Cindy Kunsman explains how Doug Phillips relegated Vision Forum acolytes to bounded choice – a dynamic only intensified for Lourdes Torres-Manteufel by alleged sex abuse.
Note from Julie Anne: This is Part 2 of Cindy Kunsman’s series on Bounded Choice. In this series she is helping us to understand the process people go through when they have lived in a high-controlling religious system as was Lourdes Torres-Manteufel’s experience. Lourdes’ and Cindy’s story can help shed light in our own experience or the experience of someone we know and love. Having this understanding is pivotal in the recovery process.
Again, thank you, Cindy for sharing your experience and expertise with us at SSB!
PART I in this series may be read here.
By Cindy Kunsman, UnderMuchGrace.com
Defining Bounded Choice
What would a court document describing my sexual abuse as a child look like?
If I could have imagined any alternative other than the one I saw as a damaged nine-year old, what would my court petition look like?
I’d never thought about such things before – not in forty years. As much thinking as I’ve done about the matter, the only court I ever imagined concerning any of my own experience was that of my father being sentenced to death for killing my abuser. That’s what my dad thought would happen, should anyone ever do anything like that to me. Why could I comprehend nothing else?
Closed Systems: Discernment Stolen, Decision-Making Stopped
Because high-demand religion and spiritually abusive systems close people off from themselves and from the perspective of the broader world, that’s why. In a way, they become a personal example, a microcosm, of the system of the closed mind of the “closed group” — expendable drones in a high-demand religious hive.
Ironically, the followers of such a system become walled off from their own inner thoughts of doubt, a function of discernment and critical thinking. Leaders think for the followers, so those functions must also be handed over to one’s overseer – both to the group doctrine as well as to the all-knowing leaders who have a better connection or a direct pipeline to God and things divine. They are the essential and only pure mouthpiece of God.
Scientia potentia est. Knowledge is power. The closed group by nature limits power to a choice few. Knowledge and thought become proprietary, and the enlightened leader proprietors mediate truth for followers. This maintains the closed system wherein the follower must find their place of grace – the existence dispensed to them by the “truth.” Followers are who the system says they are, and they must adapt their thoughts, behavior, and emotions to find their personhood and identity within that system.
The true believer, out of love and duty, internalizes the desires of the leader in a spirit of true devotion and desires to gain the approval of their leader, parent, pastor, guru, abusive partner, etc. Through subtle social cues, reward for good behavior, punishment for bad behavior, and their attentiveness to the will of their leader(s), they train themselves to anticipate what is desired of them and then strive to attain favor. It’s all done in the name of sincerity and humility, but really, it is sadism and subjugation.
Some of these constraints are literal, and a good number of them are imagined as the follower morphs and conforms self to accommodate the leaders and the system. The follower anticipates the shifting needs and requirements to hold on to that favor and their own personhood – the reality that membership demands of them.
Life and Death in the Docks
Any choices they supposedly make have already been dictated by the group. They are bounded choices to ensure their survival, sometimes a literal choice between life or death. Failure to follow results in not only loss of one’s salvation and favor with God, but under systems like Gothard’s, Lindvall’s, and Phillips’, God will make it His business to punish the dissident for disobedience. In a terrible twist of faith, “grace” with Him must be earned, on top of earning the favor of parents (necessary for physical sustenance) and church (necessary to maintain their whole family’s standing with the group). To be excised from underneath the protective umbrella of either is to be outside the Kingdom of Heaven on earth, and then, surely also outside the reach of Heaven as you suffer the hailstorms of hell.
The legal world uses a different term for this pressure for survival: undue influence. The devotee still technically possesses free will, but their reality becomes so confined and scripted that they have no opportunity to exercise it. Their choices are bound by their confines, and considering alternatives becomes punishable sin to be avoided at all cost. Thoughts and needs must be subordinated to those of the group, the leader, or perhaps those of middle management. Free will and autonomy become an illusion in order to maintain one’s standing with the group and with God Himself.
There is, therefore, only one choice, dictated by surviving within the group. Exiting that group becomes tantamount to annihilation. This pressure intensifies for those who have no ability to support themselves apart from their group or their family, particularly if they are financially employed by the group. Undue influence, indeed …
What real choices did Lourdes Torres have? She had to serve her parents who commanded her to serve her enlightened visionary. Her reputation depended upon her family’s esteem for her. To bring honor to her parents, she was commanded to obey all that the Phillips’ family required of her. She wasn’t just obeying her parents in the sense that most of those outside the system think of it. She was obeying God Himself – at every level. Her authorities were placed above her as God’s divine mediating instruments through whom He would shape her character.
Remember that the group also taught that slavery and servitude were Biblical, and Scripture demands that one submit patiently to both good and evil masters as part of God’s ideal plan.
Remember how grace is billed as something that one merits through submission, excessive humility (obsequiousness), and self-sacrifice within these systems. God opposes the proud and autonomous, and autonomy is a very dirty word in Calvinism. But God gives grace to the humble (and the humiliated) – and the authoritarian leaders who impose such systems and inevitable benefit from them.
But there is yet another layer of the bounded choice to which Ms. Torres was subjected. There is more to be said about bounded choice and more layers to the complicated conundrum that Lourdes braved as best she could in her own quest for survival of Phillips’ system.
Part III to follow concerns the difficulties faced by young people who were raised within the confines of a totalist institution.
