1/18/2014 | Share this article: View CommentsBy The Rev. Ex-Evangelist ~
I'm almost sixty years old. In the last few years I've learned that a number of the people who had mentored me as a young Christian in my early twenties have passed away.
The news of their passing has triggered many memories. Memories of being young, naive and gullible; of close friendships; wholesome fun and the excitement of "learning" that my insignificant life was really part of a big, cosmic, divine plan that "God" had developed before I was even born! Mental placebos can make you feel good about yourself.
When I became a real born-again believer at age nineteen, I went from having no friends and feeling very alienated and rudderless to suddenly being warmly accepted and included by all kinds of people in the evangelical churches and ministries I was introduced to. I was touched by their interest in me and my problems and their basic decency and kindness towards me. They were good people; the proverbial "salt of the earth".
I was eager to learn all I could from my mentors. They seemed so amazingly profound and knowledgable about all the nuances of the bible and living the Christian life. Any question I had, they had an answer. And all their answers were not their thinking but based on the mind of God himself as found in the pages of the bible!
As a young believer, I looked up to my mentors. I doubted I could ever reach their level of understanding of the bible, spirituality or the ways of God's Spirit. God had specially chosen them for the "work" they were doing. Perhaps "God" would one day also call me to a special ministry.
In recalling those times, I have to say that my life as a young adult and "babe in Christ," was one natural high after another. But still, doubts would keep cropping up.
I didn't know it at the time, but my church mentors friendship and support would come with a huge price-tag to me and my family. While I thought I was learning the only true knowledge that really mattered in this life, in actuality they were programming me to be irrational, anti-education, anti-intellectual and to ignore reality and science. The main falsehood they taught me was this: that a 2-3000 year old myths and fairy tales from ancient Palestine were "the truth"; and that I needed to base all my life decisions on the truths found in the pages of the bible ("Sola Scriptura").
My mentors also convinced me that what are called "mental health problems" are actually symptoms of spiritual problems, such as a lack of commitment to God; or, a "mentally ill" person is someone who has opened their mind and body up to demonic oppression.
My mentors out-of-hand dismissed any education, research or science that challenged their own "biblical" views. Any ideas which called into questions the "truths" of the bible were simply evidence of man's sinful ego and pride. In looking back at them now, I see that they were the one's with with ego, hubris and "unteachable spirit".
HOW I DEALT WITH DOUBTS
I did not consciously let go of my doubts and questions when I became a believer but I quickly developed several ways to deal with them:
First: I just ignored them. The questions didn't seem to matter much anymore. My "new life" of constantly running to inspiring church services, Jesus rock concerts, cool bible studies and waiting to hear from "God" about which beautiful, nubile, young sister-in-the-Lord "He" wanted me to "bang," uh, I mean, "marry," were my new focus! Keeping all those good feelings and "hope" alive were more enjoyable than dealing with "doubt," which could sink me into a depressed mood.
My spiritual mentors helped me to understand that "Satan" would try to create doubt in my mind. And that a big part of my spiritual growth would consist of me making sure that I only filled my mind with "God's thoughts" by keeping my mind daily in "God's Word" and letting it remold my old, erroneous, "carnal" ways of thinking. My mentors taught me this: if the Devil comes knocking on the door of my mind with questions, don't let him in; which meant, run from and block any doubts that could start to shake your faith.
As an evangelical believer, I knew all about all those "cults" out there who may pretend to be real Christians but had cleverly disguised their true beliefs. I was taught that "cults" practiced "mind-control" techniques over their followers. Watch out for those "cults" who trick people into their groups.
But here's the amazing "blind spot" I had during my years in the evangelical world: I could not grasp the fact that the basic way I had been taught to deal with questions and information that challenged my beliefs (avoidance and ignoring) were the same that the so-called "cults" used on their adherents.
I now see evangelicalism just as "cultic" as any of the cults. Evangelicals exclude themselves from being a "cult" because they believe they really do have "the truth" about God! In their view, cultism is essentially a doctrinal thing: if you have non-evangelical theology, then you are a cult; if you don't, then you are not a cult.
Secondly, many of my biblical mentors were middle-and-upper class professional people: medical doctors; former lawyers who became ministers; engineers; public school educators and even university professors! Surely these folks would not be accepting things if they weren't true??? Most possessed degrees from "secular" state universities.
