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Jesus ‘Love-Bombs’ You

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Posted on Apr 23, 2007
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AP Photo / Rick Bowmer

By Chris Hedges

There is a false, but effective, fiction that one has to be born again to be a Christian.  The Christian right refuses to acknowledge the worth of anyone’s religious experience unless—in the words of the tired and opaque cliché—one has accepted “Jesus Christ as my personal Lord and Savior.”

The meltdown, often skillfully manipulated by preachers and teams of evangelists, is one of the most pernicious tools of the movement.  Through conversion one surrenders to a higher authority.  And the higher authority, rather than God, is the preacher who steps in to take over your life.  Being born again, and the process it entails, is more often about submission and the surrender of moral responsibility than genuine belief.

I attended a five-day seminar at Coral Ridge in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., where I was taught, often by D. James Kennedy, the techniques of conversion. The callousness of these techniques—targeting the vulnerable, building false friendships with the lonely or troubled, promising to relieve people of the most fundamental dreads of human existence from the fear of mortality to the numbing pain of grief—gave to the process an awful cruelty and dishonesty. I attended the seminar as part of the research for my book “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.” Kennedy openly called converts “recruits” and spoke about them joining a new political force sweeping across the country to reshape and reform America into a Christian state.

“I would always go in first, introduce myself, Jim Kennedy,” he told us. “I’m checking the lay of the land and I will look around the living room and see if there’s something there that I can comment about. Frequently, there will be a large picture somewhere and where did they put it, this picture ... why would they put it over the fireplace? Significant.”

“In Fort Lauderdale you don’t find too many fireplaces,” he added, smiling, “but there’s some kind of central focus. Maybe ... golf trophies ... I’m over here looking at these golf trophies ... painting ... I say… beautiful painting, did you paint that? The first rule about looking at trophies, don’t touch them ... did you win all those trophies? So we have a little conversation about golf, but I know enough about golf to have this conversation ... now what have I done? I’m making a friend.”

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“Compliment them on whatever you can,” Kennedy said, “discuss what they do, you’re going to find out what are their hobbies, maybe right there in the living room. Then you’re going to ask them about what they do, where they’re from, how long they’ve been there ... something to discuss with them ... in doing this, you have made a friend.”

We are told to “emphasize the positive” and “identify with your prospect.”  We are encouraged in the green “Evangelism Explosion” instruction manual to use sentences such as “It is wonderful to know when I lay my head on my pillow tonight that if I do not awaken in bed in the morning, I will awaken in paradise with God.”  We are told to paint graphic pictures of personal tragedy that God has helped solve, such as: “I had a Christian son killed in Vietnam, yet my heart is filled with peace because I know he has eternal life.  Even though he was killed by an enemy mortar, he has a home now in heaven, and one day we’ll be reunited there.”  We are instructed to pepper our testimonies with words like love, peace, faithfulness, forgiveness, hope, purpose and obedience and remember to talk about how we have found, in our own conversion, “courage in the face of death.” 

Kennedy warns us not to carry a large Bible, but to keep a small one hidden in our pocket, saying “don’t show your gun until you’re ready to shoot it.”

The conversion, at first, is euphoric. It is about new, loving friends, about the conquering of human anxieties, fears and addictions, about attainment through God of wealth, power, success and happiness. For those who have known personal and economic despair, it feels like a new life, a new beginning. The new church friends repeatedly call them, invite them to dinner, listen to their troubles and answer their questions. Kennedy told us that we must keep in touch in the days after conversion. He encouraged us to keep detailed files on those we proselytize. We must be sure the converts are never left standing alone at church. We must care when no one else seems to care. The converts are assigned a “discipler” or prayer partner, a new friend, who is wiser than they are in the ways of the Lord and able to instruct them in their new life.

The intense interest by a group of three or four evangelists in a potential convert, an essential part of the conversion process, the flattery and feigned affection, the rapt attention to those being recruited and the flurry of “sincere” compliments are a form of “love bombing.” It is the same technique employed by most cults, such as the Unification Church or “Moonies,” to attract prospects. It was a well-developed tactic of the Russian and Chinese communist parties, which share many of the communal and repressive characteristics of the Christian right.

