I grew up as a fundamentalist Christian. A church three times a week, the Bible is the inspired inerrant word of God, evolution is a lie type of Christian. I have since deconverted and consider myself an atheist (I prefer the term free-thinker). I plan to write a later post detailing my journey.
A few months ago I had a conversation with a family. The family member is a fundamentalist Christian. I had just revealed my loss of faith to her. Needless to say she was surprised. She seemed unable to fathom how anybody could deny the existence of God. So, the conversation turned to proof for God’s existence. Her reasons for believing were personal experience, scriptural authority, creation, and answered prayer. While the first three reasons played a part in her belief, answered prayer was the most convincing to her. She never said this directly, but it was the primary emphasis of the discussion. Her logic for answered prayer as proof of God is as follows:
She had a need or want for something.
She prayed to the Christian God for this something.
She received this something.
God is why she received it.
Therefore, God exists.
Answered prayer is a common “proof” by theists for the existence of God. Sometimes it can be difficult to convince believers that answered prayer may have a natural explanation or may be a coincidence.
Yet this logic is flawed. I witnessed this exact same logic unfold before my eyes except it was not to prove God’s existence. It was proof for Santa’s existence. (I know, I know! Atheists always equate belief in God with belief in Santa. Please keep reading as I am just using a personal example to demonstrate the flaw in the above-mentioned logic.)
I have three young children. The oldest two believe in Santa Claus. Starting in November, they began picking out toys they wanted for Christmas. They went to see Santa and asked him for those toys. On Christmas morning they awoke to these toys under the tree. Automatically they attributed this to Santa. To them it was “proof” for his existence. Their logic was as follows:
They had a want for something.
They requested (prayed) for Santa to receive this something.
They received this something.
Santa Claus is why they received it.
Therefore, Santa exists.
See any similarities to the answered prayer logic? It is exactly the same. Actually you could use this logic to prove almost any being’s existence.
This does not even take into consideration unanswered prayer. When this is brought up, many believers will say sometimes God says “No.” Basically it boils down to this:
If I pray to God for something there are two possible outcomes.
1. It will come to pass.
2. It will not.
How would this be different if there was no God? If you made it this far… Thanks for reading!
I started life as an atheist and was pursing a career in the sciences. During my first year of university, I had a personal crisis trying to find my direction and purpose in life. A friend witnessed to me and I attended church service a couple of times, but did not find anything to sway my atheistic view. However, it was a really emotional and stressful period in my life and I eventually decided to give god one more shot and attended what I thought would be my last day in church.
My recollections of that fateful day are very hazy. I was not even paying any attention to the service as my life was in turmoil and I was wrestling with my rational mind and my spirituality. Eventually, I decided to just do what I thought was right. Christianity was not for me and I was going to sever my ties. To this day I do not know what happened, but god must have heard my cries and I somehow ended up at the altar accepting Christ.
Needless to say, I had a lot to learn and had to make a lot of adjustments to follow this new direction in life. I had doubts about my sincerity. How can I reject god and still end up accepting him? I concluded that god had set me on this journey because I wanted to do the right thing. Therefore, I decided to cast away my doubts and do things his way and rely on faith.
To show my commitment, I decided to get baptized. Just before being submerged, I remember telling god that he alone knows my heart and that this was my way of showing that I was putting my trust in him. After my baptism, as I was changing in the backroom, I mysteriously broke down into uncontrollable crying. Several people knelt next to me and prayed for me but no one was able to stop my crying. One of the church officials stood fast and stayed by my side the whole time to comfort me. When exhaustion finally stopped my crying, he told me that I must really love god for him to touch me in such a way. When I left and checked the clock in my car, I realized that I had cried for well over an hour. I no longer had any doubts about my sincerity and knew I was doing what was right.
My life had changed completely. My ambition in life was simple. I wanted to do god’s will and to raise a family. Science was no longer compatible with my new-found spirituality and way of thinking. Therefore, I changed my studies at university to pursue a career in education to avoid conflict. Life was good and I had a purpose. I became even closer with the friend who had brought me to Christ and ended up marrying her. I found a job as a teacher where I lived at a time when it was virtually impossible to do so. At church, I had found my calling and was a Sunday school teacher.
The first major test of my faith was when my wife’s first pregnancy ended up in a miscarriage; in my fundamentalist belief, this is the same as the death of a baby. To add insult to injury, it happened on Christmas Day. If god had said that I was not to have children, I could have lived with that. However, it was more painful to have the seed planted and then have it taken away. I felt like Abraham sacrificing my child for god; only in my case, there was no reprieve. I did a lot of soul-searching and made sure my life was right with god and told him it was his will and not mine. I was totally devastated, but my faith was stronger than ever.
When my wife was pregnant the second time, I was sure that god would bless us as I had remained true to him. The unthinkable then happened. We had another miscarriage on Easter Sunday. The anguish was so severe I contemplated killing myself. The only thing that stopped me was the vision of my wife exhausted and asleep in the hospital bed. I remembered my vow of love to stay by her through thick and thin and knew that I had to endure. God was using adversity to send me a message. Many months of confusion, guilt and shame ensued as I tried to figure out what I was doing wrong in my life. What was god trying to tell me? Were my motives contrary to his will? Did I love my wife more than him? Was I really sincere in my walk with him? Was my ambition of wanting a family not in god’s plans? All I wanted was to do the right thing. I had been tested again, but I had promised to trust him and I again stood firm in my resolve.
However, there was a difference this time. I studied the bible more rigorously and reassessed my faith and started to touch the boundaries of the fundamentalist box I had put myself in. What if I was wrong? Fear kept me from exploring that question for a long time. I looked back and remember that I had asked the same question when I was an atheist. If I never confronted the question, I would not have found god. It was a question I must explore again if I wanted the truth and do what is right. I took tiny steps to remove my fundamentalist blinders and looked outside my box, and the world opened up in a totally different way.
For the first time in my Christian life I started to look outwards instead of inwards and saw the world and the people around me without my fundamentalist mentality. I finally saw people as people. We are all on our own personal journeys in life. God and spirituality meant different things to different people. The bible is not inerrant, it is a record of the search for god by people of the past. We all interpret our holy texts and ethics according to our own limited perspective and experiences. The Holy Spirit guides and moves us all in a different manner based on our own personal interpretations. We are all different and god did not intend us to be Christian zombies shambling mindlessly to convert others who were not like us. With this revelation, my whole perspective as a Christian shifted.
At this time, many other major events started to take their toll on me. I was no longer the fundamentalist I once was and felt trapped. My marriage started falling apart and I was secretly struggling with the beginning stages of depression from all the strain. I knew I had to leave the fundamentalist chains that bound me. Fear and uncertainty set in. Can I just walk away from almost ten years of my life? What will happen with my fundamentalist wife who I love so dearly? What about my friends at church? After a year of struggling, I was on the verge of a complete meltdown. My integrity did not allow me to maintain the charade of being a fundamentalist any longer. I again told god that I must do what I feel is right and I will trust him to lead me as he had done in the past. I had a long talk with my wife and we mutually agreed that the best course of action was to leave church temporarily to reassess our lives.
With that freedom, I was finally completely outside my box and began to explore. This was the days before the internet and finding information was no easy task. My first secular book was “Isaac Asimov’s Guide to the Bible”; don’t laugh as it was the only resource available at the local library at the time. In a few days, I learned more from that book than I ever did in church. There was no looking back for me. My thirst for knowledge increased and I even started exploring other religions. When my pastor checked up on me a few months later, it was obvious I had moved on. I have no hard feelings about my church. There were some good honest people including the pastor that I really respected and appreciated. My time was not completely wasted, and there are many good things that I will always take with me. However, there were also a lot of the crazy stuff and I had to leave the lunatics and the narrow mindset behind.
