CTBHHM: Be Afraid, Very Afraid

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 57-58

As I’ve been making my way through Debi’s Created To Be His Help Meet, one question I’ve gotten from readers pretty regularly is “why do women buy into this?” Given that Debi is telling women that they must submit to their husbands in everything, this seems a pretty good question. The next several installments will be dedicated to the insidious and manipulative coercion that suffices Debi’s work.

Debi’s first four chapters were titled “God’s Gift,” “A Merry Heart,” “A Thankful Spirit,” and “Thanksgiving Produces Joy.” We have just finished chapter five, “The Gift of Wisdom.” It just so happens that the entirety of chapters six and seven, “The Beginning of Wisdom” and “Wisdom – While There Is Yet Hope,” are made up of threats aimed at making sure women know better than to question or reject Debi’s advice. This will be a theme, then, of the next four or five review installments.

Here is how Debi begins this section:

Fear. 

Wisdom is conceived in a strange place. It is fathered by fear.

The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. While this phrase may sound odd to those not raised religious, I grew up hearing it quite often. It’s actually a fairly common Christian phrase. In fact, I even grew up singing it in church.

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The question, of course, is what exactly this phrase means. I grew up attending an evangelical megachurch, and the pastor there argued that “the fear of the Lord” meant being in awe of God and showing him reverence. By moving the conversation from fear to respect, “the fear of the Lord” becomes compatible with a God of love. This interpretation, however, makes Debi extremely uncomfortable.

Many Christians — even many ministers — are unwilling to speak of fear. It doesn’t sell well with a public that is lustful for pleasure. The commentators try to convince us that biblical fear is just respect for God, not real fear. Their God is like a paper cut-out with only two dimensions.

What Debi is preaching here, then, is real, palpable fear of God, not simply some concept of respecting God or being in awe of him. Given the fear-based discipline methods advocated in To Train Up A Child, I’m not surprised. What Debi is doing here is honestly and truly telling her readers that they should be afraid of God. She is – surprise surprise – interpreting “the fear of the Lord” completely and totally literally.

Yet I’m not entirely sure even Debi gets away from our “unwillingness” to talk about fear, because she immediately shifts to conversation away from fear of God and toward fear of the bad consequences our decisions can bring.

If our choices can bring us to miserable ends, then fear is the healthiest deterrent we can have. It is the beginning of wisdom. Life without fear is a fool’s paradise. What physical pain is to the preservation of the human body, fear is to the preservation of the soul.

If you believe in a literal hell and a literal heaven, and believe that our actions and decisions have spiritual consequences, what Debi is saying here makes sense. Debi suggests that fear of spiritual darkness (and the eternity of hell it leads to) is designed to keep us from making bad spiritual decisions, just like fear of pain keeps us from causing harm to our physical bodies. But there’s a missing link in this analogy. Namely, if it is Jesus who has rescued us from hell, how is fear of spiritual darkness identical to fear of the Lord? Isn’t this like saying that fear of physical sickness is fear of the doctor? Debi’s conflation of fear of spiritual darkness with fear of the Lord only makes sense if it is the doctor who is making people sick in the first place. And that should be enough to make it clear that the theology she is operating from is all sorts of messed up.

A Christian life without fear is a religious life without a living God.

I honestly have no idea what Debi is trying to say here, but what is clear is that she is unapologetic in preaching a Christianity based not on love or joy but rather on fear. Again, not surprised. After quoting three Bible passages identifying the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom, Debi continues:

Anything God says three times is worth heeding. Watch out! Much of what you will read in this book was written to put the fear of God into you.

Can I say I’m not surprised or is that getting old? Debi admits that she’s trying to scare her readers into following her advice.

I feel that if I can cause young wives to be aware that there are consequences for their actions, they may turn to God now and start sowing to the spirit, rather than to the flesh. By means of letters written to me and from real life examples, I am going to earnestly warn you about where poor choices will take you.

I want to finish by bringing in the subtitle of Debi’s previous chapter:

Do you have enough fear of God not to question his word?

