Thursday, May 28, 2015

What I mean by "Fundamentalism"

As a result of my unexpectedly viral post on the Duggars, I found that I needed to clarify my use of terms.

The problem comes from from writing for a varied audience. (Just among my friends and relatives, there is a wide range of religious and philosophical belief and experience.) I am most certainly not writing for a purely Christian or Evangelical audience. So the terms that we use, our “Christianese,” may not make sense to everyone, which is one reason why I avoid it.

Never is this more apparent, though, than in the matter of “Fundamentalism.” When I wrote the post, I used the term in the sense understood by people outside of the Evangelical bubble, rather than in the “Christianese” sense. This meant that a number of people were offended by my condemning of Fundamentalism, because I appeared to be including them.

Let me see, then, if I can explain it a bit better. The terms “Doctrinal Fundamentalism” and “Cultural Fundamentalism” are my own. I feel they describe what I mean the best.

  1. “Doctrinal Fundamentalism”

Within Christianity, particularly the American version, there was a split in the late 1800s to early 1900s. A group of more conservative writers and thinkers decided to create a document outlining their version of the fundamentals of the faith, in response to two major opposing ideas. The first was “higher criticism,” which pointed out discrepancies between traditional interpretations and historical evidence. (Among other things. This is a gross oversimplification, but I don’t have time to get into it further in the space of this post.) The second opposing idea was that of the Theory of Evolution. Both of these created theological problems, naturally, and these authors sought to counteract them with a definitive statement of the core doctrines of the faith.

The result was a 1911 document entitled The Fundamentals, a collection of 90 essays written by 64 different authors.

In my view, having browsed (but not read) the collection, there are two separate points to be taken from The Fundamentals. The first is a list of the most important doctrines, while the second is an argument for a particular approach to hermeneutics.

The core doctrines, the most basic formulation I was able to find are these:

  1. The inerrancy of the Bible
  2. The factual nature of Christ’s miracles
  3. The virgin birth
  4. The bodily resurrection of Christ and his future physical return
  5. The atonement of Christ on the cross

Many - including the authors of The Fundamentals - include the literalist interpretation of the Genesis creation account [update: actually, a "harmonization" of the two conflicting creation accounts in #2 as well, but this isn’t universal.

After these five fundamentals, the discussion really hinges on the interpretation and application of the Bible. That is, on hermeneutics. (Peter Enns makes the excellent point that it is always about hermeneutics. Literalism is a hermeneutic just like every other, and must be defended as any other.) When it comes to discussion of inerrancy, the issue often, in fact, turns out to be a matter of interpretation and application. That is, it is really the inerrency of the interpretation that is at issue. This is the case for the creation accounts, and many other things that are widely disputed.

So, if we reduce “doctrinal fundamentalism” to a belief in those five fundamentals, it is easy to see that the vast majority of American Evangelicals - plus many other American Christians, Catholic or Protestant - could be considered to be “Fundamentalist” in this sense.

In fact, I am a fundamentalist by that definition. [Update 2022: seven years later and a lot of exploration of scripture and history, I have rejected the idea of "inerrancy" as a valid category for an inherently human collection of literature. Likewise, I consider #2 and #3 to be far from core issues of doctrine. And I have realized that #5 is actually a relatively recent interpretation that is not a majority teaching of historical christianity. So.... The Fundamentals more and more appear to be a defense of 19th Century white [and usually slavery defending] ideology, not particularly related to historical church teaching. So...]

I’ll go with 90% fundamentalist, though, because of the issue of Genesis. As I have blogged previously, I believe in an old earth and universe, so I disagree with ½ of one point (10%) of that formulation of the fundamentals.

You can include a lot of people who would never be considered “fundamentalists” by the greater culture. Perhaps the most telling example here would be Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian. He qualifies as a fundamentalist in the doctrinal sense, but clearly is not what most people would call a fundamentalist. 

[Update 2018: I have a real problem with #1 in the sense that I think "inerrancy" is the wrong question. I do not believe the bible as literally dictated by God, but was written by humans writing from different cultural and theological perspectives. I also do not believe the bible functions well as either a textbook of systematic theology or as "God's Little Instruction Book," so I am already on a different page than cultural fundamentalists. I think writers like Peter Enns have a  better understanding of what the bible IS, which is the better fundamental question. Regarding #5, I have a problem with the Calvinist view of "penal substitutionary atonement," which is a relatively modern idea, and not the sole - or even majority - view in the history of Christianity. I believe the meaning of the Cross is more complex, and not at all an easy theological cliche.]

2. “Cultural Fundamentalism”

When most people talk about “fundamentalists,” they aren’t thinking about people who believe in the five fundamentals. They are talking about people who have a particular approach to culture.

A couple of examples here:

There is a world of difference between the average “Baptist” church, and an Independent Fundamental Baptist church. (IFB)

There is a world of difference between regular Mormonism and FLDS groups like those led by Warren Jeffs.

Let’s just say that the difference isn’t whether they believe in the five fundamentals. That much should be obvious. Instead, they are about specific approaches to their holy books, and thus a specific view of cultural issues.

In my opinion, here are the hallmarks of “cultural fundamentalism.” Keep in mind that not every fundamentalist adheres to all of these, and some non-fundamentalists adhere to some of them. Rather, consider it this way. The more of these that apply, the further along the road to fundamentalism the person or organization is.

Furthermore, when I talk about the creeping influence of Cultural Fundamentalism on Evangelicalism, it is these ideas that I am talking about.

  1. Authority and Hierarchy

This one is pretty much a sure-fire sign of fundamentalism. If there is a teaching that the fundamental truth of the world is hierarchy, and the most important question that of who must submit to whom, then you are dealing with fundamentalism. And probably a cult.

In fact, Gothard’s teachings hinge on his principle of “authority,” which is that God only works and speaks through a hierarchy. (The first principle he teaches is the relatively uncontroversial one of “design,” which is basically pop-psych self acceptance repackaged, but it is the second, that of Authority, that is really the most important to his system.)