“Love bombing is a coordinated effort, usually under the direction of leadership, that involves long-term members flooding recruits and newer members with flattery, verbal seduction, affectionate but usually nonsexual touching, and lots of attention to their every remark,” the psychiatrist Margaret Thaler Singer wrote. “Love bombing—or the offer of instant companionship—is a deceptive ploy accounting for many successful recruitment drives.”

The convert is gradually drawn into a host of church activities by his or her new friends, leaving little time for outside socializing. But the warmth soon brings with it new rules. When you violate the rules, you sin, you flirt with rebellion, with becoming a “backslider,” someone who was converted but has fallen and is once again on the wrong side of God. And as the new converts are increasingly invested in the church community, as they cut ties with their old community, it is harder to dismiss the mounting demands of the “discipler” and church leaders. The only proper relationship is submission to those above you, the abandonment of critical thought and the mouthing of thought-terminating clichés that are morally charged. “Jesus is my personal Lord and Savior” or “the wages of sin are death” is used to end all discussion.

Rules are incorporated slowly and deliberately into the convert’s belief system. These include blind obedience to church leaders, the teaching of an exclusive, spiritual elitism that demonizes all other ways of being and believing, and a persecution complex that keeps followers mobilized and distrustful of outsiders. The result is the destruction of old communities, old friendships and the independent ability to make moral choices. Believers are soon encased in the church community. They are taught to emphasize personal experience rather than reasoning, and to reject the reality-based world. For those who defy the system, who walk away, there is a collective banishment.

There is a gradual establishment of new standards for every aspect of life. Those who choose spouses must choose Christian spouses. Families and friends are divided into groups of “saved” and “unsaved.” The movement, while it purports to be about families, is the great divider of families, friends and communities. It competes with the family and those outside its structure for loyalty. It seeks to place itself above the family, either drawing all family members into its embrace or pushing those who resist aside. There were frequent prayers during the seminar I attended for relatives who were “unsaved,” those who remained beyond the control of the movement. Many of these prayers, including one by a grandmother for her unsaved grandchildren, were filled with tears and wrenching pain over the damnation of those they loved.

The new ideology gives the believers a sense of purpose, feelings of superiority and a way to justify and sanctify their hatreds. For many, the rewards of cleaning up their lives, of repairing their damaged self-esteem, of joining an elite and blessed group are worth the cost of submission. They know how to define themselves. They do not have to make moral choice. It is made for them. They submerge their individual personas into the single persona of the Christian crowd. Their hope lies not in the real world, but in this new world of magic and miracles. For most, the conformity, the flight away from themselves, the dismissal of facts and logic, the destruction of personal autonomy, even with its latent totalitarianism, is a welcome and joyous relief. The flight into the arms of the religious right, into blind acceptance of a holy cause, compensates for the convert’s despair and lack of faith in himself or herself. And the more corrupted and soiled the converts feel, the more profound their despair, the more militant they become, shouting, organizing and agitating to create a pure and sanctified Christian nation, a purity they believe will offset their own feelings of shame and guilt. Many want to be deceived and directed. It makes life easier to bear.

Freedom from fear, especially the fear of death, is what is being sold. It is a lie, as everyone has to know on some level, even while they write and rewrite their testimonies to conform to the instructors’ demands. But admitting this in front of other believers is impossible. Such an admission would be interpreted as a lack of faith. And this too is part of the process, for it fosters a dread of being found out, a morbid guilt that we are not as good or as Christian as those around us. This dread does not go away with conversion or blind obedience or submission. This unachievable ideal forces the convert to repress and lose touch with the uncertainties, ambiguities and contradictions that make up human existence.

We were instructed to inform potential converts that Jesus came to Earth and died “to pay the penalty for our sins and to purchase a place in heaven for us” and that “to receive eternal life you must transfer your trust from yourself to Jesus Christ alone for eternal life.”  We were told to ask the convert if he or she is willing “to turn from what you have been doing that is not pleasing to Him and follow Him as He reveals His will to you in His Word.” If the covert agrees to accept a new way of life we are to bow our heads and pray, with the convert repeating each line after us.

