A Plea for Christian Common Sense and Healthy Skepticism: An Antidote to Gullibility and Hysteria

A Plea for Christian Common Sense and Healthy Skepticism: An Antidote to Gullibility and Hysteria July 17, 2012

A Plea for Christian Common Sense and Healthy Skepticism: An Antidote to Gullibility and Hysteria

Some things just seem obvious to me. I know that in our postmodern age it’s no longer considered appropriate to appeal to common sense and what should be “obvious to all.” But I can’t help it. I’ve always thought some things should just be givens, beyond doubt or question. One fairly obvious one (to me, anyway) is that other minds exist. Philosophers like Alvin Plantinga have used this “given” to defend Reformed epistemology—that some beliefs are basic and do not need justification (even if they can be justified).

I’ve always thought some things I’ve heard about simply can’t be true or at least shouldn’t be believed. If there’s some truth to them, it’s not apparent in the claims themselves and, lacking more evidence than the claims, they seem, at least on their faces, absurd.

It’s about time I gave an example, isn’t it? I have always doubted, do not believe, stories of alien abduction. I don’t doubt that some people see things “in the sky” (or occasionally on the ground) that have no known explanation. But that people get abducted by aliens (often more than once!) and taken into their UFOs and experimented on (etc.) just doesn’t seem possible to me. And yet, there are apparently thousands of people in the world who make such claims—often under hypnosis.

Here’s another one from my own experience growing up in and being part of the Pentecostal-charismatic movement with its emphasis on healing. When I was a child there were Pentecostal evangelists going around praying for people’s teeth to be filled with gold. There were people in our church who claimed their teeth had been filled with gold by God when an evangelist prayed for them. I remember thinking as a child “Why would God heal a tooth with gold? Why wouldn’t God simply heal the tooth by restoring its enamel (or other natural materials found in healthy teeth)?”

Then, when I was a young adult, certain charismatic healing evangelists began specializing in “leg lengthening.” I immediately doubted it. Suddenly there were thousands of people going to these evangelists’ healing revivals and having one of their legs lengthened to match the other one. I attended one such healing “service” and observed a man’s leg allegedly being lengthened by God in answer to the evangelists’ prayers. (I say “evangelists” plural because two of the most famous leg-lengthening charismatic healing evangelists were a husband and wife team from Houston, Texas.) I watched and saw nothing happen. But the man, the evangelists and people around loudly proclaimed that the man’s short leg actually “grew out” longer than the other leg! It’s a miracle! Then they had to pray for God to shorten it to match the normal leg.

I never believed in “leg lengthening ministry.” Can God heal a short leg to make it normal? I don’t doubt it. Does he give that gift to certain healing evangelists? Are there thousands of people being healed in that manner in charismatic healing revivals? I don’t believe it. Never have.

This is one of the reasons I left the Pentecostal-charismatic branch of Christianity: For daring to express doubts about such things I was labeled a skeptic and therefore unspiritual and ostracized. Not physically ostracized, but labeled and ridiculed and told I needed to get right with God. I felt I had no choice but to find a saner spiritual home even though I still believed and believe in God’s healing power. (I believe I was healed of rheumatic fever as a child. Although I had serious carditis and an “impressive heart murmur” and the doctors predicted I would have to have heart valve surgery because of it, I have no symptoms of that. The elders of our church anointed me with oil and prayed for my healing and within a week I was released from bed rest. My heart murmur was gone.)

So, I somewhat reluctantly left the spiritual milieu of my childhood and youth and entered a more “mainstream” form of Christianity. But without ever ceasing to believe in the present reality of divine healing and the supernatural gifts of the Holy Spirit.

I have long been of the opinion that Christians need to be led by their spiritual leaders into a default attitude of healthy skepticism regarding wild claims of supernatural occurrences. I think non-Christians also need to be educated to exercise a certain amount of common sense skepticism about things that seem blatantly doubtful such as alien abductions.

So, having left behind that spiritual context (with a brief return to it while teaching at a major charismatic university where my belief in the need for healthy skepticism was reinforced), I thought I was free of being labeled something just for expressing skepticism about claims that seemed obviously doubtful—against all common sense.

I was wrong.

Soon after beginning to teach my annual course on America’s Cults and New Religions (“Unsafe Sects”) at a leading evangelical liberal arts college I was called on by the local press and churches to comment on and speak about “cults.” This was the era of Jim Jones and the People’s Temple and the explosion of cults and new religions. For about a decade (1980s into the 1990s) Christians (and others) seemed obsessed with the issue of “cults among us.” Suddenly people were seeing cults everywhere. “Deprogramming” became a respectable treatment for relatives and friends allegedly caught up in cults. I fought against that and was put down by advocates of deprogramming as a dupe of the cultists.

A part of this explosion of interest in cults (and, by the way, I don’t deny the reality of cults) was hysteria about Satanism. Suddenly Satanism was everywhere. I heard students and others say things like “Pumpkin Center, Wisconsin is the center of Satanism in America!” (I made up “Pumpkin Center, Wisconsin” as a cipher for small towns across middle America many of which were being labeled that.) I never denied the reality of Satanism but I did believe it was not as prevalent as many people thought. My own research led me to believe that there was no huge, intergenerational Satanic conspiracy that had infiltrated small town U.S.A. and the U.S. government. The claims being made about Satanism were simply unbelievable from the start. And no one could come up with evidence for it.

There was a very popular book about Satanism by an evangelical Christian who claimed he had become a high priest of a Satanic cult and that Satanism was rampant in America. My students were reading the book and passing it around. When I taught my course the subject of that book always came up. When I spoke in churches about cults I was constantly being pressed to comment on it. I read the book and didn’t believe a word of it. Never did. It had the “ring” of untruth. My internal nonsense detector rang loudly as I read it. I told people about my disbelief in the man and his story and his claims and was called a skeptic (in a bad sense) and unspiritual. It was, as the saying goes, déjà vu all over again. Fortunately for me, the book was exposed as false later. But not one of those people who called me unspiritual for disbelieving it ever came back to tell me “You were right and I was wrong.”

One day a major daily newspaper in our city called me and wanted me to comment on the hysteria about Satanism. I told them (and this was quoted in their article a few days later) that, for the most part, Satanism is teenagers reading paperback books on the occult and making up “Satanism” as a form of protest against conformity and mainstream society. It was a phase they would grow out of. I admitted, of course, that Satanist “churches” existed, but they were small and widely scattered and no real threat to society.

Within days after that article appeared with my comment, I received an anonymous letter. It was from a woman, using a fake name and with no return address, telling me I was wrong. She claimed to know firsthand about intergenerational Satanism. Her claims were simply unbelievable, but her letter nevertheless piqued my curiosity. I wanted to talk to her, but there was no way to make contact with her.

You have to realize, and some of you will remember this, that this was a time when thousands of people were claiming to have been raised in Satanic homes and cults. I actually had a colleague (not a professor but a staff person of the college) who told me he was raised in such a Satanic cult. He called it “The Power” and claimed his parents and their friends kidnapped children and sacrificed them. He had broken all contact with his family. At first I was inclined to believe his story without expanding it to be a significant phenomenon. But then he claimed members of this international, intergenerational cult were invading his home when he was at work and leaving signals that he and his family were in danger (because he was telling people about it). Several of us (his colleagues) interviewed him and listened very attentively and openly to what he had to say. But gradually his story began to fray at the edges and we began to believe he was deluded. He seemed really to believe his story, but it didn’t add up. At one point he told us his family, who were at the center of this cult, lived next door to the author of major Christian best sellers about the occult—a person whose name everyone would know. The implication was that this Christian author was also somehow involved. We began to lose interest in the man and his stories and he gradually faded away. I don’t know whatever became of him. I never did deny his story; I simply chose to suspend belief or disbelief and wait for further evidence. I have never found evidence for the existence of that group.

