Faith and Devotee: It Hurts so Good

I enjoyed this song before the radio played it to death, however anything can rise from the ashes when watered with new meaning. The song is “Love the Way You Lie,” by Eminem and Rhianna. I rediscovered it while in the fiery throes of doubt/faith this month. Indeed, every blow of doubt, confusion, and ecstasy felt as if I were in an abusive relationship. We all know people locked in these cycles with a significant other, and most of the time we advise our friends to abandon them. How easy it is to pass judgment…when we aren’t part of the situation.

Are the ups and downs, doubts and revelations of our faith not unlike the tears and fears, break-ups and make-ups of our human relationships? How often are we presented with “evidence” that forces us to question faith (our spiritual significant other) and accuse it of lies? Then, if we flirt with doubt are we unfaithful (pun intended)? But in many cases we return, because faith isn’t always a quiet stream–it’s an inferno of glorious pleasure and agony. There’s nothing in this world quite like it, and we love the warmth of the flames regardless of how they are ignited.

Like much of our scripture, art is malleable in that it can be interpreted in many ways depending on what the observer brings to the piece. When I listened to “Love the Way You Lie” and in particular watched the video, the flames and the screams, the passion and the violence resonated with me in new ways. Listen to the words. Try and assign them to your own spiritual struggles. Can you not see truth? I don’t expect everyone to agree with my new interpretation of this song, but that’s okay, I’m here to create conversation, not consensus.


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  • Christopher(Guest)


    I love your blog! I have a life-long fascination with religion and spirituality, but I never had the idea or the courage to do what you are doing. Bravo.

    That being said, today’s post makes me a little uncomfortable. I can see how you can compare one’s relationship with a certain faith to a human relationship. Religions are a mortal construction, developed as a way to make sense of our surroundings. Thus, religions are flawed, as are people, and they can provide us with great joy as well as confusion and pain.

    I guess where I am taking issue is that, by comparing faith as a whole to an abusive relationship, you are comparing something that is (hopefully) beautiful and positive to something that is cruel and torturous. Having faith in a higher power is about finding meaning and beauty in the world around you, and trusting that this higher power will take care of you. Having faith, in my experience, should enrich a person and provide them with peace. Even in times of doubt and frustration (which definitely do occur), it is hoped that people will eventually return to the “default” state, which is positive.

    An abusive relationship may initially be based on love and trust on the part of the abused partner, but eventually that is destroyed to make way for domination, torment, and the intentional infliction of pain. In contrast to having faith, the “default” state is one of confusion and misery, with occasional cycles of a “honeymoon” (e.g., happy, calm) period to keep the abused person in the relationship. Domestic abuse can cause PTSD – a mental disorder that also can occur when someone is involved in an accident, a natural disaster, or being involved in combat. It also kills an unspeakable number of people per year. One would hope that religion would never have that effect on the believer.

    (Please note that I am speaking in terms of people who are choosing out of love and reverence to the divine to practice a faith. I am well aware of people who do feel treated badly by some interpretations of religion, and that the effects of being told that one is “less than” by religious authorities can be extremely devastating. I’m also aware that there have been many crimes committed throughout history in the name of the divine. Neither of these are informing the post which I have just written.)

    It’s like comparing Pop Rocks to cat litter. They’re both crunchy, but totally different materials with entirely different effects.

    I have to say that I DO sincerely appreciate your comments about nonjudgment of our brothers and sisters who are in violent relationships. You are quite right in your comment that the inclination is to give advice and judge people, and that it is easy to do so when one is not directly involved.

    I’ll get off my soap box now. I apologize if that seems nitpicky, but I felt compelled to comment (and I NEVER comment on blogs, so clearly your post moved me, which is the point of the whole project, is it not?)

    • Anonymous


      I’m so glad that you chose to comment. Faith is a tricky thing, isn’t it? By definition it calls us to beholden to something which sometimes defies logic or our better judgement. Much like love, in some cases. As with the relationship in the video, folks from the outside could never understand such a position. How often do we find ourselves explaining/justfying our faith to those outside or who don’t understand? This is why the song resonates with me: because the struggles/triumphs/pleasures of faith claim some of my most painful moments, but the results and the nature of the fire…i wouldn’t want it any other way.

  • Kitsune

    There is a second part, her side of the story.

  • Prichman

    I have to agree with Christopher, Andrew. You may rationalize it any way you want, but it doesn’t change the fact that this video (along with the song) glorifies abuse.

    • Anonymous

      I appreciate your take on this .

  • J. Lopez

    I have to admit, I refrained from commenting when I first read this a few days ago because A) I wasn’t sure how to voice my opinion and B) I was a little conflicted about what my opinion actually was. I actually really like this song as well, although the domestic violence crisis counselor in me is appalled every time I hear it and start singing along haha. Initially I had the same sort of knee-jerk reaction that Prichman expressed.

