Speech at "Battlecry" rally, San Francisco

City Hall Steps, San Francisco, March 9th, 2007.

Battlecry is a fundamentalist youth organization that is gaining
strength and was recently in San Francisco. (see: here. Prior to their demonstration about moral values there was a press conference of people addressing the threat of the Christian right. The San Francisco chronicle had this story:

Marlene Winell, a returning member here, contributed the following speech:

"Good afternoon. I'd like to say a few words about them, and a few
words about us and consider how far apart we really are. My area of
study is psychology and I'm also a former fundamentalist Christian.
The book I wrote, Leaving the Fold, is a self-help book but it began
with my effort to understand my own recovery. Since then I have spent many years working with people struggling to heal from the devastating effects of dogmatic religion, and especially Christian fundamentalism. I've learned a lot about why it works so well, the reasons people stay, the reasons they leave, and the stages of recovery. I believe the helping professions should study it they way they study other traumas and addictions - alcoholism, domestic violence, drug use and child abuse.

This is a system of thought that is powerful and seductive. It begins with the most basic of human needs and fears – about mortality, about meaning, about connection. The young people who will be here today are motivated by the most primal concerns, and their religion has offered answers, clear and absolute. And don't we all wish it were that simple.

Unfortunately, the price for membership in this select group of saved individuals is utter conformity and obedience. Along with the doctrine of original sin, they are taught to deeply distrust their own ability to think, their own instinctual feelings, and to look outward for any resources of wisdom or strength. The fundamentalist belief system is ultimately based on fear, and the believers spend the bulk of their lives fighting the enemy, whether it is the enemy of temptation
within, where sexual urges are the most frightening as threats to faith, of the enemy without, such as the culture war manufactured by Battlecry. They are taught to think in terms of spiritual warfare, and they must join the forces of good fighting the minions of Satan. A bit like America fighting the axis of evil.

When some of the faithful do manage to pull away and come to me for help, they are terrified. The most sincere souls are the ones most damaged because they tried the hardest to annihilate themselves to obey God's will. They have no idea that thousands of other former believers are also struggling to recover and reclaim their right to think and feel for themselves.

The most dangerous aspect of the fundamentalist mindset is not any specific belief or prejudice or judgment. It's not homophobia or sexism or opposing evolution. The biggest threat, to the mental health of the individuals, and to our society, is the authoritarianism.

This teaching of submission to revealed truth, pure and simple, dictated from on high, from a pulpit, from a book, or from the White House, is a serious threat to all of us. We can't afford the attitudes of good and evil, black and white, us versus them, because the world is not that simple, and people get hurt that way. But this deference to authority, paired with absolute skepticism about one's own right or
ability to think is exactly what endangers our democracy. It makes it possible for someone like George Bush to call himself a born-again Christian, and get overwhelming support from millions of people who have not examined the issues to form their own opinions or have any idea what Bush's policies even are before voting for him.

But before we get too judgmental, let's reflect on this issue for all of us. How well do the rest of us engage in critical thinking? How much do we passively stand by while our unquestioned leaders do what they like to our country and to the world? Why do we allow the super-rich and powerful to dictate the terms for our lives? Why do we turn a blind eye while corporations rape the world? Why do we purchase
goods without questioning where they came from? And why, in God's name, do we allow war to continue and the warmongers to stay in power?

The young people with Battlecry today believe they are standing up for morality, and they have taken the time to do so. You can count on the fact that many of them are scared to death, and yet they are taking a stand. They also want to belong to something bigger than themselves. Yes, they are making judgments, and we may believe many of these judgments are misguided. They need help to see how the results are not loving at all. But let's look at the judgments we have and the morality that we want to uphold.

I for one agree that we have a moral crisis. I think our country has lost its moral compass when we care more for material wealth than for justice, when we are too busy with our own lives, our careers, our pleasures, even our own families, while people are suffering, starving, and slaughtered. Yes, we can have judgments too, because we do need to distinguish right from wrong in the sense that we must uphold the values that are most important. And in the current climate with corporate greed hand in hand with government leaders who seem to have no conscience whatsoever, I believe we do need to fight. We are our brother's keeper. The sin of consequence is not in the privacy of our bedrooms; it's in our boardrooms, and for that we are all complicit because we are reaping the benefits.

