I grew up with the idea that Jesus was my only savior and that I would suffer in this life and burn forever in the next if I didn’t put all my belief in him. I was indoctrinated in the Baptist and Pentecostal versions of Christianity before I was capable of critically thinking for myself. For 20 years I absolutely believed Jesus died for us so that we would be saved and could live in heaven instead of hell. Forget heaven for a moment, the whole thing is predicated on the idea that we need saving from a mythical being called Satan and his burning lakes of fire. Without the bad guy we wouldn’t need a savior at all. Life would just be life rather than some epic story of good winning over evil. When I was in the church what I really needed saving from wasn’t Satan, but rather a highly dysfunctional family, poverty, and my own broken mind. Jesus never showed up for that.
My mother never stopped believing her pain, physical and emotional, could be healed through forces outside herself. She looked for a savior in Jesus, men, crank, alcohol, therapy, and Jesus again more fervently. None of them came through for her in the end. Jesus, years of prayer, and countless hands-on-healings never alleviated her physical pain. Neither did the weight loss surgery the doctors told her would fix it all. Ultimately she died because no one in the medical profession would take her pain seriously. They aren’t our saviors either, despite what countless emotional medical dramas on TV would have us believe.
After I gave up on Jesus in my early 20s I had the idea love would save me, that the right (any) relationship would pull me from the depths of my broken mind (undiagnosed C PTSD) and would give me enough love to make up for my mother’s narcissism, my stepfather’s alcoholism, my biological father’s abandonment, and my adopted father’s emotional neglect. I made things more complicated by being an unbounded empath who tried to save the wounded young men I fell in love with. How naively arrogant I was about that.
It took a crisis of faith that began 6 years ago for me to realize the only one who ever saved me from anything is me. I single-handedly worked myself and two children out of poverty. I lifted myself out of the deepest darkness of depression. I treated my own mental health problems and learned emotional regulation by studying psychology, writing my way to sanity, and using art and masochism to work through my pain. I worked on myself until I was capable of healthy and nonviolent relationships (violence defined as trying to coerce or control).
If anything else has saved me it is community. The mama writers group that made me feel like an artist in the midst of full time mothering. The tiny church of mystics where we did a sort of peer counseling. The Impropriety Society giving me the beginnings of belonging. The work our adoption triad did together. Community always plays a key role in my healing and transformations.
However, even in the midst of people who love and hold us, we are still responsible for the choices that lead us toward or away from healing, change, and growth. I made every single choice that led me to this moment when all of my relationships are healthy, when I have a support network to hold me as needed, and when I can say it doesn’t matter what exists beyond this life because I lived fully and well. I am my own savior and I believe you are yours, too.
I also believe we are our own saviors by collective effort. Every revolutionary moment in history has been a collective effort, not an individual one, no matter how prone we are to glorify one person (usually a man) above all. We like to believe one leader will come along to lead us to our version of utopia (like Obama), or that a guru will lead us to enlightenment. but that’s not how it works. The guru gig has become astonishingly lucrative, so that even a Silicon Valley techbro can call himself enlightened and become wealthy. We’ve allowed Western mythology to brainwash us into believing the savior and guru stories are the only stories. It’s a lie to disempower us. No one is coming to save us. We all have to take responsibility for ourselves, both in our personal lives and in our collective relationship. Either we work together to save ourselves or we continue to allow the violence of patriarchy, white supremacy, and imperialist capitalism to harm us right up until we make the planet uninhabitable for all humans.
The savior mythology isn’t working for us. We avoid taking responsibility for ourselves because we believe someone or something outside of us can save us. It emphasizes individualism, which despite appearances does not serve our true needs as social animals. It also emphasizes punitive justice and exclusion rather than the transformative justice needed to heal harm so that our community relationships experience longevity.
What if we started believing in ourselves as saviors? What would happen if we became self aware and took responsibility for ourselves, personally and collectively? What if we learned how to relate to each other and communicate our needs in nonviolent ways, especially through difference and conflict? And what if we worked together to keep this planet habitable for our species? Are we as afraid of extinction as Hollywood would have us believe?