I left church almost 25 years ago now. I am still motivated by finding the truth and doing what is right. There is no need for me to go into details of my journey from this point since those of us who had similar experiences will know what will ultimately happen when one chooses to open one’s mind; I grew up and left god behind. Unless some real evidence shows up to the contrary, I personally believe that there is no god especially as put forth by the various religions. A person’s belief in or lack of belief in god is no longer a concern for me. What is important, is whether or not someone is a good person.
Although I am back to being an atheist again now, I have a new non-religious spirituality in me. I feel a closer spiritual connection with the world as a result of my experiences. As such, I actually prefer to label myself as an agnostic. My ambition in life still remains the same except I have taken the god part out and shortened it to raising a family. Yes, there is life outside of religion and my relationship with my wife did not collapse as I had feared; love, trust and respect are even more powerful without their religious trappings. I also have two wonderful children who are just about ready to leave the nest and choose whichever path their own life dictates. My advice to them will be “Keep both your heart and your mind open in order to do that which is right”. That is what I learned from my own journey there and back again.
“Colors of the Wind” … You think the only people who are people, Are people who look and think like you, But if you walk the footsteps of a stranger, You‘ll learn things you never knew, you never knew. … And we are all connected to each other, In a circle, in a hoop that never ends.
When I was growing up in northeast Ohio, my family attended a Baptist Church. It was one of those places where you’d meet every Sunday morning and then again Sunday evening. Bible study on Wednesday night. Soul-winning every Tuesday eve. Thursdays were youth group nights, and on Friday or Saturday we may have some other activity and then back again on Sunday.
We learned about heaven, and about hell. They preached a lot about hell.
I can remember being taught as a young child to tell everybody I came in contact with about Jesus and how to be saved. If I neglected to tell someone, then on Judgment Day this would happen: The person I did not tell would be led before the Lord God. I would be sitting behind this god with the rest of the saved people. God would turn that person I neglected away, saying he did not know them. As they would be lead away, they would see me behind god and scream, “WHY? Oh Why didn’t you tell me?” And as they were led away, to be cast into the eternal fire, damned for all eternity, their blood would be dripping from my hands. Pretty heavy stuff for a kid, huh?
In my teens, I was a bit of a rebel, and I’d run away when I got the chance, rather face the consequences at home for my actions. When I was 14, almost 15, my parents were at their wits’ end. I was in the Detention Home for running away yet again, and they sought out help from the “experts”. A nice lady at the United Way told my parents doctors were having success with rebellious children by hospitalizing them and giving them intense psychotherapy.
My parents met with the doctors, then the doctors met with me. Yes, they could help me, they assured my folks. They told Mom and Dad I could be transformed into a willing obedient child and would change my “criminalistic way of thinking”.
I was sent to a local hospital’s psych ward with mostly adults (this was 1974, and there were no children’s wards at that time here). There I was locked up with a bunch of strangers. I was shot full of “behavior modifying” drugs which made my physical movement robotic. I also received electroshock therapy treatments. Thanks a lot, Dr. Vallaba! Some of the men abused me while I was in there. I thought I fell in love with a man who said he and Bob Dylan shared a soul.
After the doctors had used up all my parents’ insurance money, they wanted to send me to another hospital in Connecticut. But Mom and Dad had been talking to the preachers. They had another idea.
Surely, this would save my soul and make me a compliant teenager. At this girls’ home, the same type of hellfire and brimstone attitude prevailed. I was not allowed to wear pants, as that was a sin. I could not listen to any music besides gospel, as that was a sin. I could not talk about my past, as I had no past. I had to be called by my first and middle name because I was to become a new person.
There was an evangelical preacher who ran the place, Rev. Mac Ford. He and his wife, Thelma founded the home, and they took in rebellious teens from all over the country and also took in the unwanted girls who would just be abandoned there. We were all to comply with every rule or get whipped with a belt. That was the easy punishment. If a girl acted out, often she would be forced, after lights out, to stand in the hallway on her tip toes with eggs or tomatoes under her heels. If she slipped and squished one, she’d get a whipping or get hit with the switch. Runaways from the home were usually caught and then, after a sound whipping with the belt from Bro. Mac, she’d be handcuffed to her bed and a ‘trusted girl” would have the key. All meals were served her at her bed, and only was she uncuffed for bathroom and shower breaks. Once Bro Mac determined she had repented, she was off the cuffs.
Everything we did was strictly controlled. We were told not to trust our conscience, as the devil could be in there, so only trust the bible. And trust Bro Mac.
Everyday after chores, we’d have chapel. There we would learn about hell and how the love of god brought us to this place and how we must repent our evil ways and change. Then we had breakfast. After more chores, off to school. A trailer down the street with one teacher and learning packets, it was an ACE school….Accelerated Christian Education. After school it was time for chapel again, and then lunch. Then chores and free time, then chapel and supper. Even our bathroom breaks were timed and we actually had to count the toilet paper and beg for more through the bathroom door if we needed it. We were often awakened in the middle of the night. Sleep deprivation and what Brother Mac called “breaking down the will” were the norm. I could go on, but I think the picture is clear. This was a brainwashing southern Baptist cult and we were the subjects.
After nearly a year, I got to come home. And yes, I was changed. I was a good little southern Baptist obedient teenager who addressed my parents and all adults as “sir” and “mam”.
At my new Christian high school, I was more conservative than most of the staff! At this school, we would only have chapel once a week, unless it was “spiritual emphasis week”. During the “emphasis” we would have chapel every day. Chapel was where we were told about how the devil tries to get every teen to be worldly and do evil. We were ripe for the danger of hell fire! We must be saved. We must repent if we do anything displeasing to god. I recall Mr. Russell, the gym teacher, leading us in a prayer, asking God to kill us rather than let us live to set a bad example!
Throughout high school, I loosened up quite a bit. I still believed the dogma, but wasn’t quite so hung up on the rules. I began to read the bible for myself, and it did not read the same on my own as with a preacher interpreting for me.
After graduation, I began to think more for myself. I sought out a therapist who helped me let go of the guilt and confusion. Gradually I was losing the dogma and forming my own spirituality. I found god in nature and other human beings. I read about other religions and philosophies, realizing there are many paths to enlightenment. I enjoyed comparing the teachings of my youth to the myths and stories from other cultures and religions. I saw beauty and truth in many forms, and rejected the hellfire and brimstone from my upbringing. Or so I thought.
I recently found a movie that was shown to us “wayward girls” back at the girl’s home. It was about the communist takeover of the United States. I really wanted to see this film again, as an adult without the expectation of a great revelation and insight. The movie, along with another about hell, arrived the other day and I watched them. The acting was way over the top, and the subject matter was absurd. There on the screen a little boy had a bamboo stick driven through his ears so he could no longer hear the gospel. Communists on horseback terrorized citizens and the blood and guts spilled! Demons tormented people in hell, and worms ate at the burning flesh of the damned.
What happened next is what shocked me the most. As the choir sang “Just As I Am” and the preacher plead with the congregation to come to the altar and get right with god, I felt uneasy and a little sick. Fear and dread took hold, and then the panic ! What if it was true? Would my children go to hell to be tormented for all eternity because I chose to raise them as free thinkers?
