False Truths

Last week on ABC Radio National’s “Late Night Live” there was an interview about a new book “My Lie: A True Story of False Memory” .  The author, Meredith Maran, was a journalist and researcher in the 1980’s who was doing a lot of stories about people recovering memories of child sex abuse.  She started to believe that she herself had been abused by her father and confronted her father and family with this accusation.  Many years later she began to question those memories and accusations and now believes they were false.

I am not so much concerned with the issue of child-sex abuse (which obviously does occur and is a big problem), nor with the problem of false-memory (which is also well documented).  What was fascinating about the interview was the way that cultural forces can influence the beliefs of quite rational and intelligent people – even to the point that they will sincerely believe things that are baseless and absurd.

During the 80’s and early 90’s an awareness of Satanic forces was increasing, not only in the Christian world.  This became a full-blown moral panic about Satanic ritual abuse in some sections of the community and spread throughout America and the english-speaking world.  Parallel to this was also an emerging awareness of the prevelence of child-abuse in society and repressed memories.

Some of this came through to the Christian world in speakers like Mike Warnke – supposedly a former high-priest of Satan who had led and paticipated in unspeakable Satanic rituals.   He became a star of the evangelical movement and scared countless impressionable young people into giving their life and money to Jesus.  By the time I saw him in the early-90’s his act was largely stand-up comedy but he was still popular with the youth ministries until largely discredited in 1992.

The twin forces of moral panic in Satanic ritual abuse and child abuse converged in the McMartin trial , where the owners of a family-run child-care centre were accused of the most horrible sexual abuse and ritualised abuse of the children in thier care.  The allegations became more and more bizarre including that some of the staff could fly, and that there were a series of underground tunnels under the pre-school in which children were abused.    Much investigation went into trying to find the tunnels, but no evidence was found.  The owner. Virginia McMartin was an elderly lady who was subjected to six years of these allegations in the longest running criminal trial in US history.     

Throughout this process public sympathy was largely on the side of the accusers.  Much of the media was uncritical of the accusers side of the story and it was mostly believed.

I think this shows that many educated and intelligent people could get swept up by a pervasive belief in the culture – journalists, researchers, lawyers, therapists.  All people who are supposed to think critically and objectively about claims and to try to get at the truth.  In the face of a cultural movement that was like a river many of these people got swept along.  And there is no guarantee that there wont be another one – and that we ourselves will not be swept up in a similar manner.

Meredith Maran spoke (on Radio National) of being in one world during the working week (Planet Earth) and another on weekends (Planet Incest).  She became involved in a sub-culture where everyone was speaking about the issue and where it became their central purpose and the currency of the sub-culture.  In order to be a part of this sub-culture one had to speak about one’s own experience.

 It made me think that many of the church problems we have been discussing on this blog are the result of a sub-culture that has developed within certain Christian movements.  Your average church-goer moves between the wider culture (Planet Earth) during the week to the church culture (Planet Christian) on weekends, but is constantly told that Planet Christian is the real world and not to trust Planet Earth.  The Pastor lives almost entirely on Planet Christian and is in a sub-culture where ideas like tithing, vision etc are constantly reinforced and are the markers of whether you are “in” or “out” of the planet.

The Pastor may be quite a rational person, have the best intentions and have studied the Bible for years.  But due to the culture he or she exists within this Pastor may have sincerely-held beliefs that are not supportable and even harmful.

  – wazza2

16 thoughts on “False Truths

  1. @Wazza “Your average church-goer moves between the wider culture (Planet Earth) during the week to the church culture (Planet Christian) on weekends, but is constantly told that Planet Christian is the real world and not to trust Planet Earth.”

    Great observation and precisely the undelying problem of gnostic dualistic tendencies that are as alive and well in the present age of the Church as they were from the second century and onward. You can hear the consistent drumbeat of such thinking through TVdude’s previous comments.