Now, lest anyone misunderstand me: I am not denying the existence of Satanism or the occult. I am questioning (and always did question) the extent of it and some of the most outlandish claims being made. If you didn’t live through that “Satanism hysteria” among evangelicals (and actually society at large) during the 1980s you can’t understand what it was like. Keep reading.

The woman who wrote that letter to me used the name “Meredith.” She said it was not her real name because she didn’t want me to be able to trace her. Her letter claimed that she was raised in an evangelical Christian church in a small town not far away (I knew the town) that was really a cover for a Satanic cult and that she had been ritually abused by people in the church during their frequent Satanic ceremonies. I set the letter aside and, for the most part, forgot about it. (Not totally, of course, but I didn’t know what to do with it, so I ignored it.)

One day, a few months later, I wrote a check at the grocery store and the cashier looked at my check and then up at me and said “I’m Meredith.” She was a somewhat overweight, not very attractive woman in her mid-thirties. She had that look about her of a troubled person. It’s hard to describe, but you know it when you see it. I immediately asked if we could meet and talk. She said yes, with her counselor’s permission. She said she’d contact me.

A few days later she invited me to meet her at a restaurant. For some reason she wanted to meet in a very public place. So I met her at a Perkins restaurant near my home and the grocery store. I got there first and then she arrived with her fiftyish male counselor. To make a long story short: She revealed to me that under counseling she had recovered memories of being ritually abused as a child—by members of her church. I tried to suspend disbelief which is clearly what she wanted. But then she continued to tell me how, until recently, she had no memories of any of these events. Only under intense counseling by this man (an unlicensed, independent “pastoral counselor”) had she “recovered” these memories.

My skepticism began to kick in (which I did not show) as she continued her story. Gradually, over several months, she “remembered” more and more about the events. By the end, she had come to “remember” that the pastor and his wife, all the deacons and their wives, and even her parents were present at these Satanic ceremonies and participated in sexually, ritually abusing her and other children. Then she dropped the bomb. The whole town, including the mayor and every civic leader and business owner—hundreds of people—were involved in this intergenerational Satanic cult that encompassed the whole town and even the whole county.

“Meredith” and her counselor admitted that there is no evidence for any of her story. And they went so far as to claim that lack of evidence is evidence when it comes to Satanism. Read that again—I heard it from others, too—lack of evidence is evidence when it comes to Satanism. I felt like I was in a bizarro world.

Then the “counselor” began to tell me that the United States is controlled by a secret Satanic cult that was brought to America by “pilgrims” on the Mayflower. According to him (told with a perfectly straight face and in all seriousness) many members of congress are members of this secret Satanic organization.

Now you might be thinking these people were unique and absolutely insane. Well, let me tell you, I recognized these claims. They were published in articles and books by numerous “experts” on the occult and Satanism.

At some point during “Meredith’s” story (I think when she mentioned the mayor) and certainly when the “counselor” mentioned the Mayflower, my skepticism overcame me. I simply stopped believing the whole thing. However, I went away thinking that “Meredith” did believe it. I didn’t know what to make of the “counselor” and he never did tell me his name.

Around the same time, hysteria about child sexual abuse broke out in a suburb on the opposite side of the metropolitan area. It had nothing geographically to do with “Meredith’s” story. Nor was it connected to a church. The newspapers were full of it almost daily for months and it stretched into years. It made national news. A local district attorney was claiming that numerous parents in a small town were involved in a child sex abuse ring. I’ll skip the details and just say that eventually the vast majority of the claims she made were found false. Children were being pressured by social workers to tell on their parents with the promise they could go home once they told. The district attorney was eventually discredited as was her entire case with the exception of a very small number of people.

I never for a moment believed the extent or depth of the abuse as it was being reported. It was simply beyond belief. There was never any evidence of it other than the reports of the children. I knew children invented stories. But we were reading in the newspaper that “children don’t make things like this up.” As it turned out, they sometimes do—especially when coached.

After the “Meredith” incident, and in the context of mass hysteria about Satanic ritual abuse and sexual abuse of children by their parents and day care workers, a woman student came to my office to talk with me about her academic problems. She blamed them on panic attacks and anxiety. I was very sympathetic and willing to work with her, but suggested she see a psychologist or at least one of the school’s counselors. She said she was under a therapist’s care. Then she opened up (not at my prompting) and began to pour out a story about childhood sexual abuse.

According to this nice but deeply troubled young student, she was sexually abused by her grandfather when she was just a toddler. And the abuse was coming back to haunt her. I had begun to hear of the phenomenon of “recovered memories,” so I gently asked her if she remembered the abuse. Surprisingly, she said no. She had no actual memories of it. I asked her how she knew about it. She said “My body tells me.” That was the first time I heard that. I asked her when she first started to know about the abuse and how and she said “in therapy.” Again, to make a long story short, her therapist had led her to believe she was sexually abused as a child even though she had no memory of it. It was the “only explanation” for certain symptoms she was experiencing. What symptoms? She never told me, but certainly at least her anxiety and panic attacks. Why her grandfather? She said she felt something when she was around him, but she couldn’t be more specific. I didn’t push the subject very far.

I did not believe her story. I believed she believed it. That’s all. But I was not convinced her grandfather sexually abused her. And I began to get really worried about this whole phenomenon of “recovered memories”—especially when they weren’t memories at all but just “feelings.”

So I did what any academic should do. I went to a colleague who had a Ph.D. in psychology and taught psychology. I happened to know he had done some research in this area of sexual abuse and recovered memories. I asked him about it and expressed some skepticism. My colleague berated me for doubting any woman’s story of sexual abuse. “Women don’t make these things up.” He told me at least half of all women were sexually abused as children and that it accounted for most of women’s problems with depression and anxiety. He even suggested that my being male accounted for my skepticism.

I asked my colleague about recovered memories and he adamantly affirmed them. It was possible, he insisted, to repress memories entirely and then recover them. And it was possible, he said, to “know” about being sexually abused as a child just from what your body was telling you (with no actual memories).

This kind of thing was rampant then. All over the country therapists and counselors and “experts” in “healing of the memories” were holding workshops and seminars and doing one-on-one and group counseling with the result that thousands upon thousands of women came to believe they had been sexually abused by their parents (usually fathers but sometimes grandfathers or uncles) without having any abiding memory of it. In many cases the sexual abuse allegedly happened when they were infants.

I never believed any of this—in terms of the extent of the problem or the reliability of “recovered memories.” And for that I was punished by colleagues and others who bought into it lock, stock and barrel. It went against all common sense.

Note that I am not denying the reality of sex abuse of children. What I am denying is that recovered memories of it, especially under intense therapy with encouragement to “remember it” as the only possible cause of anxiety and depression, are reliable. A whole industry of this popped up. It had a secular branch (rooted largely in extreme feminism) and a religious branch. Skeptics such as I were told we were simply ignorant if not unspiritual for questioning any of it.

