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Feminism, Theology

"How to Win Over Depression" review: 113-136

For new readers: this post is part of a regular blog feature, where I read through influential books on Christian living. The beginning of the series covering Tim LaHaye’s How to Win Over Depression is here; you can also read through my series on Helen Andelin’s Fascinating Womanhood, John and Stasi Eldredge’s Captivating, Mark and Grace Driscoll’s Real Marriage, and Rob and Kristin Bell’s Zimzum of Love.

~~~~~~~~~

These two chapters were repetitive, so I’m going to do my best not to rehash things I’ve already commented on. A few things jumped out to me on this reading of “How to Overcome Self-Pity,” especially one thing in particular:

Facing self-pity as a sin is the initial step toward victory over this cruel slave-driver … instead of commiserating with yourself and blaming other people for the insult, injury, rejection, or tragedy, face self-pity squarely as a giant mental sin that will destroy you. (114)

I’ve mentioned before that when Tim is talking about “self-pity” he uses very similar language as when evangelicals start talking about “bitterness,” and this passage is a good example of that. In recent conversations about the Duggars, many people have pointed out that any “counseling” Josh’s victims received would have been accompanied with a heavy dose of the sin of bitterness is worse than his attacking you– after all, bitterness damages your soul and mind. Anyone who thinks that thought only exists in Christian fundamentalism need to look no farther than this book, which is about as mainstream evangelicalism as you can get. I mean, Nicolas Cage starred in a movie based on Tim LaHaye’s books.

The most frustrating thing is that Tim never comes right out and says what he means. He talks about “injury” and “tragedy,” and those words cover up a multitude of horrific nightmares the likes of which he will probably never experience. Tim would look Josh’s victims in the face and tell them that they need to “confess the sin of self-pity” for the lingering affects of severe childhood trauma. He would, all while never once acknowledge exactly what the “tragedy” actually is.

However, he has to breeze over exactly what the “tragedies” are that befall people, because the crux of his advice in “Depression and Your Mind” is to “forget those things which are behind.” It’s a lot easier to leave behind some nebulous “tragedy” than it is to forget the fact that you’ve been raped over and over again.

Interesting fact: I followed that advice doggedly. I wholeheartedly threw myself into forgetting that I’d ever been abused or raped. I did it, rather successfully, for four years. And then I started having night terrors and panic attacks. It wasn’t until I was able to process what I’d been through, to name it for exactly what it was and to start talking through it, that the night terrors and the panic attacks started to subside. “Forget those things which are behind” flies in the face of what we know about how to heal from trauma.

One hilarious thing in the chapter “How to Overcome Self-Pity” is when Tim references a story about Moses, found in Number 11.

During the course of his prayer, which began in anger and progressed in self-pity, Moses became so depressed that he actually asked God to let him die. Poor Moses! Resenting the clamor of the people and his leadership, he disregarded God’s supernatural supply of his needs.

Specifically, Tim has “Numbers 11:11-15” as the citation for this story. Here’s what God does in verses 16-17:

The Lord said to Moses: “Bring me seventy of Israel’s elders who are known to you as leaders and officials among the people. Have them come to the tent of meeting, that they may stand there with you. I will come down and speak with you there, and I will take some of the power of the Spirit that is on you and put it on them. They will share the burden of the people with you so that you will not have to carry it alone.

If “self-pity” is what Tim thinks Moses was experiencing in verses 11-15, and “self-pity” is a sin, then what in the world is God doing responding to this prayer with “you’re right, you’ve got too much on your plate, let me help you out”?

Just an idle question.

Chapter ten, “Depression and Your Mind,” can be summed up thusly: Tim thinks all we need to do is imagine our depression away. We just have to constantly tell ourselves that God loves us and BAM! depression cured (129). It’s also a quick summary of everything else he’s said so far, so we can just move on with our lives for the day.

Although, of the six examples he includes this chapter, four are about women, and involve 1) obesity, 2) weeping, 3) menstruation, and 4) menopause. Because of course.

Feminism

"Real Marriage" review: 3-18, "New Marriage, Same Spouse"

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[content note: sexual violence, emotional abuse]

I’m doing something different with Real Marriage than how I reviewed Fascinating Womanhood and Captivating; with the last two books, I’ve read the entire thing before I started and then did one chapter at a time, trying to keep the message of the whole book in mind. After reading the first few chapters of this book, I realized I couldn’t handle that– not spiritually, not emotionally, not psychologically. So, for this review, what you’ll be reading from me will lean in the direction of gut reaction and instinct, since I don’t know where Mark and Grace are taking this.

The first chapter is Mark and Grace telling their story, starting from before they met each other, through dating, engagement, and what seems to be the bulk of their marriage. This chapter is mostly written from Mark’s perspective, as he wrote 46 paragraphs and Grace wrote 11. What I found the most disturbing, however, is what Grace says about her side of the story. It is … well, it reminded me of this:

bad dobby

Most of Mark’s paragraphs are him patting himself on the back for living such a good, moral life even though he was surrounded by “brazen prostitutes” and “manipulative women”– he even left his own fraternity, guys, because of the drinking! Wow, isn’t he just great? But Grace’s sections are full of self-flagellation; her teenage and young adult years are summed up by her as “living a lie,” and the few things she says about her marriage are full of “oh, how much I sinned against my husband! I did not feel that I was worthy of his love!”

