Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Sweet Like Poison

There's nothing worse to deal with than a phony.

Among those of you who read here regularly, there's probably little gray area for you guys about my disdain for pretense. Spending most of my adult life either directly (as a touring musician) or indirectly (as a studio musician) involved in the Christian music industry, Lord knows I've seen my share of pretense and phoniness - from the grossly inflated egos built on no tangible talent equity to the "Praise the Lord" on-stage and "Show me the money" off-stage mentality of a lot of people in the business. I'm sad to say, these days, when I get a call to play on a record, sometimes its more than a little deflating to learn that it's for a gospel artist. In my experience, secular artists are much more professional and about a million times easier to deal with. No secular artist that I've dealt with, from weekend warriors to some old Opry stars, has ever given me a rubber check, has ever come at me with mega-ego, or ever pretended to be something they weren't. Don't get me wrong - they're people just like everyone else, but they're just fortunate and wise that they don't let their faith (and yes, many of them are people of faith) cloud their personality and life. Generally, in my experience, they are who they are.

While I'm not nearly as involved in music as I have been, and hope to pretty much get OUT of it save for isolated scenarios, I feel pretty confident that (as a matter of conscience and stress) in the miracle event that I were to ever tour with someone again, it'll be a secular artist and not a Christian music artist.

hypocrite: 1) a person who pretends to have virtues, moral or religious beliefs, principles, etc., that he or she does not actually possess, especially a person whose actions belie stated beliefs. 2) a person who feigns some desirable or publicly approved attitude, especially one whose private life, opinions, or statements belie his or her public statements.

The P/QF system of belief doesn't measure up too well against these definitions. Not so much the first definition (although it applies to many P/QFers), but the second. The whole mentality of "keeping sweet" and "being godly", of living from the outside-in, is hypocrisy of the highest order. It's a shame. There's already enough pretense in Christianity without this entirely hypocritical sect arising.

hypocrisy: 1) a pretense of having a virtuous character, moral or religious beliefs or principles, etc., that one does not really possess. 2) a pretense of having some desirable or publicly approved attitude.

And just so we're all on the same page...

pretense: 1) pretending or feigning; make-believe 2) a false show of something 3) a piece of make-believe

Many of you already know this, but a few days ago, Quivering Daughters was reviewed at Christianity Today. It was a great review which will hopefully get the book and its message into the hands and hearts of more people. The review pointed out the resistance that Quivering Daughters had encountered, notably the gals over at Steadfast Daughters - and it didn't reflect favorably on our old friend Stacy and her fangirls. It didn't take long before Stacy showed up in the comments, defending herself, blaming all of it (the abuses within the patriarchal paradigm) on the poor attitudes and misperceptions of the abused. She coated it, as usual, in all of the ooey-gooey "Christian" goodness and sweetness she could fake muster. Hypocrisy.

From what I understand, most of those at the forefront of these movements present this ooey-gooey sweetness as they publically face their opposition - but it's a thin veneer. Get on their bad side, and they'll attempt to harass your pastor and church leadership, ultimately desiring to have you excommunicated and essentially deposed in your "Christian" status by your church's governing authority (as if church government has the final say on your faith and "standing" with God). If they can do this, they can then pursue legal action against you "biblically", being you're no longer their brother or sister. These people are snakes. Sometimes I feel like they should take the line of some actors - "I'm not a Christian, but I play one in my church, on my blog, at homeschooling conferences, and when I need to sell a book or something."

For many of them, it's simply all an act. Where Stacy's concerned, she let me know via email a while back that there'd be no discussion of anything with me until we could all act like Christians (translation - until I can be equally as phony and "sweet" as her in our communication). There's height and width (they can spout lots of bible verses - yes, out of context and with unique and legalistic spins) but no depth. There's exterior "sweetness" but interior emotional wastelands. It's a two-dimensional way to live. It's all about the outside.

But this whole mindset trickles down to the bottom of the totem-pole (and if you're a young woman in a P/QF home, trust me, you're on the bottom). The idea that you always have to wear this dressing of "sweetness", even when most of the time you have to fake it, isn't an idea that comes from anything Christ taught. Christ taught us to live truthfully, to be just, and to allow the Holy Spirit to alter us from the inside out. To go though life, getting out of bed and splashing on a happy face, speaking in a "sweet" voice, and feigning a gentle, demure disposition - even when life calls for something other than those things - is to be a fraud. It's like trying to enhance the interior of a room by putting beautiful drapes on the outside of the window, outside of the house. It does nothing.

I once had the following exchange with my ex (paraphrased)...

Me: (indignant) What your father is doing is evil. He's being an idiot. It needs to be dealt with and it needs to stop.
Her: (offended) Lew, we need to be godly in discussing this...
Me: (indignant) Ok. What your father is doing is evil. He's being an idiot. It needs to be dealt with and it needs to stop.