We had close friends whose one year old daughter was experiencing blood in her urine. Naturally, they took her immediately to their pediatrician. She was out of the office, so her male colleague examined the child. Upon the briefest examination of her genital area he pronounced that she was being sexually abused by someone. She had, he declared, lacerations that could only come from intentional abuse. No evidence of rape, but evidence of some kind of abuse. The parents told him their child scratched at her genitals with her fingers whenever the diapers came off. He said this was not something she could have done to herself.

Needless to say, our friends were frightened out of their minds. The husband called their attorney who immediately suggested that one of them was, indeed, sexually abusing the daughter because “it’s such a common occurrence.” He told them to talk about it, admit it, and get help. They both knew this was wrong. So they called a doctor who belonged to their church and asked if he would see the child at his home. (It was after office hours.) He agreed. They took her to him and he sat with her in a room where the parents could watch from another room. He took off her diaper. She immediately reached down and began vigorously scratching her genital area. The doctor observed her for about thirty minutes. Finally he examined her genital area and said it was “obvious” she had a rash there caused by soap in her bathwater. It was, he said, a very common malady and would be cleared up by changing to a less harsh soap and using a cream. That’s what happened. The second doctor’s report was that the “lacerations” were obviously caused by the child’s fingernails.

The parents went through a hellish month or two waiting for the Child Protective Services people to show up and take their daughter away. Such was happening frequently then, on the slightest grounds if any. But, almost miraculously, nothing happened. But they were quite angry at the pediatrician. He was clearly caught up in the hysteria about child sexual abuse.

I suspect many innocent people lost their children and even went to prison during that long, intense hysteria about rampant sexual abuse of children. I know many families were destroyed over it—based on “recovered memories”—always by daughters, never by sons.

That’s one of the reasons I doubted the phenomenon from the beginning. Boys experience sexual abuse, too. But one never heard about men experiencing “recovered memories” of childhood sexual abuse. I have talked to numerous young men (mostly students) who were sexually abused and have always remembered it. True, they repressed the memories for years, but they didn’t forget the abuse. They simply chose to try not to think about it or act on it. Why would only females have “lost” and “recovered” memories of childhood sexual abuse? And are “recovered memories” reliable at all?

The other day I received my copy of the current issue of Christian Scholar’s Review (a scholarly journal I edited during the 1990s) (XLI:4, Summer, 2012). I have an article in it about Pietism and Postmodernism. But what caught my eye on the cover table of contents was an article entitled “Christian Communities and ‘Recovered Memories’ of Abuse” by Robert J. Priest and Esther E. Cordill. Priest is Professor of Intercultural Studies at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and Cordill practices clinical psychology.

We all say “I hate to say ‘I told you so,” but, in fact, we all love it when we can say that. After reading that article I wanted to shout to my critics “I told you so!” (Back then, in the 1980s and 1990s I expressed my doubts about “recovered memories” of childhood sexual abuse to many people most of whom told me I was wrong to have my doubts.)

Priest and Cordill report on social scientific research they and others have conducted with specific cases of alleged lost and recovered memories of childhood sexual abuse in Christian communities (e.g., a missionary agency). The claims made by the women are horrendous and they are made against specific men whose lives were largely destroyed by the accusations. As it turns out, however, in some of the cases the claimed sexual abuse could not have happened when and where the women claim. In other cases the men volunteered to take polygraph tests administered by neutral, well-recognized expert polygraph examiners. Three men accused of sexually abusing three women when they were little children all denied the claims and were exonerated (so far as that is possible) by their polygraph examinations. The chances of three people accused of the same thing by three accusers testing innocent by polygraph is less than five percent. Normally, at least one of them would be detected as deceptive. None were.

The upshot of the article is that in many cases women have simply been seduced into “remembering” childhood sexual abuse under extreme but subtle pressure by therapists, many of whom specialize in this. The article gives detailed accounts of how this is done.

I realize this article is not widely available. It probably won’t be posted on the internet for some time. But the journal is provided to every faculty member at each of approximately fifty Christian liberal arts colleges and universities. So there are plenty of them floating around. And you can purchase an individual copy by e-mailing the managing editor Todd Steen at steen@hope.edu. Individual copies are $8. I suspect that perhaps Priest’s and Cordill’s research can be found elsewhere as well. But I’m not aware of it.

I started out here talking about how I was criticized by fellow Pentecostal and charismatic Christians for expressing doubts about divine healing of teeth with gold fillings and divine leg lengthening. I thought I had escaped such nonsense by moving (for other reasons as well) to a more mainstream evangelical context. I was wrong. It seems there are always incredible beliefs of some kind swirling around in our evangelical Christian subculture. The Satanism hysteria of the 1980s is a good example. Another example is from the 1990s. A “scientist” reported finding hell by drilling down below the earth’s crust and hearing screams and sensing smoke. Many Christians of my acquaintance jumped to believe this hoax. It was exposed as a complete and conscious hoax, but some people persisted in believing it even after the perpetrator admitted it was a hoax created to expose the gullibility of conservative Christians.

What made doubting the claims of Satanic ritual abuse of children and “recovered” memories of childhood sexual abuse by women so difficult and distressing was that I appeared to many people to be denying the victimization of victims. And yet, those people did not stop to think that the falsely accused are also victims. To be accused of sexual abuse of children can easily destroy a person’s life and in many cases to be accused is to be guilty. An accused person usually cannot prove his or her innocence, so, out of fear of further wounding the victims, people jump to believe them not realizing they are contributing to the destruction of a possibly innocent person’s life.

It has always seemed to me that “lost and recovered memories” ought to be doubted. I’m not saying it’s impossible; I’m just saying without other evidence accusations made based on such claims (especially given how the memories are “recovered”) ought to be set aside until something more concrete comes to light. People shouldn’t be “exposed,” fired, ostracized, shamed and their families destroyed based solely on “recovered memories.”

In almost every decade there’s some hysteria sweeping through the evangelical Christian subculture of America. Pastors and teachers need to teach people to be critical thinkers and discerning, exercising healthy skepticism about things that seem absurd even from within a Christian worldview (like God filling teeth with gold!).

What’s our current hysteria? How should it be handled?

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  • James Petticrew

    That brought back painful memories. A daughter of friends of my sister went to the States for the summer in the 80s from the UK. They then received word she would not be coming back as the charismatic church she had gone out to intern in had helped her recover memories of her father abusing her.

    To cut a long story short, her dad lost his job in the criminal justice system, numerous friends, there was a family split and he was eventually put on trial. He was saved from conviction because she claimed he had ripped a dress from her as a child and by a miracle they still had the dress and forensic examination showed it had never been damaged.

    Years later the girl said she believed she had been encouraged to make up the allegations but despite some form reconciliation the hurt was so deep the relationship has never been fully restored. The sad thing is that neither the counsellors at the church or the experts who backed up regression therapy at the trial have ever been held accountable for destroying this man’s life or even bothered to say they were wrong or sorry.

    On another front I was at a pastors gathering when a church leader said that God had supernaturally been reducing people’s waist size by several inches when they were prayed for. I got a very bad reaction when I said that I couldn’t believe that God would answer the prayers of the greedy in the West who have over ate while ignoring the prayers of those in Africa starving to death with nothing to eat. I was told I wouldn’t see miracles in my church because of my unbelief and it was strongly hinted that I was straying close to the “unpardonable sin”

  • I think it has somewhat passed, but the Postmodern/Emergent thing was big in the circles in which I ran. I think “liberals” and “universalists” make the rounds too.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t think those fit the category of “hysteria.” “Fads,” maybe. But hysteria takes on a totally irrational aspect and focuses on claims about hidden realities come to light that go against all common sense.

