CTBHHM: In Which Debi Poisons the Well

Created To Be His Help Meet, pp. 49-51

Dear Debi,

How can I have a merry heart when my husband treats me harshly? Do I just pretend he is a good man instead of a lazy, TV-watching, selfish jerk? Do I just let him walk on me? How can I have a merry heart when all I feel is pain?

Linda

Debi’s response is typical of what we have seen so far:

Dear Linda,

You have two choices. You can doubt God and say, “I know God does not expect me to honor this man.” Or, you can say, “God, I know your Word teaches me to be a woman who is there to help meet all my husband’s desires and dreams. Make me that woman.”

Debi does not mince words. Women exist to meet their husband’s “desires and dreams.” End of story. One thing I will say for Debi: she doesn’t spend a lot of time trying to dress up her teachings to make them more palatable.

A woman’s calling is not easy. To allow someone else to control your life is much harder than taking control of it yourself.

Interestingly, it’s not clear from context whether this sentence refers to a woman letting her husband control her life or a woman letting God control her life, and that very fact is revealing to how often God and husband get all intermingled and coagulated in Debi’s writing and instructions.

It doesn’t take a good man, or even a saved man, for a woman to have a heavenly marriage, but it does take a woman willing to honor God by being the kind of wife God intended. It takes one woman willing to be a help meet — a suitable helper. If you look at your husband and can’t find any reason to want to help him — and I know some of you are married to men like that — then look to Christ and know that it is He who made you to be a help meet. You serve Christ by serving your husband, whether your husband deserves it or not.

The more I read of Debi the more clear it is that she really is suggesting that women can create perfect marriages by themselves. Debi says that women can have a “heavenly marriage” even with a man who doesn’t want to cooperate in creating such a marriage. And finally, she says once again that women obey God when they obey their husbands, and, too, that they must “serve” their husbands whether they feel their husbands deserve it, and even whether their husbands have any redeeming qualities at all.

Women exist to serve men. Check. Women can make their marriages perfect on their own. Check. Obedience to your husband is obedience to God. Check. A wife must serve her husband whether he has any good in him or not. Check. Sadly, this is all typical Debi and really shouldn’t come as a surprise if you’ve been reading my reviews over the past couple of months.

What I want to focus on here is something slightly different: Debi’s use of a fallacy called poisoning the well.

POISONING THE WELL

Description: To commit a pre-emptive ad hominem attack against an opponent.  That is, to prime the audience with adverse information about the opponent from the start, in an attempt to make your claim more acceptable, or discount the credibility of your opponent’s claim.

Logical Form:

Adverse information (be it true or false) about person 1 is presented.

Therefore, the claim(s) of person 1 will be false.

Example #1:

Tim: Boss, you heard my side of the story why I think Bill should be fired and not me.  Now, I am sure Bill is going to come to you with some pathetic attempt to weasel out of this lie that he has created.

Explanation: Tim is poisoning the well by priming his boss by attacking Bill’s character, and setting up any defense Bill might present as “pathetic”.  Tim is committing the fallacy here, but if the boss were to accept Tim’s advice about Bill, she, too, would be committing the fallacy.

Example #2:

I hope I presented my argument clearly.  Now, my opponent will attempt to refute my argument by his own fallacious, incoherent, illogical version of history.

Explanation: Not a very nice setup for the opponent.  As an audience member, if you allow any of this “poison” to affect how you evaluate the opponent’s argument, you are guilty of fallacious reasoning.

Exception: Remember that if a person states facts relevant to the argument, it is not an ad hominem attack.  In the first example, if the other “poison” were left out, no fallacy would be committed.

Tim: Boss, you heard my side of the story why I think Bill should be fired and not me.  Now, I am sure Bill is going to come to you with his side of the story, but please keep in mind that we have two witnesses to the event who both agree that Bill was the one who told the client that she had ugly children.

Now that you have a basic understanding of the “poisoning the well” fallacy, let’s return to Debi. Remember that Debi has just finished telling reader Linda that it is her duty to obediently serve her husband whether she likes him or not.

Women who have difficulties in their marriages usually follow their feelings and just react. But you must stop trusting your hurt responses or the advice you receive from the world, for today’s media communicates a worldview that is skewed at best.

Here Debi tells women that they can’t trust their feelings and they shouldn’t trust the advice they receive from the world. Your friend tells you your husband is abusive? You can’t trust that! A counselor tells you you’re codependent? That’s just the world talking! Ignore it! Sadly, this sort of thing is all too common in fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, and it allows pastors and people like Debi to keep their followers from looking beyond their insular world for information by creating and fostering inherent distrust of any other information.

