Category Archives: Fundamentalism


2016-01-27

Who Joins Cults — and How and Why?

by Neil Godfrey
We must remember an old adage: no one joins a “dangerous cult” or a “terrorist cell.” Converts invariably see the act of joining in positive terms, as beneficial for both themselves, their society, and the cosmos (literally), and the process is far more gradual than it appears. — (Dawson 2010, p. 7)
Lorne Dawson, whose article is the basis of this post.

I am drawing heavily on a 2010 article by Lorne L. Dawson, “The Study of New Religious Movements and the Radicalization of Home-Grown Terrorists: Opening a Dialogue“, published in Terrorism and Political Violence, 22:1-21, 2010, for this post. The research findings point to other factors associated with those who do join religious cults (and Dawson suggests it might be worthwhile examining to see if they are also applicable to those who join terrorist groups.)

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries Christian sects like the Mormons, Pentecostals and Jehovah’s Witnesses were known to draw most of their followers from poor or underprivileged sectors of society. So it was easy to explain their attraction as offering converts a reversal of their fortunes: from being nobodies to being “the elect”. In the apocalyptic scenarios they all preached, those who were the least in this world would become the first in the next. The meek were to inherit the earth. The rich and powerful of this world would be brought down and the poor exalted.

(Similarly with Palestinian terrorist groups: the most obvious explanation appeared for many to be that they preferred a rich symbolic life, a reward of honour in the memory of their people, to continuing to be subject to extreme economic hardships and political and personal humiliation.)

The above explanation for why Christian cults exercised such a strong pull on the “lower classes” was overturned in the 1960s and 70s with the emergence of a plethora of New Religious Movements (NRMs) — or cults — that attracted youth from well-to-do families, highly educated, with excellent career prospects, and generally of secular upbringings. Even established Christian cults like the Mormons were also found to be becoming increasingly populated by members belonging to the higher socio-economic rungs of society.

So what was going on?

New theories of “relative deprivation” emerged in the literature. Perhaps people were attracted not because of the objective fact of their lower economic and social status, but because they perceived that they were disadvantaged in some way, whatever their real status. And maybe the perceived lack was not only economic, but also moral, social opportunities, psychological . . . .

The idea of relative deprivation seems very plausible; in many ways it conforms to our personal experience. But in the end it allows for too much interpretive flexibility. Almost any action could be explained by reference to some hypothesized sense of lack of respect, inadequate love, or ethical frustration. The theory explains everything and yet nothing because it cannot discriminate effectively between those who think this way and those who choose to act on their perception in some radical way, especially becoming violent. (Dawson 2010, p. 5)

Compare those joining new cults in the 60s and 70s with the 9/11 hijackers. The latter were also from well-adjusted middle class families. They were not oppressed or impoverished in any conventional sense. They had not been particularly religious. They had good opportunities to do well in careers in many countries.

An NYPD report Radicalization in the West: The Homegrown Threat concluded that most individuals who had been involved in terrorist plots had had quite unremarkable backgrounds, no criminal history, ordinary jobs and lived ordinary lives. They were fluent in English, were Western educated and familiar with the Western lifestyle. They had opportunities to do well in both their countries of origin and in the USA.

There is no clear profile of a potential terrorist and they are, like those who come to join religious cults, largely indistinguishable from anyone else.

“Converts to NRMs are more likely to have fewer and weaker social ties.”

Since cults are in conflict in significant ways with society, it stands to reason that they are more likely to draw their recruits from those who have “fewer social attachments” and consequently “lower stakes in conformity”.

This datum explains why it is so often the young (and students) who are attracted. “They can afford to experiment with alternative ways of living.”

“Converts also tend to have fewer and weaker ideological alignments”

As I have noted in recent posts, research shows that people with strong attachments to their mainstream faith (whether Christianity or Islam) are not likely to join cults or terror cells. It is the “unchurched”, those with weak, non-existent or troubled religious backgrounds, or the rootless “seekers”, who are the more likely to join cults.