And this is where I get incredibly fuzzy on the details, as both Mark and Grace are deliberately vague: apparently during the early days of their dating relationship, Grace “sexually sinned” with another man. There is no distinct timeline given, and I’m left wondering things like if they’d both verbally committed to a monogamous relationship at the time, or if their perspective on dating relationships now is coloring their dating relationship then, and what the “sexual sin” was; but what has me the most concerned is that they mention several times that Grace was sexually assaulted, and her assault caused some significant trauma for her. I can’t tell whether or not this “sexual sin” was actually being assaulted, especially because of things like this:

I felt God had conned me by telling me to marry Grace, and allowed Grace to rule over me since she was controlling our sex life. (10)

When I discovered her sin against me and that she had punished me with resulting years of sexual and emotional denial . . . (13)

Then, after more than a decade of marriage, a root issue was finally revealed. Grace’s problem was that she was an assault victim who had never told me or anyone else of the physical, spiritual, emotional, and sexual abuse she had suffered … In forgiving and walking with Grace  . . . (16)

And if you have unconfessed sin and/or a past of sexual sin, including pornography, fornication, sexual abuse, bitterness, and the like, we pray this book leads to the healing of your soul and your marriage. (18)

There’s a pattern through this entire chapter, and it is victim blaming. Both acknowledge that Grace was sexually abused, and that this abuse affected their sex life. She experienced pain and discomfort during intercourse, and Mark describes her as “checked out”– this is known as disassociation, and is common with sexual violence survivors.

However, all of that is framed as Grace’s fault. She “punished” him because she was traumatized– her needs as a sexual violence survivor was her “ruling over him.” He had to “forgive her.” In the last paragraph of the chapter, being sexually abused is listed as a form of “unconfessed sexual sin.” So, even if the “sexual sin” that they’re talking about back when they were dating was consensual, it’s clear that even if she’d been assaulted, Mark’s reaction would have been exactly the same: it’s a sin, her trauma and pain was her “punishing him,” and he needed to forgive her for her “sexual past” of being sexually abused.

What is just as horrifying to me is how Mark and Grace describe at least the first decade of their marriage: Mark says his actions were “overbearing and boorish, so angry and harsh, that I had not been the kind of husband who she could trust and confide in with the most painful and shameful parts of her past.” He said he used his words to “tear her down,” that he “condemned” her, and he links this with Grace “shutting down.” Grace describes it– in the scant few paragraphs where she’s allowed a voice– as him being “angry” and “harsh.” She describes her own reaction as “distant” and that she reacted to his diatribes and “harsh words” with silence.

I do not know Mark and Grace personally. I have never met them, and I did not observe them during this time. However, what they’ve spent fifteen pages describing sounds an awful lot like Mark being an emotional and verbal abuser. Apparently finding out that Grace had been sexually abused caused Mark to do some heavy re-thinking, but that just breaks my heart even more.

My partner and I had been dating for a couple months when we initiated any sort of physical romance, and it took me a long time to finally open up to him about what I’d been through. Before that, all he knew was that my last boyfriend had been a “jerk.” He didn’t push me, he didn’t question me. He waited for me to talk about it when I was ready, and was willing for that to be never. However, he didn’t need to know that I’d been raped in order for him to pay attention to my boundaries and to not just respect but love my physical needs.

He was so incredibly careful and gentle about making sure I was ok with anything we were doing. When I mentioned one day how much I loved his way with me– that he was respectful and loving– he looked at me like he didn’t know what I was talking about. For him, it was of course he would respect what I wanted, what I needed. Of course he wouldn’t cross my boundaries. Of course he thought of my enjoyment, my fun, my laughter and pleasure as paramount. This is normal, he told me, and it took me a very long time before I believed him.

American culture accepts violence against women as normal. Of course a penis will tear a vagina the first time they have penetrative sex. Of course men are sex-fueled robots. Of course women should expect reactions and behavior like Mark Driscoll’s. He had every right to feel bitter and tormented and angry because he’d had the bad luck to marry a traumatized sexual violence survivor who displays some symptoms of PTSD and couldn’t be his own personal porn star in bed.

That Mark Driscoll needed to know that his wife is a survivor in order to respect her needs during sex tells me everything I need to know about him.

Update 9/16/14 12:57a: for readers who have engaged in the comment section, please read my new comment here. My deepest apologies for letting that go on so long. I should never have let it begin.

Theology

the dangers of biblical counseling, part five

falling
[this is part of a series. Here are parts one, two, three, and four]
[trigger warning for victim blaming and rape]

During all of my plodding toward a real understanding of myself, I went about life. I taught college writing, I flew down to Florida for a wedding– I even went on a couple of dates. Life was a strange split between normalcy and panic.

Part of what kept me together during all of this were the brief moments when I could let things go. There were times I could slip into a frame of mind where I could drop my burden and escape. Sometimes, these were the weekends when I could sit in a rocking chair on my front porch, look at the mountains, and watch hummingbirds flit around the azalea bushes. They were the times I fell asleep in a hammock with a good book in my hands.

One of these times was when I drove up to the Chesapeake Bay area to visit a good friend, who announced when I arrived that there was someone I should meet. The hell with it, I thought. Sure, why not? She took me over to her boyfriend’s place, where we were celebrating another friend’s triumphant trek up the Pacific Trail from Mexico to Canada. While Matt* demonstrated making camp food for us, he walked in.

Tall, red-headed, the swimmer’s physique. And he made quips. Snarky ones. He made me laugh a good dozen times in the first ten minutes. I liked him, almost instantly.

The best thing that happened that night was that it turned into one of those “times.” When I could just . . . let go. I seal-clapped. I threw my head back when I laughed. I jumped up and down when someone suggested we watched Independence Day. I made Star Wars jokes. I burst out with “The Hero of Canton” when Adam Baldwin showed up in Area 51. I speechified about linguistic nuances. I enthused over swing dancing.

About a week later, Handsome called me. He wanted to write me letters. The first one came with roses. Our first date was in D.C., for the cherry blossom festival. We went to the Air and Space Museum, where I lay down on the floor to look at the Saturn V rocket, just to get a better perspective, and he got down on the floor with me.

