I’ve had many opportunities in the past few days to become reacquainted with modern church and mainstream Christianity. Yesterday, my boss’s daughter gave a concert to celebrate the release of her new cd, an album dedicated to songs written in worship to God. The songs were powerful and well-written, and the concert was fantastic, but the premise on which many of the songs were written was something I have since become less accustomed to. (Grammar people, feel free to tear that sentence apart.) Mainstream Christianity fixates on the notion that we are unworthy of the love of God. This belief forms one of the main tenants of the religion, for if one is unworthy and loved anyway, that is supposed to somehow make it better. But here is my problem with this belief: when we start believing ourselves unworthy of love, we begin to see others unworthy of love as well. We begin to loathe ourselves and justify hatred toward others by identifying various sins. The focus is on our lifelong never ending debt to God, to somehow justify our worth and find ways to constantly “please” Him because we believe that unless we do so, we will never receive His love. Even those who profess that salvation comes with the simple act of accepting the sacrifice of Christ and loving God, giving Him credit for everything in their lives, do so out of a state of contrition. And then they wonder why people don’t want to go to church.

If someone asked you why you loved someone, or something, you can probably come up with a list of reasons, but at the end of the day, you don’t have a concrete answer. You love them simply because you do. You love them because they are, because they exist, because they are a beautiful soul that is recognizable. Or more simply put, you love because God loved you first. (1 John 4:19 for those keeping track.) And I guarantee you that God does not have a list of His reasons for loving you. He loves you because He created you, because you exist, because deep inside you lives a piece of Him. We only believe ourselves unworthy because we fail to see this in ourselves. And even worse, we fail to recognize this truth in others. Jesus commanded us to “love our neighbors as ourselves.” Granted, that’s hard to do when we have such a deep-seated loathing for ourselves, and the sad thing is that most people follow this to the letter — despising their neighbors for the unworthiness they feel in themselves. We feel that we need to somehow earn or justify God’s love for us, all the while professing that this cannot be done, love cannot be earned, but still trying to somehow create reasons for why we are more worthy than another person.

One of my favorite quotes of all times is from Andy Horner, founder of Premier Designs Inc. His number one most repeated statement is, “God did not take time to create a nobody.” Everyone has worth in the eyes of God, everyone is worthy of God’s love simply because they exist, because God took the time to create them. But we don’t treat others this way. We see someone who is different, label them a “sinner,” and proceed to find all the ways that they are worthless. To make ourselves feel better, we then proceed to declare that we are unworthy as well and it is only because we have somehow made ourselves more worthy by (insert favorite Christian redemption recipe here) that we have reached a higher state of piety. But the bottom line is that this belief does more harm than good. Tell someone they are unworthy of love but will get it anyway if they just “accept the gift” and all they hear is that they are unworthy and have to do something to receive love. And isn’t the entire point of unconditional love that it is, well, unconditional? And isn’t requiring someone to do anything, even if it’s just as simple as believing in something, putting a condition on it? Parents don’t love their children because their children love them back — they love them because they are their children. They love them simply because their children exist and belong to them. And no parent in the world will tell you that their child is unworthy of their love. So how can Christianity claim that we are the children of God and that God will love us no matter what when there are so many ways we are “unworthy?”

This doesn’t mean we aren’t perfect, doesn’t mean that we don’t have flaws. We get lost, confused, begin to despair, do things that are wrong or hurtful. But all of this comes out of an inability to love ourselves and therefore makes us unable to love others. And perhaps this is just a side effect of being human. It’s hard to love someone who has hurt you, but what we must understand is that people hurt us because they are hurting first. And they are hurting, whether as a result of being hurt or simply being broken, and as a result they do not recognize the beautiful perfect God-center that resides deep within their soul. When one cannot recognize that within themselves, they cannot see it in others. It sets up a cycle that will likely never be broken, one of an incomplete understanding of who we are, how we are all the same at the center of ourselves. And I don’t expect that everyone will all of a sudden come to realize that, nor do I claim to be perfect. I recognize that I have problems with loving myself and that this, in turn, makes it hard for me to love others. I find faults with others because I cannot stop finding faults within myself. I am trying to recognize this, trying to work on this, but it is a process, one that may never be complete. But the more I recognize this, the more I can stop myself from sending out negative, loveless energy to those around me. The world has enough of that as it is.

I don’t know which came first — the self-loathing or the hatred of others — or if it is simply our human state that makes it impossible for us to understand a love that truly has no conditions or justifications, but what is being taught today is harmful. And it’s hard to try to convince people to lead a “moral” lifestyle if God will love you no matter what. But all of our morals start with the same basic underlying principle — that of love of God, self, and others. In reality, they are all the same, for God created each and every person, and God exists in all of us. We cannot love God and hate our fellow man when God resides in each of us equally. Hatred of others is hatred of the creation of God, and claiming the whole “love the sinner, hate the sin” nonsense is simply an excuse for hating a person without having to admit it, for those people often cannot see the “sinner” past the “sin.” They focus so much on what it is that they dislike about the person, making them one and the same. To truly love God, deeply and wholly, is to see others how He sees them — as a creation, a part of the Divine, a perfect soul just as it is.