Tuesday, February 14, 2012

The Outhouse

In response to the Halfway House post, a few people have made inquiries as to how I feel the Halfway House mentality should be handled and dealt with, both from an individual perspective and from a church perspective. Before I share my thoughts, they should be qualified with my lack of qualification. I'm not a professional counselor, and my commentary here comes from my own observations and life experiences, as well as the observations and life experiences of others.

First, from the church perspective...

It should be at the forefront of our awareness that, in cases of people who chose to become involved with VF, Gothard, or other fringe fundamentalist groups (such as the Christian homeschooling movement), they did so from cultural fear and religious paranoia - which is also at the foundation of their religious addiction. Spiritually healthy people don't choose to get involved in fringe fundamentalist groups. Fearful people, looking for a religious fix, looking for a religious structure, looking for a magic formula that requires nothing more than their adherence to its rules, living in utter fear of "the world", are the people that flock to fringe fundamentalism.

It should also be noted that 2nd generation Gothardites, VFers, and fringe fundamentalists, while not having chosen these beliefs for themselves, have been thoroughly indoctrinated with cultural fear and religious paranoia and, as a result, are usually religious addicts themselves.

No one leaving Gothard or VF (or a similar group), but still trying to be a "biblical Christian", is free from religious addiction. It's impossible. ALL of us of faith deal with religious addiction to varying degrees. How much moreso those who come out of movements that literally thrive on it?

Any church looking to minister to the Halfway House mentality can only do so by taking the drug away. In other words, it can't be a religious endeavor. Some of the same ideas expressed here would apply. Freedom, freedom, and more freedom. It's only when personal discipline and self-control become a priority that fear and formula can be chased away with knowledge, and personal discipline and self-control are the enemy of religious formula, which means that people coming out of fringe groups are usually inexperienced or ill-equipped in these areas, usually having had considerable amounts of knowledge strategically withheld from them - replaced with manufactured "fact". To borrow a quote from my favorite basketball coach, Dean Smith, the only truly free person is a disciplined person. Also worth noting, the most often overlooked fruit of the Holy Spirit is SELF-control. Room for growth in these areas would be key.

What this would look like in practice, or how this would be accomplished, I can't say. I'm not afraid to say "I don't know", because I genuinely don't know. Some of what I write below needs to be considered as well, because a church needs to be aware of the personal needs of these folk...

From a personal perspective...

I don't come from a fringe fundamentalist movement or background - even if there was more fundamentalism there than I'd care to admit. Even so, the last couple of years have been challenging for me as I've dealt with, and continue to deal with, my own religious addictions.What I'm gonna write is the way I, personally, have dealt with things. I can't promise you the same will work for you. I can only say it's the path I've chosen. If it means anything, it's probably the only thing that's allowed me to hang on to any semblance of faith given what I've seen over the last few years - both in my brush with fundamentalist nutjobs and in Christianity at large. So here goes...

You have to wipe the slate clean and start over.

When I say "wipe the slate clean and start over", I mean wipe everything away right down to a foundation. For me that foundation was and is my belief that Jesus Christ is the doorway to God, that I should love God,  love my neighbor, be honest in ALL things, and do right by other people regardless of the expense. Everything else, every sacred cow of my belief system, was and is fair game for a BBQ.

I had to come to see that regardless of what came from my lips, my life was largely a worship service for the biblical canon or for the maintenance of a particular conservative (even if not "fundie" conservative) religious culture. God just kept getting left with the tab or the blame.

