Songs of Sacrilege: Turtles All the Way Down by Sturgill Simpson

This is the sixty-ninth installment in the Songs of Sacrilege series. This is a series that I would like readers to help me with. If you know of a song that is irreverent towards religion, makes fun of religion, pokes fun at sincerely held religious beliefs, or challenges the firmly held religious beliefs of others, please send me an email.

Today’s Song of Sacrilege is Turtles All the Way Down by Sturgill Simpson.

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I’ve seen Jesus play with flames
In a lake of fire that I was standing in
Met the devil in Seattle
And spent 9 months inside the lions den
Met Buddha yet another time
And he showed me a glowing light within
But I swear that God is there
Every time I glare in the eyes of my best friend

Says my son, “It’s all been done
And someday you’re gonna wake up old and gray
So go and try to have some fun
Showing warmth to everyone
You meet and greet and cheat along the way”

There’s a gateway in our minds
That leads somewhere out there, far beyond this plane
Where reptile aliens made of light
Cut you open and pull out all your pain
Tell me how you make illegal
Something that we all make in our brain
Some say you might go crazy
But then again it might make you go sane

Every time I take a look
Inside that old and fabled book
I’m blinded and reminded of
The pain caused by some old man in the sky
Marijuana, LSD
Psilocybin, and DMT
They all changed the way I see
But love’s the only thing that ever saved my life

So don’t waste your mind on nursery rhymes
Or fairy tales of blood and wine
It’s turtles all the way down the line
So to each their own ’til we go home
To other realms our souls must roam
To and through the myth that we all call space and time


Wikipedia defines the phrase “turtles all the way down” this way:

“Turtles all the way down” is a jocular expression of the infinite regress problem in cosmology posed by the “unmoved mover” paradox. The metaphor in the anecdote represents a popular notion of the theory that Earth is actually flat and is supported on the back of a World Turtle, which itself is propped up by a chain of larger and larger turtles. Questioning what the final turtle might be standing on, the anecdote humorously concludes that it is “turtles all the way down”.

Life: It All Depends on Where You Are Standing

Photo by Ken Kistler, Public Domain

Photo by Ken Kistler, Public Domain

As you know, I spend a lot of time writing about my past: people, places, and events that are very much a part of the fabric of my life. I try to be as truthful and accurate as possible when I recount the past, but I am ever aware of the fact that I am giving an account of things as I remember them. Having read a good bit about the brain and memories, I know my retelling of my past may or may not be accurate. As best I can remember, I try to give an honest accounting of my life.

I have a younger brother and sister, and it is amazing how differently we each view events that happened in our childhood. Who is right? I’ve come to understand, we all are. The story we tell depends on where we were standing at the time.  As a 15 year old boy and the oldest son, my view of our parent’s divorce , is much different from that of my 11-year-old sister. The same can be said about many of our shared seminal experiences.

I live with a lot of guilt. I am prone to depression and I can be quite pessimistic. I have faced long, deep bouts of depression, times where I have felt that death would be too good for me. With my words, theology, and religious practice, I hurt people. Or so I think. I’ve come to have these feelings because I am looking back at my past with the eyes of a 58-year-old man. How could I have been Bruce Gerencser, the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist preacher? Who is that man, I ask myself. Thanks be to Zeus he no longer exists, having been slain by reason and maturity, but I still live with the memories of the past.

I am Facebook friends with several of the kids who were members of Somerset Baptist Church, a congregation I pastored from 1983-1994. I was their pastor through the formative years of their life. Not only did they sit under my preaching 3 times a week, they also attended Somerset Baptist Academy, a private Christian school I started in 1989. I often feel I hurt them and let them down. I think back to how narrow I was over things like certain kinds of clothing, music, physical contact between the sexes, movies,  and TV. If these children hated me, I wouldn’t blame them. Thankfully, they don’t.

When I talk to these former students, I hear their perspective on our shared experiences. All of them are in their 30s now and many of them are married and have children. Several of them are gay. Their religious persuasions run from atheism to liberal Christianity. None of them retained the fundamentalist Christianity of their youth. From their vantage point they recall things quite differently from the way I do. Several of them recall my wife teaching them to read. One man mentioned going back to the old church grounds and playing another game of kickball for old times sake. Again, what we remember depends on where we were standing at the time.

I recently re-read several posts I wrote about fundamentalist Baptist evangelist Don Hardman and his wife Laura. (please see Laura’s Light by Laura Hardman, A Book Review and The Preacher: The Life and Times of Donald A. Hardman, A Book Review)  As I read these posts I felt twinges of guilt and sadness. When I was a pastor, I had no closer friends than Don and Laura Hardman. I loved them like they were family. When they came to our church it was the highlight of the year. For 15 days we would focus on God and his Word. Every day Don and I would go out evangelizing and street preaching. The church loved the Hardmans and graciously gave of their money and food to help them.

From my vantage point as pastor of Somerset Baptist Church, I have nothing but good memories and feelings when I think of Don and Laura Hardman. I never saw them fight and I never had a cross word with them. Even when we parted company for a few years over my Calvinistic beliefs, we remained friends. In the early 2000s, the Hardmans came to Our Father’s House in West Unity, Ohio, a church I was pastoring at the time, and conducted a week long meeting. We had a great time, but I knew that I could not have them back. While they remained right where I met them in 1987, I had changed. My view of God, the Bible, politics, culture, and other Christian sects was evolving. Yet, we remained friends until 2008, when my deconversion permanently fractured the relationship.

Here I stand in 2015, no longer a Christian, now an atheist. My view of the past is clouded with the tincture of time. While I still have fond memories of evangelist Don Hardman’s protracted revival meetings, I have come to see that the preaching and the theology behind it was psychologically controlling and damaging. This is how I view much of my preaching as well, especially the first 15 years or so. Over time I matured. I began preaching expositionally and I turned from a Bible-quoting, hellfire-and-brimstone-preacher to more of a teacher of the Bible. Oh, I was still quite passionate about God, the Bible, and how we ought to apply it to our lives, but I was much more careful about using the Bible in context and letting the text speak for itself. While the Hardmans remained steadfast and unmovable throughout our friendship, my understanding of them changed. Again, my vantage point changed, resulting in me viewing the Hardmans differently.

Polly, my wife, and I have known each other for almost 40 years. Last July we will celebrated our 37th wedding anniversary. A year ago, I uploaded a bunch of old pictures to Facebook: family pictures; pictures from the Somerset Baptist Church, and pictures from Our Father’s House. As I uploaded these photos I began to weep. The memories of years gone by flooded my mind; memories of the people I pastored and the children I taught at Somerset Baptist Academy; memories of my wonderful wife and our little babies. Good memories. Wonderful memories.

