Nel's New Day

April 28, 2013

Fundamentalist Religion Creates RTS

Raised in the Assemblies of God denomination, Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant in the San Francisco Area and the daughter of Pentecostal missionaries. For 20 years she has counseled men and women in recovery from various forms of fundamentalist religion, people whose psychological symptoms whose psychological symptoms were either exacerbated by religion or caused by it. Two years ago, she began to wrote and speak about “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS), raising the question of whether toxic religion is merely misinterpretation.

Winell explains RTS as

“a set of symptoms and characteristics that tend to go together and which are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of two things: immersion in a controlling religion and the secondary impact of leaving a religious group… Emotional and mental treatment in authoritarian religious groups also can be damaging because of 1) toxic teachings like eternal damnation or original sin 2) religious practices or mindset, such as punishment, black and white thinking, or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.”

One example of RTS comes from children’s fear and anxiety caused by images of hell while they are too young to process these ideas. Many people have suffered trauma from seeing the film A Thief in the Night that shows the horrors of “end times” for nonbelievers.

Depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning are other problems from RTS. Because fundamentalist Christians believe that people are depraved and in need of salvation, teachings result in a loss of self-worth. Winell explained, “A core message is ‘You are bad and wrong and deserve to die.’” Some people deliberately injure themselves, engaging in cutting and burning their arms, because they believe they must be punished.

Devout Christians and Catholics try to persuade people that they are weak and dependent, that they must lean on God but “trust and obey.” The result is an inability to make decision.

People who are forced into conformity as children, as fundamentalists force them into, are left with no support system without the religion. They are left without a real choice, either stay in the terror of the religious beliefs or the terror without it. Fundamentalist religious teach fear about the world so that its members will not have the skills to leave. Losing this support results in anger, depression, and grief.

Asked about the difference between RTS and PTSD, Winell explained that RTS is about a specific harmful experience. Another difference is the difference in social context. For example, survivors of domestic abuse can easily be understood and supported. No one sends them back for more abuse in the way that someone might want people to return to their religion in the form of pastoral counseling, AA, or another church.

Labeling RTS is important because it gives the experience validity. It also encourages professionals to take it seriously, offering treatment and training.

Winell doesn’t lump all religions together. She explains:

“Religion causes trauma when it is highly controlling and prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their own feelings. Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation.

“Conversely, groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be said to be healthy. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals. They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes. They encourage spiritual practices that promote health like meditation or principles for living like the golden rule.

“More and more, nontheists are asking how they can create similar spiritual communities without the supernaturalism. An atheist congregation in London launched this year and has received over 200 inquiries from people wanting to replicate their model.”

Polls show that more and more people are leaving religion; within just the last five years the “religiously unaffiliated” in the U.S. have grown from just over 15 percent to just under 20 percent. More and more people are discussing RTS with almost 8 million hits on the Internet.

One major problem with fundamentalism in the United States is that it mirrors the Islam religion that they hate. Rebellion against a government, religious control, denial of science, absence of democratic process, religious law, subjugation of women, threats of violent force—all these are indicative not only of the Islam law but also the Christian fundamentalist approach. Megachurches and fundamentalist sects encourage violence, promoting gun ownership to overthrow the U.S. government.

The people who are frightened of what they call sharia law, based on the Koran, fail to realize that they are trying to impose the fundamentalist Christian law onto all the people in the United States. Evangelical fundamentalist Christians are the real terrorists who will destroy the United States if they gain power.

One prime example is the $130-million church in Dallas (TX), the First Baptist Church, with 11,000 members many of them oil company presidents, corporate lawyers, real estate barons, and a collection of very rich, very widowed dowagers. Before last fall’s election, Rev. Robert Jeffress told his congregation that if Obama’s winning the election would lead to the rise of the Anti-Christ. He had serious problems with Mitt Romney, however, because, according to Jeffress, Mormonism is not Christianity but a cult.

Judaism?  “Judaism, you can’t be saved being a Jew, you know who said that by the way, the three greatest Jews in the New Testament, Peter, Paul, and Jesus Christ, they all said Judaism won’t do it,” said Jeffress. Islam (like Mormonism) is “from the pit of hell,” a religion that promotes pedophilia, according to Jeffress.

In  Dallas money is holy, a form of blessing from God, instead of a temptation to evil for the soul. To be poor is a moral failing, and to be needy is to be diseased. Desegregation is also unchristian, according to Jeffress’ predecessor, W. A. Criswell, who was at the First Baptist Church in Dallas for over 50 years. True ministers, he argued, must passionately resist government-mandated desegregation because it is “a denial of all that we believe in.”

His belief remains in other churches throughout the South. The Appleby Baptist Church in Nacogdoches, Texas, is one of the country’s fundamentalist churches openly promoting the idea that the Biblical Noah pronounced a curse on descendants of his son, Ham, whose descendants were black and fated to be an underclass of slaves. Their belief is that Satan is who “wants to eliminate color by interracial marriages.”

The teaching of such bigotry and ignorance doesn’t stay in the churches; thousands and thousands of children in the United States are homeschooled or in private schools—sometimes paid for by taxpayers—that teach the fundamentalist Biblical justification of racism and slavery.”

Freedom of religion in the United States has taught reasonable people that they must accept all religions, including those that would take over the country and remove our freedoms. All non-fundamentalists need to gather together—the religious and the non-religious—to keep the United States free for new ideas and progressive development.

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