Why Do People “Drink The Koolaid”?

by Kristen Rosser

Over at No Longer Quivering they have been talking about why people– and particularly why women– get involved with repressive, spiritually abusive, authoritarian religion.  Why is it, for instance, that so many women are drawn into– and drag their sometimes reluctant husbands into– the anti-feminist “back to patriarchy” movement?

The No Longer Quivering blog post asks it this way:

Are they “drinking the Kool-Aid”? Brainwashed? Deceived? Have Quiverfull women been beaten into submission or bullied by fanatical, power-hungry male pastors? To outsiders, fundamentalist women often seem ignorant, ill-informed, illogical – perhaps even dim-witted or crazy.

Sure committed Christian women are choosing for themselves to live submissively and self-sacrificially – they are living martyrs willingly. But why?!

While I was never in Quiverfull, I did get into the shepherding/dominion movement back in my college years, as I have shared earlier on this blog.  No, I wasn’t bullied into joining or “beaten into submission.”  My initial choice was not made under duress at all, though later, the reasons I stayed certainly included fear of negative consequences (such as being disfellowshipped and having the friends I had made there become my enemies).  But my own reasons for getting into a spiritually abusive Christian movement were like this:

1. It was cool to be part of a group that welcomed me.  I had experienced a lot of rejection from my peers in the school system, and I desperately wanted to fit in somewhere.  The people in this group were so warm and friendly when I went to their meetings, that I could hardly resist the feeling of belonging they gave me.  (I later learned that this is called “love bombing”, and I was taught myself to do it to newcomers that came after me, in order to get them to join the movement).

2.  I really wanted to feel I was part of something bigger than myself, a movement that could actually do some good in the world. The fact that the movement was against things in society that had hurt me in the past (such as bullying, ostracism and sexual harassment in my neighborhood and in the public schools, all of which was now labeled “the world”) was its own justification.  Whatever else it was doing, Maranatha Campus Ministries really was sincerely fighting against these damaging elements in the lives of young people, and offering a kind of Christian community that certainly seemed to be a better alternative.

3. The life of “total commitment” was set forth as God’s perfect plan, and if you embraced it, your life would be much better.  God’s blessings in the form of health and prosperity were supposed to rain down on those who did His perfect will as described by the group leaders.  God’s perfect choice for your marriage partner was supposed to be the result of following the “dating revelation” and having your pastors pray over who you should marry– and your marriage would be guaranteed to be happy forever after, without danger of divorce.  The uncertainties of life could be replaced by certainty.  The troubles that “worldly” people or Christians with weak faith faced, could be avoided.   Prayer and the Christian life became sort of like a vending machine– push the right buttons, and the candy you wanted was sure to pop out.

4.   We were told that these teachings and life choices were God’s will for our lives, and everyone who really wanted to please God would naturally embrace these ideas. I really did want to please God and follow God’s plan.  I wanted to be one of “God’s Green Berets” — a special spiritual force of His favored soldiers, fighting the devil and setting lost souls free.  I didn’t want to be one of the “lukewarm” who never put it all on the line, who never made the grade, who made it into Heaven but just barely, with the smoke of Hell still on their clothes.

5. Having grown up in a dysfunctional home, I thought controlling, authoritarian relationships were normal.  It was what I knew.  As a young college student just out of that home, I felt uncomfortable not having someone to tell me what to do. Being under “a covering of authority” felt safe and secure.

So those were my reasons.  But as far as women and back-to-patriarchy is concerned, I think there’s another dynamic to it, aimed specifically at women.  The guaranteed wonderful life (as I described in #3 above) takes a particularly domestic form.  Modern life can be very high-pressure for women, who feel they should try to “have it all” in terms of career, marriage, motherhood, and material goods such as a beautiful home, nice cars and clothes, including being plugged into all the latest technologies and gadgets.   Quiverfull and the patriarchy movement offer a utopian fantasy of domestic tranquility, away from the rat-race of the business world and the traps of materialism, filled with peaceful living, a happy husband, obedient children, and all the time in the world to practice the beautiful arts of homemaking.  No Longer Quivering blogger Broken Daughters describes it very well in her post, The Polished Lives of Others:

I’d have a pantry filled with homemade juices and marmalade and sauces and relishes. I’d have a beautiful, antique and yet modern kitchen. I’d have a great view from my kitchen windows, and I’d wear a beautiful apron. I’d be… hm. One of those fairytale housewives, I guess.