That was the moment when I fell in love.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

But, I was still suffering from panic attacks. The depression was easing, but I was still going through so much– and I didn’t want to saddle him with that. I wanted to exorcise my demons. Coincidentally, I received a recommendation for a biblical counselor who specialized in sexual abuse, and I made an appointment to go and see her.

The following is . . . difficult, for me. Because the title of this series is not “why you should never seek biblical counseling.” It’s “the dangers of biblical counseling.” My intention is not to dismiss biblical counseling as an approach– that would be throwing the baby out with the bathwater. Biblical counseling can be helpful, healthy, and productive.

It helped me.

And . . . it didn’t.

The woman I went to see was gentle and kind, tender and compassionate. The first time I went to see her, I had a panic attack in her office. I was as nervous as hell the entire time. She probed me, so very carefully, and asked to hear my story. I told it to her, in broken snatches. She asked me what had finally brought me to the point that I wanted help, and I told her about Handsome. I told her about how I wanted to avoid burdening him with my baggage. I told her about the guilt I carried. For the firs time, I told all of the truth to someone. I laid myself bare.

Here is where we run into problems, although I didn’t really see it this way at the time. I want you to understand that the woman I was speaking with was so very obviously loving. She had dedicated her life to helping women like me, because she had been through it. She sympathized– I hadn’t met anyone this empathetic in a long time. She was grounded, and real. She encouraged me to open up the dark silences in my head– to confront what had kept me trapped and confused. She told me that I couldn’t afford to stunt and ignore my emotions, but that I should allow them to enrich my life instead of stifling them in the name of “temperance.”

But.

But.

She also told me two things: the first was that my attempt to take part of the blame for what had happened to me was healthy and correct. That I was right to look for ways I might have been responsible. Everything she said were things I had heard before– that it was good that I was recognizing where I hadn’t been a victim, that I was choosing to shoulder my choices. This was good– it meant I could stop it from happening again, if I took the opportunity to learn from it.

This is also known as victim-blaming. Oh, it sounds completely sensible. When you’re listening to this, nothing stands out as wrong– it all just seems like practical advice. Who wouldn’t want to protect herself from further damage and harm? To stop it from happening, ever again, if it could be prevented? Especially when it’s something as straightforward as “learning from past mistakes.” But, its very sensibility is the problem. It makes sense because we live in a culture that endorses and encourages rape any time we tell someone that any part of what happened to her or him was partly their fault– that he or she could have done something to prevent it. These solutions are based on a series of false assumptions– most of which have nothing to do with the circumstances that led to my rape. But they are an integral part of our discussion about rape, and it came up here.

The second thing that she told me . . . it was a bucket of ice-cold water in my face. I was a “poisonous well,” and starting a relationship with Handsome would be to his detriment. If we were in a relationship, and I was still “ensnared by my past,” I would “pull him away” from following God, that I would damage our new relationship to the point where we couldn’t recover from it.

I cried myself to sleep that night.

These were familiar phrases, familiar ideas– most especially the poisonous well. For me, and for many people, this idea is linked to Proverbs 4:23, where the heart is the “well spring of life.” When we let impurity into our “wells,” we are essentially poisoning ourselves, and we’re at risk for poisoning others. “Put another way, an unguarded heart can lead to a poisoned spiritual wellspring, one that is tainted with bitterness or self-loathing.” If I was a poisoned well, it meant that I was bitter and unforgiving, that I was holding onto anger– and this would corrupt Handsome, and our relationship. Those with poisoned wells are “toxic” to the people around them, spiritually and emotionally.

In essence, this type of rhetoric is just another form of victim-blaming, although it focuses on after-the-fact elements. Not only was my rape partly my fault, but the after-effects of being raped were also my fault. I had to keep on acknowledging one to get rid of the other. I had to be open and repentant about my sin in order to fully recover.

I continued to see her for another few months, until the end of the school year and life got busy and complicated. I never felt comfortable talking about my blooming relationship with Handsome, because I was deeply terrified of being told I was a “poisonous well” again. And there is another danger of biblical counseling. When you seek biblical counseling, you are automatically creating a hierarchy, a power dynamic. Because you’re seeking biblical counseling. You are outright acknowledging that this person is superior to you spiritually, and that they have the authority to tell you how to fix yourself.

Granted, this power dynamic is not always at play in biblical counseling– and it can certainly be present in secular counseling and therapy, too. This is not a “Christian” problem, entirely– it’s a human one. We create power dynamics and hierarchies everywhere we go. But I think that this is an area that shows up in a unique way in biblical counseling, because looking to “higher spiritual authorities” is as natural to us as breathing. And I, so naturally I did not even notice, placed this earnest, God-loving, sacrificial woman as enough of my authority to make me feel guilty for falling in love.

I will be honest– there were many things I learned through this process that were helpful. She gave me tools to help me recover, and the panic attacks rarely ever happen anymore, and the depression I suffered for three years is mostly gone. She encouraged me in many ways, and I’m thankful for that.

There should always be a “but,” however. I’m not throwing the entire thing under the bus– it is just my honest desire to bring these elements to the light. I’m not the first one, and I can only tell my story– I can’t speak to any other experience but my own. But, for me, and many of my loved ones, biblical counseling has been a harrowing process that caused untold damage to their lives and relationships.

So, it is an area that should be approached with caution. Look for someone who has a degree, and is licensed and certified. Research where they got their certification– all the major certification bodies have enough information on their website to get a general feeling. Find out what they think about biological and neurochemical processes and medication. You have the right to interview a prospective counselor– ask them about their views on marriage, what their goals are for the counseling process, and try to figure out where they stand on “the sufficiency of Scripture” — are they willing to interact with modern psychological practices and engage with modern medical research?

