Reflections on Shiny Happy People

Reflections on Shiny Happy People June 8, 2023

When I come home from work, my body is tired and I don’t want to do much. Instead of playing one of the small amount of board and card games that we own, which include Monopoly and Exploding Kittens, my wife and I choose to watch some show, so  I can unwind and possibly engage my mind and imagination without much effort.

Our weekly shows that we had been watching, which include the new Quantum Leap, the time travel show La Brea, and the supernatural comedy Ghosts are off for the season. The love letter TV show to the 80’s, The Goldbergs have signed off for good and we have to wait a week to watch the latest episode of our latest show, the post apocalyptic dystopian Silo on Apple. Kristin is not interested in the Holy Grail global hunting nun going up against an A.I. on Mrs. Davis. So what new show can we watch? How about the reveal all documentary Shiny Happy People?

For me, when I hear the words Shiny Happy People I admittedly think of this.

But in 2023 Shiny Happy People is the name given to the 4 part documentary series on Amazon Prime about the reality TV stars Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, their gazillion kids, and their many secrets that they have hidden away from TV cameras.

It’s a shame they didn’t somehow use the R.E.M. song anywhere in the show. Overall the SHP was interesting, but it seemed repetitive in certain areas. I watched one episode while tired and was sort of sleepy during it which may influenced my opinion. The main criticism and focus of SHP is actually not the Duggars, it’s on Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP) founder Bill Gothard who is not to be confused with gospel singer Bill Gaither. That is how I thought his name was spelled and wondered why that Bill popped up when I typed it into Google. It’s sort of how the 1989 Tim Burton Batman movie was named after what was supposed to be the main character played by Michael Keaton but the real focus was on Jack Nicholson’s Joker.

Up until this documentary I was not familiar with Bill, but now I am. His organization IBLP, is an uber ultra-conservative Christian group that encourage Bible memorization, Duggar sized large families, safe from public school indoctrination homeschooling, aversion to debt, and extreme chastity and modest dress. The last two items are some of the most treasured moral teachings of Christians everywhere. I grew up believing that sex outside marriage is a sin. IBLP Christians like the Duggars saved their first kiss for marriage. I definitely didn’t think premarital kissing was a sin and longed for the day I could actually do it and was fascinated by those that did, especially kids my own age.

According to this documentary what makes these things not so shinny is that teaching these biblical principles tend to be occasions of sin for those trying to inflict that morality on to other people. That is due to the real bugaboo of IBLP teaching which is the concept of male superiority and female obedience. The main problem with the IBLP model of husband/wife relationships is that those who can’t live up to the morality they preach use the hierarchical structure to either use power over others to act out their lust or to hide those who have acted it out.

Abusive power is demonstrated by the fact that Bill G was accused by some women of sexually abusing them. Hiding abuse is demonstrated in the crimes of the oldest Duggar child Josh who has sextually molosted some of his sisters, was caught on a website designed for people looking to have an affair with someone and child porn. Jim Bob Duggar went campaigning for political office while Josh’s sex crime trial was going on. Covering up crimes so you don’t hurt the image of your Christian witness is what caused problems for the Catholic church when bishops covered up the crimes of priests who molested children.

Watching the Duggar Doc series, I noticed a very interesting parallel  to the Bill G  method of how men treat women in his world and the way certain Catholics treat women in our world.

In  various Catholic social media groups this particular pic is often displayed by others trying to offer what they think is the Catholic teaching on marriage. The same folks who present this extreme particular protestant model are the some of the same folks who say the Novus Ordo Mass is too protestant for Catholic liturgy. But yet they have no qualms about taking this particular extreme non-Catholic  hiarchael model of the Christian household. I have even seen some Catholics say that it is a mortal sin for a woman to say no to her husband if he wants sex and she doesn’t.  Some of these folks are prominent well known writers and youtubers.

One unknown random guy on Twitter tweeted this lame analogy that sometimes men don’t want to watch a movie and his wife does, but he watches it anyway. Seriously. If my wife is not in the mood, and she often is not for various reasons, I don’t make her engage in a activity that might hurt, I then practice self-control and chastity and I abstain. Any man who makes his wife have sex when she doesn’t want to is the one who is probably in mortal sin.

What is the actual sane Christian teaching that Good Catholics and Protestants can follow?

