Duggars, podcasts, religion

Meet Justin and Julia…

I know I already wrote today, but I want to take a quick moment to share this podcast I discovered, courtesy of all the Duggar followers out there. The podcast is called “I Pray You Put This Journal Away”, and it appears on the YouTube channel of the same name.

The podcast is done by a husband and wife named Justin and Julia. Justin grew up in the Deep South and was a fundamentalist Christian. He knew the Duggar family, and was once friends with Josh Duggar. Back in 2015, when Josh’s world was imploding, Justin tried to speak to the press about what he knew about him. Unfortunately, no one wanted to listen to him then, but people are definitely listening now. Julia was also raised fundie, but she’s from out West. They seem like a really good couple… and they have DEFINITELY left fundie Christianity. Justin was dropping lots of f bombs, which I appreciated greatly. I can hardly blame him, either.

What makes their podcast so interesting, besides the obvious regard Justin and Julia have for each other, and the truth bombs they share about sex pest Josh Duggar, is that Justin grew up undiagnosed with autism. Since Bill’s older daughter supposedly has autism (as does Ex’s youngest child), it was very illuminating for me to hear what he has to say. I mean, it’s not like he talks a lot about what it’s like to be autistic, but he does talk a little bit about how it’s hard for him to catch on to social cues.

I listened to all three (LONG) episodes today, mainly because I have nothing else to do. I must say, I was moved by Justin’s comments. My heart kind of went out to him, as he read his journal entries from around 2005-06, particularly as he spoke about his struggle and great pressure to be the perfect Christian. He was trying to impress the likes of Jim Bob Duggar, who certainly wasn’t worthy of his admiration or ambition. But I can tell by what he wrote, and remembering what it was like when I was a teenager, that he really was trying so hard… to the point of fasting obsessively, praying constantly, and quoting the Bible. Obviously, a lot has changed since those days. I like his theme music. It’s kind of lovely and sensitive… I relate to it.

Episode 1
Episode 2
Episode 3

I have a feeling this podcast is really going to take off, even if they eventually run out of journal entries to read. I had a journal when I was young, but no one would want to hear what I had to say back then. I don’t think many want to hear what I have to say now, either! I admire how candid Justin is, and how loving and friendly Julia is… I can tell they have a warm and friendly relationship, which is really nice. It’s clear to me that above all, these two are friends and are well matched. They care about each other, which is probably more than a lot of couples, especially those raised in fundie Christianity, can say.

Sometimes this podcast is sad. Sometimes it’s touching. Sometimes it’s funny… I really do recommend it, especially to anyone who is at all interested in the Duggar drama going on right now. I think I would have enjoyed it even if not for the Duggars, and all the dishing Justin does about knowing Josh back in the day (and finding out firsthand what a fucking creep he is). I think I would enjoy knowing Justin and Julia, too.

And now, back to my super boring Friday night alone, drinking sparkling mineral water… Hope your Friday night is more exciting and less lonely than mine is.

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Duggars, true crime

Josh Duggar is getting out of jail today…

I woke up this morning to the news that Josh Duggar will be temporarily released from jail today. Six days ago, Josh turned himself in, his wife Anna at his side, having been busted on federal charges for two counts of receiving and possessing images depicting child sexual abuse. Before I went to bed last night, I read an article that provided more details about Josh’s case. Federal agents found about 200 images on Josh’s computer, which was heavily rigged to deceive his wife, Anna. All of the images involved very young female children, some of whom were toddler aged. Despite all of that talk about the Duggars monitoring Internet usage and avoiding “wordly” things like pop music and television, Josh has developed some very sick obsessions that he’s accessed online. And despite his training at the School of the Dining Room Table, Josh is surprisingly tech savvy. He knows how to go to the dark, sleazy underworld on the Internet to satisfy his sick obsessions and perversions.

Frankly, as much as I dislike prison as a punishment, I think prison is exactly where Josh belongs. Prison should be reserved for people who are dangerous, and I think Josh has proven that he is VERY dangerous, especially to young children, the most vulnerable people in society.

Ugh… I can’t believe I watched the whole thing… Josh is truly disgusting.

