Episode 27. Robber Gods, Aristocrat Gods and Marshmallow Gods – August 3, 2020
Intro: Welcome to the podcast Coronavirus Crisis: Carpe Diem, where you and I rise up and embrace the possibilities and opportunities for spiritual and psychological growth in this time of crisis, all grounded in a Catholic worldview. We are going beyond mere resilience, to rising up to the challenges of this pandemic and becoming even healthier in the natural and the spiritual realms than we were before. I’m clinical psychologist Peter Malinoski your host and guide, with Souls and Hearts at soulsandhearts.com. Thank you for being here with me. This is episode 27, released on August 3, 2020 and the title is Robber Gods, Aristocrat Gods and Marshmallow Gods.
For those of you who are new to the podcast, first of all, a very hearty welcome to you, I’m glad you’re joining us. I want you to know that each episode can stand alone, and I will provide you with the background you need to understand each episode. However, if you want more of a conceptual background for God images, check out episodes 22, 23, and 24.
Brief review: let’s just circle back around and review, what are God images again?
My God image is my experiential sense of God it’s how my heart sees God, what my feelings tell me about God. My God image is very subjective, it doesn’t necessarily follow what I know about God in my head. My God image is formed out of the relational experiences I’ve had. Different God images can be activated at different times, depending on my emotional states and what psychological mode I am in at any given time. So what’s important to remember is that your God images are not necessarily what you profess to believe with your intellect. Rather, they are the unfiltered, spontaneous, uncensored, gut-felt sense of God in the moment.
Similarly, my self-images are much more driven by emotion, much more intuitive, subjective, and they vary a lot more from moment to moment. My self-image is who I feel myself to be in a given moment, it is who my passions are telling me that I am in the moment. Self-images go together with God images – they impact each other.
In the last two episodes, episode 25 and 26, we looked at a total of six different negative God images originally identified by Christian psychotherapists Bill and Kristi Gaultiere in their 1989 book Mistaken Identities. Those were the Drill Sergeant God, the Statue God, the preoccupied managing director God, Unjust Dictator God, the Vain Pharisee God, and the Critical Scrooge God.
I do want you to know that I’m going beyond their initial conceptualizations and adding much more in these podcast episodes, most of it derived from my clinical experience and also my own experience in my journey with God. So I just want you to know that I am adding a lot of new material, but I do think their initial pioneering work really deserves to be credited.
All right, so let’s go to listener questions. Ryan from Texas has this question:
“After identifying problematic God images in my own life, I want to know how deterministic God images are. Are they imprinted from childhood or do they change with time? And what we do to make our God images align with the loving and caring God we profess to know in our God concept?”
Great question, Ryan. Let’s get into that just briefly right now, and I will say much more about it in future podcast episodes. I also very much want to do a much more in-depth course at Souls & Hearts on God images, particularly how to respond to them, and also how to bring them into greater harmony with who God really is.
That’s one measure of mental health, is when our God images reflect the reality of our loving and caring God. So if you are interested in a course like that, let me know. Once I have 25 people that would be committed to a much more in-depth course, and would be willing to pay for it, I could begin to set aside the time to create it. If you’re interested in that, call me or text me at 317-567-9594 or email me at email@example.com
and let me know, and I put you on the list.
So back to Ryan’s question Initially, God images are formed in us from our first days. Even as infants, we are learning about the world and nonverbal assumptions are being formed in us. Imagine an infants, I will call him baby Joe, who has an attuned, psychologically healthy mother who can really enter into the baby’s experience. The mother is able to intuit what the baby needs, and meet those needs in a loving, competent way. The baby has a sense of being seen and known, and also has safety and security, which are the first to conditions of secure attachment. This sets the baby up to have a greater sense of safety and security, a greater sense of being seen and known by God.
Contrast that baby’s experience with another, who I will call baby Tom, whose father recently divorced his mother. Baby Tom’s mother is stressed out, having to reenter the workforce, feeling a deep sense of shame and abandonment, and is struggling with depression and anxiety. Unconsciously, baby Tom’s mother blames baby Tom for driving away her husband. This is going to have a huge impact on baby Tom’s sense of being seen and known, of being safe and secure.
