There are really three main reasons (and one minor one) that people become members of fundamentalist religions:
- They were born or adopted into a family where other members are adherents.
- They were scared into the religion (the “if you don’t join us you could spend eternity in a lake of fire” inducement).
- They were brought into it by people who pretended to love and care about them. I will explain why I say pretended in a moment, but note that in most cases the people attempting to show love believe it to be genuine (nobody wants to think of themselves as a phony, after all).
- (The minority reason): A relative handful of people experience a genuine spiritual encounter of some kind (or at least they perceive it to be such), but often misinterpret it as a directive to affiliate with a particular religious group.
The main reasons people don’t leave such groups:
- They fear that their family would disown or shun them (this is often not an unfounded fear).
- They fear that if they leave they will be “lost” (again, the fear of the “lake of fire”, etc.)
- Their only friends are other members of that group, and they fear that if they left they would have few or no remaining friends.
- They fear the loss of the love and acceptance they once knew when they entered the religion.
- A small percentage may find an outlet in the church for their talents and creative energies (I don’t want to be mean, but a lot of mediocre singers have a captive audience every week at a small church somewhere).
- In extreme cases they may feel that they will be directly “punished” (by either deity or others) for leaving.
The main reasons people want to leave after they have been in the group for a while:
- They start to see hypocrisy in the group (they are told to live a certain way, but see that other members of the group live differently and often suffer no repercussions).
- They find that the love and acceptance they were initially shown was conditional, often upon them agreeing with the group and/or behaving a certain way.
- They may be asked to take an oath or make an affirmation that they are not comfortable with or do not agree with. They may even be told that if they don’t follow through with this, they should leave the group.
- They may be asked to help bring others, such as friends and family, into the group. At that point, they may realize that most of those people already have much happier and more fulfilling lives, and it would actually be doing them a disservice to induce them into the religion. Or they may realize that they, themselves, are not truly happy and that the religion has not met their expectations, so how could they justify inducing others to join? Yet they are continually pressured to “witness” to others.
- In some groups, they may see that the group actively practices hate or disdain toward certain groups. This may even include other groups of the same faith with which they have minor doctrinal differences.
- They may discover that their religious leaders have lied to them or deceived them, or withheld important information from them (for example, many “Christian” churches don’t even mention the existence of the Nag Hammadi library to their members).
- They may discover that their religious leaders are living a lifestyle that the “lay” people would be condemned for. This is not just the common example of church leaders engaging in the very sexual practices that they preach against, but also church officials that live a life of relative luxury compared to those who are asked to contribute to their lifestyle.
- They may be asked to not only “tithe” a certain percentage of their income, but to give above and beyond that. However, they may never know for certain that the money is being used for the reason it is being solicited, or for any good purpose.
- The group may ask them to participate in projects or rituals that seem (and often are) meaningless In some cases these may be projects that ostensibly provide assistance to others, but there is no way to tell whether that assistance is reaching those who actually need it.
- They may start to research the history of their religion, or information on their religion’s beliefs or other information their religion from a “neutral” source (such as the Internet) and discover some disturbing facts or contradictions that don’t sit well with them.
- They may get tired of being told what they may and may not read, what they may and may not watch, and to some degree, what they may and may not think.
- They may find that they simply don’t like being coerced into attending religious functions at times they’d prefer to be doing something else, especially things that might make them feel happier and more fulfilled as persons. Many people simply do not care for the traditional church service — there is absolutely nothing about it that appeals to them, except perhaps for the socializing that takes place before and after.
- They may find that in trying to raise their children in a manner approved by the church, other members of their family and others with whom they are forced to associate (not of their religion) may see them as cruel or abusive (or just crazy) parents. In some cases that perception may be justified and in other cases it is not, but if a parent truly cares about their children, the perception that they are a horrible parent (by those not of their faith) may start to wear on them. For example, many people would consider it emotionally abusive (with considerable justification) to instill a fear of a possible eternity in a lake of fire into a small child, yet many fundamentalist preachers have no problem doing this.
- A religious leader does something that truly offends them personally, such as the aforementioned scaring their children (to the point that the children are having nightmares), or telling them that a recently deceased relative is now spending an eternity in hell, or speaking against a beloved sibling or other family member who may happen to be gay, or may simply be a member of another faith or have no professed faith.
- In some cases they may discover that the leaders of the religious group have been abusing children (their own or someone else’s). Any parent with half a brain and the smallest bit of conscience would get their family out of that group immediately and contact the appropriate authorities (and by authorities I do not mean other members of that religion, who may try to cover for the offender)!
- They may become troubled by the practice of taking scripture verses out of context (random verses from random places in the text) to basically form a doctrine out of thin air. For example, most verses used to support tithing, if read in context, do not in any way indicate that believers are required to give a certain percentage of their income to a religious institution. However, by taking individual verses out of context and stringing them together in a “creative” manner, preachers make the case for in effect stealing income from their followers under false pretenses. This same practice is applied to create many other doctrines out of thin air (often relying on known mis-translations of certain verses).
- They may at some point become frustrated enough to earnestly pray that they be shown the absolute truth about their religion and those who practice it. I just warn you, don’t pray for this if you really don’t want to know, because chances are you are not going to get the answers you expect.