The author of the Letter to the Ephesians sees no contradiction between an exhortation formulated in this way and the words: “Wives, be subject to your husbands, as to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife” (5:22-23). The author knows that this way of speaking, so profoundly rooted in the customs and religious tradition of the time, is to be understood and carried out in a new way: as a “mutual subjection out of reverence for Christ” (cf. Eph 5:21). This is especially true because the husband is called the “head” of the wife as Christ is the head of the Church; he is so in order to give “himself up for her” (Eph 5:25), and giving himself up for her means giving up even his own life. However, whereas in the relationship between Christ and the Church the subjection is only on the part of the Church, in the relationship between husband and wife the “subjection” is not one-sided but mutual. 24-Mulieris Dignitatem (August 15, 1988) | John Paul II (

In Other Words…

The husband and the wife are in fact “subject to one another”, and are mutually subordinated to one another. The source of this mutual subjection is to be found in Christian pietas, and its expression is love.

The author of the letter underlines this love in a special way, in addressing himself to husbands. He writes: “You husbands love your wives…”, and by expressing himself in this way, he removes any fear that might have arisen (given the modern sensitivity) from the previous phrase: “Wives, be subject to your husbands”.

Love excludes every kind of subjection whereby the wife might become a servant or a slave of the husband, an object of unilateral domination.

Love makes the husband simultaneously subject to the wife, and thereby subject to the Lord himself, just as the wife to the husband.
Library : The Husband-Wife Relationship in Ephesians 5:21-23 | Catholic Culture

This might help as well.

Here is a whimsical example of how this works. The wife says to her husband, “Honey, I subject myself to your headship of service. Now, please subject yourself to my need to have the garbage taken out and to have this dirty diaper changed.” Wives Be Subject to Your Husbands | Catholic Answers

The hierarchical system presented by Bill’s IBLP presents the headship of a husband like a mini pope, king, slave owner or dictator. It treats the woman as only a baby making machine whose only reason for knowing fractions is so they can use it in baking food for the family. A husband can also practice corporal punishment on anyone in the family who he feels deserves it. I wished that the documentary presented a healthy counterpoint to the abusive system presented. I think that Jinger Duggar may have written a book that does this.

 I am a Christian who loves Jesus and wants to follow Him—I have, like those friends, rejected much of the teaching I heard each year at the conference in Big Sandy. My faith is still intact, but it has changed. Instead of leaving the faith entirely, I have unthreaded, or disentangled, the truth of Christianity from the unhealthy version I heard growing up.
– Jinger Duggar Vuolo ,Becoming Free Indeed  (2023) Thomas Nelson

In the book she also talks about my favorite movie so I feel inclined to include it.

Here’s one of the many quirky facts about being a Duggar: my husband, Jeremy, and I didn’t watch our first movie together until we were husband and wife. On our honeymoon in 2016, we watched The Truman Show. I had never seen it before. (That’s something I can say about a lot of movies!). The main character, Truman Burbank, is the star of a reality TV show, but he doesn’t know it. Every moment of his life is captured for television. He lives inside a dome in Burbank, California, but he thinks he lives in a place called Seahaven Island. Many people from the outside world have opinions and expectations about who Truman should be and how he should live. Truman marries a woman the producers pick for him—not the woman he lovmes. The producers also pick his job and decide where he will live and who his best friend will be. When Truman begins to question his reality and tries to get out of Seahaven, his escape is blocked at every turn. After we finished the movie, I turned turned to Jeremy and said, “That movie is my life.” Well, except for the spouse-picking part.
– Jinger Duggar Vuolo ,Becoming Free Indeed  (2023) Thomas Nelson

There are many more things I could say about SHP. But the main takeaway I got from it was IBLP model of marriage and how similar it was to some Catholics who believe in that method. This method can have very devastating effects on the wives and children who have to live with a tyrant in the home controlling their lives in such a domineering way. The Bill G method of family is not one that should be practiced by any Catholic or any serious Christian. I end with a video by an ex-IBLP person who gives his extended reflections on Shiny Happy People and some of the things you will find if you decide to watch it.

Browse Our Archives

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment

2 responses to “Reflections on Shiny Happy People”

  1. Hello, I will probably not watch Shiny Happy People do to my current time constraints and access to the platform that airs the show. The author of this blogs does a decent job of describing the premise of the show. I have never been married, so I do not know the stressors involved in that lifestyle. If a man and woman freely choose to live as the IBLP method teaches, and neither are abusive to the other, I hold no judgement. It would be their children that may bear a more difficult, life, more restricted than common. Such as stated, “no movies.” I wonder if they are any studies of the happiest and length of a marriage as such to other forms of marriage. Thank you for your post.

  2. The writer of this article presences interesting points about marriage in relation to the series, Shiny Happy People. I am not married so I have no personal opinion on styles or arrangements made in the marriage covenant. It seems the IBLP method may be harmful to children more than two adults who agree to such as arrangement.