So it’s clear that baby Joe and baby Tom are going to have different starting points with regard to their God images. The impact of parents’ ways of relating with children is difficult to underestimate when it comes to the generation of children’s God images. Nevertheless, and this is very important, there is another factor that has an even greater impact on what the ultimate God images are. And that, my dear listeners is what is our experience of the actual living God. These God images that are formed in us beyond our control will change over time, if we bring ourselves into contact with God really is. The reason that so many God images seem to be so sticky, they seem to hang around so much, is because they have not yet been corrected by God. Sometimes God delays correcting these God images, to draw us into deeper relationship with him. Other times though, we refuse to allow God into our lives in a way that would help us see and know who he really is. We default to our negative God images and we don’t invite him into our lives. And there are reasons for that, and will get into those in future episodes. For now, Ryan, I want you and the rest of the listeners to know that the way we engage with the living God, as he is, the way we allow him into our lives into relationship with us – that is going to have much more of an impact on our God images over time than our original upbringing.
So our God images can and should change over time. As we deepen in the spiritual life, as we deepen our relationship with God, our God images will conform more to our God concept, which will conform more to who God really is.
Ok, with that, let’s dive into the three God images we are reviewing today, these are the Robber God, the Elite Aristocrat God, and the Marshmallow God.
Robber God: This God robs me of good things, and prevents me from having good fortune. He seems jealous when I succeed, he is like a “wet blanket,” a God who spoils things I enjoy. God is a thief who pries cherished possessions and relationships out of my hands, deprives me even of the things I need. All of this is under the pretext of making a better Christian and loving him more. This God feels unjust, stingy, and jealous.
Bible verse: Psalm 88: 4-8 I am reckoned among those who go down to the Pit; I am a man who has no strength, like one forsaken among the dead, like the slain that lie in the grave, like those whom thou dost remember no more, for they are cut off from thy hand. Thou hast put me in the depths of the Pit, in the regions dark and deep. Thy wrath lies heavy upon me, and thou dost overwhelm me with all thy waves. Thou hast caused my companions to shun me; thou hast made me a thing of horror to them.
You can see all the losses the psalmist is experiencing. The loss of strength, the loss of relationship with God, feelings of imprisonment, like in a dark deep pit, the loss of companionship, friendship. The loss of my respectable, curated image to others. It’s all in there.
Self-image: Because my robber God really doesn’t want to have good things, things that I enjoy, I must hang onto all that I can lay my hands on. I have to sneak pleasures and enjoyment, because God doesn’t believe they are good for me. I’m conflicted about whether I am worth having good things. I feel insecure, that my grasp is tenuous on the things that I treasure. I have to be very careful with this robber God, to not overstep so that he won’t take any more good things from me. This leads to a lot of spiritual frustration and hiding from God. I’m expecting losses. I consciously or unconsciously blame God for my losses. I wonder, consciously or unconsciously if this robber God enjoys taking things away from me. I have difficulty giving cheerfully because so much feels taken from me, without my consent.
Lent is often miserable for individuals with prominent robber God images. Very little concept of redemptive suffering. Suffering seems meaningless, unless it is somehow satisfying to God.
One client of mine many years ago described having a target on his back, a target that attracted God’s attention, leaving God to take away any good things that he was able to achieve. Anger tends to be prominent, and others may experience individuals with a prominent robber God image as having a chip on their shoulder.
Attachment history: Frequently the attachment history may be characterized by grief due to losses that have never been adequately resolved.
The attachment history may also feature parents who were jealous of their child’s talents, possessions, relationships, or other goods, and who put themselves in competition with their child. These parents were too enmeshed with their children to be able to celebrate their children’s accomplishments. Rather, their children’s achievements make the parent feel inadequate or insecure. Thus, the parents may work subtly and unconsciously to undermine their children’s successes.