Sometimes, we are afraid of asking these sorts of questions because we don’t want to be seen as confrontational. I think, in general, many of us are more inclined to trust than not– and it is difficult to walk that line between suspicion and caution, but it is important for us to keep awareness in this area.

I want to hear your stories– my story, in this area, is over, but I’m eager to know your thoughts. What do you think might be solutions for some of the problems I’ve talked about in this series? What do you think about making a clear distinction between pastor counseling, which might be better focused on discipleship, and professional counseling? One of the benefits is that biblical counselors are many times free, and it can be difficult to get the money together enter therapy. Do you think this outweighs the risks involved? What are your stories?

Theology

the dangers of biblical counseling, part four

falling

[trigger warning for PTSD, panic attacks, abuse]
[This is part of a series on my experiences with biblical counseling. Here are parts one, two, and three]

My second year in grad school, I took a poetry writing course. It was a workshop-based course, so our professor took us through a “practice” workshop session using one of his colleague’s poems. It was a beautiful, powerful, compelling work.

It also triggered me.

We read it communally, but silently, in class. By the time I reached the second page, my heart was pounding so hard I could feel it hammering against my rib cage. There was a loud rushing in my ears– and blackness was circling and tightening my vision. I felt sick, and faint, and I couldn’t even excuse myself. I felt like I stumbled out of the classroom, and I barely made it to the bathroom before I vomited. I curled up around the toilet, laid my head on the tile, and tried to will myself to stop shaking. I couldn’t. I was sweating all over, and the cool tile felt both miserably ice-cold and yet soothing.

Eventually, I crawled back to class, collected my things, and slowly made my way out to my car. When I finally reached the semi-privacy of my car, I broke down. I sobbed  for almost half an hour before I could pull myself together enough to drive home. I don’t know how I made it back to my apartment without getting into an accident, but somehow I managed. I walked inside and collapsed on my living room floor and laid there for hours.

At some point, my roommate got home and found me there, cradling a pillow. She asked me what was wrong, and I explained what I’d been through. When I got to the end, I started trying to belittle it. I was being melodramatic. I had just gotten myself all whooped up. I just needed to practice more self-control. My roommate stopped me. “Sam . . . I think you had a panic attack.”

A what?

I googled “panic attack,” and found the Mayo Clinic’s entry on it– and my roommate was right. I’d experienced many of the symptoms they list. I didn’t know what to make of this, as my mental framework of all mental problems being sin problems didn’t have a whole lot of room for them.

I kept having them, though, and they kept getting worse. And the triggers could be anything– there was nothing I could do to avoid them. And they were crippling. I would have hours or full days where I couldn’t do anything. One happened in class, while I was teaching, and it was all I could do to make it through the last ten minutes.

Finally, I had to go to my boss because it was severely affecting my work. She was so compassionate– she understood what I was going through. I don’t know if she had experienced it herself or had been close to someone who did, but she didn’t dismiss me. She did ask if I was seeing anyone for them, and when I said no, she offered her psychologist’s name.

I recoiled.

Go see… a psychologist? I remember staring at her, stunned. Part of me couldn’t believe she’d just recommended a secular psychologist, even though, superficially, I understood that this was a perfectly normal, kind and sympathetic response. I shook my head. “Thank you, but if I do go and see someone, I’d prefer to see a biblical counselor.”

She opened up a little bit further, giving me glimpse of her history, attempting to encourage me. At one point, she briefly mentioned that there were plenty of options for a healthy recovery, including medication. I shook my head again and interrupted her. “I’m . . . not really comfortable with taking medication. I think I can get a handle on this on my own.” I think my response surprised her as slightly out of place– her comment had been an aside, really.

I left her office, happy that I had her support and understanding, but not any closer to a solution. I knew that seeing a psychologist wasn’t the answer– the problem I was having wasn’t one they could fix, and what was medication going to do? All it could do was turn me into a passive zombie.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Several weeks later, I wasn’t any closer to an answer. I had dedicated time to meditation and prayer, looking for guidance and illumination. I’d found Bible verses and pinned them around my cubicle, reciting them under my breath as I hid in the under-construction stairwell.

One morning I woke up and looked around my room. I thought about getting up– I needed to- but I couldn’t. Not yet. Pulling back my blankets felt impossibly huge. As I lay there, I remember wishing that I never had to move again.  That morning, a thought trickled in.

I was depressed.

I had been avoiding admitting it. It had been lingering in the back of my mind, unacknowledged. I took a deep breath, and said it out loud.

“I’m depressed.”

The admission felt loud in the still quiet of my room. But, suddenly, it was like a load dropped off my chest and made it easier to breathe. The raw honesty soaked in, slowly. I went about my day, battling with myself. I wanted to dismiss what I had said out loud that morning, but I also couldn’t let it go. There was something about the rightness of what I’d said, the trueness of it, that helped me deal with what had been happening.

It was a lesson that I’ve kept on learning since then. That words have power. That they can lock– and unlock doors. They can wound, damage, cut– and they can heal. There are some words that I grew up thinking of as friendly– but now frighten or trigger me. And there are words I was taught to fear, but now are familiar.

Words like depression.

I’d been told that the word depression was a lie. No one is actually depressed– they’re just sinners, and liars. They have deceived themselves, and they’ve bought into the convenience of pretending that they can ignore their “soul-sickness” with a diagnosis.

For me, acknowledging the truth of a word set me free. I could be depressed, and while that wasn’t a healthy thing, and I couldn’t stay there forever . . . knowing what was happening and having a word for it was the first step.

