Recently, in the Duggar Family News Facebook Group, someone mentioned Jocelyn Zichterman’s book, I Fired God: My Life Inside—and Escape From—the Secret World of the Independent Fundamental Baptist Cult. I read and reviewed that book several years ago on my original blog. It got a lot of views and comments, including one from Jocelyn’s daughter, Sandra.
I knew I had reposted my review of Jocelyn Zichterman’s book on this blog, but in the course of verifying, I realized that I didn’t repost my review of a related book by Elizabeth Esther, Girl At The End of The World. So, in the interest of providing more information about cults, I’m reposting it here, as is.
Elizabeth Esther went from blogging to writing a memoir when she published her 2014 book Girl At The End of The World: My Escape From Fundamentalism in Search of Faith With A Future. I found this book right after I read I Fired God, a book by Jocelyn Zichterman, probably because I was still so flabbergasted by what Zichterman experienced growing up the daughter of fundamentalist Christians. Elizabeth Esther’s book was offered by Amazon in a suggestive sell and I took the bait.
Like Jocelyn Zichterman, Elizabeth Esther grew up in a “homegrown” fundamentalist Christian group. Her parents ran kind of a halfway house for budding fundies and Elizabeth experienced an ever changing merry-go-round of new people living in her home. Many were people in trouble looking for a new direction; they seemed to come and go at a whim.
Elizabeth’s parents were strong adherents to the disciplinary practices advocated by Michael and Debi Pearl, authors of the notorious book To Train Up A Child, which is used by many fundamentalist Christians as a guide to discipline. The Pearls are very strong advocates for corporal punishment and breaking the will of a child. Consequently, Elizabeth Esther was spanked a lot growing up– every day, in fact. She spent a lot of time learning the Bible and attending church, preparing for The Apocalypse, and worrying about whether or not her appearance was “modest”. At age nine, she stood on a street corner, preaching about fire and brimstone to passers by, beseeching them to seek the Lord.
Though Elizabeth Esther is clearly a talented writer, she was not encouraged to develop her gifts. Instead, she was expected to prepare for a life as a devoted helpmeet to a man and mother to his children. Elizabeth Esther wanted to be a “normal kid” and did all she could to please her parents, who had high expectations for her. They were leaders of a group called The Assembly, which was started by Elizabeth’s grandparents. Elizabeth notes that The Assembly was later profiled in a book by Dr. Ronald Enroth called Churches That Abuse.
As Elizabeth Esther grows older, she starts to see the church for what it really is. She and her husband, Matt, when they were parents to two young children, decide to leave The Assembly. It’s not an easy process. And even once they are out of The Assembly and try to find normalcy in a world from which they were very sheltered, they have trouble. In one poignant chapter, Elizabeth writes of meeting another young mother at a park. Elizabeth is desperate to connect to someone and comes off inappropriately, missing her chance to make friends. Not long after that, she runs into someone at a store who chats her up, hoping Elizabeth will let her sell her home goods to Elizabeth’s friends at a home party. Elizabeth mistakes the woman’s attention as a genuine desire for friendship and is dismayed when she realizes it was just a sales pitch. Then, in a remarkable instance of insight, she realizes that she did the same thing for years as she tried to sell Jesus to strangers.
As she searches for a new church home, Elizabeth Esther explores a megachurch, which makes her feel overwhelmed and crazy. She suffers anxiety, depression, and crippling flashbacks caused by the trauma of the spankings she endured as a child. Based on her descriptions, I can only guess that she suffered significant post traumatic stress disorder from her parents’ harsh discipline methods. And yet, she seems to have some forgiveness in her heart for them. While pregnant with twins, a crossing guard notices her struggling. By that point, she was caring for three other young kids, while trying to process her traumatic childhood. He gives her a book of prayers… which turn out to be Catholic.
Elizabeth Esther had never been taught about Catholicism and had regarded that church as a cult. And yet, she found solace in Mary, and enjoyed the faith’s embrace of mystery and symbols. The Catholic church brought her comfort and that’s where she eventually found a spiritual home.
I enjoyed reading Elizabeth Esther’s Girl At The End of The World. I thought it was very well-written and at times, both poignant and tragic. Esther has a good sense of humor, which also comes through in her writing. I would recommend this book to anyone looking for an interesting memoir about legalistic Christian religions.
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