My life paused for a moment the other day when, while sorting out old junk, I came across a little essay I wrote back in 1995 when the pain of my years of cult experience was still somewhat raw. I post it here for anyone else who has been through anything similar (and untold thousands have). It is a bitter tale. It was also written before the post 9/11 upsurge in Islamophobia throughout much of the Western world and I don’t know if I would have chosen a Muslim character if I wrote it after 2001. The point of choosing a Muslim holy man was to try to distance the tale from me emotionally so I could write it in the first place. It is to be read as an allegory, of course. The sexual abuse represents the totality of the authoritarian abusive and life-destroying control experienced in the cult.* It comes in the wake if gross injustices by power-freaks who try to blind themselves to the suicides, family breakups, other deaths and torments they caused. And no doubt continue to cause behind the public view. A tale of life behind the closed doors of a religious cult and on the moment one learns that one’s friendships in the cult were conditional on your identity as an extension of the cult-leader.
From: Neil Godfrey
To: ’ firstname.lastname@example.org’
Subject: A story
Date: Friday, June 09, 1995 1:57PM
DONT TELL ME, TELL GOD.
(Or: “So? Tell someone who cares.”)
How is it possible that a collection of texts from ancient and alien cultures has personal relevance for millions of believers today? Once again I find the research of Brian Malley in How the Bible Works: An Anthropological Study of Evangelical Biblicism provides meaningful answers.
I’ll start with his four-fold model of what is actually happening when evangelicals or fundamentalists “interpret the Bible”.
The first point is that evangelicals are “inheritors of an interpretative tradition”, meaning that they have inherited a tradition that tells them that their beliefs are Bible-based. They inherit a set of beliefs along with the additional claim that those beliefs are derived from the Bible. The tradition presents the Bible as a book to be studied, “but the goal of that hermeneutic activity is not so much to establish the meaning of the text as to establish transitivity between text and beliefs.” The tradition stresses the fact of a connection between doctrines and the Bible rather than particular connections. “Thus a great deal of ‘what the Bible says’ may be transmitted quite apart from actual exegesis.” Example: the Bible says both that all things are possible for God and that God cannot do certain things. Without direct exegesis of the texts it is permissible for the evangelical to believe that the Bible says X on the assumption that some verse can be made to support X even if the verse is not contextually relevant to the belief in X. .
And this raises a critical point: the goal of evangelicals’ hermeneutic activity is to establish transitivity between the text and the reader’s understanding. This is not necessarily identical with interpretation in the normal sense of the term. The means of transitivity is indeed sometimes what might be called the texts meaning: I Timothy 1:17 describes God as “immortal” and was used as evidence that “God cannot die”—a definition of “immortal” and thus a semantic representation of the text. But sometimes the object of reading is not what would normally be called the meaning of the text at all. Titus 1:2 (together with Hebrews 6:18) was offered as evidence that “God cannot lie.” But “God cannot lie” is not a semantic representation of Titus 1:2. That God cannot lie is presupposed in this text, and therefore regarded as part of the meaning of the text, but it is not the meaning of the text, and any translation that replaced this verse with “God cannot lie” would be regarded as an inadequate translation. “God cannot lie” is not the meaning of the verse in the normal, semantic-equivalence sense of the term. It is an interpretation only in the weaker, broader sense that its justification or warrant—the evidence for it—is drawn from the Bible. Participants in the discussion were picking out Bible passages relevant to the question, “what can God not do?” but not necessarily about that question. The texts they cited stood in an evidential relation to the proposition “not all things are possible with God” without this statement capturing the meaning of any particular passage. (p. 84)
There is no “hermeneutic tradition” that is passed on; there is no particular way of reading and interpreting the Bible that is part of the tradition. Evangelicals may claim to read the Bible literally but a closer inspection shows that there is no consistency in practices that they avow to be literal readings. Consequence: “in each generation, the interpretive tradition mobilizes hermeneutic imaginations anew.” Believers are free to find new readings that they can interpret as supports for a church’s teaching. .