Theology

the dangers of biblical counseling, part three

falling

[This is part three of a series. Here are parts one and two.]

I graduated from my fundamentalist college, and because of my circumstances really had no other option but to move back in with my parents. They had moved halfway across the country, so coming back to my parents, in some ways, wasn’t really coming “home.” As a military brat, though, I’d learned to adapt quickly so it wasn’t a big deal to me. They had found a new church– this time, there was nothing fundamentalist about it, although still conservative Baptist. During the summers, the church holds a variety of “classes” on Wednesday night, and the summer after my graduation they began a class that was an introduction to NANC– the National Association of Nouthetic Counselors (Nouthetic being just another word for biblical). NANC is one of the largest associations of biblical counselors, but they are primarily a certification program for pastors and laymen– one that they claim is “attainable for even the busiest pastor.”

However, NANC makes it supremely clear that in order to be certified, it is important for you to confirm that “your personal theological views and those of your church align with NANC’s views.” It became clear to me very quickly why this was so important to them– while NANC is not as bad as many of the other associations as far as their relationship with psychology is concerned, the certification program is really more of a theology course than anything else. And one of the elements about theology they emphasize is how vital it is to have a “correct” theology.

And that is where NANC and I part ways. Because I don’t believe that there is any such thing as a “correct” theology among men. There are a plethora of systematic theologies that have been developed by individuals or by denominations– and every single last one of them disagrees with another. I believe that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and while it is a Christian’s duty to “rightly handle the word of truth,” I don’t think that forming a “correct” systematic theology is possible. There is orthodoxy, and I think that’s as close as we can possibly get. When it comes to theology, especially, the ancient motto of “in essentials, unity, in non-essentials, liberty, in all things, charity” should be our north star.

Yesterday, when I was trying to explain to my husband why fundamentalists despise psychology so much, I realized that there are two underlying reasons:

1) Fundamentalists believe, to their core, that they have the “right” theology. This is even evidenced by their name.
2) Fundamentalists distrust and despise “humanism” and “secularism,” which they define as false, man-made religions. I was taught that even humanists think that their belief is a religion– they use the opening paragraph of the Humanist Manifesto I to prove their point.

Like most faith systems, fundamentalism is a vast network of ideas that are linked and interwoven. It’s difficult to try to pick it apart, so if I miss something, please feel free to point it out in a comment.

Fundamentalism is essentially reactionary and fear-based, and one of the biggest things they fear is science. They’ll deny that until they’re blue in the face, claiming that it’s not science they don’t like, it’s metaphysical naturalism, but they also argue that modern science is inherently naturalistic, so . . . Basically, it goes like this: fundamentalists argue that modern science is based on neo-Darwinian evolution,  and they also argue that neo-Darwinian evolution is false to the highest degree. Evolution teaches that mankind is not created in the image of God, we’re just one step above the animals. This leads science to ignoring one basic, “fundamental” truth about human beings: that we are born with a sin nature.

Therefore, anything that springs from this naturalist view of the world must be wholly wrong. This include ideas like empowerment, personal fulfillment, self-actualization, and even happiness. They believe that everything in modern psychiatry and psychology is based on Freud, who they refer to as a “perverted drug-addict.” They put blinders on and refuse to acknowledge that most (with extremely rare exceptions, but I’m not a psych student, so I can’t be absolute) modern psychologists parted ways from Freud decades ago. Modern psychology ignores the need for “repentance,” they say. They teach and believe that nearly anyone who isn’t a fundamentalist is actively destroying our nation’s “Christian principles”– like marriage:

How many marriages have been weakened or “put asunder” in the name of helping achieve empowerment or personal fulfillment? Where is their absolute stand for the foreverness of marriage and family as required by God’s holy Word? Where do such christian psychologist’s get the authority to justify encouraging divorce on the basis of abuse allegations or spousal misconduct? Why do they ignore the covenant aspect of the marriage institution? Have they forgotten that these sacred institutions of marriage and family are not secular but were ordained by God and are not to be put asunder? [emphasis added]

Many people, including those involved with A Cry For Justice, talk about how many Christians over-emphasize the importance of marriage, even in the face of abuse. Leading fundamentalist leaders, like the Perls, advocate that a woman “submit” to her husband in nearly any situation, although they don’t outright encourage staying in an abusive marriage (which, in reality, is a moot point, but I’m trying to be fair). This idea has even trickled down into mainstream contemporary Christian fiction. But fundamentalists don’t just imply this– they are overtly explicit on this point: there is never a good reason for a divorce. You can “separate” from an abusive spouse, but you are not allowed to legally divorce that person, no matter what danger that might pose to you or or your children. Because of this belief, every single fundamentalist I know will tell you to seek biblical counseling– because “secular” and “humanist” psychologists will not prioritize your marriage over your health and safety.

However, the fundamentalist approach to psychology also completely dismisses things like “repressed memories.” Now, there is still debate regarding the validity of repressed memories, even in non-Christian circles, but fundamentalists in their fervor extend this dismissal to completely valid psychological events, like dissociation  in PTSD, or the incredibly common and well-documented feeling of sexual abuse survivors, especially children, feeling “outside their body,” as if the abuse was “happening to someone else.”

Many in the church today have accepted a psychologized gospel in place of the biblical gospel. It has gotten so bad that preachers in some churches are even hiding out the adult daughters that have falsely accused their Christian parents of abuse, some of whom are preachers themselves and active in their faith. Brethren, this should not be!