But there is a balance. Complete loners or those with no interest at all in spiritual and religious questions are not likely to join.

That’s the “who”. What about the “how”? read more »


2016-01-17

How Minds Are Opened to Extremist Views

by Neil Godfrey

radicalIslamRisingWhy do people join religious cults and extremist groups? What turns some people into “mindless fanatics”?

In the previous post we were introduced to Quintan Wiktorowicz’s Radical Islam Rising: Muslim Extremism in the West (2005) that explores the reasons people in Britain joined the now banned extremist group, Al-Muhajiroun. As I read his work I was struck by the overlaps with the experiences of many who join religious cults, including my own experience with the Worldwide Church of God.

At the time of writing the above news came through of a swathe of terrorist attacks in Jakarta, Indonesia. Having visited Indonesia fairly regularly over the past seven years, including the city of Solo that is regularly associated with concentrations of jihadist extremists, I have no problem agreeing with those specialist commentators who point out that most Indonesians have no time for Islamist extremism and violence. (Keep in mind that though Indonesia contains the world’s largest Muslim population it is the world’s third largest democracy.) But that’s no defence against the tiny handful who are drawn to terrorist organisations. So why are a tiny few drawn to what most people deplore?

Here is the question Wiktorowicz asks:

So why participate in the [extremist] movement? On the surface, the choice seems irrational: the risks are high and the guarantee of spiritual salvation is intangible and nonverifiable (i.e., there is no way to know whether those who follow al-Muhajiroun’s interpretation and die actually make it to Paradise). And there are plenty of less risky alternatives that guarantee the same spiritual outcome. This includes a plethora of less risky Islamic fundamentalist groups that share many of al-Muhajiroun’s ideological precepts. Is participation in the movement, then, the choice of the irrational?

Wiktorowicz, Quintan; Wiktorowicz, Quintan (2005-07-21). Radical Islam Rising: Muslim Extremism in the West (p. 206). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Wiktorowicz’s answers are covered in chapters under the headings of

  • Cognitive Openings and Religious Seeking
  • Credibility and Sacred Authority
  • Culturing and Commitment

Breaking those headings down a little . . . .

  • “Cognitive Openings and Religious Seeking” addresses a range of factors that act as wedges to open people’s minds to radical alternatives to their world views. Most people say “What? Get real!” Why do a few say “Mmm… Interesting…. Let me think a moment”?
    • Most of those who go this far come to their senses and quickly realize that the message they are confronting is bizarre or “wrong” after all. Only a few of the few take the next step and embark on a journey of “religious seeking” or other form of follow-up.
  • “Credibility and Sacred Authority” digs a little deeper and explores why some alternative world views are more enticing than others.
    • What extent of knowledge is demonstrated by the radically new source? How does the “character” of the new source stack up against alternatives? How does personality tilt the scales? What of the public persona of a key channeller of the new ideas?
  • “Culturing and Commitment” looks at why certain individuals go the final step and commit to dangerous or “fanatical” groups.

Of the few persons who take an interest in what most regard as “fanatical ideas” even fewer actually take the leap from intellectual agreement to jumping in knowing the sacrifice they are making and the world they are leaving behind. That final step is of particular interest but first things first. Why do a few of us become sincerely interested in the radical fringe ideas in the first place?

I won’t address all of those in this post. Let’s focus on some of the wedges that prise “cognitive openings” for now. read more »


2016-01-13

Islamic Radicals and Christian Cults: Cut from the Same Cloth

by Neil Godfrey

radicalIslamRising
Dr. Quintan Wiktorowicz works with CEOs and senior leaders to leverage high impact outreach and engagement, partnerships, and innovation to create opportunities and manage risk. He is an internationally recognized author and expert on national security engagement and counter-terrorism and served in two senior positions at the White House, where he led efforts to advance national security partnerships and innovation at home and abroad. Prior to joining the White House, Dr. Wiktorowicz developed ground breaking counter-radicalization initiatives for the Intelligence Community and the Department of State. Before his government service, he was a social movement theorist and one of America’s leading academics on the Muslim World.
Extract from The Huffington Post biography

Over my end of year break as I was catching up with Quintan Wiktorowicz’s Radical Islam Rising: Muslim Extremism in the West(2005) I was somewhat amazed at the extent to which my own personal experiences as a member of a Christian cult many years ago overlapped with what I was reading about the factors that lead people into extremist Islamic movements.