  • Chuck Conti

    There is a great book by two noted social psychologists that addresses both false memories of childhood sexual abuse as well as memories of alien abduction, called Mistakes Were Made (but not by me), by Carol Tavris and Elliott Aronson (Harcourt, 2007). It is basically a popular summary of all the various ways social psychologists have discovered that we fool ourselves and justify irrational beliefs. (I consider social psychology as somewhat analogous to biblical theology, where the practitioner is delving into raw data and explicating the “text in question” on its own terms without recourse to an overarching psychological or theological systematic tradition, such as Freudianism or Calvinism, etc.)

    I shared your disbelief in leg lengthening miracles, until I started seeing a chiropractor. I found it very interesting that my chiropractor would check the length of my legs to see if my posture was compensating in one direction or another, and then check again after he had made in physical adjustment to my spine, to see if there had been a change. I wondered if something similar sometimes occurred with leg lengthening. In 99% of cases, I do not believe God is adjusting the length of someone’s leg, though I have heard that there are actually individuals with one leg a different length than another. I am wondering if some of the 99% might actually be a case where God is healing someone’s spinal structure/”adjusting” them as a chiropractor would, and the healing evangelist is simply missed defining it as God miraculously lengthening someone’s leg?

    What is our current hysteria? I would think it would be something to do with food, because there seems to always be some hysteria about what we eat, for at least the last 40 years. Maybe it is the belief that everything in our food is killing us and that we should all eat organic?

    God bless you!


  • GregW

    Thank you. I sometimes feel like I’m the only one who thinks like this! I always struggled with the idea of God filling the mouths of prosperous Western Christians with gold, while not providing miraculous dental care for the millions of believers in the rest of the world who can’t even afford toothpaste.

  • Molly

    I’d say our current hysteria is just much of the same thing you’ve written about, only with less of the hysterical cult influences. I’d also postulate that some people who had recovered memories of sexual abuse were just crying out for attention anyway, and that was the perfect method.

  • Rob

    I don’t know about hysteria, but a lot of people are overreacting to Obama. Some Christians accuse him of being a muslim. Obama claims to have converted to Christianity and so I think we should take him at his word unless it becomes obvious that he did not. I do not know what could make it obvious though. Christians can believe all sorts of stuff–including the goofy theology that we hear from Obama every now and then.

    • rogereolson

      I don’t know about goofy theology (from Obama); I haven’t heard it. But I agree that there seems to be something like an anti-Obama hysteria among some evangelical Christians who make claims that he is the antichrist and/or a secret Muslim and/or a radical socialist, etc., etc. Some conservative Christians I know are breaking off relationships with friends and loved ones who dare to disagree and defend Obama.

      • Laura

        These sentiments definitely exist to some degree in my church, and it is driving me crazy. One woman in a bible study group (that I visited but did not join) stated that Obama was the most evil person who ever lived! I believe that some people doubt my Christian faith because I speak out against such nonsense. It’s discouraging.

      • Rob

        “More than 2,000 years ago, a child was born to two faithful travelers who could find rest only in a stable, among the cattle and the sheep. But this was not just any child. Christ’s birth made the angels rejoice and attracted shepherds and kings from afar. He was a manifestation of God’s love for us.

        “And he grew up to become a leader with a servant’s heart who taught us a message as simple as it is powerful: that we should love God, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That teaching has come to encircle the globe. No matter who we are, or where we come from, or how we worship, it’s a message that can unite all of us on this holiday season.”

        Granted that as an official he may tone down his beliefs, but the above quote is just goofy fatherhood of God brotherhood of man liberal protestantism. Stuff like that waters Jesus down to Gandhi. I can stand hearing it.

        • rogereolson

          I think you probably meant you “can’t” stand hearing it? I take it this is a quote from President Obama? But isn’t it true as far as it goes? Haven’t all presidents issued statements like that as part of our common American civil religion (basically a kind of deism)? why pick on this one in particular? It’s not sufficient for Christian orthodoxy, but is it false?

          • Rob

            Right, I meant ‘can’t’! I definitely do not like hearing it from anyone–including Clinton and Bush. If I were a public official asked to speak at a Christmas event, I would either say something genuinely Christian or shut up. Why should Bultmann’s or Harnack’s modernism constitute the default theology for the American public? When did we decide that?

            Is it true? Maybe–a better question is whether or not it is honest or misleading. I think that linguists have shown that we observe certain norms of conversation that govern our discourse. One such norm is that our contributions always be relevant and contain as much information as needed in order to be relevant. This includes making the strongest claim that we are in a position to make.

            For example, suppose at a board meeting the chief financial officer is asked whether the company has $10,000 in outstanding debts. The CFO replies “Yes, we have $10,000 in outstanding debts”. The meeting goes on. In fact, the company has $10,000,000 in outstanding debts but the CFO did not bring it up. When the rest of the board finds out, they will be extremely upset–and not because the CFO lied. He did not lie at all but simply told the truth without giving all the relevant or even the most relevant information. He was in a position to make the much stronger claim that the company owes $10,000,000 but he settled for the far weaker but true claim that the company owes $10,000.

            When someone tells the truth in such a way as to avoid giving the most relevant information, we charge them with some sort of deception by not following the maxims of conversation. If we assume that they ARE following the maxims of conversation, then we must infer that they believe they are giving the most relevant information available. In Obama’s case, he is clearly attempting to express the importance of Jesus’ life. Yet if he is observing the norms of conversation, then he thinks that Jesus was just a nice man who told other people to be nice to each other.

            What would we think if Obama spoke on Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday and praised King as a great pastor who always let the congregation out before 12:00pm?

  • 1. i guess the fact you wrote this article is evidence to the deluded that you’re also part of the satanic conspiracy. this will only bolster their beliefs. at least some of us will hear and get the value from this article

    2. the charismatic church i was part of for a number of years since 2003 had many of my friends believe they were abused as children. i’m glad i remained the sensible one in the entire group or else they sure would’ve induced fake memories into my mind as well… and those charismatics have their methods man, i tell you… singing slow worship songs and then suddenly chanting mantras for what seems like hours (tongues as they claim it to be) and all that junk to get “inner healing” and all that claptrap… it’s very hypnotizing.


  • CGC

    Hi Roger,
    As usual, a great post on many issues that people do not know what to think about. There are things that Christians don’t seem to be skeptical enough on (like if I dabble in the occult, I won’t get burned) to conspiracy theories and recovered memories by abused people, I too have seen more false accusations (that later the accuser confessed to lying) than those that were actually abused (which I have seen the horrific results and long-term damage of these people as well).

    Lastly, I do want to raise a few questions or concerns about “Christian common sense.” Is Christian common sense supposed to be something better than normal common sense? Often Christians are coming from different theological systematic theologies and backgrounds, wont their “Christian common sense” end up dicifering and interpreting the evidence based on their already in-built supposed Christian thinking on many topics and at many levels? I also run into many “Christians” who deny either miracles in the Bible or that miracles can happen today (especially under their Christian system of beliefs). It just seems to me that good religious common sense would have rejected Jesus during his day. He spit in the mud and healed people. There was no biblical precedence for that and he seemed to have no regard for the sacred Sabbath. Jesus cast out demons and often left places with emotions stirred high and alot of rumor and gossip (isn’t this man a troublemaker and confusing people?). HIs own family was skeptical of Jesus and the mainstream religous authorities said he we either mad or in league with the Devil. He even said crazy things like people should eat his flesh and drink his blood which everybody rejected.

