Silenced Voices, Unspeakable Questions: Lena Baird’s Story, Part One

Homeschoolers U

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Lena Baird” is a pseudonym specifically chosen by the author.

My junior year at PHC, I was in a small creative writing group. We met every few weeks, and passed around our recent works—short stories, poems, novel excerpts—and wrote comments and critiques in the margins. One week, I wrote a poem in response to a chapel message that had upset me. It was yet another story, from another man, about how something terrible had almost happened—but because of faith in God, disaster was averted at the last moment.

I was sick of hearing those stories. My life experience had been nothing like that, but no one had ever told a story like mine in chapel. So I wrote:

You listen to the story, confident,
knowing the happy ending will arrive,
and leave you satisfied, your mind content,
your questions answered – yes, he did survive:
the usual miracle. But I could tell
a story with another kind of end –
an end of dreams and hopes, a glimpse of hell –
and would you smile, applauding calmly, then?
No, better to keep silent. For till you
have wept for a miracle that did not come,
and found all answers hollow and untrue,
your questions mocked beneath a dying sun –
till you have faced the dark with empty hands –
you will not hear; you cannot understand.

Not a great sonnet, by any means; but it expressed how I felt. The chapel message was not my story. I was struggling to process trauma, and loss, and tragedy. (I was probably clinically depressed, but I didn’t know anything about mental health, because that was another topic no one discussed.) I didn’t feel like I could say this to any of friends. So I said it in a poem, and even that felt like pushing a boundary—saying something people might not accept.

When I got my poem back, with comments, no one seemed to realize I was talking about myself. I don’t have the sheet of paper with comments anymore, but one girl wrote something very similar to this: “This person just doesn’t get it. God is good—someone needs to tell him!”

Not only did she assume that I was writing from the perspective of a fictional character …. she also assumed that the fictional character was male.

I knew all about God. That was the problem. What I knew about God—the narrative of Christian evangelical homeschool culture, the only framework for life I’d been exposed to—did not fit my life, at all.

And even when I dared to speak—obliquely, through creative writing—no one heard my questions.

 

*****

My literature professor liked talking about worldviews. He considered most authors inadequate; their lack of “a Christian worldview” invalidated—or at least diminished—their artistic merits. He talked, frequently, about the need for “a Christian renaissance” in modern literature. From what he said, I got the impression that literature by Christians pretty much stopped with Lewis and Tolkien. Gradually, I realized that this was not accurate. Gilead won the Pulitzer Prize while I was at PHC, but I never heard it mentioned in class. I discovered Flannery O’Connor, Walker Percy, and Graham Greene outside of PHC. They weren’t mentioned as examples of Christian writers, either—possibly because they were Catholics, and Catholics were suspect, at best. (Tolkien, despite his Catholicism, seemed to be infallible.)

I wanted to be a writer, and I wanted to express my faith through my writing; but by my junior year, my faith was more doubt than certainty, more questions than answers. I liked O’Connor and Greene and Percy because they wrestled with doubt; their stories expressed a complicated, conflicted, messy faith.

But there wasn’t room for faith like that in class discussions.

There wasn’t room for my story.

*****

My literature professor also talked a lot about gender roles. He said, “If a wife gets up to pray and have her quiet time at seven in the morning, the husband should get up at six.” As leader of the home, apparently the husband had to outdo his wife in everything. It wasn’t a model of marriage that appealed to me—but it was what most of my fellow students seemed to want. They talked a lot about how men were leaders, and women were supposed to support men in leadership. Almost all my friends thought the husband should lead in marriage. Most of them also thought only men should hold leadership roles in the church.

I found this baffling. One day, in the dining hall, I questioned the logic of male leadership. “What if I’m a good musician,” I said, “and the choice for music leader is between me and a man? What if the man doesn’t know how to read music?”

“It doesn’t matter,” my roommate said. “You should step back, and let him lead.”

There were five or six of us at the table. I was the only one who thought knowledge mattered more than gender. I secretly thought women could be pastors, too, but I was afraid to say that. Instead, I listened while they all explained to me that God created all men as leaders.

Later, in literature class, my professor said: “God calls a man to a vision. He calls a woman to a man.”

What did that mean for my dreams? My visions? Couldn’t a man and a woman both have dreams, and support each other in pursuing them?

He didn’t open the floor for discussion. There wasn’t room for my voice.

*****

Gender roles didn’t just factor into literature class and dining hall discussions—they permeated campus culture. The female professors were all single. The male professors were all married. Only men were invited to give chapel messages. On the rare occasions when a woman spoke, we had “split chapel”: the female students met in one room, and listened to the woman speaker. The male students met elsewhere, and listened to a man.

Only male students were allowed to lead singing in chapel. Female students could accompany singing on the piano, if they wished, or they could back up a male singer with guitar. But they were never permitted to stand at the podium and lead singing—except when we had split chapel. If only women were in the room, a woman could lead singing.

In student elections, the candidates for student body president were always male. At least one female student ran for student body vice president, but she wasn’t elected.

Part Two >

You Can’t Lace Geography Lessons with Jesus: A Response to Israel Wayne

 

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By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

For Israel Wayne, homeschooling is not about education. It’s about discipleship. His recently viral blogpost, “A Shift in the Homeschooling Movement,” testifies to this fact. In it, he suggests that we “shift” homeschooling towards the “lordship of Jesus.” In order to understand the post, one must understand that, for him, homeschooling must be religious or spiritual in its essence — education, academics, those are disposable accouterments to the goal of evangelizing your children.

