The Roots of Toxic Spirituality

Photo by Daniel Morton on Unsplash

By Marc-Henri Sandoz Paradella

Toxic spirituality feeds mainly on spiritual bypassing. What do I mean by that? There are many situations where one can feel tempted to misuse spirituality:

* When people experience trauma.
* When they are deeply wounded.
* When they conflict with parts of themselves.
* When they are worried about reality.

In these moments, the temptation is to use spirituality to avoid that which terrifies them or that which frightens them or hurts them. We can use spirituality to try to cancel out shame and guilt. We can use it to distance ourselves from the reality that scares us. Or we can use it to calm anxiety, reject parts of us that we don’t like, or scare us. In all of these cases, we make spirituality a tool to cut us off from parts of ourselves, to close ourselves off, to numb us, to delude ourselves. That’s what I call spiritual bypassing, and that’s when it happens that spirituality becomes toxic.

I have taken this challenging journey of coming out of the evangelical faith where I grew up and ministered as a pastor for fifteen years. This whole experience made me very sensitive to the dimension of toxic spirituality. I spotted it in Christianity because it was my original tradition, but it exists in various forms in all religions. The harmful dimensions of spirituality that I have discovered in my own experience are universal. They show up wherever you find the influence of patriarchy. Patriarchy is characterized by the presence of violence and control in spiritual practice, valuing suffering, a sense of superiority, and the call to separate from those who are not “chosen” like us.

I had to quit my pastoral ministry and then distance myself from the evangelical faith to begin to realize all of this. But it was not enough. Twenty years later, I have had to go through extremely tough times. In those moments, I had an overwhelming spiritual experience.

Three years ago, I was diagnosed with bone cancer and had to consider amputating my left leg up to the hip. In that awful moment, I resorted to meditation, which I have been practicing and teaching for years, to try to find some calm amid this terror. I spontaneously used the name of Jesus as my mantra, something I had never done before: Jesus, inspiration, Jesus, expiration. And in a totally unexpected way, I found myself overcome with incredible peace. I was in the eye of the storm, watching the tumult around me, but I could watch it from a place of silence and serenity. It has been an incredible spiritual experience for me, and it has had two effects on me.

First, this experience supported me through what was the worst ordeal of my life. Whenever I needed it, I resorted to my mantra, and that peace returned, with a sense of presence and support that I needed to cope. And that went on for weeks, before and after my amputation, and throughout the recovery and convalescence process.

And secondly, this experience shed a whole new light on my long experience with Christianity. In light of this authentic and beautiful spiritual experience, I saw all the toxic residues my religious, conservative, misogynist, and patriarchal upbringing had left in me. There I discovered the destructive power of toxic spirituality and how it manifests itself, which I named the Toxic Jesuses. It was like a revelation. It was a deep and intense experience, which gave birth to the book ‘Toxic Jesus, my journey from holy shit to spiritual healing.’ I speak in detail about the forms that toxic spirituality takes and the healing paths to access healthy spirituality.

It was a profound healing experience for me, which affected all areas of my life, which continues to unfold in me day after day. I have discovered powerful healing paths there, and it is a joy to share them. This healing’s main ingredient is integration: a healthy spirituality must help us to entirely welcome, embrace, love, integrate all parts of ourselves and all aspects of reality, without fear and rejection, with freedom, and without fear of the other or ourselves.

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Raised in a strict fundamentalist family, Marc-Henri Sandoz Paradella studied theology in Geneva and then worked as a successful pastor in an evangelical church. After 15 years of pursuing this life mission, he came to realize the narrow-mindedness of his faith and the sufferings and frailties that were hidden behind the cover of religion. Then he decided to resign. However, it was only years later, as a result of dramatic life circumstances, that he became fully aware of the hidden dynamics of toxic spirituality that were still poisoning him from the inside. He shares his experiences with you in his book ’Toxic Jesus,’ and describes how they became the portal to a deep inner healing and a renewed spiritual experience. You can find Marc-Henri at and on Instagram @toxicjesusthebook 

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