Mind you, this is NOT how I believe, yet here it was, all this dread and fear and worry. I felt horrible and confused. It was as if a great wave had pummeled me and I was breathless! I contacted a woman who was raised similarly, and found that she, too, suffered from this occasionally. We discussed brainwashing and conditioned response, then I began to examine what had happened.
It was twenty plus years of dogmatic teachings took my emotions and spilled them out in front of me like so many dice. I realized that this memory’s emotional effect needed to be changed. So I set to work, discussing with my therapist these reactions, and he encouraged me. I reminded myself that it was out of love for my children I chose to NOT subject them to the stifling negative dogma. And I’m glad of it, as I would never want them to feel the way I did right then!
What good is spirituality if it does not lift one up? I examined what I actually do believe, and did some reading from some positive authors. I watched the movies again with my husband, and we laughed and shook our heads. The effect was more benign, but not gone away completely, so I shall work on these memories some more, bringing in more humor and love. Still, I am amazed this dogma has followed me for so many years.
I wonder, has anything like this ever happened to you?
Since my wife and kids are still actively involved with this group, I am going to use pseudonyms instead of actual names. Other than name changes, this a true story, learned through observation and stories from the pulpit. I use terms like sin and immorality because I am holding this church up to the standards they claim to follow.
Once, there was a man named Charlie. From what I heard about him, Charlie was a good man, kind and hardworking. Charlie met a young girl named Beth sometime in the early 30’s. Charlie’s desire was to become a pastor and Beth seemed to be inclined to go along with this dream. Friendship blossomed, and at the ripe old age of 15, Beth became pregnant. Oops, Charlie and Beth weren’t married. This was easily fixable; so, off to the wedding altar they went. Charlie became a preacher who, from all accounts, was a well-loved and all around good guy. His grandkids, who I know well, loved going to see him. They never remember him being angry or saying a bad word against anyone. Charlie had several children, the oldest one named George.
George lived in Missouri most of his life. He grew up in church, learning all the things a pastor’s child should. As George grew older, he met a girl named Sue. As far as I know, George didn’t have any desire to become a pastor in his younger years. I do know that George attended a local college for some time. I also know that George and Sue fell in love, got married and had a son. Wait, actually, George and Sue had sex, Sue got pregnant and then George and Sue got married, because that will immediately fix the problem. George ended up joining the US Army and served a little over 20 years. He was awarded the Silver Star among other medals and retired a Sergeant Major.
George doesn’t talk much about his Army days. From the pulpit, he would tell us, as a cautionary tale, that he did smoke and drink, though he doesn’t do these things now. He told how friends would try to get him to “commit sins”, but he was able to keep himself separate. Interestingly, George’s stories of personal commitment come from the time period when he had achieved rank, in the rowdy days of the 50’s and 60’s, I often question how an outspoken Christian was able to gain promotion. Back then, life in the military was much different from now.
While in the Army, George “surrendered” to the call to preach. Upon retirement, George returned to Alaska to pastor a church he had once attended. At this church, George raised his 4 children. By all accounts, the middle two did OK. The oldest got involved with drinking and partying and the youngest followed the same path. These children, along with other children that attended the church, became known throughout the community as partiers. At this time, although we weren’t attending the church, I was in a Christian school that had several of the church’s kids enrolled. My aunt hung out with one, in particular, who I personally knew as a party hound. This legacy of immorality seemed to flow through this church. Child abuse of all kinds happened there, many drunks were dealt with, as well as other stories best left for another day.
George’s oldest son eventually moved away. Stories of his problems floated around the community, continuing the legacy of immorality. George’s youngest daughter, Mary, continued the legacy close to home. Mary married a man who continually accused her of adultery. My feeling is that this is because Mary was quite promiscuous before marriage. Mary ended up getting a divorce from him. Mary spent time in at least one out-of- state alcohol rehab clinic and I think she went to a second one, but it was quietly dealt with; she was the pastor’s daughter after all.
Mary was caught red-handed, more than once, sleeping with a man she wasn’t married to. She was put out of the church several times for it, but was quickly restored to fellowship; mommy wasn’t about to be deprived of her daughter. These occurrences were quickly put to rest by sweeping them under the rug.
Finally, Mary got pregnant by Doug,who was another pastor’s son. Doug and Mary were married, which is a story unto itself. Doug and Mary finally divorced because Mary finally couldn’t keep up with Doug’s “worldly” lifestyle. Which is funny, because Mary did the same kinds of things Doug did, only now she couldn’t keep up with Doug’s worldly pace.
Mary finally married for a third time. After a time, Mary’s oldest daughter Paula married a guy and continued to go to church. During the church going, Paula and her husband started down their road into debauchery. I won’t name everything; suffice it to say drunkenness and sexual sins were part of their life. Paula and her husband split up, with the husband being the one who stayed in the good graces of their church.
The husband was welcomed into Paula’s mom’s house. He would stay the night so the kids could play with Grandpa and Grandma and the other kids. One night, Mary had a funny feeling something was wrong. Upon investigation, she discovered her second daughter, Julie was sleeping with Mary’s estranged husband and had been doing so for a while. ALL of the blame was put on the husband since Julie was just 18 and had obviously been seduced. Julie was quickly forgiven by the church and all was buried under the rug, once again. I don’t believe for one minute that the husband was innocent, but the pastor’s granddaughter was given a pass just like his children were.
So, this is the legacy of Charlie, a man of God. I have some suspicions that another of George’s daughters got caught up in the sex trap, but that story is never mentioned and questions are discouraged. At least two of George’s other grandchildren were sexually active before marriage and have had multiple marriages. In the interest of full disclosure, I am married to one of George’s granddaughters. Before we were married, there was a lot of kissing and petting, but no intercourse. I will even admit to being the one who instigated things. I only say this to let everyone know that I am not perfect.
I write this because people speak of a spiritual legacy. This story tells of another kind of legacy. This is the legacy of problems being swept under the rug and never dealt with. This is 70+ years of the same kinds of problems in one family. And the reason nothing was done is because this was the pastor’s family. Both of the deacons in this church had similar things go on with their families. Again, these “incidents” were quickly and discreetly dealt with. Criminal actions were quickly and quietly dealt with. One of these deacons was on the verge of going to jail for fraud and theft, but the charges disappeared and no mention was ever made of this again.
My father, along with several others, were marginalized and driven from this church because they dared to call these people to account for their actions. If people had been forced to confront their actions, maybe these problems would have been stopped in the first generation. Instead, multiple generations have been affected and the problems persist.
This is just one IFB/Sovereign Grace church. I’m not saying this is the only church that has had these problems. I know there are many others like this. This is just my experience with family and one church.
In Matthew 7:23-27, Jesus compares a wise man to someone who builds his house on a rock. Then he compares a foolish man to someone who builds his house upon the sand. In the account he mentions the rain falling and wind blowing (a storm). The wise man’s house survives while the foolish man’s did not.
It will probably not surprise anybody reading this blog that the leaders of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement fall into the foolish category! As such they have built their house upon the sand. The storms have come and now the IFB house is crumbling. In this blog post I want to discuss some of the blocks that make up the IFB’s shaky foundation and the storms that are tearing the house down. The following may not be applicable to all IFB churches, but I think it represents the majority.
Fundamental Building Blocks
I. Saturday Soulwinning
Drive by most IFB churches on a Saturday morning and there will be cars in the driveway. Members pile in dressed semi-casual. Just dressy enough to be deemed professional, but not dressy enough to come off as “preachy”.