    I quess all I am saying is maybe I prefer the term “spiritual common sense” over Chrisatian common sense since the term Christian has become associated with so many things that may neither represent God, His Word, or what it truly means to be led by the Spirit rather than the flesh or our fallen “common sense.”

    • rogereolson

      By “Christian common sense” I mean common sense operating within a basically Christian-theistic world view. To an atheist, that God does not exist might be “common sense.” I don’t believe in any universal common sense other than the law of non-contradiction. But, and this is important to my thesis, Christianity is not a cult or mystery religion or esoteric belief system, so what we consider common sense will inevitably overlap much with what reasonable people in our culture consider common sense. So here: If a person from a tribe in Africa tells me something (and this has happened) that seems absolutely outlandish to me I am much more likely to be willing to listen and try to figure out what it means and if it is in some way possible than if someone in my own general cultural milieu tells me the same thing. Let’s say I meet someone from Papua New Guinea who belongs to a cargo cult. I am not likely to make sarcastic noises and dismiss what he says as nonsense. I might do that if a person of my own culture says the same thing. It’s not because of any relativism; it’s because I will suspect that the Papua-New Guinea person lives in a different symbolic system than I do and probably our perceptions and language are somewhat incommensurable. I will assume that maybe he means something I’m not really capable of even understanding. I’ll give an example. Some years ago a former missionary who was also an anthropologist told me that the tribe he worked with in the Central America believed the germs he showed them under a microscope were demons. I had no trouble with that–for them. I would not try to correct them. I would wonder about the commensurability of our understandings of reality. I did have trouble, however, when this university trained North American anthropologist-missionary told me he accepted their explanation as just as true as ours and that our job among them is to totally leave them alone and not even attempt to educate them about germs. At the same time, I think they could educate us about demons. Nothing about this is simple. But that might shed some light on why I talk about “Christian common sense.”

      • DRT

        I am concerned that TGC vs. others is making Christian common sense a thing of the past.

  • I remember reading over twenty years ago Tozer’s essay ‘In praise of disbelief’ where he writes ‘In our constant struggle to believe we are likely to overlook the simple fact that a bit of healthy disbelief is sometimes as needful as faith to the welfare of our souls. I would go further and say that we would do well to cultivate a reverent scepticism. It will keep us out of a thousand bogs and quagmires where others who lack it sometimes find themselves. It is no sin to doubt some things, but it may be fatal to believe everything…Faith never means gullibility. The man who believes everything is as far from God as the man who refuses to believe anything.’

    After growing up in the local Methodist church I got involved with a charismatic fellowship which later came under the ‘Shepherding’ influence of Derek Prince, Charles Simpson and Bob Mumford. The results were horrendous. However I remember how the ‘Shepherding’ deal was sold to us back in 1975. One of the under shepherds described how a child in one of these groups in America was involved in a car crash and it looked as if they would die. The father of the child then rang his shepherd who through ‘a word of knowledge’ told the father to put his hand on the child’s head and the child would instantaneously recover. The child did recover and in turn ‘proved’ the power and direct line we would have with God if we were in the ‘Shepherding’ set up, which of course was God’s last great wave of revival in the Church before Jesus returned.

    The same group, having got rid of Shepherding, moved from the signs and wonders of Wimber to ‘Paul Cain and the Kansas City Prophets.’ Cain in particular offered us ‘A New Breed of Christian’ which promised much- raising the dead, clearing out hospitals of the sick, walking through walls, indestructible bodies etc. By this stage for me, enough was enough and I challenged the leadership to reject it, having heard it all before. However they carried on with it and still had to experience more through the ‘Toronto Blessing’ etc. Sadly, the Church doesn’t always grow up and unlike Paul does not put away childish things and thoughts. However we should be surprised because the devil is a great deceiver and will always seek to lead the unwary astray- often by the hands of manipulative and controlling men

    I think this renewed authoritarianism of the New Calvinists and perhaps the ‘Creationism’ of (name deleted) is dangerous because the naive may believe that if they are not involved in their ‘set up’ they may be spiritually lost.

    • rogereolson

      Thanks for your testimony and suggestions of current hysterias toward which we should exercise some “reverent skepticism.”

  • David Anfenson

    Wow, that was a really long post. I have done some reading on these “recovered memory” techniques and have a healthy amount of doubt as well. I don’t believe you mentioned it, but back in the 90’s, it was very popular to use types of “truth serums” along with hypnotic psychotherapy to “recover memories” of sexual abuse. Largely discredited now, it was all the rage back then. Most people are looking for extreme reasons to explain the difficulties that they are currently facing, the hysteria of childhood sexual abuse worked well to fit as a reasonable explanation. I remember a case where a father was killed by his daughter, because she had recovered memories of her father abusing her as a child. The deceased was later exonerated of all charges and the daughter’s therapist was charged with reckless endangerment and a handful of other charges. Her methods were found to be “questionable at best” by professional FBI psychologists.

  • earl

    Common sense should tell anyone who is a Christian that reading and studying the Word will reveal that such nonsense is part of the Prophecy in the Word that we are to look out for. And such has been around for centuries and people have believed it. We have been taught that the truth will set us free and His name is Jesus. Great post Roger!

  • Ivan A. Rogers

    Dr. Olson: This post is too good to be confined to your blog only. In my humble opinion it’s worthy to be submitted for consideration by Christian publications, e.g., Christianity Today, etc.

    May I suggest there is another common example of child abuse being constantly perpetrated by church preachers and teachers. It is the horrible lie that says, “If you don’t do what we tell you is the right thing to do, your heavenly Father is going to burn you forever in hell.” Can you imagine the psychological damage such a threat can make upon the impressionable minds of children — not to mention non-theological adults? Just imagine what it would be like to grow up with that concept of Father. Talk about violent repressive memories!

    Which is worse: to erroneously convince someone that their biological father sexually abused them in the past, or, to erroneously convince someone that their Father God might just burn the hell out of them in the future?

  • William Huget

    Again, a needed call to discernment without throwing the proverbial baby out with the bathwater. As a classical Pentecostal, I don’t blindly accept much in charismania since it is unbiblical. Sensationalism does sell books, though.

  • Norman


    I was encouraged to see you delve into a practical common sense approach that allows for skepticism when appropriate.

    I do have a question that I think you have likely thought about before concerning charismatic gifts.

    I’m under the impression from NT writings that the miraculous gifts that the charismatic church embraces begin with Christ and the Holy Spirit enabling of the “miraculous gifts. My question is whether the Old Covenant church (Israel under the Mosaic Law or even prior with Abraham back to Adam) also had extensive access to the gift of the Holy spirit and the avenue of miraculous gifts as well. I realize that we see miracles in the OT but it seems that the church at Pentecost was enabled beyond the capabilities of the previous world with more extensive miraculous abilities than that previous world had access to. I would think that God was surely capable of answering healing prayers under both covenants but should the rise of Charismatics in the past 100 to 200 years increased God’s avenue of healing?

    If this is so then is there a difference now in God’s miraculous healing of people post Pentecost as opposed to times prior to Christ. Do you know how Charismatics deal theologically with this issue of the miraculous before and after the Cross?
    Just curious as I don’t know if I’ve ever heard Charismatics discuss this before.

