Recently, I met a female evangelist, who worked closely in the field with her husband. The two practiced what I would consider a very “fire and brimstone” “angry God” version of Christianity”. They frequently bad mouth homosexuals, listeners of rock music, liberals and make heavy use of threats of hell.
I saw the wife in this pair explain their religious beliefs to a sizable audience they had gathered, along with some of the details of their personal history. Looking back, I now regret, not having asked how she reconciles her role in the ministry with first Timothy 2:12, which states “But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have authority over the man, but to be in silence,” but her story led me to pursue a different line of questioning.
She told of a time when she was a young, ambitious college student. At this time, she met her future husband who was ministering to students at her University. For some reason (that is still beyond my understanding) she found this man’s teachings about God, Jesus and hell fire compelling and chose to follow him and renounce many of her past beliefs and ambitions. She argued that prior to having met her husband she had been mind-raped by the professors at her University, with their teachings of secular humanism, atheism, liberalism and socialism. She did point out that she in fact paid the professors to teach her, so it was not a “legitimate rape” (Yes, she referenced Todd Akin’s controversial and stupid remark when telling this story).
I pondered this and after she was done speaking I got a chance to speak with her privately. I suggested that since she considered her professor’s teachings to be mind-rape, that the same be said of those of her evangelist husband. After all rapists use physical violence or threats of physical violence to subdue their victims, while her husband’s teachings similarly use threats of eternal torment to those anyone who dares to question them. Her husband literally taught this woman, that if she does not believe everything he says, terrible things will happen to her forever. This element of backing one’s teachings with threats of force struck me as far more insidious, than anything, from even the most propagandizing college professors.
As far as I know, professors have no way to force their students to believe anything. Sure, they may be able to command their pupils to memorize or understand their teachings at the risk failing their tests, but I see no way in which they can force anyone to believe anything they teach (or even retain it after the semester ends). I have spent several years in academic settings, but have never had a professor threaten me with torture if I fail to believe what he or she taught. I can really only picture this happening, in this country, at explicitly religious schools.
The evangelist refused to acknowledge my point, stating that I was off base, because it was not the fear of hell, but the desire to be in the presence of a loving all powerful God. Maybe she was being honest, but, I have to admit that I’m a bit skeptical of this claim, since threats of hell are such a huge portion of what her ministry does, and what many other fundamentalist ministries do. If they spent half the time they use to assert that people who disagree with them will be punished, to explain what evidence they have for this belief, it would be a much more constructive conversation.
That said, I think the concept of mind rape, does describe religious indoctrination quite well. It is usually performed on children who have yet to develop critical thinking skills and therefore have no defense. Here in this Christian world it is frequently backed up with threats of torments (as well as the bribe of an eternal reward). I have argued in previous posts that I think frightening children with threats of hell is a form of child abuse, and one that many people never get over. This is not to mention, the degrading message that we are all so sinful, wretched and worthless that we should be tortured forever. Anyone who sees a small child as a being worthy of nothing better of eternal torture, by virtue of being born human, has truly lost any semblance of decency.
By writing this, I am in no way trying to lessen or water down the meaning of “rape”. Rape is a horrendous crime and the fact it happens or is tolerated at all in our culture is a tragedy of the utmost severity. Having acknowledged this, I could not help but find the evangelist’s notion of mind-rape to be not only ironic, but also a useful and informative way of looking at religious indoctrination, especially indoctrination that features the threat of punishment.