After positioning herself as its proper interpreter, Debi arguing that fear of God should keep women from questioning the Bible. This abolition of questions is key to much of evangelicalism and fundamentalism. If you start asking questions, your fellow religionists will start expressing concern for your salvation. Here, Debi is invoking the fear of God as a sort of threat to keep her readers from asking questions.

A pivotal moment in my own journey was when I realized that if there was a God, and if that God was the sort who would smite or cut off his followers for asking honest questions, that God was not worth serving. A truly loving and transcendent God, I realized, would not be afraid of or begrudge questions. That fearful wrathful God, though? That appears to be the God Debi worships. And unfortunately, it is the God many of her readers have been taught to worship as well.

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Anonymous

    I’ve always preferred “The beginning of wisdom is the phrase ‘I do not know’”, personally. Then again, considering I’m not religious at all, that is hardly surprising.

    As for the book… well, the drivel Debi Pearl keeps spouting is repulsive, which, to be honest, is nothing new. I don’t think I could add anything that hasn’t been said already, so I’ll just leave it at that.

  • Nea

    Life without fear is a fool’s paradise… A Christian life without fear is a religious life without a living God

    Stop for a moment and don’t put these words in context with Debi’s (or Michael’s) belief in God. Put them in the context of Debi’s (and by extension, Michael’s) advice to abused women.

    Makes your blood run cold, doesn’t it?

    What Debi said outright was the “nobody’s a victim unless they want to be” and that’s horrible enough, but now the subliminal message is that if you’re NOT living in terror of God (or the man-shaped God she tells you to worship instead), you are a fool with no salvation. That if you try to find peace of mind and wholeness of body, you’re not just going to end up in a “crappy duplex” watching your man with another woman (and notice that the man who was left behind is still seen as a prize, not that the woman doing the watching should be warning the new woman of the danger she’s in). No, in trying to get a little personal peace, you’ve passed on your only chance for the peace that passeth all understanding.

    You were made to submit… fear is healthy… do not question… our choices bring us to miserable ends… What a horrible, violent, dark, sick, psychotic, and vicious creed.

    • Rosie

      Debi takes what I learned growing up to its logical conclusion: the only way to be a good Christian woman is to be a victim. A willing victim.

      It’s a disgusting teaching in all its forms. But I’d rather see it laid out and obvious as Debi does than in the subtle twisty covert ways I was taught it.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ WMDKitty

      Holy crap. What Nea said x1000!

  • Rachel

    It wasn’t so long ago that Debi was pointing out her husband’s skill in Greek to justify her interpretations of the New Testament and to the Hebrew text of the Torah to justify using the word “help meet” (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/lovejoyfeminism/2012/11/ctbhhm-what-is-a-help-meet-in-the-kjv.html), but she completely missed the boat when it came to this phrase, originally from the Hebrew “yirat elokim”: this is a toxic (and deliberate!) misinterpretation.

    From http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/judaica/ejud_0002_0006_0_06302.html:

    “ethical religious concept, sometimes confused with yirat ḥet, “the fear of sin,” but in fact quite distinct from it. The daily private prayer of Rav (Ber. 16a), which has been incorporated in the Ashkenazi liturgy in the Blessing for the New Moon, speaks of “a life of fear of Heaven and of fear of sin.” In the latter, “fear” is to be understood in the sense of apprehension of the consequences of sin but in the former in the sense of “reverence”; as such it refers to an ethical outlook and a religious attitude, which is distinct from the actual performance of the commandments. [...] Abraham *Ibn Daud (early 12th century) differentiated between “fear of harm” (analogous to the fear of a snake bite or of a king’s punishment) and “fear of greatness,” analogous to respect for an exalted person, such as a prophet, who would not harm a person (The Exalted Faith VI).”

    These interpretations were post-Christianity splitting off, so it’s not surprising she’s not aware of them, but it is absolutely incorrect for her to say “The commentators try to convince us that biblical fear is just respect for God, not real fear. Their God is like a paper cut-out with only two dimensions.” — in fact, it’s her interpretation that flattens God into merely a threatening figure. This is not only counter to the text and all established mainstream Christianity that I’m aware of, it’s counter to the English meanings of the word “awe”. It’s wrong, it’s a misreading of the text, and it’s knowingly going against Christian tradition as well — it’s a deliberate mistranslation of the Bible to justify abuse and pain. This is wrong.