Israel Wayne is the son of Home School Digest‘s Skeet Savage and a repeat speaker at the Homeschool Alumni National Reunion. He runs BiblicalBetrothal.com, which features writings from betrothal advocate Jonathan Lindvall and child marriage apologist Matthew Chapman. He himself has written for Above Rubies, Brannon Howse’s WorldviewWeekend.com, and Answers in Genesis, and has authored a number of books, most notably Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview. You can read his bio at his organization Family Renewal here.

In Homeschooling from a Biblical Worldview, we get a basic picture of Wayne’s perspective on homeschooling and education. Essentially, all education is religious and — as the book’s own summary so neatly states — “Beginning with proper biblical presuppositions will enable students to make sense of the world around them.”

Fail to have the proper biblical presuppositions, and students fail to make sense of the world.

This is reiterated in Wayne’s recent post. The post itself is long and meandering. It addresses a variety of topics, including the history of the modern homeschooling movement and how different “camps” within the Christian Homeschooling Movement have competed and/or cooperated with one another. His post also proposes “new” paths for Christian homeschoolers to consider (though, as I will articulate here, these paths are anything but new). The post has been quite popular and many people have been taken in by Wayne’s rhetoric. (In my mind, however, it should give everyone pause that Kelly Crawford — an outspoken advocate of Patriarchy — thought his article was “very well done”, considering that his article was prompted by the Doug Phillips-inspired “Patriarchy” controversy as of late.)

There is so much one could say about Wayne’s post. But for this response, I want to focus on one particular passage of his. And heads up: I am going to approach this solution of his from a Christian theological perspective. I feel it is important to engage Israel Wayne on his own turf in this instance because it is necessary to show that this turf is incorrectly grounded.

The relevant passage from Wayne’s post is as follows (emphasis added):

If we ever forget that the homeschooling movement is NOT about academics at the end of the day (they are a means, not an end), then Jesus will abandon us to our own devices. The homeschooling movement must NOT become ultimately about methods and tools (curriculum). It must be about Jesus, and His Lordship over our families.

…We need to pick a few hills that are worth dying on, and be willing to allow a few others to fall by the wayside. In my view, the authority of Scripture is a hill to die on… The Lordship of Jesus Christ over every sphere of our existence is another. We cannot merely marginalize the Lord Jesus Christ as an optional plugin to our homeschooling endeavors. He demands supremacy over His people and demands to be recognized as our rightful head.

The leaders of this movement…must continue to hold up these banners as supreme, or else our Lord will leave us to our own devices, and the homeschooling movement will denigrate into another expression of humanism.

To put it simply, Israel Wayne has constructed a false dilemma. A false dilemma is when you present as an either/or a problem that can actually be resolved in more than two ways. Here Wayne presents “academics” and “the lordship of Jesus” as distinct entities (and either we uphold the latter over the former, or the whole world will burn). Why do I say this? Well, because if they are not distinct, then pursuing academics as the end of homeschooling would not necessarily exclude pursuing the lordship of Jesus in one’s life. But in Wayne’s mind, pursuing the former as an end means one is — to one extent or another — not pursuing the latter.

This is a crucial point — Wayne rejects education as a legitimate end in itself. It is so crucial because the Christian Homeschooling Movement’s similar rejection has led to many of the problems we are seeing today. The fact that Israel Wayne continues this rejection, just as his elders did, means that he will not be able to promote any significant change in homeschooling.

This solution — eloquent though it may be — is all sound and fury, signifying nothing.

Lana Hope has already articulated one reason why this point is key:

The fact that homeschooling was seen as a Christian method is, in my opinion, what went wrong with baby boomer homeschool parents. It started out as an education model, but when it became about religion and the preservation of a Joshua generation, it went [sour]… The Christian homeschool movement, because it was all about religion and not academics, became about censoring certain information and stuffing Christ into other information.

Lana is spot-on here: the Christian Homeschooling Movement, as a movement, has used education to indoctrinate, not to empower. And when education becomes a tool of indoctrination, rather than being valued as an inherently empowering process, it gives rise to exactly what we at Homeschoolers Anonymous have called out for the last year: twisting homeschooling into an ideology-first movement, rather than a children-first movement.

I am not interested in debating a definition of “indoctrination” here. That’s not the point. What I conceive of as indoctrination is not limited to Christian education, Buddhist education, or even “secular” education. It is simply when education is used to pass on an ossified set of ideologies (a closed system) as opposed to being an embraced process whereby all children freely, enthusiastically, and wisely discover life on their own terms and at their own pace (an open system).

Israel Wayne clearly has no interest in education as an open system. This is evident in his “you must start from ‘proper biblical presuppositions’ or you have no chance ever of understanding the world” mindset; these so-called presuppositions automatically ensure a closed system. Yet in order to reject the concept of open system, notice what he has to do: he has to argue that education is not in itself an end. In other words, to Israel Wayne, education is not inherently valuable. It is only valuable insofar as it furthers “the lordship of Jesus” (whatever that means).

Wayne does this — and so have many others in the past and so do many others today — because everything is supposed to be subsumed under his idea of a “Christian Worldview.” Wayne’s Christian Worldview is a giant sucking sound, a Total Institution under which everything must be subjugated. It therefore sets up all other ends — in this particular case, the end of education — in diametric opposition to his end, the end of the Christian Worldview, e.g., lordship of Jesus.

