Brennan Manning is an ex-Franciscan priest who is the author of 11 books including the best-selling The Ragamuffin Gospel. He is convinced that among Christians, self-hatred is the chief spiritual problem. Usually, this toxic hazard includes unhealthy guilt, shame, and remorse. Therapists also report that many of their clients suffer from low self-esteem brought on by a host of forces, including societal pressures to succeed and conform, anxiety over the gap between the ideal and the real self, and feelings that they just don't measure up to the high standards of morality espoused by religious institutions. "The script for self-hatred" also contains ideas of God as an angry law-giver who is rigorous in the punishment of sins. Mixed in with this hodge-podge of negativity is the ideal of moral perfectionism, which leaves many Christians feeling like losers.
In contrast to all of this is Jesus' ardent trust in the wonderful and unending love of God. A close look at the parables reveals repeated stories of deliverance based on divine mercy. In his healing ministry, Jesus demonstrated hospitality to the untouchables of society at that time. This, of course, is in complete contrast the practices of many Christian congregations who exclude sinners from the communion table (the author mentions Catholics closing off the Lord's Supper from divorced individuals). He concludes: "The Christian's warmth and congeniality, nonjudgmental attitude, and welcoming love may well be the catalyst allowing the healing power of Jesus to become operative in the life of an alienated, forlorn brother or sister. This winsome wedding of worship and life ritualizes Jesus' table-fellowship with sinners and brings healing and wholeness to the entire community."
Two other antidotes to self-hatred are liberating prayer and compassionate service of others. The first is demonstrated in the life of the sixteenth century's Sir Thomas More, whom Manning designates as the patron saint of the American church for the twenty-first century. But even more important is our acceptance of God's abundant love for us and recognizing that it is meant to prod us into loving others. Manning makes a good case against self-hatred, a troublesome and widespread obstacle to spiritual growth and maturity.