The Many Valuable Lessons I Learned in ATI: Laura’s Story

HA notes: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Laura” is a pseudonym.

The 14 years I spent as a student in ATI taught me many valuable lessons for my life. Here are some of the highlights:

* Parents are always right.

* Men are always right. Therefore, your father is double-right.

* Getting out from under the “umbrella of authority” means you will have many problems, including being raped. (Not sure what the warning is for boys who get out from under their umbrellas. I’m a girl so always heard the rape thing.) The fiery darts of Satan will have nothing to stop them from hitting you. We all know that an umbrella is the best possible analogy because their thin, flammable fabric is the perfect substance with which to stop fiery darts.

* If your umbrella – dad or husband – has holes, then Satan will get you unless you pray really hard that they’ll patch up their holes. If you don’t, you’ll probably get raped.

* Family is everything. Except when young people go to a Training Center or Headquarters. Then it’s okay to not be together as a family unit. Or when young people go to Apprenticeship Sessions at Knoxville and make binding vows that their parents know nothing about. That’s okay. You do not need to seek your father’s permission to make such vows that will control what you do the rest of your life. Your father’s permission is implied because he sent you to this Apprenticeship Session.

* Young people, given the option, will always choose the wrong spouse. Therefore, their parents – most of whom chose their own spouse – will choose or at least approve their spouse for them.

* If you date, you’ll have all sorts of problems and can never have a happy marriage. Dating is practice for divorce. Courtship is practice for marriage. If your parents dated and have a happy marriage anyway, it doesn’t matter – dating is still bad and you will get divorced if you date.

* You should court (aka “let your parents pick or approve your spouse”) so you don’t get divorced.

* Talking to a boy is dating him. Especially if either of you have romantic thoughts about the other one. To be on the safe side, it’s best never to talk with young men. (At some Training Centers, talking with a person of the opposite sex for longer than a few seconds, unless it was obviously work-related, was grounds for discipline and/or being sent home.)

* Even thinking about a boy is probably dating him. You should immediately confess any such stray thoughts to your father, ask his forgiveness, and make yourself accountable to him lest you be tempted to have any more thoughts about boys

* If it happens that the boy you are thinking about has already asked your father for your hand, or does so in the future, you will not be informed of this until your father deems it the appropriate time. This means you could spend years fighting attraction to the man you will eventually marry, but it’s still a sin to think these thoughts.

* If you marry the “wrong person,” then after you’re married they become the “right person,” aka God’s new will for your life. You’re stuck. Deal with it. You shouldn’t have dated him anyway, or married him without your parents’ permission. We know you either dated or married without parental blessing or both, because duh, you married the “wrong person” and you would never have done that if you’d courted and gotten your parents’ blessing!

* If your parents lead you to marry a guy who’s in the Mafia (yes, this example is in the Basic Seminar, or maybe the Advanced Seminar… it’s been a few years since I watched either of them) then you need to be submissive anyway. Because your parents chose him for you, God will bless your marriage even though he’s in organized crime and likes to beat you when he gets home. You still can’t divorce him.

* Not only should you NEVER EVER EVER marry someone who’s divorced, but you probably shouldn’t marry the *child* of divorced parents.

* The sins of the fathers will be passed down to the children unless a very specific prayer is prayed over said children. We are very blessed to live in a time when we have Bill Gothard to teach us such things. Thousands of years’ worth of Christians simply had to fight inherited sins on their own, without Mr. Gothard to show them the RIGHT way to overcome such things!

* Adoption is bad. You don’t know what “sins of the fathers” are being introduced into your home.

* Birth control is bad. God will give you as many children as you deserve. Susanna Wesley was a favorite example – she had 19 children although less than half of them survived infancy.

* If you can’t have children, then something must be wrong in your life. Clearly God gives many children to those whom he favors. He really loves Mrs. McKim. (Now I’m showing my age… these days it would be Mrs. Duggar!)

* Only have sex between days 15 and 28 of the wife’s menstrual cycle. Days 8-14 are maybe okay, but if you’re trying to be ultra-Godly, or get pregnant, wait until day 15. You want the “seed” as strong as possible.

* It’s not awkward to talk about periods and sex in mixed company when single “fellas” and single “girls” are present in the room, as long as it’s in the Advanced Seminar. Plus, we use terms like “relations” and “monthly cycle” instead of “sex” and “periods,” so we’ll all just pretend we don’t know what we’re talking about so it’s less awkward.

* Tampons will kill you. Toxic shock syndrome and all that. They’re bad. Follow God’s design for your monthly cycle and wear pads.

* Rock music is bad. It will kill your plants and cause you to be demon-possessed. It will also cause you to drink, take drugs, have sex with anyone and everyone, wear jeans, and generally rebel against everything Godly. Rock music with Christian words is even worse.

* If your family visits a restaurant or store that is playing ungodly music, you must ask the server or store employee to turn the music off. If they refuse, then the most Godly thing would be to leave the premises immediately so that your family is not harmed by the ungodly music. Plus, you’ll be a testimony of God’s principles.

* The only okay music is hymns. Classical music is okay as long as it doesn’t have a back beat. But if you’re really Godly, you’ll listen to hymns. Preferably played on a harp. The harp is the most Godly of instruments. After all, David used it to charm the demon out of King Saul. Until King Saul threw a javelin at him. Twice. During harp music. Somehow that part never got talked about when I was in ATI. Forget that. Just listen to harp music anyway.

* Cabbage Patch Kid dolls will cause you to be demon-possessed. They will also cause your mom to have her labor stall, until the doll is found & burned, at which moment, labor will resume and the baby will be born within minutes. (Another anecdote, told in the Basic Seminar I believe.)

* To be on the safe side, better not have My Little Pony, Care Bears, troll dolls, and definitely no souvenirs from Africa such as masks or figurines. You will be demon-possessed. They must be burned. Simply throwing them away is not good enough to break the demon’s power over you. It doesn’t matter if such toys are your child’s favorite toy(s), they must be burned anyway.

* Denim is bad. It’s a sign of rebellion. Even boys should wear Dockers, etc., not denim jeans.

* T-shirts are bad. They’re a sign of rebellion. Only collared shirts are allowed. Therefore, a polo shirt is acceptable attire for “fellas” or girls. A t-shirt is not. (How a girl wearing a polo shirt is not “wearing that which pertaineth to a man,” I don’t know. I never heard that addressed.)

* If you are going to rebel and wear a t-shirt, don’t ever wear one with words or a design on the front. Girls, don’t you know what when a man’s eyes are reading the words or looking at the picture, they’re really checking out your body? You’re going to get raped if you encourage men to read your chest – I mean, shirt – instead of focusing on your bright, Godly countenance.

* Beards are bad. They’re signs of rebellion. (During the 1980’s and part of the 1990’s, if the dad had facial hair, the family would not be allowed to join ATIA/ATI.)

* Men must have short hair that is obviously masculine in style. The best hairstyle for a “fella” causes you to look like your photo – complete with a navy suit – could fit right in to a high school yearbook from the 1950’s.

* Women should have long hair, with gentle curls. If God made your hair straight, then you must curl it. If God made your hair ultra-curly, then you must straighten it. Blonde is the best color. The Principle of Design (accepting your body as God made it) is suspended for hair. Mr. Gothard dyes his hair so apparently hair dye doesn’t violate the 10 Unchangeables regarding physical features or aging.

* Pants or jeans or shorts on women are so bad that I can’t even begin to stress how important this is. Men will lust after your body. You will get raped. (Girls can’t wear pants because they pertaineth to a man, even though men in Bible times wore “dresses” or robes. That was okay, though, because their robes were distinctly masculine in style, so it was still easy to tell at a distance if you were looking at a man or a woman. But pants are never okay on women because they’re too much like men’s garments so you can’t tell from a distance if it’s a man or a woman.)