I had to come to see just how many things I'd rather blindly accepted, in essence allowing other men (and women) to determine my core beliefs on my behalf. For instance, anything in the New Testament that isn't a Gospel or the book of Acts wasn't written to or for me. It was written to specific people (with names like Timothy, Titus, the Corinthians, et cetera) at specific points in history to deal with specific issues - which were often unique to the recipients. Other men determined FOR us hundreds of years ago that those letters are to us, too, and today fundamentalism continues to make that determination on our behalf. I prefer to trust God's Spirit within me to make known to me what is and isn't for me. I reject the unilateral determinations of other men. Any church, movement, person, or belief system that doesn't allow for God to speak to you, individually, is unhealthy, and you should avoid it - especially when non-essentials, which make up just about everything that modern Christianity hangs its hat on, are the issue. Fighting a cultural war and living out genuine faith in Christ are two distinctly and dramatically different things which modern Christianity confuse with each other. 

I had to say adios to my fears, including the fear of questioning God. If God is so insecure that He can't handle questions, even pointed questions, particularly from someone genuinely wanting to learn and grow, then He wouldn't be worth my faith. I had to lose any and all fear regarding non-Christian culture, understanding that the vast majority of ALL people, both of and not of faith, are seeking truth, seeking love, and seeking peace. Some are just closer to finding it than others, and any God worth my faith loves them all, no matter where they are on their journey. The fear that society at large is out to destroy Christianity, while ignorant, is a powerful force. I had to come to see it as what it is - a lie. There are radicals in every sector who want to destroy all the other sectors (which is why they're called "radicals"), but they're a minority of humanity. I also had to come to see Christian radicals as equally as dangerous as the rest - because they are.

I had to come to see that Jesus never promised us a "bible", but rather promised us the Holy Spirit to lead us into all truth. I had to stop using "the bible" as a spiritual pacifier, the be all and end all of my existence. 

I wrote a bit about my own journey and motivations a while back in Examination.

The funny thing is, remember that foundation I talked about earlier..."my belief that Jesus Christ is the doorway to God, that I should love God,  love my neighbor, be honest in ALL things, and do right by other people regardless of the expense"? I've added next to nothing to it, because I've discovered that there's literally next to nothing of substance to add to it. The foundation, itself, IS the house. All else is non-essential, and leads right back to religious addiction at the drop of a hat.

Had I not experienced the things I've experienced over the last few years, and had I been unwilling to wipe the slate clean all the way down to the foundation, I'd probably still be floundering in my own religious addictions, and I'd be susceptible to the same teachings/teachers that appeal to the Halfway House mentality. 

It's a long journey. Take a break now and then. Be willing to give religion, and religiosity, the proverbial finger. Search for truth, and be willing to accept it in whatever form you find it. The thing is, if the Holy Spirit is what leads us into all truth, a search for truth is an invitation for God to join you whether you realize it or not.

Don't be afraid.


  1. Either our faith can handle this kind of introspection and questioning, or it can't. If it can't handle the questions our own minds can come up with, it probably cannot handle the more difficult circumstances in life we have not experienced or are too afraid to ask. Does that make an athiest stronger than a Christian? No. It merely means they arrived at a different conclusion. We'll either find out who was right when we're dead or we won't find out at all.

  2. Well said, Lewis.

  3. Lewis - I figured I should come out of lurker-dom and introduce myself. I have been reading your site for some time now. I can't even remember how I found it - but I am sure it had to do with my ongoing interest in brainwashing, mind control, and cults. You have created an extraordinary archive here. I am really impressed with your writing style (first of all), and also your excellent eye. By that I mean, your ability to discern small ups and downs of human behavior - that "give away" when someone is lying, or being dishonest, or being suppressed. Your observation about the Purity Ball girl on Anderson Cooper slowly rocking back and forth is a prime example. You do really really good work here, Lewis. And the strength of a post like this one - with your own personal revelations - it takes real courage. I am sure you have helped a lot of people. I like your brain. I grew up Catholic, in a big Irish Catholic family, but religious fanaticism and addiction is not in my background. However, the power of manipulation and the sensitivity of the mind to subtle suggestions has always been fascinating to me. Critical thinking is one of our most valuable assets as human beings. Anyway: I felt I had to step out of the shadows and say Thanks.