* * * * * * *
Primary work cited and excellent reference RE: surviving totalist groups and manipulative relationships:
Take Back Your Life by Janja Lalich and Madeline Tobias.
149 thoughts on “Lourdes, Lifeboats, and Bounded Choice: Part II (No Choice in Totalist Institutions)”
It’s like the perfect storm that brings out the worst in people.
You have a central charismatic leader who feels entitled, is self-centered, and lacks empathy. More oft’ than not, they manifest a Cluster B personality disorder:
* Antisocial Personality Disorder (Pervasive disregard for others’ rights and the law itself)
* Borderline Personality Disorder (Intense fear of abandonment with a paradoxical fear of intimacy manifested in rigid thinking, self-image problems, self-destructive behavior, and interpersonal drama)
* Histrionic Personality Disorder (Attention-seeking, seductive behavior, and shallow but emotional extremes)
* Narcissistic Personality Disorder (Intense need for admiration, pervasive grandiosity, and lack of empathy)
People fail to recognize this and assume that they’re decent, honest people. It is not across the board with all members, but a common trait of people in high demand groups is a discomfort with ambiguity. (Others might call this a “control issue.”) They are generally looking to solve a problem or fill a void which causes them to find the group more desirable.
People they let their defenses down, and manipulators take advantage of the natural pitfalls of being human. We take shortcuts through trust and by making assumptions to help us process info. (If we had to rethink everything over and over, we’d never get anything done.) But manipulators take advantage of this. I like Cialdini’s list:
* Commitment and Consistency
* Social Proof
* They are hierarchical and elitist.
* The group exists to help the leader “manage his/her own affect” (control his own emotional state). This requires an inequitable balance of power which favors the leader.
* The environment is managed tightly for members, through information management and behavioral management. Black and white thinking facilitates this, as does fear.
* The group requires a total life program which demands an inner conversion. It isn’t the authoritarianism but is rather the totalism that creates the problem. The military is authoritarian and indoctrinates, but when a soldier is off duty, they have autonomy and can think whatever they want. Totalist groups define some degree of reasonable autonomy of thought and action to be sinful. If you want that “buzz” that the group gives you, you have to surrender that inner part of yourself.
* Because of the entitlement of the leader in concert with their lack of empathy, the member bears the burden and takes the blame for all that goes wrong in the name of hierarchy to benefit the leader.
Now, you put all that together, you have a cultic totalist group But one way or another, it always goes back to the needs of the charismatic leader.
Human nature is reasonably predictable and the works of the flesh are as well. So the dynamics that you lay out, whether you use Lifton or Henke or another model, are going to be fairly predictable.
Learning about and how to identify the natural weaknesses of people, the characteristics of a predator, and the criteria/dynamics of a high demand group give you a lot of choice and personal power.
That video is ridiculous. The devotion to Phillips is sickening. As if they are telling him: “Look, Oh Anointed One, we are doing it just like you taught us, we are popping out babies for Christ just like you said – #5 baby in 10 years (because it’s important for you to see that there was no rest/break between babies).” And from Kelly, “Thank you for instilling/ brainwashing me that unless I am a mother popping out babies, I am worth nothing.”
Oh, and not only does Peter identify them, he says their first AND last names??!!! Who does that?
@Lydia … “Evil is banal.”
Intriguing … I just put Hannah Arendt’s *Eichmann in Jerusalem* on my reading list a few days ago. I kept running across summaries and extracts that talked about her analysis of how Eichmann used cliches and propaganda phrases so much that when confronted with questions in court that such empty terms could not answer, it was, in part, his undoing.
It’s just toooo similar to the language and logic found in purveyors of the “psychology of totalism” who create systems of complete control in an organization or society. And that is much of what we’re talking about here with the interlocking directory of ideas from Vision Forum Inc./Ministries, and those so deeply associated with it … and forming a sort of “total institution” network.
I suspect that, if many theologians of these patriarchy-purity-perfectionism movements were put on the witness stand, their argumentation and logic would likewise dissolve — not because everyone else is evil or an enemy of the Kingdom, but because their systems themselves simply don’t cohere. Much is based on closed-system logic that starts with certain assumptions and then takes them to their inherent conclusions, but the entire thing is filled with holes.
It’s what I illustrate by calling it “spiritual osteoporosis.” It may feel solid to the untrained examination, but actually could collapse upon itself at any time.
And back to the concepts of control by chaos versus compliance versus charisma, the thing I see as the core is that each has its appeal because each offers a different kind of “consumable” that can lure people in. Do you long to obey God and understand truth perfectly? Probably your best fit is a control-by-compliance church. They’ll give you the information you want. Do you long to be creative and live in freedom? Find someone who leads through chaos and be surprised by the unexpected (under the guise of providential perhaps?). Do you feel insignificant? Get in a church under a charismatic leader and absorb some celebrity identity-by-association, by osmosis!
Something for everyone … But, there’s always a stinger in that hook. As my college friend Linda O. said, “Manipulators and martyrs go together in matched pairs.”
And I say that not to put the blame on victims, but just to suggest that there are reasons why we get taken in by certain kinds of abusive perps, yet aren’t necessarily drawn in by others. The ones who ensnare us typically have something we desire, or, I should say, a close-enough counterfeit to what would satisfy a genuinely biblical desire from being made in God’s image and/or being a disciple of Jesus Christ — like personal growth, justice, wisdom, “success” in ministry, love, natural family affection, etc.
