Religious Trauma or Philosophical Crisis?

Religious Trauma or Philosophical Crisis?

[Note: I am a philosopher, not a mental health professional. These are my personal opinions, and should not be regarded as professional advice regarding the diagnosis or treatment of mental illness. If you have concerns about your mental health, you should seek the counsel of a licensed mental health professional.]

America has witnessed a mass exodus from American Evangelical Christianity in recent years. While multiple factors have contributed to this spiritual migration,[1] perhaps the most notable is the emerging awareness of Evangelicalism’s capacity to torture the bodies and souls of the faithful. Ex-Evangelical Jamie Finch, for example, speculates that “the primary explanation for this shift [away from Evangelicalism] is because our societal understanding of trauma, its manifestations and its effects, is growing.”[2] In fact, some have even gone so far as to attempt to identify the profound alienation and suffering induced by immersion in or separation from authoritarian religious systems as a mental disorder: Religious Trauma Syndrome.

1. Defining RTS

Human development consultant Dr. Marlene Winell pioneered the diagnoses of Religious Trauma Syndrome to call attention to the debilitating effects of evangelical doctrine and practice.[3] She likens RTS to other trauma related disorders such as PTSD and C-PTSD, sometimes drawing the closest analogy to PTSD[4], othertimes to a combination of PTSD and C-PTSD,[5] and at points even subsuming it under C-PTSD as a specific type.[6] She proposes the following symptoms as indicative of this underlying disorder:

• Confusion, difficulty making decisions, trouble thinking for self, lack of meaning or direction, undeveloped sense of self.

• Anxiety being in “The World,” panic attacks, fear of damnation, depression, thoughts of suicide, anger, bitterness, betrayal, guilt, grief and loss, difficulty with expressing emotion.

• Sleep and eating disorders, substance abuse, nightmares, perfectionism, discomfort with sexuality, negative body image, impulse control problems, difficulty enjoying pleasure or being present here and now.

• Rupture of family and social network, loneliness, problems relating to society, personal relationship issues.[7]

Though she offers this list of putative symptoms, the bulk of her argument attempts to demonstrate that living under an authoritarian religion can be traumatic. She does this to address the mental health profession’s tendency to dismiss reports of religious harms. Because modern society tends to trivialize religion, people can be baffled by the idea that religious life or the loss thereof could be damaging. Just as belief in Santa is largely innocuous and worthy, at best, of a few wistful tears upon learning the truth,  so too is belief in God thought to be a childish foible easily outgrown.[8] In light of this dismissive tendency on the part of therapists, Winell goes to great lengths to point out that Evangelicalism is a serious matter. In fact, she argues that the experience of authoritarian religion can be doubly traumatic: It traumatizes both those that live under its sway and those that leave the fold.[9]

Traumatic Effects of Living Under Evangelicalism.

The doctrines of authoritarian religion can traumatize those who attempt to live by them. Winell notes that religions like Evangelical Christianity demand belief in a profoundly damaging creed whose “toxic teachings”  are capable of traumatizing those who take them to be an accurate depiction of reality. Some of these doctrines inculcate a profound sense of fear, while others instill deep shame.

Doctrines that inculcate fear

Hell: Evangelicals claim that all unbelievers will be punished by being consciously tormented in fire and darkness for all eternity. Winell observes that “the Bible is quoted, including the words of Jesus, to paint a horrifying picture of hell as a lake of fire, a fire of eternal torture impossile to quench despite any pleading.”[10] These images are particularly haunting when told to young children who “can obviously visualize these things while not having the brain capacity to evaluate the message.”[11] Though Evangelicalism technically promises protection from this threat by submitting to Jesus as one’s personal master and savior through  faith in his blood sacrifice and resurrection, anxiety remains, since one is never quite sure whether he or she has gotten the formula right. “Many adults remember trying to get ‘saved’ multiple times, even hundreds of times, because of unrelenting fear.”[12]

The Rapture: Evangelicals believe that Jesus might call the faithful to himself at any moment, leaving those not pure of heart to suffer through “the great tribulation” in which God will unleash all sorts of horrors upon the earth. It is not uncommon for Evangelical children to panic when their parents or teachers are out of sight, thinking that the rapture has happened and they have been ‘left behind’ to suffer alone through the apocalypse.