“Lord Jesus, I want You to come in and take over my life right now. I am a sinner. I have been trusting in myself and my own good works. But now I place my trust in You. I accept You as my own personal Savior. I believe you died for me. I receive You as Lord and Master of my life. Help me to turn from my sins and to follow You. I accept the free gift of eternal life. I am not worthy of it, but I thank You for it. Amen.”

And when it is over the new believers are told “Welcome to the family of God.” They are told to read a chapter a day in the Gospel of John and that they will be visited again in a week to talk about the Bible. They are encouraged to pray, because God “promised to hear and answer our prayers.” They are told to find “a good Bible-believing church and become a part of it.” They are told to join a Christian fellowship group. They are told to witness to those in their family. With this, the process of deconstructing an individual and building a submissive follower, one who no longer has any allegiance to the values of the open society, begins.

Chris Hedges, who graduated from seminary at Harvard Divinity School, is the author of “American Fascists: The Christian Right and the War on America.”  He is a senior fellow at The Nation Institute and a Lannan Literary Fellow.

On May 22, Chris Hedges and Sam Harris will debate “Religion, Politics and the End of the World.” Click here for details and tickets.


New and Improved Comments

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By Marina, April 23, 2007 at 12:07 pm Link to this comment

niloroth, you are incorrect. Being a Christian is not a label one calls themselves for convenience, self-gratification, or for public display or acceptance.

Christianity is a way of life—a state of mind, heart, and action. Christianity has NOTHING to do with the god of the Hebrews in the Old Testament who asks for rape, allows slavery, commits murder etc. You are right about the bible being flawed.

Jesus Himself did not teach about a book, but of life itself. He never said “read the bible and you will go to Heaven or read the Torah and you will know God.” No. He taught the contrary. His teachings nearly always involved the birds of the air or the fields of life.

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By Hammo, April 23, 2007 at 12:06 pm Link to this comment

CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION: In the previous post regarding the article about a retired Navy SEAL officer’s research report on consciousness, the article and URL noted in the post is ABOUT a graduate-level research paper by then-Navy SEAL Commander L.R. Bremseth during his studies at the Marine Corps War College.

The ARTICLE referenced in the previous comments entry and below is about that research paper. The author of the article (Steve Hammons) is not a current or former Navy SEAL.

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By Hammo, April 23, 2007 at 12:05 pm Link to this comment

CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION: In the previous post regarding the article about a retired Navy SEAL officer’s research report on consciousness, the article and URL noted in the post is ABOUT a graduate-level research paper by then-Navy SEAL Commander L.R. Bremseth during his studies at the Marine Corps War College.

The ARTICLE referenced in the previous comments entry and below is about that research paper. The author of the article (Steve Hammons) is not a current or former Navy SEAL.

“Unconventional Human Intelligence Support: Navy SEAL’s report”

http://www.populistamerica.com/unconventional_human_intelligence_support

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By Douglas Chalmers, April 23, 2007 at 12:03 pm Link to this comment

#65843 by Steve Hammons on 4/23 at 9:12 am: “...afterlife, angels, a transcending intelligence ......metaphysical ideas…....also have aspects of quantum physics and spirituality ....“Unconventional Human Intelligence Support: Navy SEAL’s report”...”

Wow, if there is any “new kind of human endeavor” it must be the Navy trying to behave like “seals”! What this really means is that if you allow your intuition and inner inspiration to develop, it will guide you in all kinds of endeavours. Sad, though, that they merely want to warp that into becoming the “new” high priests of warfare!

“Explore a myriad of phenomena having potential military applications with the goal of developing transcendent and asymmetrical warfare approaches…”. Can one really only ever have research aimed at either warfare or the domination (“interagency planning and operations”) of the unfortunate citizens of one’s country?

This ” transcendent warfare” is nothing new, though. It was tried by the Nazis along with their other monstrous programs of pseudo-scientific “research” into eugenics and their desperate attempts to attain nuclear power. Hitler was said to be psychic and, if you look at Condoleezza Rice, you can see that she has the same kind of eyes as Hitler, especially in his earlier pictures!