So, there’s that, FWIW.
But I think we have nailed the fact that you cannot make sense of it but it all comes out of the same root assumptions of lording it over others in a myriad of ways.
I think that you can make sense out of it. I love Lifton for that.
As Lalich and Tobias say in that quote, it’s all about the power dynamic. It’s not wrong to be powerful, but the problem arises when to seize that power, a person must let the end justify the means.
What is original sin? You shall be like God. Isn’t the classic example of letting the end justify the means what the crafty, subtle serpent said? Surely it isn’t so. Look what you stand to gain. It will make you wise and will be a benefit to you.
And how does this manifest?
Lust of the flesh (sex/gender)
Lust of the eyes (money)
Pride of life (power)
Doesn’t this dovetail nicely with that which Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness?
Another Tom wrote earlier that it all reminded him of something consistent with total depravity. That is definitely the case if you consider that these are traditions of men that are accomplished by the works of the flesh.
Jesus used the Pharisees to depict these patterns and truths, but it all traces back to that entitled, self-centered leader who wants to be like God.
None of this is new, and it is just evil manifesting, taking advantage of who we are — both by our strengths and our weaknesses. It exploits our virtue and our aspirations to be virtuous. And it’s SUBTLE.
Arendt’s book on Totalitarianism is fascinating, too. I learned a great deal reading that.
And then, you have to throw some Baudrillard in there, too. Closed systems create their own hyper real environment. That’s what much of the dressing up was all about.
Brad wrote: “Do you long to be creative and live in freedom? Find someone who leads through chaos and be surprised by the unexpected (under the guise of providential perhaps?)….”
Thus Phillips was involved in film and of course, film awards.
A nice small example from Furtick’s Elevation Church, where a hipster “creative pastor” gets slick and ohsocute! on enforcing proper attitude:
I hope this isn’t too far off target for the topic on this thread, but I just love the photo of the grand piano innards as a backdrop for your blog. Grand pianos truly are marvels of high engineering and elegant craftsmanship. I can almost hear the opening bars of Beethoven’s Pathetique sonata.
“One named Hister shall become
A captain of Greater Germany;
No law does this man observe —
Bloody his rise and fall shall be…”
— Al Stewart, “Nostradamus”, 1973
(Video’s not so hot, but this one has the clearest lyrics)
Beautiful words. Yes, we have options. And one is to teach our children how to think not what to think and pray for the best
“I think that you can make sense out of it. I love Lifton for that. ”
Cindy, Yes, you are right. In fact, your comment is a synopsis that needs to be printed out and reviewed often so we can better teach our children what to observe going on around them. That helps make it not so personal when they encounter it. Help them understand there is a dynamic going on rooted in the flesh. It plays out in childrens relationships at school, etc. It is all around us. I was always trying to articulate a larger picture because we can get swamped in the details of how it plays out on the ground. The key is how we respond to it.
Headless U Guy,
Hitler is an extreme example, but there are far more small time operators who use the same techniques, but not to accomplish the same ends. Thank God. But it is worth considering that selling out just to accomplish some lofty ideal that becomes more important than the people in the process is the same whether you are Hitler, an Amway middle manager, or a minister. Given the right circumstances, and if the leader has the right solution to a problem that is perceived as dire, people will sell out to them, too.
I love that line out of Dostoevsky:
“We have corrected Thy work and have founded it upon miracle, mystery and authority. And men rejoiced that they were again led like sheep.”
I wrote this in an article some time ago and this follows not far behind the quote. I go copy it from the article since it’s easy to retrieve. I noticed that I wrote this in the same piece and found it fitting to the general discussion concerning these lengths that we go to when we try to build systems to accomplish these lofty goals. It features a quote from page 20 of Gene Veith’s Postmodern Times:
We must commit ourselves to orthodoxy and walk in faith, attentive to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in concert with our gifts of logic (1 Jn 3:19-21; 4:1-3). A renewed approach should not mean “dead orthodoxy,” “the insistence on some kind of doctrinal purity at the expense of a warm, personal faith.” The goal should be “live orthodoxy,” a faith that is both nourished in experience and grounded in truth, with room for both the feelings and the intellect. At times in church history, doctrine has been overemphasized, but that will unlikely be a danger in a society who’s every tendency is to deny truth altogether.
Brad, there is a rule on many blogs you are not allowed to bring up the Nazi’s.
They will automatically call out Godwins rule.
It is period of history for which I am well versed. I am interested in it for one reason. WHY? How did it happen. I think if we ignore that we don’t learn our lessons and history repeats itself in some ways.
There is an incrementalism that is imperative for us to understand. What we allow to become our normal because we think it good at the time without looking at the larger picture…. until we no longer have any choices or a voice.
I have so much enjoyed Arendt and other writers who dug deeper than the historical facts and into some of the psychology involved.
It showed that we are much more than the group/movement. Once removed from eh group with the cliches that worked so well, they no longer work outside that ghetto. And we stand alone with what we bought into and what it really meant. Nothing. It was building some one elses kingdom. Not the one that counts.
I have noticed something similar going on with some blogs where YRR and non YRR were trying to have consensus conversations. It was not working. The YRR were bringing their cliches that work great in their ghetto but the non YRR were not buying them. As threads progressed the cliches went into ad hominem as the argumetation. That is a form of force and where all those seeking power eventually have to go to keep it.