These teachings on authority generally take three forms.

i. Church authority. You must obey the leaders and never question them. God speaks to them for you, not directly to you. You will see examples of this idea in places like 9 Marks (membership “covenants” where  you vow to be submissive to the leaders or be disciplined), non-disclosure and non-competition agreements (see Mark Driscoll and Mars Hill), and in the admonitions to not “gossip” about church leaders (which means in practice, don’t publicly call them out for bad teaching or actions.)

ii. Gender hierarchy. A wife must obey her husband in everything, unless he actively demands she sin. She is to never question his decisions, even if she believes they are unwise. In some cases (see John Piper), a wife must submit to domestic abuse rather than seek to get out. This idea is a key one to Fundamentalism, and some of the leaders admit as such. For example the (ever loathesome) Doug Wilson says that the fundamental issue facing the world today is that of sexuality and gender. He believes that the authority of men over women is the key to getting this issue right. Unfortunately, this idea is probably the one that is creeping into Evangelicalism the most. The fact that there even is a “Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” says it all.

iii. Children and parents. There has been a trend for some time of training children to express immediate, unquestioning obedience to parents. In the seemingly never ending parade of books and systems to accomplish this, I would list those by Gary Ezzo and Michael and Debi Pearl in particular as advocating abuse of infants in order to train them to be be perfectly compliant. Gothard’s teachings on authority also are in this line. And, he extends the duty of obedience to adult children as well.

So, if you start hearing these things, you may be dealing with a Cultural Fundamentalist. 

A pertinent quote by an author who has a bit of experience with 
Fundamentalists who don't like their approach to their holy book challenged.

B. Gender Roles

For Cultural Fundamentalists, this is also a key teaching. Men belong out in the world bringing home the bacon. Women belong at home having babies and cleaning the house. In fact, this is one belief that unites cultural fundamentalists around the world, from radical Islam to FLDS to IFB to Gothardism to Dominionism and Reconstructionism. The fundamental fact of the world is supposed to be a sharp and uncrossable divide between men and women, with men clearly in the role of authority and power.

Given the general definition of Feminism as a movement seeking the political, economic, and social equality of women; Cultural Fundamentalism can be seen for what it is: an opposition to the equality of women. Cultural Fundamentalism seeks political rule by men, the removal of economic power from women (which is why Gothard and the Duggars believe women should not go to college or get jobs), and a social hierarchy where men make the decisions while women meekly assist them in their goals.

Thus, if you start hearing about the importance of keeping women at home or about the different roles that “god” has appointed for men and women, regardless of personal preference or gifting, you are dealing with a Cultural Fundamentalist.

C. Obsession with Sex

You can see this one in several manifestations. If a group’s primary political goals involve homosexuality and abortion, chances are, you are dealing with a fundamentalist group. Why? Because their primary focus is on controlling the sort of sex other people are having. Likewise, if they keep talking about how bad the world is getting, try to pin them down. More often than not, they will list all the people having the wrong kind of sex. Why is God angry with America? Chances are, it won’t be our oppression of the poor at home or abroad. It won’t be the collateral damage of war, or our materialism. Nope. It will be the sex other people are having.

[Explanatory note: I am personally opposed to abortion, but lost all respect for the pro-life movement when they threw in their lot with the Quiverfullers in opposing birth control as basic health care. It appears that preventing abortions isn’t nearly as important as lecturing people about why they can’t afford to have sex.]

Another way this comes out is in the way we talk about lower income people. I have pretty much had it with people blaming poverty on incontinence. As if poor people should just stop having sex until they can afford it. Likewise, rather than actually address the effects of racist systems that have been in place for hundreds of years, it is more satisfying just to blame it on too much sex.

Finally, you see it in how groups prioritize the prevention of sin. Fundies are obsessed with “sexual purity.” Evangelicals too, to a large degree. Other sins just don’t matter as much. Listen in on a sermon directed at youth. See how much time is spent soliciting “pride purity” pledges, or “materialism purity” pledges. When was the last time you heard of a “promise ring” for backstabbing or slander? Do young girls get dressed up and dance with their daddies at “honest balls”? What about “true love doesn’t stir up conflict”? Yeah, that’s a best seller. (These things, by the way, are also “abominations.”)

So, the effort betrays the priority. Sex is an obsession for Cultural Fundies.

Further down the Fundie scale, you will see additional practices aimed at preventing sex. The whole premise of Modesty Culture (which I have blogged about extensively) is that of preventing young men from thinking about sex. Which is done by keeping women from showing that they have female-shaped bodies. Another is Courtship and Betrothal, two ideas aimed at preventing males and females from being unchaperoned or becoming romantically interested in people the parents do not approve of. Depending on the version, the goal can even be preventing any emotional attachment whatsoever before the couple is locked into marrying.

The more Fundie someone is, the more you will see them obsessing about whether they or other people are some how “sexing,” in deed or thought.

    D. Focus on Cultural Externals and Cultural Separation

Cultural Fundamentalists are also obsessed with the externals of culture. Clothing is just one area. Movies. Music. Alcohol. Dancing. Hairstyles. The list can go on and on, but the more these are part of the discussion, the more Fundie the group or person. The longer a person is immersed in the Fundie system, the more these externals become the focus.

On a related note, the practice then becomes one of cultural Separation. Counterculture for its own sake. If a non-Fundie has an idea, it must be wrong. Sometimes this becomes a mistrust of technology and a quasi-Amish Luddism. Sometimes it becomes a “back to the land” thing, where cities become evil. Sometimes is a rejection of anything from the 20th or 21st Centuries, whether culture or ideas. Actually, this one is probably the most common.

Finally, this results in the separation of one’s children from all friendships or contacts with people who are not “likeminded.” (That’s a serious trigger word for us ex-Gothardites.) Thus, many Fundies claim that all “true” Christians must homeschool their children. (See Jonathan Lindvall) They insist that all extracurricular activities be expressly “Christian” so as not to have the riff-raff around their children.

    E. A Literalist and Theonomical approach to the holy writings

A look at radical Islam reveals this problem too. When the approach to a holy book becomes hyper-literalist, then it becomes necessary to re-create the culture in which it was written. Thus, women return to their state as property, we get to slaughter the infidels “enemies of god” (See Gary North), and we disregard any scientific facts that get in the way of our literalism.