    I started this post as a dry intellectual — because Debi Pearl is so outside my tradition, I have been able to roll my eyes and not take it to heart. But I am now shaking with anger: regardless of what we here may believe, she is telling people who do believe in God, and have no other alternative to rely on, to live in fear through a deliberate mistranslation. That is wrong.

    • Nea

      I think the truth lies in a slightly different direction. All Debi knows of the interpretation of the ancient languages comes from Michael. A man she has been told to worship. A man who tells her that her intellect is inferior. A man who has made himself very powerful and very rich in a niche market telling people to beat babies.

      So I don’t think it’s Debi’s misinterpretation at all. I think it’s Michael’s dictatorial word, and I think he DELIBERATELY uses that translation in order to convince Debi, and through her as many women as will listen in order to keep them loyal to their abusers — the very people who keep them living in fear.

    • Hilary

      Rachel – thanks for bringing up the translation issues, I’ve also used the Jewish Virtual Library for information.

      Nea – I think you are right.

      Hilary

  • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

    But I thought perfect love casts out fear? I read that in a book somewhere…..

    • Stony

      You may also have read, “God is not the author of confusion.”. 2000 years later……..

  • http://republic-of-gilead.blogspot.com Ahab

    Fear of God? Been there, done that. During my Catholic days, before I lost my faith, I lived in crushing fear of God and hell every single day. Fear does not beget wisdom; it begets misery and emotional paralysis.

    The more you share about Debi Pearl’s worldview, the more chilling it becomes. It sounds like the Pearls live in a world of fear, violence, and domination, which must make for a miserable life.

  • http://complicatedfeelingsabout.wordpress.com Katherine

    “A pivotal moment in my own journey was when I realized that if there was a God, and if that God was the sort who would smite or cut off his followers for asking honest questions, that God was not worth serving.”

    THIS THIS THIS A THOUSAND TIMES THIS.

    I was just talking to my girlfriend about this the other day. We were both raised in secular households, but were kids who for one reason or another DEEPLY wanted to be religious. She fell into some pretty scary and conservative christianity in middle and high school, but I started reading the bible on my own, and by the time I was fifteen I had come to two conclusions:
    1. that I was pretty sure that I valued my ability to think and reason and be a good person more than the completely contradictory and confusing things in an ancient book and
    2. that if God didn’t agree with me I was against him.
    And this idea comes up from time to time, when talking with (certain kinds of) Christians, and it scares the hell out of them (no pun intended). I talk to them about what I believe the nature of deity to be, and they inevitably say “but what if you are wrong and we are right?” and then I try to tell them, as gently as I can, that if that is the case, if that is what God is like, I just don’t even want to be around that guy.

  • http://www.quicksilverqueen.com Anne — Quicksilver Queen

    Fear. Eff her. The only way I could get RID of all that fear I was raised with was to stop being a Xtian! I almost died in the abusive, patriarchal house I grew up in because I was that terrified of going to hell (which I thought would happen if I moved out) and that terrified of what my dad would do if I did decide to move out (cut me off from my siblings and mom, which he did when I did move out).

  • HelenaTheGrey

    I have a question and I am hoping someone here can help, though I know most of you are no longer or never were conservative Christian types. But regardless, I run largely in conservative circles, because having come from it, and still being a believer, it is what is available to me from a church perspective. While a lot of the leadership at my church is pretty liberal, especially regarding the rolls of women, etc, most of the church attenders are still “conservatives” and believe in defined gender rolls, submissive wives, etc. Probably none to the degree of the Pearls here, but still. Anyway, hubby and I have been discussing egalitarianism vs. complementarionism and trying to see where we fit on the continuum and we both really feel more like we fit as egalitarians. But, we are doing a study with our small group that is on complementarian marriage and we are getting confronted a lot for not agreeing with this “wife needs to submit” crap. Sorry for the long intro there, but my question is this. Could anyone recommend some good resources from a Christian perspective for egalitarian marriage….books, articles, etc? Being new to it all, I know how I feel, but I don’t have much of an arsenal yet to defend my position when attacked with scripture. Any help would be great. I am not really seeking to change their minds necessarily. But I do want to be able to give them solid reasoning for believing the way I do.