And on the next page, Debi does it again:

Now, before we go any further, we must first consider a pertinent matter. You must come to terms with the fact that the biblical well from which I would have you drink this living water has already been put off limits in your mind by timid Bible teachers who have themselves never tasted the gift of a heavenly marriage.

There are many books written by men, “scholars,” that undermine the beauty of a woman’s help meet position. They do so by casting doubt on the Bible itself. They talk in elaborate and “learned” terms about “the original languages” and the “cultural settings” in which the words of scripture were written. … [They would] block [the] way to the well of water that produces heavenly marriages.

Debi is warning her readers that there are Christians out there, including Biblical scholars who use big fancy words, who will argue that the Bible says something different about women’s roles. Debi is preemptively informing her readers that those scholars are wrong, and that they are out to mislead women and keep them from obtaining “heavenly marriages.”

And once again, this is something common in fundamentalist and conservative evangelical circles. As an evangelical child, for example, I was taught that “liberal Christians” were clueless dupes at best and cunning villains out to destroy God’s truth at worst. In this way, fundamentalist and conservative evangelical pastors work to make sure their followers view the words and arguments of progressive Christians and Bible scholars as treacherous songs of a siren to be avoided at all costs. In other words, they work to ensure that their followers will not even listen to, much less consider,the arguments of progressive Christians and Bible scholars.

See, Debi knows that the ideas that she is putting forward compete with other ideas, and that her voice is only one among many, both in society at large and also within Christianity. In order to make sure that her readers listen to her and not to these other voices, she poisons the well. Her goal is to make sure that when her readers hear other ideas and opinions they will say “we were warned against you, and taught to see you as the false prophet you are.” In other words, Debi is not simply stating that she knows there are other arguments and she thinks they are wrong. Rather, she is laying the groundwork to ensure that her readers will not even be willing to listen to those other arguments. And in this way, she is seeking to create a captive audience, an audience willing to listen only to her, an audience that will immediately reject any counter-arguments without even offering them a hearing.

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.

  • veganatheist01

    If you asked her, she’d probably tell you that’s an exception, because see, that the media communicates a distorted worldview is a *fact*.

    “A woman’s calling is not easy. To allow someone else to control your life is much harder than taking control of it yourself.”
    Especially with your sentence about the lack of context, this made me think about another contradiction about fundamentalist teachings. All Christians, male and female, are supposed to let God be in control and to serve him, right? To follow his words, to obey his commands, to serve as his tool to bring light into the world etc. etc. How exactly does that go together with men being supposed to have their own dreams, desires, and visions? And how do fundamentalist Christians go about teaching their boys both of that? I mean, in “To Train Up A Child”, all children are supposed to be “broken” (how can anyone take the advice of a book that actually uses that word??), made to submit and bow to authority. How does that go together with developing and working towards own dreams and desires?

    • minuteye

      The same way teenagers who are taught for years that even thinking sexual thoughts is a horrible sin are suddenly supposed to be able to have healthy sex lives with their partners the moment they get married?

    • HelenaTheGrey

      Who says that children are supposed to have their own dreams and desires? I remember growing up, frequently hearing a phrase along the lines of: “If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.” At the time, it made perfect sense to me. Of course God would laugh at my plans because I can’t see the future and He creates all things and puts all plans into motion. However, now I think about that phrase and it strikes me what these people must really think about their God. It is one thing to accept that not all our plans are going to come to pass or even “should” come to pass. It is another thing entirely to assume that a Father God, a being who created and loves you as a parent loves a child, would hear your plans and actually laugh. What would people think about a parent who asked to hear their child’s dreams, goals, wants, etc, and then laughed in the face of said child? So why would we want to think that about a being who is supposed to be perfect and love us infinitely more than we love our own kids? It just seems really strange to me now.

      • Pauline

        I always thought that was a general proverb that non-religious people used too, substituting “the Universe” or something for “God.” Because I always thought it was more the cynical grown-up talking to the young idealist–”Yes, you’re gonna change the world dear, yeah. Just make sure you learn a marketable skill, OK?”

        But if you heard it in a context where the speaker literally implied God laughs at people, that is kinda screwed up.

  • http://www.mymusingcorner.wordpress.com Lana

    *this* I was taught not to consider liberal ideas, but if she and others have the truth, then it shouldn’t matter if I research other positions. If they have to hide evidence, then it’s suspicious.