    • rogereolson

      Most Pentecostals and charismatics (there are always exceptions) believe the supernatural giftings of the Holy Spirit (the charismata) were bestowed on the church at Pentecost in a way not previously bestowed on any group of people. Old Testament prophets are prototypes of the ordinary “Spirit-filled” Christian, but since Pentecost, unlike ever before, every person of God is called to experience and manifest one or more of these supernatural gifts. That’s what I was taught.

      • Norman


        Thanks for your answer. In your mind then does a Cessationists view that the “miraculous gifts” were provided for the establishment of the church leave those who adhere to that idea with a lessened ability to have Godly blessings and healing in their lives? What if they are extremely devout toward God and Christ and believe in Godly healing but not necessarily through the need to have a human intermediary now?

        How does common sense come to play in this analysis from either position?

        • rogereolson

          I certainly never thought of “gifts of the Spirit” as implying the need for a human intermediary now. Every church lacks something. Only in the new heaven and new earth will we all have all the blessings God has for us. Here and now I think we should simply attempt to learn from each other and be open to correction and addition. I don’t think cessationists are lesser Christians; they are just like all of us–missing something God has in store for us due to conscious or unconscious closed mindedness.

          • Norman


            My idea of needing a “Human intermediary” derives from observing the practices of some Charismatics from an outsiders view. We often see the idea that there are ministers with special gifts for various maladies and also the consternation that some Charismatics portend toward those who don’t hold to their “special gifts view”. This sometimes ends up coming across as some being on the inside holding the “gifts of healing” and some not. I would not accuse you of that Roger because you come across as one of the most practical and clear minded thinkers on matters like this that I encounter.

            It seems from your answers to me above that in effect it doesn’t matter as much for the faithful because all are endowed equally with access to God’s healing power whether they realize it or not. Perhaps we divide needlessly over some of these issues.

            James 5: 16 Be confessing to one another the trespasses, and be praying for one another, that ye may be healed; very strong is a working supplication of a righteous man

          • rogereolson

            Excellent thinking through of the issue. But I wouldn’t deny that some Pentecostals and charismatics do latch on to some human intermediary as if they depended on him or her for spiritual blessing and could not go directly to God.

  • Mike Anderson

    I, too, have seen men (and an older woman!) falsely accused of child molestation in the church, and from what I’ve seen it’s often the mother of the supposed victim who was herself molested as a child and has become hypersensitive to potential abuse. Fortunately I haven’t had much proximity with those who “recover” memories.

    A lack of willingness to investigate one’s beliefs usually stems from fear–fear of falling away from the faith, of succumbing to deception, of community disapproval, of falling on the wrath of God. From my perspective, this fear comes from a misapprehension of the character of God; the fearful are not walking by faith, not as they could be. But even if we try to investigate our beliefs, I don’t think we can expect to burn out all that is untrue, arriving at perfect sanity and orthodoxy. We can still have pity for others with crazy ideas, because we have them ourselves.

    The solution is not so much an exhortation to study epistemology and hermeneutics, as I used to think; it’s a call to personal holiness. Jumping to conclusions harms others, and it certainly harms the Body of Christ, which is sin. So why do we it? For the praise of men, the comfort of like-minded community, for thinking ourselves better than those we accuse, for thinking we are safe or approved by keeping our distance from sinners, or perhaps we are simply unconsciously reflecting harm done to us. But the outcome is usually the sin of bearing false witness.

    Really, I can’t be unique in that when I speak out about, for example, leaders in the church recognized for their support or association with controversial theological positions, my conscience will convict me if I say anything against a leader’s desire to serve God or whether he is “saved.” The Spirit helps us from bearing false witness, whether against spiritual leaders or prematurely supporting conspiracy theories.

    • rogereolson

      I think part of the Holy Spirit’s work in us should be the gift of healthy skepticism (maybe part of “discernment?”). But, like many other gifts, it needs to be stirred up, encouraged and educated (in its use). That’s a part of pastoral care.

  • David

    Enjoyed the article on healthy skepticism. I thought it was very good. I am a Pentecostal pastor, but I think God gave us minds to use and therefore we should use them. I do believe in healing, I’ve experienced it, but there are so many nut jobs out there, especially on Christian TV, that it’s embarrassing. If a healing, miracle, etc is claimed to have ocuured it should be able to stand up to scrutiny. If it doesn’t, don’t claim a miracle. I too am skeptical of the whole leg lengthening thing, gold fillings, angel feathers, and gold dust thing that went through Pentecostal and charismatic churches years ago. BUT … I have to be honest with you, the first miracle of healing that I experienced was connected to a leg that was lengthened. Around twenty-four years of age my back began to really hurt on a regular basis. I had numerous X-rays but nothing like a herniated disk or pinched nerve was ever evidenced. All these X-rays were taken when I was lying down. A number of years later an X-ray tech took an X-ray with me standing up. He said, “Look here. I know why your back hurts. Your left leg is shorter than your right. It’s causing your pelvis to tilt this way resulting in your vertebrae bending here and it’s pinching this nerve.” I was given a lift for my shoe and things improved greatly, but not completely. I still had some pain at times. I mentioned this to a friend. He wanted to pray for me (and no – I don’t think he had the gift of lengthening legs – God is the healer) – anyway back to my story. I felt heat in my left leg and I said, “Stop praying. Something happened.” He was pretty much shook up. He said, “I’ve got to go and think about this. I’ve never had something like this happen to me before.” (He wasn’t expecting a healing any more than I was.) Now to the conclusion of the story. (1) The pain in my back completely disappeared – that was thirty years ago and it’s never returned. (2) I had the lengths of my legs checked by a specialist. (I didn’t tell them my story.) And they said, “They’re the same length. Why?” I responded, “Oh, it’s nothing.” I thought they’d think I was a nut job. I believe God heals, but i am still skeptical of those who claim to be faith healers, prophets (Oh yeah – why is it that nothing you’ve prophesied has ever come to pass?), apostles, etc. Through pastoral counseling I’ve also grown to be skeptical of recovered memories sexual abuse or of of RSA (ritual satanic abuse). Sadly, too often sexual abuse does take place (my wife was abused by her father and she always remembered all of it), but I think too many have been victimized by unwise therapists or counselors who have suggested or insisted that a person must have been abused because they have certain emotional or addiction issues. Though that person was probably not molested or abused, psychologically, it is now as though they were, because they believe they were. Thanks for this article. Thanks for your blog. Hope you don’t think I’m a nut job.

  • Craig Wright

    What to do about hysteria?
    I remember some hysteria associated with Y2K turn over of computers and the chaos that would ensue. Some Christian authors and Bible teachers were involved with this. Since then I have not heard any apologies from them. They should publicly declare that they were wrong.
    The same should go for people who declare the Rapture is going to occur on a certain date.
    Another example of Christian gullibility is the recurring rumor of Madelaine Murray O’Hare’s attempt to get Christian programming off the air. I am surprised how it keeps popping up, even after her death years ago.
    I have read Obama’s statement of his belief in Jesus’ atoning death, and his resurrection. to people who won’t accept it. The issue there is that you cannot prove that anybody is a Christian.

  • Craig Wright

    A climate change scientist and a climate change denier walk into a bar. The denier asks for a bottle with high alcohol content. The bartender puts the bottle on the bar, and then the denier stomps out. Observing this, the scientist says,”The trouble with these people is that you show them the proof, and they still don’t buy it.”

