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Inspiring post, Greta. You're right, sympathy for those caught in it is the strongest reason to help people to be able to leave their religion.


You've made this sound an awful lot like child abuse. In fact, Dr. Dawkins might say that it's an apt comparison


Hi, Greta! I thought I'd de-lurk to put in my two bits on the topic.

First, I'm going to have to watch Marjoe - that looks very interesting.

Second - after having lived with a Pentecostal, tongue-speaking, spirit-falling, Jesus-hearing Christian wife for about 8 years (only a few of which were characterized by this description of her), I'm no longer convinced that I do her a favor to preach against her religion. She's happier, seems to be more in control of her own life, and still manages to take a healthy approach to sensitive issues with the youngsters.

Obviously, there are brands out there that are screwed up and best avoided - scams for the $$ that give nothing back but the need to give more $$. Those are worth the opposition. But, I'm not sure yet whether they are the exception or the rule. I'll have to say that my wife's experiences have softened me significantly to this sort of thing.


While I was reading this, the story that came to my mind was Peter Popoff - the notorious faith healer whose scam (having his wife feed information about audience members to him through a hidden earpiece, which he presented as divine revelation) was exposed on the Tonight Show by James Randi. Popoff was disgraced and bankrupted - briefly - but he's bounced back and is now doing the faith healing act again, and making loads of money from people who are either ignorant of his past or are simply desperate to believe.

Viewing his resurgence, and Ted Haggard's increasingly desperate attempts to proclaim himself "cured" and get back into the limelight, it's easy to understand why Marjoe Gortner felt the need to so categorically debunk himself. (Even so, I bet he could get around that if he really wanted to make a comeback.) The ability to make a waterfall of tax-free money while surrounded by worshipful crowds must be a temptation that's almost impossible to resist. One of the few things the atheist movement has going for it - for a little while, anyway - is that we don't yet have the money or the influence to have to seriously worry about corruption like that.

Claire B

Smijer: yes, I'm with you there. Religion is not, of itself, malign. Certain aspects and manifestations of it are. It's not having an irrational belief that's the problem (as Greta points out, we all have that about something), it's when people use their irrational beliefs as an excuse for bad behaviour that it's an issue.


I'm sorry but I'm still going to view the likes of Fred Phelps as cartoon villains. I might extend an ounce of pity on his children and his extended clan of fuck ups. The man himself lacks only a cloak and twirly moustache to be a Disney villain. My sympathy for the path that led these people to their magical fantasy land is finite.

I may feel compassion for a victim of sexual abuse but it ends when they perpetrate that abuse on another. I may similarly pity the little kids dragged out to the roadside to hold up signs abusing homosexuals but when they go out of their own volition that pity ends. They are no longer solely a victim.


You know, Greta, you have seriously one-upped Dawkins.

I have always found his comparison between religion and child abuse very unpersuasive and a rather repulsive rhetorical technique.

You, on the other hand, by carefully explaining the differences, have made the similarities shockingly clear.

As we know, people often treat their children like their parents treated them, even if they know it's undesirable and wish they could break the cycle.

The threshold where we call it "abuse" is fuzzy and subject to interpretation, and I think most religion falls below it, but the pattern is eerily reminiscent.

The most toxic pattern of evangelism seems to be people being told they they're sinners and "not good enough" internalizing that logic, turning around and using their righteousness to find others to feel superior to.

Wow... it's like Amway!

Claire B

hoverFrog, I agree with you up to a point, but surely someone raised in that kind of hideous, toxic atmosphere has much, much more of a struggle to become a decent human being than a person who was brought up in a less unpleasant environment.

Supposing I'd been somehow snatched from my parents as a baby and raised by Fred Phelps (my, what a hideous idea), I might well be standing out there abusing homosexuals with the rest of them. I don't know if I'd have had the strength to break away, not if I'd been told from practically birth that obedience was the only way to avoid an eternity of torment.

And because I don't know what I'd have done in that situation, I don't feel comfortable about passing judgement on people who *were* in that situation, and who couldn't break free of it.


Thanks for the film suggestion! I found a link to the whole movie online:

absent sway

"angrier at religion, more compassionate with the religious"

Alright, I can't resist: Love the religious, hate the religion. (I don't mean a serious comparison of your words to that cliche, by the way, just a little teasing.) I agree about the perpetrator-victim connection, and the need for compassion. Compassion is so much more influential than it gets credit for, not for sugarcoating difficult truths but for ensuring that people receive them. It's so easy to dismiss people we think we have nothing in common with or who mock us but when someone who takes interest in us as fellow humans has criticism to share we are forced to face it (or at least, more often than the alternative). Harsher approaches have their place but compassion is a more versatile tool of persuasion and also keeps us focused on the point of arguing in the first place.


It's impossible for me to read this without drawing links to child abuse.

I have about a dozen comments I want to make all at once, but I think perhaps I should digest it a little more to sort out my reactions to this.


Claire B, you make a good point but we have only the hand we a dealt to play with and must make the best of it. If you had been Phelpsnapped or otherwise indoctrinated I would certainly sympathise and might even understand why you were standing on street corners being all crazy. I'd still ignore the insane message and be driven away from the view that was expressed.

If you broke free of the craziness I might even be more inclined to forgive you given your lack of control and choice in the matter. Your breaking free might be enough to absolve you of much of what you may have done while indoctrinated. That's a matter of forgiveness rather than judgment though. As long as the hypothetical Phelpsesque you acted like a Phelps then I would judge you as a Phelps. Stop acting like that and you won't be judged that way in future and can be forgiven for past actions...potentially.

You're right that it might not be charitable or compassionate to judge people on their actions when we don't know the full circumstances that led to those actions. I'm still comfortable doing so though. I don't owe an arse the time and effort to discover how they got to be an arse. I just need to know that they're an arse and I can move on. If that makes me an arse then I can live with that.


What is Marjoe Gortner doing these days by the way? I remember he did a string of bad movies in the 1970's, like "Food of the Gods" that made animals and insects really large.

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