PLEASE JOIN US!   We meet on the first Sunday of each month in downtown Duluth at the Radisson Hotel (Location Map)
            Socializing begins at 9:00 am.
            Optional breakfast buffet at 9:30 am.
            Presentation from 10:00 until about 11:30.

            Co-Host: David Broman - (218) 349-7455
            Co-Host: Jim Lyttle - (218) 464-1652
             Videographer - Jan Resberg


May 2013 Newsletter

May, 2013 Newsletter of the Lake Superior Freethinkers

Facilitators: David Broman - 218-349-7455, Bill Guse - 834-4583, 343-4806

First Sunday - Holiday Inn this month – 9:00 AM Social – 9:30 Breakfast


George Erickson, editor, tundracub@mchsi.com

Program - Marie Castle, president of Atheists for Human rights, will speak about her new book - Culture Wars: the Threat to your Family and your Freedom - which analyzes the impact that religion has on our culture and daily life. She argues that many of our laws are based on religious belief, have harmful effects on individuals and society, and have no secular justification. Among the topics covered are sexuality issues, women’s rights, religious exemptions from child abuse and neglect laws, science instruction, and tax policy. Culture Wars is available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble.

All of our industrial and commercial enterprises are atheistic. Everything that works is atheistic. Neither the sciences nor any of our industrial processes has any room for supernatural intervention. A machine that depends on miracles will work no better than a vaccine that depends on prayer.  —Rod Sheffer

Religious Trauma Syndrome: How Religion Can Lead to Mental Health Problems
By Valerie Tarico, AlterNet | Interview (summary)

  Groups that demand obedience and conformity produce fear, not love and growth.

             At age sixteen I began a four year struggle with bulimia. When it started, I turned to adults who knew how to stop shameful behavior—my Bible study leader. “If you ask anything in faith, believing,” they said. “It will be done.” We prayed together, and I went home confident that God had heard my prayers. But my compulsions didn’t go away.

           By the fall of my sophomore year in college, I was so depressed that I made a suicide attempt.  My counseling department offered to help. But to my mind, I was a failure in the eyes of God. It would be years before I understood that my inability to heal bulimia through  Christianity was not due to my spiritual deficiency but deficiencies in Evangelical religion itself.  

             Dr. Marlene Winell is a human development consultant and the daughter of Pentecostal missionaries. For 20 years she has counseled people in recovery from fundamentalism, including the Assemblies of God in which she was raised. Winell is the author of Leaving the Fold - A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion.

      Two years ago, Winell labelled what she calls “Religious Trauma Syndrome” (RTS) and began to write and speak on the subject. When the British Assoc. of Behavioral and Cognitive Psychologists published  articles on the topic, a Christian counseling association protested what they called excessive attention to a “relatively niche topic.”
      Is toxic religion simply misinterpretation? What is religious trauma? Why does Winell believe religious trauma merits its own diagnostic label?

What  is religious trauma syndrome?  Winell: RTS is a set of symptoms that are related to harmful experiences with religion. They are the result of immersion in a controlling religion and the impact of leaving a religious group. The RTS label provides a name and description that affected people recognize. Others are surprised by the idea of RTS, because they assume that religion is good - like telling kids about Santa Claus.
       In reality, religious teachings sometimes cause mental health damage. The public is  familiar with sexual and physical abuse in a religious context. As Journalist Janet Heimlich documented in, Breaking Their Will, Bible-based groups that emphasize authority in family structure and use harsh parenting methods can be destructive.
        The problem isn’t just physical or sexual abuse. Emotional treatment in some  groups also can be damaging due to 1) toxic teachings like damnation or original sin 2) practices or mindset, such as punishment or sexual guilt, and 3) neglect that prevents a person from having the information or opportunities to develop normally.

Can you give me an example of RTS from your consulting practice? Winell:  People indoctrinated into fundamentalist Christianity as children are often terrified by images of hell before their brains could make sense of such ideas. Some, who I prefer to call “reclaimers,” have flashbacks, panic attacks, or nightmares in adulthood even when they no longer believe the theology. One client of mine said:

I was afraid I was going to hell. I sometimes would wake up in the night and start screaming, trying to rid myself of what I was feeling. I'd walk around the house trying to think and calm down in the middle of the night, trying to do some self-talk, but I felt like the fear and anxiety was taking over my life.

Consider this comment, which refers to a film used by evangelicals to warn about the horrors of the “end times” for nonbelievers.

I was taken to "A Thief In The Night".  I am in shock that many other people suffered the same traumas I lived with because of this film. A few days or weeks after the film viewing, I came into the house and mom wasn't there. I stood there screaming in terror. When I stopped screaming, I began making my plan: Who my Christian neighbors were, who's house to break into to get money and food.

   RTS includes depression, cognitive difficulties, and problems with social functioning. In fundamentalist Christianity, the individual is considered depraved and in need of salvation. A core message is “You are bad and wrong and deserve to die.” This gets taught to children through organizations like Child Evangelism Fellowship. I’ve had clients who were distraught when given a bloody image of Jesus paying the price for their sins. Decades later they sit telling me that they can’t manage to find any self-worth.

  Born-again Christianity and devout Catholicism tell people they are weak and dependent, calling on phrases like “lean not unto your own understanding” People who internalize these messages can suffer from helplessness. Here’s a client who had little decision-making ability after living his life devoted to following the “will of God.”

