A Clever Boy

A Clever Boy February 4, 2013

by Jeffrey Witthauer

An atheist page asked those of us who were formerly religious to share our stories. This is what I wrote up.

I was raised in a cult. I do not use that word lightly. The sign outside the church said “Baptist”, but we were not part of any Baptist convocation. We were a fanatically fundamentalist sect, and I could count on one hand the number of children who were not home-schooled so they could be raised entirely within the church. The term “Quiverfull” was not really used at the time, but I see a lot of my church’s philosophy in that batch of crazy. A lot of us followed Bill Gotherd of the Advanced Training Institute, if you know who he is. My family was one of them.

I was always very clever, much to my parents’ chagrin, but unlike many eventual atheists I never questioned what I was taught. I believed it all. Hence the parents’ chagrin, because their hypocrisy rankled me. Did they not know that with every act of hypocrisy they were betraying god? I could quote massive amounts of scripture (still can), and, so I thought, tear the arguments of Darwinists and Satanists apart (by which I mean Jews, Atheists, Muslims, Catholics, Anglicans, Lutherans, and anyone else who was deemed not sufficiently close to our beliefs).

It is laughable now how ignorant I was, but I was raised in an environment where the only opposing views I encountered were strawmen, carefully constructed just so godly boys like me could tear them apart.

I mentioned my parents’ hypocrisy caused trouble between us. Do not think this means they were moderate. No. They were fanatics just like the rest of them. Psychological abuse was the order of the day, and they made sure I understood that everything bad that ever happened to me was my fault. And since I knew my bible ever-so-well, I believed them.

Around my teenage years I started experiencing my first bouts of nerve-wracking guilt and depression. My mother made the stupid decision of taking me to see a counselor. This was incredibly stupid of her, because of course any counselor would immediately see that I was not the problem, or at least not most of it. The idea that my parents, my perfect, god-appointed parents, could ever be wrong hit me like a ton of bricks. The last year of my teenage life was not good. I went to Bob Jones University (so help me, it was my own decision to go there, I was a good brainwashed zombie after all).

Over my first Christmas break my parents, long since tired of their son, decided to kick me out, not paying for college any more. My dreams of being a Christian academic, the task I felt my clever mind was best suited for, were shattered, utterly ruined. They would later claim to their friends that they offered many times to send me back to college, and I refused. This is just one of many lies they told about me.

I still attended the cult, of course. All that experience taught me was that my parents were not true believers, for what true believers would ever do that to their son? I have always been a good singer, and I loved singing in the choir. Then the choir master told me that, due to my “rebellion”, I was no longer qualified to perform any such functions in the church. That was my last visit except for a few special occasions.

It was that shock that made me realize that not just my parents were wrong, but the whole cult was. After all, I was the victim, but they pretended I was the problem. I was still Christian, very Christian, but I knew I had been taught lies. So I started on a quest for truth. My reasoning was that god is truth, and so looking for truth would bring me to god. That was when I ran into a lovely community of religious people of many faiths who were more than willing to deal with a little fanatic desperately in need of deprogramming. Their patience, and their keen logical arguments, brought me out of Christianity and, after a brief dalliance with paganism due to still believing in magic, I finally achieved some semblance of rationalism.

In many ways my thinking is only thirteen years old (all this happened in 2000/2001). I still run into things I believe are true, that I was taught were true by the cult, that are absolutely wrong. I used to think, “Well, it was psychological abuse and religious bullshit, but at least my EDUCATION was good!” Then I discovered even my education was horrible, sub-par in almost every category, even those that do not have any clear ties with religion (the sheer list of classic literature I have never read because they had an “un-Christian” message is staggering, a list I am constantly working to shorten). But luckily I’ve always been clever, so I’m getting by and learning more every day.

One day I’ll probably write a book about all this. As of the last time I spoke with my parents (two years ago), they were still under the impression that they had been good parents. All I can figure is that having god on their side helps them avoid actually thinking about their lives. I am still in communication with many of my old friends from the cult. Many of my generation have also left the cult for one reason or another, though most of them remain good Christians, if slightly less fanatical.

I have found that my experiences, being an actual believer who did not question the cult-think, have given me a certain degree of insight into the religious mind, and now that I am free of the misinformation and lies of the cult my in-depth religious background only makes me more firmly an atheist. Otherwise, I can think of nothing particularly good that came out of that nightmare.

As a writer, I feel like I should tie this up with some kind of message. So here you go: Keep talking to people. Keep being patient with them. The religious are not stupid, they are only horribly misinformed and misled. Most of them are victims of indoctrination and brainwashing. But I am living proof that even the most fanatical religious person can eventually come to reason, if shown enough patience and actual truth.

(Editor’s note – My apologies to the readers yesterday. This was supposed to be posted, not the bit on atheism/agnosticism. I’m blaming my mistake on Beyonce and the Super Bowl. Sorry about that! Welcome to NLQ Jeffery!)

Comments open below

Jeffrey Witthauer is a freelance writer, evil overlord and aspiring novelist who lives in Tennessee

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


"It may be that the only reason they put Mama June's kids' money into trust ..."