    1. I appreciate the encouragement, Sheila. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Lewis,

    Wow, this post has given me a lot to think about! I'm really excited that you are able to be this honest about what you think and where you stand.

    I have been really curious in the past about your thoughts on which Biblical books are written "to us." I wonder if you wouldn't mind explaining some of your thoughts? It's something that I'm wrestling with too, really struggling with in fact, so I love hearing other people's thoughts on it.

    I agree that if you look at all the LETTERS, historically, they were written TO specific people (i.e. the address does not read, "to future Christians at large"). So, that being the case, is it still possible that those letters, being written with Christ's life and ministry in mind, could still have value to us today as modeling Godly principles? And how do you sort out which parts are good Godly principles that we all should pay attention to, and which parts are so specific to the audience they were written to that they shouldn't be applied?

    N. T. Wright once said that he thinks Paul (and all the other letter-writers) were somewhat aware that they were writing something authoritative. Not that they thought they were writing a rulebook for living, or that they actually envisioned "The New Testament." But he thinks they were at least somewhat aware that God was using them to speak a message that was, in some way, timeless like scripture. I think he would argue that the letters should thus be taken in context, but not completely dismissed from having relevance to our lives here and now.

    This is something I am really struggling to grasp. I can see the arguments on both sides. :/

    Regular Anonymous Visitor

  5. lewis, i've wanted to thank you for sharing your story & say that you are a very courageous man to share so honestly. i haven't been following your blog until recently and i want to say that i am sad to what has happened to you. what was done to you was really bad but i don't see you as bad. i also don't think any less of you for what you've shared with us now and over the yrs. i'd also like to say that no man should treat anybody how your ex & her family has treated you.

    i didn't come from a fundy cultic gothard background. my family is non religious but they love God. @ 18yrs, i began with pure & simple quest for truth & the Holy Spirit led me to God. that was/is my foundation. i wasn't religious or a religious addict @ the time but i was very protective of that simple foundation.

    but along the way, i began to accept man's gospel for God's & adding a lot of non essentials to that foundation thus spawning religious addictions. i was miserable. i latched onto some teachings of grace that helped. i wished @ that i had more self control that lewis speaks of.

    maybe some of the self control would've saved me from what i went thru with my ex hubs. i have a similar story to lewis which i won't go into but i've had to "heal" like many of the women and some men who've come out of this crap. i've given God many times the proverbial finger (LOL). it's been a long journey and thru it i've learned the foundation is the house too. it goes back to where i began @ age 18 the Holy Spirit leading me into all truth.

    it takes courage to wipe the slate clean to take a break to take inventory and start over. and for me it's been very worth to "risk everything for the sake of the right thing". (Lewis Wells)

  6. "The foundation, itself, IS the house. All else is non-essential, and leads right back to religious addiction at the drop of a hat."

    I want to shout this to the skies. This is a truth we share.

  7. Lewis, to me that is a beautiful summary of what being a Christian means to me. I love getting down to the absolute reality and heart of it like that. So well said!

    I agree that to have been involved in religious wackiness shows that something was broken to begin with. In our case, though, it was a bit different from many people that I know. We were basically brand new Christians...had a grasp that this was something wonderful, the answer to what we were seeking for a long time and in so many ways...and I think we had an immature idea that if we were going to do this "Christian Thing". we were going to do it really, really well. (haha)

    The weirder it was, culturally (and sometimes, intellectually) the better it looked for a time. The thing is, it was all about us...our rules, our dress, our church...and fear. Fear in the sense that you knew your faith was built upon the premise that all the rules and laws and strange twisted scripture were really what you believed in, not Christ-and if anything should go wrong, the whole thing would collapse like a house of cards. A very different foundation from what you describe.

    Well, thank God, He gave me rope and let me hang myself..It took a lot of pain and some of the above referenced house of cards incidents before I got it, but when you come to the realization that there are no formulas and just this living God in your heart who is not weakened or offended by your doubts or questions or mistakes, because He alone is God and neither you nor any other person or rule or tradition or doctrine is-...THAT is a beautiful thing.