* Hosiery should be skin-toned and should never have a pattern woven into it. This is an eye trap, and will draw rapists’ – I mean, men’s – eyes from your bright and shining coutenance down to your legs. He will be so busy looking at your patterned hosiery that he may very well rape you without even realizing what he’s doing, and it won’t be his fault, because you were the one wearing the eyetrap.

* The most modest attire for a woman is a navy skirt, a white blouse, and a navy neckbow. Or in later years and/or if you or a close friend have been to Russia, you may wear a black painted Russian pin at your neckline, as the ATI version of a status symbol. (Just don’t let it rain while you’re wearing your modest white blouse, or it becomes… um… less modest and more see-through… maybe *that* is why were were always supposed to be under an umbrella… and Heaven help the full-chested girl whose blouse kept wanting to gap or pop buttons in the wrong place…!)

* You must vow (not promise, but VOW) to never go to a movie theater. Bill Gothard made such a vow when he was a young man, and look how wonderful his life has been! Therefore, you MUST make this same vow.

* You should also commit to fasting regularly, at least on Sundays. Bill Gothard made such a vow when he was a young man, and look how wonderful his life has been! Therefore, you MUST make this same vow.

* You must also vow to read your Bible every day for the rest of your life. At least 5 minutes a day. Bill Gothard made such a vow when he was a young man, and look how wonderful his life has been! Therefore, you MUST make this same vow.

* You must also memorize Scripture. Preferaby by the chapter. Or the book. The most Godly of Godly people memorize the whole New Testament, *and* Psalms, *and* Proverbs. But at least start on Matthew 5, 6, & 7. And Romans 6, 7, 8, & 12. And James 1, 2, 3, 4, & 5. If you memorize random scattered verses, you aren’t Godly enough.

* Simply reading the Bible isn’t enough. You must also *meditate* on Scripture. If you meditate on Scripture, then you will get good grades in school. You will breeze through college. Bill Gothard made such a vow when he was a young man, and look how wonderful his life has been! Therefore, you MUST make this same vow.

* Public school is bad. Christian school is almost as bad as public school. Homeschooling is good. Bill Gothard attended public school, and look how… oh, wait, never mind.

* Sunday School is bad. Children’s Institutes are good. Groups of peers are bad. Young people must spend time in groups of all ages. If you insist on attending Sunday School at your church, then you should attend a class as a family, because then your children won’t be tempted to make friends with people their own age.

* Character is the most important thing in life. Education doesn’t matter – just have character. Just have good character and employers will hunt you down and beg you to come work for them. Unless you’re a girl. In which case you’d better not work for anyone but Bill Gothard or your dad, or you will have sex with a co-worker or boss. Or get raped.

* College is bad. Public school is bad. Christian school is bad. Normal homeschooling is okay but less Godly than enrolling in ATI. If a girl goes to college, she’ll almost certainly get raped. Boys who go to college will be taught about how great Satan is. After all, Bill Gothard went to college, and look how… oh, wait. Never mind again.

* The most Godly homes have Scripture posted on the walls. Generic pictures of landscapes or portraits of people were never forbidden, but if you’re *really* Godly, you’ll have Scripture on your walls. Or CharacterFirst! posters.

* It’s okay to teach in public schools, but only if you are teaching the CharacterFirst! materials. Otherwise you should avoid any and all contact with the public schooled, sex-crazed, denim-wearing, rock-music-listening, rebellious youths of the world.

* TV is bad. Horribly, horribly bad.

* The Interent is bad. But since so many of you insist on having it in your home, you should buy protection from CharacterLink. It will cost you a bunch of money every month, and won’t let you see half of the perfectly-legitimate sites you want to visit, but you must spend the money on it anyway. Especially if you have men or boys in the home. Men or boys who are allowed to touch a computer without CharacterLink installed on it will become addicted to porn and will probably become rapists. (Bet this one’s really hard to enforce nowadays, since CharacterLink is no longer owned by ATI, and iPods and iPhones and iPads and their cousins would be incredibly hard to control. I suppose ATI kids these days aren’t allowed access to such technology.)

* If you are visiting friends or relatives who turn on a TV or a computer or do anything else that goes against your Scriptural convictions, including the ones for which you have no Scriptural basis, you must stand alone. You must say, “I’ve given my life to Jesus and I can’t do that.” Sleepovers are probably not a good idea because it’s almost certain that someone will do something to offend you, at which time you must stand alone, and probably call your parents to come pick you up from said sleepover. (A sleepover where the mom decided to hold a seance was the example given. As a mother, I don’t send my children to sleepovers unless I know the parents well enough to trust my child to their care. However, in the example, the parents who sent the child there were never criticized. Rather, the child was praised for refusing to participate in a seance.)

* Whole wheat bread is the answer to all of the world’s health and nutritional needs. It only counts if the wheat was ground *that morning,* the bread was made *that day,* and you eat it *that day.* After all, “give us this day our daily bread” definitely does NOT refer to bread purchased at the grocery store, or even made the day before. White flour will kill you. Whole wheat flour will save your life. Eat lots of whole wheat bread every day. (We have to assume that Celiac Disease and gluten intolerance are the figments of evil people’s imaginations. We’ll never know, since Celiac & gluten intolerance were unheard-of back then. I suppose that if those people were eating whole wheat bread, then they wouldn’t have Celiac Disease. ‘Cause whole wheat bread is the answer to all of the world’s health and nutritional needs.)

* A desire for white bread was a major factor in beginning the French Revolution.

* You’ll know you’re getting enough fiber when your, um, bathroom business floats. (During that Wisdom Booklet and for a time thereafter, our family announced our results to each other after leaving the bathroom.)

* Don’t eat pork. Ever. It’s bad.

* Don’t eat dairy and meat together. It’s bad. No more cheeseburgers, ever. Or milkshakes with a burger. But sometimes we’ll order pizza at our Training Centers, with pepperoni toppings. That’s okay.

* Don’t chew gum. It’s a sign of rebellion since that’s what rebellious teen-agers do.

* Games are a waste of time. Unless it’s Character Clues or Commands of Christ.

* You should avoid any game that teaches you about demons or hell. Except Commands of Christ. Its picture of hell is okay.

* Dungeons and Dragons is a game that must be avoided at all costs. It will cause you to be demon-possessed.

* Folly of any kind is a waste of time and damages your testimony. Avoid all practical jokes. Avoid loud laughter. Your time would be more productively spent reading your Bible, memorizing character qualities, or fasting and praying.

* If you memorize all 49 character quality definitions, including the ones that are so similar that no one but Bill Gothard can differentiate them, then you will not only have such great character that you don’t need college to be successful in life, but you will also beat everyone else in Character Clues. Every time. Just don’t be proud of that fact, or you obviously don’t have Humility. Since very character quality has a Bible verse reference on its card, you know they came straight from the Bible.

* There are seven non-optional principles of life. Aren’t we lucky – oops, can’t say “lucky” – fortunate – no, can’t say that either – BLESSED to live in this time of history when Bill Gothard has figured out what these seven non-optional principles are? We are so much better off than people like the Apostle Paul, becuase he didn’t have Bill Gothard to help him know how to live.

* If you reject the way God made you – any of the 10 Unchangeables – then you will be bitter and have a horrible life. (“Principle of Design”)

* If you get out from under your umbrella of authority, the boogeyman will get you and you will be either demon-possessed, raped, or both. (“Principle of Authority”)

* If you don’t meditate on Scripture, your life will be mediocre at best. (“Principle of Success”)

* If you zone out during most of the Basic Seminar and fifteen years later can only remember three of the seven non-optional principles of life, then you are surely doomed!!