After a few refreshments and a short devotion, they hit the streets. They go two by two with pockets padded with gospel tracts and a pocket New Testament. Door by door they invite people to church and offer them eternal salvation. At 100 Anywhere St, they encounter John Doe (referred to as John hereafter). “Are you 100% sure you would go to heaven if you died?” is a question they inevitably ask. John says “No.”, but is willing to listen. They begin their one, two, three repeat after me routine. John says a prayer. The soulwinner declares John saved forever from the fiery torments of hell.
The soulwinner is happy! This is another number he or she can announce to the church. And numbers are what the IFB is all about!
II. Friendly Folks
After this prayer, the soulwinner convinces John that he needs to be baptized. The soulwinner suggests he come to church the next day to enjoy some promotion happening that Sunday. When he gets to church he is greeted by friendly smiling folks. They shake his hand, and offer to sit with him. The people seem genuinely happy to see him. The members make John feel really special. The church members introduce him to the pastor. While this is the first time they met, he knew already knew the pastor’s name because it was on the tract he received, the church sign, the church bus, and bulletin.
III. A Pure Passionate Pastor
The pastor is dressed in a dark suit with a nice white shirt, plain tie, and parted short hair. Let’s call him Pastor Joe. After the singing concludes, Pastor Joe goes to the pulpit to preach. He opens his Bible and reads one verse. Then he prays and tells everyone to close their Bibles and look at him. He never goes back to the Bible verse again. Pastor Joe preaches with intensity and conviction. The sermon is ended with an altar call. Then John gets baptized and joins the church.
IV. Bible Believers
John begins attending services regularly. Every service Pastor Joe puts a big emphasis on the Bible. He preaches what he does because that is what the Bible says not his opinion. The Bible he preaches from is not just any Bible, it is the King James Version. Pastor Joe makes a point to remind the congregation of the evils of all other translations. John feels as though he has found the truth. Who can argue with the Bible, right?
V. Strict Separation
John enquires from the other members as to why all the women wear skirts. John is given an Old Testament verse and then a New Testament verse about being separate from the world. Pastor Joe gives a long list of things that are not permitted. John gets a haircut and fresh shave. John begins to distance himself from family members that are deemed worldly by the church.
John is completely won over to the pastor, church, and it’s work. Everything is great. John works on a bus route, sings in the choir, and takes up the offering. He tells everyone he encounters about his church and pastor. This lasts for a while. It may even last years. Then things begin to change. The IFBer’s will say it is the work of the devil.
The truth of what’s happening is a storm is coming. The winds and rain begin to expose the cracks in the IFB’s weak foundation. Soon, John will realize that the truth of the IFB house.
The following are the storms that will knock the IFB house down.
1. Sales Strategies
John goes to Saturday Soulwinning. He even takes a class offered by the church to teach him how to “win a soul” to Christ. It does not take John long to realize that this “soulwinning” is nothing more than a sales pitch. Overcome objections as quickly as possible, give a few verses, and get down to the praying. The church needs numbers to post! It has nothing to do with conviction, repentance, or salvation. It’s about saying a prayer to be able to add a number to the chart. John sees the shallowness of the whole charade. They are no different from any other door to door salesman.
2. Fake Folks
As John gets closer and more acquainted with the members, he sees that they don’t live the way they portray. They say “Amen!” to preaching about wrong music. Then they listen to that music in their cars. The friendliness of the folks depends on his willingness to comply. There’s no room for individuality. The church demands John to give them all. Of course they disguise this as giving Jesus all. Family must be neglected for the ministry. John’s eyes are slowly starting to open.
3. Corruption and Cover Up
Another member of the church tells John that he suspects the pastor of embezzling money from the church funds. John rejects this out right. “My pastor could never do that.”, he thinks. This allegation does make John more inquisitive about the church finances. John notices inconsistencies in the financial spread sheets. John confronts the pastor. Pastor Joe is outraged at the mere mention of his immoral behavior. Joe throws John out of the office and claims the devil is just trying to hurt the ministry. “You cannot question the man of God!”, he shouts.
John convinces himself that the allegations are false even though more evidence of guilt is discovered. He observed the leaders of the church demonize the ones making the allegations and cover up the truth.
John searches the internet and finds that the IFB movement is known for the immorality of its leaders. He reads about Jack Hyles, Jack Schaap, and Bob Gray from Jacksonville, FL.
John continues to attend the church although he has become more disillusioned with the IFB house he once loved.
4. Differing Doctrines
John believes that the IFB house has some problems. Even so, he feels they are the closest to the Bible. Then John runs into various people from many different denominations. Each one claims to follow the Bible exclusively. “How could this be so?” he wonders. He begins to study for himself.
John sees that even the IFB disagrees with itself. For instance…he studies the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture. “Were the KJV translators inspired or just the original writers? Is the KJV the best translation or word for word perfect? What about other languages? Can a person be “saved” using another translation? If not, what about everyone before 1611?”. He is confronted with these issues and many more. He finds IFB pastors on both sides of the question.
John decides to ask Pastor Joe about some of the issues. Pastor Joe gives him his explanation. When John disagrees or asks more questions, he is met with resistance. John is called “divisive” and told just to believe Pastor Joe.
5. Silly Standards
Often John hears preaching about separation. As he starts to question more, he sees the hypocrisy of the standards and the logic used to support. Members tell him it is wrong to go to the movies. When asked, “Why?”. They respond, “God tells us to abstain from all appearance of evil. You go to the movies to see a family movie. Yet, there is an ‘R’ rated movie playing too. If someone sees you go in, they may assume you are going to the bad movie. As such you have not abstained from an appearance of evil.” John discovers that this same member has no problem going to a video store or owning a television. John thinks if the same logic is applied, these would also be an appearance of evil.
John encounters other IFB people who argue about whether men can have facial hair, the length of a man’s hair, whether preachers should wear colored dress shirts, and the list goes on. John realizes the silliness of all these debates. John wonders, “Doesn’t the world have bigger problems?”.
A short time later, the whole IFB house he was brought in to cane crashing down all around him. John survives, leaves the IFB, and lives happily ever after.
While this is just an example of one person and one church. I think it represents the IFB movement as a whole. The house is falling down and the IFB leadership can’t stand it. Let us all huff and puff until we blow the house all the way down!
Since telling everyone that I was no longer a Christian, I have been able to look at how Christianity affected my life; and, more importantly, why. Understanding why it was affecting me so drastically gives me a better understanding of how it was controlling me. In the end, Christianity is about control; control of our actions and our thoughts. This control is exerted by telling people that almost everything they do is a sin that keeps them from God. The good things that are done can only be done through the control of God, or they are selfish and, ultimately, a sin (the pride of life).
Christianity matters to people for many reasons. A few of the most prevalent reasons are fear of eternal torment, loss of community, and self-worth issues, in no particular order. There are countless other reasons and minor variations of these reasons. In the end, if a Christian is pressed hard enough, these are the three that will be the main reasons.