According to a live stream video put out by Duggar expert, Katie Joy, who runs the Without a Crystal Ball YouTube channel, Josh’s computer had software on it called Covenant Eyes, which was supposed to send Anna information about the sites Josh was viewing on the Internet. But Josh also had his machine rigged with a TOR browser and a Linux system that allowed him to access the dark web, where there were no “eyes” on him. There, he was engaged in some very dark and shady activities that are about as far away from Christlike as a person can get.

People magazine reports that Josh will be released to “close family friends”, Lacount and Maria Reber. The Rebers say they don’t know Josh very well, but they are close to Josh’s parents, Jim Boob and Michelle, whom they know through church. The couple felt they should help the Duggars, even though Maria Reber says she’s only familiar with the charges against Josh and doesn’t know the details. Federal probation officer, Diem Nguyen, testified that Maria Reber had expressed concern that Josh would be released into her home, since her husband works full-time and she would be left for several hours alone with Josh during the daytime. For that reason, among others, Nguyen recommended against letting Josh out of jail.

The Rebers have a 22 year old daughter who gives piano lessons, but she will have to find another place to deliver her lessons. The Rebers also own firearms– big surprise– but no firearm safe. The judge did indicate that she wanted the weapons out the the Rebers’ home, since it would obviously not be a good thing if Josh decided to play with them while facing decades in prison.

Josh will have to be supervised 24/7. He’s not going to be allowed Internet access, must surrender his cell phone, and will be wearing a GPS monitor. Josh is not allowed to be around any children who aren’t his– and if he does see his own children, with whom he will be allowed unlimited contact, it can only be in the presence of his wife, Anna. He cannot see his minor brothers and sisters or his nieces or nephews.

I can’t help but remember Mark Salling, an actor who played Noah Puckerman on Glee. Salling was facing a prison sentence because, like Josh Duggar, he was in possession of images depicting child sexual abuse and had also been accused of sexual assault against an ex girlfriend, whom he sued for defamation of character. Salling was eventually forced to settle with his ex girlfriend, whom he was ordered to pay $2.7 million. When he was arrested in 2015, Salling was found to be in possession of over 50,000 illegal images. In 2017, Salling pleaded guilty to the charges and probably would have been sentenced to 4 to 7 years in prison. He also would have had to go to a treatment program and register as a sex offender. However, Salling never got sentenced because on January 30, 2018, Salling committed suicide by hanging himself.

While Josh Duggar is definitely not Mark Salling, there is a concern that he might try to commit suicide if he has access to weapons or any other means. Personally, I doubt Josh would ever try to commit suicide, mainly because I think he’s probably a sociopath. I suspect he thinks he will beat these charges, even though the evidence is extremely compelling and federal charges are notoriously difficult to refute. According to Katie Joy, who reportedly has many contacts within the Duggar family, Josh’s attitude during the bail hearing was surprisingly lighthearted. And the fact that he used the same easily guessed password for his regular accounts, such as banking, as he did for his porn sites, tells me that he’s unbelievably arrogant and never thought he’d be caught. And of course, he’s also a Christian, and a lot of Christians think they’re blessed and God is smiling on them… especially if they’re famous and wealthy, like Boob is.

I don’t know what life was actually like for Josh when he was growing up, but one thing I have observed is that Josh has always had access to his parents and their vast resources, even though his sex pest proclivities have caused significant issues for the Duggar empire. It’s because of Josh’s molestation scandal that 19 Kids and Counting was scandalized and canceled. Of course, that show was really just rebranded into one about the adult kids as Jim Boob continued to collect all the money on behalf of the adults… and I did notice, before I quit watching several years ago, that Boob and Michelle were becoming more and more visible on camera. But the point is, Josh hasn’t been shunned or excluded from the family circle.