Now, having a different perspective, I view the events recorded in these pictures differently. Is this maturity? I don’t know. Time changes how we view the past.  What were once wonderful memories are now clouded by what I now know about the emotional and mental manipulation I perpetrated on those who called me Pastor. As I have shared before, I am in a unique position. I am both a victim and a victimizer. I followed in the footsteps of the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) preachers who emotionally and mentally scarred my life. Victimized by their manipulation, I in turn victimized those who were members of the IFB churches I pastored. It’s an ugly cycle of abuse that I was fortunately able to put an end to during my latter years in the ministry and subsequent post-Jesus life.

So it is with Polly. While she and I walked side by side through the years we spent in the ministry, Polly’s viewpoint is very different from mine. I was the leader of the church and the center of attention. People, for the most part, respected me, loved me, and supported my work as a pastor. For Polly it was different. Like many pastor’s wives she was my gofer. She did what others didn’t or wouldn’t do.  No one in the nursery? Polly filled in. Entertain people every Sunday for 20 years? Polly did it without a complaint, even when her pastor husband forgot to tell her so and so was coming over for dinner. She quietly submitted to  a life as the helpmeet of a poorly paid, Type A, constantly-working, never-home, Baptist preacher.

Polly did without.  Our entire family did without, but Polly more so than me the children and I. She never said a word. She quietly lived in ramshackled houses and drove cars that were better suited for a demolition derby.  She made do with what she had. This much I know, I do WISH there was a heaven, because Polly deserves a huge mansion right next door to Dottie Rambo’s Log Cabin.

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However, since there is no heaven, all I can do is make sure that Polly has the best life possible for the rest of this life. She deserves it!

It should come as no surprise then that Polly remembers the past much differently from what I recall. One time I said, wouldn’t you like to go back to __________church? Immediately she replied, No I wouldn’t. I was surprised by her quick and negative response. I asked, why not? I then quickly learned, from where Polly was standing, that her view of this church was very different from mine. Who is right? We both are.

I have written a good bit about the abuse that went on, and continues to go on, in Baptist group homes. (please see Sexual Abuse in the Name of God: New Bethany Home for Girls, Teen Group Homes: Dear IFB Pastor, It’s Time for You to Atone for Your Sin and The Dogma that Followed Me Home)  The stories that some people share from their time in these facilities break my heart. I want to personally find these abusive miscreants  and beat the shit out them.  They deserve to have punishment heaped upon them. They hurt  people that I love and respect, and the fact that these dear friends of mine still suffer from the abuse received from men like Mack Ford angers me to this day. Every once in a while, someone will come along and leave a glowing testimony from their time in the same facilities. They loved their time there. They were helped and their life is the better for it. How can this be? Surely, someone is lying, right? Not at all. While it is possible that someone is lying or they are living in denial, more often than not, the difference is simply a matter of where the person was standing in relation to the person, place, or event.

Time shapes how we view the past. For me, I am finding that the further a person, place, or event is in the past, the fonder my memories are. I suspect that’s how we as humans cope with life. The tincture of time often brings healing, and it also allows us to gain enough distance from the negative things in our past that they no longer feel harmful or threatening. While time rarely heals all wounds, it does allow us the space and distance necessary to be at peace with those things that cut us to the quick. Perhaps that’s the best we can hope for.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you would like to ask Bruce a question, please contact him via the Contact Form. If you would like to financially support this site, you can make a donation through Patreon or PayPal. Buying books though our Bookstore is also greatly appreciated.

Did You Know Atheists Are Sexual Deviants?

pray for atheist

I want to share with readers several emails I received from a fundamentalist Christian named Matt Nye. Nye is of the opinion that people reject Christianity and become atheists because they are sexual deviants.  I hope you find his emails instructive.  Pay particular attention to the fact that Nye tells me he is 21 years old and that he became a Christian after years as a porn-loving atheist/agnostic. My God, they must start watching porn quite young where he lives!  Besides, since he was an atheist before he became a Christian, doesn’t this mean that he was a sexual deviant too?

One of Nye’s favorite preachers is Tim Conway, pastor of Grace Community Church in San Antonio, Texas. I wonder if Nye is aware that I once was Conway’s pastor? Imagine, one of his favorite preachers had an unsaved, sexual deviant as his pastor. Gotta love the irony, right?

Based on several posts on his now-defunct blog, Matt Nye is a Calvinist. As a card-carrying member of the John Calvin club, surely Nye knows that God has decreed and predestined me to be an arch-enemy of Christianity. And since I cannot overthrow the plan God chose for my life from before the foundation of the world, it’s God’s fault, not mine, that I’m a sexual deviant.

I hope you will also note in the one email that Nye asks me to watch one of convicted felon Kent Hovind’s seminars. Ken Hovind attended Midwestern Baptist College, the same college I attended in the 1970s. According to Wikipedia, in 2007, Hovind was “convicted of 58 federal counts, including 12 tax offenses, one count of obstructing federal agents, and 45 counts of structuring cash transactions” and sentenced to ten years in prison. In July of this year Hovind was paroled.  Now out of prison, Hovind, also known as Dr. Dino, has returned to his calling, preaching the gospel of young earth creationism.

Here’s email number one:


I noticed you said you left the Christian faith and are now an atheist. I have a question for you though. Before I ask you it, we have to define what a born-again Christian is. A born-again Christian is someone who knows the Lord, evidenced by 1 John 2:4.

So my question to you is this, did you know the Lord?

This presents a serious problem for you, because if…

A)… you say “Yes” then you are admitting there is a God and creator, but you walked away from him.

B)… you say “No”, then you are proving that you never were a Christian.

I don’t mean to sound condescending and I’m sure being a former pastor you know the scriptures more than a 21 year old like myself, but according to 1 John 2:19 “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would have continued with us. But they went out, that it might become plain that they all are not of us.”

You’ve had a false conversion my friend. I ask you to consider these things seriously because eternity is a long time to be wrong.

Email number two:

Hi Bruce.

To be honest, I don’t know you at all personally, as I am a nobody who stumbled across your site.

What I’m asking you to consider is this, were you truly “born-again”?

I was a false convert until the age of about 20 when the Lord opened my heart and saved me.

I’m willing I can describe your situation all those years. The “church” or “worship” part of Christianity is this “grit-your-teeth” sort of feeling. There’s also a sense deep within that you are rebelling against something. Like this energy within you that is fighting against something. I can assure you that “inner-rebellion” is completely gone. The only thing left is my sinful flesh which is dying little by little. Theology or preaching must have been your #1 thing while Jesus was just some accessory.

As I’ve said before, I don’t know you personally, but I assure you that the main reason people reject Christianity and become atheist is because of a sexual deviance. (Jude 1:18 “How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.”) Pornography is a big one. It was with me. I actually was atheistic/agnostic for some years and then intellectually became a Christian again, or “returned from a back-slidden state” thinking I was still saved. But when God saved me for REAL, he really revealed himself. Christianity isn’t a mental acknowledgement of the facts. Saying a sinner’s prayer and trusting in the prayer won’t do it.