The first reason, fear of eternal torment, is a powerful motivator. People are told that, without the sacrifice of a murdered savior, they will die (like everyone else on earth) and will be tormented forever in a place of fire and brimstone. By looking at this idea honestly, you can see that this makes no sense. The basic premise for this idea is that an all-powerful God created the universe and perfect people to inhabit it. These mortal, insignificant people were able to do something so egregious that caused the all-powerful God to condemn them, and all of their offspring, to an eternity of torment, unless they believe in the aforementioned savior. Not just punishment for the two who broke the law, but a punishment, for all humans, that has spanned 6,000 years of Bible history and will continue on forever. Punishment that consists holding a dead person’s immortal soul into a place of fire and torment until a final judgment can be made. This judgment is a foregone conclusion, since a soul is unable to receive salvation or forgiveness from this all-powerful God. After the final judgment, everyone being held in this fiery place of torment will be cast into an eternal Lake of Fire. The fact that one person has suffered for 6,000 years and another person has suffered for a day before being thrown into this eternal fire has no bearing on anything. This is the work of a petty God, one who acts childish and holds a grudge.
This idea of eternal torment keeps people in church and pacified because it is such a fearful thing. The truth is that people don’t really want to do good to honor God, they want to do good to avoid eternal fire. This is not to say that some people don’t want to sometimes do good deeds for others, but the fear far outweighs the promise of a reward. Some people have called this fear irrational, since eternal fiery torment doesn’t exist; but if you are a Christian, this is a totally rational fear. (The eternal punishment idea never came from where Christianity claims its origins. The Christian idea of hell and eternal torment are easily traceable to Greek and Roman ideas of the afterlife, among other religions.) A rational person would be well advised to do everything they could to avoid such a punishment. The truth is that everyone dies and that is all there is. The fact that some evildoers in life get away with their crimes is remedied by having a place of eternal torment. The only way to escape this eternal torment is to be a Christian (of some sort).
Even Christians are affected by eternal torment. I have heard several people over the years say that they had doubts of their salvation. Usually this occurs late at night or when there is personal turmoil. Many people “get saved” more than once—I did this myself. In the back of our minds, there is no way to be 100% sure that you will miss out on eternal torment. We have been told that you can; but, until you die, there is no way to know for sure; so, people will cling to any chance they have of missing torment. And this is one of the reasons that it matters if you are a Christian.
The second reason Christianity matters to people is the community it forms. Many people are born into families that are Christian, or at least have roots in the church. Growing up in this environment means that most of the people you know are Christians and leaving Christianity means leaving family and friends behind.
Leaving behind everyone you love means two things. First, you separate yourself from them. You are no longer in close contact, or fellowship, with them. You miss out on many of the things you used to do together and you grow apart. Secondly, many types of Christians will shun you for leaving Christianity. In practice, this means you are worse than a regular unbeliever and deserve to be ignored by them. You are told, initially, that Christians are praying for you; but, when you are resistant to their prayers and pleadings, they treat you as though you are worse than a rapist or child molester. This is because you have once experienced the goodness of God but now trample it underfoot. They believe there is no redemption for you. They believe that for a person to renounce Christianity means you were never saved and you will be condemned to eternal torment.
Leaving behind all of you friends and being shunned is a strong motivation to keep people in Christianity. Being an ex-Christian opens a lot of doors and places you into unfamiliar territory. Leaving likeminded people and a pastor who tells you what to do and think means that you will have to make your own decisions, which is something many people don’t want to do. This community has been your stability, so leaving it is hard to do. You can feel as if your whole world is upside down. Many people stay, even when they aren’t particularly happy or satisfied with their situation, because they fear this shunning and loss of relationships.
Finally, self-worth issues keep people in Christianity. Christians are told that they are sinners and deserving of eternal torment. They are told that, without Jesus, all of their good deeds are nothing but filthy rags and there is “none righteous, no not one”. Being told these kinds of things for many years makes you believe that you have no self-worth outside of Christianity. No one wants to feel worthless, especially when eternity hangs in the balance.
Christians are told to be humble and to only “glory in the cross” of Jesus; the cross where a man was murdered because he was falsely accused of sedition, according to the New Testament. By keeping people enslaved to the idea of embracing low self-esteem, they feel that they are worthless. Their only value comes through Christianity and the affirmations of their pastor and church. When these affirmations are taken away, many Christians become depressed and feel that God has forsaken them. They then start a spiral into self-destruction, which they believe is because God is punishing them for not being true to Christianity. When these people “get right with God”, they were able to put away their “sins” because their self-worth was restored. This shows how insidious and powerful these self-worth ideas are.
Ultimately, these three reasons are intertwined. As I have shown, the overlap in these mindsets is a powerful tool for keeping people in bondage to Christianity. Understanding why Christianity matters to people is an important step in finally freeing yourself from its lingering grip. It will also help you understand why people are so upset when you finally announce your deconversion.
It would be perfectly engrossing. You would love reading it.
It would be perfectly clear. There would not be any disagreement anywhere about the meaning of any verse or passage.
It would be perfectly persuasive. People of any other faith would convert immediately upon reading this clear and persuasive message.
It would perfectly distributed to all the cultures of the world simultaneously, in their own language.
It would be perfectly indestructible. Neither years nor flood nor flame could mar or destroy it.
It would be perfectly original and accurate in all that it says.
In brief, it would be a perfect revelation proceeding from a perfect God.
And what do we observe in the real world:
Very hard to force yourself to slog through it. Most who profess Christianity don’t struggle through all the begats and directions for making temple garments. Very inferior to myriads of mere human novelists.
Earnest disagreement about what it actually says has led to thousands of differing denominations. Not so clear then.
It needs a bit of help. Pastors must spend Sundays being persuasive. Persuasive hymns and apologetics are needed. Heaven and hell must be dangled as carrot and stick to evince coercion through hope and fear and not clear evidential persuasion.
Given at one part of the world, the gospels especially, through unknown biased writers at unknown places and times.
As susceptible to decay and destruction as any other book.
Sadly imitative, many other dying and resurrecting savior gods from surrounding cultures preceded the Christ story. The Old Testament stories largely derive from antecedent cultures also. Flatly in conflict with what science has discovered about the age of the Earth and the evolution of life upon it. Flatly contradictory with its own self in numerous places.
At each expectation of what the revelation of a perfect and powerful God would be like, the Bible fails. Now these expectations are admittedly subjective, so that each one of them might be arguable. But cumulatively they become, at least as I see it, irresistible. Thus the verdict that it is not a divine document, but is shown by its own nature to be the product of ignorant and superstitious men writing in ignorant and superstitious times.
Do you remember when it first dawned on you that your relatives are all a bunch of crackpots and weirdos? Seems like I was around 8 or 9 — my mother worked all night in the casinos and slept most of the day, leaving me alone to protect my naïve older sister from the depraved advances of Mom’s alcoholic boyfriends and worry about my big brother’s drug addiction. I couldn’t count on my grandparents to help — they were too preoccupied with their own divorce, dating, and remarriage dramas.
“Holy sugar,” I thought to myself, “these people are seriously messed up!”
That’s about the time the fantasies began. My home, I imagined, was a three-ring circus — and my relatives were the freaks and the clowns. In my daydreams, I was not really one of them. No — surely, I was of aristocratic origin. My REAL family were royalty in a faraway Kingdom and I was born a beloved Princess in a fancy castle with many servants and my own Fairy Godmother. Somehow, I’d been separated from my blood kin as an infant — I was captured by gypsies and sold in a black market adoption — that’s how I ended up being raised by this group of crazies!
The Bates Family
ABC’s Primetime Nightline recently aired a segment featuring the Gil & Kelly Bates family — a conservative, Evangelical mega-family of twenty. The Bates, who are close friends of JimBob & Michelle Duggar of TLC’s “19 and Counting” fame, hold to the extreme fundamentalist ideals of the growing “Quiverfull movement.”