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By Hammo, April 23, 2007 at 12:01 pm Link to this comment

CLARIFICATION/CORRECTION: In the previous post regarding the article about a retired Navy SEAL officer’s research report on consciousness, the article and URL noted in the post ABOUT a graduate-level research paper by then-Navy SEAL Commander L.R. Bremseth during his studies at the Marine Corps War College.

The ARTICLE referenced in the previous comments entry and below is about that research paper. The author of the article (Steve Hammons) is not a current or former Navy SEAL.

“Unconventional Human Intelligence Support: Navy SEAL’s report”

http://www.populistamerica.com/unconventional_human_in telligence_support

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By Christopher Robin, April 23, 2007 at 11:47 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

“And the higher authority, rather than God, is the preacher who steps in to take over one’s life.”

^Exactly, there’s a eerie disorder of loyalties. Study the cult world and you’ll have the insight into these groups. All rational and objective thought is frowned upon, very useful clay for the manipulations of fascists.

As in this scratchy film strip

“Despotism & Democracy”

Harold D. Lasswell Ph.D. -Yale

Encyclopedia Britannica Films - 1946

YouTube 9:56mins
http://www.YouTube.com/watch?v=yfrQalpmdqk

Cut to the part where a young Phyllis Schlafly learns to become a instructor…Why she was passed over for the Academy Award that year? is clearly yet, another in the long list of Oscar injustices.

Note thought control being taught, an unquestioning acceptance of those in authority. Mind control doesn’t require a government sanction to envelop population, in fact it begins first in the public square, then is moved to the halls of Government.

A number of the alarming measurements in this film, have been achieved now. To think Mr. Lasswell lived during the depression and the war, only adds poignancy to what he was trying to convey then, and what were moving towards now.

Good news is the Rightwing’s glaring failures have discredited their power grab. But we mustn’t be complacent, there are moneyed interests who would like to discard our democracy and the nation, in an attempt to ease their accumulation of wealth and power.

See the now proposed and under covered in the press, “North American Union”, where the United States is succumbed into one large marketplace, and currency. Our voice and control over our destiny diminished by equal measure. Democracy should be from bottom up , not from the top down.

Will the democratic party act as a savior or an accomplice remains to be seen? But the role of a third party should not be dismissed. It has worked to move the public debate back towards the needs of the public in the past, maybe it can again?

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By Douglas Chalmers, April 23, 2007 at 11:42 am Link to this comment

#65858 by ShockandAwe 4/23 at 10:23 am: “... but they absolutely will NOT die for it. Silly “Christians.” So unlike their namesake…”

Absolutely! Jesus died to make them free translates as “I got some thing for free!” - in their own words.

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By detectivediana, April 23, 2007 at 11:28 am Link to this comment

Very disturbing.
But whatever it takes to make you not feel alone, I guess.

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By ShockandAwe, April 23, 2007 at 11:23 am Link to this comment

These folk are the biggest supporters of the war against Islam, but they absolutely will NOT die for it. Silly “Christians.” So unlike their namesake.

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By dale Headley, April 23, 2007 at 11:08 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Religion is a bunch of deluded, ignorant, crachpots calling the other crackpots’ kettles black.  I’ll bet this won’t get printed - not in America, anyway, because everyone knows that the only true, righteous, religion in the whole world is OURS, right?

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By niloroth, April 23, 2007 at 11:06 am Link to this comment

These people are Christians just as much as the ones who claim that Christianity is all about love, helping one another, and turning the other cheek. In order to take one side or the other you must discount half the message.  No one can make a coherent and logical set of beliefs that come from the bible because it is so contradictory.  Everyone cherry picks what they want the bible to say.  It is a flawed book, supporting an illogical and irrational view of the world.  The sooner it ends up on the trash heap of history, the better the world will be.

As a case in point, i will again say, what good moral code can you pull from a book that condones and supports slavery? 

-justin

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By Frikken Kids, April 23, 2007 at 10:47 am Link to this comment

RE comment #65843 by Steve Hammons

“Theories about an afterlife, angels, a transcending intelligence of some kind, connectedness of many things and dimensions, and other kinds of metaphysical ideas are also being examined in modern physics and psychology.”

