It’s the first day of December 2021, which means that Josh Duggar is FINALLY in court, answering to federal charges that he received and possessed child pornography. Although cameras and recording devices are not allowed in court, this trial promises to be a spectacle of the highest order. Josh Duggar, as many people know, is the eldest child of Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. The Duggar family is extremely well-known for being fundamentalist Christians. For years, they made a lot of money promoting their beliefs on reality television with their show, 19 Kids and Counting. They were famous for having extremely strict and conservative Christian– specifically Baptist– religious beliefs.
Many people admired them, and fully believed in the wholesome image they projected. Some people went as far as to try to emulate the Duggars. Ma and Pa Duggar were often asked to speak about their beliefs, selling them to people who were looking for a way to survive our turbulent times. Their image of closeness, coupled with strict morality and behavioral guidelines, were very appealing to the masses. It helped that most of the children were bright, articulate, and attractive, and came across well on TV. They made their strict lifestyles seem normal and desirable, as if they had a blueprint to God’s favor.
In 2011, before the shit hit the fan, I can remember being admonished by a high school friend when I criticized the Duggars on social media. In fact, my old friend pretty much quit communicating with me when I didn’t react with shame following her public chastisement. She indignantly wrote that she “loved” the Duggars. But then the skeletons started falling out of the closet. I don’t know how my friend feels about the Duggars now, or even if she remembers that she once criticized me for criticizing them. Knowing her for as long as I have, I suspect she doesn’t “love” them, or their image, as much as she did in 2011. The Duggars are certainly no longer that shining beacon of hope and prosperity that they once were. They’ve been tarnished by the worst kind of scandal, and it’s been perpetrated by the eldest child– the one who was supposedly “golden” and promoted as the straightest arrow in Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s quiver.
In May 2015, In Touch magazine published damning reports of how Josh Duggar molested four of his sisters and a babysitter when he was a teenager in the early 2000s. Suddenly, the world heard about how Josh, who had grown up on television, and had a highly visible job promoting conservative “Christian family values”, was not the paragon of virtue he purported to be. Later, there were reports about how Josh had cheated on his wife, Anna, and met with a sex worker, with whom he was accused of having “violent sex”. Then it came out that Josh had a paid account with Ashley Madison, a Web site that is notorious for providing married people with the easy means of having affairs.
What is so sad to me is that even though he did these horrible things, his sisters were basically forced to defend him. And, in fact, in their belief system, the girls were basically told that they were at fault for tempting their brother (and other males). They didn’t get any real help in recovering from the abuse. Instead, they were told to cover up and “keep sweet”. Meanwhile, their brother got away with what he was doing… at least until that bombshell dropped in 2015. And it’s only gotten worse as the years passed. He’s probably about to face a reckoning… God willing, anyway. 😉
I think the below video is about when Jill started to separate from her toxic family. While I don’t necessarily agree with some of the things her husband, Derick Dillard, has said, I do think he’s done a lot to help her become healthier. She’s reportedly gone to counseling and, just this morning, it’s been reported that she may be called to testify against her brother in court. I pray she tells the whole truth.
None of these stories are those one would expect of someone who is a strict Christian, as Josh was supposedly raised to be. I remember how, before all of this bad stuff came to light, the Duggar parents would proudly tell everyone about their “strict” Christian values. We all heard about how they didn’t allow their children access to television or the Internet. Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were held up to be excellent parents. However, it’s pretty clear that they’ve failed spectacularly on many levels, in spite of their religious beliefs. And now, a lot of innocent people are paying the price.
Having observed this phenomenon, and having known some so-called “religious” people who have turned out to be total dirtbags, I am now convinced that strict, controlling religions can really damage, or even destroy, families. I have seen how charismatic people get in power and start to believe they are above the law. They invoke “God’s favor” to explain why they can and should be allowed to do terrible things. The people who are involved in the strict religious groups somehow accept and even cling to those beliefs, even when it puts them in danger and makes them miserable. And then it comes out that the so-called “leaders” are about as far from Christlike as a person can get.
Please note– I am not referring to mainstream religions that aren’t “culty” and controlling. I don’t think that most mainstream churches are that damaging. I base that on my own experiences growing up going to church. I mean the churches that dictate everything from how you will spend your free time to what kind of underwear you’re allowed to wear. Those religions don’t work well. The Duggars are just one example of how they can really fuck up an otherwise nice family. The Turpins are another egregious example. Later in this post, I will share an example of a non-famous family that has been damaged by religion and the bad behaviors promoted in the name of religion.
I grew up at a time when almost everyone I knew attended a church of some sort. I was raised mainstream Presbyterian, which is a fairly benign and undemanding denomination. We went to church on Sundays and my parents were very involved in the music programs. Mom was an organist and usually didn’t work at the church that my dad and I attended (my sisters had all moved out of the house). But I didn’t grow up with any strict religious rules or anything, and I wasn’t subjected to “worthiness” interviews with a pastor. No one ever asked me about my sexual habits or anything else that is super private like that. We didn’t even say “grace” at the table.
