Tag Archives: fundamentalism

Pondering “Out of a Far Country”: Deserving of love

I’d like to draw my discussion of the book “Out of a Far Country” by drawing attention to a single statement that Christopher makes in the final (pre-epilogue) chapter.  I feel this statement deserves a great deal of attention, not only because it says something about the conservative evangelical/fundamentalist Christian approach to homosexuality, but their approach to life, the divine, and spirituality in general.  As Chistopher speaks of the overwhelming sense of welcome he felt as he returned home with his parents, he offers the following phrase:

I was unworthy of my parents love…

Christopher quickly slides past that statement and goes on about the great depths of love that his parents had for him despite his alleged unworthiness.  But I want to pause and really think about that statement.

Christopher felt he was unworthy of his parents love.

Because a child doesn’t deserve the love of parents simply because zie exists.  It’s something that either the child must earn — presumably through proper behavior — or through the magnanimous actions of parents who decides to love zem anyway.  But either way you slice it, a child is not simply worthy of a parent’s love simply because, hey, children deserve to have parents who love them.

I don’t buy that line of reasoning.  Quite frankly, if a parent ever told a child, “You know what, you don’t really deserve my love because [the reason doesn’t matter], but I’m going to love you anyway because that’s just the way I am,” I would not consider that parent loving.  I would consider that parent cruel.  I would suspect that such a parent was being manipulative or otherwise abusive.  If I were in a position to do so, I would watch that parent very closely and see how else zie treats zir child.  I might even have social services on speed dial.

Here’s the thing, many Christians like Christopher don’t just think that this unworthy child with a parent who deigns to love said child anyway as a dynamic between earthly children and their earthly parents.  They see this as the appropriate dynamic between themselves and their heavenly parent.  They see a God who loves not because people deserve love, but sees a bunch of unworthy people and decides to love them anyway because He feels like it.

My view of such a heavenly parent is no higher than my view of a similar earthly parent.  I believe that the Divine loves me because the Divine can do nothing else when the Divine looks upon me.  I believe that Divine love is based in my inherent worthiness to be loved.  I don’t have to earn it.  I don’t have to wait for the Divine to decide to love me anyway.  I deserve to be loved.

That doesn’t mean that I’m perfect.  That doesn’t mean that I don’t need to improve.  The Divine calls on me to do these things because the Divine loves me, not in order to make me (more) lovable.

I feel a great deal of sadness for someone who considers themselves unworthy of love.  In my book, that suggests to me that zie is in a dark place.  And if zie is in that dark place because zir  religion tells zem that’s the zie they should be in, well, I’ll make no apologies for finding that monstrous.

Considering Peretti books for analysis

After some thought, I’ve decided that I’m going to do a deconstruction — if you can still call it a deconstruction if you find more about the book that you like than you dislike — of another book by Frank Peretti.

I’ve read a total of five Peretti books.  Each one of them is slightly different in some way.  This Present Darkness is about the war between angels and demons as it plays out in a small town.  Piercing the Darkness, its sequel, is also about angels battling demons, but this time the main focus is the battle over a particular soul (though it did have a swipe at the public education system, which was a popular topic at the time I was reading it due tot he emergence of outcomes based education).

The third book that I read was Prophet, which was not about angels and demons but about a journalist who found himself living a “prophetic” (in the terms of warning others of the consequences of their misdeeds) vocation.  The book mostly focused on the evils of the (liberal, of course) media and abortion.

The fourth book that I read was The Oath.  It was a strange book in that it was far more a Horror book than the others.  While it got preachy about the nature of sin, there was also no clear connections to actual spiritual movements (at least not that I’m aware of) like the first three were.  I often joked that The Oath seemed more like Peretti contracted Stephen King to write a book for him in comparison to the others I had read.

I should note that I read these four books when I was in high school, when I still considered myself a fundamentalist Christian.  As such, I read them as a member of Peretti’s target audience.

I didn’t read my fifth book, The Visitation until I was in my late twenties or early thirties, long after I became a witch and devotee of Freyja.  In many ways, I suppose that’s why i liked the book.  In this book, Peretti turned his critical eye away from “outsiders” and turned it upon his own religious subculture.  As a former member of that same subculture, I appreciated his look.

I’ve decided that I want to do an in-depth analysis of The Visitation.  As I said, I’m not sure I can call it a deconstruction, as many of the parts that I will be exploring are places where I actually identify and agree with Peretti’s thoughts.  However, given the nature of the main plot, which I wasn’t as impressed with, I don’t expect my comments to be entirely glowing, either.

I’m also hoping that it might be interesting to compare this book with This Present Darkness.  Who knows, maybe it’ll even spark up some sort of discussion between Yamikuronue and myself as we compare our experiences of our respective Peretti books.