    • Nea

      It’s classic cult brainwashing, is what it is. “Only I have only the truth. All others lie to to you. They will hurt you, so obey only me.” Debi just doesn’t have the rhetorical powers to hide what she’s really saying.

    • Angela

      Yes! I think that people generally use this tactic when they realize that their ideas won’t hold up under scrutiny. If you’re really convinced that your beliefs are superior why worry so much about your kids being tainted by the outside world? We live in a very conservative community but I don’t feel threatened by the anti-gay or other rhetoric we’re exposed to because I feel confident in my ability to make a compelling case for my own values. Not that I expect (or even want) my kids to agree with me about everything but I don’t worry that being exposed to conservative bigotry will undo everything I try to teach them either.

  • The_L

    This terrifies me. I have had relatives who escaped from abusive marriages, and if they’d received this sort of poisonous “advice,” they might have ignored what their instincts were shouting at them the entire time: “This is wrong!!”

    A marriage is between two people, and it takes both of those people to make the marriage work. If one of them isn’t trying (like the husband in Linda’s letter), then there is a problem. If one of them is actively harming the other, then the marriage needs to end for the good of both spouses. Anyone who insists that one spouse not working to preserve the marriage is the result of the other spouse Not Trying Hard Enough is a destroyer of marriages and of lives and should not be listened to. End of story.

    • Karen

      Very well put, The_L.

  • Nathan

    This post crystallized what I have thought for some time, although I was calling it something like “self-fulfilling prophecy”.
    Poisoning the well is one of the things that the religious do best. Pearl isn’t doing anything new, but merely following in a 2,000-year-old Christian tradition. Apostle Paul and other New Testament writers were hard at work poisoning the well by saying there would soon be false teachers and prophets inspired by the devil. It seems very much a case of ‘the winner writes history’; if a certain sect or doctrine doesn’t survive, then obviously the beliefs weren’t based on truth.

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      Agreed.
      I’m always saddened by the number of Christians I meet who really have no idea about the history of their religion, beyond what is written in the bible. The ones who write off all the “other” gospels as “obviously not divinely inspired” since they didn’t stay. The ones who actually dont realise that the Catholic bible has more books.
      Then again, I dont think I was a very good believer to start with, I always questioned too much – probably why I never made it in to leadership.

      • Leigha7

        The fact that the Catholic bible has more books, combined with whatever verse it is that says the bible is complete and it’s a sin to add or detract from it, always confused me a little. Did the Catholics add to it, and so they’re sinning and the Protestants are right? Or did the Protestants detract from it (considering they’re newer), so they’re sinning and the Catholics are right? And is it only the person who actively does the adding or detracting, or every person who uses the altered bible?

        It seems reasonable to assume it’s everyone who uses it, given how punish-happy God gets (“your children’s children” and all that), so it really just comes down to hoping your sect of Christianity is the right one (if any are).

  • Christine

    Lana hits the nail on the head – if your version of “truth” requires that people not learn that another exists, you are wrong. I don’t care what your “truth” is, it is wrong even if it is factually correct.

    Not only does Debi say that you shouldn’t listen to anyone but her, but she also seems to be writing solely to people who already can do what she says. It’s not a “try what I’m teaching you, it’s amazing”, it’s “aren’t you so smart for doing what I say”. She doesn’t seem to have any interest in teaching women HOW to do what she says, she just talks a lot about how important it is to do it. This is a common problem though, so I probably shouldn’t be too hard on her for it.

  • http://eschaton2012.ca Eamon Knight

    it’s not clear from context whether this sentence refers to a woman letting her husband control her life or a woman letting God control her life, and that very fact is revealing to how often God and husband get all intermingled and coagulated in Debi’s writing and instructions.

    That would be consistent with what I recall of Gothardite teaching: God controls your life by way of the human authorities he has placed you under (even abusive husbands), so there really isn’t a distinction.

  • MM

    “There are many books written by men, “scholars,” that undermine the beauty of a woman’s help meet position.”

    She forgets that the so-called “help meet” position was also created by the MEN who wrote the bible…and most of the marital guidance she espouses comes from Paul, who was celibate! Jeebus, you’d think if god was really interested in creating godly wives, he’d maybe have included a book or two written by some of them…but no, instead we get Paul saying women can’t teach men and need to keep quiet in church. How convenient.

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

      It’s also interesting that she doesn’t warn her readers against books by female Bible scholars that “undermine the beauty of a woman’s help meet position” — there are lots of those (although doubtless they are fewer than the ones by men), and they not only use big words and talk about cultural contexts and original languages but also are written by women who clearly are not focusing on serving their husbands as much as they should be, so you’d think she’d be extra concerned to poison that particular well.