Sir, I’ve had too many prayers answered to know that this isn’t just a coincidence. There really is a God. I plead with you, regardless of what you’ve heard about Kent Hovind. Watch one of his seminars and just think to yourself “Ok, there’s a chance I could be wrong, so I’ll be open minded” Eternity is too long to be wrong.

Email number three:

I’m amazed at how atheists can be so emotional over something they don’t believe in. I’m only spending my time to e-mail because I truly care about you, not to be condescending.

When you look at the Venus Fly Trap or any other Carnivorous plants, are you really going to believe that it was the result of a mutation? Here’s something striking, mutations have never been observed to introduce new information in the genome. Mutations can only scramble or duplicate existing information.

Check this page out.

I made no attempt to engage Nye or answer his emails. After he emailed me the first time, I responded and told him I wasn’t interested in corresponding with him. I asked him to not write me again, but, in classic Evangelical fashion, he ignored my request and emailed me several more times. This kind of behavior is quite common among Evangelicals who feel duty bound to share what “God” has laid upon their hearts. They have no respect for atheists, and seem only concerned with hearing themselves talk.

I suppose I should feel sorry for this young man. His head has been filled with foolishness that he thinks is God. He’s a youngster who pridefully thinks he knows the Bible and the mind of God so well that he can, with great certainty, pass judgment on my spiritual condition. Never mind that I have likely forgotten more Bible knowledge than Nye will ever know. All that matters to Nye is putting in a good word for Jesus. He’s told Bruce, the atheist the truth, and now that he has done his duty, he’s free to move on to other atheists who desperately need to hear that they are sexual deviants.

Why Are Evangelicals So In Your Face About Jesus?

love to tell the story

Non-Evangelical Christians and non-Christians alike often have a hard time understanding why Evangelicals are so pushy about their religious beliefs. Never content to live and let live, Evangelicals are determined to witness to and evangelize every person they can. Through verbal confrontation, sermons, radio, television, billboards, tracts, books, and blog posts and comments, Evangelicals are determined to verbally assault every person they deem a sinner. Evangelicals send missionaries all over the world in an attempt to infuse and subjugate cultures with their brand of Christianity.  Indeed, any Christian group that is not Evangelical is viewed with suspicion. Some Evangelicals even go so far as to brand certain sects likes the Mormons, Catholics, and Jehovah’s Witnesses as non-Christian.

Why are Evangelicals so bold and combative concerning their beliefs? To answer this, you need to understand how Evangelicals view the world, God, and the human race. Here’s a list of cardinal Evangelical beliefs. It is not exhaustive by any means, but everyone who calls themselves an Evangelical believes these things:

  • There is one God, the triune God of the Bible. ALL other gods are false gods.
  • Everyone is born into the world a sinner. They do not become sinners, they are sinners. Thanks to Adam and Eve’s fall in the Garden of Eden, everyone born after them has come into the world speaking blasphemies and lies  According to the Evangelical, everyone is born hating God. From birth, they are at variance with God.
  • Jesus Christ, the virgin born son of God,the sinless God-Man, came to the earth 2,000 years ago to voluntarily die on the cross as payment to God the Father for everyone’s sin; that is unless you  are a Calvinist, then Jesus only died for a few people. Three days after he died Jesus Christ, by his own power, rose again from the dead. A short while later, Jesus ascended back to heaven and he has remained there ever since. Some day, Jesus will return to earth to judge the dead and the living.
  • The only way sinners’ sins can be forgiven is for those sinners to put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Salvation is in Jesus alone.
  • Hell is a real place. When sinners die they go to one of two places: heaven or hell. If people have accepted the salvation offered by Jesus they go to heaven when they die. Every person who doesn’t accept the salvation offered by Jesus, regardless of whether he or she has ever heard of Jesus and his salvation offer, will go to hell at death. In hell (the lake of fire) sinners will be tortured and punished by God for all eternity because they refused or didn’t know about the salvation offered by Jesus. Bottom line? Every person ever born, every person living now, falls into one of two categories: saved or lost. Each of us is headed for heaven or hell when we die. There is no neutral ground, no fence sitting when it comes to Jesus and salvation.
  • The Bible commands every Evangelical Christian to take the message of salvation through Jesus to the ends of the earth. It’s the duty and calling of all Evangelicals to witness to and evangelize everyone they can. With a supernatural message and empowerment by a supernatural God, Evangelicals are confident that the salvation that Jesus offers is the one thing that everyone needs, and it is more important than eating, drinking or life itself.
  • Since there is only one true God, one salvation plan, death is certain and hell is real, the Evangelical Christian is driven to make sure no one dies without hearing about Jesus and his super-duper, limited-time-offer,  salvation plan. When Evangelicals stands before God at the judgment bar they want to be able to say, I warned them Lord. I told them Lord. I did all I could do to keep them out of hell Lord.

Every Evangelical Christian is duty bound to be a witness for Jesus. Fortunately for the non-Christian, Evangelicals are not very good Christians. Those who actually take seriously the God-given command to be a witness unto the ends of the earth make up a small minority of Evangelical church goers.  For all their talk about the Bible, most Evangelicals ignore its plain teaching about evangelism. They read and ignore verses such as:

And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you always, even unto the end of the world. Amen. Matthew 28:18-20

And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; they shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. Mark 16:15-18

For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. How then shall they call on him in whom they have not believed? and how shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard? and how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things! Romans 10:13-15

But ye shall receive power, after that the Holy Ghost is come upon you: and ye shall be witnesses unto me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth. Acts 1:8

Also I heard the voice of the Lord, saying, Whom shall I send, and who will go for us? Then said I, Here am I; send me. Isaiah 6:8

The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life; and he that winneth souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30

Most Evangelicals never verbalize their faith to anyone, and when they do, most often, they distort the gospel (salvation) message. Ask 100 Evangelicals to, in a detailed way, explain the cardinal Christian doctrines I mentioned above, and I guarantee you most of them can’t do it. Outside of the cute clichés they regurgitate, most Evangelicals are every bit as ignorant about Christian doctrine as non-Christians. They may know they are against abortion, homosexuality, same-sex marriage, Barack Obama, and Harry Potter, but their lack of basic Bible knowledge is appalling and it reflects the shallowness of much of the preaching in America and the willingness of most Christians to be content with knowing little about their religion.

A small percentage of Evangelicals take seriously the teachings of the Bible and the aforementioned commands to evangelize the world. It is these Evangelicals who tend to dominate the public square.  Committed Evangelicals know how to get the word out. They are well organized and they have mastered the art of public communication on the TV, radio, internet, and the public street corner. They are 100% convinced that God has given them a message that he wants them to tell to every non-Christian. Not only does God want them to tell every non-Christian the good news once, but he wants them to tell it over and over and over again.  It is important that non-Christians understand this. There is nothing we can do to change the mind or the action of Evangelical zealots. They are motivated by what they believe is a higher calling, and until someone punches a hole in their certainty there is no hope for them.