I mentioned above the issue of hermeneutics. The problems of interpretation of scripture are not something that has been solved once and for all. We do not know all of truth, and we cannot assume that our understanding will never change, now that we “got it right” once and for all.

For Cultural Fundamentalists, that is not the case. For them, someone in the past did get everything right, and all change since is compromise and a departure from orthodoxy. Those hermeneutical decisions in the past, and the culture in which the occurred, then are inviolable. We must return to them, and everything will be all right, says the Cultural Fundie.

On the issue of Theonomy, to the Cultural Fundamentalist, the way to become more “godly” is to tease out “God’s Law” from the holy writing. The more detailed system of rules one can find, the better. The cultural externals are a good part of this. The approach to scripture (or the Koran) feeds and complements the reverence for the past in a way that makes the re-creation of the past synonymous with the pursuit of holiness.

Both of these stem in part (again, in my opinion) from the belief shared by most Cultural Fundies that the Bible was literally dictated by God. As in, word for word, with no possibility admitted that the (human) writers were influenced by their culture, knowledge, or understanding. Thus, for many, the Mosaic law is expected to be applied as literally as possible in our times, because it is literally a dictation from God of the most perfect civil law possible. The idea that the laws might be (in part) cribbed from earlier legal codes and be full of assumptions and institutions that pervaded the Ancient Near East, and that understanding this history might be important to interpretation and application is utter anathema. To question the applicability or meaning of a verse is to reject the very words of God. That something might be lost in the translation, linguistic or cultural does not even enter the picture.

This is also why, when you have an argument with a Cultural Fundie, their response if often to slam down some bible verses they think proves their point. They know what those verses mean, and you are just rejecting God’s clear truth if you disagree with them.

It is “Bible Thumping” at its worst.

On a related note:

    F. Tribalism

Because they believe their approach to holy writings is the only viable one, Cultural Fundies believe that those who do not share their beliefs on cultural externals, or on gender roles, or authority, or whatever, are not “true” believers. They are right. Dead right. And everyone else is wrong. And probably not just wrong but downright evil, because they have rejected “God’s clear commands.”

Because they have rejected the possibility of disagreement on nearly - if not all - areas of interpretation and application, the opinions of those who disagree with them are irrelevant. After all, God agrees with them, right? That ends the discussion.

The next step is to assume that God likes them best - or only them - and hates everyone else. One can then act badly toward others, because they are not the chosen. They are not part of the “tribe,” the True Believers™.

This leads to:

G. Judgmentalism and lack of compassion

Because Cultural Fundies believe that they are the sole True Believers™, they can easily assume that the reason bad things happen to people outside the group is because God is smiting them. (When bad things happen to Cultural Fundies, they often think it is “persecution” by non-Fundies.)

Thus, the poor are that way because they don’t follow the Fundie rules. Thus, we should let them suffer - and if anything, increase that suffering by withdrawing government assistance - because that would put pressure on them to follow the Fundie rules.

I believe this is another way to tell if someone is a Cultural Fundie. What is their response to the misfortunes of others? Is it judgmentalism and schadenfreude? Or is it a genuine instinct to help ease others’ burdens? And, do they extend assistance and compassion to those outside the tribe, or is their love limited to those who agree with them? Are they always talking about the “enemies of God,” or are they talking about “the least of these”?

    H. Hostility toward science and critical thinking

I would include in this one not just a hostility to the “hard” sciences like geology, evolutionary biology, and astrophysics; but also an acute hostility toward the “soft” sciences like sociology and psychology.

This relates, again, to the hermeneutical approach. If mental illness presents like the “demon posession” described in the Bible, then it must be spiritual, and thus we can’t utilize medication or therapy as treatments. And if sociology comes up with a conclusion that conflicts with a particular interpretation of a particular scripture verse, then, well, it just must be wrong, evidence be damned.

Likewise, in a discussion, the use of logic and critical thinking is typically dismissed. That is mere “human reason,” which is trumped by “God’s Truth™.” Never mind that every interpretation is colored by our own reasoning and our hermeneutical approach. And by our cultural assumptions and experiences. There is no such thing as an unbiased approach to scripture.  

But instead, when one tries to apply critical thinking to an issue, the Cultural Fundie will instead insist that one is trying to weasel out of the Fundie’s pet interpretation of scripture the clear commands of God. Thus, because God already agrees with the Fundie, the conversation is ended.

It is this tendency that really makes it difficult to discuss serious issues with Cultural Fundies. For example, if I talk about sex and consent, and use the term “power differential” to describe an unequal relationship where sexual harassment occurs, then I am accused of using “psychobabble” rather than talking about sin and quoting bible verses to make my point. And, if I mention the size of the visible universe as evidence of its age (utilizing the known speed of light), I find that I am being quoted verses about how I should “believe Moses” because Jesus said to. The idea that there just might be a problem with the literalist hermeneutic is not even considered.

And, very much to the point, I deleted a comment on my Duggar post (because it violated my comment policy) which attempted to prove that the Duggars were right, and I was wrong about my beliefs regarding Modesty Culture and the priority God places (or in my view, doesn’t place) on virginity above all other virtues. Guess how the writer tried to prove the point? You guessed it! Just slam down a few scriptures, thump the Bible a time or two, and that ends the discussion.  

So there you have it: my view on what makes a “Cultural Fundamentalist.”

I would imagine that when the average person outside of the Evangelical bubble imagines a fundamentalist, that is what he or she looks like.

Authority and hierarchy
Gender roles
Obsession with sex
Rules about cultural externals
A literalist and legalist approach to holy writings
Judgmentalism and lack of compassion
Hostility toward science and critical thinking

When I refer to the Duggars as Fundamentalists, this what I mean. (And the Duggars, like Gothard, demonstrate all of these characteristics.)

Note on one reason there is confusion:

Cultural Fundamentalists want you to think that they are merely Doctrinal Fundamentalists. That is, they hold their views because they are holding to the “one true doctrine.” They hide their ideas about control, gender, legalism, and judgmentalism behind a cloak of “we are just being faithful to the holy book.”

