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» Hatrack River Forum » Active Forums » Books, Films, Food and Culture » The appearance of evil, gossip, shame

   
Author Topic: The appearance of evil, gossip, shame
Dogbreath
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I decided to split this conversation off of this thread, mostly because I felt it would become too convoluted to facilitate orderly discussion if I had posted it in that thread.

Several years ago, while in college and working as a janitor at a church, I overheard a church meeting where a young man and young woman (in their early or mid 20s) were being reprimanded by the pastor for meeting in the church auditorium to practice a duet that they were singing in church the next day. They hadn't done anything slightly inappropriate. The pastor told them however that meeting alone gave "the appearance of evil" - by which he meant it might cause gossip to spread which would damage the church's reputation.

A few weeks ago, a pastor I know was sentenced to 12 years in prison for raping a mentally and emotionally unstable teenage girl over a period of several months. The girl was kicked out of the Christian School she was attending, and her family (who had been attending the church their entire lives) were told they were no longer welcome at the church and were asked to stop attending. Her extended family was harassed and shunned to the point that they decided to stop attending. The victim was called a slut, whore, temptress, and demon possessed. During his trial, hundreds of his congregation protested outside the courthouse and wrote letters to the judge asking for leniency. The general consensuses among his church was "he was a great man of God who caved to temptation."

My boss regularly cheats on his wife and brags about it at work. He's a Young Earth Creationist, goes to church with his family every Sunday, and is an extremely conservative Christian.

These are all examples from the Independent Fundamental Baptist church, which I grew up in and around. It seems to be an issue that happens in these sorts of churches, and the issue is this:

Image is everything.

People who work Monday-Friday in jeans and a polo shirt will put on a $600 suit Sunday morning. And this sort of fakery is symbolic of what they're doing with the rest of their lives.

They speak in an elevated, nonsensical language. "How have you been, brother Thomas?" "God has really been blessing me" or "I've really been tried by the Lord this week" or "I'm happy and blessed!" Of course, you might say, these are equivalents of "how's it going?" "Good", "fine", "okay", but it's more insidious then that. The language stays no matter how in depth they go, and they find themselves lying in order to stay within the confines of acceptable conversation. Kids talk about what "God is calling them to be" and frequently pick things that, while not matching their actual desires, are appropriate choices like "pastor" or "missionary." Adults talk about their "walk with the Lord", there is no actual discussion about doubt, laziness, lust, anger, self control, love, contentedness... at best you might get code words, and again the pressure is always there to guide the conversation along to "but God is really blessing me and showing me his wisdom" or something. Because it's safe, and because it lets everyone know you're fine, you're ok, you're a good Christian and the worst sins you commit are forgetting to read your Bible on Tuesday or running a red light or not being disciplined enough in your "walk with God."

This leads to a complete lack of accountability, and makes the church ineffective in guiding people toward moral behavior. I say this having been part of a church where people where normal clothes and speak plainly and honestly with each other, and hang out on more days than just Sunday. While obviously people don't typically go into church and proclaim all their worst sins, conversation is honest enough, and you know your brothers and sisters well enough, that it's okay to admit weakness and temptation. And if you don't, they will probably confront you with it, in a (hopefully) loving way.

The worst sin imaginable in these IFB churches is *getting caught*. And so many members dedicate so much of their time and energy towards perfecting their act, getting the holy lingo just right, avoiding any slip ups, any hint that they are less than perfect, that they simply don't have the time or energy to actually develop the discipline and receive the mentorship necessary to avoid or stop sinning in the first place. Often they form a strange cognitive dissonance about the matter - since they haven't been caught by their church doing these things, they aren't actually guilty of them. Often they develop a strange sort of pride in their wrongdoing, and are even more viciously critical of members of their community who slip up and get caught.

Because getting caught is horrific. You're either excommunicated from the congregation, or forced to stand in front of the church and give a humiliating apology, talk about how you "backslid" and "brought shame to the Church and the cause of Christ", and ask the church for it's forgiveness. You become the subject of gossip, your kids find themselves being bullied or rejected by other kids, you're the butt monkey that all the other members can self righteously "forgive" while talking behind your back for the next 10 years.

Either way, though, by the time you get caught, it's because the sin became so obvious that there is no longer a chance for redemption or prevention. The damage is done.

You could never honestly discuss your problems with lust or commitment, so you went and had an affair, and now your marriage is ruined.

You could never honestly discuss your problems with honesty or greed or theft, so you stole enough to get caught, and now you're fired or in jail.

You could never honestly discuss your problems with anger, so you assaulted someone or cussed out your boss, and you're in jail or fired.