At that time in my life I was very impressed with all these educated folks. I had started college but dropped out. At that time, I felt that I must not be smart enough to be in college. Now I know that I was just going through an emotional rough time and my school work suffered. But at 19, my inability to stay focused on my studies I interpreted as evidence of an IQ deficiency on my part. (I eventually have earned an undergraduate and graduate degree).
So, I was duly impressed by all these church going folks who had completed college and also possessed advanced degrees. I assumed that my mentors had already explored the truth-claims of the evangelical faith and had found the evidence compelling or else they would not be endorsing all these dogmatic assertions. (It was not until decades later that I came to realize that having a narrow and in-depth education about some topic does not mean that you also possess critical thinking skills!)
LETS BE "BIBLICAL" IN ALL OUR WAYS!
But unbeknownst to me at the time, by trading my questions and doubts for the drug of social support these mentors and their ministries offered, I was setting myself up for a huge disaster in which I tried to be completely "biblical" in all my decisions. Two really, really bad things happened:
BAD BIBLICAL DECISION #1: MY BIBLICAL MARRIAGE
First, when I did marry a "Sister-in-the-Lord," I quickly discovered that the old saying that one "should not buy a car without first taking it for a drive" is also true about marriage. I sadly discovered she was in uninterested in sex and she was also an "A-1 nut job"! Both of these aspects she skillfully hid during our courtship period.
And then my "Proverbs 31," Christian wife starting letting me know that she was hearing voices and seeing things which I could not see. She also started talking about killing herself! I was a nervous wreck and afraid of what may happen. I couldn't sleep at night since the different personalities would be talking all kinds of crap and confusion and keep me up.
What was I to do? I couldn't divorce her because that was a sin. I couldn't even send her back home because obviously she was a person who needed help and I am a person of compassion. With the best of my "biblically" reasoning abilities, I deduced that God had brought her into my life so He could use me to help liberate her from the satanic forces who controlled her!
Why had this disastrous marriage befallen me? Well, "biblically" speaking, I only had a couple of ways to view what was going on.
First, the biblical decision-making that I had learned from my mentors was premised on the over-arching idea that "God" is in control of everything and everyone and that nothing happens without God's knowledge and will. So, with that presumption in place, here were my "biblical" choices of how to make sense of all the chaos my marriage had brought into my life:
1) GOD IS PUNISHING ME.
But why would The Lord do that? I was an on-fire, sold-out, follower of Jesus!. My faith was not some kind of meldew-in-the-pew variety. I was one of those fervent people who sought people to come and be saved. Biblical preaching and teaching were my life and ministry.
But, in contemplating the nightmare of my marriage to a demonized woman that "God" had given me as a wife, I had to admit that I had not been as totally "holy" as I could have been during our courtship.
Even though I had an almost perfect record in obedience and service to God (yea, I know, it's "grace" and not "works," but I'm just saying. . . ), I had to admit that I allowed my "flesh" to get the upper hand of me the weeks before we married and we had engaged in some "heavy petting". We never had sex, but we had some close calls! And me, being the God-ordained, spiritual "head of the home," I was at fault for our messing around before we were properly coupled before the eyes of The Lord.
Thus, the "biblical" answer was clear: God was now putting me through the grinder for me giving into my lust filled affections towards my future wife before we married!
And how did I come up with this type of crazy cause-and-effect view: years of "bible teaching" from a host of evangelical churches and ministries. I had "biblically" had been taught by my mentors to interpret any kind of problems in my life as evidence of God's possible displeasure towards me due to some sin I had committed. I lamented the fact that I had allowed the Devil into my heart (and also my tongue and fingers)! The Lord had "busted" me for my sin. I dutifully repented and asked for God's mercy but accepting of the Lord's chastisement (my hellish marriage)!
2. GOD IS USING MY WIFE'S DEMON PROBLEMS TO PREPARE ME FOR A FUTURE SPECIAL WORK IN THE MINISTRY OF EXORCISM!
Yes, that's it! God can turn the lemons that we make into lemonade! God had me marry a demonized woman so "He" could teach me how to minister to demonized people and help bring them to experience the "Freedom" that only Christ can give! I didn't know if I was up to the task, but if The Lord had chosen me for this specialized type of "ministry," then I would obey and learn! God's perfect plan for me was all coming together. . . or so I thought!