Note on why I didn’t just say “legalists”:

One commenter left a comment, then deleted it (I have no idea why), basically saying that the correct word was “legalist,” not “fundamentalist.” The point is well taken, but I disagree. I chose “fundamentalist” for two reasons.

First, Cultural Fundamentalism is legalistic, but it isn’t just legalistic. It is also authoritarian, which is why I listed that first. I believe that legalism often requires authoritarianism to perpetuate itself, of course, but the two are distinct concepts. Authoritarian systems tend to be legalistic. See Communism. And the more legalistic a system is, the more likely it is (in our modern times) to be authoritarian. However, legalism can also be maintained by social pressures within a community, without the authoritarian requirements. I think the Quakers come to mind as a system that has a lot of legalism in it, but isn’t nearly as authoritarian. On the other hand, it remains a small sect in part because it does not compel obedience.

Another hallmark of Cultural Fundamentalism which is not quite the same as legalism is the literalist hermeneutic approach to scripture. Literalism does indeed tend to lead to legalism. But it also leads to other bad places. I wouldn’t consider Young Earth Creationism to be “legalism,” for example, but I do consider it to be a problem because it makes people believe they have to choose between their faith and what the scientific evidence shows.

Second, using legalism tends to let people off too easily. Honestly, NOBODY believes they are a legalist. Everyone believes he or she is just following God’s True, Clear Law™, and everyone else is simply in rebellion against God’s clear commands. 

Thus, “legalism” is kind of meaningless. It also isn’t of much meaning to those outside of the faith. The issue isn’t “legalism” to the atheist. If you don’t believe in God, the approach to an ancient writing by humans isn’t of much interest. It’s like arguing about how to apply The Odyssey to one’s life. The very idea is ludicrous.

However, “fundamentalism” is a generally understood term in the culture, and I am reasonably certain that my definition and description of it reflects the common cultural understanding.

Note on Evangelicalism versus Fundamentalism:

To an extent, Doctrinal Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism have gone hand-in-hand, although there have always been areas where there isn’t as much overlap.

In particular, beliefs about origins have never been as universal as The Fundamentals might lead one to believe. As I wrote earlier, the real resurrection of the YEC position occurred in the second half of the 20th Century. 

Likewise, the literalist hermeneutic has never been universal, particularly as applied to specific areas of scripture. For example, many have believed (as I do) that Job is a parable, not an actual historical story. Again, this comes down to hermeneutics. How does one approach such a story, and what can history and culture reveal to us about its writing and how it was viewed when it was written?

Another disputed area is and always has been over the return of Christ. To say that even a majority of Evangelicals currently agree with the approach in The Fundamentals is probably an overstatement.

On the other hand, Evangelicals have been strongly associated with the beliefs in Atonement, Resurrection, and the Virgin Birth.

Cultural Fundamentalism is an entirely different matter.

During my lifetime alone, I have seen an ever-increasing degree of influence wielded over Evangelicalism by Cultural Fundamentalism. I attribute this in large part to two factors.

First, influential Fundamentalist leaders and leaders with Fundamentalist leanings have spread their teachings through Evangelicalism. The number of people who have attended Bill Gothard’s seminars over the last 40 years is astounding. His malignant influence is hard to overestimate. But there are others too. I noted the authoritarian teachings of Gary Ezzo, who is also hugely influential. (Also, Growing Kids God’s Way is a perfect example of the arrogance that surrounds these child-rearing formulae.) Even more mainstream groups like Focus on the Family have helped spread the authoritarian disciplinary teachings, and they have also fed the paranoia about sex that sells so well.

The second influence is that of the homeschooling movement. I have mentioned this in a number of past posts in passing, but it bears repeating. There were two competing ideas about homeschooling that fought for dominance in the early years.

First was the free-spirited approach advocated by Raymond and Dorothy Moore. They focused on the benefits of freeing children from the highly regimented drill and test approach common to classrooms, and encouraged parents to find what worked for each particular child. Although this approach is sometimes called “unschooling,” it is really more of an individualized education.

The other side of homeschooling, however, was anything but free-spirited. Rousas Rushdoony, the founder of Christian Reconstructionism, a hyper-Theonomic and theocratically minded movement, saw in the homeschooling movement the opportunity to build his army that would take over the United States and build his dream of an Old Testament style theocracy. Rushdoony was close friends with Doug Phillips, who later founded Vision Forum, and was a huge influence (and regular “expert” witness) for Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), which would become one of the most influential organizations within Christian homeschooling. Rushdoony’s philosophy was also the core of Gothard’s teachings - but like everything else he stole from others, Gothard never attributed it to Rushdoony. Other persons substantially influenced by Rushdoony include Doug Wilson, who is associated with and promotes the “Classical” education movement (although not all classical education organizations have connections to Wilson) and Gregg Harris and his sons Josh “I kissed dating goodbye,” Alex, and Brett (of Rebelution and its “modesty” survey.) All of these have been significant influences in the homeschool movement, and, as a result, in Evangelicalism itself.

These factors contributed to the current trends that we see toward authoritarianism in Evangelicalism, the political obsession with sex, increasing legalism, and the increased emphasis on gender roles.

While there are certainly exceptions, the general conversation within Evangelicalism has been getting more Culturally Fundamentalist over the last few decades.

BEFORE YOU COMMENT: Please read my comment policy.

Sunday, May 24, 2015

Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire, by Mrs. Bunny (Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath)

Source of book: Audiobook from the library

This is another installment in the series of “books my kids have read and wanted me to hear.”

We listen to audiobooks on our vacations, to help pass the time and keep me awake. In this case, the book was selected by my eldest daughter. However, it appears that both of my older daughters have read it, and knew all the jokes already. Okay, except for a few ones that dear old dad was elderly enough to get. 

The book is entitled, Mr. and Mrs. Bunny, Detectives Extraordinaire, by Mrs. Bunny. Translated from the Rabbit by Polly Horvath. The title is indeed a bit in on the joke, so to speak, but the book appears to have been, um, edited a bit by the said Mrs. Horvath, as it is far too unbiased to have been truly Mrs. Rabbit’s original. However, at least Mrs. Rabbit would have been better than Mr. Rabbit, who, it appears, picked the title over Mrs. Rabbit’s preference of Madeline and the Detectives.

