Understanding the Mentality and World View of the Christian Fundamentalist
Now, those of you who have never been devout Christians before may wonder why they believe what they do, live the way they do, think the way they do, have such extreme views, and are so fanatical in pushing their beliefs onto other people all the time to try to convert them. It may all seem so nonsensical and illogical to you. Well since I used to be one of them and understand how they think, I can explain their mentality to you and give insight on their inner psychological makeup. Although the above section on their view of history should have given you a good idea, let me break it down for you in detail. First though, let me tell you that when one accepts the Christian faith and Gospel into his/her lifestyle, their view of reality becomes completely WARPED! Literally. They only see the world in terms of God and Satan, light and darkness, sin and righteousness, the saved and the unsaved, etc. I still can’t believe how warped my view of reality was when I was a Christian fundamentalist.
Two powerful forces controlling their mind
Basically, the Evangelical Christian has two powerful things controlling his/her mind and emotions – the fear of eternal punishment in hell and the reward of eternal paradise in heaven. Those are essentially the two most powerful things that can control someone’s mind, period. They are the ultimate brainwashing tools ever designed. No question about it. Now keep in mind that heaven and hell are not some abstract concept or theory to them. No, they are absolute LITERAL FACTUAL truths! No less true than the fact that falling off a cliff is harmful or the fact that your body needs food and water to live. Therefore, they take them VERY seriously indeed. It’s no joke to them at all, especially when the eternal destiny of the soul is at stake. And that’s why they are so adamant that you become saved too, because in their minds, it is like watching you driving toward the edge of a cliff, and since they care about you, they want to warn you of the reality of the situation. That’s what it boils down to. It’s not about disrespect for your rights, freedom, or choices. It’s really about their 1) genuine concern for the eternal judgment of your soul, and their 2) sense of duty to God, after being given eternal life and being saved, to do his will to preach God’s message of Salvation to you, which is the least they could do for being given immortality.
Now think of the implications of this. Remember that this is all literal factual truth to them. Here’s what that means to someone who genuinely believes these things. It means that these are ETERNAL consequences in their minds. What that means technically is that an eternal heaven means a bliss and paradise for them that is never-ending without end, where billions of years or trillions of years have no measurement at all. After all, that’s what infinity means. On the other hand, an eternal hell also means a state of suffering and pain forever and ever. This means that even if one was suffering, tormented, and in extreme pain in hell for a billion years or a trillion years, it would still not stop because eternity means that time does not exist. It would go on and on and on. It NEVER ends, EVER! Think of that for a moment, not as some abstract theory that’s “out there” but as a literal fact that could ACTUALLY happen to you! If you seriously see that as a realistic possibility, you can understand why it is a VERY VERY VERY SCARY concept indeed! Much more infinitely terrible than you can possibly imagine. Heck, not even Adolf Hitler would deserve such a predicament, and especially not average people, and all just because the original humans ate a fruit off the wrong tree at the beginning of creation? Come on now…….
Now perhaps you can understand and sympathize with the Evangelicals’ inclination to try to convert you and “save” you. After all, if you believed your loved ones, friends, or acquaintances were heading toward eternal torment, you would also be greatly concerned about their souls as well, wouldn’t you? I remember how agonized I was about my unsaved parents who wouldn’t believe. I had many sleepless nights squirming over their future predicament (in my mind of course), of being eternally tormented in hell with no end and no way out, and regretting that they didn’t listen to my warning. I loved them and didn’t want that to happen to them, but I was powerless to do anything about it because they wouldn’t accept Jesus as Savior. I didn’t think it was fair of course, but that’s what God’s word said. It was very nerve-wracking.
Hopefully, this should help you understand why they take their beliefs so seriously, so that you won’t be too hard on them for it. Here’s some verses that illustrate this:
Matthew 13:41-42 "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 25:46 "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."
Matthew 25:41 "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 "Them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power."
Revelation 14:11, "And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name."