All those cliches (Don’t you believe God is Soveriegn? etc) that worked so well in seminary and in their group broke down and the house of cards were crumbling. So new tactics brought out with more power and force attached to them.
It is important we have freedom to discuss these things. And our society now demands that people agree— for some reason. Which alienates us even more from thinking critically as we want to be accepted. A recipe for disaster.
Yes it’s very sad that the Bradricks suffered for being the chosen elite… but it wasn’t 10 years of marriage, it was 5 children in less than six years. (Aug. 2006 wedding-June 2012 fifth baby) With the third baby a c-section (not sure about how the other babies were delivered, or if they have more children by now). I feel very sorry for her, because i’ve recovered from a c-section myself. It takes so much out strength away from a mother, especially with other small children and the threat of another pregnancy looming.
The comment above from Brad/futuristguy is so true: “I suspect that, if many theologians of these patriarchy-purity-perfectionism movements were put on the witness stand, their argumentation and logic would likewise dissolve — not because everyone else is evil or an enemy of the Kingdom, but because their systems themselves simply don’t cohere. Much is based on closed-system logic that starts with certain assumptions and then takes them to their inherent conclusions, but the entire thing is filled with holes. It’s what I illustrate by calling it “spiritual osteoporosis.” It may feel solid to the untrained examination, but actually could collapse upon itself at any time.”
The Vision Forum idea that they honor women really falls apart when they think God’s going to stop a harmful pregnancy by another way other than giving the husband the smarts to back off.
I didn’t mean for that comment to be snarky or sarcastic, i just realized it sounded so. But i’m genuinely sorry for them.
I didn’t take your comment as snarky or sarcastic, but certainly wouldn’t object if it was. There needs to be snarky, sarcastic, righteous anger going on about this mess.
I am so glad that we are reading Lifton and Arendt. They are foundational on these issues.
It is important to note that these people did not work from within the church milieu. It’s important because there is a lot of truth going on in the world, and where truth is, there is God. He spills it out wherever He wishes. When we do not go after the truth because it comes from a context we don’t approve of, we miss a great deal of what God wants us to know.
If we trust God, we will understand that the truth was put in the right places, and for His own good reasons. We need not be afraid that “out there” sinfulness is greater than God, in the same way that we needn’t be afraid that “in here” sin is greater than God.
Anyway, I wish you a lovely Sabbath. Thanks for the song, Cindy.
@ Lydia, May 3, 2014 @ 9:49 PM. “I have noticed something similar going on with some blogs where YRR and non YRR were trying to have consensus conversations. It was not working. The YRR were bringing their cliches that work great in their ghetto but the non YRR were not buying them. As threads progressed the cliches went into ad hominem as the argumetation. That is a form of force and where all those seeking power eventually have to go to keep it.
“All those cliches (Don’t you believe God is Soveriegn? etc) that worked so well in seminary and in their group broke down and the house of cards were crumbling. So new tactics brought out with more power and force attached to them.
“It is important we have freedom to discuss these things. And our society now demands that people agree— for some reason. Which alienates us even more from thinking critically as we want to be accepted. A recipe for disaster.”
It’s easy to get lost in all the “What?” details and “So What?” meanings in discussions like this, and get delayed in working toward the “Now What?” of applications. So, I think you’re moving into a very important application with Young Restless and Reformed as a relevant current example of the principle that Robert Jay Lifton calls “Loading the Language” — creating code words and insider jargon that reduces complex problems to simplistic solutions, and condenses categories into judgmental labels. That was #6 in his list of 8 criteria for identifying groups, organizations, and societies that use “the psychology of totalism.” I read recently where Lifton did not call this the psychology of *totalitarianism* because it was not found only in countries and their political systems.
For readers who might be interested in more about Loading the Language, I have a section on it in this post. As a trained linguist, I find this criterion of special interest.
I also find it intriguing that Lifton — who is considered one of the pioneers in the psychology of traumatic stress — did extensive research work and interviews with Holocaust survivors. And from those interviews, he found there was one subject they were especially reluctant to speak about … so he followed up with research and interviews to document the medical experiments conducted on prisoners. So, basically, much of these kinds of studies are looking at the contours and content of “evil,” its perpetrators and perpetuators, and its impacts in attempting to dehumanize “the other.”
I find it ironic, and redemptive, that those who try to treat people as if we were machines are countered by those who seek to maintain in all of us what most makes us human — life, intellect, imagination, communication, dignity despite differences, freedom of choice for self-determination instead of the bondages of conformity or chaos.
“It’s easy to get lost in all the “What?” details and “So What?” meanings in discussions like this, and get delayed in working toward the “Now What?” of applications. So, I think you’re moving into a very important application with Young Restless and Reformed as a relevant current example of the principle that Robert Jay Lifton calls “Loading the Language” — creating code words and insider jargon that reduces complex problems to simplistic solutions, and condenses categories into judgmental labels. ”
It is interesting to look at the trajectory of this historically. We can learn a lot from it. This movement really got underway around the 70’s but was off the radar. It really had no name or brand. Then it was picked up by some fellow travelers later on like Piper, then Mohler (the well known ones) and it started really branding and coalescing around early to mid 2000’s. Around that time they were quite adept at using the internet to build the brand which appealled to young people. Driscoll came on the scene in a big way and it went from there. And none of this was really organized in a coherent sort of way. Again we have chaos.
