The Nightmare of Christianity | The Nation


The Nightmare of Christianity

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The following is an excerpt from Max Blumenthal's new book, Republican Gommorah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party, published by Nation Books.

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Max Blumenthal
Max Blumenthal is an award-winning journalist whose work has appeared in The New York Times, the Los Angeles...

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A few miles down the road from Colorado Springs [a home to James Dobson's Focus on the Family], in the quiet bedroom community of Eldredge, a deeply disturbed young man named Matthew Murray followed the unfolding debacle at New Life Church [once under the stewardship of Pastor Ted Haggard] with an interest that bordered on obsession. Murray, a sallow-faced, bespectacled 24-year-old, had been indelibly scarred by a lifetime of psychological abuse at the hands of his charismatic Pentecostal parents. Murray's mind became crowded with thoughts of death, destruction, and the killings he would soon carry out in the name of avenging what he called his "nightmare of Christianity."

On an online chat room for former Pentecostals, Murray heaped contempt on his mother, Loretta, a physical therapist who homeschooled him to ensure that his contact with the outside world was severely limited. "My 'mother,'" Murray wrote, "is just a brainswashed [sic] church agent cun,t [sic]. The only reason she had me was because she wanted a body/soul she could train into being the next Billy Graham..."

He went on:

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

An authoritarian Christian-right self-help guru named Bill Gothard created the home-schooling regimen implemented by Murray's parents. Like his ally James Dobson, Gothard first grew popular during the 1960s by marketing his program to worried evangelical parents as anti-hippie insurance for adolescent children. Based on the theocratic teachings of R. J. Rushdoony, who devised Christian schools and home-schooling as the foundation of his Dominionist empire, Gothard's Basic Life Principles outlined an all-consuming environment that followers could embrace for the whole of their lives. According to Ron Henzel, a one-time Gothard follower who co-authored a devastating exposé about his former guru called A Matter of Basic Principles, under the rules, "large homeschooling families abstain from television, midwives are more important than doctors, traditional dating is forbidden, unmarried adults are 'under the authority of their parents' and live with them, divorced people can't remarry under any circumstance, and music has hardly changed at all since the late nineteenth century."

At the Charter School for Excellence, a school in South Florida inspired by Gothard's draconian principles that receives $800,000 in state funds each year, children are indoctrinated into a culture of absolute submission to authority almost as soon as they learn to speak. A song that the school's first-graders are required to recite goes as follows:

Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly.
For when I am busy at my work or play,
And someone calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say "Yes, sir!" "Yes ma am!"
Hup, two, three!

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is among the 2.5 million Americans who have attended Gothard's Basic Seminar. According to Huckabee, who once earmarked state funds to distribute Gothard's literature in Arkansas prisons, Gothard was responsible for "some of the best programs for instilling character into people." But to the deeply alienated Murray, Gothard was the original source of his pathology. "I believe that the truth needs to be exposed," Murray wrote in a September 2006 discussion forum of recovering Gothard followers. "People need to see through errornious [sic] and destructive doctrines and teachings including Bill Gothard's."

After graduating from Gothard's home-schooling seminars, which constituted the bulk of his education (Colorado has no educational records for Murray after third grade), he was presented by his parents with two options for higher education. The first choice was Haggard's alma mater, Oral Roberts University. ORU at the time was beginning to unravel under the weight of scandalous revelations that its new president, Richard Roberts--the scion of its beloved founder--had allegedly looted university coffers to pay for his daughter's junkets to the Bahamas and bankroll his wife's shopping sprees. (Oral Roberts's other son, Ronnie, was a cocaine-addicted closet homosexual who committed suicide in 1982). Murray's second option was the "Discipleship Training School" of Youth with a Mission (YWAM), a Christian Reconstructionist-inspired missionary group that trained bright-eyed youngsters to spread the gospel of Colorado Springs to under-evangelized Third World nations. Desperate to escape his parents' rigid order, Murray joined YWAM.

But as soon as Murray enrolled at YWAM's training center in nearby Arvada in 2002, he found himself trapped in an authoritarian culture even more restrictive than home. He realized that, as another student of YWAM bluntly put it, the school's training methods resembled "cult mind-controlling techniques." Murray became paranoid, speaking aloud to voices only he could hear, according to a former roommate. He complained that six of his male peers had made a gay sex video and that others routinely abused drugs. Hypocrisy seemed to be all around him, or at least dark mirages of it. A week before Murray was scheduled to embark on his first mission, YWAM dismissed him from the program for unspecified "health reasons." "They admitted that I hadn't done anything wrong, just that they had prayed and felt I wasn't popular/'connected' and talkative enough," he recalled.

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

Murray lurched to the polar opposite edge of his parents' fanatical faith, replacing their Bible as his inspiration with the writings of Aleister Crowley, a flamboyant, self-proclaimed Satanist. The fin de siècle British sensationalist declared himself the "Great Beast of Revelation" and claimed his birth was foretold in the Apocalypse of St. John. For two years Murray attended ceremonies of Crowley's mock-religious order, Ordo Templi Orientis, following in the footsteps of famous Crowley followers such as Scientology cult founder L. Ron Hubbard and Jack Parsons, the eccentric rocket fuel inventor who prayed to the Greek god Pan after each successful launch. "This man is like the antidote to what I was raised in," Murray wrote of his new hero Crowley. Murray was especially compelled by the fact that Crowley, like him, was raised by fundamentalist Christian parents he loathed.

Murray had been indoctrinated so thoroughly into charismatic Pentecostal culture, however, that even while he railed against his religious upbringing, he could not abandon his ingrained attraction to religiosity. So instead of fleeing hardcore Christian culture for secular humanism, a natural position for jaded skeptics like him, he traded his former faith for Crowley's occultism. Crowley's philosophy of sex "magick," narcotic hallucination and self-degradation (he allegedly ordered his followers to have oral sex with goats and drink the blood of cats) was forged in reaction to his parents' Puritanism and, in fact, was first practiced in English boarding schools, where homosexual experimentation was practically de rigueur. Crowley became Murray's new lodestar. Like Jesus, who was so impressed by the ardor of a pagan Roman centurion whom he met that he remarked, "I have not found such great faith, even in Israel," Murray yearned for spiritual practice in its purest form.

Now he practiced Crowley's faux faith as fervently as his parents wished he had worshipped their neo-evangelical macho Christ. But the occult only led Murray into a confusing new world of cheap thrills. By his own account, he engaged in "every sort of sexual pervrsion [sic]...that's legal," from anonymous gay sex to bestiality. He boasted of his proclivity for binge drinking, his love for death metal bands, and his penchant for spewing "blasphemy." He envisioned his new experiences as positively transcendent. "In a way it's like I'm just about completely rebelling against christianity [sic] in any way that I can," the enragé mused, "but this is a little different of a rebellion."

But as Murray's detachment from his family and community intensified, so did his yearning for the interpersonal solidarity increasingly denied to him. In May 2007, Dr. Marlene Winell, a leading expert on treating ex-fundamentalists traumatized by the experience of leaving their faith, was notified about Murray's tortured online postings. Winell immediately posted a response to Murray. "I can see that you are in a great deal of pain and I'd like to invite you to contact me," she wrote on a website where he frequently posted. "I'd like to be helpful if I can. People do care about you and there is hope."

Murray recoiled. "It's so funny how many people want to help you and love you and counsel you when there is money involved," he replied.

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