At some point during my young adulthood, people started becoming more polarized about religion. I noticed many people became very devout. A lot of megachurches started popping up, and people like Joel Osteen became extremely popular. Shows like 19 Kids and Counting were on television, promoting strict religious beliefs. On the other hand, I also noticed a lot more people identifying as atheists. And I noticed that while many people were going to church more often than ever, a lot of people had also completely abandoned religion.
Then I married my husband, who was a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints when we met. When Bill and I first encountered each other, he claimed to be a “true believer”. Later, I found out that he actually wasn’t a TBM, but was going through the motions in an attempt to save his marriage to his ex wife. Ex supposedly was, at that time, devout. Or, she claimed to be, anyway. One thing is for certain, though. She used the church to hurt other people. I have noticed that Ex isn’t the only one who’s done this, either. I have known many high-conflict types who have invoked religion as excuses as to why they should be allowed to act like perfect assholes or, in the case of Josh Duggar and others, do illegal and immoral things. After all, Jesus always forgives, right?
A couple of days ago, I ran across a heartbreaking video by a YouTube personality called Exmo Lex. A few months ago, Exmo Lex, who is a former Mormon, posted a video about how her in-laws were calling her a “jezebel” behind her back. I watched that video when she posted it, although I’m not sure if I wrote about it. I happened to see it while we were in the Schwarzwald, so I’m not sure if I ever got around blogging about this. However, I do remember seeing this video and feeling terrible for Exmo Lex. She was describing a very toxic situation that was partially caused by religion.
Exmo Lex indicates that she thought her in-laws were respecting the boundaries she and her husband set. They don’t want their kids indoctrinated or influenced by Mormonism, which is a strict religion. To me, that sounds very reasonable, but I also know that true believing Mormons are often very convinced that they alone have the “truth”. And when someone decides to break ranks because they no longer believe, or are unwilling to submit to “authority”, families can go on the attack. The battles can become very toxic and even illegal in a hurry, and as Exmo Lex points out, sometimes they aren’t above using children to further their agendas. In the video below, you can hear Exmo Lex talk about the aftermath of the decision she and her husband made to leave Mormonism and be public about their choices.
So often, we hear about how “lovely” religious families are. They are promoted as close and loving, having each other’s backs. We see them well-scrubbed, singing pretty songs about religious faith, Jesus Christ, and God’s love. But then it turns out that religious people are as fallible as anyone is. That’s because everyone sins. But some religious people turn out to be the worst sinners of all– and they leave a lot of heartbroken, damaged, people in their wakes. Many times, people who have been hurt by religion are left with nothing, not even their so-called loving families.
I have heard and read so many sad stories of people who grew up in very strict religious families or belief systems. More often than not, rather than providing safety, comfort, and security with the knowledge that someone always has their back, people in these families are actually members of a mini-cult. They must engage in group thinking, and anyone who deviates from it is cast out. This is not what I would call loving or “Christlike” behavior. This is toxic control, and it’s very harmful.
I have written so many posts about this phenomenon, and I have learned that even when the belief systems are “different”, the mechanics of the highly controlling groups are surprisingly similar. Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example, have different beliefs than Mormons do. But if you take a close look at the way their groups operate, you see that a lot of their control tactics are the same. Ditto for groups like the Cooperites of Gloriavale, The Way, the Children of God, and others. The groups all have that thing in common– once a person has seen beyond the smoke and mirrors and wants out, they are ostracized. Why? Because the rebels are a threat to the group’s power and resources. Those who won’t toe the line are treated as if they have a disease that can spread and kill everyone… or, at least kill the belief system, which a source of power, and often, money.
I don’t think there’s anything wrong with believing in God or going to church, or following any other religion. It’s when religion turns into fanaticism or cultism with strict controls and legalism that I think problems arise. That’s when we start seeing supposedly “loving” parents turning on their own children, kicking them out of the family circle, and defending abusers instead of protecting victims. I would also argue that a lot of abusers started out as victims. I think Josh Duggar was a victim before he started hurting others. If he could have gotten some real help from someone other than Jim Bob Duggar’s fucked up fundie friends who are not any better than Josh is, maybe some of this tragic shitshow that is now commencing could have been avoided. Or, at least, it might not have been on such a public stage. Imagine how hard this is for his children, and all of the other innocent people who will be affected. Meanwhile, the public will revel in watching this legal drama unfold.
I have to admit, I will also be watching to see how Josh’s case progresses. I am as interested as anyone is. It’s not because I delight in seeing his family humiliated, though… well, maybe I don’t mind seeing Jim Bob humiliated. I think it’s long overdue. I think Jim Bob is about as far from a decent Christian as a person can get. He hides behind the Christian facade, but it’s really about power and money for him, and his “reputation”. It’s certainly not about following Christ.
I do hope some good will come out of this latest chapter of the Duggar family saga. And I also hope that Exmo Lex and her husband are able to heal from the rift they’re experiencing. I think people should be loved for who they are, and allowed to follow their own beliefs, as long as no one else is harmed. I don’t think it’s harmful to grow up outside of religion or any other kind of extreme indoctrination. Maybe if more people were allowed to evolve naturally and authentically, we’d have fewer people hurting others.