    We hear Paul often write about the ‘flesh’ and the ‘spirit’ and the dualistic influence on Christian thought produces this tendency to want to escape materiality because of the persuasion that all matter is evil, and in contrast, spirit is good. Extreme asceticism was practiced under the notion that the flesh was evil – men and women denied themselves the very basics of life – bread and water, in order to achieve a closer union with God. To me the overemphasis on “spiritual” experiences the stupidity and that so often occasions it, is a direct result of tares in the crop who are exceeding what written to bring the creator down off His throne.

  2. BTW – I am not saying that Paul endorsed dualistic thought – on the contrary, there is no dichotomy between spiritual and material from Paul’s perspective in the Bible, faith and reason are inextricably intertwined and are not in competition at all.

    In the flesh, we are compelled by our own self-effort toward gaining righteousness based on the Law. In the spirit, faith is reckoned as righteousness, and we are given the free gift of salvation.

  3. Dear Folks,
    Hi, I’m Meredith Maran, author of MY LIE: A True Story of False Memory, the book referenced in this smart, thoughtful post. Just wanted to say hello from California and thank you for the dialogue. In the US, too often online “discussions” devolve into shouts and screams, and it’s reassuring to have the topic discussed so calmly and intelligently. Thanks! –Meredith Maran

  4. Couldn’t agree more, wazza, with the description of two worlds and how they affect both our views, and those of the people fully immersed in Planet Christian full time. As the relationship to Maran’s experience shows, this is a universal possibility. Maybe for some, on the weekend, its ‘Planet Football’ or ‘Planet Dungeons and Dragons’. Maybe our immersion in all these things informs our view of Planet Earth over the rest of the week.

  5. Phil Pringle is the first person to come to my mind as an example of a pastor who lives in a world that is very different to our one. With an emphasis on positive thinking and speaking, and an inner circle of people chosen by himself, there is little chance of anything entering his consciousness which would disturb the world he has defined. Yet he and others like him, preach to those who are in a very different world, going to work every day, dealing with a huge variety of people that they have no choice but to engage with on some level, and they are told that this weekend world can overcome their daily one. What is more, if they speak/think positively enough, they move in faith which can change their daily world. Which isn’t that important anyway, really, except so far as it is a source of funding for ministries or a way to meet potential new converts. Value in the work itself, of just being a part of society in a positive way, wherever you happen to be, is diminished. No wonder young people pursue pastoral careers when all else becomes meaningless.

    I think there is a very good case for any minister to have spent some substantial part of their life working out in ‘Planet Earth’ before going into full time ministry. This would have to apply to those who go straight from school into tertiary theological education as well. Otherwise they too, have little conception of the world those they serve live in, and can hold all kinds of false beliefs about both it and the people who live in it.

    What about those children who attend church gatherings on the weekend with their families and go to schools run by the same church all through the week? This is supposed to be for their spiritual good in many cases, but perhaps if they fail to engage with Planet Earth as a result (maybe it depends upon the school of course), they too may find themselves ill equipped for real life – or in for a big shock.

    And all this is very unnecessary. The bible is so full of real, day to day, life. We are to be out there, in that real life, not engaging in a surfeit of lifestyle choices that disconnect us from it.

    I am passionate about living for Christ out in the real world. This is where we are shaped and become a part of His work in Creation.

  6. rp, exactly.

    Wazza, Interesting you mention Mike Warnke. I too can remember when people would have his tapes and his stories were so dramatic and funny. Tragic story – and amazing that he got away with it for so long.

    The idea of power of culture and groupthink is fascinating.
    About the only way to see it is to step outside of it. So I think it’s healthy actually to live in another county for even a little while, or at least speak with people from outside, and visiting churches not in your denomination or stream is a good idea too.