    • rogereolson

      A little humor is always helpful. 🙂

  • John Metz

    You have, at Baylor, a professor (Philip Jenkins) who has investigated and written about what he calls “moral panics,” phenomena that fall into the category of this post. One large one he addresses is the Satanism scare.
    There was at one time a figure circulated of tens of thousands of infants who were supposedly sacrificed in the U.S. every year due to Satanism. It was picked up by a number of evangelicals who dabble is this sort of thing. In tracing this figure to its source, I found that it originated with a prison warden who had interviewed inmates. He believed their accounts and extrapolated those accounts out to the population as a whole. Thus, this shocking statistic! Part of the problem was that the figure was several time the entire yearly murder rate in the U.S.
    One popular author on the subject, published by a well-known Christian publisher, appeared on the Geraldo Show during the time her book was popular. Her book was later debunked. She then took her grandfather’s name and tried to pass herself off as a Holocaust survivor despite the fact she was born after WWII. The publisher sold the book rights to another publisher and gave their own copies to an evangelist for distribution even though they admitted much of it was false.
    Concerning “The Power,” it may be the same group written about by sociologist William Sims Bainbridge in “Satan’s Power,” a book much better than the title might indicate. Indeed a strange & short-lived group but not into child sacrifice, etc.
    You can also check out the False Memory Syndrome Foundation online.
    Anyway, just some rambling thoughts on your article.

  • Rob

    Roger, I’m a PhD psychologist. There’s an extensive literature in cognitive psychology about memory reconstruction, but the upshot of it is that there is a strong consensus that recovered memories (esp from very early ages) are very unlikely to be grounded in reality. A relatively recent integrative review by a pioneer in memory research (Loftus) can be found here: https://webfiles.uci.edu/eloftus/LoftusDavisAnnualReview06.pdf

    So, basically, there’s a good deal of science (30-ish years) that corroborates your own unease and helps explain some of the mechanisms.

    • Matt

      Rob – excellent, thx

  • Rob

    Roger, on an unrelated note: get a load of this: http://rachelheldevans.com/gospel-coalition-douglas-wilson-sex for some, er, interesting complementarian views on submission.

  • Roger, Thanks for an excellent common sense article. My late husband Bob Passantino & I were among the first journalists, & the first Christian journalists, to expose the Satanic Ritual Abuse hysteria. (See, for example, Satan’s Sideshow — http://www.answers.org/satan/satansideshow.html) Thank you especially for noting the victimization of those falsely accused, their families, & even the false accusers who become the instruments of destruction in their own & their families’ lives at the hands of bad counselors, pastors, therapists, etc. Sadly, some still believe this hysteria & it is still wrecking lives. God bless you!

    • John Metz

      Gretchen was one of the debunkers of SRA to whom I referred above.

  • Mark Nieweg

    Roger, your post brought back memories of the destruction of my family back in 1993-1997 over repressed memories recovered by my sister. My father was not a believer then, and he died in 2009, possibly in that same state, and without any reconciliation with his daughter. When he first came to me for help, I could not believe what was happening. But my first thoughts were along the lines of how am I ever going to salvage a Christian witness to him now?
    Then I found out this was going on all around me in Christian circles. That presented a bigger issue for me, one of discipleship: how does a disciple discern the claims made by this belief? What I had stumbled into and my relationship with believers in just trying to discern the truth claims of repressed memories opened my eyes to just how horrible Christian maturity in discernment was and still is in the church. I was looked at pretty much as a kook for even putting the time into it. But I had someone on the outside – my father – that I knew was looking for answers too. That was pretty much the forgotten part of what this phenomenon created.
    I spent five years investigating, interviewing, and putting into writing what I was learning and how the scripture could help in all this. But the interaction with my fellow Christians continued to be confirm my worst fears. I knew the newest form of the witch hunt was going on around me.
    When I would tell them what I was doing, the first question was “how do you know he didn’t do it?” To which I replied, “do you know you’ve just turned upside down the protections you think are so important in the presumption of innocense? How would you like to be accused of something like this with those around you thinking just like you?” Another revelation about Christian maturity came when I talked with her pastor. He tried to evade any consideration outside of my sister’s claims, attempting to put me off. When we ended, I asked “how many children do you have?” He responded, “three boys.” “Well, I said, if one day thirty years from now one of them accuses you of something like this, you are going to hope to God that the other two are me.” He couldn’t get me out of the door fast enough!
    The witch hunt quality of what was going on was driven home when my wife and I caught a showing of “Cry Witch” at Williamsburg. Afterward we were able to engage the characters while they were still “in character.” I questioned the accuser and not much to my surprise his answers were typical of what I had been experiencing. What did happen was that I was drawing a crowd. Families gathered around, and one woman asked how I could engage this man the way I did. I said “let me tell about something similar going on around you at this moment.” Afterwards, she exclaimed “do you mean to tell me that when my children grow up and experience problems of living that I might just get accused of something this horrible that I didn’t do?” I said, “welcome to our world.”
    I tried to learn from this. And learn I did. But when I presented my findings to my elders, they just didn’t seem to care. I put all my research aside, grieved for my father, my sister, and the church. That was nineteen years ago.
    Today there is another family going through this at the church I used to attend. Once they found out about my situation, they asked for my research, groping as they were for answers. And miracle of miracles, my sister’s son sought me out to find out what happened to “Uncle Mark and Aunt Barbara.” It is what he’s had to deal with both in growing up and since this reunion that breaks my heart.
    God help us if we ever don’t get our heads straight. What a witness to the world!

  • Aimee Nordlund

    This post and some of the responses brought to mind a form of Christian “therapy”, for lack of a better term, known as Theophostics. Has anyone had experience with this? In short, I think the basic idea is to pray to God to expose the various lies one believes about oneself (which are the root of one’s problems). In doing so, the lies are brought into the light and healing can occur. I know a couple of people who seemed to be very positively impacted by this, but I have remained a skeptic. O me of little faith.