How does it lift the cause of our Lord to support questionable abuse victims who testimony is based on delayed recall and without the necessary two witnesses, slandering parents in ways which defy the biblical principle decreeing honor for both our father and mother? Parents who have been given authority over us by the Lord cannot be rebelled against simply because they fail in their duties. All authority is really God’s authority and because it is, dire personal consequences attach to those who show that authority such rebellion and disrespect. [emphasis added]

I should take a moment here to make something blindingly clear: this is not a rare teaching. This horrifying idea is deeply entrenched in fundamentalist teachings about psychology. Because they dismiss “repressed memories” and “delayed recall,” this leads them to dismiss the claims of adult abuse victims who have never had the opportunity to speak out against their abuser. They tell children that they simply cannot be abused by their parents, and if they think they’re being abused, they should just be grateful for their parents “disciplining them.”

The “sufficiency of Scripture” comes into play, and to many fundamentalists, this extends to the notion that “if it’s not in the Bible, it doesn’t exist” (my inner Star Wars geek is hearing the Temple librarian, Jocasta Nu, tell Obi-Wan that “if it is not in our records, it does not exist.” And, yes… I knew all of that off the top of my head).

Search the scriptures and compare your psychology to the life of Christ. Did Jesus Christ practise any psychology when he drove out demons and healed the sick? Did he use psychology to explain sin? Not likely and the bible does say whom we are suppose to follow as Christians. Jesus said come and follow me. He warned his followers and his followers warned others of false teachings to be aware of them. See if you can find any thing in scripture that pertains to psychology. You won’t find any thing that speaks for it because if you study the scriptures the word of God maintains that we are to “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all shall be added unto us”. That means that God will give us the Spiritual Gifts that we need to reach out to others.

Just . . . so much . . . ugh. Again, solo scriptura takes over freedom and liberty, and confines fundamentalist to a narrow understanding of reality. The teaching that the “sufficiency of Scripture” extends to every single area of our life — and that we are forbidden from going “outside of Scripture” for answers. There is nothing we need that cannot be found in the Bible– going out “into the world” for help is sinful.

Another area of fundamentalist teaching I’ve talked about before. It’s the concept of dualism– the view that the physical realm is evil, but the spiritual realm is good. This leads to a disconnect between our minds and our bodies to a fundamentalist– the idea that our mind can affect our bodies, but our bodies cannot affect our mind. We can get ulcers from being stressed, but getting ulcers doesn’t cause stress. Our mental “strongholds” can give us bi-polor disorder, which can in turn be reflected in chemical imbalances, but chemical imbalances are not the cause of bi-polar disorder. It’s not a two-way street, to a fundamentalist.

Which is just crazy.

All of this is bat-shit insane, in fact. And absolutely terrifying. Teachings like this come to fruition in places like Sovereign Grace Ministries, or Mars Hill, or Calvary Chapel, or Bill Gothard’s ATI, or Bob Jones University.

If there is anything else that you’ve experienced in fundamentalist– or even just plain evangelicalism– please share. I can in no way be exhaustive, but this is an important area of teaching that the church needs an immense amount of healing.

Theology

the dangers of biblical counseling, part two

falling

[This is part two in a series. You can read part one here.]

Like most teenage girls, I did a smattering of baby sitting. There were only a few families in our fundamentalist church-cult who had young children, and most of the babysitting opportunities went to the pastor’s daughters, but I did, occasionally get my chance. One of the ladies that I baby sat for with any frequency was Laura*. Most of the time, with other families, I baby sat for “date night,” but when I baby sat for Laura it was often in the middle of the day. She would call and ask if I could come over, and then she would go out. Sometimes, she would work on getting house work done while I watched the kids. Other times, she would go into her bedroom and shut the door for a few hours.

She never asked the pastor’s daughters to baby sit. I didn’t really understand why, but I loved her kids so I never asked.

One afternoon she was visiting with my mom while I entertained the kids in the living room, and I overheard snatches of their conversation. It was the first time I’d ever heard the term bi-polar, and I had no idea what it meant. From context, I understood it to be some sort of mental . . . thing. I didn’t have the vocabulary to talk about things like disability or illness. She had gone to the leader of our cult about her struggles, and he had told her to go off her medication. I remember that she started to cry at this point, telling my mom that she had gone off her medication, but it had made everything so much harder. She didn’t know how to cope, and she wanted to go back on her meds– she asked my mom what she should do. She was confused, distraught– she wanted to do the “right thing,” but she didn’t really think that her bi-polar disorder was sin in her life she hadn’t dealt with. She’d been divorced and re-married– was God punishing her for that?

My mom has never been one for giving advice– she listens, and tries to empower people to make their own decisions. It’s one of the most beautiful things about my mother, that she never gave in to the culture of elder women “teaching” the younger– in reality, giving younger women a legalistic, formulaic list. She listened to Laura, and eventually Laura decided to go back on her meds– for her own sanity.

Laura did go back on her meds. Somehow, the leader of our cult found out about it, and within a matter of weeks Laura and her family were gone.

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

My junior year in college I took a class called Educational Psychology– which, I found out later, was only called that so that students who graduated with an education degree could try to get a teaching license. In reality, the focus of the class was only on summarizing the history of educational psychology and giving hundreds of reasons why all the teaching methods based on psychology were hideously, perniciously wrong. Their answer to “psychology in the classroom” was just to mete out more punishments. The only project I had to do for the class was write a paper explaining my “philosophy of classroom discipline.”

The main textbook for the class was, unsurprisingly, Why Christians Can’t Trust Psychology. I read it, and to my shame swallowed it hook, line, and sinker. At this point in my life, my mother had decided to seek counseling for depression. They had just moved across the country, and she was still deeply struggling with the ramifications of being viciously attacked in our church-cult for years. She told me this right after I’d finished reading this book, and in a fit of anxiety I told her to make sure she found a biblical counselor, and not to go to someone with a secular degree. They couldn’t help you– they’ll only make the problem worse.