Don’t be rediculous.  Remote viewing has been proven over and over again to be a farse.  Morons trying to peddle useles pap try to sell spititual nonsense by trying to make sound legitimate and invoking quantum physics when they have no real idea what quantum physics is really about (check out Oprah’s favorite new book “The Secret” for a good example of this).

Despite millions spent, no repeatable results have ever been found in any kind of parinormal research.

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By Marina, April 23, 2007 at 10:25 am Link to this comment

Douglas, you are awake! Yes, many are zionists. But they ignorantly think they are doing the will of God by bringing about prophesies and the end times. They care little about who or what gets destroyed or killed. Just like QuyTran pointed out, they worship satan.

Jesus Himself taught that we cannot turn our backs to God without worshipping satan.

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By Tsaal Hio, April 23, 2007 at 10:13 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Come on guys why do you give this guy who wrote this artical so much crdedit, hell he might be satans helper you dont know you bunch of dumbasses.

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By Hammo, April 23, 2007 at 10:12 am Link to this comment

It seems difficult, when looking at these right-wing so-called “Christians,” to not “throw the baby out with the bath water.”

Theories about an afterlife, angels, a transcending intelligence of some kind, connectedness of many things and dimensions, and other kinds of metaphysical ideas are also being examined in modern physics and psychology.

If we read between the lines in the article below by a respected US Navy SEAL officer, we see that the discoveries in “remote viewing” and “anomalous cognition” also have aspects of quantum physics and spirituality.

“Unconventional Human Intelligence Support: Navy SEAL’s report”

PopulistAmerica.com
Populist Party of America
January 7, 2007

http://www.populistamerica.com/unconventional_human_intelligence_support

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By writeon, April 23, 2007 at 9:56 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

I find it difficult to recognise these socially and politically conservative cult/groups as having much to do with “Christianity” at all. Were is the Jesus Christ of the New Testement in all this? Where is the teaching of Jesus? Where are his words? Where are the warnings against hypocracy, lies and pride?

Instead we observe a right-wing movement, which on the face of it, is fundamentally totalitarian in structure, ideology and practice. These people are not Christians at all, but something far, far more sinister and dangerous. An almost militeristic movement we should be wary and watchful of.

Mass totalitarian movements need “foot-soldiers” and they are recruiting not just citizens with the power to vote, but, potentially something that begins to look like a militia.

One thing that concerns and surprises me, is the apparent lack of awareness, among mainstream Christian churches in the US, of the dangers these “Christian” totalitarian groups pose; not only to individuals caught in the web, but to society as a whole, but to ordinary Christianity itself. Their aim is to replace Christianity with their own “brand”, which to my mind is a dangerous heresy.

It really is time for mainstream Christians to face up to their responsibilities. These groups, unfortunately, are becoming the public face of American Christianity, and this is incredibly damaging. Fundamentaly, they are not really Christian at all, but represent the Othergive.

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By Maani, April 23, 2007 at 9:45 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

All:

I agree with Marina’s comment (and Doug’s second - hello again, Doug!) re “Old Testament” Christians. This has always been my major problem with the so-called “Christian Right” (which, like the Moral Majority before it, is neither.  My other huge problem with them is taking Scripture out of context to support narrow, unloving, unforgiving and ultimately un-Christian positions).  I also second jmndodge’s thoughtful and insightful comments.

Re the article itself, while as a minister I deplore any practice that is manipulative and/or puts the minister/leader in an “exalted” position (much less above Christ Himself!), as usual Hedges takes the extremist road here.  That is, it is wrong to gainsay or denigrate the authentic “conversion experiences” of some, particularly when they take a “mystical” form (e.g., epiphany, “calling,” “personal Pentecost,” etc.).  Although this type of conversion is comparatively rare, it is as valid, if not moreso, than other types of conversion.

Sadly, groups like the one cited in the article continue to give Christianity a bad name, and make it all that much harder for moderate evangelicals (like myself) to undo some of the damage, and bring back the essence of what might be called (admittedly ally) “true Christianity”; i.e., “walking the talk” of Jesus’ life and ministry of love, peace, forgiveness, compassion, humility, patience, chrity, selflessness, service, justice and truth.