Contrast that to what’s happened to his sister and one of his victims, Jill Duggar Dillard. Jill reportedly isn’t allowed to visit her family unless she has permission from Boob. She basically had to sue her father to get paid for her time on Counting On, and what she was paid basically amounted to minimum wage. When her sister (and fellow Josh victim), Jessa, went into labor with her latest baby, Ivy Jane, Jill had to ask permission to be able to go onto Boob’s property to help Jessa give birth. Jill and her husband, Derick, are definitely set apart from the family. Granted, I think part of it has been their (wise) choice– and they are now in charge of their own lives, which is how it should be. But the point is, Josh is definitely someone with deep and troubling issues. He’s been enabled, while his much healthier and less threatening sister, Jill, has been ostracized. And while Boob may find Jill a threat because she’s not living life according to Boob’s standards for women, it seems to me that if you really have the truth, it can’t be threatened because someone decides to wear pants, get a piercing, or seek therapy. If the Duggars had sought real help for Josh, back when he was a teenager, perhaps they would not be in the horrifying situation they’re in at this time.

I don’t understand the thinking of a lot of devout Christians, anyway. Or, at least the ones who profess to be Christians, yet vote for vile, disgusting, self-serving cretins like Donald Trump and revile people like Joe Biden. I’m not naive when it comes to politics. I know both of our major political parties in the United States are equally bad. But not all people are created equally in terms of their characters. For me, it’s pretty obvious that Donald Trump is a selfish, abusive, criminal. Any man who brazenly speaks about other people the way he does, with no shame or compunction whatsoever, is not someone who ever should have been allowed to lead– particularly the most powerful nation on the planet. By contrast, I see Joe Biden making decisions that clearly indicate that he cares about someone other than himself. It seems to me that Republicans who purport to be Christians are basically full of shit, and are only concerned with money and the appearance of being “blessed”, as well as keeping women under control. And the more I hear about the Duggars and the type of people who are their “friends”, the more I think that segment of society is corrupt and evil, despite all of their talk about emulating Jesus and worshiping God.

Well… we’ll see how well all of this works out for Josh and his family. I suspect that he may wind up back in the clink before too long. Even if he’s got the best intentions of being a model defendant, I suspect he’ll screw up before long. He can’t help himself, and he’s obviously very manipulative, dishonest, and sneaky. I really hope Anna wises up and finds herself a divorce attorney soon, before something truly tragic and irreversible happens. I know she was raised impoverished, in a cult. I know it seems like it would be impossible for her to break free of the Duggar trap. But I also know that there are many people who would help her in a heartbeat, if she would just reach out and ask.

Now to move on to cheerier subjects.

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book reviews, religion

Reviewing Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult, by Lilia Tarawa…

Roughly a month ago, I wrote a post about Gloriavale Christian Community, a religious sect founded by Neville Cooper, otherwise known as Hopeful Christian, and located in New Zealand. That post was prompted by a message I got from a lawyer in New Zealand who is involved in litigation against the community. The lawyer had read my review of I Fired God, by Jocelyn Zichterman. Zichterman was raised in the Independent Fundamentalist Baptist Church, but left the church after many years of abuse. The New Zealand based attorney was hoping I would spread the word about a similar situation in his country. At the time, I didn’t think I’d heard about Gloriavale Christian Community, but then I went on YouTube and, sure enough, found a video of a TED Talk done by Lilia Tarawa that I’d seen a few years ago.

I included this video in my previous post about Gloriavale, but it bears repeating here.

Lilia Tarawa also wrote a book about her experiences growing up in a “religious cult”. In her case, it was a church founded by her grandfather, a charismatic man who was born in Australia and came to New Zealand in 1969 to start his movement. Because Tarawa’s grandfather’s name was Cooper, the group was originally called “Cooperites”. But then one day, Neville Cooper had a revelation that all of the sect’s members should change their names to something more “Christian”. So Neville Cooper became Hopeful Christian. Just about everyone else in the group also abandoned the names given at birth and adopted positive “Christlike” adjectives as their names. For instance, one man changed his named to “Fervent”, while another was called “Stedfast”. Another changed his name to “Willing”. Many of the members also changed their last names, as Cooper did. Lilia writes that her parents were high ranking enough that she and her siblings weren’t forced to change their first names, although they did adopt the surname “Just” for a time… until they eventually fled the group.

A screengrab from Tarawa’s Ted Talk.

In her 2017 book, Daughter of Gloriavale: My Life in a Religious Cult, Lilia Tarawa describes what it was like for her and her siblings to grow up in a very regimented community. Lilia is one of ten children, nine of whom were raised in Gloriavale. Only her youngest sister, Arielle, was not born on the compound. Lilia’s parents were also born in Gloriavale; her mother was named Miracle because Miracle’s mother had been pregnant with her when she, Neville Cooper, and two others were in a plane crash. Truly miraculously, everyone involved in the crash survived with cuts and bruises.

