dr Raymond Lloyd Richmond, who is a traditional Catholic and relies on sources like Aquinas and St Teresa, but is also a modern psychotherapist who makes use of theorists like Freud and Lacan. That mission statement of his that you took a screenshot of is not representative of the broad spectrum of his work. He's actually very good, and I think in particular you'll find his book "Healing" and his booklet "Anger & Forgiveness" very helpful. He also has guided meditation / therapeutic audio recordings you can easily find that are very good. Check out Dr Raymond Lloyd Richmond's books on Amazon, and you'll see just by the titles that he's no fool or bigot, not at all a mere caricature of a stubborn "mad trad". I highly recommend his work.

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I have an interest in this topic given that I am Catholic and work in mental healthcare. I think you bring up some important theological issues regarding God's love, but I think you have legitimate concerns regarding reconciling God's love with divine punishment. I also agree that certain presentations of Christianity (or any religion) can do serious damage. That said, I do not think that is inherent to the religion.

The main reason that I wanted to comment though is that I think it isn't accurate to pit modern mental healthcare up against traditional Christianity. It is true, that in some traditionalist circles there is skepticism towards all things modern, including psychology and psychiatry. But there is a certain skepticism to almost everything novel or "accepted" by society in those groups. They do not accurately apply Catholic principals to the question at hand.

Psychology and Psychiatry have a checkered history of their own. They in some ways have earned a healthy skepticism from outsiders. For those with a traditional view of the world, this problem is made worse by some of the hot-button issues of today and how many psychologists/psychiatrists have taken a liberal view on these. So the skepticism on the part of trads makes some sense.

To say it makes sense however does not mean it is justified by anything present in Catholicism. I do not think it is fair to say that Catholic principles are at all antithetical to the principles of modern psychiatry or psychology. People like Dilsaver say big words like "Thomistic perspective" and "psychomoral anthropology" but these are really vacuous terms used to make a point, not arguments that Catholic Tradition is actually opposed to the means of modern mental healthcare.

Lastly, I would not argue that the Church is there to fix people's mental health. If the Church's claims are correct, the role of the Church is to get to heaven. Natural means can help us get there. The Church provides supernatural means and the natural means are provided by other sources, at times, this may be mental healthcare. Even if you disagree and say that the Church is a fraud, it is not accurate to claim that the Church and modern psychiatry are both offering alternative remedies to the same problems, working from different starting points

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Ease up Steve. Priests/Deacons Lay leaders in Novus Ordo parishes refer Catholics to counseling all the time. Half of our choir is in therapy or a 12 step program. 🤓

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I have experienced the same. Books like this have helped me keep my Faith and not lay the blame with Catholicism, but with its Pharisee sub-culture counterfeits: The Awakened Heart https://a.co/d/2uRpHXx

You are right about the toxic culture of traditionalist Catholic sub cultures and I have experienced this firsthand. And there is nothing worse than a traditionalist Catholic subculture inhabited by and ruled over by a bunch of know-it-all, neurotic, pansy-ass PhD theologians and philosophers. It’s truly disgusting and worthy of Jesus’s condemnation of the Pharisees’ spiritual treachery, hypocrisy, power lust, and hatred of neighbor and God. But when you conflate this with actual Catholicism and the teachings and practices of the actual Church, you cross a line into rejection of Christ and His actual Church. If you actually ever had or still have Faith, you should know better than to lay the blame for this malice and abuse and insanity you have experienced at the feet of the actual Mystical Body of Christ, instead of its caricatures and counterfeits in “Catholic” sub cultures. There’s not a long distance between this and the malicious hatred of Christ and the Church of people like Mark Shea and the “where peter is” crowd.

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After reading this piece, I'm bewildered.

It's written brilliantly -- as is usual for you. But what angst caused you to leave the Catholic Church? I really don't get it -- even after reading your article.

And where do you go from here?

It reminds me of the Gospel verse: " To whom else shall we go ?" There is a radical "existentialism" baked into the whole Revelation: We suffer, because God, in Christ His Son, suffers .

Now, I don't mean to say that it is wrong to seek medical or psychological help. But remember that Our Lord cured the woman who "had suffered much at the hands of doctors".

I will continue to pray for you and your family.

Bob Miller

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Another great post, keep them coming, it’s helping me see some flaws in my own understanding of the faith, but I still feel strongly that what your described is a caricature, although one that even many saints have subscribed to. I recently failed completely at an important public speaking event, I prepared well, but it happened, I failed, it’s a small thing, but I did look at in light of faith, maybe it was a good opportunity to grow in humility, another example is a “thorn in my side”, I’ve chosen to see it as something that keeps me grounded, because what’s the alternative? Suffering comes for everyone, I do think that’s what is meant by the Church constantly saying, Christ is present in your suffering, but I can see how easily this is abused to simply keep people down

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"I’ve become increasingly convinced that contemporary ideas about mental health — even things as seemingly innocuous as positivity culture — are very often antithetical to Christian beliefs."

I've discovered the 180º opposite. I recommend the work of https://jpiihealingcenter.org

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