Thursday, July 21, 2011

The Trouble with Exes

A common sight in the Evangelical Christian community is the ministry of the "exes".  I had a pastor for instance who was an ex-alcoholic and would frequently talk about that.  There are a lot of ex-addicts (drugs, porn, you name it) with speaking gigs in the Christian community, sharing how Jesus freed them from their old life of bondage.  Once at a church camp we had a man named Jan Eriksen, a Norwegian ex-pimp and gangster turned evangelist to prostitutes, as the guest speaker.  (Little off topic, but when I was about 16 we had an American Vietnam veteran ex-field medic come to lecture us on the dangers of sex and how wearing condoms or just having oral sex did not protect you from the most nightmarish sexually transmitted diseases.  That was at school though, not church so it doesn't count.) Anyway, with these exes I have no beef, on the whole they do a good job reminding people that there is a life after addiction and horrible circumstance, that escape is possible.  They show that even if you are lost, you can be found - their message is one of hope.  But there are other, darker exes who do not share a message of hope and recovery at all.  These would be people like:

Alberto Rivera, Ex-Catholic.  Alberto became world famous thanks to Jack Chick who used his story for several of his tracts and comic books.  He claimed to be a former Jesuit priest who gained access to the inner workings and secrets of the Catholic Church.  He alleged that the Catholic Church was actually an ancient organization dedicated to destroying the work of God on Earth using it's vast power and riches to start wars, economic recessions, famines and various political and religious movements to undermine and destroy true Christianity.  He tapped a rich vein of anti-catholic sentiment prevalent in Protestant Christianity and while his fame may have petered out since his death I won't be surprised if a very large section of fundamentalist Christianity today has had their views of Catholicism shaped by his stories.  He didn't have a whole lot of proof for his allegations regarding this vast conspiracy and when Cornerstone Magazine looked into his past they found all kinds of problems with his story.  There was no record of him being a Jesuit priest for instance but there were records showing him to be a married father of two in the USA when he was supposed to be a celibate priest in Spain.  Furthermore the chronology of his story just doesn't add up, the facts didn't check out and then there was the matter that he had a long legal history of committing fraud.

Mike Warnke, Ex-Satanist.  During the 70's, Mike took the Charismatic Christian world by storm with his testimony of his life as a former Satanist.  He was a likeable, charming speaker who captivated audiences all over with his tales of a vast Satanic underground undermining the church and seducing young people into debauchery.  As he rose through the ranks of Satanism he eventually learned that this was an ancient organization dedicated to destroying the work of God on Earth using it's vast power and riches to start wars, economic recessions, famines and various political and religious movements to undermine and destroy true Christianity.  Despite being billed as an expert in occult matters he didn't have a whole lot of proof to back his tales.  When Cornerstone Magazine decided to look into his story they found that reality was very different from what he claimed.  Somehow his family, friends and former fiance all remembered a completely different Mike from the one he claimed to be.  Furthermore the chronology of his story made no sense.  He claimed to have gotten into drugs in college, the drugs eventually led him to become a dealer and through his drug dealings came into contact with satanists.  He then joined and gradually rose through the ranks of the satanic movement until he eventually became a high priest.  He traveled all over meeting several famous people, brought all kinds of innovation to the Satanic church (like rape, blood drinking and sacrificing fingers) and worked tirelessly to recruit thousands of young people into satanism.  Eventually his drug use made him a liability and the satanists kicked him out, tried to kill him with an overdose and left him with nothing which led to him enlisting in the Navy as a last resort where he became a born again Christian.  The problem?  He started college in 1965.  He enlisted in the Navy in 1966.  That makes his story seem incredibly unlikely!  While he eventually admitted to embellishing much of his testimony, he still claims that some of it is true.

John Todd, Ex-Illuminati Druid.  John claimed to have been a member of a powerful family of Scottish Druids who imported witchcraft to America and helped found the Illuminati.  Growing up in this ancient occult family gave him great insider information regarding the Illuminati - a powerful organization dedicated to destroying the work of God on Earth using it's vast power and riches to start wars, economic recessions, famines and various political and religious movements to undermine and destroy true Christianity.  Though never as big as Warnke, he was very popular in Charismatic circles and thanks to his association with Jack Chick his influence is still felt.  He is partially to thank for the Christian idea that Rock music, occult themed books and movies and role playing games are all satanic gateways that lure unsuspecting youngsters into the occult.  If you ever hear some of the really wild "true history of Halloween" stories in a Fundamentalist Church then there's a good chance you can trace it back to Todd.  As with the previous people on this list, investigations into his past proved that most of his stories were either complete fabrications or utterly unverifiable.  Over time, he drifted further away from the mainstream as his stories got wilder and he started making crazy accusations about several political leaders and church leaders that disagreed with him.  Also rather strange was the way he went back and forth between born again Christian warning against the occult and organizing book and record burnings and being a Wiccan coven leader with an occult bookstore.  Mostly it seems he used various religions as a cover for preying on underage girls and he was eventually jailed on rape charges. 