She was taught that any natural human reaction was something less than "godly", as if God created us with hearts incapable of anything other than the most vile of vile thoughts and motivations. The example of Jesus was apparently NEVER a part of her training. God gave us our emotions for GOOD reasons. Anger and indignation aren't sin. They're TOOLS. Yes, we can sin under their influence, but God placed those things in us for a purpose. Anger and indignation are the natural response of God to injustice. Jesus spoke harshly and pointedly to religious hypocrites, and once found cause to do some property damage...and there was no sin found in Him. I doubt He did any of these things with syrupy sweetness or a smiling face. He probably had a tight brow, clinched jaw, and anger in His eyes. He may have even dared to physically point His finger. And, again, there was no sin found in Him.

I'm not saying that it's ok to go and cuss somebody out, call people names, or punch someone in the face just because you're mad. Not at all. I'm saying that ANY branch of Christianity that teaches you to either fear or invalidate your own feelings and emotions is legalistic, authoritarian, and downright ignorant. What Christ's example and all of the books of the bible I've read teach is to be able to discern and understand your emotions - not to be afraid of them, not to invalidate them, and not to be a slave to them - but to use them as the tools they are and act with wisdom when you experience them. Wisdom doesn't say "my heart is inherently evil" or "emotions are bad", therefore leading you to ignore them and put on a "happy face" in every situation. Legalism does this, and the people who invalidate their emotions and "stay sweet" are the fruit of legalistic thinking and teaching, their souls raped and stripped of their personhood.

My ex's family (and now, my ex herself) has hypocrisy down to a science. They'll smile at you, tell you they love you, then lie through their teeth like snakes to you...all while still smiling at you. They'll stab you in the back, but they'll stay sweet by following it up with "God's blessings to you - we wish you well" or by ending an email with "Blessings" or some other Christianese. Oh, they've got all the physical mechanics of their "faith" perfected - the Christianese, the "love yous", the "Blessings", the forced smiles, the feigned sweetness - but it's all empty, because they may not really know Christ at all, they don't love you and they genuinely consider you expendable, and they don't really give a rat's ass if you're blessed or not, and in fact, if you oppose them in even trivial ways, they'd genuinely rather see you cursed. P/QF breeds paranoia, breeds religious addiction, breeds defensiveness, breeds hypocrisy, breeds emotional ignorance, and worst of all, can breed emotional selfishness (and this isn't meant as a condemnation - I realize that people whose emotional needs have never been properly met have to seek ways to survive while still in the movement).

My ex's family was like a group of really bad actors playing the role of "Christians", and doing so in the over-the-top way that egotistical bad actors often do, in a jack-legged local theater production of "Christianity" written by an ignorant legalist. They're all wrapped up in the show, and the show must go on, regardless of people getting hurt...whether on stage or in the audience. The irony is, at its origin, "hypocrite" meant "stage actor", from where the idea of "pretending to be someone you aren't" arose.

They're "sweet" alright.

P/QF is a kissing cousin to fundamentalist Mormonism (you'll find common strains of legalistic and ignorant thinking in all branches of fundamentalist religion). Look at the "keep sweet" mentality of fundamentalist Mormon abuses here and here. Some of the quotes from Rulon Jeffs in the first article are insane...but they aren't that far removed from P/QF thinking...

''I want you all to understand the continual use of the two words ''keep sweet'' means keep the Holy Spirit of the Lord, until you are full of it."

(Those last six words there are a gift from the God of sarcasm - but I'll allow self-control to get the better of me)

''Keeping sweet no matter what is a matter of life or death as we approach the day of the great judgments that are to go over the earth. . . Let us get it and keep it. You don't turn it off and on. It must be a permanent thing in our very nature, and a part of our character. The attributes of the Holy Spirit of God are what make God what He is. God is Priesthood; Priesthood is God with us, represented by his servant.''

What a bunch of BS. Not so much the substance of what he's saying (after the first line, anyway), but rather the fact that what he's saying, in practical application by those in his cult, has no substance. These people were keeping it on simply because the cult didn't allow them to turn it off. Just like in P/QF, learned, empty, repetitive, cultic human behaviors are confused with the genuine work of the Spirit in the life of a believer.

The first comment below the article says...

And this is why some FLDS men and boys have a god complex because they hold the priesthood......

Sounds like the patriarchal priestcraft I know.

The second article quotes Carolyn Jessop, an escapee of the Jeffs cult...

"Warren Jeffs had our community in a chokehold. I noticed that people's faces now seemed devoid of expression. It was as if they were afraid even to look like they might be thinking. The life seemed drained from their faces. They acted as if emotions had been outlawed. People were determined to 'keep sweet' even if it killed them. There was no arguing or questioning. But by 'keeping sweet' we lost all our power."

And this is something you see over and over with young women who escape patriarchy. Sometimes it takes them years to begin to merely feel anything, or to learn to process their emotions without fear of them, having grown up learning by repetition to invalidate and ignore their emotions and "keep sweet" to be "godly". Some may struggle with it for life. It cuts deep.

My friend Mara shared some excellent thoughts on this here a while back.