It creates a society where the key survival traits are lying and hypocrisy. Where honesty, integrity, and honor are shunned, where success is creating such an effective mask for yourself that no one can ever, ever see inside, and nothing can ever touch you. No piercing beauty, just aesthetic pleasantness. eventually your soul rots from all those years without a touch of the sun, and there's nothing left inside that mask but filth and maggots.

And then you can rape a troubled little girl who comes to you for help and leave her thinking it's her fault.

Then you can disown your own child that you bore and raised, because the embarrassment of having a gay son might crack that mask. And you can't allow that.

Then you can swindle people for a living, cheat on your wife, snort coke, abuse your employees... do whatever the hell you want, really, because there's nothing left inside but lust and hunger and hate, and a desperate desire to keep the mask intact.

Have any of you been in churches like this? Obviously my post is about the most extreme examples - the level of hypocrisy varies from person to person and from church to church. But if any of you doubt this is a real thing, or think I'm exaggerating, follow the links I provided and read through the second one. It'll give you an idea of just how monstrous these people really are.

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steven
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Isn't this just society in general? If we could all be honest, without repercussions, about what we're really struggling with, the world would be a very different place.
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Rakeesh
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Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the matter, Dogbreath. I imagine it might have been awkward to consider sharing that here, but (unsurprisingly) I do think it's an important discussion.

It seems to me that much of this sort of thing is tied up in an exclusivist sort of community that deems itself not just better but morally, supernaturally better than other human being. But that's either not enough on its own, or hardly ever happens without at least one other factor: the belief in not just God but an omnipotent sort of God for whom morality starts and stops with 'God says so'. The sort of community who would answer the question 'wouldn't it be terribly wicked to kill a bunch of Egyptians in their cradles?' with 'God commanded it'. Because it's so easy for that sort of lack of accountability where one can be offended even at the possibility of insisting on an explanation from God...begins to rub off on the worshipper, too. So then it doesn't matter if you're cheating on your wife or your taxes because you lack a tradition of asking tough questions anyway.

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Samprimary
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The CoS is essentially this, but amped up to 11.
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Misha McBride
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My mother's entire family is this way so I grew up with it like you. Observing the continual hypocrisy and obsession with public image has put me off religion in general and my family in particular. There is this constant poisonous pressure to conform and fit in while privately they act like terrible human beings. When my mother passes I'll be cutting the rest of them out of my life completely.
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Tuukka
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quote:
Originally posted by steven:
Isn't this just society in general? If we could all be honest, without repercussions, about what we're really struggling with, the world would be a very different place.

Yes, but the problem is over-emphasized in many fundamentalist groups.

The thing is, mainstream society in general does accept showing negative characteristics, to a certain degree. People accept the fact that everyone feels anger, lust, jealousy, greed, etc.

If you're devoid of those emotions, it even makes you seem a little bit weird. To a lot of ordinary people, someone who wears a mask of perfection can even feel unsettling. We know that people are flawed, and we like people who are flawed.

Most people are able to express their negative feelings in a manner which doesn't go overboard, and the society around them accepts, that everyone has those negative feelings.

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AchillesHeel
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My first boss was a "nondenominational christian" who went to Calvary Chapel, the biggest and most franchised "nondenominational" church in the state. He would regularly brag about his life before being "chosen by god" he would tell the sixteen year old me about how he used to drive mobsters around and how much money he spent daily on cocaine, only to explain to me just how much cocaine that really was and how much it would cost these days. After a while it started to feel like a "the fish was this big!" story. As if he had inflated it over the years to make his sobriety and conversion to Calvary Chapel that much more impressive.

He also talked a lot about how peaceful and understanding god had made him since he devoted his life to god by selling knives and Nazi paraphernalia (before and after my employment, I was very clear that I would not abide nor endorse such idiotic immorality) and then throw tantrums directed at the manager or myself when his wife would waste printer ink or botch a sale.

My grand-uncle started working for the Catholic Church in Kalamazoo when he was still a teenager. They liked him so much that he was permitted to marry his first cousin in the church. He spent over forty years serving as a deacon, raised his kids in the church and everything. About forty-five years into the job the Catholic Church discovered that he had been stealing money from them. We never heard an estimate, but it was clearly stated that if he could return the money he would be allowed to retain his position in both his job and the social group.

Since then he has divorced his wife of fifty years, maintained minimal ties with his children and grandchildren and married a thirty-something woman with kids. They live as far as possible from any of our family without leaving the continental states.

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Darth_Mauve
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Like thugs who join the police, or arsonists who join the fire department, "sinners" will often find themselves attracted to the church, both as a cover for their weaknesses, and the forgiveness of their crimes.

This does not mean every Christian is a crook, or that every crook is a Christian.

Police forces have created "Internal Affairs" departments to root out the thugs.

Fire Departments know to check the firemen when arson is discovered.