What drives evangelical Bible reading is “a search for relevance” — in much the same way any other communication is. In this search readers are free to move “beyond the text as given”. Dual contexts are recognized: the historical one of the original composition of the text on the one hand and the message God wants to convey to the reader today on the other. See the above quotation on the question of God . A believer undertaking a personal Bible study may read a story and to make it relevant for a situation in his or her life will impute motivations, inferences, storylines that are not in the text, and omit from the text certain details that rob the story of personal relevance to the reader. “Part of the genius of a good preacher is to figure out a way to mine new insight from a seemingly mundane passage.” Belief traditions make interpretations of the Bible quite unlike the interpretations of other texts. . Some ways of going beyond the text as given: Continue reading “The Indefinite Interpretability of the Bible”
Now it is a curious situation when an unclear idea has clear consequences. — Malley, 136
Evangelicals (or fundamentalists) believe that the Bible is authoritative and declare that the reason it is authoritative is that it is the “word of God” or “inspired by God”.
Uncertainty about the idea of inspiration
However, as Malley demonstrates, the same believers in biblical authority do not know exactly how inspiration worked. Evangelicals uniformly believe in the doctrine of biblical inspiration but disagree about the meaning of inspiration: Is the Bible inerrant in all matters or only in spiritual matters? When asked, evangelicals are “quite vague about the process” of inspiration.
That the Bible is inspired is generally found in statements of faith but it is rarely discussed in Bible studies or sermons. When asked about the meaning or process of inspiration, believers will respond with phrases like the Bible’s authors were “mentally stimulated through a spiritual force”, that God had the writers “attuned” or that “God guided their thoughts” or “impressed their minds.”
When I pressed for further details, most informants said that they did not know. I eventually thought to ask a few informants whether it bothered them that they did not know, and, as one man told me, “Not really. I mean, I probably should find out, just so I would know what to tell people, but I’m not worried about it.”
It is important to note that my informants’ responses were quite variable in their wording. Apart from those few who used the words θεόπνευστος and “God-breathed,” they did not seem to be drawing their answers from any common source. And indeed this may be the case because, although there are frequent allusions to the doctrine of inspiration at Creekside Baptist, I never heard it explicitly discussed. (p. 134)
On the concept of Plenary Inspiration, the teaching that the whole of the Bible is inspired, most of Malley’s interviewees declared that the entire Bible is God-inspired. There was less agreement on whether the Bible was the only book inspired by God.
. . . some thought that there were degrees of inspiration, and that other texts might be inspired, but less so than the Bible; some thought that there were kinds of inspiration, and in this way differentiated between biblical and other inspired texts. All informants, however, agreed that the Bible is inspired differently than any other text. One of the most interesting notions came from a man who, in addition to differentiating the Bible with respect to extent of inspiration, also said, “Other texts might be inspired, but we know the Bible is inspired.”
Most fundamentalist and evangelical theologians will say that they believe in Verbal Inspiration, that the very words in the Bible are inspired. Most of those Malley surveyed ticked their agreement with the statement that “The words of the Bible are inspired.” Yet . . .
. . . in interviews, few of my informants expressed strong views on this, and several said that it did not make any practical difference whether the words or the ideas were inspired.
When pressed, some respondents were found to say that the original autographs were inspired but over time errors have crept in through translations and copying. They will insist that the details are unimportant and that despite some limited corruption the main ideas inspired by God have been preserved.
Certainty about the authority of the Bible
When informants said that they did not know exactly how inspiration worked, I followed up with questions about the implications of the doctrine: Does it entail that God is the author of the Bible? Does it entail that the Bible is true? Does it entail that the Bible is authoritative? Each of these questions received an unhesitating, confident yes from all interviewees. Whatever uncertainty they had about the nature of inspiration did not extend to its implications. (p. 136)
Evangelicals will say (Malley empirically demonstrates that they do) that because the Bible is inspired by God it is therefore authoritative. The doctrine of biblical authority is said to be “a consequence of its divine inspiration.”
The doctrine of inspiration is indeed often invoked as a justification and explanation of the authority that evangelicals attribute to the Bible.