During the one-hour special, Gil, Kelly, and their children explained the family’s lifestyle which, to all modern appearances, represents a throw back to the imaginary 60′s-style “Leave It to Beaver” family combined with strict, Victorian Era sexual mores and the atavistic gender roles of ancient goat-herders. The Bates eschew all forms of birth control and adhere to the marriage model of the biblical Patriarchs — with Gil as family leader and Kelly as submissive “help meet.” Kelly and the girls adorn themselves in modest, hand-sewn dresses, while Gil and his clean-cut sons teach bible study and participate in local Tea Party politics. Aren’t they lovely? Don’tcha wanna be just like them?
I sure did! I left home at 15 and embarked on a quest to recreate my long-lost perfect, happy family — my REAL courtly family, where I truly belonged. After a false start involving marriage at 16, a baby at 19, and divorce after seven years of abuse rivaling the most astonishing freak show acts Mom’s circus family had ever performed — I remarried, found a “bible-believing” church, and worked hard within the Quiverfull counterculture to implement the best of the best biblical family values into our home life. I had six more children. I homebirthed, homeschooled, and home-churched. I submitted to my husband and joyfully sacrificed my time, energy and talents to build him up and help him to succeed. I published a “pro-life, pro-family” Christian family newspaper to inform and encourage other Christians to defend “Traditional Family Values.”
In 2003, we were honored as Family of the Year at the Nebraska Family Council’s “Salt & Light” awards. I’d finally made it! I had built my own Magic Kingdom where my husband reigned as King and I was his Queen, the children were our loyal subjects and we could all live happily ever after …
Like the Bates family, we were the perfect picture of the “biblical family values” fantasy — an idealistic vision of big, happy families: devoted husband and wife surrounded by a passel of respectful, obedient children — we were all sweetness and smiles. It is this mesmerizing dream world which energizes and motivates Tea Party Republicans like Rick Perry and Michele Bachmann to work tirelessly to implement the “pro-family” theocratic agenda into every aspect of American society: not only in politics, but religion, family, media, education, business and entertainment.
Fundamentalist Christians are convinced that contemporary American society is the World’s Most Spectacular Display of hideously mutated, diseased and anomalous freaks. ”Step right up folks!” the preacher yells, “and witness a grotesque parade of ho-mo-sex-uals, lesbians, Wiccans, radical feminists, godless liberals, secular humanists, and …” (congregation gasps!) “Muslim extremists!!”
Simultaneously fascinated and horrified, respectable religious parents scramble to shield their innocent children’s eyes and ears from the depravity and corruption of “The World.” They homeschool and form special Chastity and Creation Science clubs designed to insulate and isolate their vulnerable young from the miscreants and most depraved elements of popular culture.
It’s completely understandable and normal for preteens to create imaginary worlds — their own private, safe hideout where they can dream of nobility, of rising above and doing so much better than the clowns running the Big Top’s Museum of Mutantstrosities. The grown-ups watch in silent, knowing amusement as kids disavow their relatives as “psychos” and “bozos.”
But when otherwise responsible, Christian adults in recent years set out on a mission to create a radically distinct way of life based on “biblical family values,” the resultant countercultural movement known as “Quiverfull” has become an all-too-real Hall of Mirrors horror show.
In my own life, perpetual pregnancies destroyed my health, and my indiscriminate acquiescence to my husband’s every whim transformed him from a loving father into a tantrum-throwing tyrant. Burnout and disillusionment led to abuse, neglect, family disintegration and a particularly nasty divorce.
When the dust settled, I took a good look at myself in the mirror. I could no longer deny the strong family resemblance — I saw my mother in my own face staring back at me. After all those years of fighting and denial, I had to finally accept the fact that I really am one of them — I belong to these crazy people. I, too, am a conspicuous oddity — a bizarre spectacle and an embarrassment to my own noble children.
Funny thing is … these days, I don’t mind so much being associated with my misfit clan of circus freaks. Life experience has given me perspective and a deep appreciation for the inevitable realities and desperate circumstances which deformed and mutated Mom and the rest of us into shocking and extraordinary creatures worthy of society’s disquietude and awe.
Black market adoption fantasies and youthful idealism are important wayposts on the journey to adulthood. Rebellion against blatant injustice, hypocrisy, moral compromise and the myriad of other common grown-up failure is a healthy manifestation of a kid’s personal power and strong moral agency. Arrogant and annoying, yes — but in moments of truth we have to admit, the kid’s got a point.
Society sucks. Bigotry, racism, inequity, corruption, greed, depravity, malevolence, and all manner of evil abound. Let’s just face the fact that in many ways, the contemporary American social and political scene has devolved to become the World’s Greatest Freak Show.
No wonder Tea Party Patriot families like the Bates and the Duggars escape into their own personal fantasy-land.
Ironically, with maturity comes humility — along with a profound sense of connection and belonging to that wacky bunch of buffoons who share our DNA. We see our people with new eyes. Sure, Grandma’s got a beard and Uncle Stan is a charlatan — Aunt Betty’s such a lunatic, she may as well have two heads. But in the end, they’re all we’ve got. That perfect, royal family whom we imagined searched frantically for us for years and never gave up hope that one day we would return to our true home? They’re not real. Cousin Roger is real — never mind that he doesn’t have a lick of sense and the only thing he’s good for is shoveling elephant shit — he’s the one who truly understands you, knows all about you, and loves you anyway.
Tea Party family values are the fundamentalists’ desperate attempt to deny their own imperfections, vulnerability, and their inescapable mortality. Sure it hurts that they look down on us regular folk — those of us who make no pretense of actually having our acts together — they avoid being seen out in public with us, they disown us, and they shrink away in fear of catching our cooties.
But take heart — perhaps they’ll grow up.
I did. Not saying I don’t still sometimes get all starry-eyed and visionary over the possibility of influencing our society for the better — I’ve got a bit of spunk left in me and I’m doing what I can to stick it to The Man. But I no longer think of myself as qualitatively different or “other” than all the rest of my fellow human beings — my family. My freakish, crazy, wonderfully imperfect people.
I don’t believe in God anymore, but I still have faith. I have hope and I trust that collectively, we’re all gonna make it — we are learning from our mistakes and growing more compassionate. Our shared experiences make us wiser and I have confidence that better times are just ahead.
This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.
A guest post series written by Anonymous
Quite recently a friend of mine was found dead. We’re still not sure of the cause of death. It’s difficult to believe she intentionally committed suicide without leaving a note to her very beloved family. She was one of the most devoted mothers I’ve ever known and left four children and five grandchildren and many friends and other relatives, all who loved her immensely. She was my co-worker, my friend, my ‘happy hour’ buddy and was always good for a laugh or a chug. My heart is heavy; my stomach has been in knots for days. I will miss her greatly.
Her passing has renewed a few conversations in my mind I’ve been mulling off and on for several years. My next few posts will deal with some very personal issues but I think issues that must continually be brought to light in order for change to occur.
It seems the whole of Fundamentalism (including Gothard) reject the fact that depression exists and those who experience are not to blame. I grew up with a very depressed mother. I believe my father is depressed as well although he exhibits different symptoms (as men normally do). After their abusive childhoods and cultic/religious teachings full of blame and condemnation, depression is no surprise. My mother’s father was a depressed man. He turned to alcohol to ‘deal’, thereby circumventing displaying for his children alternative coping skills. My mother did not utilize alcohol. She had Jesus and a Bible full of verses to tell her what a horrible, rotten person she was and that even her good deeds were as filthy rags to him who died in her stead; if it weren’t for his death she would be nothing; and she was the reason God’s only Son suffered….and on and on it goes. If that’s not the most depressing ‘Good News’ I’ve ever heard, I don’t know what is.