Wiktorowicz’s case study was the British based and now banned Al-Muhajiroun (= “The Emigrants”). My own experience was with the Worldwide Church of God and has since been further informed through a wide reading about other religious cults, the comparable experiences of others and some of the research into why people join them, why they remain and why they leave.

Similarity #1

On page 47 Wiktoriwicz has a section headed REQUIREMENTS FOR THE COMMITTED ACTIVIST. It begins (with my own bolding):

Al-Muhajiroun activists participate in a dizzying array of required weekly activities, and the tempo of activism is fast-paced, demanding, and relentless. Activists commit to an assortment of lessons, public outreach programs, protests, and countless movement-sponsored events, all of which consume tremendous amounts of time, energy, and resources. They center their lives around the movement and in the process frequently sacrifice work, friends, family, and leisure time. To put it simply, al-Muhajiroun participation is an intense experience.

Wiktorowicz, Quintan; Wiktorowicz, Quintan (2005-07-21). Radical Islam Rising: Muslim Extremism in the West (p. 47). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Oh yes! That is very much a mirror of what one finds among religious cults. Mid-week evening Bible Study meetings (the family, children included, generally expected to attend); all day sabbath services and related activities; day of preparations work to be sure everything is in place for the sabbath “rest”; daily minimum of half hour prayer and half hour personal bible study — but with the constant message that the servant who does only the minimum expected is an “unprofitable servant” destined to be “cast out” in the final judgment; active participation in other social events and promoting of “the work” — e.g. letter box drops, maintaining stalls, local fund-raising; volunteering to work at youth camps; setting aside (in Australia) two tenths of one’s gross income for donations to “the work” and compulsory holy day festival attendance in addition to “voluntary offerings”, and twice in seven years setting aside a third tenth of one’s gross income ostensibly for “the poor”. Two magazines and a lengthy co-worker letter were produced monthly and were required reading. Other self-improvement activities were constantly promulgated: a regular speaking club for men; fitness and diet schedules; dress codes; correct habits of speech; the requirement to keep up to date with current news.

The Church or “Work” is one’s whole life. Birthdays, Christmas holidays, Easter, — these were all shunned as “pagan” so one necessarily withdrew from family and former friends. If sabbath and holy day festivals clashed with job requirements then so much the worse for the job.

The details of what keeps members busy and committed varies from cult to cult, but the effect is the same. Such a routine functions to immerse the member in the thought-world of the organisation. There is no time for serious, independent reflection.

Religious training lies at the core of activism: committed activists must master religious doctrine and movement ideology so that they can effectively promote al-Muhajiroun’s ideological vision of an Islamic state and society. To ensure that they are intellectually equipped with “proper” (i.e., movement) religious beliefs, formal members are required to attend a two-hour study session held by the local halaqah (circle) every week. Attendance is mandatory, unless the individual cannot make it because of travel constraints, a sick family member, or an emergency. In each country where al-Muhajiroun is active, the country leader may excuse absences for additional reasons deemed acceptable under Islamic law.

Wiktorowicz, Quintan; Wiktorowicz, Quintan (2005-07-21). Radical Islam Rising: Muslim Extremism in the West (p. 47). Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. Kindle Edition.

Reminds me of our mandatory two-hour weekly Bible Study sessions. Members who regularly absented themselves from weekly Sabbath services and also failed to have a good reason for skipping mid-weekly Bible Studies were noted (a few trusted members were assigned the surreptitious maintenance of attendance sheets) — and paid a visit by the ministry. read more »


2015-08-22

How Religious Cults and Terrorist Groups Attract Members

by Neil Godfrey

frictionThere are interesting parallels between the processes that lead some people to join both religious cults and terrorist groups. If you once joined a cult you will very likely recognize some of the pathway others have walked to become members of a group responsible for violent terror attacks.