  If you dare to leave the religion, you risk losing your support system as well.

  I lost all my friends and family because of this malignant religion and I am angry and sad. . . I have tried hard to make friends, but I have failed. . . I am very lonely.

  Leaving a religion after immersion can cause an upheaval of a person’s reality, including the self, other people, life, and the future. People unfamiliar with this situation, including therapists, have trouble appreciating the sheer terror it can create.

  Religion informed and influenced my worldview. Leaving fundamentalism was very frightening and I had frequent thoughts of suicide.

  Many people seem to walk away from their religion easily. What is different about the clientele you work with?

Groups that are controlling teach fear, and keep members ill-equipped to function in society are hard to leave. The difficulty is greater if the person was raised in the religion because they have no frame of reference – no other “self” or way of “being in the world.” They can be deeply emotional and thoughtful and tend to throw themselves wholeheartedly into their endeavors. “True believers” who then lose their faith feel more anger and depression and grief than those who simply went to church on Sunday.

  Aren’t these just people who would be depressed or obsessive anyway? Winell: Not at all. These people are involved and caring. They hang on to the religion longer than those who simply “walk away” because they try to make it work even when they have doubts. Sometime this is out of fear, but often it is out of devotion. These are people for whom ethics, and compassion matter a great deal.

  How is RTS different from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder? Winell: RTS is a specific set of symptoms and characteristics that are connected with harmful religious experience, not just any trauma.  One difference is the social context. When someone is recovering from domestic abuse, people support the need to leave and recover. They don’t send the person back. If a provider doesn’t understand the cause, he may send a client for pastoral counseling. One reclaimer expressed frustration this way:

Physically-abusive parents who quote "Spare the rod and spoil the child" create one fucked-up soul: an unloved, traumatized toddler in the body of an adult. I'm simply a broken spirit. There's also the expectation by everyone in society that we victims should celebrate this with our perpetrators every Christmas and Easter!!

  Just like autism, giving RTS a name has advantages. People who are suffering find that having a label for their experience helps them feel less alone:

There's a name for it! I was brainwashed from birth and wasted 25 years of my life I've been out of religion for several years, but I cannot shake the fear of hell. I'm socially inept, and the only way I can have sex is to pay for it.

What is the difference between religion that causes trauma and religion that doesn’t? Winell: Religion causes trauma when it prevents people from thinking for themselves and trusting their feelings. Groups that demand conformity produce fear, not love and growth. With constant judgment of self and others, people become alienated from themselves, each other, and the world. Religion in its worst forms causes separation.
        Groups that connect people and promote self-knowledge and personal growth can be healthy. The book, Healthy Religion, describes these traits. Such groups put high value on respecting differences, and members feel empowered as individuals. They provide social support, a place for events and rites of passage, exchange of ideas, inspiration, opportunities for service, and connection to social causes.

Some people say that terms like “recovery from religion” and “religious trauma syndrome” are atheist attempts to pathologize religious belief.

 I never set out looking for a religious trauma syndrome. I wrote a paper for the American Psychological Association and thought that would be the end of it. Since then, I have tried to move on to other things several times, but this work has simply grown.
       We are simply becoming aware of religious trauma. More people are leaving religion. The “religiously unaffiliated” have increased in the last five years from just over 15% to 19% of U.S. adults. It’s no wonder the internet is exploding with websites for former believers, providing forums for people to support each other. For example, there are thousands of former Mormons, and I was asked to speak about RTS at an Ex-Mormon Foundation conference. An organization called Recovery from Religion, helps people start self-help meet-up groups.
          Saying that someone is trying to pathologize authoritarian religion is like saying someone pathologized eating disorders by naming them. Before that, they were healthy?        People were suffering, felt alone, and blamed themselves. This is RTS today.

Instead of enhancing self confidence and self esteem, religions foster dogmatism, dependency, authoritarianism, inadequacy and anxiety. How does this help in the growth, development and maturation of our children?  —Rod Sheffer

From Bill Van Druten

I was sent, by Meghan Quinn of Prometheus Books, a fine book, 50 SIMPLE QUESTIONS FOR EVERY CHRISTIAN. The author, Guy P. Harrison, gives his fifty questions and plenty of commentary on them, ie, answers. He does it in a kindly way, hoping that reasonable Christians might read it and be informed.


Freethinkers will applaud this book, as we agree with the author. Alas, Christians will shrug it off as blasphemy. However, I have an excellent place for this book. My college age grandson raised fundy by my son’s divorced wife is now questioning his unquestionable faith. He does listen to me on the religion question and reads my essays. I will send him this book. And I recommend it for its clear responses to Christian nonsense. Buy it, read it and pass it on to those who will benefit of it.  

(Editor’s note: I also received a review copy – and I agree with Bill. I’ll be giving my copy to the LSF library.)


I spent years as a political pundit on mainstream TV -- at CNN, Fox News and MSNBC. I was outnumbered, outshouted, red-baited and finally terminated. Inside mainstream media, I saw that major issues were not only dodged, but sometimes not even acknowledged to exist. Today there's an elephant in the room: a huge, yet ignored, issue that largely explains why Social Security is now on the chopping block. And why other industrialized countries have free college education and universal healthcare, but we don't. It's arguably our country's biggest problem -- a problem that Martin Luther King Jr. focused on before he was assassinated 45 years ago, and has only worsened since then (which was the height of the Vietnam War). That problem is U.S. militarism and perpetual war.

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