This God image can also be present when a child loses a parent in some way, to death or divorce or to chronic health problems or mental health issues. It can be very confusing to a child why God would allow such losses to occur. The child whose mother died could say: Since he is all-powerful and all-knowing, he must have wanted me to be robbed of my mother, he must have wanted my father to drown in his grief and his vodka.
This God image can also emerge when a child is victimized by cliques at school, or by bullies who cut them down to size, stole their money or food, or were jealous and undermining of the friendships that they formed.
Coronavirus crisis: I think many of us can see how the coronavirus crisis might exacerbate a robber God image. Many good things have been taken away from us in this crisis. Losses can range from life to health to income to employment, to relationships – we could lose relationships due to death, but also relationships can be compromised by social distancing, lockdowns, and disagreements about how to respond to the coronavirus. Why did God send us this virus, anyway? Is he just trying to strip me down again, make me survive with just the bare minimum? Like slave owner who gives his slave just enough to survive, but not to thrive?
Vignette: David was born in 1948, into a relatively healthy, close-knit Catholic, working-class family. He grew up in the 1950s and 1960s surrounded by relatives and good relationships. At age 19 he was about to be drafted so he decided to enlist in the Marines. He went through boot camp and in late 1967 was ordered to Vietnam. There he saw combat and was drawn into some horrible atrocities against civilians in the 1969 Tet Offensive as new infantryman. His world was turned upside down, and he know he was changed. During the Tet offensive, he was wounded by mortar fire, which caused extensive damage to his right leg and some disfigurement to his face. He also lost two of his closest buddies.
David’s leg never fully recovered, and he walked with a limp. The woman he loved, rejected him upon his return, having found another boyfriend. He struggled with flashbacks and night terrors. He saw God is robbing him of all the good things that he had had in his life. He found it hard to relate with his family anymore, actually, he felt like he had no home anymore, as he did not fit in with his parents and siblings. He felt that only other Vietnam vets understood his experience, so we never talked about it unless he was drinking with old comrades in arms. His reactive mission to civilian society was slow, operating in fits and starts, with many gains and losses, and he never seem to get ahead. He blamed this on God. David saw God is stealing from him his happiness, his peace, his joy, the woman he loved, his buddies on the battlefield, and his integrity. David had a Robber God image. This is an example of a God image that developed later in life, after his childhood.
He eventually married, but remained self-absorbed, silently struggling with internal conflicts over guilt, shame, rage, fear. Others experienced him as cool, detached, and generally very self -controlled and very proper in his demeanor. His war buddies kidded David and told him that when he wasn’t drinking, David seemed like a 19th century English butler.
David concluded that God didn’t want him to have good things that God wanted him to suffer for the sins and crimes he committed. David clung to cigarettes, bourbon, sports, and movies as a way to distract himself and cope. Emotionally, he was very closed off from his wife and his children and spent most of his time alone.
It wasn’t until his children are grown and gone that he actually sought help. David benefited from some specific trauma treatments, including EMDR that broke him out of the downward spiral he had been in. He is just now, late in life praying again, and beginning to make sense of his experiences, bring them for the first time in decades back to God.
Elitist Aristocrat God: This God considers himself to lofty, too good, too perfect to connect with the likes of someone like me. He has a superior attitude, and he doesn’t seem to need me or care about me. He operates in an entirely different plane, up in the sky, apart from mere mortals like me. God just isn’t there for me. He has his favorites, the ones who are more like him, of higher stature, of greater importance. But I’m not one of his favorites. I get the cold shoulder from God.
Bible verse: Psalm 88:9, 13-14 Every day I call upon thee, O Lord; I spread out my hands to thee. …But I, O Lord, I cry to thee; in the morning my prayer comes before thee. O Lord, why dost thou cast me off?
You can see all the psalmist is crying out to God, and feeling cast off, ignored, the prayers, seemingly disregarded. Maybe there’s a part of you that can resonate with these feelings, feelings of being disregarded, or set aside by God.
