July 4, 2008

Christian Extremist on 30 Days

I really like the 30 Days series Morgan Spurlock does on the FX Channel. Admittedly, some of the episodes can be rather cheesy, but I usually find even those worth watching. If you are not familiar with the premise of the show, it basically involves having someone who is fairly set in their beliefs challenge themselves by experiencing something very different from their norm. One episode had former NFL superstar Ray Crockett confined to a wheelchair for a month and immersing himself in groups of paraplegics and quadriplegics. He learned a great deal, and frankly, so did I. But I caught a different episode recently that left me feeling quite disturbed and wanted to share it and my reactions in this post because I think you'll find it useful.

No, I am not talking abut the infamous episode where an atheist woman went to live with a Christian extremist family. That one has been dissected ad nauseum, and I've already posted about it here.

The episode I am focusing on here involved a Christian extremist moving in with two gay parents and their adopted children for 30 days. What made this one a particularly volatile set up from the beginning was that the extremist and her husband were also raising adopted children but believed strongly that gays and lesbians should have no legal or moral right to raise children. For the episode, she would not only move in with two gay dads and their four children but would have to immerse herself in the activities of various gay rights groups who were championing equality for the GLBT community when it came to same-sex marriage and parental rights.

It took our extremist woman almost no time at all to explicitly state that her beliefs were rooted in her religion (Mormonism). Throughout the episode, she appeared to wrestle with the many contradictions inherent in her belief system - but only up to a point. When she hit this threshold, she became hysterical and stormed out of whatever interaction she was involved in.

A couple of things about this episode really got to me on an emotional level. First, the gay couple were model parents who seemed to devote themselves thoroughly to the difficult task of raising four children, one of which had special needs. Second, the extremist woman toured various social service group homes and spoke with two adults who grew up as children in that system without ever having been adopted. Their stories were moving, and they raised the question I had been dying to ask the extremist myself - would you rather have needy children grow up in these terrible settings without ever knowing the love of a family than allow GLBT couples to adopt them? Unbelievably, she indicated that this was exactly what she was saying!

Was her heart made of stone? But then it hit me - the disturbing insight that had been building like dread in a good horror flick - this woman's mind was infected with a serious and disabling virus, Christian extremism. She learned nothing from her experience whatsoever and refused to engage in the sort of cognitive struggle that might have led to increased flexibility. When her inconsistencies were gently pointed out, she reacted by yelling, sobbing, and running away.

Every one of us should get a copy of this episode and use it whenever we are asked about what is wrong with religion. This woman embodied it to a startling degree. Her irrational beliefs were right on the surface the whole time, and she made nearly every thinking error a believer can make. She accused everyone else of attacking her and had no awareness how her own behavior was affecting those around her. When some very nice lesbian parents explained that she was the one trying to pass laws to eliminate their parental rights, she said that their support for such laws was an equivalent affront to her. Even when they pointed out that they were not in any way trying to limit her rights and that this was the difference, she equated her precious Christian beliefs with their parental rights.

I came away from the show feeling extremely depressed. America is filled with people like this woman, and they desperately need mental health treatment. But between their thorough and ongoing indoctrination and the degree to which the mental health profession has bowed to the religious power structure, this is unlikely to happen for more than a handful.

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