But something happened. The same medium they used to build the brand as it progressed into more and more social media became the same venue used to analyze their movement. The biggest challenge became the “loaded language”.
It took a while to get there because most people saw the leaders as too big to question or fail. And while they held back the leaders became more and more in your face and dogmatic. ( I am already seeing subtle attempts to rebrand themselves but their followers won’t see it)
Now we are at the point the YRR can barely have a conversation with non YRR online becasue the loaded language is always dealt with. They cannot get past that. So they are splintering even more. And now those who are not blindly in that movement are willing to ask questions and they can find lots of resources on line that question the assumption. It never was a doctrinal movement in the first place. It was about power. And that is becoming more and more obvious with the response of that movement to Driscoll and Mahaney.
I find that a good thing and a lesson for us all.
oldthinkers unbellyfeel INGSOC.
“Principles of Newspeak” by G.Orwell (appendix to 1984) is all about deliberately redefining a Loaded Language to constrict thought to doubleplusgoodthink and doublepluscrimethink. If there are no words to describe a concept except INGSOC, goodthink, and crimethink, the concept ceases to exist. This theme is also a major arc in his novel-length political cartoon.
Continuing the above 1984 meme, the YRR newspeak has become incompatible with non-YRR oldspeak, so different words or concepts no longer map across. The YRR have pinched themselves off behind their newspeak event horizon. (The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs…)
When I acquired a copy of the 1943 OSS psych profile of A.Hitler (with postwar annotations and corrections), I was struck by how ORDINARY A.H. was, especially in his younger days on the bum in Vienna before WW1. In various fandoms, I’ve seen so many slackers like that, “floating with no visible means of support” except for shady ways of getting survival money from others. I HAVE a similar sarcastic sense of humor. A.H. often used to regale his courtiers with his “militaria geek” knowledge (which combined with his “I AM ALWAYS RIGHT! You have to do it MY way!” ego ended up losing the war), something you see all the time in various geek cultures. A.H grew up in a highly-dysfunctional family, like most all first-generation fans. He was enmeshed with his mother who died of cancer when he was emotionally young, just like me. He was physically abused by a violent alcoholic father, just like one close friend of mine. He was heavily into Hypermasculinity, like many Christian Patriarchy types. So many of the elements are so familiar, you see them all over the place – just not all in the same guy at the same time.
I came to the conclusion that there are probably MILLIONS of “A.Hitlers” walking around at any given time, just this one had a Perfect Storm situation boost him to absolute ruler of a major nation where his Will could Triumph over an entire continent instead of only his immediate surroundings. (Along with that gang of literal pulp villains he gathered around himself.)
Can you elaborate on this, Patrice? I’m most familiar with the effect on lit-SF after the “New Wave SF” movement, where in an attempt to make SF “respectable”, they ended up adopting ALL the bad habits of mainstream “High Literature” (“POOT! SNIFF! Ahhhhhhhhhh…”)
“Continuing the above 1984 meme, the YRR newspeak has become incompatible with non-YRR oldspeak, so different words or concepts no longer map across. The YRR have pinched themselves off behind their newspeak event horizon. (The Dwarfs are for The Dwarfs…)”
It really is the case, HUG. If we do not accept their definition and USE of say, “Sovereignty” of God, where can we go together? We are speaking two different languages which in effect, totally change the attributes of God. And now it is really coming to the forefront. The rank and file are still doing what they do best but I have noticed some of the leaders are trying to ‘rebrand” in subtle ways. Me thinks the money is not flowing as easily as it was even a few years ago.
It took the non YRR some time to really come to grips with the fact it is a different language.
We can learn from this when it comes to other movements. Question how the language is used and ask for illustrations. It can save lots of time and heartache.
In which case, Serling’s most famous work was very effective:
Oh, that sort of AHRT(TM).
Trendoid squalling temper tantrums of The Great Artiste(TM) with his poopy diapers, eternally mad at Mommy & Daddy tellng him “No”. (“I’LL SHOW YOU! I’LL SHOW YOU! WAAAH! WAAAH! WAAAAAAAAAH!”)
HUG wrote: “I’m most familiar with the effect on lit-SF after the “New Wave SF” movement, where in an attempt to make SF “respectable”, they ended up adopting ALL the bad habits of mainstream “High Literature” (“POOT! SNIFF! Ahhhhhhhhhh…”)”
Is that what happened? I’ve not been involved in the Sci-fi realm, although I love the stuff and have, over the years, picked up many books on people’s recommendations. But now I’m wary of recommendations because so much of it sets off traumatic re-experiencing in me. Cruel nihilistic atmospheres that protagonists are sunk in and never get out of.
I can’t handle that kind of thing—never could—because it is how I felt much of my early life and it was unbearable. ISTM that people who’ve not had such experiences place themselves in those places and feel alive because of it: “Ooooh it’s amazing how bad life can be! W00twooot!” But they close the book, untouched, instead feeling a sort of satisfaction! Maybe it’s titillation or something, I don’t know. Or maybe it’s a release valve, the way old Greek tragedies functioned.
And yes, that’s what’s happened to much of “high art”. It’s beyond me why on God’s green earth harshness and coarseness is equated to “high”. It is a genuine corruption and makes me sad/angry. It’s not just because they aren’t Christian; it’s a deep fall from health and relevancy.
And that sort of pattern (although with different materials/people) is also inside large swaths of the church. Took at what happened to “high art”, now without meaning/purpose and gone completely impotent. Take warning.
