Apostasy (2) mother was an exorcist

I’m reading Phil Zuckerman, Faith No More: why people reject religion (OUP, 2012)

In chapter 1, Zuckerman tells the story of Robert and Ed whose mother was an exorcist. Well, that’s a catchy chapter title anyway.

(I’d expected a pretty academic approach this being an OUP book an all, but it’s written in more conversational and familiar style which makes it very readable but do we really need to know that “Ed is fairer than Robert, with brighter, more intense eyes.”?)

Anyway – the story here is of a fundamentalist (Zuckerman’s word), presumably Pentecostal home experience full of prayer, the reality of demons, tongues, Bible studies, home-schooling, premillennial expectation of an imminent end of the world, serious evangelism, promise keepers (not named but I assume they are the ones where your parents give you a gold ring and you promise sexual faithfulness before marriage?), creationism, a church dominated life …

Both brothers fell away from faith as they matured. Early apostates to use Zuckerman’s own typology. The reasons are mixed and are actually rather vaguely described:

– put off by the God of the Old Testament

– a rejection of creationism

– a reaction against the over-bearing influence of an intensely religious mother

– doubts about the particular doctrinal claims of the local church

– a rejection of church teaching that homosexuality was a sin

– scepticism over angels and demons and the reality of the supernatural in general

– anger at choices made by parents, being socialised within a culturally closed environment – homeschooling, fear of the world outside.

– rejection of Christian sexual ethics

Zuckerman is fascinated by these stories of rejection; of how they involve, in some cases, a deep sense of loss, but in others this is outweighed by a sense of freedom.

A couple of comments

Such a story is personal. In other words, it tells us a great deal about this family, but it does not really tell us much about the authenticity or not of Christianity (the religion in view in this case) – despite the sweeping assertions made by Sam Harris on the back cover.

On that personal level, it does shed light on the damage fundamentalism can do – and many many Christians have offered telling critiques of their own. There are no shortage of examples of ‘bad religion’ out there, it has always been so right from NT times. I would have walked away from the sort of Christianity described in this chapter as well. But the existence of the bad or imperfect does not invalidate the whole. There are plenty of examples of ‘bad’ atheism – Stalin’s Gulag, Pol Pot’s killing fields …

Zuckerman’s descriptions of what Christians believe is at often superficial and stereotypical – fear of hell, and obsession with demons and the devil. It’s interesting that Jesus does not get a mention by either of the interviewees or by Zuckerman. Sadly, the brothers’ experiences are of legalism, anti-intellectualism, cultural withdrawal and hyper-spirituality and no talk of  the good news of the gospel of Jesus the Messiah, of grace, forgiveness, love hope, justice, care for others etc.

Zuckerman writes as a neutral sociologist . He does say some odd things though. Here he seems to imply here that the brothers’ subsquent secular success in life is somehow linked to their freedom from their religious past ….

Ed’s in law school and Robert “is married to a beautiful, bright woman, who teaches French and they just bought a charming wooden floored house in a really nice neighborhood”!

A secular prosperity gospel ? 😉

Comments, as ever, welcome.


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