The Psychological Victims of Fundamentalist Christianity

This is incredibly fucked, but it is a topic of some interest for me, and one I plan on revisiting.  As Amanda notes, this stuff is “fucking frightening”.  Matt Taibi writes in Rolling Stone about his experiences at a three day intensive convert-a-thon.  He starts things off by discussing the contrast between the soon-to-be-converted and the Pastor.  This kind of Predator Christianity singles out the weak and exploits their insecurities to rope them into the flock.  This isn’t St. Augustine struggling with his sense of morality or identity and choosing his faith consciously.  This is psychological assault:

There were almost no breaks or interruptions; it was a physically exhausting schedule of confession, catharsis, bad music and relentless, muscular instruction. The Saturday program began at 7:45 a.m. and did not end until ten at night; we went around the confess-sing-learn cycle five full times in one day.

The organizers got an in by going straight to their victim’s soft spots:

True, I could see some other angles to what was going on as well. Virtually all of the participants of the Encounter identified either one or both of their parents as their “offender,” and much of what Fortenberry was talking about in his instructional sessions was how to replace the godless atmosphere of abuse or neglect that the offenders had provided us with God and the church. He was taking broken people and giving them a road map to a new set of parents, a new family — your basic cultist bait-and-switch formula for cutting old emotional ties and redirecting that psychic energy toward the desired new destination. That connection would become more overt later in the weekend, but early on, this ur-father propaganda was the only thing I could see that separated Encounter Weekend from the typical self-help dreck of the secular world.

From there it swiftly descends into language thick with religion and guilt (emphasis mine):

We were unhappy because of earthly troubles from our childhoods, but those troubles were the work of a generational curse, inflicted upon us by devils and demons — probably for unbelief, bad behavior, disobedience, worship of the wrong gods and so on.

This little bit of semantic gymnastics helped transform all of us at the retreat from being merely fucked up to being accursed carriers of demons. Having ridden an almost entirely secular program to get our biographies out in the open in a group setting, Fortenberry could now switch his focus to the real meat and potatoes of the weekend: Satan and the devils inside us.

Thats the substance, but Pastor Philip drops his cards and lets slip the goals of the unfolding manipulation:

Fortenberry then started in on a rant against science and against scientific explanations for cycles of sin. “Take homosexuals,” he said. “Every single homosexual is a sexual-abuse victim. They are not born. They are created — by pedophiles.”

Here is where things get fucking scary (emphasis mine):

The crowd swallowed that one whole. One thing about this world: Once a preacher says it, it’s true. No one is going to look up anything the preacher says, cross-check his facts, raise an eyebrow at something that might sound a little off. Some weeks later, I would be at a Sunday service in which Pastor John Hagee himself would assert that the Bible predicts that Jesus Christ is going to return to Earth bearing a “rod of iron” to discipline the ACLU. It goes without saying that the ACLU was not mentioned in the passage in Ezekiel he was citing — but the audience ate it up anyway. When they’re away from the cameras, the preachers feel even less obligated to shackle themselves to facts of any kind. That’s because they know that their audience doesn’t give a shit. So long as you’re telling them what they want to hear, there’s no danger; your crowd will angrily dismiss any alternative explanations anyway as demonic subversion.

And there we have our problem.  A sizable proportion of Americans being brainwashed to the point that discussion with them is impossible.

“In the name of Jesus Christ our Lord, I cast out the demon of the intellect!” Fortenberry continued. “In the name of Jesus, I cast out the demon of anal fissures!”

Cough, cough!

The minutes raced by. Wayne Williams was now fully prostrate, held up only by a trio of coaches, each of whom took part of his writhing body and propped it up. Another bald man in the front of the chapel was now freaking out in Linda Blair fashion, roaring and making horrific demon noises.

Rum-balakasha-oom!” shouted Fortenberry in tongues, waving a hand in front of Linda Blair Man. “Cooom-balakasha-froom! In the name of Jesus Christ, I cast out the demon of philosophy!”


This kind of movement is more than simply anti-science.  It is anti-intelligence, anti-self-determination.  Can you really own your own choices when the very idea of making a decision without “consulting Jesus” is thrown out?  When intellect and philosophy are seen as evils?

Forget that philosophy has played a central role in every major religious tradition in the world, and Christianity is well represented with a host of excellent philosophers and theologians.  Aside from offering a misrepresentation of the religion it claims to espouse, fundamentalist Christianity gums up the gears of free will, outsourcing intellectual judgment to Christ.  (No wonder some Christians believe morality disappears without God.)

These effects are dangerous and lasting (emphasis mine):

By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to “be rational” or “set aside your religion” about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you’ve made a journey like this — once you’ve gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. It’s not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that’s the issue. It’s that once you’ve gotten to this place, you’ve left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things. You make this journey precisely to experience the ecstasy of beating to the same big gristly heart with a roomful of like-minded folks. Once you reach that place with them, you’re thinking with muscles, not neurons.

By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet, and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you’ve gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd. There is no “anything else.” All alternative points of view are nonstarters. There is this “our thing,” a sort of Cosa Nostra of the soul, and then there are the fires of Hell. And that’s all.

This is a major problem.  These people vote.  They run for office.  They win office.  They set policy and write laws while fondly recalling the social sophistication of the dark ages.  And they cannot be argued with.

I highly recommend Cracks in the Wall over at Orcinus (Pt 1, Pt 2, Pt 3), about efforts to break through and help the people trapped behind the wall of Predatory Christianity.  That’s a start.


5 Responses

  1. The most ironic thing about “casting out the demon of philosophy” is that it’s likely that their theological beliefs are (at the very least) somewhat indebted to Augustine and Thomas Aquinas.

    Both of whom used classical philosophy to approach the Gospels.

  2. Jamelle,
    That is ironic.

  3. It is “cult conversion”. It is the idea of “total submission” to the Lord as the only path to happiness. Of course it is not God speaking but a Pastor, a religious leader, who “interprets” God wishes for them and then encloses them in an all enveloping “church” from music, to clothes, to everything else.

  4. This is not some ordinary Christian event. Somebody wants to head a cult.

  5. This account rings true to my experiences in the neo-Pentecostal (charismatic) movement in my late teen and early college years. What Taibi did- going undercover to expose the mind-control tactics of these groups took some real courage. I agree with Taibi that one of their primary brainwashing tactics is to obliterate all logic with the claim that all which is not “of God” is, by default, demonic. This creates an overwhelming sense of fear which leads to uncompromising submission on the part of the believer. This is cultish and manipulative. It can cause severe trauma later on. I have lived through it and seen it all, and I wrote about it in my most recent book “Fundamentally Misguided,” which is a firsthand account of how Christian fundamentalism can warp the mind and damage the soul. If you are interested in this topic, I hope you will check it out.

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