So, Madeline, a young girl with impossibly hippy parents, is really the only adult in the family. She supports them, despite their best attempts to squander her income on Luminaria decorations. She wants nothing more than to get white shoes so she can attend her graduation (6th grade, I think?) where none other than Prince Charles will be presenting the awards. (This is set in Vancouver, Canada, so he is technically prince there too.)

However, a few days before, her parents are mysteriously kidnapped, and she has to find them before time runs out.

At this point, things start to get seriously surreal. The kidnappers turn out to be foxes, and not the figurative sort. They need Madeline's parents because they can lead the foxes to Madeline's uncle, who is a code cracker for the secret service, and without the ability to read code, they can’t decode their heirloom recipes, and without the recipes, they can’t open their new factory for making canned rabbit products and by-products. (What’s a by-product? is one of the recurring jokes…)

But, unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, Madeline’s parents are so out there that they are pretty much stoned even without chemical help, and they can’t recall an address to save their lives. (Literally.) It is only Madeline who can tell them, so she has to find a way to locate and rescue her parents before it is too late.

Oh, and the uncle is sick, and falls into a coma (in a rather darkly hilarious manner). So he is no help.

Enter Mr. and Mrs. Rabbit, recently moved into town from the mountains, and in search of a new hobby to fill the time left by the kids leaving the nest. So, they decide to become detectives, if for no other reason than that it requires them to buy fedoras.

Naturally, they are completely hopeless, and more hinderance to poor Madeline than a help.

And then, there is the fun of trying to enlist the services of a marmot. Suffice it to say that marmots do not come off well in this story. Fluffy of brain, and incapable of focus, they seem to care primarily about obtaining garlic bread from The Old Spaghetti Factory.

As you can tell, this has gotten pretty ludicrous, but the suspension of disbelief is crucial to many a story.

This is a modern book, and, as such, peppered with modern cultural references, from carbon footprints to google. But they are all thrown together in a bizarre mix that seems of our time but no recognizable time at all. I haven’t seen the print version, but if the cover is any indication, the illustrations are very retro, a bit of a sly twist on the modern style.

I’ll admit, at first, I wasn’t sure what to make of the book. It starts of with all human characters, and it seemed to be mostly poking fun at the worst of hippydom. And then, when the animals appeared, it went down the rabbit hole, so to speak. By the middle, though, I found myself drawn into the story, and snickering a bit at the jokes - even the ones my kids didn’t get. (I think I need to show them some gangster movies.)

By all means, don’t read this book expecting old fashioned innocence and wide-eyed sincerity. It has that modernist winking quality about it, but a warm heart too. Even with a bizarre family, Madeline retains her loyalty and her compassion, while Mr. and Mrs. Bunny strike a blow against busybodies and tribalists everywhere, and come out triumphant in their own way.

Note on Marmots:

Lest anyone get the wrong impression about marmots from this book, they are hardly the simpering scatterbrains of the animal world. A squirrel is to a marmot as a punter is to an offensive lineman.

In addition to their imposing size, marmots are known to be a risk for chewing through wires, belts, and hoses on cars. (True story. They have warnings up at Mineral King in Sequoia National Park, and a friend remembers having a car “vandalized” when she was a kid.) 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The Duggars: How Fundamentalism's Teachings on Sexuality Create Predatory Behavior

So, it’s in the news everywhere: A Duggar son groped his sisters while they slept when he was 14. The family essentially hushed it up. And, now that he is buddies with Ted Cruz, it became a juicy news story. (Nothing like a political AND sexual scandal to sell ads...)

And the aftermath is predictable. The Duggars get their show suspended, and the (now adult) kid loses his job. And, there is a brobdingnagian pile of schadenfreude to be found in the tabloids.

I have been saying privately for years that something like this would absolutely come to light regarding the Duggars, so this is no surprise to me at all.

As an attorney, I have handled several cases involving fundamentalist families with sexual issues, and the facts seem very familiar.

I’m not going to get into specifics, because of attorney client privilege. However, there does seem to be a certain amount of commonality in how these go down.

I firmly believe that the beliefs within Christian Fundamentalism strongly contribute to these failings - and indeed make them inevitable.

First, let me note again that I spent a portion of my teens involved in Bill Gothard’s organization. My law school education was at his law school, so I know of what I speak. The Duggars are big in the Gothard organization, and promote it through their TV show. So, I know the exact teachings that they follow and promote. 

That's why, despite never having seen more than a few minutes of the show at a time, and having no idea which kid was Josh, I was able to make this prediction. All I needed to know was that they followed Gothard's teachings about sex and gender, and I knew that it was more likely than not that a sex scandal would surface sooner or later. 

In addition, I have been discussing this with some friends, many of them also ex-Gothardites, and some common issues have arisen, and I decided I probably should address them a bit from the perspective of both a lawyer and a former Fundie.

Because the perpetrator in this case (and in my cases as well) was a minor - age 14 - a boy in the throes of puberty - the issues are not quite as straight forward as they would be in a typical pedophile case.

While I would not defend what this boy did - it was pretty clearly sexual assault - I do understand some of why, and strongly believe that Gothard’s teachings contributed to the way he acted out.

Again: I am not minimizing sexual assault, or excusing perps.

What I intend to show is that Fundamentalist teachings on sex tend to lead to young men who would not otherwise be predators act out in predatory ways.

So here are my thoughts:

  1. How do we distinguish who is a predator and who isn’t? And is a person always a predator?

This is important, because I have seen several people castigate the wife of this man for marrying him, and insist that he never be allowed around children. Some have gone so far as to call him unequivocably a child molester who will never change. Does an act at age 14 mean one is a predator in every case? Or could one grow and change and not be a threat?

I am not defending predators, and I am not defending what he did. However, based on my own cases and my personal experience of the terrible teachings of Gothard, I am not convinced that he is a real predator or pedophile. He may be, but he is not necessarily one.

