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The Nightmare of Christianity: How Religious Indoctrination Led to Murder

The authoritarian culture of the Christian right pushed a deeply disturbed young man named Matthew Murray over the edge.
 
 
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Editor's note: The following is an excerpt from Max Blumenthal's new book Republican Gommorah: Inside the Movement That Shattered the Party published by Nation Books.

A few miles down the road from Colorado Springs [a home to James Dobson's Focus on the Family], in the quiet bedroom community of Eldredge, a deeply disturbed young man named Matthew Murray followed the unfolding debacle at New Life Church [once under the stewardship of Pastor Ted Haggard] with an interest that bordered on obsession. Murray, a sallow-faced, bespectacled 24-year-old, had been indelibly scarred by a lifetime of psychological abuse at the hands of his charismatic Pentecostal parents. Murray's mind became crowded with thoughts of death, destruction, and the killings he would soon carry out in the name of avenging what he called his "nightmare of Christianity."

On an online chat room for former Pentecostals, Murray heaped contempt on his mother, Loretta, a physical therapist who homeschooled him to ensure that his contact with the outside world was severely limited. "My 'mother,'" Murray wrote, "is just a brainswashed [ sic] church agent cun,t [ sic]. The only reason she had me was because she wanted a body/soul she could train into being the next Billy Graham..."

He went on:

 

...my mother was into all the charismatic "fanatical evangelical" insanity. Her and her church believed that Satan and demons were everywhere in everything. The rules were VERY strict all the time. We couldn't have ANY christian or non-christian music at all except for a few charismatic worship CDs. There was physical abuse in my home. My mother although used psychotropic drugs because she somehow thought it would make it easier to control me (I've never been diagnosed with any mental illness either). Pastors would always come and interrogate me over video games or TV watching or other things. There were NO FRIENDS outside the church and family and even then only family members who were in the church. You could not trust anyone at all because anyone might be a spy.

An authoritarian Christian-right self-help guru named Bill Gothard created the home-schooling regimen implemented by Murray's parents. Like his ally James Dobson, Gothard first grew popular during the 1960s by marketing his program to worried evangelical parents as anti-hippie insurance for adolescent children. Based on the theocratic teachings of R. J. Rushdoony, who devised Christian schools and home-schooling as the foundation of his Dominionist empire, Gothard's Basic Life Principles outlined an all-consuming environment that followers could embrace for the whole of their lives. According to Ron Henzel, a one-time Gothard follower who co-authored a devastating exposé about his former guru called A Matter of Basic Principles , under the rules, "large homeschooling families abstain from television, midwives are more important than doctors, traditional dating is forbidden, unmarried adults are 'under the authority of their parents' and live with them, divorced people can't remarry under any circumstance, and music has hardly changed at all since the late nineteenth century."

At the Charter School for Excellence, a school in South Florida inspired by Gothard's draconian principles that receives $800,000 in state funds each year, children are indoctrinated into a culture of absolute submission to authority almost as soon as they learn to speak. A song that the school's first-graders are required to recite goes as follows:

 

Obedience is listening attentively,
Obedience will take instructions joyfully,
Obedience heeds wishes of authorities,
Obedience will follow orders instantly.
For when I am busy at my work or play,
And someone calls my name, I'll answer right away!
I'll be ready with a smile to go the extra mile
As soon as I can say "Yes, sir!" "Yes ma am!"
Hup, two, three!

Former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate Mike Huckabee is among the 2.5 million Americans who have attended Gothard's Basic Seminar. According to Huckabee, who once earmarked state funds to distribute Gothard's literature in Arkansas prisons, Gothard was responsible for "some of the best programs for instilling character into people." But to the deeply alienated Murray, Gothard was the original source of his pathology. "I believe that the truth needs to be exposed," Murray wrote in a September 2006 discussion forum of recovering Gothard followers. "People need to see through errornious [ sic] and destructive doctrines and teachings including Bill Gothard's."