BTW, now I mostly just read young adult sci-fi/fantasy because they seem to maintain some standards for health/hope. Do you know any contemporary SF writers that don’t indulge the nihistic thing? I’d love to read them. I miss complexity!
I don’t know what New Wave SF is, exactly. but here’s a book about dystopian fiction that I find very intriguing is *Dystopian Fiction East and West: Universe of Terror and Trial* by Erika Gottlieb. One of her basic points is that, to fiction writers in the West, their dystopia is the worst they can imagine. To writers from the East (i.e., Eastern Bloc of Central Europe and the regions of the former Soviet Union), “dystopian fiction” is a riff on their reality. To quote from the back cover, “[A]uthors who write about and under totalitarian dictatorship find the worst of possible worlds not in a hypothetical future, but in the present or recent past.”
Perhaps the difference there provides a parallel to consider in terms of differences between what those who have not personally experienced severe spiritual abuse think it is about, or how they misperceive as exaggerating those who describe their actual experiences in deep, dystopian detail. Those who think we exaggerate may have a blind spot to the existential truth of which we speak and therefore cannot perceive Scripture in the same light we do. Again, back to that language and perception issue …
And while on the topic of East and West, consider the applicability to Second Generation Adults of *Beyond Invisible Walls: The Psychological Legacy of Soviet Trauma, East Europen Therapists and their Patients,* edited by Jacob Lindy and Robert Jay Lifton. It’s about both the survivors of those growing up under Communism, and the effects on counselors of totalism trauma experienced by their clients and themselves.
Interesting, Brad, thanks. I’ll track down that book.
I would love to hear from HUG about what he thinks of Eastern Bloc dystopian fiction. Maybe I’d like it, because it’s not the situations themselves that send me away but how it is described and what the protagonists do within it.
Having someone describe worlds that are bleak can be affirming to someone who’s suffered a version of it, IF some things that happen inside it are life-affirming, loving, etc, and IF there’s an underlying understanding that humans can’t endure without an eventual return to some measure of compassion/meaning.
I also get disgusted when terrible things happen to a human, but the damage is minimized, or ignored. That is something I appreciated in Hunger Games—Katniss becomes increasingly dissociated and some of her later actions are heavily influenced by it.
You wrote: “Those who think we exaggerate may have a blind spot to the existential truth of which we speak and therefore cannot perceive Scripture in the same light we do.”
Yah, when someone minimizes abuse, I know it is because they’ve never experienced it. I’m sure it also frightens them. Some, I think, do not want to face damaging experiences of their own, and can become especially aggressive against the reality of abuse. I minimized my own experience for a long time, too. It’s understandable. Evil is a wretched thing.
Also, yeah, it is soo interesting how not understanding the nature of evil modifies scripture-reading.
I suspect that the doctrine of total depravity is often spun so that we can admit the extent of evil without actually facing it. It can be a kind of slide-by, if you know what I mean. It ends up fabricating horror in the wrong place and then, when confronted by the actual horror of evil, it can be leveled and minimized. Because, you know, we’re all just awful creatures anyway, so whatchatalkinabout?
Patrice … yes, the abstract doctrine of total depravity is far easier to rattle on about than to hear the concrete details of the doings of total depravity, which can be far more rattling.
People are sometimes surprised-disbelieving-mystified that I can remain relatively positive (or even remain a Christian) in the face of what I’ve experienced. But that’s the mystery of finding a redemptive edge, isn’t it? I think of what Corrie Ten Boom had to say: “There is no pit so deep that God is not deeper still.”
If we don’t believe spiritual transformation is possible through the power of God’s Word, and healing and leading of the Holy spirit, and being conformed to the character of Christ, then we’re on the wrong blog …
Patrice, to go along with what you are saying, I find it very interesting that it wasn’t until I got a real relationship with Jesus Christ I stopped minimizing my bad experiences. It was a coping mechanism, but it didn’t really work. I thought I was fine but it was clear to others that I was not fine. I am so thankful to God for bringing me a wonderful Christian counselor who would never take any pay from the church for her time even though they offered it to her. She never wanted to be controlled by their agenda. She validated the abuse as a very big deal even though she also worked with others way more scarred than me. What also really surprised me was that she had not had a bad past at all, yet she allowed God to give her His heart for the walking wounded.
I suspect that the doctrine of total depravity is often spun so that we can admit the extent of evil without actually facing it. It can be a kind of slide-by, if you know what I mean. It ends up fabricating horror in the wrong place and then, when confronted by the actual horror of evil, it can be leveled and minimized. Because, you know, we’re all just awful creatures anyway, so whatchatalkinabout?
One of the most succinct rebuttals of a particularly large swath of Augustinian nonsense I’ve ever heard.
“Yah, when someone minimizes abuse, I know it is because they’ve never experienced it. I’m sure it also frightens them. Some, I think, do not want to face damaging experiences of their own, and can become especially aggressive against the reality of abuse. I minimized my own experience for a long time, too. It’s understandable. Evil is a wretched thing.”
I don’t want to minimize anyone’s abuse but to point out that when it is done in the Name of Jesus or with a plastic fish slapped on it, the damage has an extra layer to work through that is inexplicable to so many. Many are Christians.