If you joined a religious cult you knew that others thought you were a bit weird. Numerous accounts of those who joined terrorist organizations show that those becoming interested in an extremist group were aware their families and wider society would try to talk them out of it so they kept their interest secret from everyone except others, if any, whom they knew shared their views.

Joining either means turning one’s back on society and immersing oneself totally in an alien way of life.

Jerrold Post appears to have been the first to recognize that cult recruiting can provide a useful model of terrorist recruiting. The analogy begins by noting that individuals who join either a cult or a terrorist group are likely to be characterized as “crazy.” Both a cult and a terrorist group require a level of commitment that most people find difficult to comprehend.

McCauley, Clark; Moskalenko, Sophia (2011-02-02). Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us (Kindle Locations 1709-1711). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition. — (My bolding and formatting in all quotations)

McCauley and Moskalenko in Friction: How Radicalization Happens to Them and Us take up this comparison.

Here we focus on recruitment to the Unification Church (UC) of the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. The UC is generally regarded as a cult, and, more important, there is an unparalleled research literature for this group. A 1965 report by Lofland and Stark titled “Becoming a World Saver” chronicled the beginnings of the UC in America, and the surprise value of the report was its emphasis on the importance of social networks in religious conversion.

read more »


2015-08-08

The Other Side of My Cult Experience

by Neil Godfrey
ambassador1

The decline and demolition of Ambassador College, once the prize jewell of the Worldwide Church of God (From la.curbed.com}

A number of my critics have seized upon the fact that quite some years ago I was a member of the Armstrong cult, the Worldwide Church of God usually to indicate that I am therefore by nature some sort of unreasoning fanatic. The inference appears to be that just about anything I have written or done should be interpreted as evidence of a fundamentally immoral and psychologically damaged individual. This was certainly the message Maurice Casey sought to convey in his final book, Jesus: Evidence and Argument or Mythicist Myths? Others (e.g. West, Crossley, McGrath, Hoffmann) have uncritically leaped in to praise Casey for his “research” into the biographical details of people such as myself, failing to notice that in my case, at least, that he relied upon nothing more than a small section of an old web post I had composed for a very particular audience of fellow ex-cultists for the purpose of offering encouragement to other ex-members who had been through the same experiences. Had Casey’s readers turned to his source they would have seen (had they wished to see it) that I wrote much else that refuted some of Casey’s own selective reading.

But here’s the point I want to make in this post. I was expelled from the cult. More than once, actually.

I was kicked out in the end for going public with my questions about its teachings and its practices. Critical thinking, research into “the other side” of those things the Church disagreed with, led me to see that the Church and its leaders were very ignorant not only with respect to history, psychology, but even in the Bible itself. R. Joseph Hoffmann has said that I am merely trying to “rewrite” my experience with the cult but that is his own wishful thinking. I cannot rewrite the fact that I was kicked out, excommunicated, with my name read out in all the churches as members were being warned to shun me now that I was in the “bond of Satan”. read more »


2014-02-23

My Last Days In the Cult: My Exit Story

by Neil Godfrey

caf43cedf899d2c59372b595867434d414f4141About 15 years ago I placed online a short account of how I came to find a new life, a new way of thinking and of self-acceptance after too many years as a dedicated member of the Worldwide Church of God Armstrong cult. I was one of many ex-members of that cult to add their little bios to that site. We felt it worthwhile to share our experiences to encourage others who were grappling with the various stresses and challenges of unraveling the thought-habits of years and finding a much healthier way of life as we had done. Above all we wanted to assure them that there really was a better life beyond and it was never too late to change one’s life’s direction. Recently I realized that there was one aspect of my final years in that cult, the years immediately preceding my leaving that cult, that I have very rarely spoken about in public forums. Given that there has recently appeared in print a charming little account of my former life that conveys a bizarre image of my former and current psychological makeup I thought it might be worthwhile for me to share for anyone half interested what my final years in that former religion were like.  (I say it was a “bizarre” account. I must refrain from using the word “dishonest” because I am sure the author would certainly have taken the trouble to have interviewed me and asked a few basic questions had he the time. It is quite understandable that busy people would need to rely upon stereotyping and armchair psychoanalysis to find the profile they need to prove their points about someone they wish to denigrate.)