    • Hilary

      Rachel Held Evens. Very Evangelical, very pro-egalitarian. Google her, check out her blog, it’s awesome, and check in her archives about her “week of mutuality.” There is a TON of resources there for exactly what you are asking for.

      And I’d give my eyeteeth to see Rachel and Libby interview each other.

      Hilary

    • http://www.facebook.com/lucrezaborgia Lucreza Borgia
    • Red

      Google Christians for Biblical Equality (the CBE) and also there’s a website called godswordtowomen.org. Both are a treasure trove of resources. I cut my egalitarian teeth on those things. RHE is a great resource too, but those things sustained me long before I discovered her, so I’d say check out all 3.

      Good luck! Take it from one who’s been there, it’s entirely possible to do an egalitarian marriage, even in a complementarian church environment. Some others may just have to get used to the fact that you and hubby refuse to cave :)

    • Laurie Schiller

      I highly recommend Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality by Rebecca Merrill Groothius and Split Image: Male and Female After God’s Likeness by Anne Atkins. Neither address egalitarian marriage specifically but rather gender equality broadly.

      I especially enjoyed this little gem from Split Image:
      “Suppose God had made the woman first, the the man out of her… Now who comes over as the helpless, dependent one, the weaker, inferior partner? Why, the woman again of course! She could not cope alone; man had to be made to bail her out. Part of her body was taken away to make him; she can never again be complete on her own. The man was made last, after the plants, after the animals, and certainly after the woman; he is the crown of God’s creation. He was made out of human flesh; she is nothing but dust. Even her name (“man” not of course) is a diminutive version of his (“woman”). She is to “cleave” to him (and, as it happens, this word is “used almost universally for a weaker cleaving to a stronger”; not doubt a great deal would be made of this if the woman were to cleave to the man!). Most significant of all she is to leave her parents and her way of life to join him and adapt to him; she was clearly found to be inadequate on her own.”

      • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

        Holy wow.
        Having spent 6 months religiously reading Libby-Annes blog, I can so totally see how that would work in the minds of the Christian Patriarchy. It really is a no-win situation…
        If the rest of that book is that good, I might have to go read it.

    • HelenaTheGrey

      Thank you all! I will be checking out as much of that as I can! :)

    • Pauline

      Beyond Sex Roles by Gilbert Bilezikian is very good–a very Bible-centered approach looking at every relevant passage in the Bible and coming down on the side of equality as God’s perfect and original design, and sex roles/sexism as the perversion of that design when sin was introduced into the world. Helped me a lot when I was trying to sort through this stuff as a young person.

  • el

    Say if you were a woman and married to a preacher who had some pretty strange interpretations of the Bible. Would you have to believe them because your husband supposedly is closer to God than you are? He’s your head and your priest and you can’t question it because God wants you to obey authority. That system sets some men up as small gods.

    I like to think that fear/ awe of God may be the beginning of wisdom, but it’s not the whole of wisdom. Like fear of being punished may be the beginning of ethics, but hopefully you’ll eventually develop an internal compass based on love and not wanting to hurt others.

  • luckyducky

    When I was in high school, one of the local churches in my small town put on “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames” (0r maybe Fire). I got the sense this was a pretty well-known play in evangelic circles and it was a pretty big production for the church. My high school coach (Separation of Church and State was not favorably looked upon in my community) invited us all to come so I did. It was 2hrs of people alternately accepting Jesus into their hearts and getting welcomed into heaven or people making bad choices (I didn’t quite understand how the 2 were mutually exclusive) and getting dragged kicking and screaming across the stage to “hell”.

    I left there thinking their god is such a jerk. Not to say that the theology I was raised with didn’t include hell but that wasn’t selling point.