Perhaps a good method of keeping the faithful--well faithful--using outside, non-biased observers, could be created for churches.

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ambyr
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That sentencing memorandum is horrifying but, I think, worth reading.
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Dogbreath
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quote:
Originally posted by steven:
Isn't this just society in general? If we could all be honest, without repercussions, about what we're really struggling with, the world would be a very different place.

Oh definitely, and American Psycho is a good non-religious study of the same phenomenon. (I think. Don't hold me to that, it's been a while since I saw it) But generally Church is (hypothetically) supposed to be the place where you're able to show much of your real self, not less. I suppose my post is about any *community*, religious or otherwise, that promotes those values.
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Rakeesh
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quote:
Originally posted by Dogbreath:
quote:
Originally posted by steven:
Isn't this just society in general? If we could all be honest, without repercussions, about what we're really struggling with, the world would be a very different place.

Oh definitely, and American Psycho is a good non-religious study of the same phenomenon. (I think. Don't hold me to that, it's been a while since I saw it) But generally Church is (hypothetically) supposed to be the place where you're able to show much of your real self, not less. I suppose my post is about any *community*, religious or otherwise, that promotes those values.
I agree. I think for some reason, though, the problem becomes worse-maybe it's simply more noticeable?-when tied to a system that says "We'll tell you what morality is, and your job as a human being is to try and understand how everything fits it, rather than question whether it fits."
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Dogbreath
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quote:
Originally posted by Darth_Mauve:
Perhaps a good method of keeping the faithful--well faithful--using outside, non-biased observers, could be created for churches.

This could definitely be of use - though it'd require the board of deacons (or whatever equivalent governing body) to actually listen to the outside observer and respect his/her judgement.

For example, it's hard to watch this video and not realize the pastor is, at best, pretty mentally unstable. Yet that sermon was watched by thousands in the crowd, and witnessed by his entire staff, and he remained pastor for another two years and was allowed spend significant amounts of alone time with children, often taking them on overnight trips. It took him repeatedly raping a girl over several months' time before they finally confronted him about his behavior. (I sincerely hope she was the only one he abused)

I met Jack at a youth camp in Michigan when I was 12 years old. He certainly gave off a creepy vibe, but his perversion was nowhere near as explicit as it is in that video. Apparently (from conversations I've had with friends who attended his church) his sermons became more and more unhinged and sexual in nature as the years passed. If he had been able to confess those feelings instead of hiding them, or had been confronted about his perversion, perhaps he would have gotten the help he needed before it was too late. Or, at least, kept from ever being in a position where he had power and control over children.

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TomDavidson
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Oh, wow! It only now sunk in that you're referring to the Baptist churches of northern Indiana. As someone who lived in Gary and went to high school in a small town just north of Valparaiso, I am intimately familiar with that sort of hypocritical dysfunction.

FBC Hammond has always been one of the worst of them, along with Fairhaven (just a few minutes to the east). *shudder* It breaks my heart to hear that they're still operating.

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Dogbreath
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Tom: I grew up FB churches in Minnesota and later Indiana. It occurred to me we might know (or at least know of) a lot of the same people, so I Facebook stalked you. I immediately felt guilty about this, so I sent you a friend request. (letting you know in case you didn't know who the random creeper who wants to be your friend is) Feel free to ignore it if you don't like being friends with crazies from the internet. [Smile]
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Samprimary
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quote:
For example, it's hard to watch this video and not realize the pastor is, at best, pretty mentally unstable.
few institutions outside of organized religion are so appropriately suited to people as aggressively insane as that man.
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Dogbreath
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It's the institution that drove him crazy.
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Samprimary
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You could say that's true in the sense that he seems to be the product of abuse as a child by an extremely religious family.
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Dogbreath
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That too, but I meant that if he was, say, a plumber or accountant, he probably won't have gone (as) crazy. Being in a position where you're above criticism and worshiped by thousands of people who trust that everything you say is the word of God tends to drive you a little crazy, as you have none of the checks on your sanity that you would have in a more mundane profession.
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Rakeesh
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quote:
That too, but I meant that if he was, say, a plumber or accountant, he probably won't have gone (as) crazy. Being in a position where you're above criticism and worshiped by thousands of people who trust that everything you say is the word of God tends to drive you a little crazy, as you have none of the checks on your sanity that you would have in a more mundane profession.
It's not just the mind-messing properties of holding that relationship with respect to other people. It's also that his parishioners, including the victim's family themselves, were telling each other this guy was God's representative on Earth.

The level of crazy vileness one needs to be a seriously bad guy is substantially lower when one is surrounded by people who believe not just that you won't do any wrong but that it would be sinful to even think you might do wrong. If God is there, and wants me to believe someone is God's representative here on Earth, I'm perfectly content to bluntly say it should take a freaking hell of a lot more than some air being pushed past another human being's vocal cords before I shouldn't scorn the very idea.

