As a teenager, I grew up in Indre Mission. It is one of the Christian organisations here in Denmark that belongs to what Marlene, in one of the quotes below, calls the “holiness” camp – it is one of the organisations that came out of pietism.
Unfortunately, leaving the organisation many years ago, didn’t mean that fundamentalism/pietism left me – quite to the contrary. I’ve since been reading, watching, listening to and believing in a lot of the stuff that has been written and published by authors, pastors and organisations like Focus on the Family, John Piper & Desiring God, Mark Driscoll & Mars Hill Church, Timothy Keller & The Gospel Coalition, Joshua Harris, Louie Giglio & the Passion Conferences, Matt Chandler, Spurgeon, Tullian Tchividjian & Liberate, and many more. Only in the last couple of years has the spell of fundamentalism slowly been broken, mainly because I slowly have become more and more aware of the darker side of Christian fundamentalist theology, including the damage done in my own life.
Right now, today, I’m not totally sure what to believe and if I can and/or still want to call myself a Christian (fundamentalism / pietism is out and I’m not going back!). It is something I’m now trying to figure out, while also trying to heal from the damage done and finding a way forward. It is a slow and sometimes painful process. #NotYourMissionField.
One of the books I’ve been reading lately in this regard, is Marlene Windell’s book, Leaving the Fold.
If you wanna know more about the psychological damage that can be done by Christian fundamentalism / pietism / evangelicalism, I recommend this book. You can read the introduction and chapter 1 on amazon.com
As Marlene writes in the introduction to the book, just remember: “Some of the ideas and exercises in the book will be of use, some will not. My expectation is that you will sift through the material, apply what is appropriate to your situation, and let go of the rest.”
Also, if you (like me) grew up in fundamentalism / pietism, are now leaving / have left and are recovering, some of these books might also be helpful: Beverly Engel: It Wasn’t Your Fault, Lindsay C. Gibson: Adult Children of Emotionally Immature Parents, Melody Beattie: Codependent No More and Kristin Neff: Self-Compassion
Lastly, I also recommend reading Marlene Winell and Valerie Tarico’s essay, The Crazy-Making in Christianity.
These are some of the quotes I have highlighted while reading Leaving the Fold:
“The problem of religious damage has not received much attention, perhaps because Christianity is so much a part of our culture and real criticism is taboo.”
“leaving your faith is not like letting your library card expire or no longer believing in Santa Claus. It can be shattering to realize that your religion is creating problems in your life.”
“Many people are reluctant to talk about this subject for fear of hurting loved ones, of alienating others, of appearing foolish and self-centered.”
“Christian fundamentalism can appear benign yet intolerance and mind control often lurk just beneath the surface.”
“But in my everyday life I lived with enormous guilt and frustration over not being the person I thought I should be. Good things were always due to God and failures were always mine.”
“In fundamentalism, the dangers of life — both now and in the hereafter — are emphasized. Incredible threats and promises are made for heaven, hell, and miracles here on Earth. The result is that people are disempowered by this approach to having their needs met. Since the source of all the benefits offered is external, requiring dependence on God and the church, internal resources atrophy. This process degrades the self and becomes a serious threat to human well-being.”
“Group members can be so brainwashed themselves that they are unconscious of perpetuating mind control techniques in indoctrinating others.”
“The other side of this doctrinal issue is the “holiness” camp. These groups believe that a believer must be faithful. One’s place among the saved can be lost. The idea is that salvation is a continuous process, based on the Apostle Paul’s admonition to “work out your salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12). They say that God wants loyalty; sending Jesus to die on the cross was an immense gift. So believers cannot simply do whatever they like, dishonor God, and expect to walk into heaven.
As can be expected, fundamentalists in this camp experience anxiety about their daily lives. Thoughts and behaviors must be acceptable at all times because there is the ever-present danger of going past the line into damnation. They still believe God will forgive sin, so regular repentance is important. However, the rules are fuzzy; no one knows where the line is. Furthermore, many believe it is not enough just to not sin; you must be “on fire” for God. In Revelation 3:16 Jesus is quoted saying “Because you are lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spew you out of my mouth.” So believers worry about not having enough enthusiasm. Yet no one knows what “lukewarm” really means.”