“I suspect that the doctrine of total depravity is often spun so that we can admit the extent of evil without actually facing it. It can be a kind of slide-by, if you know what I mean. It ends up fabricating horror in the wrong place and then, when confronted by the actual horror of evil, it can be leveled and minimized. Because, you know, we’re all just awful creatures anyway, so whatchatalkinabout?”
I gotta agree with Muff on this one. This nails it. I think of it as the get out of hell card people think they are playing. When I hear it From people…I think “evil Christians”? Can that be right? I often think, gee, best to lock up the children and hide the silver. The totally depraved Christians are here.
Someone asked me a few months back what my “doctrinal position” was. I said, it is very simple. I believe the Cross gave defeated evil so that we are responsible for our actions and deeds. We are to be Christ representatives here and that does not look like what many think it does. We aren’t perfect but we are to be pure in heart. And blameless.
“Patrice, to go along with what you are saying, I find it very interesting that it wasn’t until I got a real relationship with Jesus Christ I stopped minimizing my bad experiences. It was a coping mechanism, but it didn’t really work.”
Patti, I can totally relate.
I posted a comment a few minutes over at TWW. I am copying it to post here, shortly.
On Friday, I had an exchange with a cult recovery oriented psychologist about whether he had any opinion on another guy who is a lesser-known expert on trauma. What seems to happen in the field is that people who are more therapy oriented find some good treatments, but we don’t have much of any idea how they actually work. (This is true of many medications, BTW, despite what many physicians will tell you.) I was listening to a lecture, decided that this other trauma guy might be an example of the made-up causation stuff, and I just turned it off. I then sought the respected opinion of this other person. He popped off a brilliant statement concerning this problem of creating causalities of conjecture and speculation without any empirical evidence and passing them off to the trusting therapists as definitive “proof” of scientific fact. I’d mentioned that I liked some of the creative analogies that these types of folks used to describe the overall experience of trauma, but they fall apart on the “why.”
He said something that I found brilliant after mentioning how helpful metaphors can be in therapy:
“The metaphor is not the map.”
I guess the theme in my brain that is churning in regard to this discussion of these strange pseudo-Calvinists, as per that description that Veith used. These folks are trying to inject some life into their dead orthodoxy. Rather than getting back to the main, plain messages of Scripture, they try to be crafty and clever, so that they can brand and market something that is more palatable to both saint and sinner in a sin-drenched, postmodern culture that primarily understands everything in terms of existentialism which worships autonomy and freewill (that the ancient Greeks presupposed).
They use the five points of Calvinism which is more like a metaphor that helps us understand God’s sovereignty, and they mistake it for the map of Scripture. They use the metaphor that explains an aspect of truth like a syringe full of novelty which they use to inject life back into their dead orthodoxy. Their orthodoxy is dead because man is at the center of it and not God. (They give all the right answers to the questions, but they interpret man as the central focus as something that serves man instead of allowing God to be the central focus, the Lord of all power, and the recipient of all glory and honor.) It’s a subtle shift, but the displacement is what takes what we hope was once a live faith and turns it into nothing more than dead orthodoxy.
Mark Noll has called this use of these other crafted selling points that are distilled from the culture “theological innovations.” James Sire calls the end results of this “Theistic existentialism.” And in misinterpreting the metaphor as the map, they don’t even really see that they’ve become exactly what they claim to decry: they become humanists.
So men that we hope were at one point became Believers use theological innovations to try to revive dead orthodoxy by borrowing from the culture elements of novelty that are not Scripture to dress it up. (I think that Jesus called this the traditions of men, and it makes the Word ineffective.) And what results from making the Gospel merely something that serves man? Theistic Existentalism.
Bob Wright explains well in “No Place for Sovereignty” that the real problem is not the sinfulness of the world, for that has always been the case for us. It’s syncretism. He doesn’t use the term “New Calvinism” in his book, but from my exchanges with him, I know that this group exemplifies what he was writing about. Of these confused Calvinists he says:
“And their gospel is no longer the theologically articulated gospel of forty years ago. Today it is a syncretic combination of secular methodologies and superficial biblical language aimed at “felt needs” rather than hellbound sinners. Can we really imagine the apostle Paul insisting that the gospel be made “user-friendly”? Paul taught that the power of the gospel is located in the preaching of God’s Word, not in its ability to absorb intellectual pop culture” (pg 14).
Regarding your comment about turning the issues over to attorneys to defend the failure to act.
As a consultant and instructor regarding environmental management and compliance, I always worked to prevent problems to the fullest extent. Yet because life is like that, sometimes problems still occurred. Then we would work hard to remediate the problem, figure out what happened and make appropriate changes in equipment, materials, operation, training, etc. to prevent a recurrence. And we would advocate and often coordinate sitting down with victims, regulators, and the concerned public to first present an apology, detail what had happened and what the facility was doing to remediate the particular incident and avoid/prevent future incidents. Then we would negotiate, in good faith, reparations. As a long time mediator, that was where I played a critical role.
As an attorney, I also take the same tack to the extent possible. Churches need to work to reduce the risk. One part of that is to admit that it is a large problem, that pedophiles like to target churches, that every church in all likelihood has had a pedophile in the congregation, and that steps must be taken NOW to reduce the risk to the children of the congregation. One of those steps is to evaluate whether the teaching of the church mitigates against children being able to stand up to a pedophile and report grooming or abusive behavior. As Jeanette has pointed out, the teaching in many churches supports the actions of pedophiles rather than the pool of potential victims. NO THEOLOGY IS CHRISTIAN (AS IN BASED IN THE LIFE AND TEACHING OF JESUS CHRIST) IF IT FACILITATES HARM TO CHILDREN, OR IF IT EXACERBATES THE HARM THEY HAVE ALREADY SUFFERED AND FROM WHICH THEY WILL CONTINUE TO SUFFER!!