Peace.

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By Douglas Chalmers, April 23, 2007 at 9:16 am Link to this comment

#65824 by Marina on 4/23 at 7:30 am - “...They base themselves in the Old Testament….”

Some are indeed “Judeo-Protestants” but there are also some who are basically Zionists!

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By Douglas Chalmers, April 23, 2007 at 9:14 am Link to this comment

“Freedom from fear, especially the fear of death, is what is being sold ....... There is a false, but effective, fiction that one has to be born again to be a Christian…....”

Everyone needs this emotional support and the acceptance of some group in society. The trouble is that they then own you! It is indeed very difficult to survive totally alone.

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By QuyTran, April 23, 2007 at 9:05 am Link to this comment

So ridiculous ! They should be named SATAN instead of
Christians.

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By jmndodge, April 23, 2007 at 8:45 am Link to this comment

Military motifs in Ministry
               
The Christian right is very familiar with the military motif to define themselves and their mission.  The use of conformity rather than the unity within diversity easily leads to the authoritarian communities we so distrust. In the mega-church urban environment, these love bombs take on a cynical abuse of friendships to control people rather than setting them free.  In the rural settings where churches are small, family based, ingrown, and often closed groups – when a visitor, a new convert, or a lapsed family member returns to a congregation the love bomb technique becomes a genuine welcome into a community which helps to free both the “convert” and the “congregation” to become more diverse and connected with one another. 

A personal relationship with Christ, where all things become new and life is transformed is key to the church.  Jesus in his conversation with Nicodemus spoke of being born again, (a very descriptive phrase of a new begriming with Christ) but his invitation to disciples was most commonly a simple invitation to “follow me”.  Two common descriptions of the church in the new testament are “the body of Christ” and “the building or house of God”.  Rather than the military motif of unity through conformity, here strength is found in diversity.  The body is not all thumbs, indeed the imagery is that only through the functioning of very diverse parts is the body whole, healthy and fully functioning.  When Christ talks about building, he speaks of the stone the builders rejected as becoming the key, (cornerstone, or capstone). 

Where love bombs target unity through conformity they indeed are manipulative and destructive to both the bombed and bomber.  However, where love bombs are a way of life, that involves a church actually learning to express unconditional love as they have been loved, they bring into their community a diversity which adds greater strength to the whole.  Its time for the language of faith to regain its fullness the biblical imagery that prevents a slavish commitment to a limited perception of a great an unfathomable God

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By Marina, April 23, 2007 at 8:30 am Link to this comment

Stop calling these people “Christians,” they are defiling the term. They do an iniquity to The Name of Jesus.

The so-called “Christian Right” should be called “Judeo-Protestants” because they don’t even know who Jesus is. They base themselves in the Old Testament.

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By anonymous, April 23, 2007 at 8:28 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Life without free thought scares me a whole lot more than an end of awareness at death.

Sometimes, I wake up and want to go back to sleep but I never want to be told what I have to think.

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By writerdd, April 23, 2007 at 8:16 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

For those who doubt this story, it matches my personal experience inside fundamentalist churches years ago. I was eventually able to escape, but not until I had wasted well over a decade of my life.

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By thomsen, April 23, 2007 at 8:15 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

Thank you, Chris Hedges and Truthdig, for this informative article. 

The only way to defeat, or at least marginalize the religious right, is to thoroughly understand it. 

I have no sympathy for people who are gullible, self-loathing and just flat-out stupid. 

A cult/religion is attractive to those who aren’t able or willing to think and do for themselves.

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By THOMAS BILLIS, April 23, 2007 at 7:33 am Link to this comment
(Unregistered commenter)

My friend do not fear the sane part of America has seen these people up close through George Bush and soon they will be on the fringes where they belong.These are cyclical movements and when people forget how insane they are they gain mommentum and rise up.The last great movement was Father Coughlin during the FDR presidency.Mark my words they have reached their peak of power and in two more election cycles they will start their descent into the dustbin of history.

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