Here is an observation from another author on the theme of the previous post, the historical pathway taken by the Christian right prepared them to respond to his call to follow him:
The facile explanation for this apparently improbable union between the proponents of “faith,” “values,” and “family” and the profoundly impious real estate huckster and serial philanderer is that the Christian right hypocritically sacrificed its principles in exchange for raw political power. But this purely transactional explanation for the Trump-evangelical merger elides the deeper bond between Trump and his devoted flock. Although Trump is illiterate in evangelicals’ lexicon and spent his adult life flagrantly contravening their sexual mores, his evangelical supporters are nonetheless starstruck. He may not be one of them, but they idolize how he loudly and fearlessly articulates their shared grievances—that alien anti-Christian, anti-American ideologies have taken over the government, judiciary, media, education, and even popular culture and forced edicts upon a besieged white Christian majority, cowing them into submission by invoking “political correctness” that aims to censor, silence, and oppress them.
The Trump-evangelical relationship represents an intense meeting of the minds, decades in the making, on the notion that America lies in ruins after the sweep of historic changes since the mid-twentieth century, promising nondiscrimination and equal rights for those who had been historically disenfranchised—women, racial minorities, immigrants, refugees, and LGBTQ people—eroded the dominance of conservative white Christianity in American public life. Trump apparently has not cracked the binding on the Bible he waves in the air while speaking to evangelical audiences, but he fluently speaks the language of conservative white Christian backlash against the expansion of rights for previously disenfranchised and marginalized Americans. Trump not only gives voice to the Christian right’s perceived loss of religious dominance; he pounds away at grievances over white people losing ground to black and brown people and immigrants, of men losing ground to women, of “originalist” judges under the sway of liberal intruders demanding “special” rights. Trump reassures white evangelical voters that he will restore the America they believe has been lost—the “Christian nation” that God intended America to be, governed by what they claim is “biblical law” or a “Christian worldview.”
The evangelical adoration for Trump is rooted in far more than his willingness to keep a coveted list of campaign promises, like appointing anti-abortion judges or expanding religious exemptions for conservative Christians, such as bakers who refuse to make a cake for a gay wedding. Trump inspires this high regard because he is eager to use strongman tactics in order to carry out those promises. For decades, the Christian right has successfully used the mechanisms of democracy, such as voter registration and mobilization, citizen lobbying, and energetic recruitment of religious candidates to run for office, to advance its agenda. In these efforts, conservative evangelicals are driven not by a commitment to liberal democracy but rather by a politicized theology demanding that they seize control of government to protect it from the demonic influences of liberalism and secularism. Previous presidents pandered to evangelicals, but Donald Trump constitutes the culmination of a movement that has for decades searched for a leader willing to join forces in this battle without cowering to shifting political winds. In Trump, the Christian right sees more than a politician who delivers on promises; they see a savior from the excesses of liberalism.
And for their purposes, Donald Trump arrived on the political scene not a moment too soon. He burst in at a critical moment, when top Christian right leaders were becoming painfully aware they were losing their demographic supremacy. In 2006, white evangelicals made up 23 percent of U.S. adults, a formidable segment of the population. A short decade later that number had dropped to 17 percent, owing to rising proportions of nonwhites and people unaffiliated with religion. But because white evangelicals are uniquely politicized and highly mobilized to vote, they can exert an outsize influence on our elections and political culture if they unify around a candidate or cause. In the 2016 election, white evangelicals made up 26 percent of voters and fully one-third of Republican voters. Eighty-one percent of those people voted for Donald Trump.
Although their overall numbers are dropping, Trump’s presidency has given white evangelicals new life as the most influential political demographic in America. In office, he has been beyond solicitous to the Christian right leaders who support him. He has given them the political appointees and judges to implement their political agenda, delivering in ways that even they likely never imagined. As the veteran operative Ralph Reed, now head of the advocacy group Faith and Freedom Coalition, proudly told his annual conference in June 2019, “there are more Christians serving in the Cabinet, serving on the White House staff, in the subcabinet,” than under “all previous presidents combined.” When a decision needs to be made in the Trump White House, Reed went on, “the people who are writing memos and in the meeting advising the president are on our side, more than ever before.”
Posner, Sarah. 2020. Unholy: Why White Evangelicals Worship at the Altar of Donald Trump. New York: Random House.