First chinks in the armour

The first slight cracks in my faith in the teachings of the cult came when I decided to study in depth each book of the Bible as a discrete unit, as if it were not part of the canon. I would even try to read it as if I knew absolutely nothing at all about anything else in the Bible. That is, I would try to read each book to try to ascertain what it was saying in its own terms — without any reference in my own mind to any other canonical work. Of course most books, especially in the New Testament, do contain references to other biblical books. But I did not want to read, say, Romans, with any baggage in my head from what any other letter or gospel said. That process led to some interesting results. I began to see that some of the church’s teachings were really founded on unjustifiable interpretations. What’s more, I began to notice many passages that I had once read so often but also passed over so often without realizing their full import for the message the author was trying to convey. I took a number of questions to our ministry and earned myself a few worried looks. I was beginning to realize I was coming to understand and know more about what the Bible says than our trained ministry. I could see that they had not been taught to study the Bible as such but only to study the church’s teachings in the Bible. read more »


2014-02-14

Once a Fundamentalist . . . Never Again

by Neil Godfrey

3295218This post is dedicated to all those who were once fundamentalists and are fundamentalists no more. I post here extracts from testimonies of a number of people who have described the changes in their lives since they left fundamentalism behind.

I initially thought I’d dedicate it to those informed lay and erudite scholars who contemptuously snort at anyone who had, let’s say, an ultra-conservative, somewhat extreme religious past and who currently has come to entertain questions about the historicity of Jesus. But are such persons really worth a dedication?

Once a fundie, always a fundie.

That’s their claim. They mean by it that a person who once was mixed up with a religious fundamentalist type of past will, on leaving that past, inevitably switch to some other cause with all the fundamentalist pig-headedness and fervour that characterized their former religious commitment.

It’s a vacuous slogan, of course. It’s nothing but a cheap way to dismiss someone holding a view or asking questions they have no time for.

The truth is that people do indeed change. The number of books that have been published about leaving a sect, cult or fundamentalist religion of one kind or another surely number into the hundreds. Right now I’m sure most people browsing through any sizable general bookstore in the English speaking world will scarcely be able to avoid seeing at least one work about someone having left behind the confines of a rigid Muslim past. Anyone who has recently left or is in the process of leaving a Christian-influenced cult or religion will soon become aware of dozens of helpful titles. Bibliographies on the web abound. Some of my favourite and most helpful authors were Steven Hassan, Edmund Cohen, Marlene Winell.

These names alone belie the trite slogan. They are all fundies who have done much to help others leave behind and rebuild lives after the fundamentalist experience.

Many readers here know of Dr Robert M. Price’s fundamentalist background, current very liberal “Christianity” and of his books such as The Reason Driven Life.

In a future post I should explain what experience and research shows about why people join these religious outfits. There are gross misconceptions about that, and about the sorts of people who do join and endure in them for any length of time.

Both Tim and I have written about our own changes in outlook since we each left our respective religious coffins. Links to them can be found in the Vridar authors’ profiles. I have since written an update to try to dispel some ignorant nonsense being written about me on Hoffmann’s blog.

Hoffmann point-blank refused to let it be posted there as a correction to what he and others were saying. Perhaps such people think anything coming from me cannot be trusted. So here for the sake of the record I want to bring to everyone’s attention the testimonies of thirteen others who have also left fundamentalism behind never to return . . . .