* Bitterness is the root problem in this world. You need to learn how to draw little checkerboard diagrams with castles, so you can remove the strongholds of bitterness that Satan has in your life, and so that you can then teach other people how to clear their checkboard souls of Satan’s castles.

* If I, as a 12-year-old student, followed these principles in my life, then not only was I qualified to teach adults how to solve their marriage and financial and business problems, but the leaders of Russia would practically fall on their faces to worship me as a Godly young lady attired in modest navy and white with a navy neckbow. Or I might even be given a walkie-talkie to carry around at Knoxville!

* “Bright eyes” are the ultimate expression of one’s spirituality. One can accurately gauge the depths of another person’s commitment to Christ by looking at their eyes. If their eyes are “dark,” then they clearly listen to rock music and therefore have given all sorts of ground to Satan and have strongholds all over their checkerboard soul. (Note: native Russian speakers have since clarified that “bright eyes” is the translation of a Russian idiom meaning that a person is happy. It has much more to do with one’s emotional state than with one’s spiritual state.)

* If someone compliments you on anything, from having “bright eyes” to playing the violin in church, you must deflect the praise. The best praise-deflectors can turn every compliment into an opportunity to thank God (for the musical talent), but of course one must also praise one’s parents (for paying for the violin lessons) and one’s teacher (for teaching so skillfully and diligently). No compliment is ever to be answered with a simple “Thank you.” That would be prideful.

* If you’re enrolled in ATI and have learned all of these Godly principles, then you don’t really need to go to church. The only reason you would go to church is to minister to others. Or be a testimony to them. Since you can’t subject your family to the evils of rock music, if your church has compromised to the point of allowing such music, you must either stand up and leave as soon as a rock beat starts, or if this is a regular occurrence, you must time your arrival at church to coincide with the end of the song service so that your family will not be exposed to the evil rock beat. If a rock beat is used during the invitation time as well, then you must leave at the end of the sermon. Because a large, floral-jumper- or navy-suit-clad family parading in and out of church to avoid the back beat is a definite testimony of God’s principles at work in your life.

* When you are in church, you don’t really need to listen to the sermon, because you know all of these non-optional principles, therefore you are wise – wiser than your teachers, which includes the pastor of your church. Anything your pastor or anyone else says that is in opposition to the teachings of IBLP/ATI is clearly wrong. If possible, such a preacher or teacher should be lovingly confronted with the truth, as taught in the big red textbooks and/or Wisdom Booklets. (Presumably one never becomes wiser than their primary teachers, their parents. Because parents are always right.)

* If you are persecuted for your Godly testimony or standards and/or for shoving such testimony or standards down other people’s throats, rejoice! And be exceeding glad! For great is your reward in Heaven.

Finding Freedom from My Demons: Nicholas Ducote’s Story, Part Two

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

< Part One

You’re just “spiritually sensitive,” they told me at six years old, my young mind racing with anxiety. As my parents entered further into the labyrinthian maze of fundamentalism, they took my mind with them.  My parents were convinced that Gothardism held the solution to my issues. If religious options and doctrines were a grocery store, my parents plopped down on the Gothard Aisle and expected me to also enjoy their strict diet of Gothardism.  Instead, the doctrines on spiritual warfare, the Umbrella of Authority, and Strongholds increased my anxieties – sending me into a state of hyper-vigilance at night as I waited for the demons.

For years, I confused invasive thoughts, which everyone has, with a Satanic assault on my mind.

I began conceptualizing my mental illness as spiritual warfare very early on, probably by the time I was 7 or 8. Recently converted, it was the only paradigm my parents accepted so they explained things to me through that lens. When I had nightmares night after night, my parents told me it was the rock music I could hear through the walls that my sister listened to – certainly not our rapidly changing family dynamic as my parents tried to apply fundamentalism to my older sisters when they had already begun high school.

I remember one night, perhaps after attending the Basic Seminar a second time, my parents decided we should burn all the things in our house that possessed “demons” or a “demonic influence.”  This included books and movies and music – especially my dad’s vast collection of rock and roll from his youth.   We had to purge our home.  As time went on, I was sucked further into this idea of spiritual warfare causing mental, and even spiritual, issues.  My education in creationism only further complicated science and confused me about how my body worked.  It was not until college at a public university that I began to understand how the brain worked.  I slowly realized that many “mysterious” feelings and thoughts, which supposedly originated from God or Satan, were really my own brain simply working.

There were a number of Gothard’s doctrines that caused a great deal of fear.

One of the most problematic doctrines is the Umbrella of Authority. 

In this model of communication with God, divine inspiration and guidance flows from God, to the male parent, then to the female parent. It’s clear in this model that wives are subordinate to their husbands and ATI leaders preach that a woman’s first duty is to submit to the male leadership in her life. For wives, that means their husband. For daughters it means their fathers. In this model, the father is the only person in the family unit that has a sort of “direct connection with God.”  By this, I mean that if a child believed God was calling them in a certain direction, the child could only pursue that option if their father “confirmed” it with God. This model profoundly impacts a child’s conception of themselves.

If you disagree with your parents, you are disobeying God.

If you are outside of your parents’ Umbrella of Authority, then you are literally opening your mind to Satan and demons.

This brings me to what, in my life, was the most abusive and damaging belief. Gothard rejected the idea of mental illness and replaced it with a concept of “Strongholds” in your mind. Gothard preached that when humans disobeyed God, or their earthly authorities, they allowed Satan to “build a stronghold in your mind.”  From this Stronghold, Satan could tempt you and further lead you down the path to darkness and evil. One of the most common weaknesses for teenagers was rock music and dating, which Gothard believed was one of the fundamental reasons why teenagers rebelled and became perverse. In another giant leap of logic, Gothard argued that physical ailments could be caused by Strongholds. Literally almost every cause in your universe stemmed from your spirituality, which included everything from Christian Contemporary music, to apparently demonic Cabbage Patch dolls, and of course Disney.

So over my teenage years, I gradually developed intense anxiety, insomnia, and panic attacks. I would lay awake in my bed, staring at my door waiting for demons to come and get me.  This very real fear was stoked by Jim Logan, who would tell his Real Life Ghost Stories. Logan would preach about his many exorcisms, how African masks would literally scream and cry out if lit on fire, and how children’s misdeeds attracted demons into a Christian home. Especially rock music! I prayed incessantly, sometimes screaming with eyes filled with tears, for God to take away my fear and anxiety – but nothing ever happened.

It was because the cause of my mental anguish was not demons and spiritual warfare.

In fact, the further I get away from my internalized fear of demons and possession (taught to me exclusively through ATI), the better I sleep, the less afraid I am of what’s behind the shower curtain, the more confident I am to walk through a room with the light off, and it is because my brain no longer feels like its survival is threatened by the invisible forces of evil.

In my teenage years, some of the only relief I could manage to muster came from listening to a local modern rock radio station.  First, it connected me with the outside world and gave me hope that one day I could be in that world and not the one I was trapped in.  Second, it allowed me to enter all the conversations my peers had about their favorite music. Third, it gave me something to focus on that took my mind off spiritual warfare, demons, etc.  Unfortunately, I was also taught to believe that rock music would open my mind to Satan. I struggled with the cognitive dissonance for a year or two until I decided that the peace I received from rock music was far more important than risking demonic possession (which I was starting to believe less and less).  I figured, with all my rebelling as a teenager, if I hadn’t been attacked by demons yet I was probably alright.