  7. Wazza, you got me thinking back. People talk about Baby Boomers and generation x etc. We are all shaped by our times, and I think that goes for different church eras too. Maybe you’re like me and go back to the age of small churches and AOG in Australia being basically unknown in the wider community. I’m old enough to remember all the 70’s and 80′ end times hype. I’ve said it before, but kids in youth groups way back then probably never really thought they would end up as grandparents. People around me knew that it was wrong to set dates (as nobody knows the day or hour), but at the same time, i’m not exaggerating to say that back then if a kid talked about being a grandparent one day, he would have been sneered at. Then to go through the years where Swaggart went from being the greatest evangelist in the world, and the tough guy holy man, to basically being a joke …. I look around and see that so many people just dropped out of church. There’s been a lot of disappointments over the years. And now the 40s and 50s in the churches seem like ancients. So, good on you for keeping the faith.

    re False memories and group think, it’s interesting to read about hypnosis and mass hypnosis. It’s not as mysterious as some think – but it’s powerful.

    I know the feeling of being in a meeting where it seems like everyone around me thinks the man on stage is Peter and Paul put together and what is happening is Pentecost 100 fold, while, I’m thinking “I just don’t get it. Either all these people are crazy, or if they’re not, I’ve gotten so far from God that I’ve lost all feeling”.

    `Rp, I think there are similarities between career Pastors and career Politicians. They’re associates, friends and mentors are all in the same jobs.

    I don’t know if people realize this but I think most senior pastors in spite of saying how much they are part of a family and their friend are the leaders and elders etc, usually there is a line. Most of the ones I know really only confide with senior pastors of other churches. That’s another reason why Pastors travel so much to minister in other town and countries, and also get in people from elsewhere. The Pastor may be super positive guy on Sunday morning, but then tell all his fears, doubts and troubles to the outside Pastors on the Monday (usually the Pastors day off). In fact, judging by my personal experience with people, often the churches with the most visiting speakers are the ones in the most trouble. (The pastor gets to be counseled, the church gets to think God is leading big names to them so that confirms their destiny, and of course the visiting speaker will somewhere in the sermon say how great the church is and how wonderful the pastors, are and how blessed the congregation is to have them. Which of course makes some people feel even more guilty.

    ….now I think I’ve said too much. I guess that sounded cynical.

  8. I am aware of the sub-culture dynamics in that any local church can create. But their is also a unified global sub-culture that pockets some of the worst preachers.

    I tend to see it as a religious ‘united nations’ bible belt. I guess one could say I am apart of this whether I want to or not. It’s this bible belt that can have the prejudices or fears dictate what this universal sub-culture believes. Rienhard Bonnke would be one of the preachers of it, as would Benny Hinn or Joyce Meyer. They are universally accepted therefore a Christian universal sub-culture is created around them. The question then should be how this universal sub-culture can change for the better if fear and prejudice is determining how to think and behave.

    This is what I think the NAR is trying to target and claim as it’s own, since a lot of it’s movement has many ‘Apostles’ in this sub-culture. I think a lot of ministers see a problem with the global church and see their movements holding the answers and want to get into this sub-culture to change it for ‘the glory of God’.

    That’s why I think the devil-stomp in the 70’s and 80’s became so popular. Someone came in to the sub-culture with an answer, they were embraced. Everyone associates them with ‘the answer’ or the correct method for success or progress.

    This explains to me why TBN or God TV gets the same heretics back on. Everybody was presented with an answer to their problems within this sub-culture. Now it is the only answer they hear because a leader has been associated with that answer (whether it is right or wrong). Until someone can come into the equation with a better answer to the churches leadership or financial problems, they will keep using leadership that people want who they think hold the answers to their problems.

    This is one of the reasons why I think Michael Pitts came to the spot-light with his ‘First-fruits’ heresy. No one was being blessed with their giving, because Pitts found that the TRUE answer to tithing was not JUST the tithe and giving freely and joyfully, but by giving a first-fruits offering on top of that.

    Simply stick to Andre Crouch’s chorus:
    “Jesus is the answer for the world today
    Above Him there’s no other, Jesus is the way!”