Should a Christian Preacher Turned Atheist Stop Using His Public Speaking Skills?

preacherShould a Christian-preacher-turned atheist-stop using his public speaking skills? Before this question can be answered, perhaps we should ascertain whether the person in question actually has public speaking skills. I’ve heard more than a few preachers over the years who were horrible public speakers. Their sermons were poorly crafted and their speaking skills ranged from incoherent to monotonous. Personally, I don’t know how some people listen to this kind of preaching year after year. Perhaps this is their purgatory.

I always prided myself in preaching well-crafted sermons. I worked hard in the study to produce the best sermon possible. I spent hours and days preparing my sermons. My goal was to preach in such a way that people would not only hear me but be moved to make a decision. The goal of every sermon was to force people to choose. Neutrality was never an option. Choose YOU this day whom YOU will serve, the Bible says. Even now, the most powerful speeches are the ones that demand something of listeners.

When I preached I was animated and passionate. In my early years, I moved around a good bit, but as I got older my movement lessened. Over time, I developed a style, a methodology of preaching. Generally, people found my style pleasing and my voice easy to listen to. I wasn’t a raging, fire-breathing, pulpit pounding, aisle running Pentecostal, but neither was I a droning, lifeless Methodist. (sorry for the stereotypes)

Words are powerful tools. Coupled with the methodology of preaching, words have the ability to move people and motivate them to do great things. However, words also have the power to manipulate and control. Numerous readers of this blog can testify to how the words of their pastor were used to sway, exploit, shame and abuse.

Any preacher worth his salt knows the power his words have over others Preachers know that the right word at the right time can elicit a certain response. They know what words can trigger an emotional response. Yes, preaching is supposed to be about knowledge and instruction, but mere knowledge will never cause a people to rise to the occasion and go to  war with Satan, the world, Democrats, secularism, and atheists. Great orators know how to stir people to do that which they might not normally do. Therein lies their power, and that power, when used wrongly, can hurt people or cause them to do things that are harmful, not only to themselves, but to others.

So what is a person such as myself to do? I preached my first sermon at age 15 and my last sermon at age 48 I spent 34 years telling people, thus saith the Lord. I have given thousands of sermons, having preached through most of the books in the Bible. Preaching is very much a part of who and what I am.

As a preacher-turned-atheist, I find myself in uncharted waters. I still have a passion for public speaking. I know I could be good at teaching most anything. I suspect, knowing my skill-set, that people would find me engaging and easy to listen to. As most any former parishioner of mine will attest, my ability to hold a crowd’s attention was never a problem. Oh, I had plenty of problems and shortcomings, but when in the pulpit I was at my best.

I miss preaching. I miss the personal interaction with people. I miss seeing my words move, challenge, and motivate people. As most ex-preachers will tell you, preaching was not the reason they left the ministry or deconverted. It was the stuff outside the pulpit; endless meetings, personal squabbles, or financial struggles that caused the most stress and angst.

In 2012, Pentecostal-preacher-turned-atheist, Jerry DeWitt, delivered a powerful speech at the American Atheist Convention. His speech, dare I say sermon, was given using the preaching skills that had served him well as a Pentecostal preacher.

Dan Fincke, a friend of mine who blogs at Camels with Hammers, wrote a lengthy post  about Dewitt’s message and his speaking skills and style. Dan thoughtfully raised some issues that former preachers like Dewitt and I need to consider carefully:

So, as Richard Wade watched this former evangelical go so far as to present the narrative of his turn to atheism in the precise idiom of a Pentecostal preacher, he turned to me and said, “You were right!” It made the dynamic so clear.

So—is this a good thing? I think in most ways it is, but I have a reservation. There is nothing wrong with a narrative in which “once I was blind but now I see”. This has always been a part of secularism. The Enlightenment’s emphasis on the “light of reason” was coopted, for example, by Descartes from St. Augustine. We need to reclaim some of the emotionally resonant metaphorical terrain that is part of our linguistic and cultural means of expressing certain kinds of experiences. Just because a certain emotionally powerful form of personal narrative was cultivated in evangelical circles does not mean it cannot have genuine parallels among apostates. We are not just ripping them off or somehow remaining Christians. But sometimes we do remain evangelicals, only now atheistic kinds. The apostate’s narrative often just has some basic formal similarities that make it true to co-opt similar categories to evangelicals when conceiving of and narrating what is happening within oneself.

But what about the Pentecostal delivery? I can imagine some atheists with what I like to call “religious PTSD” rejecting it out of hand for its “triggering” connotations that remind them of the shameless charlatans who pioneered, and up through today still, exploit those techniques to manipulate people into falsehoods and religiously based moral corruption. But the vast majority of the auditorium seemed happy to play along with DeWitt and to really enjoy the experiment. He got a hearty standing ovation from a good portion of the room when he was done and was one of the day’s leaders for applause lines for sure.

But the Pentecostal style might also simply look so well practiced and formulaic and manipulative that it is the equivalent of a shameless Hallmark card or a schmaltzy movie providing cheap emotional triggers using the easiest and least respectable methods in the book for pushing people’s buttons.

I think that if the emotional button pushing is a way to make an end-run around reason, that is corrupt and despicable. But if it is to package and deliver rational truths and moral ideals of rationalism to people in a way that will properly align their emotions to what is actually true and ethical, then ultimately I am not convinced there’s anything dishonest or manipulative about that. I am open to arguments though….

…As I also explained to Richard the morning before seeing DeWitt, I have preachers’ rhetorical skills and yet for the most part I assiduously avoid them in my classrooms, and instead work with my students dialectically and put the stress on the development of their own reasoning skills. Occasionally, I will get on a roll about something I’m passionate about and reach back to make a rhetorically boosted little speech. But even then I hold back on going quite to preacher levels. And if I do, it’s tempered and not exploitative.

There are two reasons for my hesitation. One is purely technical. I once picked up the interesting advice that if you can do something exceptionally well you should do it only selectively, so as not to diminish its impact. In general you should only put as much rhetorical push into an idea as it needs and save your force for when it’s really needed, always calibrating force applied precisely to what is necessary at every level.