Growing up, Lilia wore long blue dresses and white headdresses. She was not permitted to cut her hair, shave her legs or armpits, or wear makeup. The community had a school and a library, but the books Lilia and her friends and family members were allowed to read were limited and highly censored. Lilia was not allowed to listen to “worldly” music. She and the rest of the females in the community were taught that they were to follow men, specifically Tarawa’s grandfather, who was regarded as a living prophet of sorts.

Once the girls had their first menstrual periods, they were deemed old enough to marry. The marriages were arranged, and the women were expected to have many babies and do what was regarded as “women’s work”– cooking, childcare, teaching, and the like. Females were not encouraged to excel academically or aim for careers outside of the community. The men were expected to work for the many companies owned and operated by the community, or to do manual labor. Everyone read the Bible. The whole community ate meals together, and whole families lived in large, single rooms. When the women had babies, they were mostly delivered on the compound. Childbirth was considered a natural thing, and medical people were not involved unless it was unavoidably necessary. From the age of seven, Lilia was helping women give birth. So were her brothers and sisters.

In spite of what many of us “born worldly” folks might think, Lilia Tarawa grew up thinking she lived in a paradise. Everything was taken care of, and she was surrounded by family and friends, as well as New Zealand’s natural beauty. And everyone wore the same clothes and lived the same lifestyle, so it wasn’t like Lilia missed anything more “normal” kids had. Sometimes, new people would join the community. Lilia’s friend, Graciela, who had been born in Chile and adopted by a white family, came to the group and introduced Lilia to things she had never known about. Lilia couldn’t pronounce Graciela, so she just called her friend “Grace”. Grace and her family eventually left New Zealand for the Elmendorf Christian Community in Minnesota, but Grace eventually returned to Gloriavale. She had a great impact on Lilia’s coming of age. It was through Grace that Lilia first got a taste of the world beyond her grandfather’s artificial utopia.

As she got older, Lilia’s view of the community began to change. She was a smart young woman who did well in school. One day, her grandfather rebuked her in front of the community. He read in her progress report that she had “leadership capabilities”. Hopeful Christian was miffed, since he didn’t think girls should be leaders. Lilia was humiliated as he berated her in front of everyone. Another day, she was in a library and found a romance book. It was forbidden for her to read such a book, since it was considered “worldly”. But she started to read it and became hooked, then smuggled it out of the library. Her brother, Sam, found out that Lilia had taken the book and snitched on her. Musical artists, like Shania Twain, were very attractive to Lilia. But Shania’s music, as well as Justin Timberlake’s, Taylor Swift’s, and Beyonce’s, were forbidden to Lilia. She was still introduced to them by way of friends like Grace, or by chance.

And then there was the shunning. Lilia’s older sister, Sara, and her brothers, Sam and Victor, decided they couldn’t tolerate Gloriavale anymore. They left, and were shunned by the family. Of course, Sara, Sam, and Victor were wholly unprepared for life outside of a religious cult. They had to figure out how to live in the modern world before they were legal adults. There were also other abuses detailed in the book, such as corporal punishment. The group is, not surprisingly, a proponent of not sparing the rod as a way of showing “love” to children.

Naturally, Lilia and her family eventually left Gloriavale, or this book would not exist. I don’t want to give away more of the story, since I do think this book is well worth reading if you’re interested in religious communities. Lilia Tarawa writes well, and has an engaging voice. My one complaint is that the lead up to her “escape” is a bit long. Once you get to the escape and her emergence into the world, the book is pretty much ending. I think this book would have been an even stronger account if she’d spent a little more time writing about adjusting to life outside of Gloriavale. But maybe she’s planning a new book for that part.