Revelation warns "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
You see how scary this can get if you take it literally? To see an example of how seriously a Christian can take this:
Hell is real
Here is an example of a popular Christian Gospel tract that attempts to use the fear of hell and eternal punishment to convert non-believers. The tract is in easy to read comic book form:
Fortunately though, there are some Christians progressing beyond the traditional interpretation of hell as an eternal place of torment. For example:
A Challenge to the Doctrine of Eternal Torment
Hell is Leaving the Bible “Forever”
Besides fear of this literal eternal damnation, there is also a fear of losing eternal life in heaven as well. Before, the common Christian doctrine was that once you’re saved, you’re always saved and nothing you can do will cause you to lose your salvation. Now though, many churches have changed that doctrine or are reconsidering changing it, probably because of the large number of deconverts from the faith who give it a bad reputation by doing whatever they want and claiming to have eternal life with nothing to lose. Regardless of church doctrine, it is natural for a born-again Christian to have a natural fear that challenging his faith might result in the loss of his/her eternal life, or at least the discovery that it was never real in the first place. Now think of what that means too. To lose one’s immortality would be like losing a million dollars (though in technical terms, immortality would actually be worth a lot more than a million dollars of course, but you get the idea). So naturally, one would cling very tight to it. And one would be scared to death of risking either losing immortality or being subject to eternal damnation. Hence, it is UNTHINKABLE for them to question or challenge this theology or religion. And even if they do have doubts deep down inside, they would not dare declare them, but instead try to suppress them. (And after all, who are they to challenge what God Almighty, the creator of the universe, says anyway?)
Finally, as mentioned above, for receiving the free gift of eternal life from God for accepting Jesus as their Lord and Savior, they naturally feel a sense of obligation to do God’s will and witness to you to try to convert you and save your soul. After all, for being given immortality, that’s so little for God to ask of them in return isn’t it? And besides, if they feel thankful to God for being guaranteed a spot in heaven, they will do this with joyful glee.
Reason becoming a servant to belief
As a result of those two powerful forces mentioned above controlling the Evangelical Christian’s mind, his/her sense of reason no longer rules, but instead serves these religious beliefs. In other words, reason serves faith, instead of the other way around. Here is an example, straight from the mouth of a fundamentalist:
believe that the Bible is completely, entirely and verbally the word of
refuse to stand above and criticize it; I insist rather, on standing
and letting it criticize
Montgomery, then Professor of
3 Montgomery, Damned Through the Church: p26
To use a hierarchical illustration, their Christian beliefs which they see as absolute truth are at the top chain of command, and reason along with everything else falls below that. In this setup, reason does not analyze their faith, but instead serves it. That’s why they can believe these extreme beliefs contrary to reason without realizing it. And that’s why using reason to appeal to them doesn’t help. And it’s also why if they read a book like this, it would not do any good, because they would use just rationalize everything said in this book away any way they can, which is human nature anyway. After all, we all tend to rationalize away what we don’t want to believe and find excuses to justify believing what we want to believe. In that sense, human nature can be inherently selective.
For example, no matter how much sense you made to them that their extreme beliefs just don’t hold up, or bring up any of the arguments of this book to them, they will just quote verses such as these.
1 Corinthians “The wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s eyes.”
1 Corinthians “For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.”
Thus invalidating anything you say that contradicts their faith no matter how reasonable, with the simple quote of a verse.
Ego gratification and self-esteem fulfillment
Another factor at work here, which Christians tend not to like to admit for obvious reasons, is that all this notion of them being special to God, the chosen people of God, the children of God, the saved ones, the light of the world, etc. is very gratifying to their egos, sense of self-esteem and self-worth. After all, in a materialistic and competitive society like ours, our egos and self-esteem can be quite fragile, and anything that can solidify this is greatly welcomed.
For people who are insecure, wandering in life, lack self-esteem or self-worth, lack identity, feel no purpose or meaning in life, live in fear or oppression, etc. etc. this Christian faith can be very appealing to them, offering to give them what they need to feel whole and purposeful. It gives them the crutch they need to get through life. It validates them, makes them feel special, and gives them a definable sense of purpose. And that’s another powerful factor that keeps their belief system in place.
Children especially are vulnerable to this, because they are taught from birth to listen to adults because they know best. Therefore, when they are told by their parents or chapel ministers that if they just ask Jesus into their hearts, they will receive the free gift of eternal life just for the asking, who can say no to that? It opens the door for the powerful influences described above to take control of their mind and will.
The benefits of extreme belief systems
Now, this is not all bad. There are pros and cons to extreme belief systems such as this. As mentioned above, the Christian faith does give people a sense of purpose, identity, and meaning. It is true that many people have been helped by Christianity and made happier as well. So there are benefits of this faith, even if the doctrines it’s based on are in error. What it does is take the chaos and uncertainty out of life and the world for people, giving them a solid sense of purpose, a definite future in heaven, and a guaranteed outcome in the end.