The church must also make appropriate changes in facilities, policies, procedures, and perhaps personnel, such as those suggested above. But none of that will be 100% effective, unless the theology taught supports victims and not perpetrators or potential perpetrators.
And any pastor worthy of a pulpit needs to be educated, knowledgeable, proactive, etc., etc. on this issue. IT IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN homosexuality, adultery, new buildings, tithing, etc., etc. None of those involve innocent victims that Jesus taught us to protect and support as a specific group or class of people.
And that is why the SBC ERLC sponsored event is a travesty. Because it focused on the issue du jour in SBC life and not on the issue that should, before now, have become front and center in the church world. Regardless of which pastor or church leader loses stature and status because of it; those losses are their on bleep fault for not doing the thing Jesus taught.
Oh, and John Robbins called them “Ersatz Calvninists.” I think some call them “Calvinistas.” I know another who, concerning their views on the Trinity to support their gender views so that they can take over the world calling it “dominionism”… well, he vented by calling them “Origenian monkeys.” Hee, hee.
Patti, how lovely that you were able to own your abuse in conjunction with Jesus, and that a good therapist helped you do that! Often people find that they have to go away from Christianity before they can come to terms with it. Then sometimes they can go back and see it for what it really is. I ran like a banshee from the church community and never have gone back except through blogs like this; but still, I’ve been glad of God for a very long time.
I am glad that there are many ways to go. But yours sounds best.
“I don’t want to minimize anyone’s abuse but to point out that when it is done in the Name of Jesus or with a plastic fish slapped on it, the damage has an extra layer to work through that is inexplicable to so many. Many are Christians.”
When the abuser drags the Creator of the Universe onto his/her side, then where can one turn?
Brad, the doctrine of total depravity is terrible for those who take it seriously personal and not just as an abstraction. I remember, when a kid in the parsonage, a few people coming to talk to my father because they just couldn’t get out of its pit. It was so sad!! I’m sure they had other problems that exacerbated it, but honestly, that doctrine has a terrible name and is much too cranky to take personally.
I also remember our old infant baptism form had the phrase “…they are conceived and born in sin and therefore are children of wrath…” After a baptism service, while parents were still talking to church members, we sibs would run around the house yelling that phrase at top volume and then fall into a pile of hysterical giggles. Sheesh!
“But there are people in that church (newer congregants) that don’t understand why half the church has left. These people feel that the pastor is being persecuted and blamed unfairly. It’s bizarre.”
“I suspect this is a fairly common phenomenon. New members at Homestead couldn’t fathom what ex-members were talking about. I’ll bet the same happens at Mars Hill, SGM churches, Calvary Chapel churches, etc.”
– Are any of you familiar with ISKCON? That is the Hare Krishnas?
Same thing! So many scandals happened years ago in their organization and new comers now have no idea nor any idea of why at least half of the “old timers” left. My sister and brother-in-law are amongst those old time Hare Krishnas who left the organization while still practicing the faith on their own. But they are seen by the new comers as simply having become weak and left the fold.
Amy & Rishi,
Your comment got stuck in moderation for some reason. I just spied it.
I’ve met all kinds of former ISKCON members, and we all have the same story, just with different details. I know that when I (with my husband) walked away from our first meeting with our exit counselor (in a state of horror on top of the trauma), I think that all I could say for about an hour, over and over, was, “Oh my God! I’m a Moonie. They turned us into Moonies!”
The woman who I think was about seventy then showed us some videos, then after talking to us a bit longer, pulled out her weathered copy of Lifton’s book and read the eight characteristics of thought reform. She had to do no embellishing — and it was blatantly obvious that it was precisely what had happened to us and what we witnessed in our church. And it was eerie.
A million things — like the odd departure of “old timers” that no one would speak of at the church like you were asking something inappropriately personal — all start to make sense. (Were they axe murderers?) Or in my case, I heard that people became drug users or satanists or that they “moved away” (though their new commute was twenty minutes and not 200 or 2000 miles).
It was a double-edged sword for me. Like being ill with a terrible illness and being unable to find a doctor who can figure out what’s wrong, there’s an intense confusion about it. But when you see a physician who starts asking you questions about symptoms and you answer “yes” to nearly all of them as they seem pregnant with meaning and an explanation yet to come, your start to realize that you’ve probably found the right doctor. The diagnosis they give you is terrifying, but in the realization of what I describe as horror, there is power in the truth. You finally understand that you were wandering in the Twilight Zone, and there’s a way out. If that doctor can’t treat you, they will know just who to send you to see to get what you need.
New Kathryn Joyce article about sex abuse in Christian institutions in the American Prospect. It speaks to GRACE and what’s going on with their investigations. (The question came up over the weekend on this thread, so perhaps it will answer some questions. There’s also a good video interview recap with her in the sidebar.)
will the recent scandals involving Doug Phillips and Bill Gothard, i wouldn’t be surprised that Jim Bob Duggar screwing around behind Michelle’s back
I respectfully disagree. JimBob is not in the same kind of leadership position as Gothard and Phillips. You don’t see his teachings anywhere.