The danger of ‘the world’: Winell notes that for Evangelicals “the world is a fallen place, dangerously ruled by Satan and his minions until Jesus comes back and puts everything right. Meanwhile it’s a battleground of spiritual warfare and children are taught to be very afraid of anything that is not Christian.”[13] This fear of the outside world is further inflamed within homeschooling contexts where extreme social isolation can be the norm and in churches that emphasize the power of demons.

Doctrines that instill shame

Original Sin: People are said to be depraved from birth, essentially unclean, whose righteous acts are as filthy rags before God (Isa 64:6), and whose “every imagining of the thoughts of [their] heart[s]” are “only evil continually” (Gen 6:5). Winell notes that this doctrine is particularly damaging, since it induces  a toxic sense of shame and puts the believer in a double bind: One is responsible to be perfect as one’s heavenly father is perfect, but also has no power to do so. In this manner, “Fundamentalist Christianity promises to solve all kinds of personal problems and when it does not, it is the individual who bears the paralyzing guilt of not measuring up.”[14]

Demon possession: Many children are told they are demon-possessed and in need of exorcism. Childhood misbehavior, not infrequently the result of bad parenting in these contexts,  is thus categorized as the work of an external demonic intelligence controlling the child. Winell observes, “I have heard many stories of this kind of labeling, which is of course the ultimate in both shame and fear. Forced exorcisms are also all too common, even in this modern day, and certainly qualify as trauma, lasting into adulthood.”[15]

Prohibitions of thought and feeling: The demand to take every thought captive for Christ (2 Cor 10:5) and to not feel certain emotions (e.g. anger, fear, sexual desire, etc.) (Eph 4:27, Matt 10:28, Matt 5:27-28), can wreak havoc on the psyches of the faithful. “With external authority the only permissible guide, [people] grow up losing touch with inner instincts so necessary for decision making and moral development.”[16]

Traumatic effects of Leaving Evangelicalism

Winell argues that just as life under authoritarian religion can be traumatic, so also can leaving it. She notes that the threat of personal death or the experience of a death of a loved are classified as traumatic events capable of bringing about PTSD and draws an analogy between death and exiting Evangelicalism.  “Losing one’s faith, or leaving one’s religion, is an analogous event because it essentially means the death of one’s previous life – the end of reality as it was understood. It is a huge shock to the system, and one that needs to be recognized as trauma.”[17] Given that Evangelicals pride themselves in providing a comprehensive “world and life view,”[18] profound disorientation can ensue once one discards it. The Ex-Evangelical is forced to simultaneously find new ways of understanding self, world, society, value, objects of ultimate concern, etc. Furthermore, since Evangelical Christianity provides an alternative culture through its own communities, schools, literature, stores, movies, music, etc., leaving it frequently entails the loss of one’s culture and social support systems,  in many cases resulting in a complete rejection by family and friends (1 Cor 5:11). Again, Winell points out that such profound isolation can be traumatic.

2. Conceiving of Religious Trauma as a Mental Disorder.

Advocates for the adoption of RTS as a mental disorder appear to offer four arguments for their position.

  1. RTS gives people permission to take their suffering seriously.

This argument points out that many struggling with the negative effects of religion feel that they lack permission to take their suffering seriously. They believe, falsely, that they are to blame for not being able to brush off their experiences and move on unphased in a world outside of Evangelicalism. If RTS were recognized as a mental disorder, then people would realize that they have been significantly harmed, give themselves permission to grieve, and devote themselves to the process of healing. Such an argument is suggested, for example, by Jamie Finch when she reports that “for so many of my friends and clients alike, when I tell them I believe that what they’re experiencing in their psychology and physiology is not only normal in light of their experience, but deserves the term ‘trauma’, the relief is palpable.”[19] Likewise, Winell suggests this style of argument when she asserts that “just like clearly naming problems such as anorexia, PTSD, or bipolar disorder made it possible to stop self-blame and move ahead with learning methods of recovery, we need to address Religious Trauma.”[20] As with these other disorders, having an official diagnosis will prove to be essential for allowing people to move forward with their recovery.