But the more morally serious and germane reason I hesitate to go into preacher mode is that it can be downright anti-dialectical and counter-productive to cultivating an atmosphere of rationalism and habits of careful reasoning. Preaching, rather than just teaching or guiding through questions, runs the risk of inherently training and reinforcing the audience’s infamous preexisting susceptibilities to falling for passions and pretty words at the expense of rational thought. Even if you convince them of your point with your bluster and poetry, you do not train them in careful critical thinking in the process, and so you have not guaranteed they have learned to think for themselves, so much as to simply think like you. And you may have just contributed to their ever ongoing habituation throughout the culture in being led by irrationalistic appeals rather than rational ones. This is not just a pitfall of the parts of our movement that dance with religious forms but also the ones which dance with dubious political rhetorical tactics too.

I’m not sure if it is the case that the preacher’s style is always mutually exclusive with training in critical thinking. Clearly a major part of why it’s so dangerous in actual religions is because it is explicitly coupled with injunctions to just have faith and with countless dubious appeals to unjustified authorities. Can a rationalism which explicitly denounces such things be compatible with some fiery preaching? Can one preach successfully against authoritarianism and faith or is there an implicit bogus appeal to faith in the ungrounded authority of the speaker that is structurally there every time a teacher takes recourse to the tactics of the preacher?

Dan waves the red flag of warning and rightly so. Preaching, particularly certain styles of preaching, can be used to manipulate and control. Dan wisely warns about making an end-run around reason. Far too often preaching is nothing more than the reinforcing of this we believe and we shall not be moved from this we believe.

As a preacher turned atheist, I cannot turn off the speaking skills I used to ply my trade for 34 years. They are very much a part of who I am. The best I can do is be mindful of the power of the skills I have and make sure I use them in such a way that people are not only moved but instructed. I need to be aware of the power I have to manipulate people with my words. Self-awareness of this fact will keep me from falling back into using the tricks of the preaching trade to elicit the desired response from those listening to me.

That said, I want to put in a plug for passionate, pointed, challenging public speaking. Quite frankly, the atheist and humanist movement needs a bit of life pumped into it. I have listened to many speeches, lectures, seminars, and debates that people told me were wonderful. Well-known atheists and humanists, aren’t they great? Uh, no. B-o-r-i-n-g. Dry. Monotonous. Some  atheist and humanist speakers would be better off if they stuck to doing  what they do best: writing books and magazine articles. Leave the public speaking to those who do it well. If they are unwilling to do so, then they need to go back to school and take a few speech classes.

The atheist and humanist movement needs people who have the ability to passionately move people to action. I would rather suffer a bit with Jerry Dewitt’s preaching style (and I am not a fan of the Pentecostal style of preaching), than listen to a well-educated, boring man WOW me right into an afternoon nap. We are in a battle against religious zealots and theocrats, and we need speakers who can stir and motivate people to action.

Some atheists and humanists naïvely believe that knowledge is all that matters. Like Joe Friday, they think if they just give people the facts they will see the error of their way. Don’t get me wrong, knowledge is important; it’s essential. Way too many people becomeatheists out of anger or disappointment with the Christian church. Just like the Christian zealot, the atheist should know why he believes what he does. Or as the Bible says, the atheist should be ready to give an answer for the hope that lies within them. But, at the same time, we should not divorce our beliefs from our emotions. Some things matter, and if they matter, our emotions should be stirred, motivating us to act accordingly.

Paul, in 1 Corinthians, wrote about being a voice heard above all others. There is so much clamoring for truth these days. Who do people turn to? Those who stir them; those who speak to them. As atheists and humanists we must not disconnect our intellect from our emotions. If we believe we have the answer to what ails our universe, then we must be passionate about it, and that passion ought to come out in our public speaking. Yes, people need to hear what we have to say, but they also need to feel it.

Ice Cream: What Evangelical, Progressive, and Liberal Christianity Have in Common

ice cream flavorsOne of the common complaints Christian critics throw my way is that I paint with too broad a brush. When I disparage or critique Christianity, my critics get upset because I’m lumping all Christians together. I should be more specific when I write about Christianity, they say. I’m not sure what they expect me to do. Should I every time I use the word Christian, modify the word so everyone knows what domain, kingdom, phylum, class, order, family, genus, and species of Christian I’m talking about? Sorry, but there’s not enough time in the day to do so. Besides, Christianity is not as divided as the warring parties would have you believe. It’s easy to assume, as we watch the internecine warfare between Baptists and Catholics and Calvinists and Arminians and Evangelicals and Progressives, that they have nothing in common. However, the differences are not as big as they appear to be.

For example, progressive Christians tend to think of Evangelicals as fundamentalist crazies and Evangelicals tend to view progressives as weak-kneed, jello-on-a-stick compromisers of the teachings of the Bible. Listen to both parties talk and it is easy to conclude that they are polar opposites of one another. However, once the peripheral issues causing their disagreement are set aside, it’s easy to then see that the Evangelical and progressive Christian have a lot in common. Let me prove my contention.

The Evangelical follows a path that looks something like this:

  • The Bible is the inspired Word of God. It is truth.
  • The Christian God is the one, true God.
  • Jesus is divine.
  • Jesus is the son of God.
  • Jesus came to earth and was born of a virgin.
  • Jesus worked miracles while on earth.
  • Humans are sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness,
  • Jesus died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
  • Jesus ascended back to heaven and will some day return to earth.
  • Jesus offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin to all who will put their faith in him.
  • Those who accept this offer go to heaven when they die.
  • Those who don’t accept this offer go to hell when they die

The progressive Christian follows a path that looks something like this:

  • The Bible is, to some degree, inspired and contains truth.
  • The Christian God is the one, true God
  • Jesus is divine.
  • Jesus is the son of God.
  • Jesus came to earth and may or may not have been born of a virgin.
  • Jesus worked miracles while on earth.
  • Humans are sinners in need of salvation and forgiveness,
  • Jesus died on the cross to atone for humanity’s sin.
  • Jesus resurrected from the dead three days later.
  • Jesus ascended back to heaven and will some day return to earth.
  • Jesus offers salvation and the forgiveness of sin to all who will put their faith in him.
  • Those who accept this offer go to heaven when they die.
  • Those who don’t accept this offer might go to hell when they die or they might be annihilated.

As you can see, the Evangelical and the progressive Christian have a lot in common. These two parties tend to fuss and fight over the nature of the Bible, whether the virgin birth was necessary, whether Christianity is exclusive, and whether non-Christians go to hell when they die. Apart from these things, they are kissing cousins.

What adds to the confusion is that many Christians think fundamentalism and Evangelicalism are not the same. As I made clear in the post, Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?, all Evangelicals are theological fundamentalists and most of them are also social fundamentalists. Press an Evangelical who objects to being called a fundamentalist about his beliefs and he will eventually show his true colors. Fine, an Evangelical may often say. At least I’m not a legalist like other Evangelicals, so that means I’m not really a fundamentalist. I smile at this point and say, are you sure about that? Are you sure you aren’t, to some degree, a social fundamentalist?  Here’s what I had to say about this issue in Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?:

Social fundamentalism focuses on the conduct, lifestyle, and social engagement of the Christian. An Evangelical looks at the rules, standards, and negativity of an IFB church that proudly claims the fundamentalist moniker and says, SEE I am NOT a Fundamentalist. I don’t believe in legalism (demanding a Christian live a certain way). I believe in grace and I leave it to God to change how a person lives.