It’s not uncommon for precocious, smart children to develop anxiety – as I now know my “sensitivity” is really just anxiety – but my parents only worsened it by focusing on solely spiritual causes and solutions.  When we prayed, when I prayed, when we “cried out” – whatever Gothardist ritual we preformed – it never made me feel any less anxious.  As a result, I felt like I must not be a real Christian or must have some sin in my life stopping God from helping me.  I don’t know how many times I prayed the sinner’s prayer, afraid that whatever I had done before wasn’t “sticking.”   I started finding a way out of the anxiety, and sometimes intense panic attacks, by learning about my brain. Not from fundamentalists, but from scientists who studied the brain – neuroscientists.

In the back of my mind, after I left the house, was always a voice warning me that my actions would attract Satan – that he would ruin my life because I chose to live outside my father’s Umbrella, to reject the concept of Strongholds, and I listened to rock music.  For quite awhile, I struggled to find out who I was, beyond my fearful subordination to a fundamentalist God.

I now know that I have a form of complex PTSD, which is triggered by my parents and their fundamentalism, especially when they judge my “sinful lifestyle.” 

For the longest time, I didn’t know why certain things they said or did would “launch” me into an irrational, emotional state.  Sometimes it was something inanimate, like the American flag covering my old bedroom wall or the library of fundamentalist literature I was pressured to read and apply to my life.  It doesn’t affect my life much anymore, but it did quite a bit into my early-20s.  Part of the reason is because I rarely communicate with my parents anymore.  Despite my best efforts, most of our interactions end with me being triggered by their lack of acceptance or the cultic doctrines they still try to evangelize me about.  This isn’t a story that takes place wholly in my past.

The third and final part of my story discusses how (as a 25 year old) I am still impacted by my parents’ fundamentalism.

Part Three >

Memories from Bill Gothard’s Indianapolis Training Center: Latebloomer’s Story

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Latebloomer’s blog Past Tense Present Progressive. It was originally published on November 10, 2013.

In my early 20s, I had my first experience living away from home.

It was a Really Big Deal.  Me–a weak, vulnerable, easily-decieved woman, according to the teachings of my family’s pastor Reb Bradley–out on my own, flying to a faraway state.  I was going to spend a few months living and studying music at Bill Gothard’s Indianapolis Training Center.

ITC was a tall drab brick building surrounded by a parking lot, not much to look at.  But that didn’t matter.  As I soon learned, the people staying there rarely ventured outside.  I personally only went outside about once a month during my few months there.  In order to leave, as a legal adult, I had to sign out, state my purpose for leaving, and verify that I was not leaving alone or with a male peer.  For a walk in a parking lot or a view of a run-down part of town, the hassle wasn’t worth it.

Inside the building was where all the excitement and drama played out.  For me, my time at ITC was a huge social challenge. I had almost no experience participating in conversations, eating meals with non-family members, or learning in a class setting. As a result, my stress level was nearly unmanageable from the challenge.  Mealtimes were the worst; I would try to eat when no one at the table was looking at me, and I would have a panic attack if anyone directed a question at me when I was chewing.  I was always the last one at the table, with a plate still full of food, wishing for privacy.

It didn’t help that, even though I was surrounded by hundreds of other fundamentalist homeschoolers like me, I was still the odd one out, because my family was not part of Bill Gothard’s homeschooling program, ATI.  Many of the rules of ATI were new to me, and I’d had lots of trouble finding clothing that fit the extreme and very specific modesty standards, even though my own wardrobe was incredibly conservative.  One of the biggest challenges had been finding a long navy skirt and a plain white button-up shirt, Bill Gothard’s required “uniform” for special sessions.

At ITC, lost in a sea of people with years of experience dressing to ATI standards, I felt even more hideous than normal.

However, I found that many of the other girls in attendance were incredibly sweet, considerate, and fun people, and I considered many of them friends by the end of our time there.  We bonded over late-night candy binges (smuggled in! candy was against the rules!), hallway races with *gasp!* no nylons or shoes (we weren’t allowed to leave our rooms without nylons and close-toed shoes!), and gossip about the “flirtatious” girls who dared to have a conversation with a guy.

We couldn’t stay up too late though, because every morning we were woken at dawn by two songs from the speakers near our beds: first a classical instrumental piece, followed by a boisterous march.  That signaled us to get up and get ready for a day of learning.

The music program was, in my opinion, fairly well done.  I learned a lot about music theory and composition, including how to write 4-part harmony!  But there were definitely some strange reoccurring themes that made an impression on me.  We were taught, for instance, that heavy drum beats in music was demonic because it originated in African music, which was demon worship.  Additionally, we heard that syncopated rhythms, which emphasize the offbeat, would affect our brains and cause us to have a strange shuffling gait.  The “scientific” proof of this was drawings of plants gradually wilting and dying next to a radio–killed by prolonged exposure to rock music.

The emphasis on authority and submission in ITC culture meant that not a single student ever challenged the teachers or expressed doubt at such bizarre, racist, arbitrary, and unsubstantiated teachings.  

This attitude affected me too, even though I was an ATI outsider, and I did not spend any time mentally refuting the ideas that were presented.  Gradually, these ideas began to seem “wholesome” to me, associated with the wholesome image that ATI maintains (now, most famously through the Duggar family’s TV show and blog).  The clothing standards, the early rising, the music standards, the sea of smiling white faces–it all began to feel normal and right, and I wondered what was wrong with me that I felt deeply unhappy and “unwholesome” most of the time, under my forced smile.

The authority culture had another dark side as well.  ITC had what it called a “Leaders in Training” program, separate from its music program.  An ITC young adult volunteer would be paired with a juvenile delinquent from the “outside world”.  These two were never allowed to be apart, and the volunteer was supposed to model good character while making sure the juvenile delinquent followed the ITC rules.  People pointed out to me the “prayer rooms”, with doors monitored by cameras, where “rebellious” juvenile delinquents would be held in solitary confinement until they were repentant.  While I was at ITC, one of them tried to jump off the roof.  It was unsettling, but at the time I couldn’t identify the reason.  Now I realize that it must have been incredibly dehumanizing for them to be forced to accept Bill Gothard’s version of Christianity, which gave them a painfully rigid exterior of rules and no tools for dealing with their inner turmoil.

When my time at ITC came to an end, re-entering the outside world felt incredibly strange and foreign.  

Almost all music felt oppressive and stressful, which is ironic for having just spent a few months studying music.  People wearing typical clothing looked strange and dangerous, after a few months of seeing nothing but a strict “wholesome” dress code.  And there was so little smiling!  It took quite awhile to acclimate to my regular life again, and to begin to question the culture and the teachings from ITC.

Once I let myself question it, one of my first thoughts was, “Why do people think so highly of Bill Gothard??” He visited ITC a few times while I was there, and I found him to be a strange, short little man with a judgemental face, jet black dyed hair, and a creepy vibe.  At no time did I ever wish to meet him or talk to him, which was very unusual for me, since I typically had to resist idolizing spiritual leaders.

Now I just have distant memories of this experience.  It feels like another life and another person, not me.  I wonder what happened to the others girls I studied with.  I wonder what happened to the “leaders in training”.  I wonder if ITC is the same now as when I was there 10 years ago.

And I wonder if this extreme experience was actually just what I needed to push me to start questioning all my beliefs

NOTE: I recommend the website for anyone who is trying to get out of the cult mentality of Bill Gothard’s programs.

Andrew Pudewa and Musical Pseudoscience

Andrew Pudewa

By R.L Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

My mom loves writing.

She loves to write, she loves to teach others how to write, and she loves attending workshops on how to write better. As far back as I can remember, she emphasized the importance of writing well to her children. My siblings and I grew up being encouraged to write short stories, book reports, poems, and — in my case — even musical productions.