One initial issue concerns the very nature of pedophilia. A true pedophile is attracted to children because they are children. The very age is the source of the attraction. In addition, true pedophiles are, more often than not, extremely skilled at identifying victims and seducing them, and then keeping them quiet afterward. Most true pedophiles have hundreds of victims by the time they are caught. And - very important - they are not really “curable” in any true sense. They absolutely must be kept away from children, with no exceptions.

In comparison to true pedophiles, there are others who might very well be attracted to sexually mature persons, but who take what is available, so to speak. For example, two kids who “play doctor” are unlikely to be pedophiles, even if they are experimenting with another young child. It is more likely than not that they will function sexually with adults when they grow up.

Thus, while, again, I am not defending what he did, I do think that more information is needed before we should be quick to paint this guy as a pedophile or sexual predator. I’ll explain more later about why I believe the teachings lead to predatory behavior in otherwise normal teens.

2. The troubling thing about the case is the combination of an age gap and lack of consent.

The reason you get police involvement in this case (and in others that I have handled) is one or both of two things: a. A greater than 4 year age gap b. Nonconsensual touching.

The cops are not interested in investigating two 14 year olds having sex, or two 9 year olds playing doctor. There is no crime there. The reason this became an issue was that there was no consent, and there may well have been an age difference. Thus, this was a sexual assault, which is why it was a matter for law enforcement.

However, I believe that the belief system contributed to a situation where a 14 year old lacked a healthy understanding of consent.  

3. Gothard’s teachings on sexuality strongly contribute to these sexual problems

And make no mistake, these teachings are NOT limited to Gothard, but have significantly infiltrated Evangelicalism as a whole. The root of the harmful teachings are an obsession with sexual “purity” and a terror that the kids might have sex before they are married. Most of Gothard’s empire was built on feeding these fears and promising an escape. A guarantee that by following his formula, the kids would be good little virgins on their wedding night.

However, what really ends up happening in far too many cases is that the teachings cause sexual dysfunction of one sort or another. In some cases (known personally to me) the child is able to successfully repress all sexuality, but then has difficulty functioning sexually once married. In others, as in some of my cases, the lack of healthy sexual views leads to a really messed up response to puberty and acting out in harmful ways toward others.

Here are the teachings that I believe significantly contribute to the problem:

  1. Thinking about sex is lust, and lust is as bad as doing it.

This is a common thread in every one of my own cases. This idea is hammered into children by Gothard and others. The hope is that they would be able to banish all sexual thoughts and desires until that magical wedding night when the switch is flipped. I discussed this further in my series on Modesty Culture. The problem is that “lust” is defined for all practical purposes as any and all sexual thoughts or desires. For a young man going through puberty, this is, for all but a few, completely impossible. There is no winning, just endless frustration and shame. (I was never a pubescent girl, so I can’t speak to that, but I would imagine this can be frustrating for girls too.)

The huge problem with this teaching is that it does not distinguish between having thoughts and desires, and acting on them in an inappropriate way. To the young person, just developing (one hopes) critical thinking skills, this can and does lead to problems in making decisions. After all, if one has already fallen into sexual sin in the realm of thought, why not at least get some satisfaction for the trouble. All the guilt and shame is already there, so why not try to at least get a little gratification.

Needless to say, this worldview is not very good at addressing the issue of consent. Since all sexual sin is the same (see Piper, John), then the difference between lusting and sexually assaulting someone is blurred.

b. “Modesty Culture” teaches that female bodies are the source of said sinful lust.

I won’t rehash all of this, but I do recommend that you read my series on Modesty Culture. In essence, it is rape culture, rebranded for the Christian market. The source of male sexual sin is the woman, who, by virtue of being attractive, causes him to lust.

Thus, for someone raised in this worldview, the girl is as much at fault as he is.

I believe this also leads to non-consensual touching of very young girls.

I pointed this out in my post on “defrauding” and rape, and included a picture from Gothard’s curriculum wherein a boy who was caught in the same sort of act as the Duggar kid blamed changing his infant sister’s diapers

The fact that this occurred is completely predictable in light of the teachings. The burden is placed on extremely small girls to keep their bodies covered at all times, or they could be sexually assaulted. 

[Addendum: here is more on Gothard's advice for handling incest and abuse.]

Again, note that consent never even enters the discussion. Sexual sin is sexual sin, regardless of whether it is consensual or assault.

c. Sexual desire is presented in a gendered way.

This one plagues our greater culture too, but it is particularly popular in Christian circles. The idea is that women don’t really want sex. However, they trade it (and their bodies) to men in exchange for commitment - that is, a promise of lifetime financial support.

Thus, females will always want to say no to sex, so the man will have to impose on them to some degree. (Ideally for the fundie, women would - as they are taught to - give men sex on demand after marriage as their “duty” and to keep those horny men from cheating.)

Again, this makes for problems when it comes to a discussion of consent. Because women will never say “yes” voluntarily, “no” is meaningless. As another Fundie, Doug Wilson put it, the man has to “conquer, plant, and colonize,” while the woman “accepts, receives, surrenders.” Not a good place to start for healthy consensual sexuality.

For a young man raised in this worldview, then, he has no real reason to hope that a woman might actually desire to have sex with him. Thus, at some point, he will simply have to take what he wants. And who might be available and weak enough to be imposed on? Perhaps young girls…

d. No outlets for sexual feelings are acceptable - until marriage.

It is hard to describe just how repressive Gothardism is to those who haven’t experienced it, but I’ll try. Keep in mind that what applies to Gothardism also applies to most Fundie systems, and in some cases applies in significant part to mainstream Evangelicalism these days.

Because of the obsession with preventing sex, these systems impose significant “safeguards” against it occurring.

For example, as I have already noted, they insist on constant work to repress any and all sexual feelings, because these are “lust.”

Second, as I noted, they work to keep female bodies from being visible. They must be hidden away as best possible, because without them, (presumably), young males wouldn’t want sex. This is what is behind the obsession with the way young girls dress, as I pointed out in my series.

