The Nightmare of Christianity

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The Nation has posted an excerpt from the book, Republican Gomorrah: Inside the Movement that Shattered the Party, by Max Blumenthal.

The excerpt relates the back story of Matthew Murray, the young man who in December 2007 killed himself after fatally shooting several people at a YWAM training center and at the New Life Church, both in Colorado.

Blumenthal describes Murray as “a deeply disturbed young man” who “had been indelibly scarred by a lifetime of psychological abuse at the hands of his charismatic Pentecostal parents.”

The author says Murray’s mind became crowded with thoughts of death, destruction, and the killings he would soon carry out in the name of avenging what he called his “nightmare of Christianity.”

From his description it appears to have been a nightmare indeed.

On an online chat room for former Pentecostals, Murray heaped contempt on his mother, Loretta, a physical therapist who homeschooled him to ensure that his contact with the outside world was severely limited.

“My ‘mother,'” Murray wrote, “is just a brainswashed [sic] church agent cun,t [sic]. The only reason she had me was because she wanted a body/soul she could train into being the next Billy Graham…”

He went on:

…my mother was into all the charismatic “fanatical evangelical” insanity. Her and her church believed that Satan and demons were everywhere in everything. The rules were VERY strict all the time. We couldn’t have ANY christian or non-christian music at all except for a few charismatic worship CDs. There was physical abuse in my home. My mother although used psychotropic drugs because she somehow thought it would make it easier to control me (I’ve never been diagnosed with any mental illness either). Pastors would always come and interrogate me over video games or TV watching or other things. There were NO FRIENDS outside the church and family and even then only family members who were in the church. You could not trust anyone at all because anyone might be a spy.

An authoritarian Christian-right self-help guru named Bill Gothard created the home-schooling regimen implemented by Murray’s parents.

Bill Gothard is a highly controversial figure who teaches extreme legalism that many observers, the publishers of Religion News Blog included, consider to be cult-like — both in a theological and a sociological sense.

Theologically, we consider Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles to be a cult of Christianity.

Blumental quotes Ron Henzel, a one-time Gothard follower who coauthored a devastating expose about his former guru called A Matter of Basic Principles, under the rules, “large homeschooling families abstain from television, midwives are more important than doctors, traditional dating is forbidden, unmarried adults are ‘under the authority of their parents’ and live with them, divorced people can’t remarry under any circumstance, and music has hardly changed at all since the late nineteenth century.”

At the Charter School for Excellence, a school in South Florida inspired by Gothard’s draconian principles that receives $800,000 in state funds each year, children are indoctrinated into a culture of absolute submission to authority almost as soon as they learn to speak.

After graduating from Gothard’s draconion home schooling program, Murray’s parents gave him two options for higher education: Oral Roberts University, which at the time was involved in a financial scandal, or a “Discipleship Training School” of Youth with a Mission (YWAM), a Christian Reconstructionist- inspired missionary group that trained bright-eyed youngsters to spread the gospel of Colorado Springs to under-evangelized Third World nations.

Desperate to escape his parents’ rigid order, Murray joined YWAM.

But as soon as Murray enrolled at YWAM’s training center in nearby Arvada in 2002, he found himself trapped in an authoritarian culture even more restrictive than home. He realized that, as another student of YWAM bluntly put it, the school’s training methods resembled “cult mind-controlling techniques.”

Murray became paranoid, speaking aloud to voices only he could hear, according to a former roommate.

YWAM eventually dismissed him from the program for unspecified “health reasons.”

Two years later, Murray raged at two YWAM administrators during a Pentecostal conference his mother had dragged him to attend.

The shocked staffers promptly warned Loretta Murray that her son “wasn’t walking with the Lord and could be planning violence.” Within days, an ornery local pastor was allowed to burst into the young Murray’s room, rifle through his belongings, and leave with a satchel full of secular DVDs and CDs–apparent evidence of his depravity. Murray’s mother searched his room for satanic material every day afterward for three months, stripping him of his privacy and whatever was left of his love for her. After the trauma-inducing raids, in which Murray estimated his mother and her friends destroyed $900 worth of his property, he concluded, “Christianity is one big lie.”

Murray lurched to the polar opposite edge of his parents’ fanatical faith, replacing their Bible as his inspiration with the writings of Aleister Crowley, a flamboyant, self-proclaimed Satanist.