The extracts come from a book available online (or at least via Kindle), Leaving Fundamentalism: Personal Stories, edited by G. Elijah Dann. Read them and know just how far ex-fundamentalists do indeed leave behind their former mind-sets. (Bolded emphasis is mine.) I know, I can’t resist my own comments throughout, either, sorry.

read more »


2013-06-13

Ten Reasons To Lose Your Religion

by Neil Godfrey

00A minister once told me he wished he knew who or what burned me so badly I left Christianity. I didn’t answer. I wasn’t burned. I evolved. — John

Marleine Winell in Leaving the Fold (See earlier Journey Free post) outlines several reasons leave fundamentalist religious systems in particular, but I think some of the points probably work for why people leave behind any religious faith. Her list is not complete or the result of a controlled study, as she herself explains. The purpose of her book is to support readers who have already stepped outside their old religious worlds and to share with them a range of experiences of others who have been through the same journey.

Marlene writes:

In general, people make changes of all kinds based on integrating information from new experiences. Human beings are “wired” to survive and thrive. Thus when we are disappointed with the methods we are using to meet needs, we are likely after a while to seek new methods. Also, change is more likely to occur if we are frustrated and we have access to information about alternatives. In effect, there are forces that push and forces that pull. Formally religious people find other ways to live, without the intellectual, emotional, and ethical discomforts that had become bothersome. New satisfactions add to the impact of the dissatisfactions, and the combination becomes enough to force the break. Thee multiple influences can be subtle and accumulate without clear awareness. (p. 88)

1. Developmental Change

People are growing, changing, maturing beings. Our development into more complex creatures is most noticeable in infancy, through childhood and youth.

This change is not random, but progressive with increased physical skill, emotional maturity, moral and cognitive development.

Personal development continues through adulthood. We integrate experiences as we change and grow, learn to appreciate paradoxes and shades of grey in our lives, learn how better to deal with situations.

That normal development can, however, be arrested. And that’s what happens when someone is diverted into a fundamentalist, black-and-white, dogmatic belief system.

In cases where a believer puts their trust strongly in a religious leader they make themselves vulnerable to disillusionment, even trauma, when that leader seriously fails.

Leaving such a religion can thus be seen positively as simply resuming one’s personal maturing and evolution.

Sometimes such resumptions of personal development come with a major life transition. Winell cites one woman for whom the birth of a child was such a turning point:

I believed the Bible’s promises and prophecies. I declined my parent’s offer to pay for a college education and devoted my time to studying the Bible and volunteering full-time in the ministry. At the age of 28, as I was expecting my first child, my whole concept of life and of the future collapsed. It was as if I had awoken from a dream state and saw reality for the first time. In the midst of the ensuing confusion I was left with the task normally reserved for adolescents: the search for who I am and what I am to do with my life. The nagging doubts that I had been able to hold at bay for years were finally slipping through. (p. 89)

2. The Bible and Fundamentalist Doctrine read more »


2013-03-06

Christianity’s Impotence Before Real Guilt. (Reflections upon the novel “Sufficient Grace” by Amy Espeseth)

by Neil Godfrey

sufficientgracemindbbIt’s been a long time since I read a novel and in the last two days I remembered why it has been so long. Good novels devour me. I’ve read hundreds (no doubt many, many hundreds if you add novels for children and adolescents that I devoured as a teacher-librarian) and when I’m hooked on one everything else — work, household, sleep — takes a backseat till I finish it. In recent years I’ve chosen to focus on nonfiction — sciences, history, current affairs and media, psychology, anthropology and biblical studies mostly. Reading novels at the same time will put a halt to all that and more, especially since I am a way too terribly slow reader for my liking.

Over the last two days I have read a novel by an American who is now living in Australia, Amy Espeseth, Sufficient Grace. I blogged on this novel a month ago after hearing a radio interview with the author — The Beauty and Pain of Fundamentalist Religion. Since then (partly in response to Amy herself who tweeted me to say she’d be interested to know what I myself thought of the novel) I found a second hand copy on eBay (if I paid full price for every book I own I’d be enslaved to multiple mortgages) and read it as soon as it arrived. I could scarcely resist making it a reading project of mine since I also, after leaving a conservative or fundamentalist type of religion, had often toyed with the idea of writing a novel about my experience, too. Several plot-lines ran through my head.