So over the course of two years, I took my wife to a number of free-lance, wild-eyed, pentecostal & charismatic ministers who all were suppose to have the "anointing" for performing exorcisms. Well, needless to say there was a lot of crazy theatrics that went on.
I had no way to understand what I was witnessing during these attempted exorcisms. It looked like my wife was indeed under the influence of different and distinct personalities. Some talked like a little child and others were haughty and arrogant. One was very seductive and sexual (very unlike my wife. . . well, uh, now former-wife!).
But no matter how many bible verses were screamed at the "demons" in my wife by the exorcists, the little rascals would not budge!
Now that I've worked in the mental health field for the past twenty-five years, I now understand what I was seeing during these exorcism rituals: active psychosis; personality disorder and multiple personality "alters". Unfortunately, at that time I only had my "biblical" frame of reference understand what I was seeing and that filter made me to misunderstand everything that was happening.
By the end of the two years, I was growing skeptical of the claims of the exorcists. Despite all their talk about victory over the devil, nothing changed.
I was also puzzled by the fact that despite what Jesus and Paul supposedly taught about how we have "authority" over Satan, I wasn't seeing any victory. Why were the scriptures not working? My wife's crazy ways continued unabated.
Taking her to a real medical doctor or psychiatrist was not on my radar screen. Though I had gone to doctors as a kid, and drove past hospitals and Emergency Rooms all the time, it never entered my mind that my wife needed to see a real medical professional.
I was trapped in my little, "biblical" cultic world as were the people I went to for help. None of the ministers I took my wife to ever suggested that I take her to any mental health or medical professionals. Our "biblical" outlook had made us all bat-s*#t crazy and incapable of any kind of rational problem-solving! We were all mentally stuck in ancient Palestine and were not living in the modern world.
BAD BIBLICAL DECISION #2: MY SON'S HOME-BIRTH
This disastrous decision was followed by another attempt at being "biblical" in which we tired to have my first child to be born the "biblical" way too: home birth with no medical intervention.
Now, you may ask, how is home-birth "biblical"? Well, here is how I was taught: in biblical times people were not born in hospitals; they were "born" at home. Thus, a "biblical" birth is always a home birth (of course, it never occurred to me to ask if we should be using flush toilets since they were not around in biblical times either?).
As true believers, walking in faith and in the Saving and Healing power of Jesus' shed blood on the Cross at Calvary, we don't need doctors. In fact, the bible tells us exactly what we are to do if we become sick: Call Dr. Jesus! Believe that he will heal today as he did 2,000 years ago and it will happen! My "faith" in invisible Dr. Jesus ability to heal today unlocks Jesus' healing powers toward any illness that I or a family member may have. Got it? Makes perfect sense, right? It makes more sense if you are taught that any sickness is at its root, a "spiritual" problem and not due to bad DNA, microbes or bacteria. Like I said, I was living in a religious subculture that negates the modern world of knowledge, science and progress. (This is the same subculture that also denies that evolution is true and tries to have school text-books teach "creationism".)
As true believers, walking in faith and in the Saving and Healing power of Jesus' shed blood on the Cross at Calvary, we don't need doctors. The home birth decision was the worse, and most tragic, mistake I have ever made in my life. My wife came close to dying during her three-day labor and so did my son. My son didn't die, but he did suffer oxygen deprivation in the birth process which has resulted in him being mentally disabled and never having a normal life. At age 31, he lives in a group home with other disabled persons.
So, to my late (or demented) biblical mentors of many years ago, if you were here today, this would be my feedback to you:
TO PASTOR BEN:
You were so damn eloquent! You pastored this big, downtown, evangelical, Presbyterian church. You packed them in Sunday after Sunday for 30 years. You made the evangelical, Christian faith to sound so credible. You had once been a lawyer before you decided to go to seminary. You talked more like a lawyer than a preacher. You preached to the upper-classes. You would reference how you had been an "atheist" at one time but now you believe. Ben, you were never a real atheist. You were probably just indifferent and didn't take religion seriously before you got bit with the born-again bug. I feel sorry for you. You eloquently and persuasively dedicated your life to preaching things which were not true. Your impact on me was huge. You made it seem that the whole evangelical church enterprise was based on reality when it was not.