Here’s the irony: the whole concept of “Christian Worldview” originated primarily with Francis Schaeffer, who wrote in Escape From Reason that this dualism — the very species of dualism Wayne advocates for, while saying he advocates against it — was causing the downfall of Christianity in the West. Schaeffer’s project — indeed, what the whole project of the “Christian Worldview” movement was supposed to be — was to cast aside the dualism and opposition between “faith” and “reason.” But whereas Wayne and others think this means “sell reason as a slave to faith,” Schaeffer meant it as embrace the entirety of the world as inherently valuable, informative, and empowering. This is why Schaeffer could boldly declare that, “Man is something wonderful.” Obviously that’s not what the Worldview Studies Movement has become within American evangelicalism or homeschooling curriculums. But that was Schaeffer’s goal.

When you begin with this closed system of presuppositions, you lose the very idea that human beings are made in God’s image.

You lose the fact that, no, you don’t have to start from any presuppositions at all because God gave each and every individual the same insatiable curiosity, rational thinking processes, emotional receptors, and desire to figure out life. You deny this fact and you deny a cornerstone of the biblical narrative. And doing so leads to (as Lana Hope pointed out) the stilted, articially “religious” environment that the Christian Homeschooling Movement was and continues to be, which denigrates the importance of academics and thus fails at responsible stewardship of children’s education.

There’s another way here, people. Academics can be the end of the homeschooling movement when we conceive of academics as inherently valuable, an end in themselves. Dedicating what resources you have to educate your child as best you can what if this is very definition of making Jesus lord of your life?

There is no need to conceive of “academics” and “lordship of Jesus” as distinct or opposed. In fact, I am just going to call out Israel Wayne as preaching a false gospel here. The Gospel is not about the totalitarian, totalistic imposition of Jesus on every aspect of our lives. The Gospel — as preached by Jesus — is a transformation, a process that becomes radically relevant, informing, and empowering to each individual in each individual’s unique context. In the context of a parent who has the resources to teach a child, that parent has a responsibility — call it God-given if you want — to give that child the very best education possible in the most nurturing and loving environment imaginable.

That is making Jesus lord.

And if that parent hides those educational resources out of fear of what that child may do with them, that is a rejection of Jesus as lord.

To conceive of homeschooling as “discipleship,” and education as inherently “religious,” is to reinstate the dualism whereby you can teach something like geography in a “Christian” way but also in a “non-Christian” way. No. That is pure nonsense. You either teach your child geography or you don’t. There’s no “Christian” way to teach geography, any more than there is a “Christian” way to change a tire. To say so ignores the fact that the simple act of teaching your child geography — in the context of homeschooling parenthood — is the definition of discipleship. You don’t have to artificially force “religion” into a geography lesson, like Kevin Swanson’s bizarre suggestion at the 2009 Men’s Leadership Summit that, “We’ll shock everybody when we begin confessing our sins in the geography class.” And note that Swanson gives the exact same reasoning as Wayne, that education isn’t an end in itself:

We need to call [Christians] to use words like discipleship and nurture. Stop talking schools with me. Don’t talk about education with me. Let’s not talk about home education and Christian education, Christian schools. Let’s talk about discipleship. Let’s talk about a focus on faith and character. Let’s focus on the discipling of a child.

Sorry, but you can’t lace geography lessons with Jesus in the hopes of drugging your kids into Heaven.

Teach them geography well, as well as science, math, sex education, and so forth. Show them the world and do not instill fear in them.

That is making Jesus lord.

When you equip your child for life — when you teach them academics as a valuable end in itself — when you empower your child to face the storms that life will present, to wrestle with ideas, to master reasoning and humility — when you protect your child from abuse, and show your child you will protect other children from abuse as well — when you become Jesus to your homeschooling community by standing up for the abused and the marginalized — when you, like Jesus, say “Let the little children come to me,” to be safe, to be educated, to be empowered to succeed —

— that is making Jesus lord.

Homeschool parents who are afraid to educate their children thoroughly, who withhold from their children information about the world out of fear that it might “lead them astray,” need to imagine a bigger God.

When we start imagining a bigger God, when we start prioritizing children over ideology and children’s lives over our so-called “freedoms” — that’s when we’ll actually see a shift in the homeschooling movement.

David Noebel, Summit Ministries, and the Evil of Rock: Jeri Lofland’s Thoughts

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Summit Ministries’ Jeff Myers and David Noebel on James Dobson’s radio show.

Jeri’s post was originally published on her blog Heresy in the Heartland with the title “Time Makes Ancient Good Uncouth.” It is reprinted with her permission. Also by Jeri on HA: “Generational Observations”, “Of Isolation and Community”, and “His Quiver Full of Them.”

*****

New occasions teach new duties, time makes ancient good uncouth,
They must upward still and onward, who would keep abreast of truth.

~James Russell Lowell, 1845

I ordered David Noebel’s booklet “Christian Rock: A Stratagem of Mephistopheles” from Summit Ministries in Manitou Springs as a teenager sometime in the early ’90’s.

I needed to know that Gothard and my parents weren’t crazy, that other intelligent adults had reasonable arguments with which to oppose Christian rock.

From the back cover: “It is The Summit’s purpose to arm Christian young people with facts and information concerning God, home and country so they will be able to hold fast to the true and the good in building their lives for the future.” I wanted facts; I wanted information.