  9. Thanks everyone for your supportive comments. Thanks particularly to Meredith for stopping by. It is an amazing new digital world we live in where I can listen to a podcast on the train, blog my thoughts about it on the internet, and then have the author herself come and comment! Just amazing.

    A lot of really good comments here, they have really made me think, but I dont have a lot of time to respond as I can’t blog at work.

    @churchman, yes I went to a small AOG in the 80’s in Adelaide, although we sometimes went to the growing megachurch of Paradise AOG. Wasn’t too much affected by the end-times stuff, although had friends who were right into it. One was adamant that it was a waste of time to go to college or university because the Lord’s return was imminent. As the Lord has tarried now for more than twenty years, I think I made the right decision to go.

    “There have been a lot of disappointments over the years”. Too true, when you think about it. Look at all the fallen, from Swaggart to Gugglielmucci. Many times the church had a dead-horse, but they propped him up and said “Look, he’s standing again!!” only to have the horse fall down once more.

    The NZ AOG website used to have a history of the movement, and it seemed to be quite a balanced and fair account. It showed the difficulties that the movement has been through since it started in the 1920’s – the effect of countless new theologies, schisms, financial crises etc. One reason it gave for some of the problems was that congregations were often made up of working-class people, who perhaps didnt have the experience required to run organisations. Now we have the opposite problem, people who are too good at running organisations.

    I agree, whether its been at the national and public level, or in talking to individual people about their pentecostal church experience over the years, the general story has been one of difficulty in the organisation. It has not been an easy road by any means.

    @Mosco – yes I think dualism is at the heart of the problem. We should discuss this more in another post.

  10. Yes. It is extremely disturbing. Lives must have been completely destroyed by the false accusations. But it is easy to imagine how one person after another contributed their bit to the process.

  11. Here’s a good example of false truths. Read more here: http://www.discerningtheworld.com/2010/09/17/john-macarthur-the-blood-of-jesus-is-just-liquid/

    John MacArthur – The Blood of Jesus is just Liquid! [REVISITED]

    The rumour states that John MacArthur declares that the blood of Jesus is just liquid. There is a Youtube video on the matter and another video showing John MacArthur’s RECENT study bible underlining parts in the bible where he mentions the blood of Jesus as being liquid.

    Apparently this is all a big mis-understanding. John MacArthur was deliberetily taken out of context and has had to deal with the consequenses ever since. Why John MacArthur’s recent study bible says the blood of Jesus is liquid is another question…

    Some of MacArthur’s more militant critics have allowed their superstition on this matter to get the best of them. During the World Congress on Fundamentalism, which met on the BJU Campus (Bob Jones University), August 4-8, 1986, they passed a resolution declaring that Christ’s actual blood is eternally preserved in heaven, where it is by some mystical means literally applied to each believer. According to the World Congress, such a rigidly literal view of Christ’s blood is now to be considered a fundamental doctrine of Christianity, and they will break fellowship with anyone who denies it.

    These people insist on literalizing every New Testament reference to Jesus’ blood. They teach that the physical blood of Christ was somehow preserved after the crucifixion and carried to heaven, where it is now literally applied to the soul of each Christian at salvation.

    We are not saved by some mystical heavenly application of Jesus’ literal blood. Nothing in Scripture indicates that the literal blood of Christ is preserved in heaven and applied to individual believers. When Scripture says we’re redeemed by the blood (1 Pet. 1:18-19), it is not speaking of a bowl of blood in heaven. It means we’re saved by Christ’s sacrificial death.

    Since this day, they have opted to hound him (John MacArthur) with unrelenting accusations, innuendo, and false accusations. These misguided brethren are so blindly determined to tie John MacArthur to the heretics’ stake that they haven’t noticed how their own rhetoric has carried them into serious heresy instead, denying the full humanity of Christ’s body, and opening the door to a Romanesque literalism regarding the application of Christ’s blood to sinners.

  12. Shades of transubstantiation – another variation.

    Unfortunately our faith is riddled with some nutty views (of which I have been guilty of on the odd occasion – sigh)

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