Self-image: I feel like I was born under an ill-fated star, I was born on the wrong side of the tracks. God doesn’t associate with low-class people like me. God just doesn’t even notice me, I’m too far beneath him. He ignores me. On the rare occasions he does notice me, he puts me down. When I pray, my words just get lost in the void. He is not there to hear my prayers. I’m excluded from the circles of the people he favors. I get the crumbs under the table, like the dogs. I’m not good enough to be in God’s good graces. God doesn’t need me for anything, he doesn’t really want me in his sight. If he knows me, he knows me from afar, and he doesn’t really like what he sees.
Attachment history: The Elitist Aristocrat God image can emerge when a child feels very distant from his or her parents. The child’s parents may have been self-absorbed, caught up in their own social or professional images, the ways they were seen by the world. A child may accurately or inaccurately assume that he or she is not mom or dad’s favorite one. Children like this are sometimes grown by their parents rather than raised by their parents. An Elite Aristocrat God image can form when her daughter experiences her father or mother is all caught up in professional work, with the family always playing second fiddle to the importance the parent places on his or her occupation. Perhaps the child’s parents are caught up in “keeping up with the Joneses.” The experience is not so much of rejection by God as never being accepted by God in the first place.
Coronavirus crisis: the coronavirus has caused significant distress for many Christians with this particular Elite Aristocrat God image. It is easy for many people to imagine that God is not interested in their sufferings and in their trials and miseries, that God has left them to their own devices out of a sense of superiority. He does not deign to stoop down and help me, a lowly one, in my time of need. He helps others to have access to greater resources. They can adapt and adjust with minimal inconvenience. The impact of the coronavirus on me is severe, and more evidence of God’s disregard for me.
Vignette: so let’s discuss Michael, David’s oldest son. Michael was born five years after his father returned from Vietnam, and David never really bonded with his son. Michael grew up realizing that his relationship with his father did not look like how the boys in the neighborhood played with their fathers. Their fathers came to the baseball games and the basketball games. Many of their fathers were warm and engaging. It was his friend Tim’s father that taught him to throw and catch, to hit and field. David’s mother was preoccupied with caring for her husband, desperately wanting his attention too. Tim’s father saw Michael, in a way that Michael’s own father didn’t.
In the logic that youngsters use to sort these things out, Michael assumed that his father’s distance, reserve, and aloofness were his fault. He desperately tried to get his father’s attention, to no avail. Dad seem like an elite aristocrat – very proper, very distant, very uninterested in him. Michael unconsciously imported that image and transferred it to God. Michael saw himself as unworthy of his father’s attention, not good enough to be noticed by his father. This wounded self-image led him to conclude that God also saw him that way. Michael struggled with a deep sense of inadequacy and shame about not being good enough. Michael vowed never to treat others that way. So even though he himself felt fairly distant from God, he tried to be warm and caring in his relationships, to be the exact opposite of his father, especially to his own children.
Marshmallow God: God is nice, but he is also either weak or incompetent. God is very soft, and quite passive. When others harm me or persecute me, he doesn’t safeguard me, he doesn’t advocate for me, he doesn’t defend me, he just wants me to take it, and “turn the other cheek.” God doesn’t want conflict, he wants to be liked, and he is likely to follow those who dominate him.
Bible verse: Psalm 13: 1-2 How long, O Lord? Wilt thou forget me for ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all the day? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Alternative Bible verse: Psalm 25:1-2 To thee, O Lord, I lift up my soul. O my God, in thee I trust, let me not be put to shame; let not my enemies exult over me.
Self-image: When others take advantage of me, God believes it would be wrong for me to stand up for myself. I should be passive like God is. If I set boundaries and limits on others’ behaviors, that would not be good. It would be wrong for me to move away from my dependency. Since I’m helpless, I need to stay away from danger, and avoid and hide from trouble as best I can.
