Category Archives: Winell: Leaving the Fold


The GOOD legacy of a fundamentalist / cultic life: 1

by Neil Godfrey

Despite the losses of my years in fundamentalism and cultism there were also some very positive gains. I can’t say I would do it all over again, but I cannot deny the experiences in the more extreme end of religion have given me an outlook, an understanding and I think even a compassion that I suspect I may not have so fine tuned without some of those experiences. Glancing through Marlene Winell’s book, Leaving the Fold, again I was reminded that she had a section sharing the positive legacies that other ex-fundamentalists have also brought with them from their experiences.

Marlene has since started a new website, Recovery from Religion. (Also listed in my Blogroll)

In Leaving the Fold she lists about a dozen positive traits that various ex-religionists have carried over with them from their cultic type experiences. In any process of recovery it’s important to see the good as well as the bad, to draw on the strengths as we step into a new world view and self-identity. Thought I’d enjoy discussing some of these strengths that Marlene cites from other ex fundies, and mix in a few of my own experiences too. But to avoid getting into trouble for spending too much time on the computer at any one sitting I will necessarily break it up into a series of posts.

I can’t say that fundamentalist experiences are actually a “cause” of these legacies. I think extremist religions may attract people with an idealistic streak in the first place. Perhaps the experiences in religion contribute towards some sort of habituation, reinforcement, but especially yield a lot of do’s and dont’s from praxis years as believers. But especially, I think, a deeper humanity can be acquired through some of the less fortunate experiences of religion.

Broad Consciousness

This refers to the habit of seeing the larger view. Extreme religions for all their faults certainly do stress “grand schemes” and global perspectives, of issues as they extend beyond our immediate personal space and time frames.

One is also often thrust into a close community drawn from a wide variety of backgrounds that one would not normally associate with. Wealthy and less wealthy business people, social misfits, academics and people from mission stations can all be found rubbing shoulders, and sharing social activities.

These together often leave a legacy of an ability to see alternative viewpoints.

And since ex fundamentalists learn not to be ashamed of holding views contrary to the popular opinion, they can often have carry with them the courage to continue to speak out for views that do see the broader perspective, and that are not popular.

They may bring with them a legacy that equips them to be agents for positive social change and social education.

(My computer time is up for now. More in a future post. . . .)


“Recovery from Religion” – new website for ex-fundamentalists

by Neil Godfrey

Marlene Winell is involved in building a new website, Recovery from Religion.

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Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (11): Family Health Versus Dysfunction

by Neil Godfrey

Final in this series on dysfunctional fundamentalist families: the rest are archived here.

Some of the dynamics of fundamentalist families are similar to those of other dysfunctional families. For example, in both fundamentalist and alcoholic families

  • denial is strong
  • prohibitions against perceiving, feeling and expressing are common

To recover from the experience of growing up in a dysfunctional family it is important to understand difficulties that may be experienced in such areas as those listed above. Understanding difficulties with denial and expressing feelings is important, but it is just as necessary to understand their positive counterparts. read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (10): physical and sexual abuse

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing notes from Leaving the Fold by Marlene Winell, with added comments and discussion. Other posts in the series are archived here.

I see an awful lot of suppressed anger in fundamentalists — which is expressed politically. It’s also expressed toward children, who are treated in ferocious ways “You will behave. You will do these kinds of behaviors . . . . You’ll be punished . . . I think that anger is submerged and appears in family behaviors that are really destructive. And the kids suffer the most, I think, from that twisting and guilt tripping — an awful lot of fear. Instead of getting security, you get guilt and fear laid on you. (pp.125-6)

The above extract with which Marlene opens this section is the testimony of a child brought up in a god-fearing fundamentalist home. Marlene does not say that religious beliefs cause this sort of treatment of children but they do help cement the relationships of control that make it possible and often likely.

Child rearing

The fundamentalist views much of child rearing in terms of questions of control and appropriate punishments. And since the fundamentalist worldview fosters personal insecurity and interpersonal suspicions (discussed in previous posts), parents are rarely well equipped to be the most effective of parents to begin with. It is easy to imagine how leaders in any other institution or position of power who evidence such character flaws will cause so much grief, best intentions notwithstanding. read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (9): Fantasy and Denial

by Neil Godfrey

updated 10.20 am

Continuing notes from one Marlene Winell‘s Leaving the Fold. Previous posts are archived here.

This is a tough one to write about because I’m not sure I’ve really come to terms with the extent of my own past denials.