And it turned out that Noebel supported my parents’ position:

“The church is beset with a relentless beat which weighs on the nerves and pounds in the head. And the syncopation evokes a most basic sensuous response from the body, since it is purposely aimed at the physical and sensual.”

“Squeezing in a few ‘thank you, Jesus’ or ‘Hallelujah, it’s done’ in rock music does not cleanse rock of its evils. Indeed, the lyrics were not its main sin for some time. The beat of the music was its evil.

Noebel presented 30 reasons, plenty of Bible verses, a study involving houseplants, and claims about applied kinesiology by a John Diamond. He quoted Henry Morris (a civil engineer and ardent young-earth creationist also opposed to modern art) and had a lot to say about sex and Marxism. Additionally, he linked the rock beat to atheistic Soviet communism and objectionable art styles like cubism and surrealism.

David Noebel is the author of "Understanding the Times," a book popular in evangelical and homeschool circles.
David Noebel is the author of “Understanding the Times,” a book popular in evangelical and homeschool circles.

I knew nothing about David Noebel.

I was not familiar with his much earlier work Communism, Hypnotism, and the Beatles, published in 1965–long before my birth–by Billy James Hargis’ Christian Crusade.

In one reviewer’s words: “Noebel is compelling because he’s intelligent, coherent, and well-researched, despite being absolutely paranoid and utterly mad. Aside from some inconsistent use of the Oxford Comma, he has a clear, if discursive thesis:

“Rock ‘n’ roll is turning kids into gay, Communist, miscegenators.”

Billy James Hargis was a right-wing evangelist and radio and television ranter long before Rush Limbaugh. He saw communist plots everywhere: in the NAACP and the civil rights movement, in the assassination of JFK, in water fluoridation. According to TIME magazine (Feb. 16, 1976), he founded American Christian College “to teach ‘antiCommunist patriotic Americanism'” from the city he called the “Fundamentalist Capital of the World”. From there, he promoted a hard line against drugs, homosexuality, sex education, abortion and the Beatles and toured with the college choir.

David Noebel was an aide to Hargis for twelve years, speaking around the country, founding The Summit in 1962 as a Christian Crusade program to combat anti-Christian teachings from secular universities (like the University of Tulsa) and contributing to Hargis’ television show where together they decried marijuana use and rock music. Later, Noebel became Vice President of Hargis’ new American Christian College in Tulsa.

In 1974, Noebel was staggered when students confided to him that Hargis, ardent promoter of traditional morality and father of four, had had sex with several of them.

Eventually four men and one woman exposed Hargis’ sexual abuse and manipulation over a period of years. TIME reported on the scandal in 1976, Hargis was forced to resign, and the school closed its doors the following year. Noebel went on to effectively “fold” Christian Crusade into Summit Ministries, building it into a successful international worldview training/brainwashing center targeting all ages, but teenagers in particular.

Noebel was an aide to Billy James Hargis, a right-wing evangelist and radio and television ranter who saw communist plots everywhere.
Noebel was an aide to Billy James Hargis, a right-wing evangelist and radio and television ranter who saw communist plots everywhere.

Postmodernism has replaced communism as the bane of our times. According to an article by Summit’s Steve Cornell,

“[The] pre-modern era was one in which religion was the source of truth and reality…. In a postmodern world, truth and reality are understood to be individually shaped by personal history, social class, gender, culture, and religion…. Postmoderns are suspicious of people who make universal truth claims…. Postmodern thinking is full of absurdities and inconsistencies.”

As a postmodern myself, I find it ironic that the decades have softened Noebel’s hardline position on Christian rock.

Apparently Mephistopheles has released it for other uses. Students at Summit’s youth conferences speak of the meaningful “corporate worship“, which now includes rock songs like “How Great Is Our God” by Chris Tomlin and “Jesus, Thank You” from Sovereign Grace Music.

The teens attending the worldview lectures today were not yet born when David Noebel penned Stratagem and would likely be surprised to learn that the religious anthems they find so powerful are actually “estranging them from traditional values”. According to the now retired, but still involved and revered, “Doc” Noebel, “although the lyrics might acknowledge the concept of true worship, the music itself expresses the unspoken desire to smash it to pieces.”

Summit’s John Stonestreet writes, “Truth does not yield to popular opinion. Unlike postmodernism, the biblical worldview can withstand all challenges and still speak to the dominant culture.” This belief is at the core of Summit’s “worldview” training.

And yet, Lowell’s line rings more true: time does make ancient “good” uncouth. Morality and truth are, in fact, shaped by history and culture.

As Summit’s stance on Christian rock illustrates so well.

Maybe, in another 30 years, Noebel’s successors will stop fighting same-sex marriage and even give up warning kids about “the gay agenda” as they “keep abreast of truth”? One can always hope…

How I Learned To Stop Being Afraid and Love Other Religions: Part Two, When Buddhism Saved My Life

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from R.L. Stollar’s personal blog. It was originally published on July 30, 2013.

< Part One: If Satan Made Xanax, And Other Worldview Myths

*****

“It’s not difficult to see why Eastern religion is such an attractive form of salvation for a post-Christian culture. It assuages the ego by pronouncing the individual divine, and it gives a gratifying sense of ‘spirituality’ without making any demands in terms of doctrinal commitment or ethical living.”

~Chuck Colson, How Now Shall We Live?, 2004

*****

Part Two: When Buddhism Saved My Life

There were two particularly eye-opening moments I had during my 12 months studying Eastern Classics at St. John’s College, and both revolved around Buddhism.