One of the first stories I remember hearing Gothard relay to his audience was about a woman who had left a plastic bag in her infant son’s bedroom. While he was sleeping, a breeze blew the plastic bag into the baby’s bed and suffocated him. I can’t imagine losing one of my children, but knowing my choice not to pick-up the plastic bag is what took his life would haunt me forever. Of course, this woman was plagued with guilt and Gothard’s remedy was to remind her that all her sins were nailed with Jesus on the cross. Was that woman’s choice that cost her son’s life a sin? No. A bad decision? Yes.
But this seems to be the mind of Gothard: that every possible life choice or decision (seemingly major or minute) is a misstep in the eyes of god. Those who live under this teaching and believe it rack up hours and days, years & lifetimes of doubt, fear and guilt. It’s a vicious cycle I observed continuously as a child. My mother – beautiful, capable, classy and stylish- was never good enough for anyone in her own eyes. The condemnation was always there, but then she had the audacity to go and be human – feel emotions, speak her mind, react in anger or frustration and then the guilt would accumulate and we’d find verses written on 3×5 cards around the house or on the chalkboard in the school room reminding her of who she was ‘in Christ’ (only), not as a person who was loved and could choose to love herself without the permission of any ‘Savior’; accept her humanity (and that of others); to choose happiness. No, it was a constant search for affirmation and still is.
Even as a child, I remember feeling huge pangs of guilt and fear over small ‘sins.’ And in Gothard world, just about everything can be a sin. Any thoughts, feelings or behaviors that didn’t fall under the realm of his particular brand of ‘godliness’ were stressed over, creating compulsiveness I still find difficulty shaking. Most people in my family seem to possess a disposition for depression. When you are reared to believe ‘Jesus is enough’ and not taught to utilize positive coping skills, instead internalizing all the ‘sinful bad’ and shameful emotions, you become an accident waiting to happen. I internalized so much and created a very dark, depressed, narrow-minded world by the time I was 21 leading me to seriously consider taking my own life. I’m not sure why I didn’t but that day, I began a new journey out of the old thought patterns, belief system and mindsets that had led to so much bondage instead of the freedom purported by those I love and trusted.
Not too long ago, I was mopping the living room floor alone, enjoying the peace and quiet. I was in a good mood; I’d had accomplished a lot that day (always good for a happy high) and all of the sudden, out of nowhere, came a flood of depression, unhappiness and fear in such dark contrast to the sunlight I was feeling just seconds before. Tears escaped my eyes before I could not hold them back. At that point I realized the flood of depression and negative emotion I experienced was in no way related to my previous moments of happiness and that I had the say-so over the gloominess. I get to acknowledge its presence in my life, forego the guilt and blame and conquer its hold. That day was a life-changer for me. I came to a new state of POWERFUL self-awareness in my life and a new desire to find the strength to adequately cope with whatever comes my way.
It is not arrogance to believe you are worth whatever it takes to make this life YOUR BEST LIFE. It is not selfishness to take care of YOUR emotional, physical, spiritual self. Depression is not a sign of weakness.It is okay to acknowledge depression and get whatever help you may need.Depression is not a sin and never was.
I wrote this post in honor of my friend and for any and all of you reared within the condemning confines of Fundamentalism and Gothard’s teachings and who continue to self-flagellate, allowing those teachings to instill fear, obligation and guilt. My friend was one of the most unselfish people I’ve ever known. She was constantly doing for others and may have forgotten about herself in the process. Perhaps she did not learn how to cope; to confess her humanity to others instead of constantly trying to please & make everything ‘look’ good on the outside, discounting her own sadness and fears by focusing on the thoughts and needs of others. While I don’t know for sure, my own experience with Gothard has created some difficult hurdles as I continue to learn how to manage my emotions and thoughts and not berate myself over my own humanity (faults, weaknesses, commissions/omissions, etc.). For every person set free from the stronghold of Gothard’s teachings, there is something to share, something to be learned.
How have you learned to cope with your depression and negative thoughts stemming from cultic teachings?
This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.
A guest post series written by Anonymous
My parents really are nice people. After hearing some of the personal stories of some of my Gothard and Fundamentalist friends and watching families closely, all-in-all I feel pretty lucky. There was never any indication my parents were total mental nut cases, just two people trying way too hard. If their goal was to get a little further from the emotional and spiritual dysfunctions and effects of alcoholism or to give their children good memories, the ability to think reasonably and logically with compassionate hearts, they somehow succeeded in spite of Gothard’s dogma and the pressure placed on those who accept his self-proclaimed utopia. One interesting facet of this is they tried so hard and burdened us with so many rules and regulations and a mindset void of balanced thought, I think I could have easily become an alcoholic as I sorted through the pain and the brainwash. It’s been a long time coming, but I feel I’ve finally learned it’s okay to be a normal, run-of-the-mill person with hopes, dreams, strengths & weaknesses, failures, successes and a ‘sin nature’ who enjoys a balanced, pleasurable (gasp!) life. As I read the comments from my last post, I realized that only those who have experienced the effects of Gothard and Fundamentalism completely understand the difference between the issues we deal with that may have some similarity to common bumps in the road of life. Fundamentalists and Gothardites also deal with a huge GOD factor and resulting doctrines and beliefs which place fear at the forefront of every decision-fear of being wrong, of doing evil, of simply looking evil (which has numerous definitions in that world). If you think emotional blackmail in human relationships is cruel, try worshipping a god who utilizes it hypothetically himself and actually through your parents and environment.
I was in 2nd – grade when my parents decided to home educate us. My dad told me and my sister together and my sister or I asked if that meant our mom would buy red pencils. When I told my activity table in Sunday school one of my friends commented, “Cool! Does that mean you get to raise your hand and go to the bathroom anytime you want?” If only our experience were that simple. The thoughts of children- so guileless and unaffected; why would a parent ever accept the idea their child needs to be anything other? Life hits hard & head-on as it is and usually too early. Why not let kids be kids while adding layers of kindness, hope, courage, simplicity, strength, love, acceptance, logic and tolerance so that when the realities of life can no longer be ignored and tenacity must be forged in its fires, those nurtured qualities come alive & hold them even when mommy and daddy are no longer present? But allowing kids to be kids doesn’t work out well when you’re trying to raise an army. I must have been 7 or 8 when I told my aunt she would go to hell for wearing pants. If you think it’s evil the words ever left my lips, imagine being a child and already thinking those horrible thoughts about people you loved, triggered by a mere article of clothing. Yes, this was my mind, my world at a young age. My parents, prime candidates for Gothard’s inclusive teachings, started with his Basic Seminar (more later) and led to utilizing his home education program, Advanced Training Institute International.