Two decades ago, my mom brought Andrew Pudewa to Los Gatos Christian Church in the San Jose, California area to teach homeschool kids about good writing. Pudewa runs the Institute for Excellence in Writing (IEW). IEW describes itself as an “award-winning approach” that “will give you the tools you need to confidently teach your students to write well, think clearly, and express themselves eloquently and persuasively.” The cornerstone of the IEW program is “Teaching Writing: Structure and Style,” a course for parents and teachers on how to teach writing.

About Andrew Pudewa

Almost two decades ago, my mom brought Andrew Pudewa several times to Los Gatos Christian Church in the San Jose, California area.
Two decades ago, my mom brought Andrew Pudewa several times to Los Gatos Christian Church in the San Jose, California area.

Pudewa has been the principle speaker and director of IEW since the 1990’s. While he does not have a college degree, he does have two stated credentials: First, he is a “graduate of the Talent Education Institute in Matsumoto, Japan.” This means he has a “Suzuki Violin Teacher” certificate. Second, he has a “Certificate of Child Brain Development from the Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.” (The Institutes for the Achievement of Human Potential is a non-profit organization whose programs for brain injured children have provoked significant controversy over the last few decades.)

While Pudewa primarily focuses on writing, his opinions on other matters have popped up online from time to time. Pudewa believes public schools are “temples of relativism.” He has argued that multiple-choice tests are “evil” and “part of a clandestine effort by the inner sanctum of social scientists.” He also calls the Civil War “the War of Northern Aggression.”

I vividly remember three things from attending Pudewa’s writing classes:

1) Pudewa’s notion of the ideal paragraph.

2) Group massages.

3) Rock music kills plants and hurts rats.

The first — Pudewa’s notion of the ideal paragraph — I remember with fondness. Pudewa has these strategies for making a paragraph interesting. Each paragraph is supposed to include different “types” of sentences — a sentence beginning with a declarative, like “There is…,” a sentence beginning with an “-ing” verb, like “Thinking he was late, the boy rushed…,” a “very short sentence” with five words or less, and so forth. I have heard from other homeschool graduates that they hated this part of Pudewa’s program, that it was stifling and led to poor writing habits that took years to overcome. I even found a homeschooling mom express this sentiment recently in such a spot-on way it was simultaneously humorous and heartbreaking:

“[My child’s] paragraph on Noah is all stilted and weird because she HAD to include that who clause and that ‘ly word.

While I understand those criticisms, I personally appreciated the idea of intentionally changing your sentence structure to make each paragraph more arresting.

The second — group massages — was just weird. Pudewa would make all the class attendees — homeschool kids and homeschooling mothers — stand up and give each other back massages. When you’re a kid and your teacher makes you give a back massage to not only strangers but much older adult woman, and vice-versa, it is… weird.

The third — Pudewa’s tangential lessons on the “effects of music on life” — are what I am interested in discussing here.

Pudewa has a fascination with music and its alleged effects on the human brain and children’s ability to learn. This fascination makes sense considering Pudewa is not only a writing teacher, but also a Suzuki-method violin teacher. In fact, it might interest homeschool graduates who disliked Pudewa’s writing instruction methods to know that Pudewa’s methods are an experiment in applying Suzuki’s method for teaching violin to something other than music — namely, writing.

The Profound (New Age) Effects of Music on Life

It wasn’t random happenstance that other children and I learned about the detrimental impact certain types of music can have on rats, plants, and students two decades ago. Pudewa has been teaching this lesson since the 1990’s.

Even today, the Institute for Excellence in Writing continues to sell Pudewa's presentation on music, entitled "The Profound Effects of Music on Life."
Even today, the Institute for Excellence in Writing continues to sell Pudewa’s presentation on music, entitled “The Profound Effects of Music on Life.”

More important, he still is.

Just a couple years ago in 2011, Andrea Schwartz — who works with the Christian Reconstructionist organization the Chalcedon Foundation and who oversees the Chalcedon Teacher Training Institute — interviewed Pudewa. In that interview, Pudewa brings up the same plant and rat stories I heard as a kid.

As of today, in November of 2013, the Institute for Excellence in Writing sells Pudewa’s presentation on music, entitled “The Profound Effects of Music on Life.” The presentation description says the listener will “discover the fascinating effects that different kinds of music have on our brains,” a discovery that will “transform your thinking” and make you “never listen to music in quite the same way again.” How does Pudewa accomplish this? Well, “Dramatic evidence regarding potentially harmful music is introduced with both scientific data and spiritual insight.”

Yes, “dramatic evidence.”

You could spend $15 and buy his presentation to find out more. Or you can check out the presentation handout that IEW has available for free on their website. A quick perusal of this handout verifies for me that this is exactly the same presentation with the exact same “dramatic evidence” that I heard as a child, years and years ago at Los Gatos Christian Church.

So what is this “dramatic evidence” that leads Pudewa to teach young, impressionable children for two decades now that rock music could “potentially harm” their bodies and brains? Well, the evidence comes from a number of sources, the most notable being: Dorothy Retallack, Frances Rauscher, and Inge and Ron Cannon.

The New Age Pseudoscience of Dorothy Retallack

Rock music kills plants.

Andrew Pudewa's primary source for his musical plant claim is Dorothy Retallack's book "The Sound of Music and Plants."
Andrew Pudewa’s primary source for his musical plant claim is Dorothy Retallack’s book “The Sound of Music and Plants.”

If there is anything for which I will forever remember Andrew Pudewa, it is this claim.

He made the claim almost two decades ago. He is still making the claim today.

In Pudewa’s aforementioned presentation outline, you can see this for yourself. He claims that, “Plants exposed to classical music flourished while those exposed to rock and heavily percussive music were less healthy and turned away from the source of sound, many finally dying.” He then provides a footnote to the “primary source” for this “research citation.”

Pudewa’s primary source for his musical plant claim is Dorothy Retallack’s book The Sound of Music and Plants.

Dorothy Retallack was a professional mezza-soprano who described herself as a “doctor’s wife, housekeeper, and grandmother to fifteen.” In 1964, after her last child graduated from college, she enrolled as a freshman at the now-nonexistent Temple Buell College. Note that she was a professional musician, not a scientist. In order to fulfill her basic general ed science requirements, Retallack took an Introduction to Biology course. Her teacher asked her to conduct an experiment — any experiment that would interest her. This experiment led to her claim to fame: the musical plant myth.

According to Dr. Daniel Chamovitz (Ph.D. Genetics, Hebrew University of Jerusalem), Director of the Manna Center for Plant Biosciences at Tel Aviv University, Retallack was “a unique mixture of a social conservative who believed that loud rock music correlated with antisocial behavior among college students and a New Age spiritualist who saw a sacred harmony between music and physics and all of nature.” She was inspired for her experiment by a 1959 book called The Power of Prayer on Plants. This book was written by the late Reverend Franklin Loehr, who founded the Religious Research Foundation.

Do me a quick favor, by the way, and go look at his “foundation” website. This will tell you all you need to know.

But just in case that doesn’t clue you in, let me add: Loehr was a “past life reader” who believed he channeled an “entity” that called itself “Dr. John Christopher Daniels.” This entity was a “research librarian” 4300 years ago.

So Retallack’s experiment on plants was inspired by the ancient librarian-channeling Reverend’s book about plants. In his book, Loehr claimed that plants bombarded with prayers fared better than plants bombarded with hateful thoughts. This claim caused Retallack to wonder if music could impact plants in the same way. She exposed a variety of plants to Bach, Schoenberg, Jimi Hendrix, and Led Zeppelin. Her experiments, she claimed, demonstrated that plants exposed to soft classical music (and even elevator music) were healthy, whereas plants exposed to rock music — in particular, the drum beats of rock music — died. She wrote up her conclusions in the 1973 book The Sound of Music and Plants.