The book’s jacket description is fairly vague, offering a bunch of different questions that are representative of various viewpoints. But, here’s some of the positive reviews from goodreads:

A must read for ANY Christian. It truly explains how psychology has NO business in the church or the lives of Christians and confirms completely that God’s Word alone is sufficient to help us with all of our supposed “mental health” issues. Sin needs to be called sins, not diseases.

I just love that mental health is in quotation marks.

I had to read this book for the first Biblical Counseling class I took, and it really influenced the way I looked at psychology. I had always sort of distrusted much of psychology, but this book opened my eyes to specific ways in which it is unbiblical. It also pointed out areas where it has crept into the church, to our great detriment.

From anecdotal experience and what I’ve been told, this book shows up in a lot of counseling/psychology classes at evangelical colleges, even ones that are more “liberal” than the fundamentalist college I attended. Here’s another review from amazon:

This is an eye-opener. Dr. Ed Bulkley has written a book that should be read and taught in every ministry training school, or church. As a devoted student of God’s word, I have always approached secular psychology with an air caution. Now, I have greater reason and sound documentation to remain cautious.

The overarching theme of the book that is painstakingly clear is that “psychology is unbiblical and dangerous,” and from the fact that most of the reviews were positive, most readers seem to think that this opinion is just fine and dandy. Most of the reviews reflect one simple principle:

The Bible is all we need for life.

This perspective actually has a name: solo scripturaThis theological position is different from the typical Protestant orthodox view of sola scriptura. Solo scriptura is very, very common among fundamentalists. They reject the regula fidei, they reject any notion of the creeds. They have no need to pay attention to the church fathers, or even modern, respected theologians and apologeticists. If they even acknowledge the existence of men like Clement, Augustine, Calvin, Luther, Wesley, Lewis, or Schaeffer, they are as passing references and treated with an extreme amount of suspicion– especially the early church fathers, who are perceived as being “Catholic.” Reason and emotion are swept aside– the only thing the matters is the Bible.

This results in a complete dismissal of the validity of things like mental illness, mental disorders, and depression. These things become nothing more than “sin problems.” Much like Job’s friends, fundamentalists view any sort of mental problem as being strictly a matter of the person not being “right with God.” You’re not really struggling with depression– you’re just bitter. You aren’t ADD– you just weren’t spanked enough as a child. You’re not bi-polar, you lack temperance and are prideful. You just need to get over yourself and learn some self-control. Or, among hardcore fundamentalists, sometimes mental illness (especially schizophrenia) isn’t a matter of sin– you’re demon possessed. Most commonly, you’ve let Satan build a “stronghold” in your life.

I believed all of these things. I pontificated about how ADD and ADHD are over-diagnosed and these kids are just a bunch of stubborn, willful, spoiled rotten brats. I believed that depression was simply a lack of self-control, and if those pansies just sucked it up and dealt with their bad feelings like a grown-up, no one would have a problem. I dismissed things like “chemical imbalances” wholesale. Rolled my eyes at PTSD. Scorned medication as merely a patch on a deeper soul problem.

While I was in the grip of these beliefs, I could not see anything in my life clearly. I struggled with mild panic attacks and depression– but they only confused me. I had no idea what was happening– nausea could stay on me for days, and I lost 30 pounds over the course of a few months. My heart would start to feel like it was about to explode, and even though it frightened me, I had no resources to understand it. All I ever wanted to do was sleep, and it took mountains of effort to even communicate with someone. Just a few words could be exhausting, at times. I felt sick, tired, and achy every single day. I was only suicidal once, but I very dangerously dismissed those thoughts as insignificant. A friend who knew better than me asked me to give her all of my prescription pain relievers– and I did, but I felt silly and idiotic for doing it.

But, I had no idea that these are textbook symptoms of depression. And because I had been robbed of the ability to identify these things, I couldn’t even see that I had a problem. This was just life now.

Feminism

guarding your heart and victim blaming

[trigger warning for abuse and rape]

guard heart

Her.meneutics recently ran an article titled “Guard your Heart” doesn’t mean Christians can’t date. It was interesting, and I think worth reading. Didn’t say a whole lot that was particularly new to me, but it made me moderately happy to see thoughts like these running on a “mainstream” discussion outlet.

What really caught my attention was in the comments. The amazing Dianna Anderson pointed out a few statements in the article that had left me with a bad aftertaste I couldn’t identify, but tasted familiar. There are moments when I read something, and it just… feels off somehow, but I don’t know what it is. Dianna hit the nail on the head, beginning by quoting the statements that had just not felt right to me:

“‘A number of my female friends learned to guard their hearts from a parent after years of emotional abuse. Until they did so, they were wracked with shame and insecurity. Their wellsprings were not life giving, but toxic.‘ That’s pretty victim-blamey. So’s this: “Unwise dating relationships can have a similar effect. When a woman gives her heart too freely to men who might abuse it, she endangers the wellspring of her soul.” A woman being vulnerable is not the reason she gets hurt by other people. A woman gets hurt by other people BECAUSE OTHER PEOPLE CHOOSE TO HURT HER. End of.”

Two thumbs up to Dianna. I couldn’t have said it better. But, then there was this response, from Sharon Miller, the author of the article:

“Dianna, I am curious about how and where you locate personal agency. “Victim” is not an identity we should ever use to label a person’s identity. Even when a person is totally victimized by another, they have agency in how they respond to the victimization. Labeling women as complete and utter victims, to my mind, is the most agency-robbing thing we can do. What’s more, it leaves no space for acknowledging personal folly or sin. While some women are victimized due to no fault of their own, being hurt by a man does not, by definition, make a woman a victim.” [emphasis added]

Oy vey.