  1. It will allow those already under the care of mental health professionals to receive better treatments.

It has been pointed out by others that therapists tend to be unfamiliar with cult dynamics and the harms they inflict in people’s lives. For example, psychotherapist Bonnie Zieman  laments that  “therapists with an understanding of cult dynamics and the resulting after-effects on the victim are, for the moment, few and far between.”[21] The advocate of RTS could argue that if RTS were accepted as an official diagnosis, therapists would be more likely to receive training in this area and thus be better able to help their clients, or, at the very least, avoid re-traumatizing them. Winell observes:

“Anger for other kinds of abuse is considered normal and acceptable, whereas ex-believers are supposed to forgive and “not throw the baby out with the bathwater.” They are called too sensitive or accused of taking religion the wrong way. People understand nightmares about wartime combat but not about Armageddon. Expressing feelings is usually dangerous. Too often, the result is a shaming attack rather than support, i.e., “blaming the victim.”[22] 

  1. It directs resources to an ignored population.

Though Winell does not address this explicitly, I think a further argument for adopting RTS as a DSM diagnosis would be that it allows people to access resources they would not otherwise have access to. Since insurance companies only reimburse for treatment of official mental disorders, creating this new mental disorder would allow suffering people to access care that they might not otherwise be able to afford. Likewise, the existence of this official diagnostic label could also raise awareness and encourage corporations, universities, and government agencies to create programs to help this overlooked population.

  1. It justifies the use of state force to prevent religious abuse.

Sometimes the arguments for RTS take a more overtly political tone. This can be seen when Winell claims that “child protective services will aggressively rescue children who are physically or sexually abused, but the deep wounding and mental damage caused by religion, which can last a lifetime, does not get attention. The institutions of religion in our culture are still given a privileged place in many ways. Criticism is very difficult. Parents are given undue authority to treat their children as they wish, even though the authoritarian and patriarchal attitudes of religion, along with too much respect for the fourth commandment to obey parents, has resulted in harsh and violent parenting methods. Even the sexual misdeeds of the Catholic clergy have been amazingly difficult to confront. Children are treated like property of parents or parish, and too much goes on behind closed doors.”[23] Here Winell seems to suggest that recognizing RTS as a legitimate mental disorder would allow government agencies like CPS to intervene into areas of life that are currently off limits.

3. Weaknesses in the Arguments for RTS

While I support many of the overall objectives of RTS proponents, I believe that these objectives can be met without medicalizing the suffering of those who have been abused by authoritarian religion. I don’t deny that an official diagnosis of  RTS might help in the treatment of some individuals already under the care of mental health professionals for other disorders (such as those involving depression or anxiety), but I do believe that an accurate understanding of religious abuse requires a broader conception of human suffering than that provided by the medical model. I’ll first point out what I take to be critical weaknesses in the arguments for RTS, and then go on to develop an alternative framework for understanding the suffering caused by abusive religion.

Against arguments 1 and 2: The problem of non-necessity.

Note that the first two arguments for RTS, the permission to suffer argument and the better treatment argument, rely on the following assumption:

Diagnostic Necessity Assumption (DNA): Personal suffering can be taken seriously by individuals and society only if this suffering is categorized as a mental illness.

The problem for these arguments is that DNA is false. While RTS advocates may have admirable intentions, there is little reason to think that subsumption under the framework of mental illness is necessary for taking suffering seriously. Consider first the case of personal suffering. It is prima facie plausible that people can take the “emotional torture”[24] inflicted by their religion seriously without categorizing their pain as a mental illness. In fact, we humans do this all the time. People suffer profoundly from parental abuse, abusive relationships, job environments, social structures, and the capriciousness of nature. Such suffering needs to be taken seriously, but it is not exclusively captured under the lens of mental illness. Call to mind, for example, the case of Japanese Americans during World War II who were forced from their homes, stripped of their freedoms, and herded into camps. Their suffering was real and serious, but it is not obvious that to take it seriously they would need to conceive of  themselves as mentally ill–perhaps suffering from concentration camp disorder.[25] Indeed, far from being necessary, we might suspect that such a diagnosis would obfuscate the true nature and source of their suffering, since their suffering appears to be grounded in moral and political violation rather than mental illness.

Similar considerations hold for the better treatment argument. While it is certainly important to educate mental health professionals about the nature of religious abuse so that they can better serve the patients under their care, this can be done without adopting a new diagnosis. In fact, ex-cult member and therapist Bonnie Zieman, has done precisely that in her book Cracking the Cult Code. Further justification for such education can be grounded in the fact that Winell appears to include other mental health disorders (such as “depression”, “sleep or eating disorders” and perhaps PTSD or C-PTSD[26]) as symptoms of RTS. For example, if someone with a background of religious abuse were already in treatment for depression, then one could argue that his or her therapist has an obligation to learn the relevant facts about his or her particular situation. Understanding the roots of religious abuse would thereby be essential for adequate treatment, but adopting a new diagnostic label would not be necessary.

