A Phenomenology of Extreme Christian Fundamentalism


Who would have expected that the hatred resonating from Fred Phelp’s massive, Biblically fueled ego would have driven his children to psychiatric counseling for post traumatic stress disorder? Who would have expected that when you psychologically wound the minds of young children with threats of eternal torment, the result is fear and suffering? Nate Phelps has courageously spoken out against the cruelty of his father’s extreme Christian totalitarianism and the Biblical hatred which warped his psyche into a severe depression.

Back in California, in the death throws of my faith I would attend a church from time to time with my friend Maria. I liked the pastor there. He was as much a philosopher as he was a preacher. As the congregation sang praise, their bodies swaying with hands raised to their god, I found myself time and again weeping uncontrollably. At the time my feelings puzzled me. By then, I knew that I no longer believed, so why the strong emotion? Well…I understood the emotional impact such a belief system provided. Those unknowable elements of life, such as what will happen in the future, what will happen when we die? This provided answers, security, and comfort. But I had reached a point where I could no longer pretend. I knew too much. Giving up on a faith based system, I also had to let go of the security it provided.

Looking back on it now, I think I was saying goodbye to it all, and there was a strong element of sadness in that farewell. My journey continues. Each day I get better at silencing the condemning voice, and each day I dare to confront the truth that there are many things that we just don’t know…and that it’s okay to say that we don’t know. It’s okay to keep looking for answers in the world of reason and logic…that’s a very human thing.

Perhaps the words of the Apostle Paul best summarize my attitude about Christianity at this point in my life. In his first letter to the church at Corinth Paul wrote: When I was a child, I spake as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.

On a side note, I think both Julian Jaynes and Hofstadter would find it interesting that, “At night I worried and fretted.  Sleepless, anxious hours passed as I played violent confrontations with my father over and over in my mind. In these battles I would test new ideas and beliefs against his rhetoric and doctrine, something we were unable to do as children.” Loops in the head?



Filed under Psychology, Theology

3 responses to “A Phenomenology of Extreme Christian Fundamentalism

  1. I just stumbled upon this blog and I instantly resonated with it.
    You remembered me of my 8 years as a “faithful” in a Baptist church in Bay Area, California.
    I’ll be back!

  2. Antonio

    Interesting post. I think Julian Jaynes’s ideas are also very relevant for the origin of religion. Richard Dawkins even mentions Jaynes in “The God Delusion.” There is also a new book called “Reflections on the Dawn of Consciousness: Julian Jaynes’s Bicameral Mind Revisited” (edited by Marcel Kuijsten) that delves more into the religious implications of Jaynes’s theory.

  3. Gary Williams

    Antonio, I agree with you wholeheartedly. I think Jaynes is one of the few scholars of religion who has moved beyond Enlightenment thinking when it comes to explaining the origin of religion. It is common to naively view our religious ancestors as just like us, except with weirder rituals and more primitive “belief systems”. This type of thought fails to capture the truly religious “spark” that set humans off onto the path of theology. I think Jaynes has this pinned down more than anyone with his bicameral theory. And yeah, I recommend that new Jaynes anthology also; all the essays were really interesting – especially the one on congenital paraplegic hallucinators.

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