The first was when my discussion group read a Buddhist text. Going into the discussion, I expected that there would be a lively debate. After all, my class consisted of people with diverse religious beliefs — atheists, Christians, Hindus, Buddhists, and more. I assumed that disagreement would be plentiful. What I did not expect, however, was that the lively debate occurred primarily between the Buddhist students.

It gave me flashbacks to highschool when Christian homeschool debaters spent hours arguing with each other over free will versus predestination. 

Oh… there is more than one type of Buddhist, I realized. Which was a simple reality. But it was a reality that Summit Ministries, for example, omitted when they taught me about Buddhism. And it is a reality that makes a really big difference.

The second moment was when I became friends with a Buddhist for the first time in my life. I’ll call him C. here. C. was my best guy friend during my time at St. John’s. He practiced Diamond Way Buddhism. And he was nothing like the Christian stereotypes I had heard about Buddhists. In fact, he was the most emotional male I had ever known — and I mean that in a thoroughly positive way. He embraced emotions. He taught me that not all Buddhists believe that “enlightenment” is reached by avoiding emotions. Some Buddhists believe that you need to face emotions head-on, acknowledge their existence, let them be what they are, feel them fully, and then let them pass. Learning to master one’s emotions, he said, wasn’t a matter of ignoring them.

You look your emotions in the eyes and say, “Oh. Hey. You exist. I am going to feel you. Maybe even for a long while. But then you will pass. Because you are not me.”

What C. taught me about emotions is one of the most important lessons I have ever learned in my life. Growing in the conservative Christian homeschool world, where first-time obedience and purity culture were rampant, I was taught to distance myself from my emotions, to be afraid of them:

Don’t be angry at adults. Anger is rebellion.

Don’t look at attractive women. You will lust.

Don’t be sad. You must set an example for others.

Buddhism made me realize that emotions are. They exist. This is just a fact of life. It is ok to feel them.

When I feel attraction towards a woman, that is ok. The woman is attractive, and therefore I experience attraction.

It is ok to feel attraction.

When someone does something that is mean or unfair, I experience hurt.

It is ok to feel hurt.

While this might seem like common sense, it wasn’t common to my experience growing up. And it made me realize that this stereotype I had of Buddhists — emotional asceticism — was actually more descriptive of Christianity than Buddhism — at least the Christianity I was raised in.

It was my American Christianity, not Buddhism, that needed to be told Jesus wept and that was ok.

I owe something else to Buddhism as well, something really big. I owe Buddhism my life. While I never converted to Buddhism, I did practice meditation for that year at St. John’s. To be honest, I pretty much hated the process. I do not like sitting cross-legged, and I do not like keeping my back straight and closing my eyes for an hour. But I did it just to say I tried. And in the years since then, when my depression flares up and my suicidal tendencies become overwhelming, I always find myself going back to my Buddhist meditations.

There is nothing religious about this fact. It is, for me, purely psychological. When all else fails, when my body is shaking and all I can think about is ending my life, it is the repetition of karmapa chenno and the visualizing of running mandala beads through my hands that can get my mind re-grounded. These things — though distant memories from almost a decade ago — are lifelines back to reality when my mental health distintegrates.

Buddhism, not my American Christianity, taught me how to mentally ground myself.

On more occasions than I’d like to admit, Buddhism has saved my life.

People who have difficulty with understanding how complex the human mind is, and how complex religions actually are, would find this a terrifying prospect. You can’t be a real Christian and at the same time appreciate Buddhism, the line might go. But I am not terrified by this idea. Because I do not see Buddhism, or Christianity, as set of propositions that are either true or false. I see them as so much more than that.

I see that I cannot step foot into a Christian church (and have not been able to for years) without experiencing a panic attack. And I know that this honestly has nothing to do with the truth-propositions of Christianity. It has to do with just about everything about Christianity other than the truth-propositions. In the same way, my positive experience of Buddhism — that it has saved my life — also has little to do with truth-propositions.

This is a key part of what I mean, then, when I said in Part One that, “Religion is a complex totality of human and other elements, only one element of which is the sort of truth-claim that one can package into propositions.”

This is also a key reason why I am not ashamed in any way to say that I love more than one religion.

*****

Part Three: I Celebrate My Childlike Wonder >

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Four, Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing

Rewriting History — The History of America Mega-Conference: Part Four, Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing

HA note: This series is reprinted with permission from Ahab’s blog, Republic of Gilead. For more information about Ahab, see his blog’s About page. Part Four of this series was originally published on July 9, 2013.

*****

Also in this series: Part One: First Impressions | Part Two: Doug Phillips on God in History | Part Three: “Religious Liberalism” And Those Magnificent Mathers | Part Four: Kevin Swanson Is Tired Of Losing | Part Five: Messiah States and Mega-Houses | Part Six: Doug Phillips Rages Against the 20th Century | Part Seven: Christian Vikings, Godly Explorers, and Strange Bacon | Part Eight: Closing Thoughts

*****

After celebrating July 4th, I returned to the History of America Mega-Conference on July 5th to observe more workshops. On Friday morning Kevin Swanson presented a workshop entitled “Why 19th Century Literature Was at War with God”. Swanson, host of Generations Radio, has a long history of eccentric comments documented by Right Wing Watch, and he was no different in person. I’m not sure what troubled me more: Swanson’s acidic tone, or the hyperbolic content of his talk. His seething hatred for The Scarlet Letter, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Mark Twain, and other 19th century writers was both irrational and unsettling.

