Beliefnet
Everyday Spirituality

Experts describe self-injury as intentional acts of inflicting pain and damage to one’s own body. A person can cut, burn, scratch, or bruise their self. They can consume too much alcohol or drugs, or hook-up in unsafe sex.

WebMD tells us, however, that self-injury isn’t the same thing as a suicide attempt. Self-harm is generally a hidden activity. People cut themselves in private, for instance.

People have been hurting themselves for millennia. For example, as religious flagellation, priests wore belts containing sharp nails. Belts were tightened so the nails would pierce the skin, as if the self-inflicted pain would make the person more spiritual and less sensual. In the name of religion, people also practice poverty, starvation, and uncleanliness, thinking it brings them closer to God because they’re denying themselves physical comforts or pleasures.

Are they closer to God? Or, just closer to pain?

Good questions. I don’t think there’s a difference between pain and pleasure in the body. Living in either physical discomfort or comfort isn’t living in God.

To judge spirituality based on painful or pleasant physical conditions results in serious mistakes that lead to more mistakes. Whereas, better judgement starts and ends with spirituality.

Psychologists say self-harm is a means of controlling emotional pain, but this doesn’t make sense. I can only reason that self-injury increases emotional pain.

And it stands to reason that religionists who make efforts to control their own body through physical comfort or discomfort only increase spiritual-harm. Although not a proponent of self-injury, when reading about sex abuse cases within the church, I’m inclined to say, “Go back to self-flagellation. Hurt yourself and not others.”

We’re human. Sometimes we need physical restrictions to reduce total harm done. We don’t have life figured out. Life can be difficult. But we have examples to learn from.
John the Baptist and Christ Jesus compliment one another in showing the power of self—spiritual-love. We read in Mark, “John was clothed with camel’s hair and wore a leather belt around his waist and ate locusts and wild honey.” Whereas Jesus ate at buffet tables and drank wine. Yet the physical appearance wasn’t the point for either. The aim and intent were spirit based. Mind based. Having the mind that holds and expresses ever improving behavior.

The antidote to self-harm is to cherish spirituality. It comes from something higher than human descriptions and reasoning. I call the higher power God, the spirit of Christ, the truth that we were created to manifest a love of our spiritual self.

“The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man, 25 nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything. 26 And he made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place, 27 that they should seek God, and perhaps feel their way toward him and find him. Yet he is actually not far from each one of us, 28 for “‘In him we live and move and have our being’; as even some of your own poets have said, “‘For we are indeed his offspring.’—Acts 17

“Jesus was no ascetic. He did not fast as John the Baptist’s disciples; yet there never lived a man so far removed from appetites and fixations.”—21st Century Science and Health

“With the aid of divine inspiration and spiritual logic, our consciousness can advance out of weariness and disease, out of that which hides the power of Spirit.
“The legitimate and only possible action of divine Mind is the production of harmony.”—from science & religion to God