In my private practice, I see many people who are struggling with their faith. Many times the struggle is really an obsession over doing things right, perfectly or out of a profound sense of shame. Many of them believe that even after confession they are not really forgiven because they are so bad. They do not believe that they should love others as they love themselves. What they really believe is that they should hate themselves. This is based upon what we call shame-based religion. Shame is the profound belief that there is something profoundly wrong with us at our core, and that we are no good and undeserving of any good thing. This is in contradiction to healthy faith, which is based on the belief that we are made in the image and likeness of God, and that God’s love for us is not dependent upon “right” behavior.There are many differences between a healthy and a shame-based faith. The biggest difference lies in that in healthy faith, ambiguity, paradox and limits of knowledge are accepted. Faith is a matter of trust in God, not just belief in His existence. We can see this in God’s answer to Job. In a shame-based faith, the existence of ambiguity, paradox and limits create a profound fear. The shame-based person is so uncertain about his/her ability to be saved that rigid criteria are set up to ensure salvation. These rules and beliefs tend to be black and white, and unforgiving. A dynamic is set up where salvation is based on being part of an “inside group”. But to be sure you are and remain part of this “inside group”, there is constant attentiveness to “doing it right” and avoiding the “outside group”. Your status as part of the elite is dependent upon not being part of the “outside group” or even to be perceived as being open to people of the “outside group”.It is the important to realize that shame is driven by an underlying sense of fear. Although people in a shame-based faith talk about faith in God, in actuality they are practicing magic. Magic is spiritual technology designed to manipulate spiritual forces. In Christianity we do this by believing if we do the right thing, automatically God will support us and be on our side. When things don’t go our way the tendency is to blame ourselves. We forget that Job suffered, but was not guilty of any sin. This approach denies the belief that God has His own ways, that are not dependent upon our behavior. The shame of self- blame becomes a force in and of itself. Shame-based people will often seek out situations and people that will confirm their sense of unworthiness. Shame becomes a mood altering event that people become attached to. This shame becomes a passion in its own right, and often drives behaviors that are traditionally considered sinful.In a shame-based faith, religious rituals and practices are done out of fear of God’s punishment. These practices tend to be closed, legalistic, rigid and compulsive. This creates a need to do everything perfectly, and a profound fear of failure, or sin. In a healthy faith, religious practices are done out of a desire to get closer to God and commitment. Expectations can be flexible. We engage in these practices because we want to, not out of the fear that we have to in order to avoid God’s wrath, rejection or punishment.If you are struggling with any of these things, or have any further questions, please feel free to contact us through the St. Ephraim’s website.