Swanson began his talk by lamenting that America is not the Christian nation it supposedly once was and is not doing as well as it had in the past. The United States is breaking down, he claimed, because the Western world is slowly “apostatizing” as families and civilizations disintegrate.

Swanson reserved special rancor for liberal professors. Citing Ken Ham’s 2011 book Already Compromised, he told listeners that liberal arts professors in Christian colleges are highly likely to believe in evolution because of their liberal leanings. Apostasy always begins in the liberal arts departments of Christian colleges, Swanson insisted, adding that many liberal arts colleges are “corruptible” because of their very foundations. Harvard and Princeton have already been “compromised”, and many professors at Wheaton College voted for Obama, Swanson said with regret.

Swanson further caricatured liberal arts studies with bombastic words. He sneered at liberal arts departments for their admiration of Karl Marx, whom he called a “Satanist” and “atheist” with an wrong-headed epistemology and a flawed view of history. Swanson also looked askance at liberal professors for their love of Harry Potter books and the gay Dumbledore character. Society is locked in a battle between worldviews, one with battle lines laid out in liberal arts departments where the next generation is receiving its education, he said.

“I am tired of losing!” Swanson shouted. “Is anyone else tired of losing?” The audience applauded.

Swanson proceeded to rant disjointedly against Catholics, LGBTQ persons, and other people he blamed for “apostasy”. The Roman Catholic church represents so much “apostasy” from the Christian faith is because of its liberal arts heritage, starting with Thomas Aquinas, he claimed. He wondered aloud how America went from the Christian primers of its early history to children’s books such as Heather Has Two Mommies.

Swanson seemed baffled that America has allegedly come to lead the “Neronic* agenda”, his term for the LGBTQ equality movement. Even “pagan” leaders in Africa were disgusted by the “hatred toward God” expressed by President Obama’s support for same-sex marriage.

The root of the present situation, Swanson posited, is that powerful intellectual men, “many of whom were possessed by the Devil himself”, introduced dubious ideas into universities. Swanson called these men nephilim (a reference to human-angel hybrids in Genesis 6:4 and Numbers 13:33) because they led to the destruction of the world through the Great Flood in the Bible, just as they are destroying society today.

Feverishly, Swanson launched a polemic against Thomas Aquinas. In Summa Theologica, Swanson explained, Aquinas separated sacred and philosophical knowledge, with philosophical knowledge based on human reason. This division of knowledge gives man the ability to “think autonomously” apart from God, which Swanson blasted as Aquinas’ greatest error. Over a span of 400 years, thinkers such as Locke and Descartes celebrated philosophical knowledge and the supremacy of the human mind, which Swanson branded as toxic to faith.

In the 1700s and 1800s, tension between the Bible and classical writings — the beginnings of “apostasy” — could be found in the writings of the Founders, Swanson asserted. By the turn of the 19th century, most Americans rejected the idea that God holds authority over human actions, Swanson claimed. Such was the idea undergirding 19th century “cults” that rejected the idea of the Trinity and embraced Arianism, he insisted.

Swanson was furious that in today’s world, science says that the universe is billions of years old, parents are discouraged from spanking children, and the Bible is being rejected because it doesn’t jive with humanism. Ethics, philosophy, and science have been divorced from the Bible, he lamented.

Swanson pointed to Emersonian Transcendentalism as a powerful influence on 19th century American religion. Emerson’s aunt raised Emerson in the Hindu religion, Swanson claimed, describing Emerson as a pacifist who encouraged others to follow their hearts and make it up as they go along. Swanson further caricatured Transcendentalism as a system in which man allegedly defines his own ethics as he goes along and creates his own reality.

Swanson was especially livid over the popularity of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter in high school and college literature classes. He accused Hawthorne of hating his Christian heritage and dying a nihilist who allegedly saw no purpose in life. He further blasted Hawthorne for allegedly attending seances, marrying into one of the worst “progressive” families of his era, and having ties to Horace Mann, a supporter of public schools. Hawthorne allegedly mocked Christianity in his writings, referring to Cotton Mather as a devil. Finally, Swanson accused Hawthorne of allegedly doing enormous damage to America’s Christian heritage with his writings. Events such as the History of America Mega-Conference have such small attendance because people have read Hawthorne and become corrupted.

And here’s where things get … weird.

Swanson believed that Hawthorne’s sister was “demon possessed” and sought to see Hawthorne’s children possessed as well. He claimed that an unearthly force moved Hawthorne’s hand as he wrote The Scarlet Letter, a story “forged in Hell”. Outrageously, he claimed that both Hawthorne and Herman Melville admitted to being demon possessed (!?).

Swanson shuddered at the alleged power of The Scarlet Letter, warning listeners not to underestimate the ways that its “Satanic effects” can change nations. Attacking the novel as “stupid” and a “farce”, Swanson claimed thatThe Scarlet Letter represents two gospels. The gospel of Dimmesdale, he claimed, preaches repentance without faith in Christ, as Dimmesdale finds self-atonement rather than substitutional atonement for his adultery. The gospel of Hester, on the other hand, is one of love divorced from law, thus rendering love meaningless, he said.