And there you have it. This is the origin of the idea that rock music kills plants. This is the entirety of the evidence that Andrew Pudewa cites for the idea as well.

But there are some problems. I will let Dr. Chamovitz explain:

Retallack’s studies were drought with scientific shortcomings… The number of replicates in her studies was so small that it was not sufficient for statistical analysis. The experimental design was poor—some of the studies were carried out in her friend’s house—and parameters, such as soil moisture, were determined by touching the soil with a finger. While Retallack cites a number of experts in her book, almost none of them are biologists. They are experts in music, physics, and theology, and quite a few citations are from sources with no scientific credentials. Most important, however, is the fact that her research has not been replicated in a credible lab… Retallack’s musical plants have been relegated to the garbage bin of science.

What Dr. Chamovitz states is the universal scientific consensus. Because — spoiler alert — plants don’t have ears. Plants can technically see, smell, and feel. But they cannot hear. As Eastern Connecticut State University professor of Botany, Ross Koning, has stated:

Plants have no ears to hear and no brain to process or develop musical taste or music appreciation…so any attempts to show relationships between music forms and growth or other responses have met with total failure in the hands of true scientists. This explains the lack of literature you find to read on the subject.

The popular TV show MythBusters even had a segment on this myth, entitled “Talking to Plants.” Like Retallack, they too used bad scientific methods. But unlike Retallack, their conclusions were in favor of beat-driven music: the plants they exposed to intense death metal grew the most.

Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott, who has a PhD in Horticulture and is the Extension Urban Horticulturist at Puyallup Research and Extension Center at Washington State University, has also written a scatching review of Retallack’s “research.” Dr. Chalker-Scott points out that, among many other problems, Retallack’s book should not be considered valid because: (1) out of the 40 footnotes only two are relevant to the subject of plant growth and sound; (2) Retallack “anthropomorphizes,” comparing “plants to humans in terms of having ‘likes and dislikes, their feelings and idiosyncrasies'”; and (3) “the potting containers were Styrofoam drinking cups with no drainage.”

Most curiously, Dr. Chalker-Scott also makes the following observation: “The book is published by a company that specializes in New Age literature, not science.”

Yes, New Age literature. Dr. Chamovitz also points this out: “Her book was eventually published as New Age literature.”

Andrew Pudewa has been teaching New Age literature to Christian homeschoolers for  two decades.

Misinterpreting Frances Rauscher

Andrew Pudewa cites studies by Dr. Frances Rauscher, widely considered to be the pioneer of the "Mozart Effect."
Andrew Pudewa cites studies by Dr. Frances Rauscher, widely considered to be the pioneer of the “Mozart Effect.”

It’s not just plants that rock music hurts, though, according to Pudewa. Rats are also negatively impacted; in contrast, Mozart can positively benefit — via the “Mozart Effect” — students and children. Again from his presentation handout:

College students temporarily improved spatial-temporal IQ scores by 8-10 points after listening to Mozart, when compared with relaxation music and no music… Preschool children given six months of keyboard instruction increased spatial-temporal IQ scores by an average of 46% over other supplemental instruction (singing, computer, free play)… Rats exposed to Mozart music from before birth to 60 days old were able to learn mazes over twice as fast as those with no music, whereas rats exposed to repetitive “minimalist” music were unable to navigate mazes at all.

For all of these claims, Pudewa cites studies by Dr. Frances Rauscher. Dr. Rauscher (PhD, Experimental Psychology, Columbia University) is widely considered the pioneer of the “Mozart Effect,” the idea that listening to Mozart can positively impact young children and students. But this is sort of like the case of Brian Ray and the state of homeschooling research: the research does not really prove what people think it proves. Here is NPR’s summary of what Rauscher demonstrated:

In the spring of 1993 a psychologist named Francis [sic] Rauscher played 10 minutes of a Mozart Piano Sonata to 36 college students, and after the excerpt, gave the students a test of spatial reasoning. Rauscher also asked the students to take a spatial reasoning test after listening to 10 minutes of silence, and, after listening to 10 minutes of a person with a monotone speaking voice.And Rauscher says, the results of this experiment seemed pretty clear. “What we found was that the students who had listened to the Mozart Sonata scored significantly higher on the spatial temporal task.”

While this seems simple enough, it got quickly and increasingly complicated. J.S. Jenkins (MD, Fellow at the Royal College of Physicians) explains: “Some investigators were unable to reproduce the findings,” while “others confirmed that listening to Mozart’s sonata K448 produced a small increase in spatial-temporal performance.” Rauscher herself “stressed that the Mozart effect is limited to spatial temporal reasoning and that there is no enhancement of general intelligence.”

She also cautioned that her test might have involved “inappropriate test procedures.”

Many attempts to replicate Rauscher’s studies were conducted, many of which were unsuccessful. According to Andrew Gorman, Research Associate at the Institute of Cognitive Science at University of Colorado, Boulder,

In an effort to replicate and extend the results from UC, Irvine [Rauscher’s study], Stough, Kerkin, Bates, and Mangan performed a similar study using 30 subjects… The results of their test showed that while there was a small mean difference in scores across conditions in the predicted direction, these differences were not significant… The researchers concluded that further research in this area would not be of any benefit.

…Citing other studies that failed to show a “Mozart Effect” (Kenealy, 1994; Stough et al., 1994), Newman, Rosenbach, Burns, Latimer, Matocha, and Vogt tried to duplicate the conditions of the original study by Rauscher et al… This showed no significant difference between condition group and thus did not support the Rauscher et al. experiments. In analyzing the scores using music training as the factor, no significant difference was found. Interest- ingly, the subjects who reported liking classical music scored significantly lower than those who did not.

Gorman canvasses a good number of other studies, some backing up Rauscher’s study and some undermining it. Gorman’s conclusion of all the contradictory studies is as follows:

It is clear that there is growing evidence that support the claims that music can enhance verbal and spatial-temporal ability. However, this is by no means a panacea. The short-term effects that have been found are so ephemeral and are confined to such a narrow range of tasks that it is questionable as to whether any practical applications will come from this research. Any hope that these results will directly influence educational policy seems misguided.

While Rauscher’s studies created a storm of arguments, Rauscher herself was surprised and confused by the ways people took the results. The results were often misinterpreted or misapplied. Rauscher states,

“Generalizing these results to children is one of the first things that went wrong. Somehow or another the myth started exploding that children that listen to classical music from a young age will do better on the SAT, they’ll score better on intelligence tests in general, and so forth.”

Ironically, Rauscher sees her study as supporting a love of music in general, not a love of any particular type of music. She says,

“The key to it is that you have to enjoy the music. If you hate Mozart you’re not going to find a Mozart Effect. If you love Pearl Jam, you’re going to find a Pearl Jam effect.”

Yes, the person that Pudewa cites in favor of “the Mozart Effect” actually believes “the Pearl Jam Effect” is just as valid a conclusion.

And what about those rats that listened to Mozart non-stop? Well,  I could point out that Dr. Kenneth M. Steele (PhD, University of Tennessee-Knoxville), Professor of Psychology at Appalachian State University, conducted his own Mozart/rat experiments. He concluded that, “in the context of piano note frequencies,” rats were “deaf to most of the notes (69%) in the sonata.” Thus, “Whatever the rats hear, it is not the sonata written by Mozart.”