. . . was the term widely used during the 1980s to describe a religious social movement, while today the operative term in both self-presentation and in most media coverage is evangelical. The former carries with it a more overtly political dimension and a specific historical context, while the latter is a fuzzier term. For that reason, I prefer the term fundamentalist in characterizing movement leaders and organizations. It can be a term of disparagement, but in fact has greater analytic rigor, thus making it a more serviceable tool for analyzing this segment of American Christianity. (Kivisto, 92)
By the term fundamentalist Kivisto is referring to movements that grew out of those who in the 1920s named themselves “fundamentalists” and who identified their ideas with The Fundamentals (biblical inerrancy, miracles, etc) essays published and funded by Southern Californian oil millionaire Lyman Stewart. The Fundamentals identified a good many enemies of “truth”:
the Social Gospel
and theological liberalism
Very often fundamentalists felt obliged to enforce their views on society through political and legal action. Recall the Scopes “monkey trial” of 1925.
Martin Marty, who led a major American Academy of Arts and Sciences project on fundamentalism, offered a succinct account of what fundamentalism is and what it is not:
“it is not the same thing as conservatism, traditionalism, classicism, or orthodoxy, though fundamentalists associate themselves with such concepts.”
“most fundamentalists do not conceive of themselves as being antiscientific or antirational on their own terms. . . But most fundamentalist movements dedicate themselves to representing alternative and, in their eyes, ‘proper’ science and reason.”
“fundamentalists are seldom opposed to technology as such, or to many of its specific artifacts. Technology, one might say, helped make fundamentalism possible.”
“fundamentalists are not always poor, uneducated people who rationalize their hopeless lower-class circumstances through a religious movement. “Deprivation theories” are among the more discredited explanation today in respect to Fundamentalism. Indeed, many such movements prospered in America as old religious conservative groups moved into the middle class, and it is among the university-educated and professionally mobile Jews, Mormons, Muslims, and others that fundamentalism grows.”
We never see the term fundamentalism applied to movements which are not absolutist. The enemies of fundamentalisms everywhere are relativism, pluralism, ambiguity. (Marty p. 21)
In identifying the core components of fundamentalism, Marty begins by stating that it “is always reactive, reactionary,” forever responding to “perceived challenges and threats” posed by a “force, tendency, or enemy” that is “eroding, corroding, or endangering one’s movement and what it holds dear.” As such, fundamentalism is about defining boundaries, and defining them in bright, not blurred, terms: the world is us against them, with them being a sometimes shifting target. This means, Marty continues, that fundamentalism “is always an exclusive or separatist movement” predicated on beliefs that are defined in absolutist, black-and-white terms. It is for that reason that fundamentalists are dismissive of interfaith or ecumenical understanding and dialogue, opting instead for an oppositional stance against anyone who does not share their worldview. Marty concludes that fundamentalists are inherently absolutist, and, “With absolutism comes authoritativeness or authoritarianism” (Marty, 1988, pp. 20—21). (Kivisto, 93f)
Sociologist Martin Riesebrodtpoints out that fundamentalists, in their rejection of the world, either elect to withdraw from it or to control it. The latter option often means they seek to impose their beliefs and practices on the world through political activity of various kinds.
The strain of world mastering fundamentalists engaging in American politics since the middle of the past century includes such now largely forgotten figures as Carl McIntyre, a dissident Presbyterian and fervent anti-communist crusader — engaged as he saw it in a civilization struggle between the Christian West and the atheistic core of Soviet communism. He was hostile to anyone seen as fellow travelers, which included groups such as the ecumenically oriented National Council of Churches, making his views known to a radio audience via his “The 20th Century Reformation Hour.” He and like-minded fundamentalists represent the precursors to the contemporary Christian right. (Kivisto, 94)
1970s Movement Mobilization and Christian Nationalism
If the Southern strategy pushed the Republican Party into the camp of white nationalists, the Christian right’s self-understanding is shaped by an ideology of Christian nationalism.
Certain issues have been constant ever since the 1970s:
attempts to overturn the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion
challenges to the separation of church and state by pressing for school prayer and abstinence-only sex education
Underpinning all of the particular issues preoccupying the Christian right is the conviction that the United States is a Christian nation and that, as the name of Falwell’s organization indicates, the movement represents the beliefs of a majority of the citizenry. At the same time, the Christian right sees itself as under assault from enemies who threaten the cultural integrity of the nation. If the Southern strategy pushed the Republican Party into the camp of white nationalists, the Christian right’s self-understanding is shaped by an ideology of Christian nationalism. (Kivisto, 95)
These “world mastering fundamentalists” set themselves against “liberals, Hollywood, the media, the American Civil Liberties Union, and often, academics”, those they deem to be “enemies” who, because they are “hostile to religion and . . . are antipopulist” are therefore “fundamentally un-American“. [Compare the post on Americanism as an ideology and the treason of “un-Americanism”.] With such an outlook they (the fundamentalists) “reveal their anti-pluralist and thus intrinsically anti-democratic view of politics” (Rhys Williams). Continue reading “The Historical Road Leading Fundamentalist Christians to Trump”
Not as a rule. Look at the Who’s Who Page in the right-hand column here and you will see that only a minority of mythicist authors or sympathizers come from a fundamentalist background.