Against arguments 3 and 4: Pragmatic obstacles

            The considerations at play against the third and fourth arguments are more pragmatic. Specifically, one can contend that the creation of a new diagnostic label may be pragmatically self-defeating. Consider first the resource allocation argument. While it may be conceded that it is good to allocate resources to help people suffering from religious abuse, one wonders to what extent adopting a new mental health diagnosis will actually do this. First, even if RTS were to enter the DSM, it is not guaranteed that insurance companies would actually reimburse for requisite treatments.[27] Furthermore, given the political and social influence of religious institutions noted by Winell, the resulting backlash created by the new diagnostic label categorizing religion as a mental disorder could actually result in less care for individuals.[28]

            A similar concern emerges for the social improvement argument.  For, while it may be conceded that society should find ways to ameliorate the effects of abusive religion, it is not obvious that ceding such power to the mental health industry is prudent. Are the diagnostic criteria for RTS really clear enough to justify extending the coercive power of the state to new domains?  Do psychiatrists and other mental health professionals really have the requisite training, expertise, or authority to legislate normative values in the political sphere? I, for one, am skeptical. Furthermore, the adoption of RTS may be pragmatically self-defeating in two significant areas. First, as noted in the previous argument, advocates of RTS believe that religious institutions have extensive political influence. If this is true, then it is likely that if the mental health profession were to begin to take a political stand and actively work against religious interests, these institutions would begin to push back. Rather than issuing in state coercion against religion, the adoption of RTS could just as easily produce stricter regulation and defunding of the mental health industry. Secondly, this political crusade could turn people diagnosable with RTS away from seeking help.  Advocates of RTS note that Evangelicalism has been marked by an obsession with gaining political power,[29] so if the Ex-Evangelical were to see the mental health profession as itself engaged in a culture war against religion, they may avoid that profession altogether, especially, if, as noted above, it were to be seen as stepping outside of its domain of expertise and issuing unjustified metaphysical and moral pronouncements.[30]

4. A Broader Framework for Understanding Religious Abuse and Suffering

A better grasp of the suffering inflicted by abusive religions will require extending our horizons beyond the domains of mental illness.[31] In this regard, a helpful analogy can be found to Evan Stark’s work on coercive control. When working with abused women, Stark found that the dominant clinical framework of battered woman’s syndrome or PTSD did not adequately capture what he was seeing. These women did not meet the psychological profile of the traditional battered woman, whose “exposure to severe violence so overwhelms the ego’s defense mechanisms that a person’s capacities to act effectively on their own behalf is paralyzed.”[32] Rather, far from being paralyzed, these women were acting as strategically as possible under the regimes imposed upon them by their abusers.

Stark argues that the adoption of the framework of mental illness for understanding the actions of abused women led to an unfortunate situation in which:

“To protect themselves and their children, women were forced to deny the reasonableness of their acts, abandon their social bonds with other women, and confirm both the governing stereotypes of female inferiority and, by implication, the rationality of male domination so long as it was enforced by acceptable means.”[33]

For example, in appealing to an insanity defense grounded in PTSD to account for her killing her abuser, a woman would have to abandon all attempts to prove the reasonableness of her actions. As a result, she cannot lay claim to broader conceptions of self-defense that might provide a more adequate justification for her conduct. In contrast to the mental illness model, Stark claims that abusive relationships are better accounted for by noting that “the primary harm abusive men inflict is political, not physical, and reflects the deprivation of rights and resources that are critical to personhood and citizenship.”[34] He thus compares these relationships to “other capture or course-of conduct crimes such as kidnapping, stalking, and harassment, including the facts that it ongoing and its perpetrators use various means to hurt, humiliate, intimidate, exploit, isolate, and dominate their victims. Like hostages, victims of coercive control are frequently deprived of money, food, access to communication or transportation, and other survival resources even as they are cut off from family, friends, and other supports. But unlike other capture crimes, coercive control is personalized, extends through social space as well as over time, and is gendered in that it relies for its impact on women’s vulnerability as women due to sexual inequality.”[35] He likens the case to one in which psychologists are perplexed at a woman’s behavior as she paces around the her quarters and never leaves. The psychologists might set forth all manner of putative diagnoses, but an adequate explanation won’t be provided until one realizes that the woman is in a jail cell.[36] “Start with the cage, and everything changes. Suddenly, seemingly discrete, unrelated behaviors and effects fall into place.”[37]