This sounds good, doesn’t it? However, when you start to poke around a bit, you will find that almost every Evangelical is a social fundamentalist. The only difference between Evangelicals is to what degree they are. This can be quickly proved by asking people who think they are a non-fundamentalist Evangelicals a few questions. Questions like:

  • Can a practicing homosexual be a Christian?
  • Can a homosexual man be a deacon or pastor in your church?
  • Can a same-sex couple work in the nursery together?
  • Do think it is OK for unmarried heterosexuals to engage in sexual activity?
  • Can a cohabiting heterosexual couple be a member of your church?
  • Do you think it is morally right for a woman to wear a skimpy outfit to church?
  • Is it ever right to have an abortion?
  • Do you think smoking marijuana is OK?
  • Do you think it OK for your pastor to smoke cigars and drink alcohol at the local bar?
  • Is it OK for someone, in the privacy of their home, to become inebriated?

By asking these questions, and a number of other ones, you will quickly find out that non-fundamentalist Evangelicals are social fundamentalists after all. They may jeer and laugh at the crazy, extreme rules and standards of the IFB church, but they too have their own set of non-negotiable social standards. They, like their IFB brethren, are social fundamentalists.

I am sure some Evangelicals will be sure to argue that their social fundamentalism, like their theological fundamentalism, come straight from the Bible. Of course, ALL Evangelicals think their beliefs come straight from the Bible. The IFB pastor has a proof-text for everything he preaches against, as does the I-am-NOT-a fundamentalist-Evangelical-pastor. Both believe the Bible is truth, an inspired, inerrant, supernatural text. The only difference between them is their interpretation of the Bible.

No Evangelicals yet have successfully challenged my contention that they are fundamentalist. What often confuses the matter is progressive and liberal Christians who, out of fear or complacency, still affiliate with the Evangelical church. While I recognize such people exist, they are Evangelical in name only.

What complicates matters further is those who are to the left of progressive Christianity, those who are commonly called liberals. Liberals are quite hard to pin down belief-wise. They often despise Evangelicalism and even take issue with certain aspects of progressive Christianity, yet when pressed about their own beliefs, their interlocutors find out that nailing down liberal beliefs are like trying to nail Jell-O to the wall.  There seems to be no theological hill they’re willing to die on, no belief, save that Jesus is their Lord and Savior, they aren’t willing to jettison if called on to do so. Those who have been riding Bruce’s crazy train for a long time might remember a frequent commenter by the name of Grace. She was a liberal Episcopalian. While she said she accepted the ecumenical creeds as statements of her faith, there was little, belief-wise, that she held dear. It was frustrating to interact with Grace because it was almost impossible to find common ground with her. God is love, Grace would say, and I’d reply, explain this so-called God of love to me in light of this same God destroying the entire human race, save eight, with a flood.  From my perspective, the notion of a God of love that wipes everyone off the face of the earth makes no sense. In Grace’s mind, making sense wasn’t important. All that mattered is that God is love.

From an intellectual perspective, I can understand Evangelicalism. Beliefs are clearly defined. But, with the liberal Christian, it seems that all they have as the cornerstone of their belief is the notion that God is love and Jesus is the personification of that love. Certainly I’m being simplistic, but I’d love for some liberal Christians to explain to me exactly what beliefs matter to them. What  beliefs are nonnegotiable? Every liberal I know thinks the Bible is a book of great stories and metaphors, yet they hold on tight to the notion that Jesus is who Christianity says he is and he is their savior. The liberal throws away the Old Testament and paints Paul as a misogynistic control freak. Book after book is relegated to the dung pile of human ignorance. All that is left is a selection of writings from the gospels and maybe the book of Acts. While liberals love to appeal to antiquity for support of their supposedly enlightened view, I’ve yet to stumble across this view in the writings of the early church fathers. Liberals, with one foot firmly planted in the modern world and its repudiation of much of what Evangelicals hold dear, want to hang on to Jesus, so they grab for beliefs they can hold on to and still be considered Christian.

To the liberal Christian I ask:

  • Is belief in the Christian God important?
  • Is everyone a sinner?
  • Does everyone need the forgiveness of sins and salvation?
  • Is Jesus in any way divine?
  • Was Jesus’s death necessary?
  • Did Jesus resurrect from the dead?
  • Where is Jesus now?
  • Is there a heaven? a hell? What determines who goes where after death?
  • Do all roads lead to heaven?

These are questions that many liberals prefer not to answer or think they are unimportant. In their minds, it’s all about Jesus. They are, in many ways, no different from some Evangelicals who say, Christianity is a relationship, not a religion. To the liberal, Jesus, along with the communal aspects of the church, is very important. Everything else is just noise.

Here’s what I think about the matter. Many liberal Christians are actually universalists, agnostics, or atheists. They like the idea of church, of belonging to a congregation. Everyone would agree that religion in general gives people a sense of purpose, meaning, and connection. It is this that really matters to the liberal.

When I take a step back and look at the broad expanse called Christianity, I see diversity. But, when I peel away all the issues that make Christianity diverse, I’m left with one thing: Jesus. Evangelicals, progressive, liberals, and everything in between, all love and worship Jesus. And where does this belief in Jesus originate? In the pages of the Bible. Without the Bible, there would be no Jesus or Christianity. While Evangelicals, progressives, and liberals bitterly snipe at each other over the nature and authority of the Bible, all agree that the Jesus they love and worship is found within its pages. And once this fact is admitted, then all of them are in the position to understand why I, and others like me, are not Christian. Whatever my backstory might be, the foundation of my unbelief is the Bible. Every Christian-turned-atheist I know says the same. We all have stories we can tell about our experiences as Christians, but at the end of the day, our deconversion rests on our belief that the Bible narrative is not true, that Jesus is not who Christians claim he is, and that the Christian God is just one of many Gods humans have created.

It’s taken me 2,000 words to say this. Please forgive me for not distinguishing between all the flavors of Christian ice cream. When I look at the ice cream case, I see all sorts of flavors, but they all have one thing in common; they are ALL ice cream. So it is with Christianity. While I find the various theological squabbles entertaining and fodder for blog posts, when I peel away all the beliefs that make the various sects and believers unique, I’m left with one truth: all Christians put their faith and trust in Jesus and worships him. I’m not inclined to spend much time making sure every post I write about Christianity says exactly which flavor I’m talking about. If it’s evident that I’m not talking about your flavor of Christianity, by all means ignore what I’ve said. In time, I will get around to your flavor, and then I’m sure you’ll complain that I don’t understand or that I am misrepresenting your version of the faith once delivered to the saints.


