Miracles V: Did a Blind Man From Bethsaida Really Receive His Sight?

Column by Bishop John Shelby Spong on 29 November 2006 0 Comments
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I would very much like to hear your comments on "religious abuse" particularly as it concerns fundamentalism, especially within a family. I am closely connected with a family where the father of two teenage daughters has them "brain-washed" into believing that he speaks for God and that God speaks through him. He has for all practical purposes separated them from the world, using home schooling as a way of keeping them from being involved in the "evil world." To my knowledge, there is no physical abuse in the family setting but there is certainly emotional abuse. The girls are frightened of their father because to displease him is to displease God.

There is a book (older


Your letter on the surface points to a deep pathology that has religious overtones. However, it is dangerous to prescribe for sickness based on second hand data. Unfortunately, if what you say is true, they will not respond to intervention because anyone who intervened would be working for the devil. Our society gives wide berth to obvious pathology when it is covered by religious language. If you could read my mail, you would see countless numbers of letters from people like the two teenage daughters to which you refer, who tell me of similar abuse and how they managed to escape it. Those who don't escape it become mental patients themselves or repeat the abuse in another generation.

The signs of pathology are the identification between the authority figure (the father) and God so that by disagreeing with or disobeying the authority figure is regarded as being identical to disagreeing with or disobeying God.

The idea that only the parent can teach the child and abandoning the public education system is normally the sign of a deeply threatened, controlling personality. Parents who control their children through fear are also deeply disturbed people.

Since I do not see this as a religious problem but as a psychological problem, I think you should read in qualified psychological books and journals under the subject of Religion as Pathology. Leo Booth's book is a good beginning; perhaps his bibliography will give you more clues.

My best,

John Shelby Spong




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