      But maybe the assumption is that if you’re reading this book, you already know that you shouldn’t read books by female Bible scholars?

      • MM

        Unless, of course, that female scholar’s name is Debi Pearl. Maybe there’s some sort of God-approved board that selects and approves of all female bible lessons, so women know what books they should or shouldn’t read? Honestly I don’t know how they work around that Catch-22. Women shouldn’t read books by female scholars, unless those scholars use correct teaching, but you can’t know if it’s correct teaching unless a man tells you it’s okay. And if a woman writes it, the man who edits/approves it must have to promise not to learn anything from it, lest he commit the sin of being taught by a woman. Sounds very complicated.

  • smrnda

    ” I would have you drink this living water has already been put off limits in your mind by timid Bible teachers who have themselves never tasted the gift of a heavenly marriage.”

    Wow, this has to be the most ridiculous sentence she’s written. Debi’s ‘heavenly marriage’ is really nothing desirable – you get a husband who throws trash on the floor, who gets ridiculous schemes in his head about potential ministry ventures that require giving your kids animal feed to finance, who can do anything and it’s all YOUR problem woman! I’m sure that most sensible people wouldn’t want to touch this ‘heavenly marriage.’

    Debi’s only tactic is disparaging anybody who isn’t exactly like her, but I think she often poisons the well because her writing mostly refuses to acknowledge that not all relationships are built around a man being a case of arrested development who refuses to grow up, but who needs to be idolized or else he’ll throw a hissy fit.

    I mean, if I wrote “Linda was upset with George because she said he wasn’t cleaning the house. George pointed out things that he did clean; it’s just the areas he cleaned didn’t appear as important to Linda as they areas that he did not. Now, they have worked out a list so they know what jobs seem more relevant.”

    If Debi heard that story, she would rewrite that Linda emasculated George by not doing all the cleaning, since a man can’t feel important unless he has a servant, and that she’s criticized him even though he did do something (perhaps George wants to know if the work he is doing is the work that is most important to Linda?) and who now is treating him like a child who needs a list of things to do. Debi’s ONLY tactic is poisoning the well and distorting other people’s accounts of their own lives.

    • http://www.kisarita.blogspot.com ki sarita

      I know this isn’t the point, but I can’t help commenting on the Linda and George example. although it is far healthier than anything Debi Pearl writes, it has its own problems in that it could be read that George should be doing the chores that Linda thinks are most important, and not those that he thinks are most important. This is because in many marriages, even very egalitarian marriages, housework is still the woman’s domain. Both men and women collaborate on this perception- men by doing less work, and women too because inviting equal participation by your mate, demands diminishing your authority in that area. And in an area that has been female for generations, and often the only area, that is sometimes easier said than done.

      • smrnda

        It wasn’t supposed to be an example of anything ideal, just I was thinking of an easy example of how something would be distorted by Debi. I mean, I think your insight is pretty good – if people have different priorities about what needs to be done, how do you resolve that? It’s just that for someone like Debi, the only problem is the woman, period.

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

    Totally agree about the warnings in Christian culture to not even listen to any other viewpoints, for fear of being “led astray.” That’s something I hope to write about on my blog sometime.

  • http://ripeningreason.com/ Rachel Marcy (Bix)

    I’m kind of confused by this one. Isn’t there something about believers not remaining unequally yoked? How is it possible to have a heavenly marriage when the husband isn’t saved? Isn’t he supposed to be leading his wife spiritually? Isn’t the husband basically supposed to present the wife in heaven? (And on a related note, what happens when the wife predeceases the husband? I have an image in my mind of a woman twiddling her thumbs in limbo. And who presents the wife if she’s had two husbands? Or am I just making this up?) This all just seems really contradictory to other aspects of the ideology preached by the Pearls. Other than the notion that women can singlehandedly make their marriages awesome, of course.

    • Mary

      How is it possible to have a heavenly marriage if there are no marriages in Heaven?….Matthew 22:30 “For in the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are like angels in heaven.” Just sayin’….

    • Pauline

      Yeah, that verse Mary quoted is actually what Jesus said when someone presented him with a conundrum like yours, Rachel. Except in that one they had the woman have seven husbands, which was overkill if you ask me. They were trying to prove that the idea of resurrection/life after death made no sense.

      On a different but related note, “heavenly marriage” is (I believe) a Mormon concept. (Or maybe it was called “celestial marriage”? I forget.) They *do* believe people are still married in heaven, and since plural marriage is OK with them, problem solved I guess. (Although I’d love to hear what they have to say about plural husbands!) It’s not a phrase that gets used in Christian circles much, and it sounds a bit odd in this book.