The whole idea of putting on the "sweet" exterior, the forced smiles, and the feigned niceness reminds me of what Christ said in Matthew 23...

What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are so careful to clean the outside of the cup and the dish, but inside you are filthy—full of greed and self-indulgence! You blind Pharisee! First wash the inside of the cup and the dish, and then the outside will become clean, too. What sorrow awaits you teachers of religious law and you Pharisees. Hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs—beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity. Outwardly you look like righteous people, but inwardly your hearts are filled with hypocrisy and lawlessness.

And such is the outside-in approach of P/QF, the two-dimensional religious lifestyle. If you're gonna eviscerate people through your cultic teachings and religiously addicted way of life, wearing a smile and saying "God bless you" while doing it doesn't make you any less of a hypocrite and religious snake.

To young people in the P/QF movement, don't be the fraud, the phony, the hypocrite that these teachings will demand you be. You'll only be sweet like poison.

Be you, sweet or otherwise.


  1. The more I read about these people the more I thank God that I was raised in the Lutheran church where we know that we are saved by grace and don't have all this legalism to deal with. I know if some one approached my pastor or the leader of our congregation (who's a woman by the way) and told them I was not following "God's Rules" they would look at them like the person was crazy.

  2. "Those last six words there are a gift from the God of sarcasm - but I'll allow self-control to get the better of me"

    You mean, he forgot the 'sh'?

  3. The last two paragraphs are actually quite awesome, Lewis. In a back-handed way, when a young person in this movement becomes "the real you" they may just get the pleasure of seeing what P/QF is all about.

    The reaction to real emotion in this crap is just like a viper striking when the prey or predator gets too close - lightning quick, precise, and sometimes deadly.

  4. Your take on "staying sweet" is excellent. Great harm is done to those of us who are told to ignore our emotions as children. This was done in my house, and it had nothing to do with religion. Yet it did real harm to me. It took a failed marriage and another disaster of a relationship to realize that if I just went along, essentially "staying sweet", that when I woke up one morning unhappy and told my mate, they wouldn't understand and that in and of itself truly harms a relationship.

    Also, I like that you're comparing P/QF to FLDS. I have always thought this myself and I'm glad to see someone else calling them out on it. I think minus the polygamy the 2 have essentially the same results.

  5. you, know, Lewis - you just hit on one of the things most victims of [any/all] abuse have in common...

    either they "turn off" emotions entirely, and then spend months or years in therapy learning what emotions even ARE, or they never gain control of their emotions at all, instead learning how to APPEAR to not have them while being utterly terrified someone will "catch" them feeling in some proscribed way.

    they look exactly the same from the outside, and sometimes even the person with the problem doesn't know which is which [take me - for years, i went thru therapy to "learn" how to have emotions, because i thought i'd turned them all off. 7 years later, a new therapist said to me "why do you think you can't feel? it's not that you *can't*, it's that you hide it away so no one can see it and use it against you. no wonder you aren't getting past this point - you're working on the wrong thing!" and it was true - i FELT, but i didn't know WHAT i felt, only that no one, NO ONE, could know. it MUST be secret, because i'd learned very early that me feeling anything was going to get me hurt - but i didn't shut off, i repressed, and then became so terrified of what would happen if i *didn't* repress, that i became unable to EXpress - to the point where even some psychiatrists thought i'd "turned off". it probably would have been easier to fix if i HAD turned off, sigh]

    given that this is so - it's INCREDIBLY messed up that the first thing most people are taught, in these "religions", is to either "turn off" or "completely repress" - like, they've inverted the order of abuse, while keeping the SUBSTANCE of abuse the same.

    there's something just a bit sick in expecting those you abuse to inflict one of the worst symptoms of abuse on *themselves* in order to be "worthy" of the abuse itself!

    i scare quote "religions" because MY definition of religion is something along the lines of "a way to believe in and work for GOD" - and so far as i can tell, God isn't anywhere NEAR these quasi-religions; they've shut Him/Her* out, along with every single good thing about Christianity.

    *God is Omnipotent - i'm expected to believe that She can't be female when She wants to be? PLEASE! God is whatever God wants to be. or, as one funny book ["God; The Ultimate Autobiography"] put it, "God the Father, God the Son, God the Mother, God the Second Cousin Twice Removed, God, Your College Roomate's Brother's Girlfriend's Kid Sister..."

  6. Ugh I HATED the phoniness!! My mom would sound all sweet and syrupy on the phone, but be mad at us...or how the whole family would be nice to other people and once they were gone, criticize the hell out of them. It was awful.

  7. No wonder you call them snakes.


  8. No matter how much sugar (keep sweet) you add to poison, it will kill you.
    Just ask the dead ants that were trying to infest my house. We fed them boric acid sweetened with sugar.
    If they were alive and had a voice, they'd tell you, sweet poison will kill you faster than unsweet. Because people are less tempted by the unsweetened version.
    Thanks for the mention, Lewis