Duggars are Not Crazy

by Lana Hope cross posted from her blog Wide Open Ground

After I heard that Jessa Duggar is now courting, I’ve struggled to find words. In a way, I’m happy for her. In a way, I’m always sad to see my peers trapped in patriarchy. But in the midst of those emotions, I don’t have anything to say to Jessa. This is her life, not a cartoon on TV.  I do, however, have something to say to all her harsh critics – all the critics who mock her family, her critics who say that the Duggars are just crazy.  I wish to say this:

People don’t necessarily go into Christian fundamentalism because they are crazy.  (Note: I’m not denying that there are mentally crazy fundamental families. I am, however, saying that there are plenty of fundamental families who are not crazy.)

Before I write more, I want to clarify that I grew up in homeschool fundamentalism. I know what it’s like to wear dresses all the time and never go to school or have any friends outside fundamentalism. And I know what it’s like to only listen to classical music and hymns and wear awkward bathing suits no one else wears. Of course, I don’t know what it’s like to stay in fundamentalism because I rebelled against it a long time ago. I also don’t know what it’s like to be on TV, or have 18 siblings. But I understand Jessa’s world a lot more than I understand the world of someone who grew up in public school. As at least a half-way insider, let me say this.

People don’t necessarily go into fundamentalism because they are crazy.

Many fundamentalists are seekers. My parents were seekers. That’s why we attended the ATI conferences. My parents wanted freedom from their flesh patterns, they wanted to raise children who  grew up to know the Lord, and they wanted to find God’s presence. Fundamentalism not only promised these things, but also, and most importantly, fundamentalism handed them the tools to do it.

Our methods may sound crazy to an outsider, but they were tools that were coherent to us, and they were tools that appealed intellectually as well.

In other ways, we were just victims of spiritual abuse. My mom started homeschooling me for purely an academic reason. Somehow through a lot of peer pressure my parents were still members of the same homeschool group nearly 20 years later and had grown to adopt a lot conservative beliefs.

But my parents did not stay in homeschooling because they were crazy. (Also, my dad is not very controlling. We did gender roles only because that was part of the formula.)

In fact, the reason that Christian fundamentalism concerns me is that it is attractive, that it has something to offer a modernist world, that it has a place for truth seekers. Fundamentalism concerns me precisely because it offers a bunch of goods that are, actually, attractive.

  • Fundamentalism gives a wife and mom and reason to live.
  • Fundamentalism offers relief from a world full of media (no TV and gaming) in place of good books
  • Fundamentalism offers family connection via Bible studies and hospitality
  • Homeschooling offers extra time with the kids
  • Homeschooling offers family bonding and values
  • Homeschooling offers life beyond just careers, into what even secularists value most of all: family
  • Homeschooling comes with a built-in community
  • Patriarchalism releases at least one gender from the corporate box
  • Courtship is a network, a way to meet other family people

In a way, these were all values that I grew up around and just took for granted.

A few years ago one of my friends had a birthday party, and he invited all the homeschool families he knew to his party. It may seem odd to an outsider to have young children at his 20th birthday party, but it was not the least bit weird to me (parties with my family are the same way; there were as many kids under 13 at my 18th birthday party as there were teens). But after an entire evening of playing board games with people of all ages, washing dishes together, and praying for each other, one of my public school friends (the only person who had attended public school at the party) said to me, “That was so much fun. I never experienced this in my life.” She explained that she never had an evening playing board games with children of all ages. In fact, she never went to someone’s house and had them pray for her either. It was foreign to her, but she liked it.

Fundamentalism offers that kind of community. Yes, the community creates pain and breaks sometimes, but it’s still community that often attracts people to fundamentalism.  I was looking through photos of my teen years earlier this week, and every photo of me has a child in the picture. Our community valued children.

The other end of fundamentalism has been a lot of pain: a lot of guilt over purity culture, a lot of culture shock, a lot of shame from never living up to expectations. The purity culture and anti-feminist culture let me down. It didn’t keep it’s promise. In the end, it didn’t make us closer together as a family, and it didn’t make us better than secular families. I’m not defending fundamentalism, except to say this.

Quit saying fundies are just crazy-no-brainers while secularists are enlightened and free thinkers.

In a way my parents were free thinkers too, forging new paths different than their families. In a way they were buffelo falling off the cliff.  I see a lot of both of these characteristics in all people because we all live in the tension of trying to be our own subject (Satre) and trying to fit in. That’s a human condition. Hegel said it before we had Christian fundamentalism. Before we point too quickly and call others crazy, we need to look at the log in our own eyes.

I also recommend reading Roland Barthes’ Mythologies for the real scoop about why there is no pure social identity.

Comments open below

Read everything by Lana Hope!

Lana Hope was homeschooled 1st-12th grade in a small town and rural culture. Involved in ATI, her life growing up was gendered, sheltered, and with a lot of shame and rules in disguise of Biblical principles and character qualities. After college Lana moved to SE Asia and began working with the abused, and upon discovering that the large world is not at all like she had been taught, she finally questioned it all, from Calvinism to the homeschool movement to the foundation of her Christian faith. Today Lana is a Christian Universalist, holds a B.A. in English, and is currently working on a M.A. in philosophy.  She blogs about the struggles she has faced leaving fundamentalism and homeschooling behind and how travel and missions has wrecked her life for good and bad at her blog www.wideopenground.com.