      • Christine

        I believe that they say that a man can have more than one heavenly marriage, but a woman (even though she can remarry if she’s widowed) has to have a different kind for a second marriage. It’s a this-world-only type.

  • http://brokendaughters.wordpress.com Lisa

    OF COURSE women can have heavenly marriages all by themselves. Debbi says “Smile stupidly every second of your silly life and let everything else just roll of your back”. Simple! Everybody can do it. Smile and roll, smile and roll… now, where’s that valium?
    Not my most productive comment… I just had to say it.

  • saraquill

    So if women can create heavenly marriages all on their own, without needing male contribution, then logically two women married to one another can make an even better marriage.

    • victoria

      *snort*. I think that thump you heard was Debi Pearl fainting cold, and not knowing why.

    • Karen

      Love it!

    • http://www.facebook.com/kelly.crawford.182 Kelly Crawford

      That was perfect!

  • Teri Anne

    When conservative Christians demonize people who disagree with them as evil liberals, radical feminists, baby killing butchers, atheists and so forth, they are dehumanizing them and treating them as objects. Hitler used a similar strategy before he embarked upon his campaign of terror against Jewish people. Using the well poisoning fallacy really turns off non-Christians and contributes greatly to the polarization of our society. Conservative Christians also need to remember that Jesus came to save all sinners, including the supposedly evil people like me who disagree with them.

  • http://krwordgazer.blogspot.com krwordgazer

    Isn’t it an odd combination that the husband is supposed to be the authoritative head of the marriage, but when it comes to actually making a marriage work, he’s completely irrelevant?

    • Mary

      Exactly. Explain to me one more time how the overgrown baby with a fragile ego is supposed to run the show and I’m supposed to be at peace with it? Ugh…women read this book as a group in my church almost a year ago to prep for a Marriage Retreat. Strangely enough, it was never really discussed once we got started (sounds like someone should have read it before putting it out there and wanted some distance lol) …it still makes me angry that I read the whole thing trying to “prepare my heart”, and made me sort of question the women in “higher” positions that would recommend it to us. Didn’t have anything to do with the retreat topics, either. Bleh, I think I’m getting reflux just thinking about it…. :-P

      • Mary

        That was supposed to be a barfy emoticon….

  • Hilary

    This is evil. Up until now I’ve been reading this stuff, shaking my head in horrified amusment at how she turns good advice into bad advice, but this is flat out evil. I’ve been lucky enough not to have ever had a relationship with someone truly bent on abuse and control, but I’ve read the lists of warning signs. One of the biggest red flags is isolating a person, usually a woman, from anybody who would contradict the abusers narrative of who is right and who is wrong. Isolating the victom from anybody on the outside to give persective, support or help. The other red flag is undermining any self-trust or self-reliance in the victom. I can’t believe how much all of this depends on destroying a woman’s confidence in trusting herself or thinking for herself.

    I know that calling the Pearls abusive is restating the obvious to most of us, but for me this crosses a line from encouraging an abusive relationship to activily being in an abusive relationship, the relationship between the author and the reader. By isolating her readers from any outside perspective and encoureging them distrust their instincts, she’s directly abusing them just as much as any abusive spouse they’d live with in real life.

    Hilary

    • http://abasketcase.blogspot.com Basketcase

      Comments like this make me wish there was a “like” or “agree button on here.

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

    I will have this to say on feelings…your feelings on a matter are not always fact. You cannot always trust your feelings (recall bias) to be the arbiter of truth in all situations. That being said, your feelings can guide you as you investigate and find out what the truth really is. Debby’s worldview does not allow for investigation.

    People with certain mental disorders treat feelings as if they are equivalent to facts and that is dangerous. I doubt that Debby thinks that most people have those disorders tho.

  • Sarah

    “Fundamentalist and conservative evangelical pastors…. work to ensure that their followers will not even listen to, much less consider,the arguments of progressive Christians and Bible scholars.”

    Yes. I think this attitude is part of why I’m an atheist now. The fundamentalism that I was raised in was clearly intolerable, but I suppose it left its mark – while I realize that progressive Christians exist, I think Christian love/acceptance/tolerance reflects practitioners’ personalities, NOT anything intrinisic, or even amenable, to Christianity. In other words, if nice people become Christians, maybe they will stay nice. But Christianity will not be a factor making them nice (or charitable, compassionate, etc.)


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