  8. Regular Anonymous Visitor;

    I'm not Lewis, but i'll throw my thoughts to you [since i was already thinking about this from the OP, before i read your comment]

    i think, outside of the 4 Gospels, we should take NOTHING in the Bible as "literal", or as a rule/set of rules.

    let me give you examples: do you live 4,000 years ago without modern cooking technology? if not, why shouldn't you eat shellfish or pork? BOTH of the prohibitions are, essentially, based on the fact that both types of flesh are dangerous if not cooked properly and to a high enough heat level.

    are you part of a desert nomadic tribe? if not, why would you wear a robe? ["proper men's clothing"] contrawise, the ONLY real differences between "men's clothing" and "women's clothing" at the time the prohibition against one gender wearing the other gender's clothing was given were A. the facing [did the right overlap the left, or vice-versa] and B. stylistic. oh, and the headcoverings were different between men and women. but BOTH sexes wore essentially the same garment.
    so... why is there *still* a big fuss about it? women wearing pants! oh noes! based on a "rule" created by a tribe that didn't even know what pants were

    further - IN GENERAL - most of the OT is "fulfilled" by the fact that Christ came. all those 600+ laws? no longer apply.
    and, honestly, if you're not going to follow ALL of them, you shouldn't follow *ANY* of them.
    [the exception would be the 10 Commandments, if only because Jesus paraphrased all of them]

    there's a LOT of wisdom in the OT - avoid the things that are strictly of that time and place, and don't take ANY of it as "this is how YOU must live", because not only musn't you, but you CAN'T. you DON'T live in that time and place, you aren't a part of that culture, you're a part of THIS culture, and you need to live here and now.

    not to mention how so many things have been twisted [and mistranslated! for instance, the verse "Thou shall not suffer a witch to live". the word translated as "witch" is the word wice - which LOOKS a LOT like the Gaelic word "wicce" which means "wise woman". EXCEPT - it's a Hebrew word and means "poisoner" - specifically, one who poisons the wells and oasises in the desert, killing entire families and tribes].
    my favorite current "twisting" of the OT is Proverbs 31 - if you read the WHOLE thing, it's a King relaying the advice his mother gave him on finding a wife. and it boiled down to "if you find a good woman, love her, praise her, build her up, affirm her actions and support her in them, she will become 'The woman who does good but not evil, weaving fine cloth' and etc. in order to have a wife like this you must be the best husband in the world." how is it read today? it's read "this is what a good wife is, so women, BE THIS." and then they IGNORE how that good wife did business in her own name, and was revered in the city ["within the gates"] at LEAST as much as her husband, and in HER OWN name, for HER work.

    when reading something, ask yourself, especially about the "Laws", "did Jesus ever mention this?" if he did, it applies in the way he said. then, if he didn't, ask "is there ANY way this is DIRECTLY applicable to modern life?" if not... don't go trying to twist it, or modern life, to fit.


  9. NEW Testament-wise, outside of the Gospels - all those "letters" were political writings. at the time Paul wrote his various letters, there was a not-so-silent struggle going on between various factions of the new branch of Judaism
    yes - JUDAISM. Jesus didn't come to start a NEW religion, but rather to update the old one.

    anyway - a hundred hundred different little things, like "can non-Jews become Christian?" and "Can we revolt against Rome now?" and "Is it ok to own slaves? is it ok to BE a slave who is Christian when one's master/owner is NOT Christian?" and "Jesus practiced TOTAL equality, even between the sexes. He said, in effect, that men and women were equal in all ways - but Roman law regards women as *property*, and Roman Christian Women are being married off to non-Christians. what do we *DO*" [this last, mixed with Paul's well-known misogyny, is why he wrote BS like "women should be silent in church." it *IS* BS, Jesus taught that women and men were EQUAL. PERIOD.]