We do need repentance. George Bush needs to repent and make restitution for the war in Iraq. And we need to repent for being asleep for too long, imagining that voting every four years spells democracy. Is this nation going in the wrong direction? Hell yes. The Christian right is worried God will withdraw his blessing from the nation because of our iniquity and they say 9/11 was a warning, as if to Sodom and Gomorrah, but they've got it wrong when they focus on who is loving whom or which of us is enjoying what kind of bodily friction, singing about it or even looking at pictures of it. What about the photos at Abu Graib? Let's get real about pornography. As parents, we should worry more about our kids living in a land where
torture and war is condoned, where racism is rampant, the poor are left to drown in a flood, and the state can tap our telephones. What of the future? Will our children even have one? The obscenity on TV is not sex in the city; it's the barrage of sexy ads for new cars in the city, and this while the polar ice caps melt. The disease most deadly in America is not AIDS, it's affluenza complicated by narcolepsy.

So I say let's invite these Battlecry young people who are not asleep, to a table with us, a table where all are welcome, just as Jesus sat down with prostitutes and tax collectors. Let's have sinners and saints, fanatics and fornicators, and let's be honest about what really matters. Who knows, perhaps we can all dig deep and find our common humanity. Let's learn from their passion and urgency and let's help them cherish this earth as the only one we have.

So we stand today as opposed to immorality as anyone here, Christian or not. We will not relinquish the gains made by movements for social progress - the battles successfully fought for abolition, equality for women and all races. We will not sacrifice the integrity of science or the privacy of personal lives. We will not release the ground gained, painfully over the years, to grant every human being their dignity, and we will not relinquish our faith, our hope, in our ability to forge ahead, slowly but surely, collectively creating a world that is just, a world that by its structures supports the human desire and ability to live in peace and yes, love. We reject the notion that we cannot do this, that the prince of this world, the devil, infects us and weakens us to where only the returning Christ, with his armies in the sky, will be able to bring us to our senses. This has not happened
yet despite two millenniums of longing. In today's world, this expectation is too dangerous.

We cannot afford the hopeless and helpless message of the fundamentalist Christian looking to be raptured away, excused from responsibility. This fatalism, by requiring apocalypse for the savior to return, actually fuels the crises - supporting war as a sign of the end, neglecting the environment because the earth will burn anyway, spurning peace-making because it's hopeless, and fearing global community because it spells anti-Christ. This is a recipe for disaster. And yet these beliefs are firmly held by millions of Americans, including high members of our government. Key advisors on domestic and foreign policy have these views. We need to speak up and oppose these attitudes and insist on taking responsibility for the world we create. Our sin is our willful ignorance, our denial of being interconnected, our rejection of our God-given power to be the life-loving, creation-caring, wise and creative beings that we are.

So with ordinary human love, we reach out to everyone willing to join in this commitment to our highest values and our deepest concerns, knowing that when the details of formal religious teachings are taken away, we really do have much in common. We have the most important things in common if we can just see past our fears. And then we can hope."

Please visit marlenewinell.net for information about services for recovering from religious indoctrination, including an upcoming weekend retreat May 4-6. The book, "Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving Their Religion," is now back in print and available from Amazon.


Anonymous said...

Glad to have you back Marlene. What a powerful speech! Thanks for sharing it.

Dennis said...


I think you are delusional and want to give you a chance to prove you're not.

You claim that fundamentalists want wars and our environment destroyed because it will bring us closer to the last days. If this were true, then you should be able to point to sermon after sermon where these messages are preached. You can't.

I agree that some fundamentalists oppose globalization of governments because it brings us closer to the anti-christ, but this fact contradicts your claim that fundamentalists want to see the end times come sooner than later.

You make a call for us to set aside our differences to work together. Do you thing your call for us to come together will be answered after you insult people who disagree with you?

Anonymous said...

I think we should get rid of the mentally ill Christians. They're evil people. If it wasn't for Christians America wouldn't be in the shape that it's in. They're really the cause of mental illness.

Anonymous said...

Anon, I think you're really misled. If it wasn't for Christians America wouldn't be in the shape it is today, correct, it would be much worse.

Anonymous said...

I think you're only looking at a minority of Christians, when you say stuff about 9/11 being a warning.

Those that need help and are hopeless are those that try to find who they are in there own heart, and whose life is based only on their own. These are the people who become serial killers and rapists.