Roman Catholicism also have fundamentalist, progressive, and liberal wings.

Yes, I am aware that there are as many shades of Christianity as there wall color chips in the paint department at the local Lowe’s. That said, every Christian falls somewhere along the line between Evangelical and liberal.

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you would like to ask Bruce a question, please contact him via the Contact Form. If you would like to financially support this site, you can make a donation through Patreon or PayPal. Buying books though our Bookstore is also greatly appreciated.

Evangelical Christianity is the Only Rational Worldview, says Dan Phillips

closed minded christianity

Dan Phillips, a frequent contributor to the fundamentalist Christian blog Pyromaniacs and pastor of Copperfield Bible Church in Houston, Texas, thinks Evangelical Christianity is the only rational worldview. Phillips had this to say about this supposed rationality:

A Mormon friend, in passing, remarked that religion is not rational, so he didn’t expect it to make sense. It’s a matter of faith, not reason.

You might think, “Right: Mormon. I don’t expect rationality, either.” Hang on.

He went on to give an example—but the example was not how a human could become a god, or how there could be only one god and many at the same time, or how God can keep changing His mind about things, or how two equally-inspired books could contradict each other. His example was the virgin birth. I said there was nothing irrational about the virgin birth, and the conversation simply moved on elsewhere…

…But was he right? Is religion irrational? “Religion,” maybe. Christianity, no…

….Perhaps definitions are part of the problem. There is a world of difference between rational and rationalism. The latter is a philosophy, a worldview that asserts that man can know truth by the use of his unaided reason. The former merely means that something is in accord with reason, it doesn’t violate fundamental canons of thinking such as the law of non-contradiction.

Is Christianity rational?…

…But are some of our faith-tenets irrational? Two that I hear cited specifically are the Trinity, and the Virgin Birth.

The second example is just plain silly. I have never understood how this can be an issue to anyone who believes Genesis 1:1, and thus grants the premise of a God who created everything out of nothing. It’s like saying, “Everything out of nothing? Sure! But make an existing egg alive without a sperm? No way!” Canons of rational thought are not even stretched, let alone violated, by the fact of the Creator and Ruler thus operating within His creation.

How about the Trinity? Surely the doctrine that God is three and one is not rational?…

…The Trinity is the Biblical teaching that there is but one God (Deuteronomy 6:4), and that this one God is Father (2 Peter 1:17), Son (John 1:1), and Spirit (Acts 5:3-4). The simplest way I have been able to understand and express the truth is that God is one in one way, and three in another. Or, we could say that God is one “what” (i.e. one as to His essence), and three “who’s” (i.e. three as to His persons).

Now, do we understand the Trinity exhaustively? Of course not! How exactly does God manage being what He is? We don’t really need to know, since we’ll never need to be God. Nor should the finite expect to understand the infinite exhaustively. It is as C. S. Lewis says:

If Christianity was something we were making up, of course we could make it easier. But it is not. We cannot compete, in simplicity, with people who are inventing religions. How could we? We are dealing with Fact. Of course anyone can be simple if he has no facts to bother about. (Mere Christianity [Macmillan: 1960], p. 145.)

But we know enough to love Him, to worship Him, and to discern truth from error. And we know enough to know that there is nothing irrational about the doctrine.

Is Christianity rational? I daresay it’s the only worldview, ultimately, that is.

christian worldviewIt’s not hard to spot Phillips’ presupposition: the Bible is true and all discussions about what is rational must begin with the Bible. However, for those of us who do not accept the Bible as truth, the authority of the Bible has no relevance. The evidence that demands a verdict is that which can be observed, tested, and verified.

Are there things in the Bible that are not reasonable to believe? Are there things that a rational person would have a hard time accepting as factual? Phillips gives two examples of beliefs that some people, even Christians, consider irrational (lacking a rational explanation). His two examples are cardinal Christian doctrines: the virgin birth and the Trinity.

What evidence do we have, outside of the Christian Bible, that the virgin birth is a rational, reasonable belief? Is there any medical proof for a virgin becoming pregnant without having her egg fertilized by the sperm of a man? Is there any record anywhere, outside of the Bible, that a virgin has ever given birth to a child? Of course not. Belief in the virgin birth is not a rational belief. Believing that a virgin can have a child requires Evangelicals to have faith. They must be willing to blindly accept that the Evangelical God is capable of impregnating a young virgin so she can give birth to a God/Man.

Many Christians wisely reject the notion that Jesus was born of a virgin. It’s Evangelicals who stubbornly dig their heels in on this issue. For them, the text of the Bible is deified, and when this happens reason goes out the window. This is the kind of thinking that gives us young earth creationism and a host of other rational mind defying beliefs. Believing the Evangelical God miraculously impregnated an unwed Jewish teenager runs contrary to everything the Evangelical and the atheist know to be true. To suggest, as Phillips does, that the virgin birth is rational because the Bible says it is, is not an reasoned argument; it’s blind, irrational faith.

Phillips also uses the Trinity as an example of a Christian doctrine that is reasonable. Once again, Phillips’ Evangelical interpretation of the Bible becomes the arbiter of what is rational. For the atheist, the argument for the reasonableness of Trinitarianism is not important. Three in one, one in three, one in one, it matters not. The only question that matters for the skeptic and the atheist is whether there is sufficient evidence for the existence of the Evangelical God, or any other God for that matter.

The atheist, based on the available evidence, concludes that the Christian God does not exist. The Christian has the same evidence as the atheist, but rejects it, and by faith believes that the Evangelical God of the Bible really exists. Contrary to what Phillips says, Christianity is all about faith, and that faith, many times, is quite irrational. (1)

I know Phillips doesn’t  mean for his post to be a complete and full defense of the rationality of Christianity, but there are many other illustrations of rational irrationality he could have used. How about the resurrection of Jesus from the dead? All of the evidence, apart from the Bible, points to a reality we all know to be true; people die and they don’t come back from the dead. There’s nothing in the natural, observable world that suggests that the dead come back to life. Again, believing otherwise requires faith in what the Bible says about the resurrection of Jesus.

Here’s another “rational”  Evangelical Christian belief: Jesus walking through walls. According to the Bible, after his resurrection from the dead, Jesus walked through walls. This is a claim that any of us can test in about 10 seconds. Stand up, go to the nearest wall, and try to walk through it.  How did it work out for you? Were you able to walk through the wall, without doing damage to yourself or the wall? Silly, I know, but this is another example of a Bible truth that requires faith to believe. No one, Jesus included, can walk through a solid wall.

I found the C.S. Lewis quote about the difficulty of believing the Christian narrative to be quite interesting. I heard this line of thinking many times when I was a pastor. The essence of the argument is this:

If Christianity is a man-made religion, do you think its makers would have included the irrational, bat-shit crazy stuff found in the Bible? The crazy stuff is proof that what the Bible says is true.