My reaction to Sharon’s comment was visceral, and immediate. I could instantly feel myself recoiling, and even now, as I’m writing this, I’m having to fight back nausea. A headache is fluttering around the edges of my vision. I don’t want to write about this– I don’t want to touch this with a ten-foot pole, but I have to. Not just for me, but for every woman I’ve ever known who has been damaged by teachings like this one.

First, let me start out by acknowledging that there can be power, for some, in adopting a “victory over the victim mentality.” I know, because it helped my mother who experienced a lifetime of abuse. Throwing off the “victim label,” as she puts it, allowed her to begin the healing process. She refused to be defined by what had happened to her, or limited by it. She didn’t want to see herself as a victim, because, to her, that gave her abuser more power over her, even though he was gone.  She was done with letting him control her thoughts and her actions, her emotions and her responses. She wanted no more of it.  Claiming “victory” allowed her to do that.

But, for me, being instructed by pastors and teachers and professors and counselors that I needed to take responsibility for my “personal folly and sin” left me broken, damaged, lost, and confused for three long years after my abusive relationship ended. I desperately wanted– and “desperate” isn’t a strong enough word, here– to do the right thing. I wanted to be the kind of girl I had been taught to be. I needed to acknowledge responsibility for my own actions, repent for my own sin. Of course, John* had sinned against me, he had abused me–but that didn’t mean that I was a perfect person. There were still things that I could have done better, lessons that I could learn from my mistakes.

That mentality nearly destroyed me.

For the first month after John had broken our engagement, I was determined that I could change. I could make myself a better person– someone more worthy of him. He was right — I hadn’t been submissive enough. I’d been stubborn. I’d had the sheer arrogance to tell him what he could and couldn’t do (like he couldn’t call me a “God damn fucking bitch,” or like telling him it would be a bad idea for him to quit his job, my trust fund isn’t supposed to pay for his college education). I was determined to mold myself into the woman he needed me to be– to take responsibility for what I had done wrong, to own it.

After it became clear to me that getting back with him would be a horrendously bad idea, I still tried to take responsibility for what I had done wrong. To this day, thinking back to some of the situations that I “allowed” myself to be in, that I spent three years “taking responsibility for” make me sick. I have literally vomited when I thought back to some of the things “I had done.” I can’t speak about some of these incidents without bordering on hysteria and panic, the shame is so powerful and overwhelming. Some of them, I will never be able to talk about without anyone. I . . . can’t. Reliving some of those memories are painful enough that they leave me feeling violated and crippled all over again. The mental gymnastics I go through to never have to think about those moments can be exhausting.

Two memories, in particular, are so horrific to me that they created a deep phobia I’d never had before the abuse. They happened in two different bathrooms, so to this day I have a deep-seated need to have an utterly immaculate, bleached from top-to-bottom, scrubbed-within-an-inch-of-my-life bathroom. If it’s not clean, it’s like an itch, or a weight dragging me down. Not having a clean bathroom creates an insidious feeling inside of me that I’m the dirty one.

Eventually I began having mild to severe panic attacks, more and more things were triggering me, and it took me a long time to see it but I was depressed– nearly suicidal, at several points. I couldn’t tell which way was up, and “owning my mistakes” and “taking responsibility for my sin and folly” were tearing me apart.

It was my husband, then my boyfriend, that first helped me see the truth. It was the first time he had ever seen me triggered. I’d told him, very briefly, that my ex had been abusive and had raped me. But I didn’t tell him the things I was struggling with, so the first time I was triggered and ended up in the middle of a full-blown panic attack, I expected him to abandon me. I expected him to see me for the broken, damaged woman I saw myself as and run away screaming.

Instead, he held me, smoothed my hair, let me shake and cry and rock until the panic subsided, and he was quiet. He didn’t say anything, just touched me and comforted me. When the panic attack was over, I started trying to explain what had happened, and I was using the only words I knew how to communicate– the words of victim-shaming. The words that placed fifty percent of the blame solidly on my shoulders. The words that took responsibility for my sin, that tried to do what I’d been taught was the “Christian” thing.

He would have none of it. He stopped me in the middle of a sentence, made me look him square in the eye, and he said these words:

This was not your fault.

I protested. I denied it. I told him, well, of course, not everything was my fault, but there was still things that happened that I was to blame. He stopped me– again, gently taking my chin in his hand and wiping my tears away.

No. This is Not. Your. Fault. You have nothing to be ashamed of. 

I couldn’t accept the truth in that. I couldn’t see it– I had been so completely blinded by the Christian rhetoric of victim-shaming that I was trapped into a mentality that told me it was sin, that I was a sinner and therefore culpable. But my husband took me into his arms and told me, simply, that I was not responsible for what had happened to me. That John had taken some of my strongest qualities– my loyalty, my stubbornness, my dedication, my commitment, my inability to surrender or give up– he had taken all of those things and used them against me.

John had sought to control, dominate, and abuse– and the abuse kept me living in fear. The choices I had made were not really choices at all– telling myself that I should have kept fighting, even after John had torn a gash in my knee with his watch and put his hand over my throat, that it was a choice to submit to him– ignored the very real threat I was under. He had me so mentally twisted and living in so much fear that doing something out of self-preservation was not a “choice” I made. It was not “folly.”

My healing began when I realized that I was a victim of abuse. That there was absolutely nothing that I needed to “take responsibility for.” That I, in fact, did NOT have the “agency in how I responded” to the abuse.

The abuse I suffered was not some perverted form of heavenly punishment for my sin. The shame and guilt were not the result of my conscience, or the “pricking of the Holy Spirit”– they were caused by damaging indoctrination I’d been put through that told me from ever single angle– from modesty and purity teachings down the line to complementarian rhetoric— that being a woman makes me responsible for any abuse directed toward me.

It was not my fault, and it’s not your fault either.