I am sorry, but where is ordinary human love?, please come back to reality, because there is no such thing. (Especially after reading your post)

Anonymous said...

I find it interesting that all of the former "fundamentalists" [which I take to be the anti-intellectual, Arminian strain of Christian Theology] seem to miss the fact that fundamentalism is still controlling your lives. From Mr. Loftus to the current author of this post, the so-called former Christians are still so enamored with fundamentalism that they have in the case of the author of this post dedicated their lives to straightening out those who are caught up in the web of fundamentalism.

This is at once hypocritical and disingenuous. The speech lists one of the flaws of fundamentalism as its authoritarianism. Superficially this criticism seems to stick until we examine the presuppositions involved. The author sets _human_autonomy_over_against_appeals_to_extrinsic_authority. The difficulty here is the post fails miserably in establishing that human autonomy is epistemologically superior to appeals to a book,God, etc.

Furthermore, it is a non-sequitar to assert that Christian belief is akin to various pathologies such as alcoholism and child abuse. This is the sort of nonsense that is highly emotive but lacks any substantiation.

DC remains the bastion of chicanery.

Anonymous said...

Bravo, Marlene. And well said.

Anonymous said...

exatheist: Perhaps it wasn't such a difficulty for you to leave atheism, if you did. But for those of us who left Christianity along with the fear of hell it is extremely psychologically difficult to do. When you join a church you have a support system already in place, with people and resources. But those of us who leave the faith usually don't have that. I didn't. I did it alone. So we here at DC are a support group complete with resources for those who have the same doubts we once entertained and which overwhelmed our faith.

Steve said...

I don't fully agree with everything in this post, but I do agree with the fact many, if not most of Christianity is focused on "immorality" that does nothing to hurt our society (especially in the case of sex, drinking, and other forms of enjoyment, all of which are fine if done responsibly) while ignoring or agreeing with things like war, etc.

As to the superiority/inferiority of authoritarianism, it has been shown that leading by a few over the many tends to lead to the abuse of the many. See Monarchy in your encyclopedia.

Trying to straighten out fundamentalists is not akin to fundamentalism in any way. Fundamentalism puts forth a fixed set of beliefs that is insisted as being true. We here at DC don't have a fixed set of beliefs, aside from human decency and logic. (Both which are obvious in their usefulness and practice). Besides, if you aren't a fundamentalist, then why defend them?

To the person who was asking where normal human love is: What is love? I don't know what you think it is, however I believe it is the ability to empathize with those in pain, or less fortunate than us, which does scientifically exist in normal brain function. (Demonstrated by those who have had specific portions of their brain damaged, and lost this ability).

I agree with John when he says this is an ex-christian support group. I myself have found John and all the others a great help in understanding the logical and rational problems with Christianity.

Anonymous said...

One who claims to be a skeptic of one set of beliefs is a firm believer in another set of beliefs

Anonymous said...

I agree with the premise that Marlene presents in the way that fundamentalists promote obedience. I was approached by fundamentalists and it seemed there was such an emphasis on obedience - this was like spiritual poison for me since what I really needed was to be set free from compulsive obedience and performance. So, in this case, the teachings were from blind guides and were more than an insensitive and ill-fit for me. Jesus gave me freedom rooted in deep rooted trust and love. Oddly enough, even though I have had to distance myself from them and it's taken about 6 years to deconstruct some of the belief systems, I do have a witness in my heart for them and do wish they also could be set free. I don't see them as a threat anymore, but rather, as imprisoned souls.

Anon 1035

Anonymous said...

Many of you are misconcieved about Christianity. It is not some set of rules and laws to obey, but rather through, and only through Jesus Christ we do good. Sin seperates me from God, and is against everything he stands for and what I want to stand for, that is why I try not to sin. It is from man and religion that people have to do this, this, and this in order to be saved. NO! It is only by Jesus Christ that we can be saved! "There is no other name under heaven by which man can be saved!"

Preacher, what is your idea of Christian immorality? True, those things you listed aren't sins if done responsibly. Getting drunk and having sex out of marriage shows no self-control and are sins. But I'm trying to make sense of your connection between immorality not "hurting our society" while war does. The only reason the United States is as powerful as it is, is that it has been a moral, God-fearing country, that will stand up for what is good and fight what is wrong. Oh, and also backing Isreal. "For those who bless Isreal will be blessed, and those who curse Isreal will be cursed."