But I think Rauscher probably gives the best response to her own study, albeit indirectly:

Rauscher, at age 42, hears more Mozart in the lab than she did 15 years ago when she burned out and abandoned a more traditional pursuit of music. Even now she has mixed feelings–at least about the ‘all Mozart all the time’ auditory diet that she feeds her research subjects. ‘I’m so sick of it I could die,” she says. “Sometimes I can’t get it out of my head. It’s so annoying.'”

I think the lesson here is (1) listen to music you love and (2) don’t listen to any type of music (whether you love it or hate it) for 12 hours a day, day after day after day.

The Cannons Strive for Excellence

Another “citation” that Pudewa provides on his presentation handout is this:

Striving for Excellence (audiotape set), IBLP, Box One, Oak Brook, IL 60522

Why is Andrew Pudewa citing material from Bill Gothard's Institute for Basic Life Principles
Why is Andrew Pudewa citing material from Bill Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles

Published by Bill Gothard’s Institute for Basic Life Principles, Striving for Excellence: How to Evaluate Music consists of two audio cassettes and a booklet. The booklet lists no author. The material on the cassettes is presented by Inge & Ron Cannon.  Inge Cannon helped launch Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute (ATI) in 1984. In 1990 she became the director of HSLDA’s National Center for Home Education. Dr. Ron Cannon, Inge’s spouse, earned his PhD in 1985 in theology from Trinity Seminary.

Jeri Lofland at Heresy in the Heartland has already summarized the contents of the Cannons’ “Striving for Excellence” message. So I will cite a few highlights from her summary:

The Cannons began with some music theory that was way over our heads… Then there were some odd bits and pieces about rhythms causing riots or neural damage in mice… Another doctor translated DNA into musical scores. (Don’t ask me how.)… Now we came to the heart of the argument: rock music, the very beat itself, was equated with rebellion and unbridled sensuality. It would make listeners want to take drugs and have sex… And if we still weren’t convinced, the Cannons explained that rock songs were imbalanced, like asymmetrical architecture. The best forms of art or music were those from the Age of Classicism: a definite beginning, a climax point, and a satisfying conclusion. With echoes of David Noebel’s publications against rock music, this one deprecated Impressionism and Cubism while celebrating the Baroque and the Classical periods.

This series by the Cannons is chockfull of so much debunked pseudoscience and conspiracy theories that I am unsure why Pudewa would direct anyone in its direction. Furthermore, notice what Jeri says Striving for Excellence mentions: “neural damage in mice.” Yes, the Cannons themselves reference Rauscher’s studies — and like Pudewa, they do so haphazardly. Should someone tell me that the Cannons also reference Dorothy Retallack, I will not be surprised.

Andrew Pudewa, David Noebel, and Bill Gothard

Ultimately, my criticism here is much bigger than Andrew Pudewa. It absolutely does bother me that Pudewa — as an instructor of young, impressionable students — would perpetuate pseudoscience and alarmist myths through his teaching position.

That is bad enough.

But this is bigger than Pudewa.

Interracial concert audiences concerned Christian fundamentalists and the Ku Klux Klan.
Interracial concert audiences concerned Christian fundamentalists and the Ku Klux Klan.

The Retallack and Rauscher experiments have inspired a longstanding trend within evangelical circles — and the Christian homeschooling movement — to spread fear and panic about any music with a beat. Since the 1960’s, people like Bill Gothard — from IBLP and ATI— and David Noebel — from Summit Ministries — have spread inaccurate and unintelligent claims about rock music. Gothard has argued that rock music leads “to rebellion, drugs, immorality, and the occult,” associating just about every possible sin with the musical genre.

David Noebel’s first claim to fame is the 1965 book  Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles, where he alleges — no joke — that “Rock ‘n’ roll is turning kids into gay, Communist, miscegenators.”

Miscegenators, people.

David Noebel, the founder of our beloved Summit Ministries, was against interracial marriage as much as he is against gay marriage. And rock music was the root of the evil that was interracial marriage. What, you ask, led him to such an asinine, racist conclusion? Well, according to Dr. James Kennaway, a Wellcome Trust Research Fellow at the Centre for the History of Medicine and Disease at Durham University, Noebel brought to light “a less common aspect of music’s dangers – the threat posed to plants. He reported an experiment conducted by Mrs Dorothy Retallack of Denver that demonstrated, he claimed, that avant-garde classical music made plants wilt and Led Zeppelin made them die.”

Yes, with David Noebel we have come full circle to Doroth Retallack.

But Bill Gothard’s claims about music do not make Retallack’s look much better. W. Terry Lindley, Professor of History at Union University, explains that, in Gothard’s 1993 book, How to Conquer the Addiction of Rock Music, Gothard “recalls a life-threatening incident involving Christian rock”:

A seventeen-year old girl, while undergoing a routine operation to cut a non-cancerous tumor from her finger, suddenly developed what appeared to be a heart problem. However, when the girl’s headset turned off, her heart returned to normal rhythm. She had been listening to the rock album “Beyond Belief” by Petra.

Cue the horror movie music.

Dr. Kennaway situates these fears of the Religious Right in the broader context of what he describes as “the development of fears that music can make listeners ill.” He explains that, “For the last two hundred years many doctors, critics and writers have suggested that certain kinds of music have the power to cause neurosis, madness, hysteria and even death.”

One of the most significant factors in this fearmongering, according to Dr. Kennaway, is racism.

“Race,” he explains, “has played a major role in most medical panics about music since ragtime. Already in 1904, an American critic commented on the popularity of the argument that the ‘peculiar accent and syncopated time’ of ragtime could have a ‘disintegrating effect on nerve tissue and a similar result upon moral integrity’.” One sees this unfortunate sentiment in Noebel’s miscegnation comment. Noebel gets even more upfront about his racism, saying that rock music is a Communist plot to replace classical music with, and I quote, “the beat of African music.”  One also sees it — whether intentionally or not — in Andrew Pudewa, the Cannons, Bill Gothard, and David Noebel whenever they make comments about “beats.” Because, see, each and every musical type has a beat. What all these individuals are objecting to is what they abstractly refer to as “syncopated” or “tribal” beats — in other words, beats brought to the U.S. by Africans.

So not only is this shared narrative anti-intellectual and unscientific, it is also an inherently racist narrative. I think the most vivid example of this fact comes from Dr. Roger Chapman (PhD, American Culture Studies, Bowling Green State University), Professor of History at Palm Beach Atlantic University. Dr. Chapman states,

Interracial concert audiences concerned Christian fundamentalists and the Ku Klux Klan, who called for a ban on the “devil’s music” to prevent the spread of juvenile delinquency and the “mongrelization” of white teens.


For two decades, Andrew Pudewa has taught young students flawed science about music. But the science is more than merely flawed. It originated from a man who thought he channeled a 5000-year-old spirit and then promoted by a New Age spiritualist. Why is such pseudoscience being taught by Pudewa to Christian homeschoolers? Why is something so untrue — and something that is actually New Age literature — being repeated over and over for decades by evangelicals and Christian homeschool leaders so concerned about New Age literature and African spiritualism — by Bill Gothard, David Noebel, and others like Bob Larson, Jimmy Swaggart, Geoffrey Botkin, and “Little Bear” Wheeler?

This is not only the height of bad scholarship, it is the height of irony.

Growing up, Christian homeschoolers were cautioned about how listening to rock music could cause you to be demon possessed. Now come to find out, that very alarmism was inspired by a man who quite literally claimed to be possessed himself.

I could end this whole post with some conclusion that wraps everything up nicely and neatly. But that would be too classical, if you know what I mean. So I will conclude with the best critique of the whole “rock music kills plants” myth that exists, courtesy of Audio Adrenaline:

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part One

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part One

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.


In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four


Religious fanatics simply ruin children.