If you want to put fundamentalist Christians on some sort of ideological continuum then their polar opposite would be liberal Christian.
In a misinformed effort to tarnish the very idea that Jesus might not have existed some “historicists” have attempted to suggest that “mythicism” has been found an attractive refuge from disillusionment with extremist “fundamentalist” forms of Christianity. Maurice Casey dwelt heavily upon that misinformed assertion in his book Jesus: Evidence and Argument Or Mythicist Myths? Others have followed in his wake assuming he knew what he was talking about.
The website Vridar hosts a very useful table (though rather outdated now) of Jesus Skeptics and their backgrounds in the church.Of these, Robert M. Price, Raphael Lataster, Frank Zindler, Charles O. Wilson, Valerie Tarico, John Loftus (who is releasing a volume on the varieties of Jesus Mythicism), Hector Avalos, Neil Godfrey, and Tim Widowfield come from fundamentalist Christian backgrounds, and since then many of these figures are now active in atheist communities arguing against Christianity.
That characterization is not uncommon yet it presents a common bias. It conveys the image of a reaction from extreme to extreme. A more complete picture would point out that several of the names in the same list are sympathetic or in some way positive towards Christianity and are in no way attempting to “argue against” or undermine people’s faith. More, it would point out that other names in that same list had other experiences of Christianity apart from the fundamentalist one, thus raising the question of whether they stepped from some other religious outlook to mythicism.
This is my second post on Charlie Kirk’s “manifesto” of the “Trump movement”, The MAGA Doctrine. My first post was a broad overview of the prism through which Kirk sees the world. Towards the end of his book Kirk reflects on how it all started, on what set him on “the road toward conservatism”:
Who is Charlie Kirk?
From “About the Author” in The MAGA Doctrine:
CHARLIE KIRK is the founder and president of Turning Point USA, the largest and fastest-growing conservative youth activist organization in the country with over 250,000 student members, over 150 full-time staff, and a presence on over 1,500 high school and college campuses nationwide. Charlie is also the chairman of Students for Trump, which aims to activate one million new college voters on campuses in battleground states in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. His social media reaches over 100 million people per month, and according to Axios, his is one of the top 10 most engaged Twitter handles in the world. He is also the host of The Charlie Kirk Show, which regularly ranks among the top news shows on Apple podcast charts.
As I look forward to a MAGA future, I also remember how I first started on the road toward conservatism.
I have a sixth-grade social studies teacher to thank—though not in the way one usually thanks teachers and other mentors. Deviating from the usual civics lessons around the time of the Iraq War’s start, this teacher railed against then-president George W. Bush. I would come eventually to see the war in Iraq as a mistake myself and to see the Trump-era Republican Party as an improvement over the Republican Party of the Bushes.
But of course the teacher couldn’t stop there. He went on to denounce the United States in general. He made the whole country’s history sound like a litany of evil, from genocide to slavery to oppression of women, capped by imperialism and mistreatment of immigrants. That’s a lot to foist on sixth-graders, though that’s normal in schools these days.
You may have had similar experiences in childhood yourself. It was one of those moments in which you know the authority figure probably has most of his basic facts right, but you still have a nagging feeling that he’s missing something, something you can’t immediately identify. You also know that even though you’ve only been alive and part of this country for a few years, you feel attacked. This place that you love and trust is being trashed.
It’s not that you believe the United States can do no wrong. You don’t dismiss the evils of slavery or think other terrible things from the history books are make-believe. You have a strong suspicion, though, that for all our mistakes, things worked out pretty well—not just for a few but for the population as a whole—eventually. There’s something fundamentally good about the United States, at least as compared to so many troubled and brutal places throughout the world, throughout history.