    the letters were written to attain, consolidate, and retain political power. the fact that they also guided and molded a fair portion of the new Christians was a side benefit. and remember, Paul didn't just hate women - he hated Rome. when he wrote against, for instance, "homosexuality" [the discussion on what that MEANT back then has been had] he didn't care about the practice, he cared that it was a definitive ROMAN practice. and so it was bad. if Jesus didn't talk about it, it isn't something to live by.

    i won't touch Revelation, except to know that it's author was high on wormwood - think "toxic levels of LSD".

    1. I don't believe that Paul hated women. Look at Romans 16 and see how many of the faithful he praises there were women leaders in the church. The problem is that two verses have been taken out of their literary and historical context and elevated to the level of Law.

      As far as the question of which verses we take as timeless and which we take as cultural, I think that's the wrong question to be asking. The thing to do is read all of the Bible with this question in mind: "What would it have meant to the original readers?" Only then, when we have determined that, should we ask, "What, then, does it mean to us today?" When we read the whole Bible that way, the issue of "what is timeless/what is cultural?" becomes moot. All of it has something to say to us today, which are the principles communicated in specific situations back then.

      And when we read it that way, it becomes apparent that the clearest passages are the ones that have to do with the individual Christian's relationship to God through Christ, because they are not related to human-to-human interactions (which are bound to look different in different cultures), but to the divine-human relation, which is eternal in Christ.

      I think Paul has been very much misunderstood, because we don't use the principle approach in reading his writings, that he himself used in reading the older writings. He himself said the passage "you shall not muzzle the ox when treading out the grain" was not about oxen or muzzles, but about the principle of "the worker is worthy of his wages."

      As for the writer of Revelation being "high," I agree that it can look like that-- but another approach is to see it as part of the apocalyptic genre of literature that existed at that time and to understand the book as being written in that genre, in which symbolic images had poetic content that conveyed spiritual ideas.

      In short, I don't think it's necessary to disregard everything but the Gospels and Acts, in order to follow a sane Christianity. I don't fault those who have chosen that path, but I see it differently.

  10. Thanks once again for articulating to me so clearly what it is I believe, Lewis – I love it when someone puts words to my sentiments so concisely. “Wiping the slate clean” – yes! That is precisely what I have had to do to even have a chance at being interested in Christianity again . . . it has taken this long just emotionally separate myself from the Christianity I was raised on. I literally didn’t read the Bible for years , at least on my own. . . it’s impossible to attend a Presbyterian college and not crack open the Bible! At the time, however, I had no clue what was actually taking place, that it was in fact a healthy and crucial cleansing process; since the Bible and Christianity had always been synonymous in my head, I labeled that time as spiritual crisis and that my faith was thus in serious trouble.

    I don’t feel that way anymore, but I can’t say that for the Christians in my life. If I had to choose a college now, there is no way I would choose a Christian college, but that’s what happened and all of my friends are those who also grew up on Biblicism – although not to the degree I was. They rejoiced initially when I informed them I had returned to the fold, but not so much when I shared with them that the Christian I am now is actually a radical departure from the kind I used to be. They were dubious –can you even BE a Christian and not believe in the inerrancy of the Bible? One of my friends told me I should be reading John Piper and was shaken when I told him that I couldn’t stomach Piper anymore, that after being subjected to patriarchy the way I had, the faintest hint of sexism made me nauseous. In the halls of Covenant College names like Lewis and Schaeffer are spoken of in hushed reverent tones, and my friends just don’t understand why those guys don’t do anything for me anymore. I know that virtually all of my acquaintances are convinced that I am hovering on the brink of heresy…but I honestly don’t FEEL like a heretic. In fact, I’m pretty convinced it’s the healthiest my spiritual life has ever been, because it’s MINE – what I believe, what I’ve hashed out for myself. And I find that rather exciting…