    More than that, it was such a crappy play. I do not understand what people older than, say 4th grade, find compelling in such simplistic, uni-dimensional material like that play, most “Christian” fiction (in “” because I am referring specifically to the genre of proselytizing fiction sold at Christian bookstore, not some of the fiction that explores Christian theology or tradition), modern Christian music (some of the old stuff too but particularly the modern stuff)

    • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

      Heh, we saw a poster for that play in the laundromat in a little place called L’Anse, MI when we were on vacation about five years ago. Found some video of it online, and it’s all that you say (well, the little bits we watched at least — enduring two friggin’ *hours* of that pious schlock *is* my idea of Hell). I’m trying to fathom the psychology that would respond to that kind of low-rent fear-mongering. But presumably some people do.

    • Amyc

      I think I saw that play when I was a teenager. Did it have a family with mom and dad and a son and daughter? I remember that part mostly because the daughter and the mom go to heaven, even though the daughter had had a baby out of wed-lock (my sister did the same as a teenager, so it stuck). The play explained it like this: the daughter had made mistakes (sexual mistakes, omg!) but she had always repented and asked for forgiveness. The mother had always been a *true* Christian and tried raise her kids as such. The son and father went to hell, because the son committed suicide before repenting (I think he was also questioning his faith) and the father was not pious and only occasionally went to church and was not a *true* Christian. That’s the part I remember most. I think there was another part with a heroine addict, but I don’t remember it.

  • AnyBeth

    Dad was in the camp that believes “fear” hear means “respect”; Mom was in the camp that believes “fear” means “mortal terror of displeasing”. But Mom has some issues that mean she feels free to commit all manner of horrible acts (so long as she’s upset and wants to) were it not for fear of consequences, so her fear of God serves everyone well as it provides some limitations on what horrors she may unleash in secret. Of course, the Bible provides a limited list of prohibitions and she’s unable to project what, say, “love your neighbor” means, but it’s better than nothing.

    Your last paragraph reminds me of two things:
    One, the YEC who do not deny geology and radioactive dating, but instead claim their god planted rocks and fossils pre-aged to ensure people who would trust their own understanding rather than God’s word would be deceived, essentially trying to lead people astray. I was stunned when I first came across that, a Christian who worshiped an almighty trickster god, a terrifying idea.
    Two, a quote I came across that (while I was still Christian), clearly expressed how I felt about that.

    “I do not feel obliged to believe that the same God who has endowed us with sense, reason and intellect has intended us to forgo their use.” – Galileo Galilei

    • Pauline

      I can’t help responding to what you said about your mother, please forgive me if I’m stepping on anything personal, but it reminds me so much of something Scott Peck said in one of his books. He describes different stages of spirituality along the continuum of human development; one of the lower ones is a rigid & rule-bound religion and one of the higher ones is a faith that accepts some mystery. He says a lot of things in the Bible work on both levels. Stage 2 people (the rigid ones) are just emerging from a chaotic, selfish stage that’s pretty much “I take what I want and I don’t care who I hurt”, and they think of God as a sort of big cop in the sky, and take the verse about “fear of the Lord” as meaning “When you start fearing the Big Cop, you really wise up.” Whereas the Stage 4 people take it as being about awe and reverence. But, the point was the same as I think you might be saying: on some level, the fear thing can sometimes be useful to some people in forcing them not to hurt other people in ways clearly defined as wrong. Obviously (sigh) it doesn’t work out so beneficially.

  • http://tellmewhytheworldisweird.blogspot.com/ perfectnumber628

    Oh wow. I wonder if Debi knows about all the bible verses that say God wants to set people free from fear…

    Also, “Do you have enough fear of God not to question his word?” WTF. If God is real, then he can take whatever questions anyone throws at him. Faith that’s too afraid to question is very weak. I’m a Christian, and because I’m pretty confident that Christianity is true, nothing is off-limits for questioning. I don’t have to protect the bible from questions- I would only do that if I secretly thought it would all fall apart with just one honest question.

    • http://sylvia-rachel.livejournal.com sylvia_rachel

      Also, you wonder what bible she’s reading. There are huge sections of it that are basically Patriarchs and prophets giving G-d attitude, and G-d acts mad but then he’s all, “OK, {Abraham/Isaac/Jacob/Joseph/Moses/etc.}, you talked me into it…”

  • Red

    Yikes. Her trite dismissal of other Biblical commentators is pretty ridiculous. Um, Debi, you do realize that they have way more experience and schooling than you, right?