Here’s the problem with this argument. Phillips mocks the Mormons several times in his post, but if I judge Mormonism by the standard set by C.S. Lewis, I would have to conclude that Mormonism is factual. Who has more crazy beliefs than Mormonism, right? OK, maybe Scientology is worse and Mormonism comes in a close second

Phillips enters this discussion with his mind made up. Christianity is the truth and Mormonism is just another man-made, heretical religion. After all, everyone knows Christianity is a not religion.  At least Phillips didn’t trot out the “Christianity is a relationship” line.

What do you think of Phillips’ closing line:

Is Christianity rational? I daresay it’s the only worldview, ultimately, that is.

Share your thoughts in the comments.

(1) I am not suggesting that a person can’t look at the natural world and reasonably conclude that there is a deity or a higher power. However, it is a huge jump from the deistic view that a God of some sort created the world to that creator being the Evangelical God of the Bible. There is a gigantic chasm between these two and the bridge that spans that chasm is called faith.  I am amazed at how readily Christians chuck faith in hopes of trying to “prove” that Christianity is reasonable. They diminish their religion when they do so.

“Taking Her Myself” A New Trend in Quiverfull Courtship & Betrothal


Guest post by Vyckie Garrison of No Longer Quivering.

Does God Hate Women? author Ophelia Benson shared a note written by a young patriarch describing his “biblical marriage.”:

As Bible-believing Baptists who hold to reformed theology, X and I believe that God is sovereign in choosing who will or will not believe in him, having chosen his people before the foundation of the world (see Ephesians 1), and that his selection is unbreakable and irresistible. If marriage is to mirror this principle, we believe that a woman has no right to select a husband for herself, but that she is to be chosen by a man and marriage is to be an unbreakable arrangement between the man and her father. Based on this reasoning, we have shunned a standard proposal and wedding ceremony, because if I had asked her to marry me (which I did not) then I would have given her the decision to marry me rather than selecting her and taking her myself. Furthermore, if we had exchanged conventional marriage vows, our union would have been based on X’s will and consent, which are not Biblical factors for marriage or salvation. Instead, I asked X’s father for his blessing in taking her hand in marriage. When he gave his blessing, X and I considered ourselves to be unbreakably betrothed in the sight of God. While we had initially intended to consummate our marriage after today’s symbolic ceremony, we instead did so secretly after private scripture reading, prayer, and mutual foot-washing.

As Quiverfull Believers dig ever-deeper into their Bibles in search of the truly “biblical model” for godly marriage, ideas about courtship and “betrothal” are becoming increasingly savage and brutish.  It would seem unlikely that Courtship standards could get even more oppressive considering that Christian notions of “biblical match-making” have already been taken to outrageous extremes.

Joshua Harris started a back-to-bible-living revolution among Christian young people when he advocated the courtship model in his book, I Kissed Dating Goodbye. What – no dating for teens? Now that’s a radical concept! As “bible believers” jumped on the bandwagon of father-led pairing of qualified young men and women in serious pursuit of marriage, popular Quiverfull patriarchs took biblical courtship to a new level of paternal domination as they pointed to Old Testament examples of “betrothal” as the very best way to ensure the future success of Christian marriage.

Jonathan Lindvall, teaching “God’s Design for Youthful Romance,” cited the betrothal of Matthew and Maranatha Chapman as an ideal example of a “true romantic betrothal.”  Lindvall describes the crazy-making process by which Maranatha’s father, Stan Owen, orchestrated a year-long betrothal which was to be a “demonstration of Christ’s coming for His bride” based on the parable of the Ten Virgins.

Mr. Owen still faithfully directed both Matthew and Maranatha to avoid physical affection until their wedding. He particularly cautioned them to guard against impatience. Especially since Maranatha was rather young, their wedding might be quite a long way off yet. Though they hoped that the time would be soon, they nevertheless resigned themselves to the real possibility that the wedding could be a matter of years down the road, much like Jacob’s seven year betrothal to Rachel (Gen. 29:18-20). Yet they were both naturally quite motivated and energetically prepared in every way they could, as quickly as they could, just in case the wedding should suddenly be announced.

Not to be outdone in the “biblical examples of courtship and marriage” department, Michael Pearl counseled his daughter, Shoshanna, to forego a state-issued marriage license:

None of my daughters or their husbands asked the state of Tennessee for permission to marry. They did not yoke themselves to government. It was a personal, private covenant, binding them together forever—until death. So when the sodomites have come to share in the state marriage licenses, which will eventually be the law, James and Shoshanna will not be in league with those perverts. And, while I am on the subject, there will come a time when faithful Christians will either revoke their state marriage licenses and establish an exclusively one man-one woman covenant of marriage, or, they will forfeit the sanctity of their covenant by being unequally yoked together with perverts. The sooner there is such a movement, the sooner we will have a voice in government. Some of you attorneys and statesmen reading this should get together and come up with an approach that will have credibility and help to impact the political process.

Yeah … that’s “bible-believing” extremism for you – and it’s not enough to practice these ideals for themselves and their children, “biblical family values” must become the law of the land.

As a former Quiverfull believer, I used to get excited at the prospect of searching the Word and discovering greater “truths” and biblical principles – the implementation of which would bring my family increasingly closer to a truly God-honoring model of marriage and Christian home life.  At the same time, I secretly dreaded what the Lord might reveal to me next through Lindvall’s Bold Christian Living, Pearl’s No Greater Joy, and other “biblical family living” ministries.  Already I was obediently and faithfully having baby after baby to the obvious detriment of my health, submitting to my abusive husband, homeschooling, home birthing, home churching, foregoing all government assistance including potentially life-saving health insurance and food stamps, cutting off all outside relationships with family and friends who were not like-minded Quiverfull Believers …. honestly, the regimentation and isolation made for a harsh and demanding life.

“What’s next?” I frequently wondered to myself … ‘cuz my practice of Quiverfull was not “peculiar” enough already, I guess.

I am so grateful that I got out before I had a chance to discover the biblical principle of a man selecting and taking a wife for himself.  I am afraid, since the idea comes straight from scripture, I very well may have gone along with my daughters’ father coming to an “unbreakable arrangement” for a “godly” young man to “take them” in marriage.

Ugh.  It is a trap – a life-sucking quagmire – to attempt to order one’s family life according to a worldview which teaches that whatever is in the bible is necessarily “biblical” and normative for all times and all cultures.  I dread the thought that today’s Quiverfull daughters are now being taught that a young Christian woman “has no right to select a husband for herself, but that she is to be chosen by a man” and given no decision in the covenant agreement between her father and the man who will be taking her.


If you are not familiar with the Quiverfull movement, please read Kathryn Joyce’s book, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarch Movement