"Evil rock and roll saved my life."
“Evil rock and roll saved my life.”

The quaint, happy, innocent life of a child can quickly be replaced by the stark absolutes of fanaticism. Muslim, Christian, and Jew are one in the same monster. Their fanatics take different names, they act in different ways, but they are all the same.  Fanatics know no middle ground.  They know no compromise – other than our mutual destruction. Bill Gothard turned my parents cultists and they focused all their energies “training up” a perfect son. My parents attended an Institute of Basic Life Principles conference and eventually joined ATI, Gothard’s homeschooling cult.  I remember my mom coming in to tell me we were going to burn some things to remove the evil:

“Honey, your father and I have decided to make some changes around the house.  We’re going to stop getting cable and we’re going to get rid of some of our things.”

“Ok, mommy. What are we getting rid of?”

“We are going to get rid of our evil books,” she said.

I had never thought a book could be evil. But I certainly wanted to get rid of all the evil books we had! My parents explained that we would be burning books, movies, and records. 

 “Of course, mommy!  I’ll look through my books right now!”

There was only one book that stuck out to me as especially “evil.” I can’t recall the exact title, but I remember that the title had something to do with the devil. Of course, it was really just about a submarine voyage, or maybe some Moby Dick variation. It was part of a compilation, so my mother said we didn’t have to burn the whole book, maybe just the title page. Not many people have experienced a book burning, I must say. I guess that makes me special?

Children are so impressionable. In retrospect, most everything I was taught was ridiculous and mostly untrue. Rock and roll was not invented by the devil, or even just by the “evil Africans” who brought over their “demon beats” in an attempt to corrupt America. But what child is going to risk being possessed by demons just because they listen to rock music? I certainly wasn’t. It was easy for others to convince me I needed to proselytize, pass out tracts, and otherwise make myself a general asshole. My adolescence was little more than a protracted church service.  When you’re homeschooled, the son of fanatics, and not allowed to even go in the neighbor-children’s houses, it’s difficult to think for yourself. I was always a well-mannered, funny kid, so I had friends, but I was beyond sheltered. 

I always felt that “normal kids” had it so easy. I envied the kids that attended private school and my parents would not let me attend a school outside of our home. Of course, I did not envy the public school kids, because I was told that they were being brainwashed by a communistic system and God was being forced out. Before I became involved in NCFCA (a Christian, homeschool speech and debate league), I was a huge sports nut and I always craved the camaraderie and friendship of the people on my team. My parents did not allow me to go into my neighbor’s houses because I might see some television – yes, I am being serious. 

Without the internet, without Wikipedia, or without message boards, it’s possible that I would be a mindless, fanatical robot. But, for a sheltered child with very little contact with the outside world, the internet is like heaven. Unfortunately, that internet usage was limited by firewalls, parental filters, and the like. However, Wikipedia was never blocked, nor was peer-to-peer downloading. Most children without sex-ed are left to flipping through encyclopedias and dictionaries to discover sexual issues. I knew the very basics from my parents, but they never cared to elaborate. I was taught that AIDS was a GAY DISEASE, that gay people received from being gay. I was taught that if I had more than one sexual partner, I would most likely get an STD. Reading studies, normal people’s thoughts, and seeing that my parents were crazy about just about everything helped me grow up a lot. 

The internet was my trail-guide on the trip to knowledge and enlightenment. When you hear of the 18th century “Enlightenment,” some people might think that term is a bit ostentatious, but I disagree. There is nothing like the pure bliss of understanding the truth. Indeed, to cut through the bullshit that the powers-that-be throw at you on a daily basis. To rise above the propaganda. To cut through the paranoia. Some people call me arrogant, and I suppose I can come across that way. But really, I just want to share my enlightenment. 

The strangest feeling is after your enlightenment, when you return home. My relatives had served in the military, been “around the block,” and refused to believe that my college education gave me any insight into the truth. To my reborn self, everything in my parent’s home became a symbol of my oppression and repression – all the books, the magazines, the religious rituals before mealtime, and the constant use of Biblical allusions in conversation. Every conversation with them eventually comes to a head with their religious beliefs – a black and white world.  Every time I asked them for advice, I don’t get just a normal answer with life advice. It’s all about God’s will, his plan, his desires. 

For the longest time, I could not even admit to my parents that I believed evolution was true. It took me three years to work up the courage to tell them that. I knew it would upset them because they spent so much time indoctrinating me about creationism. When we get into arguments and they start breaking out Bible verses and condemnation, I have an uncontrollable physical reaction. So many arguments in high school, which usually involved them telling me to stop talking to a girl that I really liked, ended with me feeling trapped and isolated. On one occasion, at the age of fifteen, my parents made me call the girl I’d secretly been IM’ing (because I wasn’t allowed to talk to girls over email or IM and they caught me) and break up with her. Then they sentenced me to a month of solitary confinement – I was banned from talking and hanging out with any of my friends. I could attend the weekly speech class held in our home, but that was it. I was stuck in my parents’ house, trapped by their ideologies, with no one to talk to. As you can imagine, that’s a lot for a 15 year old to handle. 

Essentially, I was imprisoned and the people who put me in there were constantly there with me. I couldn’t go to school every day and get that escape and that’s all I wanted. My only escape was a Sony Walkman that included an FM radio. I remember laying in my water bed, with my headphones in, tears streaming down my cheeks. I don’t know exactly what emotion I was feeling at the time. I don’t know if there’s any worse feeling than being forced to not speak to the one girl who loves you and listens to you. Sure, I was only 15 and I wasn’t going to marry the girl, but why be a bitch about it, mom and dad? I knew my dad kept many handguns in his room and plenty of ammo. At the time, I was in total desperation. I couldn’t tell anyone about how I was feeling, not even my guy friends. This left the thoughts and feelings to run laps around my brain, never stopping. The only way I felt like I could be whole again was to kill myself.

Translucent, I wonder the halls,

In search of companion,

In search of purpose,

Cannot gain traction.

Reaching out, my hand passes through,

All the bodies,

All the walls,


Ironically, that’s when evil rock and roll saved my life. I don’t know if I would have actually killed myself, but I was pretty damn close. The fact that I heard that specific song at just that time seemed absolutely divine. The girl I’d been forced to break up with and I both loved Green Day, especially the song Time of Your Life (Good Riddance). Thanks, Green Day. Their punk asses understood my teenage angst and told me that everything would be ok.  After this point, I decided I had to have privacy and I had to have an escape.

My laptop became my secret diary, if you will. It included all the instant messages I sent to the girls I wasn’t supposed to be talking to, all the movies I wasn’t supposed to download, and let’s not even mention all the evil rock and roll I wasn’t supposed to even own. As I said before, even my internet was covered with protections. If I ever visited a site that could be considered related to drugs, sex, nudity, anarchism, or full of profanity, my parents would receive an email telling them exactly where I went. The internet was also set to go off at 10pm. This was pretty shitty since all my girlfriends were long-distance (you just try to date someone who lives in the same city when your parents track your every move). I found a way to circumvent the Evil Firewall and talked to my girls on AIM or Gtalk. 

I dove headfirst into books, films, and music. I wanted to learn about these beautiful expressions of self that touched me so dearly. I read books about what good films were supposed to look like and my friends and I made our way down IMDB’s Top 250 Movies. I obsessively began to immerse myself in popular culture. I went 15 years not understanding movie references, pop songs, and TV shows. I know it seems petty, but when everyone is talking about their favorite band, something they saw on tv, it’s easy to feel excluded. Even the other homeschool kids could listen to rock music, but not me. But after that I didn’t care because I just wanted to be able to cultivate healthy relationships with people who liked me. 

To be continued.