My point is this: I have found that most of the people you meet that are part of a religion, and that have been in it for a while are there because of inertia or fear. Some relative newcomers are there because they feel that they are loved and accepted, but the problem with that is that in most cases the “love” and acceptance is extremely conditional. If they are willing to adopt the teachings and opinions of the religious leaders and other members of that faith, then they may continue to experience a degree of love an acceptance, but they will never feel truly free to express any “variant” beliefs, or to say that they think the religion just might be wrong on some points. On the other hand, someone who is more of a “free thinker” will usually find the “love and acceptance” gradually withdrawn, and if they become too “troublesome” they may be asked to leave the group. I’ve seen people asked to leave a church simply because they disagreed on a minor point of doctrine (note that in some groups, there is no such thing as a minor point of doctrine. There are even stories that churches have split over matters as insignificant as what color to paint the bathrooms!).
Unfortunately, people who are living in a constant state of fear will not be willing to accept the truth. In fact, they won’t even want to hear any truth that contradicts what they have been taught. When you try to show them the truth about their religion, they will react pretty much the same way you react when they hand you a tract about their religion (by the way, they use tracts because they are afraid to engage in actual conversation about what they believe — this is why, if they are going to hand you a tract, they usually do so at the last possible second before they end an encounter with you — they have been told by their religious leaders that they must “witness” to others, but realize that there is no way they can defend their beliefs in an honest discussion, so by passing a tract at the last second it lets them feel like they have at least “planted a seed” and done their duty, even if you throw the tract away the moment they leave. In most cases the only way they will ever try to personally “witness” to anyone is if there are two or more of them, and only one of their intended targets present).
One of the reasons I have a link to Those Lazy Old Blokes of 1611 on my blog pages is to show that the fear that is pushed among “Christian” fundamentalists is founded on deliberate lies (in this case, a deliberately confused translation). But the people who most need to hear this information are often those most paralyzed by fear. They’ve been taught that they might go to hell for even entertaining a non-approved belief. They are told not to read non-church-sanctioned books (the ones available at retail price in the church bookstore). In many fundamentalist churches, they teach that going to the movies is “sinful.” In other words, they like to tightly control what their followers read, see, and think, although that’s becoming a lot more difficult in this day of modern communications and the World Wide Web, and search engines that can bring you a multitude of views on just about any topic with just a few keystrokes.
I once (very briefly) went to a church where a preacher brought in an evangelist that basically destroyed the church. One of the things this evangelist taught was that if you spoke out against a preacher or an evangelist in any way, you were “touching god’s anointed” and therefore god might strike you dead (I use the small “g” because as I have pointed out in previous articles, I believe that the “god” of the old testament was an evil impostor, not the true God that most people think of as the creator of the universe, etc. As far as I am concerned, the “god” of the old testament was almost certainly a lesser “god” that might indeed destroy people on a whim, and often did if the old testament is to be believed, but it appears he’s departed the planet, or may not even be among the living by this point in time. I’m not asking that you believe that, but that’s why I don’t use the capitalized “g” when referring to that “god”). Unfortunately, after the evangelist left, the preacher started teaching the same nutso stuff that the evangelist had taught, and therefore more and more people felt compelled (probably for the sake of their own sanity) to leave the church. The preacher then started accusing the other churches of “sheep stealing”, and then started accusing the “sheep” of stealing themselves! This caused even more people to both speak out against the preacher (basically saying he’d flipped his lid) and to leave the church. No deity (or entity pretending to be a deity) struck anyone dead in that case, but among those few who remained in that church the fear was palpable. It’s amazing what people will endure because they are simply too fearful to question even the craziest teachings.
The reason I am bringing this stuff up now is twofold. First, it appears that unless by some miracle Ron Paul becomes the Republican presidential candidate, the next U.S. presidential election will be a contest between a religious fundamentalist (or at least someone who panders to the fundamentalists) and a guy who has so far not kept most of his most important campaign promises, and has been a disappointment to many of those who voted for him. I just want you who have never been part of a religious fundamentalist group to understand a bit of what makes those folks tick, so you can understand that they are often living in their own little world, and that you would not like it much if they had the force of government behind them to impose their beliefs on you or I.
And second, there are those who believe that 2012 is going to be a year that something big happens, that will cause humanity as a whole to become a more enlightened race, but that cannot happen as long as we are living under a fear paradigm. Our religious leaders, our news media, our politicians, etc. at times seem to be pushing an agenda of fear fear fear fear fear fear fear fear 24 hours a day. What I found is that the two things that have most REDUCED my level of fear are leaving organized religion, and NOT watching major media newscasts. Both of those entities seem to be trying to make people afraid, and the world looks a whole lot brighter when you don’t listen to them. I’m not saying you should avoid the news altogether, but just be more selective and avoid sources that are constantly harping on the negative. And, this might be a good year to just consider whether you want to continue to be part of your current religion, if you are still clinging to one. Does it really serve you, or are you just serving it with no return, not even happiness? Do you leave a house of worship feeling fearful, unsettled, or unfulfilled? Remember that you can (and many do) pray or meditate without being a part of any organized religion. The dirty little secret of the churches is that you don’t need them — you can achieve spiritual growth, if that is your desire, without involving them at all. Even Jesus did not come to start churches (he preached against organized religion, when he said anything about it at all).
(P.S. I mentioned Ron Paul above only because, as far as I know, he is not a religious fundamentalist nor is he beholden to them).
- Link: Horror Stories From Tough-Love Teen Homes (michigantelephone.wordpress.com)
- Religious Child Abuse – Breaking Their Will by Janet Heimlich (mindi.authormeanders.com)