Blumenthal continues to describe Matthew Murray’s descend into complete despondency, which cumulated into his eventual acts of violence.

The author analyzes Murray’s possible motivations, and points out that in covering the story the mainstream media failed to explore the roots of Murray’s violence. Instead the media relied on talking heads from the very movement Murray had so violently rejected.

Blumenthal concludes by showing how Murray’s parents — counseled by Gothard ally James Dobson — and the ‘Christian right’ dealt with the aftermath of the tragic events.

While the national press clamored for an exclusive interview with Murray’s parents, the couple quietly arranged to meet with a psychologist who could help them prepare a satisfactory explanation for their son’s acts–and one devoid of the hard truths Winell attempted to tell. On February 27, 2008, the Murrays were escorted onto Focus on the Family’s compound, led into its lower recesses, and seated, in an elegantly appointed radio studio, at a table across from James Dobson. Now they poured forth their version of their son’s descent into madness. “The lesson is that unforgiveness leads to this bitterness and then opens you up to the spirit of Satan, to the spirit of whatever, and when that occurs, it becomes a power that people cannot control,” said Murray’s father Ronald, a neurologist. Dobson was careful not to press the Murrays further for insights into their son’s pathology. Blaming Satan was always safer than excessive reflection. “We can’t explain it, we can’t understand,” Dobson declared. “We say, ‘Lord, someday we will understand, but today we don’t.”

There was really little else Dobson could say. Murray’s parents were not neglectful of their son, nor were they intentionally abusive. By all accounts, they raised him in faithful accordance with the teachings of the Christian right’s leading self-help gurus. In their cloistered world, where home-schooling is viewed as an ideal alternative to “government schools,” and where the rod is rarely spared, they were model parents. Murray’s killing spree thus reflected less on his parents than on the all-encompassing authoritarian culture that Dobson had helped to shape. When practiced in the real world, the movement’s “family values” sometimes produced some unusually dysfunctional families. Only by blaming Satan and his minions for Murray’s acts could the Christian right avoid acknowledging this absolutely damning indictment of its ideology.

While many Christians all too easily take the same easy way out, the vast majority do not support the type of religious extremism Blumenthal documents.

That said, such excesses are not uncommon. See, for instance, the online book Churches That Abuse, in which sociologist Ronald Enroth describes abusive churches, using the ten identifying traits of control-oriented leadership, spiritual elitism, manipulation of members, perceived persecution, lifestyle rigidity, emphasis on experience, suppression of dissent, harsh discipline of members, denunciation of other churches, and the painful exit process.

We’re under no illusion that many so-called ‘conservative Christians’ have read this far — let alone will buy Blumenthal’s book, or even read the full excerpt.

Nevertheless we’ll post the book’s description for those who wish to take a closer look.

Over the last year, award-winning journalist and videographer Max Blumenthal has been behind some of the most sensational (and funniest) exposes of Republican machinations.
Whether it was his revelation that Sarah Palin was “anointed” by a Kenyan priest famous for casting out witches, or his confronting Republican congressional leaders and John McCain’s family at the GOP convention about the party’s opposition to sex education (and hence, the rise in teen pregnancies like that of Palin’s daughter), or his expose of the eccentric multimillionaire theocrat behind California’s Prop 8 anti-gay marriage initaive, Blumenthal has become one of the most important and most constantly cited journalists on how fringe movements are becoming the Republican Party mainstream.

Republican Gomorrah is a bestiary of dysfunction, scandal and sordidmess from the dark heart of the forces that now have a leash on the party. It shows how those forces are the ones that establishment Republicans-like John McCain-have to bow to if they have any hope of running for President. It shows that Sarah Palin was the logical choice of a party in the control of theocrats. But more that just an expose, Republican Gomorrah shows that many of the movement’s leading figures have more in common than just the power they command within conservative ranks. Their personal lives have been stained by crisis and scandal: depression, mental illness, extra-marital affairs, struggles with homosexual urges, heavy medication, addiction to pornography, serial domestic abuse, and even murder. Inspired by the work of psychologists Erich Fromm, who asserted that the fear of freedom propels anxiety-ridden people into authoritarian settings, Blumenthal explains in a compelling narrative how a culture of personal crisis has defined the radical right, transforming the nature of the Republican Party for the next generation and setting the stage for the future of American politics.

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This post was last updated: Sep. 10, 2009