My life would be quiet, relaxed. I’d be busy decorating a beautiful home, not really worrying about money and how to get by. My husband would be thrilled to see my newest crafty decoration idea and I’d have people come over for tea, who would praise my exquisite taste and the heavenly homemade biscuits. . . .

And yes, my kids. How well-behaved they were, and how clean and neat and obedient and whatnot. How tidy their rooms were, how tidy the house was, how lush the gardens! Yes, I was truly the Proverbs 31 woman.

At the end of the day, my tall dark and handsome husband, who made assloads of money doing something real godly, would put his hands on my shoulders and gently kiss my neck and whisper that I was truly the wife of his dreams and no other even came close to me.

Yes, I would enjoy those moments that made me feel so superior to everybody else.


An idyllic vision of life in which you beat everyone else at the competitive game of “who is happiest” and “who has it all together.”  And it all happens because of God, who stamped the movement with His endorsement and, even if He doesn’t actually love you more than everybody else, at least approves of you more than anyone not in the movement.  That was what Maranatha Campus Ministries offered.  That is what Quiverfull and Biblical Patriarchy offer. In the end, (as Paul Burleson says so well in a comment on Wade Burleson’s blog), it’s all about basic human needs:  to be loved, to feel secure, to feel you belong, to feel special.  Spiritually abusive, authoritarian religious groups offer their movements as the surest way to get these needs met.  Ordinary, non-authoritarian Christianity is set forth as an inferior, flawed system that won’t meet your needs the way we can.  Ordinary Christianity is only just slightly better than “the world.”  But we can offer you the peace, fulfillment and happiness you really want– if you just do things our way, which is God’s way.   Get in on the secret.  Join us.  We guarantee the results– as long as you’re doing everything exactly as we tell you. It’s a heady mix, that Koolaid.  Hard not to drink it, especially if you’re in any sort of emotionally vulnerable state, such as alone in a new place, or going through a difficult life transition. The best defense is to learn in advance what the Koolaid looks and smells like.

That’s why I’m writing this.  If I can play a part in forewarning-and-forearming anyone being tempted to drink, or if I can help anyone who did drink to forgive themselves, then I become part of the antidote.

And that makes it all worth it. 

Comments open below

Read everything by Kristen Rosser!

Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network member, Kristen Rosser (aka KR Wordgazer) blogs at Wordgazer’s Words

The Spiritual Abuse Survivor Blogs Network

NLQ Recommended Reading …

Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment‘ by Janet Heimlich

Quivering Daughters‘ by Hillary McFarland

Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement‘ by Kathryn Joyce


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  • I’d like to add that I think the strict gender roles can seem very appealing in the beginning to some people. It gives you a place in this world, it makes you feel special. It can be a welcome relief to people who don’t want to be responsible for so many things at once. Women don’t have to worry about money and careers; men don’t have to worry about housework or childcare. And you feel like you are in on a secret that others don’t know about: you know what men and women REALLY want. You never imagine that these roles will become a prison, that it will end up hindering you from doing something you want down the road.

  • Great post. It’s something I’ve wondered about and you answered the question without being defensive or aggressive. Thanks. I am in nursing school and we are taught again and again how to understand, empathize, and work within other people’s cultures and backgrounds. Some are more patriarchal than others but this one takes the cake, especially since it originates in America. Because most of us perceive these women to be participating in their own oppression, there is a need to know the etiology, or reasons behind the illness. This is more widespread than I originally thought. I am becoming concerned that I don’t see many of these women seeking healthcare for themselves and children.

  • EEB

    This is so true.

