Tag Archives: spiritual warfare

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.

Great deconstruction

I’ve been fascinated by Fred Clark’s deconstruction of the Left Behind series since I first came into contact with it.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve been reviewing Alisa Harris’s book chapter by chapter.  I have also been considering tackling a more thorough reconstruction of another book.  The book that kept coming back to me was Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness, which I originally read while I was in late elementary school (approximately fifth or sixth grade).

While This Present Darkness is nearly three decades old, I think it’s still relevant in that it has shaped and still expresses many of the ideas central to those Christians who are members of the spiritual warfare movement.  As I spent time involved in that movement, attacking this book made a lot of sense.

Yesterday, however, I discovered that a fellow Slacktivite, a woman who goes by the name of yamikuronue on her blog, began deconstructing Peretti’s book back in September.  I read through the entirety of her deconstruction so far (thankfully, she’s only fifty pages into it) and found it to be fascinating and remarkable.

From what I’ve gathered reading yamikuronue’s blog, she was never a member of the spiritual warfare movement herself.  In many ways, I think this is proving to be an asset to her deconstruction.  I’ve looked at a lot of things that she covers and realized that I probably would have taken them for granted and glossed over them.  To give you an example of that, consider the following excerpt from her post dated 22 October:

The man has serious issues with anger management and victim-blaming;
why complacency as his major sin? Complacency goes with despair
certainly – “I can’t fix anything, so why bother” – but that means the
entire bit of irrational anger was all his own doing, with absolutely no
infernal aid. Marshall is an abusive man without the demonic
intervention; all the demon was doing was encouraging him to stop trying
to be less abusive. And this is meant to be our hero?

Understanding how spiritual warfare types often see anger, I would have glossed over this excellent point, whereas yamikuronue focuses on it quite well.  As such, I think she is doing a far better job at deconstructing the books than I would have.

So instead of doing my own deconstruction, I’m going to follow along with hers and offer my comments.  I still have a lot to offer, such as how the things she is deconstructing ties into the greater spiritual warfare mindset and the community that subscribes to it.  I would encourage my readers to follow along as  well.

And I’ll find another book to tackle when the time comes.

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.

Raised Right: Spiritual Warfare Goes Political


Cover of Carman

Harris begins chapter two of Raised Right with a description of a music video made by Christian pop artist Carman.  As I read her description, I found them eerily familiar, but could not place them until she mentioned the artist’s name.  I spent my teen years listening to and idolizing[1] Carman and I’m sure I saw the video in question.

Harris uses the video to introduce the importance of “spiritual warfare” that was ingrained into her when she was a youth.  She speaks of singing a familiar Sunday school song (“I’m in the Lord’s army”) and learning the importance of fighting Satan.  She describes one event she witnessed:

While Pastor John was speaking, one of my parents’ friends, Greg, came forward and lifted his hands to ask for prayer.  Pastor John reached out his hand and shouted, “I bind you, Satan, in the name of Jesus Christ!”  The moment he said “Jesus Christ,” Greg staggered as if shot through the heart and then fell flat on his back, lying spread-eagled on the floor with a smile on his face.”

While I got involved in a Full Gospel[2] congregation while in college, I was raised in an American Baptist.  My church — and as I understand it, Baptist in general — don’t really believe that “miraculous gifts” such as speaking in tongues, prophecies, or instantaneous healing.  They also tend not to believe in or expect to encounter demons in a direct manner as might be described in This Present Darkness or as recounted by pentecostal/charismatic believers.  So while I too sang “I’m in the Lord’s army,” learned to recite all the parts of the “armor of God,” and was inundated in the same spiritual warfare terminology, I suspect that I took these things things far more metaphorically than Harris and her Sunday school classmates.

Of course, this left myself and my classmates trying to understand the metaphor.  We had an enemy we could not confront directly.  We had no demons to cast out.  So we were left wondering what “I’m in the Lord’s army” really meant beyond being a silly song.  We wondered what it really meant to put on the full armor of God.  Sure, knew we were supposed to invite friends to Sunday school and church.  We knew we were supposed to read the Bible, pray, and be good.  But for what?  Surely these things were never meant to be an ends in themselves[3].

So in many ways, I think I was more primed for the transition that Harris describes as she continues telling her story:

Though I wouldn’t have put it in these words at the time, I came to believe that our battle was not against invisible demons but against evil people who brought the fight into the real world.  They were the spiritual enemy clothed in flesh:  abortionists, feminists, secularists, humanists, the people conspiring to destroy God’s witness by corrupting America.  Finally I had an enemy I could see and point out to others, one that didn’t require a mysterious intuition or the spiritual gift of discernment to identify.

I can understand that, wholeheartedly.  While Harris had an unseen enemy, I had no enemy.  So latching onto a concrete enemy was a gift from God Himself.  Furthermore, this new, tangible enemy offered a tangible strategy for fighting back:  politics.

Suddenly, “fighting the enemy” meant speaking out against abortion, homosexuality, and premarital sex.  It meant voting for the “holy” candidates so that they could defeat the “evil” ones and stop their “evil” plans[4].  Suddenly, there was a way to become a righteous crusader with a clear path.

Ironically, while this gave me a tangible “enemy,” what it did to my perceptions of the “enemy” was almost the exact opposite.  Adulterers, fornicators, homosexuals, and all those other people ceased to become people and became caricatures in my mind.  My “tangible enemy” turned into smoke and mirrors again.  I find myself wondering if Harris intended this chapter to explain the need to reconnect with “flesh and blood” people discussed in the previous one.

Related Posts

I have created a separate page to track all the blog posts I’ve made regarding this book.  If this post interests you, I would encourage you to go check out the other posts as well.


[1]  Well, insofar as a good little Baptist is allowed to idolize anyone or anything.

[2]  “Full Gospel” is the preferred term used certain charismatic/pentecostal churches.

[3]  I strongly believe that even “being good” for the sake of “being good” is meaningless and pointless.  “Being good” is about doing something for others because it has a positive impact on their lives.  It’s about building a better world.  This is not something that I feel is always properly communicated to young Christians, nor do I feel it is emphasized enough.

As a former Sunday school teacher, I’d also like to suggest that this is in part that the much of the teaching materials for chidren and teen Sunday school classes are abysmal.  They do not treat the students like intelligent people who need to learn what it truly means to live a life that expresses the fruit of the Spirit and are ready to do exactly that.  If you are a Sunday school teacher, I would encourage you to re-evaluate your curriculum and honestly ask yourself if it insults, patronizes, and holds back your students.

[4]  I’m engaging in a certain amount of hyperbole here.  However, don’t overestimate just how much.