            I believe a similar case holds for understanding religious abuse. Like coercive control, the primary harm inflicted by religious abuse is directed against personal autonomy.[38] Abusive religious systems seek to extinguish “the capacity for independent decision making in the areas by which we distinguish adults from children and free citizens from indentured servants.”[39] This parallel to coercive control makes sense given that Stark himself appealed to cultic abuse and brainwashing as paradigm cases through which to develop his theory.[40]

            If the suffering resulting from religious abuse is categorized as arising from an assault against personhood and autonomy rather than as a mental illness, then perhaps the traditional doctrine of Enlightenment might prove to be a more fruitful framework than that of PTSD. Kant provides a classical definition of Enlightenment in his aptly titled essay An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’  In it, Kant highlights the danger of authoritarian religion, warning that “the most pernicious (die schädlichste) and dishonourable (die entehrendste)” form of immaturity (Unmündigkeit) is that inculcated by unlawful religious authorities.[41] In fact, he even characterizes the proposal that a group of men could legislate a body of doctrine to be binding for all time on future minds regardless of what new truths might be discovered  as “a crime against human nature, whose original destiny (ursprüngliche Bestimmung) lies in such progress.”[42] Kant maintains that the proper response to such a Babylonian captivity of the mind is Enlightenment (Aufklärung): “man’s emergence (Ausgang) from his self-incurred immaturity (Unmündigkeit)….[viz.,] the inability to use one’s own understanding without the guidance from another (ohne Leitung eines anderen zu bedienen).”[43]

            The Enlightenment project is difficult but necessary for human flourishing. Its difficulty is twofold. First, thinking for oneself is hard work. Kant’s culture was not unlike our own in this regard:

“It is so convenient to be immature! If I have a book to have understanding in place of me, a spiritual advisor to have a conscience for me, a doctor to judge my diet for me, and so on, I need not make any efforts at all. I need not think, so long as I can pay.”[44]

Those who have suffered from religious abuse face a second difficulty, since they have been indoctrinated to believe that independent thought constitutes a mortal danger. Kant observes that abusive leaders “having first infatuated their domesticated animals, and carefully prevented the docile creatures from daring to take a single step without the leading-strings to which they are tied, they next show them the danger which threatens them if they try to walk unaided. Now this danger is not in fact so very great, for they would certainly learn to walk eventually after a few falls.”[45] Kant here recognizes that high control groups can instill an irrational fear in their members. But the proper response, in his view, to this fact is not to suggest that those wrestling with such fears are mentally ill. Instead, these people need reassurance that the fear of independent thought can be overcome with practice. They need a safe environment and encouragement to use their own understanding. And, most importantly, they need friends to come alongside them, heartening them in the rallying cry of the Enlightenment, sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own understanding!”[46]

Peter Yong, Ph.D.


[1] Such as its brutal political agenda, its high profile scandals and coverups, its intellectual vacuity and moral degeneracy, and the awareness of all the forgoing made possible by the internet.

[2] Jamie Lee Finch, You are Your Own: A Reckoning with the Religious Trauma of Evangelical Christianity, 60.

[3] Winell’s own background of being raised in fundamentalism by missionary parents gave her the opportunity to directly experience some of the problems associated with such religious systems.

[4] Winell, RTS Part I: It’s Time to Recognize It. https://journeyfree.org/rts/rts-its-time-to-recognize-it/ “The symptoms compare most easily with post-traumatic stress disorder” (PTSD), which results from experiencing or being confronted with death or serious injury which causes feelings of terror, helplessness, or horror.”

[5] Winell, RTS Part III: The Trauma of Leaving Religion. https://journeyfree.org/rts/the-trauma-of-leaving-religion-pt-3/ “It can be compared to a combination of PTSD and Complex-PTSD (C-PTSD).”

[6] Ibid., see section “RTS as C-PTSD.”

[7] Winell, RTS Part 1.

[8] Ibid.

[9] For Evangelicalism’s true believers: you can’t live with it, but you also can’t live without it.