Not just good about the United States—great.
The teacher wasn’t suggesting everything about the United States was hopeless, either, but he made clear he thought that conservatives were leading the country down the wrong road. They were fools, he seemed to suggest, who thought in their arrogance that the country could do no wrong. The best hope for us all, then, was liberalism, and not just classical liberalism but the left. A good dose of self-doubt and shame might rein in this country gone awry, and voting for the Democrats was probably step one, at least if we took seriously the implied civics lesson underlying everything else we were hearing in social studies class.
That’s an interesting and revealing “confession” or “testimonial”. It reminds me of the conversion experiences of the religious and moments that led others down the path towards extremist radicalization (see side box for some discussions about this process). Here are my thoughts as I read the above:
I have a sixth-grade social studies teacher to thank
There’s a warning there. One would hope there would be time and opportunity to learn far more about the many parts that make this world work before letting one’s views solidify.
Deviating from the usual civics lessons around the time of the Iraq War’s start, this teacher railed against then-president George W. Bush. I would come eventually to see the war in Iraq as a mistake myself and to see the Trump-era Republican Party as an improvement over the Republican Party of the Bushes.
Words of wisdom for anyone who thinks “once a fundamentalist always a fundamentalist”, or that former cult members continue to be motivated by reactionary anger – spoken by one who escaped the ignorance of a cult upbringing, Tara Westover:
Anger has a role to play. Anger is a mechanism our brains use to get us — it’s a self-defence mechanism — your brain tells you to be angry so you get yourself out of situations that will do you harm.
Once you’re away, once you’re safe, you don’t need anger anymore. You can let it go and live a better life without it.
[What follows is the text an email, with some emendations, that I wrote over a year ago.]
As you may already know, I have problems with the NIV [New International Version]. The translation of 2 Timothy 3:16 is particularly irksome. Since the time of the Latin Vulgate through the Authorized Version (KJV) and beyond, the word θεόπνευστος (theópneustos) was understood to mean “divinely inspired.”
Herophilus [says] that dreams which are caused by divine instinct (θεοπνεύστους) have a necessary cause . . .
The KJV translates 2 Timothy 3:16 as follows:
All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness:
Nearly all its descendants (NASB, NET, ASV, etc.) follow suit. For centuries, it simply meant that the men who wrote the scriptures worked under the influence of divine inspiration. The living, continuing Church (its clergy and theologians) would interpret those scriptures as needed, because although under the influence of the spirit, men are still imperfect.
I cannot find the unusual translation, God-breathed, before 1849. At first, we see it used only as a hyper-literal rendering to argue that scripture is divine revelation. There’s really nothing extraordinary or new about that claim. But by the turn of the century, we start to see the argument blossom into the notion that scripture itself is a divine creation, reminiscent of the scenes in Genesis wherein God’s spirit moves across the face of the waters or when God breathes life into Adam’s nostrils. [Note: In its most extreme form, the Bible seems to become a kind of divine emanation, or at least a holy conduit through which God speaks to us.]
A recent post by Jim West (The Church has Fetishized Poverty) reminds me of my bad old days when I believed in Christian “righteousness”. It comes from someone who would deplore any association with cultism or even fundamentalism (I think) but it drills hard into a believer’s guilt feelings in a way to stop them doing genuine good in the world, and it rips scripture out of context to justify its agenda. The post begins:
People: the church should give all its money to the poor.
Jesus: nah. Use that expensive ointment on me.
People: but the poor, the poor, the poor….
Jesus: shut up. If she wants to use her money for me, it’s cool.
You have probably identified what’s wrong from the outset. Jesus is about to die and excuses great expense on him for that reason. In normal circumstances, of course, Jesus said something quite different:
17 As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
18 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.19 You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’[d]”
20 “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
21 Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
Would Jim West accuse Jesus of “fetishizing the poor”? It appears so.
I concluded my previous post with “Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?” That sounds flippant, perhaps. In reality life after years of relying on the crutch of faith can be very difficult at first. One no longer has a pole that enables getting over the impossible bar. Self-doubts can come back at the most inconvenient moments.
