Every bit of livin’ I’ve been doin’s been killin’ me,
I took the wrong damn road again
And got nothin’ but some busted teeth.
These are things I know because the devil tells me so,
And the devil knows,
And the devil knows.
Nathan Davis, The Devil Knows
Motives. Why do people do things? Why do they do things that are obviously self-destructive? Why do they do things that hurt other people?
Is there really a force of evil out there – what Christians call “Satan” – that drives us to do things that hurt us or others? Does this force whisper in our collective ear trying to entice us to destruction? Why would we evolve that way?
It doesn’t make any sense. Evolution would have us preserve and replicate our genes, not destroy them.
When I was a student nurse, a very long time ago, I spent several months working and training in a mental hospital in Columbia, South Carolina. While there, I became rather well acquainted with people who had some very serious psychiatric problems, most them full-blown psychotics. They obviously had mental processes that simply didn’t work right. We can argue all day about why that was so, whether it was due to traumatic experiences, chemical imbalances or some other mechanism, but they were just not thinking clearly.
But that’s not what I want to focus on. What I’m referring to here are people who do destructive things and don’t seem to see that they are doing so. They “take the wrong damn road again” and end up with “busted teeth” and don’t seem to see the teeth missing in the mirror. Or maybe they do and don’t recognize that the “wrong road” led to the “busted teeth.”
I was raised in Christian fundamentalism. The religion is harsh, strict and rigid. The repercussions of my mother choosing to embrace this were severe and long-lasting. My parents divorced because of it. It took me years to leave it.
So, did my mother deliberately choose to hurt me and the rest of my immediate family by embarking on such a destructive path? Obviously not.
I well remember an incident when Mom wanted to make (and ultimately did so) a series of really foolish financial moves. She told me what she intended to do and I was horrified. I was nearly grown at the time, in nursing school, so what she chose to do at that point didn’t have a great deal of effect on me personally, but it would impact my sister’s life rather dramatically. And I remember that, even though I knew she was absolutely deluded and totally wrong – I understood her choice. I knew why she was doing it.
She began from Premise A. Once she accepted that as true, it led directly to Premise B, which led to Premise C, and thus to her Conclusion: Bad Financial Decision. I couldn’t accept many of her premises, so I reached a different conclusion.
But she wasn’t being mean or evil when she did it. She thought, in fact, that she was being righteous and good, that she was doing what Jesus wanted her to do, that it was the right and proper thing to do. In short, she believed it was the “will of God.”
And that leads me to Bob Jones University. The university has been in the news for a while now because the leadership there hired a Christian organization called by the acronym GRACE to do an independent investigation of the university’s past and present procedures for dealing with students who allege sexual assault either occurring during their time at the school or in some cases, that which occurred at some point in their past. The issue is a big one on college campuses all across the country right now, and fundamentalism is not immune.
The report from GRACE (which has been many months in the making, and was delayed by BJU first firing and then rehiring them) is due out by the end of August 2014.
By far, in the minds of the critics of BJU’s policies in this regard, the man most vilified, most commonly mentioned as the personification of all things evil, is Jim Berg. Berg, who served as Dean of Students at BJU for more than two dozen years, teaches counseling, preaches about counseling, and generally is considered an authority on the subject by many fundamentalists.
By many others, he’s seen pretty much as the devil in a polyester suit.
Sort of like that. This comes from a Facebook page called, as you can see there, “Truth Seeking Graduates of Bob Jones,” or “Truthers.” The second comment was made by an administrator. I left it open so you could see that. These are not just outlier comments made by random goofballs.
So, here we see that Berg is a “pervert,” an interesting accusation. I haven’t seen the GRACE report yet, since it hasn’t come out, and I don’t remember hearing any stories about him actually engaging in “perversion,” whatever that might mean. Obviously, I haven’t seen every word written about him, but I just haven’t seen it. If anyone has, I’d appreciate being corrected.
In addition, we’re treated to speculations about his suicide. Oddly enough, I wrote a piece on suicide and got roundly criticized for doing so, by some of these very same people, including one of the administrators of TSGoBJ. I wonder why this administrator isn’t being chastised as I was?
But the whole issue here goes back to motive, to busted teeth. That Jim Berg hasn’t exactly been the most effective or adept counselor in the history of mental health professionals is not up for debate. He’s inept, to say the least.
He’s a product, though, of the school that trained him and gave him his position as Dean of Students and has taught him everything he knows. He has been connected with Bob Jones University since the day he entered as a freshman student in 1970.
This quote, from the article about Berg in Al-Jazeera, is sort of astonishing to me. Landry says she “ran.” I’m glad she did, but I wasn’t really surprised at what he told her. Maybe she and I grew up in different branches of fundamentalism, but that’s exactly what I was taught for decades.
When we had our son, Nathan, I had planned for “natural childbirth.” We’d been to all the classes. I was ready with all the breathing exercises, only to have all my expectations swept away by the necessity of a cesarean section.
The morning of my delivery, a Sunday, our pastor preached a sermon called “Hard Lessons And Hard Heads.” [The date on the link is incorrect. Kent Kelly preached that sermon on June 20, 1976. He’s been dead for quite a few years.]
I listened to the sermon a day or so later, in the hospital, and cried bitterly as I did. The sermon was basically about how God has to punish us severely because we are so evil and horrible, and anything that happens to us that is bad is a “lesson” for our “hard heads.” Obviously I had done something that displeased God in some way and that’s why I had to have surgery instead of the beautiful “natural” birth I had so anticipated.
With my inner vision blurred by tears and disappointment, I couldn’t see that both I and Nathan had survived what would almost surely have doomed us both in earlier times. We were a living glorious example of the victory of modern science over evolutionary goofups.
My husband, having not just given birth, was less hormonally driven and able to see the lunacy of my grief.
But the point remains. In my fundamentalist world (and that includes Bob Jones University), if bad things happen to you, it’s because God is trying to teach you a lesson. The worse the shit that happens, the bigger the lesson. Get a hangnail and it’s due to sin in your life. Have a wreck? Bigger sin. Rape? Really big sin.
I do not believe that Jim Berg gets up every morning and says to himself, “Gee, I wonder who I can hurt today.” I think that BJU arms these people with some really crappy theology that leads to really crappy conclusions and nothing else (no real training) and then tells them they are qualified to do a job. And of course they are not.
That doesn’t make Berg blameless. But it doesn’t make him the Villain-in-Chief either. It means that he starts with Premise A, and that leads to Premise B, and then to Premise C, and thus to a Really Bad Conclusion. Just like my mother and her really awful financial decision, he’s doing what he honestly believes is the “will of God.” The problem lies in his premises, which are faulty.
And naturally, this is the only place left for them to go. Jim Berg can’t possibly be a True Believer. He has to be a (gasp!) atheist.
Last night, Dave posted a little meme on his Facebook page.
A friend of his replied that Hitler “never claimed to be a Christian.”
But this is a common reaction. A Christian acts in some way, holds some theological position, does or says something that doesn’t sit well with another Christian, and immediately the circle is redrawn to exclude him. It’s like this.
The green circle is Christendom. I am the black X on the outside. Yay!
Jim Berg is the red X.
Only Jim Berg has behaved in such a way that a Truther, in the comment above, clearly doesn’t like. So the circle has to be redrawn.
Like this. Now everything is all good again. Jim Berg has been removed from the circle and is outside with me, the awful atheist.
It’s religious gerrymandering.
Sorry, folks. We don’t want him, don’t claim him, and he’s yours. Own that. But while you’re owning him, try to place the blame where it belongs. Yes, in his lap. But also in the lap of the institution that taught him, and most importantly, the religion that nurtured him.