    However, I had never seen the video for the song and didn’t want to comment without first having the whole context. The video actually gave me a different perspective on the song lyrics themselves. Since he does say in the lyrics he’ll “tie her to the bed and set this house on fire” the logical interpretation of the lyrics she sings about watching her burn is a literal one. But now I see there’s also a figurative sense that I hadn’t really considered before, where the lyrics “just gonna stand there and watch me burn/ well that’s all right because I like the way it hurts” applies to both parties, and where “burn” isn’t literal, but more along the lines of “crash and burn” or break down/meltdown, etc. The relationship depicted in the video isn’t the usual one-sided abuse we tend to think of. Each party instigates violence at different times. That doesn’t excuse the violence, by any means, but there is a difference. It’s a mutually dysfunctional relationship, for sure, and so the lyrics I just mentioned can be seen as one or both of them watching themselves and each other essentially self destruct. Still, relationship violence in any form is inexcusable.

    Wow, never thought I’d use my literary analysis skills on an Eminem song…. ha. :-P Okay, stepping off my DV soapbox, let me give my opinion on the religious connection you’re trying to make, Andrew.

    I can’t say I understand or agree with the comparison all that much, and it probably has to do with how I understand or believe in the sacred. For me, the sacred (God) is not a participatory being. It just is, and will always be. Perhaps I interpreted your position wrong, but I got the sense that you put God in the position of abuser, and you the abused. Or, possibly, you and God are like the couple in the video and are mutually abusive (that sounds dirty haha). That’s only possible if God can act on us, can enforce some type of will upon us or our surroundings, and has any conscious interest in us. I personally don’t think that’s the case.

    If anything, we are the abusers of the sacred, bending it to suit our will, using it to justify our own awful behavior.

    Lastly, I just wanted to address something you said in response to Christopher. (I’m almost done, I promise haha.) You wrote: “By definition it[faith] calls us to beholden to something which sometimes defies logic or our better judgement. Much like love, in some cases. As with the relationship in the video, folks from the outside could never understand such a position. How often do we find ourselves explaining/justfying our faith to those outside or who don’t understand?” I suppose I’m jumping back on my soapbox when I say this, but abusive relationships aren’t about love, and it isn’t love that makes people abusive. It’s power, it’s self-esteem issues. People don’t stay in abusive relationships because of love (exclusively). It’s also because of self-esteem issues, psychological issues, because an abuser often does a good job of isolating the victim to the point they feel they have nowhere to turn. That is not the type of relationship I desire to have with the sacred.

    All that being said, I respect your take on it, and I even think I can understand how you personally came to that conclusion. Especially given the nature of this project. You mentioned in another post that you started this as a way to learn, and to educate others, not necessarily to connect with God yourself, through various faiths. That you have found that connection through the lenses of different faiths surprised you, and I suspect some of your struggles with the Zarathushti faith this month probably would make you feel a bit knocked around, maybe even “abused” a little. But I would say something that is true for you that is never true of a domestic violence victim…. you asked for it! :-)

    Much love. x

    • Anonymous


      Yes, I did ask for it, and I’m enjoying the fruits of my request.

      You make excellent points here, and I’m inclined to agree with them–especially if we feel as though there is a personal connection with the divine.

      What’s interesting about the folks who disagree with my interpretation is that the basis of this disagreement is in one’s ideal of a relationship with God…as if I were equating the relationship between the couple in the video with that of man and the divine. If you read carefully, I never mention this relationship…I talk about “Faith.”

      Faith is a personal action practiced by an individual that is directed toward something (in this case, the divine). If you truly understand what I’ve illustrated here, you’ll see that the struggle is within the self, the struggle with faith. If you are a spiritual person, is everyday a walk through the park? Is everyday butterflies and bunny rabbits? In most cases of the song, we could substitute Rhianna’s chorus with that of Faith itself and the part of Eminem as that of the devotee. Eminem’s character trips up at times and even takes out his anger on faith itself, but at the same time, no matter how rocky things get, neither party can seperate themselves because even at their lowest point, it is the biggest high they will ever have.

      In comparison, we see the same type of interpretive trouble within religious texts. Folks who read the parables either take the story literally or simply fail to step outside of their context and understand things from another point of view. I was able to apply new points of view to this song due to the new context I brought via my harsh experience with the Zarathushti Faith this month. Project Conversion in general demands me to see things through the eyes of others. When my faith is threatened by a struggle I’m facing, it is as if a relationship is threatened to be torn apart. One’s inner turmoil is often the most dramatic in life and after all, we are our worst enemy.