“People who leave are assumed to be interested in sin. Years ago, I asked a relative why she’d never wanted to know why I left the faith. I was shocked to hear her say, “Well, all the people I’ve known who left the church wanted to go back to their old ways — sleep around or do drugs and not feel guilty.” Part of the control mechanism is shaming.”
“We know that any one born of God does not sin. (I John 5:18) Despite the redemption promised by Christ’s sacrifice, Christians are expected to live lives free of sin. This is not possible, of course, since so much is considered sin. Therefore you must continuously repent and receive God’s grace. Each time you “sin,” you are to acknowledge again your incompetence and gratefully ask for forgiveness. And because you cannot achieve perfection, you live with some level of guilt all the time.
The notion of personal responsibility in fundamentalism is a curious one. You are responsible for your sins, but you cannot take credit for the good things that you do. Any good that you do must be attributed to God working through you. Yet you must try to be Christlike. When you fail, it is your fault for not “letting the power of God work in you.” This is an effective double bind of responsibility without ability.”
“The damage to self is more than hurt self-esteem. Your confidence in your own judgment is destroyed. As an empty shell, you are then open and vulnerable to indoctrination because you cannot trust your own thinking. Your thoughts are inadequate, your feelings are irrelevant or misleading, and your basic drives are selfish and destructive. You cannot challenge the religious system because your critical abilities are discredited and your intuitions rendered worthless.”
“Facts are irrelevant in this system. If a belief is in place, based on an interpretation of revealed truth, it doesn’t matter what worldly discoveries take place. I recently listened to a radio talk show in which the host was discussing genetic evidence of homosexuality. A Christian caller disputed the data and insisted that homosexuality was wrong and that it was a choice, and he did so even after admitting he could not change his own heterosexual orientation simply by choice. Outsiders often find it amazing that believers treat facts as if they simply don’t matter, but this style of thinking is internally consistent when you respect only authority.”
“Many people leave fundamentalist Christianity, but they seldom tell their stories on national television or appear in front of an audience to lecture about it. Since they often feel angry or disgusted, they might not even want to talk about it. Wounds take time to heal. In addition, the indoctrination can be so deep that you are still worried that “they might be right.” It feels safer not to criticize.”
“The world is full of authoritarianism and dogmatic systems. These may be religious, political, philosophical, or whatever. Having been “burned” by your former indoctrination, you are now likely to be on guard against rigid belief systems generally. You are now more aware of the dangers when you hear some pronouncement of “truth” that implies omniscience, restricts perception, and eliminates alternatives. You probably realize now that beliefs are curious things — very powerful and often serving unacknowledged functions such as imposing power over others or ensuring personal security. The cost of dogmatic thinking is to severely limit your own range of thought and experience. With healthy skepticism, you can now be more open, flexible, and fair. These qualities are greatly needed in a world full of bigotry and arrogance.”
“In short, your religious training has probably damaged your ability to feel free, open, and joyous; to express yourself, to identify and process feelings like anger, sadness, and fear is probably limited. But these are skills essential for human mental and emotional health. Healing in these areas will produce a remarkable change.”
“You are a wonderful, innocent being. Never be ashamed of who you are or whom you love! And remember, it’s not so important what other people think anyway.”
“The important point in all this is self-acceptance and self-respect. You were not born with the desire to be unhappy or to hurt others. You do not get up in the morning and think, “How can I make myself miserable today?” You do what you can with the knowledge you have at the time. Your behavior patterns are the adaptations that you have made to the particular circumstances of your life. They are special, and you are a perfect example of someone who has adapted to your life!”
“Having a sense of humor usually reflects a general feeling of safety about life. Instead of living with constant judgment, the person with humor assumes that it is okay to make mistakes. Other people make mistakes too, and that makes us all pretty funny. What a wonderful and relaxing experience to have some humor about our frailties! Perhaps we can all love ourselves more and love each other better as we share the relief of more laughter.”
Again, you can read the introduction and chapter 1 on amazon.com. You can also see more about the book, here.