Third, in many of these systems - including Gothardism - cross-gender friendships are discouraged, and in some cases forbidden altogether. The young people must be kept from each other, or sexual feelings might develop. (I wrote about this in my wife’s story.

Fourth, many of these systems discourage sex education because it might lead to lust. This is particularly the case for girls, who ideally would learn about sex from their husbands on the wedding night. I wish I was making that one up. Certainly, a robust family discussion of sex is out of the question. Instead, sex isn’t talked about, except to say “don’t do it and don’t think about it.”

Fifth, the whole system of “courtship” or “betrothal” further separates the genders until that magical wedding night. For those not familiar with “courtship,” it forbids dating of any kind until both parties are ready to marry. That is, until he has enough money and income to support her. At that time, he asks her father for permission, and the courtship takes place under closely supervised conditions. Chaperones are present always, and the couple is considered as essentially engaged from the beginning of the process. I’ve blogged about this before here

Again, there is a constant and continual control until the pressure can finally be taken off on the wedding night. Good luck, young people! Now you can try to shove aside all the baggage we gave you about sex and have fun now!

Now, for a young man, in a system like Gothard’s, where college is discouraged, and all relationships are rigidly controlled, there really isn’t much of an out. He can't think about sex, because that is sin. Of course, he can’t masturbate either, because that is sin. He can’t even be friends with a girl. In fact, he his kept physically separated from them. He is staring at having to completely satisfy his future father-in-law before he can even try a relationship, and that could be many years down the road if financial prosperity doesn’t come quickly. You keep tightening that lid. Pushing down on all sexuality. The pressure keeps building.

He has zero options.

So he has the new feelings of puberty, an environment that discourages talking about sex, overwhelming guilt about sexual thoughts, teachings that blame girls for his desires, a long time until he would have any approved outlet for his sexuality, and...

...the only females available to him in any way are his little sisters.

How could this possibly go wrong?

And that, in my opinion, is how young men who would not otherwise become predatory end up engaging in sexual assault.


Again, it is not my intent to excuse bad behavior. Sexual assault is wrong, and a crime. And I am not familiar enough on a personal level with Josh Duggar to know if he has the markers of a predator or not.

However, my experience in these cases is that the young men involved - again, not adults, but 12-15 years old - have seriously screwed up beliefs about women, consent, and sex; because the teachings are obsessed with preventing sex, not in creating a healthy view of sexualty, which embraces consent, female sexual desire, and equality within the sexual relationship. These young men are in need of substantial deprogramming, which is obviously anathema to Gothardites, who are violently opposed to any non-Gothardite counseling or input.  

So is Josh Duggar a predator and a danger to children? Maybe. But maybe not. Did he engage in sexual assault? Absolutely. Would he be a risk to do it again? Not necessarily.  

Did the poisonous doctrines believed and promoted by his family contribute to the problem? I believe that they absolutely did.

And I believe that, even more than that, the way that Gothard advises dealing with victims in cases like this will cause even more harm within the family.

Far from having a productive conversation about consent, there probably was just a little “repentance and forgiveness” charade. The doctrines have clearly remained the same since, and the root problems will never be addressed.

There are no winners here.

Now that this is public, Josh will be forever branded as a sexual predator, whether or not he is an actual danger to anyone now or in the future.

The girls have had their bodily autonomy violated, but they will be taught that they may have contributed to their own assault. They were and will be expected to do the "repentance and forgiveness" charade, and pretend nothing serious happened. Their violation will not be treated with the seriousness that it deserves. And they will be taught that what Josh did was just another sexual sin, no worse or different from what they would commit if they made out with a boyfriend. And therefore, it is entirely possible that they will be considered "tainted" in the Fundie community. And this, after their innocence and budding sexuality have been the selling point of the show for years.

The poisonous doctrines will remain untouched and unexamined. There will be no discussion of consent. And, if my past cases are any indication, the parents will instead double down on isolating boys and girls from each other and policing all interaction.

And the cycle will continue.

Even though Gothard personally has fallen into disgrace because of his own problems with teen girls, his ideas will be recycled by a new false prophet, who will profit from Evangelicals desperate to guarantee that their children will arrive at the altar as good little virgins, pleasing to God because of their innocence.

Note on Evangelicalism's ongoing issue with child abuse

[Note, after a comment by a reader, I decided I wasn't clear about this part. I believe Fundamentalism tends to breed predatory behavior. I also believe Evangelicalism has become influenced by Fundamentalism in the last few decades. 

However, the reason that I believe Evangelicalism in general is having problems with child abuse is this: churches have children (potential victims), and churches rarely have policies for preventing predators from operating. Leadership is rarely trained to recognize predators, and policies regarding reporting of abuse are inconsistent. Many states, including my home state of California make clergy mandated reporters of child abuse and neglect, but many clergy do not realize this.

I also believe that few churches are really safe places for victims, and I am not alone. I recommend reading Boz Tchividjian's writings on child abuse and the church for more on this.]  

These teachings also enable predators and abusers as well, as should be obvious with a bit of familiarity with how predators operate. Getting victims to blame themselves is much easier when the church lays the foundation. The teachings on authority - unquestioning obedience as to God himself - make it easier for those in leadership to prey on children, and keep them silent. 

And let me say that our response to sexual predation by leaders has been atrocious. Our instinct is to protect and cover up, rather than expose and prosecute. 

This obviously requires great vigilance, but also a reconsideration of how we talk about consent. Or more accurately: how we don’t talk about consent. This is probably a topic for another post.

Suffice it to say that the teachings on sexuality tend to 1. protect predators and 2. create predatory behavior where it would not otherwise exist. 

Note on why I say Fundamentalist:

I have also received some feedback that "fundamentalism" means different things to different people. So to clarify, see this follow up post. 

Note on Pedophiles: 

One of the questions that I do not see raised by those calling for him to be treated as a child molester would seem to be obvious: Is he primarily or even significantly attracted to children? That's important, because someone who is, is probably a continuing danger, but someone who is not attracted to children is not really a risk to offend in that way. Again, this seems obvious, but it apparently isn't. 