    The biggest reason I became so involved in patriarchal Christianity (beyond just straight up peer pressure as a teenager–I wanted to be part of the “inner circle,” one of the good girls everyone talked about and admired, I wanted to be accepted by the other quiverfull girls and their parents, who tended to regard me as less holy, because my Mom worked and was open about her egalitarianism and birth control use), as an adult, was a combination of 3 and 4: security.

    It was incredibily seductive to know exactly what was expected of me, down to the clothes I wore and even how I applied make-up (if I even wore make-up…I went throuh a stage where I didn’t think it was appropriate for a committed Christian woman). There was no fear or angst about “what am I going to do when I grow up?” or worries about how I was going to provide for myself and make money. I didn’t have to stress out about the fact that I wasn’t attracted to boys, because I wasn’t going to date, anyway. And if God wanted me to be a committed single woman, well, Paul said that was the highest calling, anyway. (In college, I became more involved with the Protestant monastic movement.) But more than that, I never had to worry about my relationship with God. I was following all the rules. I knew that I was doing the right thing. It was less about being afraid of going to hell–I was mostly sure that my salvation was secure–and more that I never felt good enough, ever. I never felt like God loved me…I would listen to my friends talk about how secure they were in God’s love, how they could feel his arms around them, even, and I never, ever felt that*. But when I was following all the rules, devoting my life entirely to God in every aspect, I was finally assured that God loved me, could love me, and approved of me.

    Maybe it’s because I grew up in a very uncertain environment. My family always teetered on the edge of financial crisis; Dad was out of work for a long time, we went without medical insurance for five years (and got very good at home treatments, holding wounds together with butterfly bandages to avoid paying for stitches), had times when Ramen was the only thing to eat, when the electricity was turned off or we lost cable, when the water was shut off, when I would come in the kitchen to see my mother at the table with the mail (bills), sobbing. I was molested for a year by someone my parents let live with us. I had severe health problems, and I got to the point where I was always scared about what was going to happen next, like I had a time bomb inside of me. I also had emotional/mental health issues. I wasn’t diagnosed with bipolar disorder until I was 16 (hospitalized after a suicide attempt), after years of emotional highs and lows, crisis after crisis. So the security I found in religion–not God, mind, but the rules, the lifestyle of conservative religion–was irresistable.

    *I’ve often said that if I had experienced just one spiritual moment, like the experiences my family and friends had when they said they felt God’s presence and love surrounding them, it would have been a lot harder to admit that I was an atheist. As it was, I had no personal assurance of God’s existance; it was all intellectual, so when the evidence fell away, I was left with nothing.

  • JJ

    Great post. Number 4 was it for me. So happy to be free!

  • Nancy B

    #5 is very true for more than a few Quiverfull women I have known. Also, women freom homes where there is chaos, uncertainty and addiction get seduced by Quiverfull, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormonism, Opus Dei, because of the sense of order and calm.

    In most dysfunctional homes the natural progression from infant to autonomous young adult doesn’t happen. There are gaps, things not developed. The world then seems even bigger, scarier and one is unable to trust one’s choices or perceptions. It is easiest to go with whomever pulls harder.

    Religious sects usually pull the hardest. They, after all, claim the authority of God.

    Personally, I grew up with “magical thinking.” That is, IF I were the best little girl I could be then my father would stop drinking and not beat my mother. It morphed with adolescence into thinking that if I wore my yellow sweater and did exactly 90 minutes of homework and the evening was calm, I had to wear that sweater & set my timer for 90 minutes…

    You get the picture. I still have moments where I fear if I stand up for myself something awful will happen. I’m not sure magical thinking–once ingrained–ever leaves us.

    (I gave a local business a poor review–as I’m sure most of you have done) and now the owner of that business is cyberbullying me. My response? Hope he eventually quits because hiring a lawyer seems an invitation to more bad things happening. I grew up tiptoeing around people who act irrationally. I still do).

    So much of our inner life is fear based. Fear of fat, fear of age, fear of rejection, fear of poverty…fear of a Great Hand ready to slap us down.

    At 18 I wanted The Truth. Now I will settle for peace, quiet & questions.

    (And to not be cowed by cyberbullies, but maybe I’m just too old for that…)