Swanson’s wrath toward the fictional Hester was brutal. He called Hester a “prophetess” of adultery in a later age, when high divorce rates, premarital sex, and out-of-wedlock births would surge. Swanson also accused Hester of being the predecessor of Margaret Sanger, Margaret Mead, Gloria Steinem, and other feminists with “unyielding and rebellious hearts”. Hester, in short, was the harbinger of a “feminist world” in which the family is crumbling.

As the workshop churned on, Swanson’s gave voice to more visceral hatred ofThe Scarlet Letter. The moral of the novel, he insisted, was that witchcraft, homosexuality, incest, and feminism are better than Christianity. The Bible commands the death penalty for adultery, but Hawthorne and today’s average Christians loathe the death penalty.

Wait a minute. Did I just hear Swanson defend capital punishment for adultery? I thought. The audience sat rapt, apparently unfazed by Swanson’s rant. Are you people okay with this? Hello!?

Swanson observed that many Christians are embarrassed by what the Bible commands regarding adultery, homosexuality, and witchcraft. Such Christians love Jesus but hate his law, he said, and thus American religion is solidly anti-Biblical law.

Swanson lobbed similarly hateful accusations at Mark Twain, stunned that so many homeschooling families have Twain’s books in their homes. According to Swanson, Twain was an “apostate”, communist, atheist man who hated the Biblical God and was possibly possessed by Satan (!?). As proof of this, Swanson said that Twain allegedly acknowledged he was writing letters from Satan himself when he composed Letters from the Earth. Twain also encouraged women to commit adultery, Swanson asserted with no small amount of disgust.

Predictably, Swanson blasted Huckleberry Finn, criticizing the eponymous main character for not fearing God and mocking the notion of divine judgment. The novel, he explained, was about slavery, with Huckleberry Finn choosing to help his enslaved friend at the risk of his eternal soul. Rather than praise Finn’s moral courage, Swanson launched into a diatribe about vast numbers of Americans being “enslaved to the welfare state” today. He branded “Muslim” slavery, in which people are kidnapped and sold, as evil, but said that he wished he had time to discuss a Biblical view of slavery. 

Huh? I thought. Slavery is wrong, no matter who practices it. Full stop. I don’t care if there’s a “Biblical” form of slavery. It’s wicked. What is wrong with this man?

“Do not read the heathen stories to your children,” Swanson warned the audience. He urged listeners to teach their children the Bible first, instead of giving them a “Greek” education. “Give them the Bible! Let them know the book of Deuteronomy better than they know The Scarlet Letter,” he demanded, to which the room erupted in applause.

Deuteronomy? I fumed. You mean the Deuteronomy brimming with bloodshed and genocide? The Deuteronomy with guidelines for owning slaves? The Deuteronomy that allows warriors to take conquered women as sexual booty? The Deuteronomy that instructs communities to stone rape victims and women who don’t bleed on their wedding nights? No, Kev, I’m NOT teaching THAT to a child.

Swanson concluded by encouraging listeners to give their children a “war of the worldviews”, to give them Biblical context for supposedly ungodly classics they might read. A 14 year-old is not ready for Plato and Aristotle, he claimed; rather, parents should give their children Christian ideas and writers first, then expose them to “heathen” works in their late teens. That way, children will understand how evil such “heathen” ideas are.

In short, Swanson was advocating a closed information system for homeschooled children, in which parents shield their offspring from non-Christian ideas until they approach adulthood. In my opinion, this approach could only produce children who are utterly disconnected from their cultural heritage, from mainstream America. When such isolated children reach adulthood and leave their bubble, how will they navigate American culture if so many important ideas have been either demonized in their eyes or left out of their education altogether?

Then again, maybe I should be more optimistic. In an age of book stores, libraries, and the internet, young people are likely to encounter ideas outside of their upbringing and read books such as The Scarlet Letter.  Swanson and his ilk may find that creating a closed information system for children will be harder than they imagined.

Later, as I recuperated from the workshop in a nearby pub, I tried to digest what I’d just heard. Demon possessed authors? Capital punishment for adultery? Biblical slavery? A closed information system meant to stifle the minds of children? This is sick, I thought. This. Is. Madness.

Swanson’s feverish words, and the audience’s approval, impressed upon me a disturbing truth: Christian Reconstructionism and superstitious hysteria are alive and well in small corners of our culture. People like Swanson earnestly embrace a fundamentalist worldview, and have every intention of inflicting it on the next generation of homeschooled children.

Stay tuned for more talks from Vision Forum’s History of America Mega-Conference!

* A reference to the Roman emperor Nero.

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To be continued.

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Seven

Homeschooled Girls and Trash Cans: Latebloomer’s Story, Part Seven

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Latebloomer” is a pseudonym. Latebloomer’s story was originally published on her blog Past Tense, Present Progressive. It is reprinted with her permission.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four | Part Five | Part Six | Part Seven

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Part Seven: The World — (Not So) Evil and Dangerous!

"In some ways, I felt like my gay boss was a better example of love than many of the Christian people that I knew."
“In some ways, I felt like my gay boss was a better example of love than many of the Christian people that I knew.”

From hanging around with people such as Scott Lively in my fundamentalist Christian homeschooling community, I understood the danger that America was facing from the gay agenda.  I believed that the gay lifestyle was depraved and corrupt and a sign of rebellion against God.  I believed that God expected me to use political activism to stand up for righteousness and his design for the family.  I believed that my “pro-family-values” activism was actually me being loving to the deceived people around me, people who were just taking the easy way out by accepting every type of lifestyle.

Then one day I accidentally met a gay person.