In some ways the first part of the novel was not quite what I had expected from what I heard on the radio interview. The interviewer, as I recalled, spoke of the church folk living a life of something akin to happy innocence, at least on the surface. The author was said to clearly feel a real sympathy for these people. Yes, I could feel the sympathy. How can we not feel sympathy for many loved ones we have left behind? But Amy Espeseth’s novel is, at least according to the way I read it, many metaphors within metaphors. The families thrive on hunting, and the animals and nature are, to my mind at least, clearly foils setting the stage for the theme that is to soon erupt in lava flows. I felt the hard and cruel signs that something was not quite right beneath the surface of the lives of these God-fearing and self-contained people. Perhaps that’s where my own experiences took over and prepared me well for the horrific tragedy to come. read more »


2013-02-13

Is the Christ Myth a Threat to the Christian Faith? (If not, what is?)

by Neil Godfrey

Updated with an added final paragraph 40 minutes after posting

You’ve got to be kidding!

Of course not. Not even the fact/theory of evolution and advances in biological science can undermine any of the “religions of the book”. John Loftus of Debunking Christianity made it clear that one of the worst things he could take up in his efforts to debunk Christianity was to argue Jesus did not exist.

In one of his more recent statements to this effect he wrote:

Christians will be more likely to listen to me than someone who claims Jesus probably didn’t exist at all. (The Christian Reaction to Jesus Mythicism)

John Loftus

John Loftus

He follows with this (my bolding and formatting):

I am a focused, passionate man, who is single mindedly intent on debunking Christianity. This issue [mythicism] will not do the job for the simple fact of what evangelicals like David Marshall think of such a claim. It’s too far removed from what they will consider a possibility.

I’d like to hear of the vast numbers of Christians who abandoned their faith because they were convinced Jesus didn’t exist. I just don’t see that happening at all.

Christians will not see their faith is a delusion until they first see that the Bible is unreliable and untrustworthy, and that the doctrines they believe are indefensible, which is my focus.

Now it might be that Christians could come to the conclusion the Bible is unreliable upon reading arguments that Jesus never existed, but they will be much less likely to read those very arguments because that thesis is too far removed from what they can consider a possibility.

Exactly. I agree 100% with what John Loftus writes here about the value of the Christ Myth idea for debunking Christianity.

The logic of Loftus’s understanding is that espousing the Christ Myth must inevitably be counter-productive for any attempt to “debunk” Christianity.

If the Jews can get along without a literal Abraham . . .

I once asked a member of the Jesus Seminar (long time readers move on, you’ve heard this story before) if he thought Christianity could survive or what the effect might be on Christianity if Jesus turned out not to have been historical. After a moments reflection he began, “I suppose Judaism can get along with out an historical Abraham, so . . . . .”

With mythicists like these . . . . read more »


2013-02-10

The beauty and the pain of fundamentalist religion

by Neil Godfrey

sufficientGraceI happened to catch a fascinating interview with an American writer now living in Australia, Amy Espeseth, talking about her first novel, Sufficient Grace.

It captured my attention for two reasons:

One, I can’t help but take notice when I hear anyone speaking of experiences similar to mine;

Two, the recent suggestion that I and anyone who questions the existence of Jesus and the arguments of “Jesus historicists” is necessarily driven by a need compensate for some past bad experiences with religion and is thus on a vendetta to attack and undermine religion by any means possible.

I have not read the book but I was captivated by, and definitely related to, Amy’s sympathetic approach to the people who are bound to their cult. There is a beauty in their lives. The first half of the novel, I understand, explores this rewarding and charming existence. Then half way through a darkness appears. The child everyone in the community believes to be so wonderful and destined to be their new leader is seen by his cousin as he really is, and it is not pretty.

On the outside the lives of the members appear to be so beautiful. At the same time, however, they are cut off, cocooned from the rest of the world, and in that isolation every family seems to have a dark secret that must be hidden at all costs.