I did find it interesting to read about how Lilia went from reading the Bible, waterskiing in long dresses, and birthing babies, to clubbing, wearing tight pants, shaving her legs, and drinking liquor. I see on her official Web site, which I linked above, that Lilia is into yoga, public speaking, and writing. She writes of wearing Tommy Hilfiger sunglasses and typing on an iMac, a far cry from the more luddite existence she had when she was a child. Lilia writes that she found herself embracing her sexuality, but it was a shock to get to that point. Even the act of having her hair trimmed and layered was a bit scary for her, although she enjoyed the results. Again… these were aspects of the book that I found intriguing and would have liked to have read more of, rather than stories from her coming of age. Or, at least I think she should have balanced them out a bit with explaining more about what it was like to become of the world. A lot of her experiences seem to be about discovering pop music, fashion, and being a “normal” young person by attending clubs. But as we all know, plenty of “normal” young folks aren’t obsessed with pop music, fashion, or clubbing.

In any case, I’m glad I read about Gloriavale. It is an interesting community, and Lilia Tarawa has offered the world a fascinating look at a group a lot of people don’t know about. I wasn’t as horrified by her story as I was Jocelyn Zichterman’s, but I am glad she was able to leave the community with her family, and they have been able to find peace and joy outside of the cult. And perhaps most tellingly, when Lilia did go back to visit Gloriavale, she listened to her grandfather speak, and realized he was nothing more than a narcissistic charlatan. The hero image she’d had of him when she was growing up was shattered. I think a lot of us can relate to that experience, as we mature and start seeing the world and the people in it through more experienced eyes. It’s kind of sad when that happens, but I think it eventually does lead to more enlightenment and the chance to live a more authentic life. So… here’s to Lilia Tarawa and her family’s new life of freedom and discovery. May they live long and prosper in this crazy, modern world.

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education, mental health, psychology, religion

Getting “right” with God!

I got bored yesterday and started reading the Internet, as I often do. Before long, I was reading about a scandal at tiny Christendom College in Front Royal, Virginia. Having familiarized myself with Front Royal when I worked at a church camp up that way, I was interested in the story about young women who were allegedly sexually assaulted there. But, as anyone who’s ever surfed the Web knows, one thing leads to another, and before I knew it, I was reading about yet another controversial “teen help” program for girls.

Someone had written a blog post about Hephzibah House, a “school” located in Winona Lake, Indiana. I found the post because I had searched for Hyles-Anderson College, a school in Hammond, Indiana, affiliated with the Independent Baptist Church. I have written about Hyles-Anderson College before. It’s a place where young men go to become strict, fire and brimstone Baptist preachers, and young women go to learn how to be good wives and helpmeets. But when I added the word “horror” to “Hyles-Anderson College, I stumbled across this blog post about Hyles-Anderson College and its connection to Hephzibah House.

The blog entry is posted on No Eden Elsewhere, which appears to be a blog mostly dedicated to the subject of clergy abuse. The person who wrote the post happened to catch a two day expose on the Dr. Phil show about the horrors of the Hephzibah House. If I were living in America right now, I probably would have seen the show myself. It originally aired on January 13th and 14th 2020, and featured the son of the founders, Ronald E. and Patti Williams, who implored viewers NOT to send their daughters to the school.

The son of the founders describes how his parents disciplined him, as well as the girls at the school.

It appears the Hephzibah House is still operating. There is a very simple, Blogspot-esque Web site that is still available to inform parents about the school. According to that site, the girls are not spanked. However, according to the survivors on the Dr. Phil show, corporal punishment is a major ingredient in the school’s recipe for “straightening out” young girls, aged 13 to 16 years, 8 months. Why don’t they take girls older than 16 years, 8 months? Because the minimum stay is 15 months. Do the math, and you see that 16 years, 8 months is the latest a girl could attend the school and spend 15 months there before she turns 18 and can legally walk out of there.

A woman explains how she was paddled at Hephzibah House.

The above video is a harrowing description of how girls were allegedly disciplined at Hephzibah House. I can believe the woman’s account, since I have become well versed in the practices of similar schools. Corporal punishment, and abusive correction methods such as forcing girls to copy and memorize Bible verses or write sentences, are pretty common at these types of places. The description of the abuses at Hephzibah House might have been “spiced” up a bit for ratings purposes, but my guess is that it didn’t have to be spiced up too much.