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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  • JeanPing

    Excellent commentary. Fundamentalists are not crazy or stupid, and I’d say it’s counterproductive to say so. If you’re honestly concerned for someone’s welfare, calling them crazy and stupid is not a way to convince them of that.

  • Trollface McGee

    Fundamentalism isn’t irrational – it fills the needs of people. The need to have a hierarchal authority, the need to not have to make decisions for yourself or to take responsibility, the need to not have to put yourself out there in the world and take risks. It also promises a lot of things that seem appealing – a big happy family, a stable marriage, no fear of divorce, a homogeneous community free from the others of the world who are scary and evil looking.
    Understanding why people do what they do and what they see in a potentially destructive lifestyle is key to be able to communicate with people and help them if they want out.

  • http://www.facebook.com/sabreean Brea Plum

    So you’re saying that choosing a destructive, abusive, reality-denying lifestyle is a rational choice? No, it is not a rational choice. And for many of the females in patriarchy and fundamentalism, it is not a choice at all. If it were rational, it would not be what it is, and the many readers and writers of this blog would not have left it or described their exit as ‘escape’.

    Abrogating all responsibility for major decisions to third parties who have no reason to protect your or you family’s interests is not rational. Hatred and discrimination against those who are different from you is not a rational. Beating a six month old infant and a female of any age is not rational. Oppression, repression and enslavement are not rational. In case you haven’t been paying attention, the “rational” fundamentalists in this country are destroying our society and environment and, at this very moment, actively destroying our economy.

    Expecting genuinely rational people to ‘respect’ your ‘choice’ is, in fact, crazy and stupid.

  • KarenJo12

    I’m not and never have been a fundamentalist, but I grew up in a small town and understand at least some of what leads people in this direction. You state that it is “[the] need to have a hierarchal authority, the need to not have to make decisions for yourself or to take responsibility, the need to not have to put yourself out there in the world and take risks.” I think it’s more complicated and more positive than this. John Donne was right when he said “no man is an island.” People need support from a community in their lives, especially once we have kids or become elderly. We need to know that we aren’t alone, and that if we make a bad decision, or just have bad luck, someone will be there to help. Fundamentalism, of any sort, from Marx to Gothard, provides its adherents with guidelines for making decisions and assurances that those decisions are correct. Play by the rules and everything will be okay. The alternative is “you’re own your own, and if you screw up, well, sucks to be you.” The slightly less horrid version is ” you’ve screwed up horribly and your kids and family are paying for it, but hey! You had the freedom to make your own terrible decision!”

    Arguing that this wouldn’t happen of we had European social insurance or some other policy that doesn’t exist here, now, and has no chance of existing for the foreseeable future doesn’t work either. People live in the present. Wishing for free health care doesn’t get my kid glasses he needs today, but many churches provide such things.

  • SAO

    I alway suspected it was the feeling of being better than everyone else. In this world, we’re all a bunch of fairly average nobodies. Not only that, to achieve is hard. Wherever you are, there’s someone doing better than you. If you’re supersuccessful, can afford a yacht, and joint the yacht club, you see that someone else has a bigger yacht with a helipad and a helicopter, making you a pathetic loser.

    But in the Godliness stakes, there’s no outside yardstick of success. It’s all defined by the fundamentalists groups and limited by other’s willingness to be crazy, so Vaughn Ohlman’s Betrothal thing is hard to top. With Quiverful, each child is a blessing, so the quiverful families are more “blessed” than everyone else who uses family planning. They win!

  • Trollface McGee

    It isn’t rational but simply telling people that their views are irrational and harmful will lead to defensiveness and a wall being put up that will be hard to take down.
    Take gay marriage – there was huge opposition to it because a lot of people were ignorant, had no idea what gay marriage looked like – and once they were shown that the world isn’t going to fall apart and that their gay neighbours aren’t that different from they are – their opinions shifted dramatically. That would not have happened if gay rights groups just said that these people are irrational bigots and left it at that.

  • http://www.wideopenground.com/ Lana

    I definitely would not call fundamentalism rational. But I am not convinced at all that rejecting fundamentalism has made me rational either. One of the significant things that came out of postmodern/poststructural philosophy (and plenty of other philosophy) is that it shows how we all grow up in these bubbles. We can only speak about what we have knowledge of, imagine what we have symbolize, and speak only in ways that our social discourse allows. There is no objective viewpoint from which we can analyse discourse or society. There is no way to completely break through. There is no unified society or unified self. It’s all discontinuous. Therefore, we can’t call ourselves purely rational beings.

    Second generational fundamentalism make this point clearly because second generational fundie kids don’t know any other way. So unless they go to college or otherwise experience another way of living (perhaps via the internet, but I doubt Jessa gets free range access to the internet), then they can only imagine what they symbolize and speak only in the ways their social discourse (fundamentalism) allows. So Jessa can’t get out, but it’s not that she is being irrational.

    First generationals are a bit more tricky, but I still think they were largely socially constructed, and I think that even though I left fundamentalism, I am still being socially constructed such that I don’t think I will ever find pure rationality again.