Lauren Stratford, Ex-member of a Satanic Ritual Abuse cult.  During the repressed memory Satanic panic heyday of the 80's Lauren quickly rose to fame with her sordid tale of lifelong ritual sexual abuse by Satanists.  With the endorsement of influential Christian speakers and authors like Hal Lindsey and Mike Warnke she soon had TV appearances lined up and had a book on the shelves.  Her story of growing up in a Satanic underground movement (disguised as good Christian folk) dedicated to abusing and murdering children had Christian parents terrified.  Her story seemed so incredibly terrible it was hard to believe it could be true.  As it turns out, it wasn't.  When the good people of Cornerstone magazine looked into her past they found that her entire story was a hoax.  What's worse is that she had a long history of pathologically looking for sympathy with wild tales, tales which had grown more elaborate through the years and tended to crib heavily from other people's stories.  After her star as a ritual abuse survivor faded she would later go on to reinvent herself as a Holocaust survivor.

Walid Shoebat, Ex-terrorist.  Walid is a brand new entry on this list, seeing as how CNN just recently broke his story.  He claimed to have been a Islamic fundamentalist terrorist who threw a firebomb at a bank in Bethlehem and spent some time in an Israeli prison.  These days he is a born again Christian who is very popular among Christian (and government) groups who pay him to lecture them on the dangers of Islam.  Now unlike the Illuminati and baby eating Satanists, Islamic terrorists are real and they are dangerous.  However it's doubtful whether his advice to fear and distrust every Muslim and suspect every Islamic group of being a terror front is really the greatest advice.  He sells himself as an expert in terrorism but even if his story was true, I don't see how much of an expert he would be - his one alleged attempt at terrorism was woefully underwhelming!  As CNN points out, his entire terrorist past may be a lie:

More detailed articles here and here.

As you can tell, unlike the ex-addicts and ex-sinners, these exes are pretty dark.  Their message is not one of hope and deliverance but of fear and paranoia.  They're not telling you that no one is too lost to be saved, they're telling you that everyone is evil and out to get you!!  Why would such a terrifying message be so popular?  Why do these guys have the influence that they do?  Their stories are widely believed despite the fact that even the slightest amount of fact-checking brings it all crashing down.  Clearly people want to believe them, they want their horror stories to be true, hence the lack of skepticism.  But again, why is that?

There could be many reasons, in fact this phenomenon is probably not due to just any one thing.  For one thing living in a world full of lost and broken people who could really use your understanding and perhaps a helping hand isn't that exciting, in fact it sounds like a bit of an imposition.  On the other hand, living in a world filled with monsters and unspeakable evil is really exhilarating!  Plus protecting yourself and your loved ones from all these creepy monsters won't cost you much and will be super exciting!  The dark exes really helps you tap into that primal, tribal, us-versus-them mindset hardwired into us all.  They turn the world into a black and white place, us (the good guys) and them (the evil ones), which really simplifies your life/political choices by a lot!  Also with the bad guys being so cartoonishly evil, you automatically become a better person just for not being them!  While hurt, needy people come in all kinds of shades of grey, enemies on the other hand simplify life considerably.  Listening to those ex-addicts and people whose life took a turn for the worst can be a sobering experience because it reminds us that we are living a very fragile existence.  After all, they are people just like us and if the things that happened to them happened to us, who knows how we would have turned out?  The dark exes on the other hand lets you forget all that nonsense because all bad things are clearly the work of unseen dark satanic forces!  If you know all there is to know about these terrible people then you don't have to worry about bad things happening to you now do you?

Those are some of my best guesses.  Over on The Slacktivist, Fred Clark wrote a very interesting post on this very matter a while back called "Mike Warnke and Marriage Equality", so do yourself a favour and check it out.  It explores not only this strange phenomenon among the Christian faithful but also how the "satanic underground" fears of yesterday have now made way for the equally unfounded fears about "the gay agenda".


GumbyTheCat said...

Don't forget the most popular "ex" of them all... Lee Strobel, the self-proclaimed "ex-atheist" who was nothing of the sort. Strobel has made a mint equating "not yet a Christian" with "atheist". Truly a liar.

digapigmy said...

The problem with these exes is more basic than a lot of that. All the exes you listed are liars, while you started off listing types of people that actually exist.

As Republicans have realized, the quickest way into the Born-agains' consciousness is fear. Which, you recently reminded me, eventually leads to suffering if small CGI religious leaders have any idea what they are talking about.

Eugene said...

@Gumby - Yes after posting I realized that there were a few more types if exes out there, like the ex-atheist, the ex-evolutionist and of course our good friends from the land of Who-do-you-think-you're-kidding, the ex-gays.

@Digapigmy - Yes that's exactly what they are, they are liars for money. Spreading fear is incredibly profitable for some reason. I'm pretty sure Yoda was spot on.