Some people have a need for that. That’s understandable. In general, I think that extreme beliefs appeal to insecure people the most, because it helps make up for an extreme need, and compensates for what they lack. It gives them a sense of purpose, drive, motivation, and even fulfillment that can be an emotional security blanket. However, the flip side of this of course, is that extreme beliefs also close and narrow the mind, causing it to cast judgment on other people as well. In addition, it uses fear to keep you from learning about the values and benefits of other belief systems and views. For instance, Christian ministers use fear to warn that following non-Christian religions and ways of thinking could lead you to Satan’s trap, thus no progress in learning is made. And spiritual / intellectual growth is stinted. So as you can see, there are pros and cons to extreme belief systems that portray the world in black and white.
Anyone knows that the worst examples of this these are the Nazis and other fascists throughout history. And uncannily enough, there are many parallels between Christian fundamentalism and fascism.
The world as a battleground for souls
The Evangelical Christian and Christian fundamentalist sees the world in a very different way than the secular person. Here is how they see the world. They see it as basically a gigantic chess board between God and Satan. It is a battleground for souls where spiritual warfare is taking place. God is trying to save as many souls as possible through the message of Jesus Christ, and Christians are his soldiers for doing so. And Satan is trying to take as many souls with him to hell as possible, by deceiving both believers and non-believers with doubt, greed, materialistic values, anti-Christian beliefs, other religions, etc. Both sides are trying to do this as soon as possible before the Judgment Day comes, when the world will be destroyed and the saved will be sent to heaven while the unsaved to hell. The Christian sees as his/her duty on God’s side to help save as many lost souls as possible. And that’s what the world is all about in a nutshell for many Christian fundamentalists. This simple model of the world puts everything in neat little simplistic boxes, as well as gives them an exact definable purpose in life. It simplifies everything and takes away the complexity of the world, because in the end, this spiritual warfare is all that matters, and the salvation of souls is all that will remain for eternity!
Why deconversion is slow and difficult psychologically and emotionally
By now, you should already have a strong idea of why it is so difficult for a Christian fundamentalist to deconvert from their beliefs even if they want to. But let me try to explain to you what it’s like to deconvert, which some call a “recovering fundamentalist” using examples from my own deconversion.
Let me first put it this way. A recovering fundamentalist is essentially recovering from a “trojan horse virus”, which began as a Gospel message presented in a loving light, but entraps you in fear afterward. Basically I’d summarize the process like this:
A non-believer is offered the gift of eternal life for accepting Christ, which is difficult to refuse. (Children are especially susceptible since they are conditioned to believe that whatever adults say is right.) The Gospel message is usually preceded by church choir and singing, which helps hypnotize the audience to make them more suggestible. Then the Gospel message is presented in an eloquent passionate manner with guilt and fear inducing techniques, followed by a message of hope. (e.g. “You are a lost sinner. Christ died for you. All you have to do is accept him and you’ll be saved. It’s that simple.”)
After giving in to the plea to accept Christ, you subconsciously without knowing it, give up your reason and intellect, in order to “be saved and have eternal life.” So even when you realize that there is no proof to support your religious beliefs, you don't care and believe anyways because you don't want to lose that eternal life you were promised. No one wants to let go of the gift of “immortality”, and that's why it's such a sophisticated form of mind control. You're given something for nothing, not realizing the old saying, "If something sounds too good to be true, it probably is." And once you're in, the offer of eternal life compels you to stay no matter what, while the fear of hell keeps you from straying from the path.
This form of mind control has been effectively used by the Catholic Church for centuries to keep the masses under control. So, when a person recovers from this and the “trojan horse virus” is gone, that person feels a sense of relief for getting his/her intellectual liberty and freedom to think back again, but at the same time, fears of God's wrath and damnation still preside in the back of his/her mind. That is essentially what goes on with the mind of recovering fundamentalists.
Now as for me, the recovery was not only that, but also of the burden and confusion of believing that my family, which were non-believers, were going to hell simply because they weren't Christians. My parents are the most honest decent caring people in the world, and I was burdened with the thought that they would go to hell, so there was pressure on me to try to convert them, and it almost made me crazy. Thank goodness that after I recovered from fundamentalism, I felt a huge relief to have that burden lifted off my shoulders. I knew that those fears weren’t true after all, and that God never said those things, but people did. But since I didn't want to lose my belief in the immortality of the soul, I turned to New Age, reincarnation, and alternative spirituality to keep my beliefs in eternal life, but in another form.