      So if one replaces the two human characters of the video and step into a new context, the inner struggle with faith that often plays out in our lives becomes clear. We often “cheat” on faith when we doubt, but we always come back because we know where we belong. And faith, like Rhianna’s character, is there, burning as we burn with our struggle. In the fact that she’s “all right because she likes the way it hurts”, it is often these struggles–these fires–that result in a new being or faith which refreshens our stance with faith. Faith “loves the way we lie” because faith is steadfast and knows that we are imperfect and full of crap; the “sincerity” in our promises and never leaving again become endearing to Faith because she knows better, but at least her devotee is trying…and she knows he’ll be back.

      • J. Lopez

        Oh, shame on you for playing a game of semantics. ;-) I’m only kidding.

        I do wonder, though, just how many people would divorce the concept of faith from the concept of the divine in this sort of situation. Faith itself cannot abuse you, only that thing in which you place your faith. Faith cannot be offended if you doubt; it cannot be satisfied if you return to it after your indiscretions. Faith is simply a construct – a name for a connection or relationship we create, the game of catch we play without needing proof that there’s anything on the other side to catch the ball and toss it back. How can something that essentially lives within us also abuse us? Wouldn’t that be self-abuse? lol

        Thanks for keeping the discussion going. I’m loving it.

    • Prichman

      Not a “knee-jerk reaction”. I have thought about this a lot. There must be other ways to depict the struggles you have with faith, Andrew, ways that promote “good thoughts, good words, good deeds”.

      I look forward to next month when you explore Judaism. (The Jews, remember, are also referred to as “Children of Israel,” and “Israel” is the name given to Jacob after he wrestled with an angel.)

      • Anonymous


        The struggle does indeed seem negative, doesn’t it? However I am happy you brought up the character of Jacob, one who struggled with the Angel of the Lord. This is my favorite account in the Old Testament as it perfectly illustrates our agony, struggles, and triumphs with faith. Remember, though his trial was great, the outcome was Israel itself. In that context, I find my personal struggles this month as good because they presented an opportunity for me to “make wonderful” the situation. I have now made the connection, but only my trial by fire which burned away all illusion, gave me the power to see and to be.

      • J. Lopez

        my apologies – what I meant was that it was a knee-jerk reaction for me.

    • Christopher(Guest)

      “People don’t stay in abusive relationships because of love (exclusively). It’s also because of self-esteem issues, psychological issues, because an abuser often does a good job of isolating the victim to the point they feel they have nowhere to turn. That is not the type of relationship I desire to have with the sacred.”

      Yes, this is exactly what I was trying to communicate – thank you for such eloquent phrasing! I too have experience in working in domestic violence. Glad I’m not the only one to comment.

      • Anonymous


        No one here denies that domestic abuse is a horrible event. This is about reinterpreting a song based upon a new context or experience. My analogy is between faith and the individual…not the devotee and the divine. This was clarified in my reply to Jennifer, but of course some folks are so impacted by past events or experience that it is difficult to see something with fresh, unbiased eyes. I was this way after I left Christianity: so critical of the faith because I had been such a horrible devotee. Only when I forced myself to open my eyes via Project Conversion to new points was I truly changed for the better. This is why I can freely use the lyrics of this song and transform them into a metaphor for struggles of faith. Ushta te, and thanks for sharing your views.

        • Christopher(Guest)

          Yes, I think I see your point now. I was just trying to clarify where I was coming from with my second post. I think I can appreciate where you are coming from – I definitely don’t think you are glorifying domestic abuse in any way. Sorry if I was offensive. I really appreciate your distinction here: “My analogy is between faith and the individual…not the devotee and the divine.” I think this is the point that I was missing originally. Again, so sorry if I was being unfair.

          • Anonymous

            Nothing to regret here Christopher. We are all on the same page. What is important is that we are willing to share our perspectives and walk away with an appreciation for both.

  • Dan Jensen

    Victor Hugo supposedly wrote somewhere that “to love another person is to see the face of God.”

    If it were up to me, the following passage would define Islam:

    “Wheresoever you turn, there is the face of God.” [Quran, II.115.]

    • Anonymous

      Wonderful quotes Dan. Another favorite of mine from the Quran: “We have made you nations that you may know one another.”

  • Bud Polk

    Dear Andrew,

    I can see why you picked this music video and how it resonated with you. I deplore the violence, but the love-hate relationship seems to parallel your experiences this month with the Zarathushti faith and community. It seems to me each month you try and entrust your heart to a new faith tradition. You found solace and inspiration in the rituals, prayers and scriptures this month but you were ultimately disappointed by and rejected by the community. This most have been devastating after your warm reception by Hindus and Baha’is. Also befitting to this month’s faith are the lyrics about fire and all the visual flame effects. I think I get what you are trying to say.

    Warm regards,
    Bud Polk

    • Anonymous

      Thanks for the read Bud. The month has come full circle now where I can finally identify…thanks to a few Zarathushti friends.