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Mucus
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OK, thats pretty weird, out of curiosity, what non-sexual topic was that sermon supposed to be about?
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Samprimary
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.. fletching?
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Dogbreath
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Yeah, when I heard the sermon back in 2001 he used fletchery as a metaphor for saintification (the Bible itself uses pottery and smithing...) but it was nowhere near that phallic in nature. I'm not sure when he started "polishing his shaft" as part of the sermon...
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steven
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I think there's another problem in a lot of religious communities, that is probably a lot older, and every bit as bad.

Legalism at the expense of the simple virtues. This is well-illustrated by the story of the Good Samaritan.

There's a certain forum member, who shall remain nameless, who is a devout Mormon. I'd bet a good amount of money that he's 100% faithful to his wife, never curses, always goes to church and tithes appropriately, etc., etc.. From a purely legalistic standpoint, this guy is pretty near the perfect Mormon.

And you know what? He's petty, a skilled and active trash-talker, immature, and quite possibly the most vengeful person in the Hatrackosphere. He is the absolute last person you'd want to cross.

Anybody who knew Mormonism purely through interacting with him in the Hatrackosphere would avoid Mormons IRL like the plague.

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MrSquicky
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quote:
There's a certain forum member, who shall remain nameless, who is a devout Mormon. I'd bet a good amount of money that he's 100% faithful to his wife, never curses, always goes to church and tithes appropriately, etc., etc.. From a purely legalistic standpoint, this guy is pretty near the perfect Mormon.

And you know what? He's petty, a skilled and active trash-talker, immature, and quite possibly the most vengeful person in the Hatrackosphere. He is the absolute last person you'd want to cross.

Ahhh...unacknowledged irony. I find you delicious.
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MrSquicky
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It's not a super well known book, but I think that Richard Nisbett and Dov Cohen's book Culture of Honor: The Psychology of Violence in the South lays the foundation for an understanding of how cultures like this develop.

The idea of "honor" and "shame" being primarily determined by other people's perception of you is a strange one to me, but I found their case pretty compelling.

One of the things that came out of follow ups to this was that these cultures very often have a strong strain of dominance/submission and a related social hierarchy. Interestingly, this d/s influence is often particularly strong in groups that stress individualism.

To me, hearing about a high status individual being caught abusing a low status victim and then the victim being largely blamed for it makes perfect sense. It's largely analogous to cultures where having a female member raped brings "dishonor" to your family/clan/etc. and thus she must be punished.

In d/s cultures, high status is largely tied up in doing what you want, especially with regards to low status individuals and classes of individuals (women is a pretty popular one). Also, because of the self-centered focus and a tendency towards reductionist thinking, other people are often seen as simple, one dimensional objects instead of subjects like oneself. This is true both for higher status and lower status people, but the higher get positive traits and the lower get negative ones, even though their status is almost always due to their power, not these traits. Also, a lot of the moral rules function as control mechanisms to be applied to lower status people and being constrained by them marks you as not being of high enough status to ignore them.

There's a lot of dissonance around this, especially when your group is ostensibly about moral behavior and constraints. Top dogs are supposed to be free to do whatever they want to people below them but also have all the moral traits that the organization is supposed to prize. You yourself, at whatever level, want to exercise your freedom, especially with regards to the lower people in your life (for example, treating your wife as an equal partner will make you lose status in most people's eyes, often even your wife's), but part of your power comes from how people see you in regards to the moral standards of the groups. So, appearance is extremely important, both to be seen doing whatever you want by people you want to impress with your power (e.g. the boss bragging about cheating on his wife) but also not to be seen as violating the moral rules by those whose judgement would diminish your own power.

Now, it is obviously more complicated then that, but that's a one sided look at it.

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Mucus
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quote:
Originally posted by Dogbreath:
Yeah, when I heard the sermon back in 2001 he used fletchery as a metaphor for saintification (the Bible itself uses pottery and smithing...) but it was nowhere near that phallic in nature. I'm not sure when he started "polishing his shaft" as part of the sermon...

Looks up https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fletching
Ah, ok. Thanks, I had a very difficult time understanding him.

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odouls268
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quote:
Originally posted by steven:
Isn't this just society in general? If we could all be honest, without repercussions, about what we're really struggling with, the world would be a very different place.

Little white lies are the only things that keep society from getting its collective teeth kicked in.
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Dogbreath
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Just heard Merry Go Round by Kacey Musgraves again and it made me think of those trapped in this lifestyle, and of all the reasons I left. It's a good song, even if you can't identify with it.
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