  • Ben

    I, too, agree that we need a healthy skepticism. However, there is skepticism, and there is Skepticism. Post-enlightenment rationalism, I believe is at fundamental odds with the worldview of the bible. Even though we’re in a postmodern society, I think Western Christianity still largely operates with a rationalistic underpinning. For example, neither in the post or in any of the comments did anyone mention (that I’m aware) that “false memories” could come from the demonic realm. While the Satanist hysteria was hyped and overblown, clearly the bible teaches about a demonic realm that interferes with ours. I and others would argue that many of the alien abduction cases are demonic in nature (see Michael S. Heiser’s work, a PhD in Near Eastern studies).
    I also want to add that the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t ever seem to operate on logic. Gold teeth for wealthy westerners doesn’t make sense and is offensive, just as the broken alabaster jar was offensive for the apostles. Perhaps in God’s economy, the golden tooth Westerner, now confirmed in his faith, will go out and do what he needs to do to feed the hungry in Africa. Who knows? Extrapolated out, these are theodicial concerns obviously, but to press the point, why would God give the West their wealth in the first place and make the world with such inequity? What’s the problem with a gold tooth if they already have a big house they attribute to the Lord? In short, I don’t think the “starving child in Africa” defense is much of one when it comes to the mysterious ways of God; there were many widows in Israel, but a non-Israelite was healed. There were many lepers in Israel, yet Naaman the Syrian was healed. On these points, people tried to murder Jesus. Another note, I’m sure people who would deny gold teeth on the basis of rampant famine in other parts of the world would pray for healing if stricken with a terminal illness. Surely the presence of evil doesn’t negate or contradict kindness and the existence of extravagant love. By the way, I know people who have received gold teeth and I still don’t know what to do with it.
    As for leg lengthening. . . I’m with Dr. Olson except in the case of my mother-in-law who, as the result of an accident ended up with one leg an inch and a half shorter (her femur had been broken and didn’t heal correctly). She had to wear a large built-up shoe. On a mission trip to Haiti, while in the midst of terrible poverty, voodoo, and disease, her leg grew out after someone prayed for her. She had to find a different pair of shoes because her previous ones no longer fit. To this day, she doesn’t have the limp she did before. But, she choked for some time on the fact God healed her while she was on a medical mission trip to people who needed a lot more than an inch of bone (she’s an RN).
    In my experience, Skepticism has led to non-involvement. Jesus’ primary ministry modes were exorcism and healing. Ramsey McMullen (sp?) the Yale historian, has made the case that exorcism is the main reason the early church spread as fast as it did. To be honest, I think most people’s problems with healing ministers is their attitude and methodology. Obviously Jesus was a healing minister, too. Since cessationism seems to be off the table, I assume we’re supposed to be continuing in the ministry of Jesus and that should include exorcism and healing, not just preaching. I personally think that the elitism of the healing evangelist (the man of God and such titles) being criticized in this blog and by some posts often creeps into academia as well. We have experts for everything and it makes us nervous some former hobo is going to be exorcisizing and healing people; that’s what psychologists and doctors are for. But, these ministries weren’t confined to the trained and educated in the early church and they seemed to have done pretty well. Anyway, as a believer in the priesthood of all believers, I think all of us should be operating in these gifts and modes as Jesus did with no hype and maximum accountability.
    Oh well, my two cents worth.

  • Roger,

    I thought for a moment you were referring to Rebecca Brown when you mentioned the author of that book who became a high priest of a Satanic cult, but then realized you used a male pronoun.

    Would you be willing to divulge the author’s name, or do you think it’s best not to name names in this instance?


    • rogereolson

      I do think it’s best not to name names in this and similar cases–at least not publicly.

  • Lois Tverberg

    Excellent, excellent. A much needed article, and your personal stories really prove your point. The phenomenon of “recovered memories” has wreaked havoc on many innocent families.

    You might be interested in a couple books that document people who have been manipulated to “recover” memories. The second one is actually about the famous case of Sybil, who was pressured by her therapist to make the whole thing up.

    Creating Hysteria – http://www.nytimes.com/books/first/a/acocella-hysteria.html
    Sybil Exposed – http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052970204524604576609350972680560.html

  • Angie

    Our experiences are too similar. Did you also hear the hysteria (circa 70s) about satanic messages in records played backwards that you take in subconsciously when played correctly. Who figured that out in the first and why? I never heard the “satanic messages” in the supposed *recordings* of records played backwards. I was a very skeptical kid.

    More current things causing hysteria:
    Mandatory healthcare chip placed under our skin (related to Obamacare).
    The gospel precariously hinging on things such as hierarchy in male-female relationships.

  • Bob

    Roger –

    I would be very interested to hear your understanding of *doubt* vs. *skepticism*. Doubt has played a very positive role in my religious life by giving me permission to question man-made doctrine and instead to humbly submit to a God-given faith. So while I love theological exploration, there is always a bit of the apophatic surrender in my theological understanding.

    I contrast this with the belief among many that doubt is a sin to be avoided at all costs as a rejection, instead of a stepping-stone, to faith. It seems to me that this mindset will set up the believer to accept anything that a religious authority bundles in with a belief in Christ. So if we believe in Christ, we must believe in Satan, and if we believe in Satan, we must believe in Satanism, and if we believe in Satanism we must believe it is endemic and to deny this is to deny Christ himself. If we remove the possibility of doubt, we remove the possibility of discernment of God’s will and truth.


    • rogereolson

      I agree that doubt can be an ingredient in healthy faith. But I make a distinction between healthy doubt and chronic doubt. There is a difference, I think, between refusing to believe anything unless it can be proven and questioning claims for which there seems to be no evidence even in one’s own experience. I have never seen any evidence of alien abductions and to believe in them would go against everything I and most of us believe about reality. I have no trouble believing in God because reality itself (including my own experience) makes no sense without God. That doesn’t mean I don’t have moments of doubt.

  • Sorry, am late to this wonderful post and conversation. There is evidence that memory can be repressed or periods of time. It can also be constructed. And those therapists who most want to uncover repressed memories are in the greatest danger of creating false memories. Our jobs are not to uncover but to deal with what we have and the holes that are there.

    There is an explanation why some experience recovery of memories. Many find ways of distancing from unwanted and painful abuse memories. Then, in therapy, they revisit them AND supply adult interpretations, they experience these memories as having them for the first time. Once, a person denied being abused but later talked about being in a sexual relationship with a youth pastor when she was barely a teen. On having that behavior labeled as abuse, it changed the entire experience and brought many “forgotten” details back into memory.

    Finally, I would also caution readers not to assume that individual cases of heinous abuse must be made up. My experience has been that those who have been exposed to some hysterias later discount all allegations of abuse. Let us not do that since reputable data suggest 1:3 or 4 women and 1:5 or 7 men experience unwanted sexual experiences prior to 18.

    • rogereolson

      I am personally of the opinion that memories are rarely completely lost (to consciousness) or recovered (from total forgetfulness). Memories of traumatic events can indeed be repressed–a person can file them away and try (with some success) not to think about them. Just as easily, however, memories can be distorted over time so that the account of what happened is not accurate. All that is to say, I do not trust people’s accounts of past abuse (especially when they were children) unless they can say they have always had and kept them and are sure they are accurate and can provide some kind of corroborating evidence (e.g., other people were similarly abused by the same person and have always remembered it. Too many lives have been damaged or even destroyed by “recovered memories” under some kind of regression therapy.

    • Tom

      I think most researchers would agree with Roger’s position – also my own – that memories of traumatic events are rarely, if ever, forgotten or “repressed.” But Phil threads the needle and adds some nuance that is wise to keep in mind. Memory is a bag or worms. I’m rather picky about the term “repression.” “Recovered memory” (RM) is about repression, and it makes things confusing to conflate it with “suppression.” Pope and Hudson supplied the criteria for a real “repressed” or “recovered memory” (1995): 1) Verified abuse, 2) verified forgetting, 3) verified remembering). Loftus and Davis say that few studies of RM meet that standard. (2006)

      So, strictly speaking, Phil isn’t talking about RM; at least he seems to refer to memory that’s always been present. Phil’s version also dilutes “traumatic memory” theory a bit — TM is explicit about using “repression” to explain forgetting. I’m actually more comfortable with Phil’s version, but am even more intrigued by another approach. Susan Clancy’s book The Trauma Myth (2009) does not discount CSA but discards the dissociative processes (repression) of TM. Clancy’s research suggests that young children don’t have the cognitive schema to process adult sexual interaction as abuse. Since that behavior is often non-violent, the experience is not encoded as “trauma.” Once victims have the knowledge necessary to label their experience as “abuse,” reactions can be quite varied. Trauma may be one response. But often “trauma” is a narrative supplied by counselors/therapists, not the victim. And, in the cases observed by Clancy, neither repression nor suppression is an adequate explanation for the victim’s responses. What is fascinating in this blog are the numbers of people with personal knowledge of destructive RM practices. A very validating post, I think, Roger. Thank you.