  11. Kristen -

    i'm not saying there's no value in the OT or the non-Gospel parts of the NT have no value, just that they have a lot LESS value than the Gospels. in short, i believe that the Holy Spirit is now available. there are a whole THREE laws to follow - Love God, Love your neighbor, and don't judge.

    the rest of the Bible can be a lot of things, but it isn't what we are supposed to be doing. most of the OT is irrelevant as "what should Christians do?" BECAUSE JESUS CAME. we aren't Jews [or living 4,000 years ago] and most of the Laws in the OT don't apply.

    i won't argue about Paul, it's not worth it.

    as for John who wrote Revelation - i wasn't making a joke. he had been eating wormwood when he wrote it. i grant that *many* religions use/d psychotropic drugs; that doesn't make me more likely to accept revelations from a "Christian" person who used psychotropics. *shrug*

    then again - i'm not strictly a Christian. i believe in Jesus. but i also believe God is omni-everything, and an omniloving God would, literally, have a face for each discreet follower. God has billions of faces, billions of names. most Christians don't think that, and think it makes me not-a-Christian :)

    1. Denelian, I certainly agree that the Holy Spirit is now available and that we should be led by the Spirit and by the commandments of love. I agree that the OT is irrelevant as a "rule book," and in fact the NT was never intended to be that either. We can certainly agree to disagree about Paul's misogyny, or lack thereof. With regards to John of Patmos, I did some looking into this assertion that he had been eating wormwood, which you have presented as fact. It is in fact a theory or a speculation which has been advanced in some TV documentaries and online. As far as I can see, there is no actual documentation or evidence that would cause me to accept it as fact. If you have some, I'd be interested to see it.

      To my knowledge, the facts are only that John was on Patmos, and that apparently some psychotropic plants also exist on that island. And that's all. Since, on the other hand, there is actual documentation of other examples of a literary genre of that time known as apocalyptic literature, and the Revelation to John has all the earmarks of that genre, I find it much more likely that he was in fact writing apocalyptic literature. I choose to believe this particular work was inspired by the Holy Spirit. I can't prove that any more than it can be proved John was reporting drug-induced hallucinations. I guess we'll have to leave it at that. :)

  12. Kristen;

    i can't read the original language, so i accepted as fact what i've been told by multiple professors. [partly because i've studied *lots* of religions, and so many have end-of-days myths that make sense in the context of myth but not in reality, that i don't believe *any* end-of-days is something that's literal] i still believe that is a good answer as to why he wrote what he wrote. it may have been merely, as you say, part of a fashion/fad in genre writing. it may have been a combo of the two.

    i don't believe a word of it is literal. mythic with symbolism that maybe we could understand, possibly. i know it seemed like i was discounting it entirely because i think [based on the clear arguments i've heard] it was something that he "saw" while tripping. that means, to me, that he probably *DID* see something... but also that, once he was no longer tripping, he couldn't remember correctly, or understand, so he wrote what HE could understand, and wrote more to make it all link up.

    this is a LOT harder to explain than i thought it would be. it's... well, for instance, there's nothing in the Bible that hasn't been in other, often older, religions that Judaism. when it comes to most of it, i think it's all different interpretations of the same things. the many religions where God or A God gives his/her life [or comes as an Avatar and gives that life] reflect a constant echo and on-going effort on the part of the Divine to lead us toward Love. i think the metaphor of "apocalypse" shows us the horrors we ourselves can and might commit if we don't grow up [as a species] - not prophetic in the sense they WILL come true, but a true warning of what could happen. i believe that Revelation falls into the same category, and John couldn't [wouldn't?] understand that it wasn't *God* doing all that, but rather humanity, with God left to pick up the pieces and weep - a misunderstood warning, if you will [like most apocalypse myths are]. my point about the wormwood is that we don't know how much was direct warning and how much real warning and if ANY of it was literal. *shrug*