Winell does quote a lengthy letter from an MK (missionary kid) and I’ll repeat a small section that does remind me of one of my past parenting moments:

As I got older, true to the family pattern, I was hard on my little brother. He went to Mom and said that I hated him. Mom said, “No, he doesn’t hate you,” and dismissed it, even though that is what I had said. (p.125)

The above letter goes on to describe the son’s attempts to discuss family issues with a mother who finds it too difficult or painful to admit reality — who avoids it and only speaks of things getting better all the time. read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (8): contradictions

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing notes from one Marlene Winell‘s Leaving the Fold. Although Family Background is the focus of this series of blog notes it is only one of 15 chapters in this book. Previous posts are archived here.


Consider the spiritual family model upheld by many Christian fundamentalists:

  • God is the Father
  • Jesus is the Son
  • The Church is the Bride
  • Christians are the children of the Father, and see themselves as brothers and sisters

Winell is not the only one to find it curious, even disturbing, that there is no Mother in this model. read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (7): avoidance of responsibility

by Neil Godfrey

I used to think that the best thing I could possibly do to get along with my spouse was to stay close to, even closer to, um, someone else!

Having a God who fills all our emotional needs can be great when it comes to our relationships with others. We can all claim the status of being “children” and focus on our own personal relationship with our heavenly Parent — and pray for one another, and our growing children. Easy. Or if we don’t like it sounding easy we could rather pray with sweat and tears and great agony of love for others. Make ourselves as saintly as possible.

But then when we return to our families we can feel closer to God than to them. read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (6): ever-present higher purpose

by Neil Godfrey

(the full series is archived in the “RELIGION:Book reviews:Winell” category in the right column)

A dedicated religious life can be so busy (part of the problem but that’s another topic) that I used to draw up a priority list to help me keep my energies “correctly focussed” at all times. At the top of the list was always “God” or words similar to what that idea meant.

read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (5): devaluation of feelings

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing notes from Leaving the Fold (Marlene Winell) begun in Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (1):

(i’m keeping the full series here in the “RELIGION:Book reviews:Winell” category in right column)

read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (4): Stifling independent thought

by Neil Godfrey

Any deviation from the one set of “true answers” in fundamentalist families is generally stifled by calling upon the infallible authority of their belief system.

Marlene Winell writes in Leaving the Fold:

In authoritarian families, children grow up resentful, and they learn to conform in order to get approval. They often have difficulty forming and expressing personal opinions later in life. (p.120)

read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (3): Power and Control

by Neil Godfrey


What is wrong with the following maxim?

Train up a child in the way he should go, Even when he is old he will not depart from it. (Proverbs 22:6)


It’s not true. At least, the second part does not does not necessarily — and sometimes it will never — follow from the first part.

Parents are vain egocentric creatures who are so quick to believe they have far more power over their children than they really do. (I speak as a parent.) On the other hand, when parents attempt to enforce the power they believe they ought to have, or do have by divine fiat, they can too easily influence the children’s development, yes, but not in the way they intend.

Continuing here notes and comments from the work introduced earlier. read more »


Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (2): the Shame Burden

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing notes from Marlene Winell‘s Leaving the Fold:

The Burden of Shame (pp. 118-119)

Biblical passages lie at the base of it. But there are modern adaptations of these passages that parents use in the process of disciplining their children and that drag down a child’s self-esteem (Winell’s list, p.119) — read more »

Dysfunctional fundamentalist families (1)

by Neil Godfrey

One of my helps when I had decided to leave religion was hearing a radio interview with psychologist Marlene Winell (link is to her website) and subsequently reading her book, Leaving the Fold. In her book Marlene makes the disturbing claim that the dynamics found in a fundamentalist family are often the same as those at work in other dysfunctional families, including those of alcoholics.

I could not deny her observations. They probably relate to the well-known fact that many areas noted for their religiosity rank higher than average in rates of child abuse, unwanted pregnancies, domestic violence, rape, and other crime. (I’m sure it has a bit to do with the way many fundamentalists react with arrogance and judgmental disdain towards anyone who seriously questions their beliefs.)

The following comments, and in particular her lists of characteristics often found in common among dysfunctional families — whether families of alcoholics or fundamentalists — are from her book (with her permission). The list summarizes the work of Bradshaw (1988), Satir (1972), Whitfield (1987) and Marlene’s own clinical experience. (p.129)

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