Years ago, I chatted with a couple of people who attended the now defunct Mountain Park Baptist Boarding Academy in Patterson, Missouri and they had similar stories. I also read about the former Victory Christian Academy in Jay, Florida, which was later rebranded Lighthouse Christian Academy and has now closed. Below is a video about a woman who went to Victory Christian Academy– a survivor of the school, so to speak.

Similar methods… and she does mention the Hephzibah House. She also describes being “kidnapped” in the middle of the night and forcibly taken to school in 2003.

For the life of me, I don’t understand how these supposedly “Christian” people can run such obviously abusive “schools” that employ blatantly heavy-handed methods of getting their charges to obey. I was always taught that Christ was about love, tolerance, and acceptance, as well as mercy. These schools are all about pain, punishment, and humiliation. And typically, these places don’t allow any freedom of expression. In the above Dr. Phil clips, the guests talk about how they weren’t allowed to speak, unless they were asking permission to go to the bathroom or something.

And in the above clip about Victory Christian Academy, the former student, Mackenzie Millar, talks about how she wasn’t allowed to write the truth about how life at the school really was in her letters home. She speaks about the “get right room”, a room the size of a closet where girls were forced to stay for hours. The rooms were nasty and stinky, because girls would urinate on themselves. Meanwhile, they were forced to listen to Lester Roloff’s abusive fundie sermons, blasted at them. Mackenzie also talks about how the floors were equipped with sensors that would sense when girls got up. Likewise, in the Dr. Phil clips, the participants talk about how the floors had sensors and there were microphones everywhere, so the staff could hear every whisper. Creepy! Also, most of the girls at the school stopped having their periods.

I see the Hephzibah House uses the School of Tomorrow (Accelerated Christian Education) curriculum, which is a Protestant fundamentalist educational curriculum that is often used at these types of schools. Another popular curriculum is Abeka (formerly A Beka Book), which was developed at Pensacola Christian College and named after, Rebekah Horton, the wife of the school’s founder, Arlin Horton. Years ago, I used to hang out on The Student Voice, a newsletter and forum run by former PCC students, many of whom were kicked out of the school and wanted to share their stories. I also read about what it was like to work for A Beka Book at PCC.

The school administrators, of course, were very angry about the site, which used the domain http://www.pensacolachristiancollege.com. They sued to get the site’s owner to relinquish the domain, and students who were caught reading or contributing to it were expelled. Having been an active member on that site for awhile, I can attest that it was not a scandalous place. There was no swearing allowed, and the contributors, by and large, were intelligent and thoughtful people who were clearly Christians. But they rebelled against the school’s extreme teachings and policies. Here’s a blog post by a woman named Samantha Field, who attended PCC and has written about why people shouldn’t go there. At least people who are going to college generally have a choice as to whether they will attend. There is still a messageboard in existence, although it’s not all that active anymore. At one time, I was a member, but I don’t know if I still am.

They claim they were forced to eat rotten and bug infested food.

I know there are some people who believe that these kinds of schools, where brainwashing is the name of the game, are helping them “get right with God”. In fact, one of Dr. Phil’s guests supports Hephzibah House, and says it’s not a bad place to be. I’ve read accounts from other people who claim these types of schools, where students are beaten and force fed their own vomit (see Mackenzie Millar’s podcast video for that story), have “saved their lives”.

I wonder if this woman REALLY thinks that blatant abuse is the best way to help someone “get right with God”.

I am also sure that many of the parents who send their kids to these kinds of schools feel like they have no other choice. I’m sure, in many situations, parents feel like they’ve lost control. But so many of these facilities are legitimately abusive hellholes. The methods employed are abusive and damaging, and they destroy people. It’s shocking that in this day and age, in the United States, these types of schools are allowed to exist with very little oversight. Discipline methods that would merit a visit to parents from child protective services are apparently widely employed without consequence at these places. And the young people who endure them come out with lasting damage from the abuse.

More about Hephzibah House– a “haven” for troubled teen girls.

The more I hear and read about these places, a few of which have been shut down, the happier I am that not only was I not raised in a strict religion, but I am also way beyond the teen years. The kids that go to these places are treated worse than prisoners. At least in prison, religious indoctrination is a choice.

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book reviews, religion

Repost: A review of Elizabeth Esther’s Girl At The End of The World…

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.

Here’s a link to Elizabeth Esther’s blog.

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