Here are the psychological dynamics involved in the deconversion process. First, the ministers, preachers, and pastors have instilled into the Christians a fear and paranoia of Satan. They are told that Satan is constantly looking for ways to make them fall from their faith, using their own family, friends, temptations, other religions, even their own mind, etc. Therefore, they are told to never trust anything except for God, Jesus, and the Bible. Everything else could be used as a weapon of Satan, even your own mind. Therefore, if you doubt your faith, then you are warned, “Watch out! That’s exactly what Satan wants you to do! Don’t fall into his trap! Don’t even trust your own mind, which Satan can use against you! Trust only in God and the Bible!” When this fear and paranoid become ingrained in you, it becomes hard for you to walk away from your faith even if you want to.
Second, Christians are also instilled with a feeling of obligation and love to God. This is done by using GUILT in a powerful way that is both loving and condescending. They are told that God loved them so much that he became flesh and died for them on the cross. This was the ultimate act of love for them, giving up one’s life, so they could be forgiven their sins. Therefore, it is insinuated that only a horrible person, a monster so to speak, would turn their back on God after all he did for them! In effect, they even equate betraying the Christian faith and turning your back on the God of the Bible with the act of betraying your own parents and stabbing them in the back! What a horrible thing to equate! And that’s what makes it so much more difficult, because it’s so ingrained in your conscience that to try to leave the faith instills a sense of guilt in you. To view an example of this, read this online tract in easy to read comic book format from Chick Publications:
You can view many more tracts such as the above to get familiarized with Christian beliefs and mentality at: http://www.chick.com/catalog/TractLookUp.asp?Language=English
Christians try to portray those who deconvert from the faith as similar to a Jedi Knight in the Star Wars movies converting to the Dark Side of the Force! Like Yoda and Ben Kenobi, they try to equate turning away from the Christian faith with the path to darkness and evil! The nerve of them!
Here’s an interesting contrast in perspectives. From the Christian view, the term for a deconvert or former Christian is called a “backslider”. So when someone they know deconverts or falls away, they say that he/she is “backslidden” which implies a fall downward from somewhere higher. However, many former Christians will term their deconversion as becoming more “enlightened” or “evolved” implying that they moved to a higher level not a lower one. It’s such an interesting contrast of perspectives.
Another reason is that when you become a devout Christian, you are taught to deny yourself and live for Christ. When that becomes your way of life, or you live and breathe that, eventually you might lose sense of who you are, so that if you left the fold, you’d have nothing left to go back to. In the book Fundamentalism: Hazards and Heartbreaks one account of this is described: (page 8)
“The comment of a former fundamentalist who appeared on a 1986 ‘Donahue’ television show provides perhaps as poignant a view of their pain as any former fundamentalist could express. Billy Jackson told a national audience his impression of how fundamentalism had been practiced in his church: “We had to become like Jesus Christ and die to ourselves. In other words, you kill your own personality off and try and replace it with Jesus Christ. When I did leave I had killed myself off to such a point that there was nothing of me left, and that’s what keeps you in there because you can’t relate to anyone else.””
In addition, there is of course, always the fear in the Christian turning away that his faith may have been the truth and he may be wrong and therefore he may be struck by lightning or punished in some way for deconverting. That thought can easily creep up in his/her mind from time to time.
These above reasons are why the deconversion process for the Christian who wants to turn away from his/her extreme beliefs or feels they are no longer true or necessary, is so slow and difficult. They do not suddenly decide to deconvert and announce it to their peers. It doesn’t work that way at all. For me, the deconversion process took about two years before I was finally rid of the psychological baggage and brainwashing instilled into me. After you decide that Christian doctrine and theology is not true or not right for you, you usually are afraid to not tell anyone about it at first, for the reasons mentioned above. For me, I was afraid to tell anyone about it for almost a year because there was too much fear and guilt attached to my former beliefs. It was only after much research, did the confidence about my decision increase gradually to the point where I could confidently declare it to others without fear or guilt or the sense that I was joining “the dark side”.
In spite of all this though, there are many who have successfully deconverted. You can read books about these people on this list:
Knowledge is power and protection from fear
The good news about all this though, is that there is protection from the extreme fear imposed upon people by the Evangelists and Fundamentalists, and that protection is from knowledge. If it were not for the knowledge I have which I share in this book, for instance, I too would still be living in fear of eternal punishment that these preachers declare. Fortunately, the knowledge I gained from research, which I’ve shared in this book, slowly gave me the confidence to overcome this fear, which is of the worst kind (what fear could be worse than that of eternal punishment?). By gaining knowledge yourself, you can too. And that’s good news for those recovering fundamentalists who want to turn away but are too fearful to do it or declare it.