Jim Bob Duggar and His Mysterious ..."
"You would, but litigation costs a lot of money and takes a lot of time, ..."

Jim Bob Duggar and His Mysterious ..."
"I think so! They forced Mama June to Coogan her kids money, but let Jim ..."

Jim Bob Duggar and His Mysterious ..."
"You would think there is at least 1 lawyer in Arkansas who would take on ..."

Jim Bob Duggar and His Mysterious ..."

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • I’ve been amazed how many sects fall under the heading of “Baptist.” When my parents came out of the cult I was raised in, which thankfully never went as far as it might have due to my parents being intelligent, they went to a local Baptist church for several years. My mom was raised Southern Baptist, so she was kind of getting back to her roots. My Dad was raised atheist but I think falls mostly into an open-minded Presbyterian category. The enormous variety of doctrines, strictness, and political beliefs in ONE CONGREGATION was astounding. Over time, several families and individuals on the far ends of the spectrum have come and gone, from liberals whose daughters wear mini skirts or leggings at church to hard-line patriarchs whose children must get Father’s permission to address a person of the opposite sex. Neither seems to last long, but still, I find it amazing. My own parents no longer attend regularly; I think they have become disillusioned with the petty squabbles.

  • SAO

    Why did your parents tire of you? Because you pointed out their failings (probably in a self-righteous way)? Did they have other, more satisfactory children? Or was there any one incident?

  • herewegokids

    Jeffrey, nice to meet you! I’m a 2nd generation BJU alum…now happily Catholic. 🙂 We lived in TN for a while too but originally from WV. Your story makes me very sad. I especially note your phrase “carefully constructed straw men” b/c it has recently become evident to me the extent to which that is actually done in homeschooling circles. I’m halfway through getting all my kids schooling accomplished, and homeschool has been a part of that, but I’ve become appalled as I’ve become more familiar with the actual evidences for old earth, etc, at the level of denial that is being propagated as education. And so smugly. Isn’t it ironic that places like BJ and Pensacola were founded to shelter Christian kids from the big bad humanistic colleges where they were losing their faith in droves….only to have it come back and bite them in the butt in the end. Kids are still losing their faith. Only now it is getting put off until after college, after marriage, many times. We aren’t doing them any favors.

  • Just curious, about how old are you Jeffrey? I’m guessing somewhere between 28 and 33, right? Yeah, the word “Quiverfull” wasn’t something I encountered until a couple years ago but apparently I lived the lifestyle too. I am 29. As far as your parents not being “true believers,” I’d suggest reading “The True Believer” by Eric Hoffer. According to his definition, your parents were true believers, the type of true believers that get sucked into something this family-destroying. Mine were too. As far as feeling “clever” I think I often felt that way, both clever and exceedingly inadequate in my environment because I couldn’t not rebel given the situation and what I saw and rebellion was at the same time severely punished. That feeling has balanced out as time has passed living away from that environment, and I find I don’t feel “clever” much anymore outside of moments I find myself around fundamentalists. I assume people around me in everyday life now have critical thinking skills and presence of mind because I’ve found most do, and it’s one of the most awesome things ever.

  • Jeffrey Witthauer

    Funny you should mention that. I did have a younger sister, who was definitely the preferred child. But I think my parents would have tired of me anyway. Despite believing the same things they believed, I did not get along with my parents. I could be generous and say the legalism of our cult inspired criticism and judgment on both sides. This, coupled with my tendency to break down behaviors and analyze them, made me a particularly judgmental son, which was of course reciprocated. I could be generous, but then they were not the ones who suffered the crushing guilt of what I believed were biblical teachings on submissive children. My beliefs were that if there was conflict, I was automatically at fault because god ensured that parents always did the right thing (this is a key teaching of Bill Gothard’s group).

  • Persephone

    My belief is that each person has a unique sense of everything. We agree that a clear sky is blue, but we don’t actually know that the.person next to you looking at the sky is seeing exactly the same color. When it comes to religion there seems to be a corollary that each individual has a unique belief, no matter the claims made by a church or sect.

  • Alastair Rosie

    Thank you for an uplifting account, Jeffrey. I too was raised a Baptist (Australia), my mum had Church of Scotland leanings (Presbyterian) but dad was a little more open. I can understand being raised with a narrow minded point of view, the fear when you start to question things you were warned not to question. Reading banned books like Lord of the Rings and a whole list of other books. For me the end came slowly and through a thirteen year battle with the bottle, dropping out of the Baptist church and into a more open community church. That was another bone of contention as well because they talked about social issues like hunger, the Vietnam war, the treatment of Aborigines, and they played rock and roll. When I finally got back to AA I discovered that God or a Higher Power can be whatever we want it to be, God, the Goddess, a life force is big enough and tolerant enough to take us as we are without straining us through a spiritual mesh. These days I have my conscience as my god, it guides me and I find the good in many different religions and creeds. It’s all so much bigger than I imagined. I would encourage you to keep on searching, keep reading and never be afraid to ask the big questions.