Second, is he a risk to be commit rape or sexual assault in the future? There actually are identifiable risk factors for this as well. A propensity for violence is one. Violence in one area becomes violence in others. (Anyone who has helped victims of domestic violence know the connection between battering and sexual assault.) Perhaps a better way to put this would be to consider whether what he did was about sex, or about violence. In general, rape is about violence, not sex. On the other hand, these acts may not have been primarily about violence and control, but about a messed up view of sexuality and a lack of understanding of consent. A good way to check would be to see if there is an overall problem with control and violence.    

For both of these risks, I would also add in that one should evaluate for Narcissistic Personality Disorder, which is probably a factor in Gothard and Doug Phillips' issues with sexual assaults. And the better the person plays the "repentance and forgiveness" game, the more likely they are to be a narcissist. 

I should add in here again that there is a reason that we do not try 14 year olds as adults. I'm not going to get into all the developmental stuff, but the same acts committed by a 25 year old would obviously be more indicative of a true pedophile than the same acts committed by a 12 year old.  As age and maturity increase, so does responsibility and the likelihood that a bad act is not an outlier, but an indication of a serious risk. 

On a related note, the problem with taking the easy route and labeling Josh Duggar a Child Molester:

We have a tendency as a society and as a religion to dismiss bad actions as being done by "bad people." That way, we can just say that somebody evil did something evil, and never look at the underlying structural and philosophical issues. So, domestic violence is just bad men beating women. Get rid of the bad men, and everything will be fine. It clearly has nothing to do with belief in the inferiority of women or the necessity that they obey and serve men. Move along, nothing to see here...

Similarly, we do this with racism. Other people, bad people, are racists. And some cops are jerks. That way, we don't have to look into structures of privilege, or bad law enforcement culture that leads to dead bodies. We don't have to actually clean house, just throw a few bad people out, and bam! utopia. 

Similarly, in the cases of all these cases of sexual assault within Patriarchy, we want to be able to dismiss them as outliers. Bad acts by bad people. Josh Duggar is a child molester, so we just keep him away from kids, and everything will be fine.

And then we NEVER have to address the damage that our poisonous teachings on sexuality are causing. It is not an accident that we are attracting (and paying) narcissistic predators like Gothard and Phillips. And it is not an accident that there are problems with assault in Patriarchal families. At some point, one can't just blame bad luck for the lightning strikes. We have to admit we have been standing outside in the storm, holding a metal pole. We attract bad actors, and we make predatory acts by those who would not otherwise have been predators more likely. 

True, let's remove the bad actors, but let's not ignore the other source of poison: bad beliefs and teachings.     

Maybe Josh Duggar is a pedophile. Maybe he is a narcissistic jerk who will tend to rape and assault. But it is also possible that at age 14, the bad teachings simply bore their entirely predictable results.  

Note on the Duggars and the media:

One of the annoying statements that I keep hearing is that this is somehow a "liberal media" attack on Christianity. This argument is getting a bit old, particularly when it is used to deflect the truth of a particular allegation

I believe that it is super duper easy to see why this is huge news. And also why it should be huge news. 

At the outset, I will say that I have grave moral misgivings about anyone who would put their family in the spotlight like that, as I do not believe it is healthy for them. But that is not all. 

The whole reason the Duggars have made multiple millions selling their family is that they are essentially selling sex. 

It starts with the premise: the Duggars are "quiverfull," which means that they believe all forms of birth control are sinful, and that "godliness" requires having as many children as physically possible. That philosophy is also taught by Gothard and other Patriarchists. It also is the way that you end up with 19 kids, and why every one of their children (so far) has ended up pregnant right after the marriage. This isn't just a philosophy about Christianity, but one that is central to their view of female sexuality. 

Just as the Duggars promote the quiverful philosophy on their show, they also promote their view of "courtship," which I already mentioned. Unless one has been living under a rock, it is impossible to miss the fact that they loudly proclaim their belief that one should not even hold hands or kiss before marriage. The first physical contact is to be after the vows.

Make no mistake, this is all about selling sex. You have these attractive, virginal young ladies, and their sex lives are on display for all to see. The invitation is to think about the girls and sex. I would call it "Virginity Voyerism."

This is the reason for the show. To promote Gothard's teachings on sexuality, gender, and marriage. As Gothard puts it, to "show the world a better way of life." These teachings are sold on the idea that they will prevent bad sexual things from happening. That they will deliver our kids to the altar as good little virgins. That the dress codes and the separation of the sexes will stamp out all this horrid lust and perversion and all that.

And then one more thing: lately Mrs. Duggar has been in the news for saying that transsexuals are a grave threat to children, equating them to child molesters. Furthermore, Josh (until his recent resignation) worked for the Family Research Council, which has been designated as a hate group for claiming (against the evidence) that homosexuals are child molesters seeking to prey on children. 

Both of these claims were made after Josh assaulted his sisters in their sleep. 

The hypocrisy is just astounding, and it is no wonder the media is all over this. This family, like Gothard and Phillips, made their fortune - millions of dollars - promoting a particular view of sexuality, and (in my view), trading on the pretty innocence of their daughters. And then used the platform to make unsupportable claims about LGBT people. And all the while, it wasn't the gays that were fondling the daughters. 

Of COURSE the media is all over this. 

It isn't just the Duggars, of course. Within the last two years, the three most visible representatives of the Patriarchy movement have all gone down in sexual flames. Gothard resigned after more than 30 women came forward with stories of how he assaulted and harassed them. Phillips (Vision Forum) folded his organization after it came out that he had sexually assaulted a young woman who worked for him. And now the Duggars, who were extremely close with both Phillips and Gothard have proven (as I predicted) to have some serious sexual skeletons in their own closets. 

At some point, this ceases to be "bad luck" and "media conspiracy" and becomes what can only be described as bad fruit. The teachings themselves are incurably rotten, and lead to rotten, reeking, putrid fruit. 

    As I note, I believe Gothard’s teachings are a deadly poison which has tainted generations of Evangelicals, and a part of me is glad to see yet another spokesperson for his organization and ideas go down in flames. But I do hurt for the kids, who didn’t have a choice to become involved in Gothardism or have their lives on camera. 

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