Different than Bible-BASED home education curriculum, ATI is Bible-CENTERED (Bible being the textbook). If you understand the mindset of a family who would be attracted to ATI, this distinction is essential – Bible-based isn’t good enough if Bible-centered is available. Wisdom Booklets, based on a specific verse or passage of Scripture (Wisdom Booklet #1 beginning with The Sermon on the Mount), are provided linking Science, Math, Social Studies and Character Studies to the passage in some way. Fortunately, my parents supplemented the Wisdom Booklets with other curricula so that my siblings and I all graduated with the state required courses completed, therefore acquiring a better education than many die-hard ATI’ers. I have known personally some who brushed-off all other avenues of learning and education and focused only on their Biblically-based studies. I’ve overheard many ATI mothers and fathers voice their (non)education goals and dreams for their children. I know one girl whose father finally relented, allowing her to attend a local, forward-thinking, private, very high-quality institution with the understanding she attend classes without gaining credit. What a loss. This may not seem so strange if you realize the objective of ATI is to raise children who are virtually untouched by the ‘world’, its ideas, processes and practices. This mentality disparages traditional education of any kind. Liberal-arts, secular and even Fundamentalist Christian colleges (BJU, PCC, CCC, etc.) are not entertained as options for post-secondary education. Criticism from the outside and the ‘harsh’ expectations of existence (I say that tongue-in-cheek), led Gothard to establish Telos International which does provide some basic coursework for secondary education as prep for theirPrograms of Study. One glance at those websites will give you a good overview of the absurdity that is ATI. Fortunately or unfortunately (it could go either way), I convinced my parents God had called me to a Fundamentalist college, an experience I was mentally, socially, spiritually and emotionally unprepared for.
While in ATI, my family started every weekday morning with a Wisdom Search , a family Bible-study digging deeper into the ‘truths’ of the Wisdom Booklet we were studying. Most mornings Every morning, all I wanted to do was a grab a red pencil and commence voracious eye stabbing. My siblings probably would have too had they not been more lethargic than I some days. ATI parents believe they are doing ‘good’; they are giving their children a gift, a better way, a better life than the hopeless and meaningless existence they perceive surrounds them. I don’t know why neither one of my parents, both formally educated individuals, did not clue-in one of those sleepy mornings-my dad droning on while our heads bobbed listlessly, contributing occasionally to the conversation attempting to convince them we were awake and attentive during those few seconds we nodded off into leftover dreams-IT WASN’T WORKING. Those few seconds seemed like hours. Those days, years. Those years seem like centuries ago. And I’ve only just begun.
This series was written a few years ago, but since Gothard has been in the news of late, I thought readers might find it interesting.
A guest post series written by Anonymous
Awhile back, Bruce requested someone who had been reared in the Bill Gothard movement write a post concerning their experience. I volunteered. After many frustrating nights of re-typing, editing and scrapping most of my rough-drafts, I think I finally hit on a post I hope will work. I thought I had re-hashed, dealt with and de-programmed myself far enough away from that experience…
But here it is again, staring me in the face; reality hits and I find myself crying in the shower. I enjoy a beautiful life-a wonderful husband, three beautiful children and a place I love in the mountains. By the world’s standards, we don’t have much but, in my opinion we have everything. Our home is full of love and good times. I’m a lucky girl! Why is it then that some days I feel so screwed?
As a child, I possessed many interests and dreamed big; there were so many things I wanted for my life. Somewhere along the way, I was presented the lie and accepted the lie that I wasn’t good enough unless I was wearing someone else’s shoes, that I couldn’t just say “yes” to what I wanted because all I heard around me were “no’s.” My world was so small, created by a know it all, religious neurotic (IMO) with alarming stories, defining my childhood with fear, obligation and guilt and given the nod by my parents who lost any sense of judgment they may have possessed and, sadly, began closing themselves off from other persuasions. Confusion and dread permeated my young adult life as I contemplated where to go and what to be, the achievable dreams of a little girl lost in an environment too good for traditional education, occupations, livelihood and culture.
I don’t remember when exactly my parents became involved in Bill Gothard and The Institute in Basic Life Principles Seminar, but if memory serves me correctly, I was probably around five or six when they attended The Basic Seminar for the first time. My parents, both children of alcoholics (COA’s), were seemingly enraptured with Gothard’s teachings from the beginning. I’ll never forget the day my mother told me she and my father did not agree with ‘everything’ Gothard taught. At eighteen, this was debilitating news. I grew up observing my parent’s devotion to the seminar and their dedication to serve in various capacities – utilizing the home education curriculum (Advanced Training Institute International) and investing our precious time, energy and finances into practicing and infiltrating our lives with Gothard’s propaganda. Never once did we sit down and discuss the seminar, nor was I ever left with the impression that my parents questioned his teachings. Why? This question haunts me still. Both of my parents are educated people. In almost every other aspect of their lives they are deliberate. It took me years to realize the smidgen of truth and common sense in Gothard’s teachings hooked them – two harshly abused and rejected adults, now with four little children, looking for answers, just wanting to ‘get it right.’ My father was a meek, kind, passive, quiet man with little to no confidence who, in his desire to feel acceptance, was driven by the approval and acknowledgement of others, simultaneously building walls around himself and our family so that we were pulled into his everlasting eager to please, becoming as a family what he never saw in himself – something to be proud of and displayed. Then, there was my mother – a child inside who was forced by circumstance to be the adult most of her life, caring for her siblings at a young age, feeling overly responsible for everyone and everything and being caught in the middle of a fantastical life that would never be realized and the cold reality of independence. Both of them, so preoccupied with separating themselves from their own dysfunctional familial experiences and the assurance that perfection was attainable, seemingly didn’t stop to consider the cost; to realize the extremism of The Institute and the futility of embracing a life of mindless rules and regulations, walls, narrow-mindedness & pain.
Finished with my cry fest for the evening, here I sit – a computer on my lap and a college catalog lying next to me on the coffee table. Friday, I have an appointment with a career counselor. I’m desperate. I want her to tell me what ‘I want to do when I grow up’. I’m 36. I should have some idea of what makes me happy, what makes me tick, what I can do, where I can go…but I don’t. I thought I knew myself. The first 23-years of my life were spent listening to what I was ‘supposed’ to be, marry & love; what not to wear, to listen to, to dream or imagine and what not to believe or read or think. I lived in a surface level world where looking the part and acting the part was everything and allowing people close enough to see your warts non-acceptable. The false confidence I assumed as a result, not wanting my weaknesses to hang for the world to see, lost its grip on me four years ago when I became a mother – the one task, pleasure, challenge and gift that is unequivocally mine and I’m left wondering if anything else I’ve experienced thus far is completely genuine – some relationships, conversations, ideas & intentions. For 13-years I have been sorting through the good and bad of my childhood; the childhood of my parents and what triggered their seemingly unfeigned attentiveness to Gothard – an articulate, crafty peddler who insulted their intelligence with a product of unrealistic hopes and twisted truths he himself had never even sampled.
I think I’m beginning to understand why I’ve felt so screwed.
In spite of the fact I am a former fundamentalist Christian and ex-pastor, my minister son and his family think I am headed for Hell. This is my response to him. I use the pen name of August Stine to protect my son.
Different Family Beliefs
Your faith is important to you.
My beliefs are important to me.
We pray to the same God every day
For me, He is the Caring Creator;
Who cares about my well being
To you, He is the fearful God
Who demands obedience.
I believe Jesus was a spiritual man but not God.
I believe Jesus said some great words of wisdom
And I am sorry he had to die on the cross.
You believe Jesus died for the sins of man
And his salvation is a gift from God.
I do not believe this, but let’s suppose I did.
Didn’t you say salvation was a gift?
If it is a gift, why do I need to do anything?
You say I am going to hell unless . . .
You even give me the words I should say—
“Jesus, forgive my sins.”
Do people go to hell for not saying these words?
What if I wait until just before dying and then ask?