I was surprised by Amy Espeseth’s response when asked if she had any regrets about writing the book. She said Yes, she did. She unavoidably caused pain to some people she loved. read more »


2012-07-05

How I Escaped Fundamentalism — 5 Myths about Ex-Fundies

by Tim Widowfield

Neil keeps telling me I need to add something to the blog to tell people a little bit about my background. That sounds pretty dull to me, but here goes. Oddly enough, one of the posts on Vridar that gets the most hits, day in and day out, is the one on the 10 Characteristics of Fundamentalism. So for this post, I would like to piggyback on that list with my own list of 5 Myths about Ex-Fundies.

HOLY SPIRIT - FOIX

HOLY SPIRIT – FOIX (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I grew up in a very strict fundamentalist Protestant denomination called The Church of the Nazarene. We shunned “worldly” things like going to the movies, playing cards, dancing, smoking, etc. We were, literally, “holy-rollers” — believing in a distinct, second work of grace after conversion. First you’re converted; then you’re sanctified by the Holy Spirit. We took the Bible very literally and accepted it as the living Word of God.

At some point in my middle teens that entire worldview became unreal to me. I no longer believed there was a titanic struggle for human souls. I no longer felt “the presence of the Spirit.” I no longer believed there was an angry, jealous God who kept a book with all my sins in it. But it wasn’t a sudden change.

Myth #1: Ex-fundamentalists have a de-conversion experience that mirrors the conversion process

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2012-03-10

Fear and Loathing in the Bible

by Tim Widowfield

Is God mad?

Cover of "I have no mouth and I must scre...

Cover of I have no mouth and I must scream

I grew up in a church that took the Bible very seriously. It was the inerrant Word of God. It was our rock, our comfort. But the funny thing about taking the Bible literally is the unspoken assumption that God is a very dangerous character. He’s interested in every little thing you do, every little thought that crosses your mind, and if he’s displeased — why, there’s practically nothing he won’t do.

For instance, a rather large number of people in my country (all the members of my former congregation, in fact) believe that God once got so angry that he flooded the earth and killed every man, woman, child, fetus, animal, insect, arachnid, etc. If you stop to consider it, this story of wild rage makes every 20th-century dictator look like a piker by comparison.

And yet this story is something children are taught at a very early age. In fact, you can buy Noah’s Ark plush toys from Amazon. Aren’t they cute? I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the story of the Ark, and how the animals came two-by-two. However, I don’t much recall the details of the stinking, bloated, rotted corpses of the millions of dead creatures that God killed. What, no plush “floaters”?

Seriously, is God mad?

The idea of an insane god with unlimited power and a malevolent personality is a staple of speculative fiction. One well-known example is Billy Mumy’s portrayal of the ill-tempered god-child in the Twilight Zone episode “It’s a Good Life.” (Spoiler alert!) read more »


2011-12-09

What I don’t like about “liberal” Christianity

by Neil Godfrey

First the caveats. I do not like a lot about both of the mainstream political parties in Australia. I believe both parties have enacted some legislation that has caused  bitter damage to some peoples’ lives. But I do like a lot of people who strongly support or are even members of those political parties. The point is that one can dislike, even detest, certain viewpoints yet not be a jerk when it comes to human relationships. That includes religious viewpoints. I think I know how to distinguish between ideological (including humanitarian) argument and personal intolerance as well as one who has vehemently and publicly protested recent wars while maintaining a bond with an army-son voluntarily participating in one of those wars.

If you hate reading here is the synopsis of what is to follow: “Conservative” (US) of “fundamentalist (Aus) Christianity may believe a lot of weird stuff but so what? So does “liberal” Christianity, although those who call themselves “liberal” Christians may relabel some of their beliefs as “mysteries” or “unknowns” in place of “miracles”. But as may be distilled from the above paragraph, what really counts is the nature of a person. I have known good and bad people who are Christians, Jews or Muslims — “conservative/fundamentalist” or “liberal”. But though goodness or badness comes down to the nature of the person, it is also clear that there are certain belief systems that tempt, lead astray, deceive individuals into thinking and behaving badly towards their fellow creatures. read more »