It was at my first real job, when I was 23 years old.  My favorite manager, Chris, called the store one day while he was off-duty.  He chatted with the on-duty manager Katie for a few minutes; when she hung up, she remarked to me, “He’s so funny!  Why did he call me from a gay bar? haha!”

I was extremely confused.  “Yeah, that’s weird,” I said, trying to process the information, “Why would he be at a gay bar?”  Her jaw dropped, and she stared at me for a minute.  Then she said slowly, “Um…..because he’s gay.  Didn’t you know that?”

It was a huge moment for me, but a million panicked thoughts flooded my mind at once.  How was it that I hadn’t noticed anything “different” about him?  He seemed so normal and sweet, not at all detrimental to society!  He had always been so thoughtful to me, even from the first day I walked in the store in my awkward unstylish clothes and shyly handed him my resume.  He was the first guy to tell me that I was pretty, that I looked like his favorite childhood actress Molly Ringwald (he couldn’t believe that I had never heard of her).  But he was gay??  What was I supposed to do now??

I started to feel a huge spiritual burden for him, the feeling that I had a responsibility to help him get out of that damaging lifestyle somehow.  But how should I approach that topic with him?  Should I try to talk to him about turning away from that lifestyle and starting to follow Christ?  Or should I just invite him to church and let God speak to him through the sermons and the pastor?  I couldn’t really see either scenario playing out very well, so I waited and thought and prayed.

The more I thought about it, the more I realized that I had no idea what was inherently wrong with gay sex and gay love!  Why was it not equally valid?  It started to seem a very arbitrary thing to forbid, and reality didn’t match what I had been taught about it in Christian culture.  In some ways, I felt like my gay boss was a better example of love than many of the Christian people that I knew.  After all, he had hired me willingly, even though he knew that I was a very conservative homeschooler and very likely to be strongly anti-gay.  I knew he would not have gotten the same treatment from many conservative Christian employers.  Cautiously, I started to think to myself, “Maybe homosexuality is ok after all.”

And that was just one of many cracks that formed as my Christian worldview hit reality.  For the first time in my life, I was hearing about other worldviews directly from their source, instead of a filtered, watered-down version presented merely to strengthen my own worldview.  And, for the first time in my life, I realized it was possible to hold different opinions from my own without being “blind”, “deceived,” or “in rebellion against God” — my worldview was not so obvious, and “unsaved” people were not so bad after all.

But what were the implications for the Bible?  I had always tried to approach it simply, ready to believe the literal interpretation even when it required personal sacrifice.  To me, it was a timeless book, orchestrated by God, without contradiction, the only reliable source of truth.  But as cracks formed in my carefully-constructed Biblical worldview, in the end I had to decide what I thought about the Bible.  I had always avoided my natural curiosity about how the Bible came to us in its current state–it certainly didn’t fall from the sky in its present form!  Acknowledging my questions about it was terrifying, but ultimately necessary.  If it were really from God, and if I really genuinely wanted to know the truth about it, I shouldn’t have anything to fear.  So, very gradually, I looked at my beliefs and asked the hard questions.

My worldview said, “The Bible is the source for morality!”  — But then why does it condone things like genocide, and call men “godly” when they offer their daughters to be gang raped, and advocate forced marriages between a girl and her raper?  Why doesn’t it condemn slavery and child sacrifice and polygamy with child brides?

My worldview said, “The Bible is written by eyewitnesses, and their accounts don’t contradict each other!”  — Then why was I afraid to look at the supposed contradictions?  They are there, after all, and just saying they don’t exist isn’t a valid argument.  The Bible has internal contradictions on theology and history, and there are significant variations between historic manuscripts.  Also, many of the books have unknown authors and were first written sometimes hundreds of years after the events took place. In its present form, the collection of books we call the Bible doesn’t have even more contradictions because those other books were thrown out as “uninspired” simply because they contradicted too much.

My worldview said, “The Bible is the source of truth about salvation through Jesus!” — Then why are there over 2,000 language groups in the world today that have no way to access that truth?  Why have billions upon billions of people lived and died without ever having a chance to hear it?

I was rooting for my Biblical worldview to win, I really was.  It was comfortable because it was all I knew, and I really don’t like change.  However, in the end, it didn’t hold up very well against reality.  In the end, there were too many cracks, and my worldview shattered.  And when it shattered, I finally saw what a tiny box I had been living in, and what a huge, beautiful, and interesting world was out there to discover.

Since much of my personal growth happened while I was in college, some have said that my changing opinions were the result of “liberal college brainwashing”.  To those people, I doubt that I could say anything to change their opinion about that.  However, the fact is that at no time during my education at community college or Christian university were my opinions mocked or belittled.  At no time did anyone tell me what to believe or not to believe.

Unfortunately, the same cannot be said of the fundamentalist Christian homeschooling environment.  That is where you are told what to believe.  That is where other opinions are belittled.  That is where even questions are dangerous.  I don’t want to be part of that culture anymore.  To me, a worldview is not worth keeping if it requires ignoring or twisting reality to fit the worldview, pushing down your questions and doubts, and only listening to those who already agree with you.

These thoughts took a very long time to process, and my ideas are still a work in progress today.   For now, I am finding that many of my new ideas fit within a looser interpretation of the Bible, one where I don’t completely abdicate my responsibility to think about what’s right in today’s world.  I see that morality was a work in progress in the Bible, and I accept that it still is today too, and that I have a role to play.

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End of series.