Chance had me listening to a radio interview with a psychologist who had a fundamentalist background and who had written a book, a “guide for former fundamentalists and others leaving their religion.” Everyone is different so my own experiences of psychological recovery would be relevant to only a few others, but Marlene Winell’s book covers a wide range of insights and exercises or pathways for people damaged by their religious experiences to recover and enter “normal life” as healthy, “normal” individuals. I especially appreciated her various suggestions relating to seeing oneself as a child, lovable, accepted no matter what, as a pathway to overcoming self-loathing and maintaining a positive and healthy self-acceptance.
No doubt there are many other books that are on the same topic and that others have found very helpful in their recoveries. But Winell’s Leaving the Fold was the one that helped me and to which I often returned to keep on an even keel.
Feel free to add other books that you or others you know have found especially helpful in psychological, emotional recovery after religious indoctrination and negative pressures.
(Ed Babanski has a book by the same title, Leaving the Fold, but I think that has a slightly different emphasis. It is a collection of various types of testimonies of former fundamentalists who have found different directions after their life of faith.)
It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself.
Writing about the “tongues trick” reminded me of another “awakening” I had towards the end of my religious life.
I had been thinking a lot about the New Testament instructions that tell us how good works are the “natural” consequence of faith in what Christ did for us on the cross, yet at the same time we are not saved by works. Works are the fruit of our salvation (or “promise” of salvation if that’s what a particular church taught), not its cause.
But I had to admit to myself that often I was wanting to do “the right thing” because, I believed, it was required of me and if I failed to do it I would be condemned. (Of course I could repent and be forgiven but that led to an endless cycle of always doing “the right thing” for mixed motives, partly to avoid judgment. But that’s not what the “good works are the fruit of being saved” message was about.
God’s grace was supposed to transform us, change our nature, so that we wanted to good works entirely as a result of his grace. There was no more judgment or fear to be involved. No stick, no carrot. Only a boost of energy to want to do the right thing “naturally” because of God’s grace. Like a child running off and just being “naturally good” for a little while after being given a big hug and an ice-cream.
So I prayed again, and came to understand that the one who loved and accepted me was the greatest being in the universe, etc, and that such a being “totally accepted me”. That’s grace, forgiveness, acceptance.
Filled with such an awareness I could not help but be awed into humility and totally thankful. Gratitude was so strong it spawned tears of joy and humility.
With such an awareness, with that sort of deep faith in Christ, my inner being, my thoughts and desires, were all changed. I was at peace. Joyful. I wanted only to do good and life a life of good works. All fear of judgment and need for “effort” was gone. The “fruits of the spirit” really were “fruits”, results, the outcome, the “works of/from faith”.
Then it hit me. It was not Jesus or God or the Holy Spirit that was responsible for any of my changed “born again” life. It was all me. It was my belief in being accepted and forgiven that was the cause of my “new” and “transformed” person.
Okay, my faith was in Christ, but it dawned on me that I could have exactly the same faith relationship with a totem pole if I had a different set of holy books or teachings, and the results would be exactly the same.
It was all a psychological trick. I was simply going a long roundabout route to accepting and loving and forgiving myself. And that’s where my newfound confidence and peace and joy was coming from. Also where my desire to simply be kind to others, with no need to dwell on wrongs, was coming from.
So I began to think. Why do I need the middle man (or god or spirit or totem pole)? Is there not a more efficient and honest way?
Edward Babinski has an interesting post on the miracle of speaking in tongues on his Scrivenings blog. He used to be a tongues speaker and his description of “how it’s done” particularly interested me. It confirmed my interpretation of my own single experience with glossolalia. I was never part of a church that sanctioned tongues speaking, certainly not in church services. The Worldwide Church of God cult of which I was a member for too many years taught tongues speaking was from the devil. Nonetheless, there was a time when during intense fasting and prayer I did find myself speaking in tongues and it pulled me up with a start. I don’t recall now if I consciously decided I’d give it a try or if it somehow subconsciously came upon me in my “intense” state at the time. What surprised me how easy it was. I really could speak in what sounded very much like another language. (None of Ed Babinski’s beginner steps for me!) I wasn’t just babbling a few syllables repetitively but it really sounded as if I was speaking in sentences with “meaningful” phrases, intonation, the lot.
I knew then that it was nothing but something I could do if I just set my mind to it and “stepped out” with “my tongue”. It was very obvious to me that there was no spiritual possession involved. I realized probably anyone could be taught to do it.