Fundamenetalists, Selfishness, and Psychology

One of the interesting things about fundamentalist Christianity is that it often looks upon modern psychology with suspicion and mistrust.  At the extreme, you have many people in the “spiritual warfare” movement that believe psychology is downright demonic, as demonstrated by a scene in “This Present Darkness,” where the demons are found gathered in the building that houses Whitmore College’s psychology department.  I myself underscored this during a comments discussion at Confessions of a Former Conservative:

But bear in mind,t hose “experts” rely on psychology, which is considered highly suspect as “secularist philosophy” in spiritual warfare crowds. In many of these people’s minds, psychologists are opening them up to demons as much as a group of teens with a ouija board.

Even those fundamentalists who don’t go looking for demons behind every bush are highly skeptical of psychology, considering it “pointless mumbo jumbo” at best.[1]  So why is this?  Is it simply a matter of fundamentalists’ suspicion of science in general?  I think that contributes to it, but I think there are a couple of other factors worthy of note.

For this blog post, I want to focus on fundamentalist Christianity’s extreme focus on self-denial and a common perception of psychology — especially psychological counseling — as being a selfish pursuit.

Growing up in a fundamentalist church, I learned the key to J-O-Y:  Jesus, others, and you.  Sometime in elementary school — perhaps even preschool — I learned this little formula of the order of importance of everything in the universe and was told that following it would bring me joy.  If I just put Jesus first, then everyone else around me, and only thought of myself at the very end, I would be a good little Christian and would be blessed by this.

In many ways, psychology — especially those areas of psychology and psychiatry that focus on helping people overcome their problems — turns this whole meme on its head.  Psychology is the exploration of one’s own thoughts, and very psyche.  In terms of counseling, one sits with a therapist and looks over one’s life and ones problems,[2] trying to make sense of it and figure out how to change things to either overcome a problem, learn to better cope with it, or just heal from past hurts so one can move on with ones life.  A session of therapy is quite self-centered.  To a mode of religious thought that believes that everything and everyone else must come first no matter what, this makes psychology downright horrible.

It’s no wonder that such Christians would see psychiatry as a sure gateway to demonic influence.

[1]  For the more daring reader, some “interesting” alternatives to psychological counseling can be find by doing an online search for “Bible based counseling.”  However, be forewarned that while you will find some interesting pages of honest people trying to integrate their faith in sound, science-based therapeutic techniques, you will also find a lot about deliverance, victim-blaming, victim-shaming, and some of the worst aspects of the darker side of the so-called Prosperity Gospel.

[2]  In stricter fundamentalist circles, even acknowledging that one has problems is often considered a great sin or weakness.  Of course, that’s getting into a subject of a future blog post.

Fundamentalism and Jargon

This past Monday, The Former Conservative wrote a post critiquing a Rapture Ready conversation in which some people suggested that both mental illness and addiction were actually a matter of demonic oppression.  FC mentioned in passing that he had never heard the phrase “demonic oppression” before.

This surprised me for a moment.  As a former fundamentalist who had gotten involved in the spiritual warfare movement, I was all too familiar with phrase, but what it meant and why it was coined as a phrase to represent something distinct from demon possession.  The idea that other Christians were completely unfamiliar with the term surprised me, even thirteen years after I left that particular subculture.

Any group — whether you’re talking fundamentalists, more liberal Christians, or even video game players — tends to develop their own jargon, words and phrases that are not familiar to those outside of the group.  This can create communication issues with those outside the group when discussing certain topics, though it’s an issue that’s normally easy overcome.

I think this can be somewhat harder for fundamentalists and even more conservative evangelicals, however.  As I mentioned in a guest-blogging post over at CoaFC, fundamentalist identity tends to consume and isolate its adherents to a near-absolute degree.  It occurs to me that another consequence of this process is that fundamentalists can become quite oblivious to their jargon and how peculiar it is to their group.  Effectively, they’re so invested in and surrounded by their subculture, that the idea that anyone might not even be aware of their specialized terms doesn’t occur to them.

I’ve been a witch for thirteen years now, and I’ve met people who were not raised with my background.  Intellectually I know that there are people who never had a reason to hear terms like “demonic possession” and “blood bought.”  And yet, it’s easy to fall back into old thinking patterns just enough that an instance where I’m reminding of that fact catches me by surprise, however slight that surprise might be.  I think that says something.

Guest-blogging, Day Three

My final day of guest-blogging at Confessions of a Former Conservative is being met with My enemy’s pawn is still just a pawn to me.  Here’s the teaser:

Of course, I told myself that I didn’t hate these Pagan people. 
After all, they ultimately were not the enemy, and I was no Jack Chick. 
I understood that these poor peers of mine were mere dupes of Satan,
pawns of the enemy that were being used.  I didn’t hate them.  I did not
spew venom at them directly, but at their invisible masters, of whom
they were completely unaware.

Guest-blogging, Day Two

My stint over at Confessions of a Former Conservative continues with When losing your religion involves losing more than that.  Here’s a snippet to pique your curiosity:

Beyond that, you might have no sense of who you are, because everything
you based your identity on is now gone.  So in addition to not knowing
how to relate to anyone from your past or new friends you might make,
you find yourself trying to figure out what it means to be you all over