Scripture abounds with crippling images of God as warrior, power-grabbing king, and patronizing parent who would not let anything bad happen to us. The God of Exodus 20.5 says, “I the Lord your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquities of the fathers upon the children, unto the third and fourth generations.” These images created by the authors of scripture, rob us of any personal authority we have as human beings and they have had such a hold on us, that we relinquish the freedom given to us by the real God who is beyond all images. No wonder Meister Eckhart pleads, “I pray God that he may quit me of god.”
Eric Fromm, the human potential psychologist, escaped the Holocaust and thereafter recognized the evils of manipulating God as a way to legitimate genocide. He chose atheism as his path. He has left us with a passionate analysis of the self-annihilation that results when we totally immerse ourselves in an image of God as a “magic helper.” Fromm reminds us t hat we lose ourselves in this image-making. Human beings “…project the best [they] have onto God, and thus impoverish themselves.” (Psychoanalysis and Religion pg. 49) Fromm’s atheism is different from Eckhart’s, which is a death to negative images, not to the God beyond the images; however, Fromm’s analysis wakes us up, and invites us to rid ourselves of debilitating images of God.
Fromm’s analysis and Eckhart’s plea came together for me as I watched a 60 Minutes presentation May 18, entitled, “Three Generations of Punishment.” It was about Shin Dong-Hyuk, who escaped from Camp 14 in North Korea, after 23 yrs. He was born in the prison. His parents were imprisoned because their parents had advocated against the government. The guards behave like gods; warlike and vengeful on one hand, and patronizing “magic helpers” on the other hand. Until he befriended a new prisoner, Shin dong-Hyuk had no knowledge of the outside world. He thought that the rules of the camp were right and he was happy to obey, to the point of turning in his parents for disobeying, and feeling no remorse at their execution. His experience was very much like the experiences of those suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. A survivor of the TWA Flight 847 terrorist hijacking said of her captors, “They weren’t bad people; they let me eat, they let me sleep, they gave me my life.”
I believe that many of us today suffer from a kind of spiritual Stockholm Syndrome, constructed with the false god-images we have made and worshipped. We stay safe within these images rather than accept the freedom and responsibility of living as fully human persons. I pray for myself and all of us each day, that we may have the courage to let God be God in and through us. I pray that we may rid ourselves of god.