Attachment history: when this God image forms in children, those children often have parents who are friendly, warm, but who have not adequately protected their children. They may have resisted recognizing or intervening when their children were being harmed out of a sense of fear of offending others. For example, they may not have advocated for a child who is being unfairly singled out and harassed by a teacher or coach. The child may have seen his parents be pushed around or dominated by more powerful others, to the detriment of the whole family.
Alternatively, sometimes this God image develops when parents are overprotective, and communicate to the child that he or she is weak, hopeless, and dependent and that is how it should be. The child can then form the idea that this is how God must be as well. We must be nice, we must be like God, so God must be nice.
Coronavirus crisis: in the coronavirus era, God may seem passive, just letting things unfold without any divine intervention. We may have parts of us that feel that God is not up to the challenge of helping us through the coronavirus. We may have a sense that our bishops and priests have not helped us through the crisis, and may have made our lives even more difficult by unnecessarily blocking churches and restricting access to sacraments, even going beyond the restrictions that were required by government decrees
We may have gotten the message from civic and church leaders that we are naïve children that would have unnecessarily risked our own lives and the lives of others if we had been able to attend Mass, that we could not make appropriate judgments, so the these leaders needed to protect us from ourselves.
We may have parts of us that feel that God is not up to the task of administering justice to those criminals who really need it. God seems to be very nice and soft towards those who undermine the Church from within, wayward bishops and cardinals, priests, and others. The much-maligned fire and brimstone from previous centuries may seem wholly absent to us, now. It may appear, in this coronavirus era, God does not seem to set limits on anyone-- lying, cheating, fraud, and all kinds of misbehavior go unchecked in the government and in our culture. This all can exacerbate a Marshmallow God image.
Vignette: so Michael married and had two children of his own. He worked hard to be caring and gratifying to everybody. Unconsciously, he equated firmness with coldness. Indeed, Michael had difficulty setting boundaries and limits with others, as he was so conditioned to want others to like him. Thus, when his oldest son Daniel went off to school, and experienced bullying on the bus, he tried to help his son understand bullies’ point of view and why the bus driver did not intervene. Michael didn’t advocate for little Daniel in a way that would have been helpful. When Daniel had a Little League coach that rode him mercilessly, calling him names and mocking him in front of the other boys, his father did not stand up for him. His father was more invested in maintaining a good relationship with the coach, and trying to win him over to treating Daniel better that way. Daniel’s experience of his father was that he was very nice, warm, gregarious, but powerless in the face of conflict. As a seven-year-old, Daniel generally saw his father as a good man, he assumed that God must be like his father. This also fit his experience, because no one advocated for him when he was persecuted by authority figures.
OK. So those are the three God images for today. The Robber God, the Elite Aristocrat God, and the Marshmallow God. This episode is already getting fairly long, so I don’t have time to go into how these three God images are commonly generated in children who are sexually abused. I see this a lot. Abuse and neglect have really harmful effects on God images, as you may imagine. So just for the members of the Resilient Catholics Carpe Diem Community, I am going to do a little bonus episode, a premium episode on sexual abuse and these three particular God images. That particular episode may be a little more intense for people, so it’s also better to be done in our community. Bonus episodes are one of the benefits of becoming a member. Go to soulsandhearts.com, click on the all courses and shows tab and register for the Resilient Catholics Carpe Diem Community, free for the first 30 days and then $25 per month after that. Those memberships are what makes this podcast possible, the RCCD members offset the costs of producing this podcast and the overhead for Souls and Hearts.
Other benefits for RCCD members include the pdfs I reprinted for the God Image Questionnaire by Bill Gaultiere, who has given us permission to reformat and reprint it. Check that out, it can help you determine your God image, it’s a 28 item questionnaire that reviews these 14 God images.
One more thing is that we are having an RCCD community meeting on Friday, August 7 from 7:30 PM to 8:30 PM Eastern time. and we will be discussing any questions you have about God images and self-images.
And finally, RCCD members now have access to our Mighty Networks app, which allows us to connect much more easily. Community members can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org
and we’ll get you set up with that, it’s by invitation.
Patron and Patronness.