Recently, I met a female evangelist who worked closely in the field with her husband. The two practiced a very “fire and brimstone,” “angry God” version of Christianity”. They bad mouthed homosexuals, listeners of rock music, liberals, and made heavy use of threats of hell.
I saw the wife in this pair explain their religious beliefs to a sizable audience they had gathered along with some of the details of their personal history. Looking back, I regret not having asked her how she reconciles her role in the ministry with first Timothy 2:12, which states, “But I permit not a woman to teach, nor to have authority over the man, but to be in silence,” Her story led me to pursue a different line of questioning.
She told of a time when she was a young, ambitious college student. At this time, she met her future husband who was ministering to students at her university. For some reason she found this man’s teachings about God, Jesus, and hellfire compelling and chose to follow him and renounce many of her past beliefs and ambitions. She argued that prior to having met her husband she had been mind-raped by the professors at her University with their teachings of secular humanism, atheism, liberalism and socialism. She did point out that she in fact paid the professors to teach her, so it was not a “legitimate rape” (Yes, she referenced Todd Akin’s controversial and stupid remark when telling this story.)
After she was done speaking I got a chance to speak with her privately. I suggested that since she considered her professor’s teachings to be mind-rape, that the same could be said of those of her evangelist husband. After all, rapists use physical violence or threats of physical violence to subdue their victims, while her husband’s teachings similarly use threats of eternal torment to anyone who dares to question them. Her husband literally taught this woman she must believe everything he says or terrible things will happen to her—forever. This element of backing one’s teachings with threats of violence is far more insidious than anything from even the most propagandizing college professors.
As far as I know, professors have no way to force their students to believe anything. Sure, they may be able to command their pupils to memorize or understand their teachings at the risk failing their tests, but I see no way in which they can force anyone to believe anything they teach or retain it after the semester ends. I never had a professor threaten me with torture if I fail to believe what he or she taught. This can only happen in this country at explicitly religious schools.
The evangelist refused to acknowledge my point stating that I was off base, because it was not the fear of hell but the desire to be in the presence of a loving all powerful God. Maybe she was being honest, but I’m skeptical of this claim since threats of hell are such a huge portion of what her ministry does. They spent a lot of time asserting that people who disagree with them will be punished. Their time would be better spent explaining the evidence they have for this belief. It would be a much more constructive conversation.
The concept of mind rape describes religious indoctrination quite well. It is usually performed on children who have not had time to develop critical thinking skills and therefore have no defense. It is frequently backed up with threats of torments as well as the bribe of an eternal reward. Frightening children with threats of hell is a form of child abuse, and one that many people never get over. The degrading message is that we are all so sinful, wretched, and worthless that we should be tortured forever. Anyone who sees a small child as a being worthy of nothing better than eternal torture by virtue of being born human has truly lost any semblance of decency.
Rape is a horrendous crime and the fact it happens or is tolerated at all in our culture is a tragedy. The evangelist’s notion of mind-rape is ironic and a useful, informative way of looking at religious indoctrination especially indoctrination that features the threat of punishment.