Where do self-worth and self-esteem come from? By definition, they have to come from inside yourself. Knowing that you are loved by others is important, but it’s not enough. Especially if you are told that you are loved unconditionally — loved despite your flaws — loved anyway, then this love is no help to your self-worth. In fact, this kind of declaration of love asks us to debase ourselves, to admit and agree that we are not worthy. The tricky part is that it upholds the idea of your worth in the eyes of someone else but asks you to reject your self-worth at the same time. It says ‘I love you, but not because you deserve love.’
A quick Google search for the “Christian view of self worth” lead me to “What does the Bible say about self-worth?” which basically makes my point for me.
But notice the wording in each of the above phrases: “are made,” “are fearfully and wonderfully made,” “were written,” “God chose His children,” “we are God’s own possession,” and “we have an inheritance.” These phrases all have one thing in common: they are things done to us or for us by God. These are not things we have done for ourselves, nor have we earned or deserved them. We are, in fact, merely the recipients of “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ” (Ephesians 1:3). Therefore, we can conclude that our worth is not really of the “self” at all; rather, it is worth given to us by God. We are of inestimable value to Him because of the price He paid to make us worthy—the death of His Son on the cross.
This is not the end of it. The Bible says we should doubt our own reason (“lean not on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5)), that wisdom from outside Christian teaching is really foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:17-31) and that we should distrust our feelings (the heart is “deceitful” and “wicked” (Jeremiah 17:9)). A hallmark of the abusive tactic known as gaslighting is that it makes its victim doubt her own memories and judgement — to make her feel that her reasoning and feelings are not to be trusted. Similarly, in fundamentalist Christianity you must believe things without evidence, pushing down your mind’s very tendency to question, on fear of some kind of punishment after death — even in the face of contradictory facts in “the world” (that is, everything outside the Christian church). In some fundamentalist and evangelical denominations it is even taught that Satan is essentially running the world therefore everyone outside the church is involved in a conspiracy (though they may not know it) to turn you away from God and cause you to lose your salvation. The most obvious example is in the rampant denial of the Theory of Evolution and all cosmological theories of the beginning and evolution of the universe because they are not compatible with the creation myths in Genesis.
For an example of how the conspiracy theory is constructed, here is the explanation from a creationist text I was given as a child to explain why many scientists don’t believe in God. Basically, according to the author of this book, the atheistic scientists all have some sort pact to suppress all the evidence that might point to a supernatural creator of the world. So don’t trust science and don’t trust the scientists. Don’t even trust your reason if it leads to doubt their teachings. This sort of thinking is not only in books from my childhood, but is also present in the Ark Encounter park which was just opened in my home state.
“The only reasonable explanation we can imagine [for the existence of the universe] is God. But still there are many people who don’t believe in God! Why? Romans 1:18 says men who don’t believe “suppress the truth.” That is, they simply will not believe, whatever the evidence!”
“It’s also important to realize that some scientists even argue for their theories against the evidence because they exist on trying to explain things without God.”
source: It Couldn’t Just Happen: Amazing Facts about God’s World, by Lawrence O. Richards
I grew up believing that I was a sinner. No one ever told me explicitly that I deserved hell, or that I was unworthy. They didn’t have to, because those concepts were fully engrained in the songs we sang and the scriptures we held to be the ‘Word of God.’ I could put two and two together. God loved me because he created me and he chose to love me, though he would never tell me personally for some reason and it wasn’t because I had any merit whatsoever on my own. “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me.” I always had to keep in mind that I was sinful and unworthy because if I didn’t I’d be guilty of spiritual pride. There were also the countless ‘testimonies’ I heard from adults declaring that when they tried to do what they wanted with their own lives rather than submitting to God’s will, they ended up mired in drugs and alcohol or financial ruin or depression or some other really bad situation. “When I tried to live my own life, according to my own thoughts and feelings” they all declared in their own words, “I was a complete and total failure.” The implication being that if I tried to run my own life instead of waiting for God to tell me what to do, the same things would happen to me.
What better way to imprison the mind of a child? I can’t help thinking maybe other kids growing up in the church had other mitigating social influences from outside — from school guidance counselors, perhaps, or participation in youth sports — but I guess I wasn’t so fortunate in that area in my teen years. My world opened up tremendously in my college years, but my lack of confidence in myself and my fear of failure lasted long after I gave up my belief in God. Even when I successfully graduated with a bachelor’s degree and got a job in my field soon after, showing that I was fully capable to reach my goals.
I have been an atheist for over ten years now and living my life as I wish, and it all hasn’t gone to shit yet. In fact, I have a wonderful marriage, a beautiful baby daughter, and a community with relationships richer than any I found within the church. I suppose those who do well in life without God don’t return to their church to give their side of the story though, do they? I’m still working on some issues of self-worth and on trusting my own judgement and feelings, but I’ve certainly come a long way from the fear of God’s disapproval and of all things “worldly.”
Now my goal is to protect my own daughter from being taught those same messages of unworthiness and distrust of science and reason. No one will teach her that she is defective or unworthy on my watch, even if their intentions are golden.