"I am bad." I named it and felt into it last night with friends - the presupposition that had suffused my worldview for over three decades of my life inside American Evangelicalism. I felt the heaviness of it, like an oppressive blanket. The way it connected to the warning signals of my limbic system. The feeling of threat as my heart beat harder and my chest tensed. Listening to the buried parts of me that always felt unlovable, impure, worthless.

Now I'll pause here to note that I don't have a conviction of "oh, I had it bad" in any comparative sense. Conventionally stable and loving parents, no heavy hellfire and brimstone... but it was just in the air. Original sin + penal substitutionary atonement + total depravity is a cocktail which, in seeking to glorify God, by contrast chokes out self-worth and self-love. Yeah yeah new creation and all that, except that's not "us" because sin dwells in us regardless and the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak, right? That which is good becomes death, after all.

I can point to this belief only now, and name it as a belief, with the clarity of perspective found on the outside of that frame. From the outside, it looks absurd! You and I, we just are what we are, and there's not even any sense in calling that "good" or "bad". Moreover, from a functional utilitarian perspective it's just a small and torturous state of experience! Fear and shame crowd out love with their potent wiring to survival mechanisms, but the path to freedom goes through accepting the evolved mess of what we are.

I am not bad, and there is nothing bad or wrong with genuinely loving myself. Have you ever experienced falling in love with someone? Can you conceive of loving yourself in that way? Unconditionally and delightedly? I'm still realizing that it's possible. And beneficial. And achievable. And... is an experience of freedom and enlightenment that goes beyond any transcendence of propitiation.