    Then again, I agree that she’s probably getting all of this through Michael, and she’s probably not allowed to question whether his interpretations stack up against most modern scholarship.

  • DoctorD

    “A Christian life without fear is a religious life without a living God.”
    I agree with the inverse of that statement: A… life without a living god is a …. life without fear.”

  • http://gamesgirlsgods.blogspot.com/ M

    The God of fear and “do what I say or else” is very Old Testament-y. I learned that Jews follow God’s rules not because God is full of love, or is fantastic, but because he’s a jerk who smites you AND EVERYONE ELSE if you don’t. No one actually took it seriously, or really thought that not following the rules would lead to bad things, but that was the lesson we pulled out of Torah study. I thought the whole point of the Jesus-saves thing was to overwrite that version of God with a nicer one? How could Debi miss that?

    • Anat

      I learned that Jews follow God’s rules not because God is full of love, or is fantastic, but because he’s a jerk who smites you AND EVERYONE ELSE if you don’t.

      Not accurate. Many (most?) Jews follow the rules because they are there, period. The fear of what God might do if you forget to make a blessing while washing your hands or cut the waiting time between dairy and meat a bit short isn’t such a major factor for most Jews. There is a major trend in Judaism to view God as increasingly disengaging with the world – he no longer talks to people directly, no longer appears in vision and no longer makes his voice heard. He no longer tells rabbis how to interpret the law (the rabbis told God it was none of his business anymore sometime in the late first or early second century CE). OTOH there are those who see any disaster or personal mishap as divine response to disobedience. A school bus crashed? Go check the mezuzot at the school, maybe one of the scrolls got frayed. Anyway, supposedly prayer, fasting and charity have the power to overturn God’s judgement.

      But rather important: the Jewish version of God didn’t bother about inventing hell, so I don’t see how he can be less loving than the Christian one.

      • Hilary

        Something I’m not sure of how to understand, but the NT seems to have a more ‘loving’ God then the OT, and yet Christianity is a harsher paradigm then Judaism, IMO which admittedly is biased, but still.

        OK, in Christianity, humans are born in sin, born sinful with origianl sin, and the only way that god can deal with how imperfect people are is for Jesus to be brutally murdered on their behafe to cancel out sin, even if he does come back, kinda, trinity, whatever. And anybody who does not accept this premise is punished for all eternity, no matter who they are, what good they did in life, or what their reasons for not being Christian are.

        In Judaism, people are born innocent, with the potential to do great evil and the potential to do great good. We’re given instructions and laws to help make the right choices, both because they are morally correct and out of habit. How well they work, how you interperet and apply them – YMMV. Given that life is too difficult to be perfect and we will screw up, there is a system to make amends when we fail: prayer, return to correct behavior, and acts of reparative justice. As long as we try sincerely in life, God can make up the difference and nobody needs to be tortured over this. When we die, if we’re really good we go straight to heaven, if we’re totally evil we’re annihalated, but most people get a totall review of their life and the consequences of choices made, and then go to heaven. According to one part of tradition, the first question asked of us when we die is “Where you honest in your busness?” This is one you want to answer ‘Yes’

        If you are not Jewish, there is a short list of laws to follow to determine if you are righteous. Don’t steal, don’t murder, don’t commit sexual immorality, don’t commit animal cruelty, set up and support honest courts of law. Do this well enough, with enough sincerety even if not perfectly, and you’re good. These are just minimum requirements, any person is capable of doing more.

        I know about that horrible example of the school bus and mezuzah. Jewish fundametalism and patriarchy is just as terrible as Christian fundamentalim and patriarchy. But the overal paradigms are so different. The ‘loving’ Jesus of the NT condems people no matter what they do if they aren’t Christian, but the ‘angery, vengeful’ YHVH sets minimum standards of moral behavior for all people, and doesn’t need someone tortured to make up the difference.

        So which version of God is really more loving, or more angry?


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