I’m a writer, artist and poet, which means I fantasize quite a bit. Sometimes I fear I spend more time in my head than I do in the real world. In the recesses of my mind, anything is possible. The colors are brighter, the adventures more exciting, the people more fascinating. When I’m in that space, I feel comfortable. Joyous. Sometimes it’s hard to come back and rejoin reality.
And that’s exactly the problem. Sometimes the fantasy is so seductive, so compelling, that I start to think that it is reality–or, at least, could be. This can affect how I interact with others. In my effort to affirm the fantasy, I start to ascribe to them feelings and motivations that they may not actually have. I want the fantasy to be real.
To some degree, all humans do this. It’s called “confirmation bias.” We form beliefs and perceptions about the world, and we want to think that those beliefs represent the most objective, logical and realistic view of it. We interpret everything through the lens of those beliefs, seeking the evidence that will affirm them. The problem comes when those beliefs become so entrenched that we sink into delusion rather than allow ourselves to be challenged. It’s like the drunk, tone-deaf karaoke singer who takes his audience’s groans and laughter as a sign that he should pursue a record deal.
This sort of confirmation bias is rampant in religious fundamentalism. Fundamentalism teaches that if you believe a certain way and do a certain way, your life will be pretty much perfect. Your marriage will be happy, your children will be obedient and successful, your career will flourish, and the problems that plague “the sinners”–poverty, teen pregnancy, addiction, adultery, mental illness, etc.–won’t affect your life.
But as I stated in an earlier post, fundamentalism is the proverbial carrot on a stick. It’s a fantasy. No one gets the luxury of rule-following their way out of life’s problems. Sure, making sound, moral decisions can minimize the trouble you face in life, but there is no formula for perfection. Let me say that again: There is no formula for perfection. Jesus said, “In this world, you shall have trouble” (John 16:33). Jesus overcame that trouble, but overcoming anything requires one to first experience it. You don’t overcome anything through avoidance.
For the past 7 years, Americans have been watching a reality TV show about the Duggars, a fundamentalist Quiverfull family. Some of my Facebook friends have oohed and ahhed at how idyllic their life seems to be. Everyone is always smiling. The kids are sweet and helpful. Jim Bob, the husband, is confident and in control. No one is punching or throwing things. No one is screaming obscenities. No one is stealing the car or sneaking out of the house to attend a wild party. No one is depressed, gay, or addicted. And because we call it a “reality show,” people assume that all this utopia they see on the screen is, in fact, reality.
But it’s not. It’s scripted.
I’m not talking about the producers at TLC giving a script to the Duggars to follow during filming. Nor am I speaking of the creative editing that goes on during production to make certain aspects of the Duggars’ lives seem more than they really are–which I’m sure happens. I’m speaking of their lives being scripted by fundamentalism. Fundamentalism is, first and foremost, a script to follow. It’s a career in acting from which you never take a day off. Fundamentalism teaches people to subvert their reality by putting on a different face. Feeling sad? Smile. Feeling frustrated or angry? Smile and hold your tongue. Don’t rock the boat. Don’t air the dirty laundry. People have to see that this is what an obedient Christian life gets you: a blessed, happy and trouble-free existence. Not happy? Smile until you believe it. Smile until everyone believes it!
I can tell you, from experience, that such acting does not come naturally, even to the most pliant and submissive human being. It has to be ingrained and enforced, and it is done so through fear, shame, anger and coercion. Someone is always policing the borders, prying into your thoughts, assigning rebellious intent to words and attitudes that stray from the approved script. Everyone hears the overt threat of, “Step out of line, and this is what the world will do to you,” but few hear the covert threat of, “Step out of line, and this is what I’ll do to you.” This is the backdrop of the Duggars’ lives. Everyone has an assigned role, and that is that. Are you a young man who wants to cook? Nope, sorry, that’s for the women. Are you a young woman who wants to go to college and have a career? Nope, sorry, that’s for the men. Children in fundamentalism don’t even get to have an opinion that deviates from their parents’ way of thinking. They are told what to think, what to feel, what to want and how to live. They are stripped of all autonomy, desire, and decision-making. The script dictates everything.
Never have I met a happy person in a fundamentalist environment. Never. Not even the men in charge of the production. Everyone is either angry or walking on eggshells. Oh, they may be the most well-dressed, sweetest-smelling, nicest-sounding people you’ve ever seen, but their entire existence is ruled by fear.
And the problem is, all that fear and deprivation and self-denial does nothing to protect people from the world’s evil. Jim Bob and Michelle taught their kids to be extremely modest and reserved and abstinent of all physical affection until marriage, yet their oldest son molested 5 young girls under their roof. It didn’t stop two grown men from sexually assaulting me as a child, either. You’d think that would be enough to shatter the fantasy, but no. There are people out there saying, “Well, if they had just done one thing differently–maybe if they had taught their kids about consent–this wouldn’t have happened.”
But Jim Bob and Michelle will never teach their children about consent, because fundamentalism does not allow for free consent. Consent to the script and to your authority is automatic. You are born consenting to it. If you are a woman, you have no right to refuse anything. Uncovering your knees is consenting to sex. Being too pretty is consenting to sex. Getting married is consenting to sex whenever your authority wants it. You do not get the privilege of saying “yes” and “no” with your mouth. If anything bad is happening to you, it’s because you somehow deviated from the script–and you deserve what you get. This is how fundamentalism keeps its adherents in line. This is how the fantasy exists.
Fans of the Duggars say that they’re just trying to instill godly values in their children. But instilling values requires the one being instilled to make a choice. Free will and assent have to be involved. Otherwise, it’s coercion. It’s brainwashing. The Duggar children do not have a choice in what they say, believe, or do. They are not being instilled with values. They are being handed a script and ordered to follow it. And being in front of the camera with the whole world watching their every move means that the script is doubly enforced. No one dares put a toe out of line…or else.
Fundamentalism creates environments ripe for abuse because fundamentalism itself is inherently abusive.
In short, the entire Duggar family is under bondage. Fundamentalism is spiritual bondage. It is a tool of Satan used to deprive people of peace, joy, and freedom in Christ. Which is why I don’t watch the Duggars’ show. I see nothing entertaining or enlightening in watching people be controlled by fear. I’ve already lived that life and know what happens when the cameras are off and the doors are closed. I know the feelings that lay beneath the smiles. It’s not wholesome. It’s not pretty. It’s not real.