TO DR. BOB:
I was in awe of you, Dr. Bob. You had been the Chair of the Psychology Department at a Christian liberal arts college. You even had an earned doctorate from a state university (though oddly it was a doctorate in "Pastoral Psychology"???). Like Pastor Ben, you were polished, had good taste in clothes and sounded very intellectual. In reality, you were just an old-time, fundamentalist preacher. You too planted in my young adult brain the idea that a person could have demon spirits and that the "biblical" accounts were absolutely true and that "secular" mental health professionals were not to be trusted. I know you did "Christian counseling" for many years, but since you did not believe in mental health, what did you do with those folks who had serious mood or psychotic disorders? Did you do to them what you did to my friend Ruth that I brought to you and after twenty minutes of "counseling" you diagnosed her as having "demons" and attempted to do an exorcism on her? I'm sure you did. You were bogus and deluded. The "fruit" from your tree of ministry is rotten!
Carol, I hear you are in a nursing home and now have dementia. You worked for years as a nurse but burned out on your profession. Then you became born-again, started writing apocalyptic, end-time novels for the shallow evangelical book reading market, and became a guru. You then turned your writing and speaking skills to trying to persuade pregnant women to have their children under the spiritual covering of your "ministry". You were vehemently, anti-modern medicine and a narcissist. You had that, "Aw, shucks, I'm just a simple handmaiden of the Lord," but you were more than willing to let children, and mother's die during labor because you were so stuck on the rightness of your "healing" beliefs. If someone died, then the problem was never with you, or the bible, but with them! You were crazy, sick and evil. I still feel much sadness and hurt over my now, 31 year old son's, "home-birth" that you supervised. The "fruit" of your life's work is death and destruction. Too bad there isn't a hell for you to go to!
Well, Kay, you should have gone to Hollywood and become an actress. You were a very good-looking woman. In fact, you were the sexist bible teacher I ever had! You would flirt with everyone; even entire audiences. Everyone loved you. Your teaching ability was outstanding. You brought the stories of the bible and made them interesting and seemingly up-to-date to the modern world. But in the end, you handed out tons of irrational, delusional ideas that you planted in peoples' heads about how they can "trust" the bible and they can build their lives on "what God says in His Word". You have sold theological lemons to no telling how many people. . . . and you always did it with a smile, humor and your own brand of charismatic charm. In the end, you were just another biblical, snake-oil salesman (woman), telling folks that they can have the magic that was supposedly working in your life. You were just another highly polished charlatan: selling hurting folks things that are not true and don't even exist in reality, which kept them from really solving things.
Gene, I was so impressed with you more than anyone else. You were the leader of our town's Jesus Movement back in the 70s. Laid back, no suits and ties for you! You preached love, grace, acceptance and encouragement. But that all changed as your "ministry" to the wayward youth of that era grew and suddenly you became the "Old Wineskin" you were always preaching against! Slowly, your name changed from simply "Brother Gene" to "Apostle Gene." I now know that despite all your charm and abilities, I've heard too many stories from people who have been hurt by your "ministry". You became just another authoritarian, self-absorbed, God-speaks-to-me-but-not-to-you, ego-maniac. I'm glad I exited your ministry when I did. Unfortunately, I ended up involved with other bible-thumping cults because I still clung to the basic, false assumption I had absorbed as a kid in my Baptist church, that "God" writes books.
John, you are the carnival barker of preachers! I use to sit under your preaching and be in awe of you. You would move us all with your words, make us laugh. We always left your service feeling empowered! You were a little bit country, but what you said sounded profound. But what a boatload of horse dung you turned out to be selling! You were willing to urge people to take risk with their own health and the lives of their children in order to show "God" that people in your church were totally walking"by faith" in God's supposed "promises" about healing. Of course, while you were urging us all to a deeper walk in the Spirit, and greater faith, it turned out that you didn't have enough "faith" to keep your pants on with the young girl who ran the tape ministry at the church. You were a bullshit artist supreme! You oratorical abilities ended up causing people to die. I never got the feeling that their deaths really bothered you. I thought you were a deep man of faith and piety; now I know you were just cold and indifferent to the suffering of others.