[10] Winell, RTS Part II. Understanding RTS—Trauma from Religion. https://journeyfree.org/rts/understandingrts/  

[11] Ibid.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Ibid.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid. In addition to these toxic doctrines, Winell argues that the practices of religion can also be abusive. She argues that since these religious groups have an authoritarian structure, they allow for abuses to go unchecked. “Physical, sexual, and emotional harm is inflicted in families and churches because authoritarianism goes unchecked. Too many secrets are kept. Sexual repression in the religion also contributes to child abuse. The sanctioned patriarchal power structure allows abusive practices towards women and children. Severe condemnation of homosexuality takes an enormous toll as well, including suicide (Winell, RTS Part 2).”

[17] Winell, RTS Part 3.

[18] https://www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/whats-a-christian-worldview/

[19] Finch, You Are Your Own, 7-8.

[20] Winell, RTS Part 1.

[21] Bonnie Zieman, Cracking the Cult Code for Therapists: What Every Cult Victim Wants Their Therapist to Know  (North Charleston: Create Space, 2017).

[22] Winell, RTS Part 3. Similarly, “In many seemingly secular settings, religious views are still considered “normal” and even advocated in aggressive ways. In medicine and in treatment for drugs and alcohol, professionals assume that pushing religion is acceptable. Yet people struggling with RTS-related substance abuse simply cannot stomach the religious tone of Alcoholics Anonymous, for example, and get very little sympathy.” Zieman articulates similar concerns when she reports “Some victims, while describing their efforts to explain their cult experience–how grievous it had been to leave, and how they were struggling to recover–related that it was just too much to take on the task of educating the therapist as well as do the grueling work of recovery. In fact, ex-cult victims said efforts to educate their therapist about cults, left them feeling frustrated, discouraged, and even re-traumatized. Listen to one former cult member: ‘and maybe the most galling of all, was that there was no one in my life who truly understood. The professional therapists I consulted were highly qualified, but I lacked the words to make them understand just how empty or alone I felt, and just how much the shunning by friends and family alike had impacted me.’” (Zieman, Cracking the Cult Code). Finch also appears to share these worries when she claims that “what can be difficult as well for those who have left Evangelicalism and are seeking support is the lack of helping professions that understand the specificity of the Evangelical experience and language. Religious and secular therapists alike may not understand the true severity of the belief experience, and could potentially do more harm than good by either dismissing their trauma or encouraging their client back to a place of belief. Therapists with no religious background may be quick to dismiss the deeply traumatic nature of Evangelical teachings because they don’t seem problematic or extreme enough and a client can feel invalidated or unheard. Religious counselors can often either intentionally or accidentally impose the worldview they hold onto their clients who are actively attempting to recover from it, and the client can feel unsafe or manipulated. Individuals desperate for recovery assistance can find it extremely difficult to find healers who understand the nuance of this particular damage.” (Finch, You are Your Own, 101).

[23] Winell, RTS Part 3.

[24] Finch, You are Your Own, 82.

[25] Perhaps a diagnosis similar to drapetomania, a diagnosis offered in the American South said to characterize slaves who ran away from their masters. See, Greenberg The Book of Woe: The DSM and the Unmaking of Psychiatry, (New York: Penguin, 2013), 6.

[26] If C-PTSD is to count as a mental disorder given that it isn’t included in the DSM.

[27] This leads to a related concern regarding whether there is a better way of organizing access to social support than via the dictates of private insurance companies.

[28] One might argue that one could avoid this scenario by being careful to distinguish religion as such from deviant forms of religion. The problem with this approach is that advocates of RTS tend of argue against such a distinction, saying it further traumatizes victims. Winell, for example, cites a client who claims “If I were to say Christianity took my childhood, filled me with fear, paralyzed me with anxiety, annihilated my Self, robbed my body of feeling, stole my future, gave me an unequal marriage role, and cost me thousands of dollars, Christians would dismiss it with ‘you were in the wrong church, you take things too seriously, or you made your choices based on your own free will. It is no better when I talk to those outside of Christianity. They gently suggest that I’m over sensitive or making a big deal out of nothing or that I don’t understand who Jesus really was or that it couldn’t have been all that bad since I turned out to be such a nice person” (RTS Part 3).

[29] See, for example, Finch, You are Your Own, 11.

[30] Just as their abusive religion did.

[31] I also wonder to what extent an over reliance on the trauma model has undermined groups aimed at helping people heal from toxic religion. See, for example, the now inoperative Homeschooler’s Anonymous blog. https://eleanorwritesthings.com/2018/09/09/why-im-not-an-editor-for-homeschoolers-anonymous-anymore/

[32] Evan Stark, Coercive Control: How Men Entrap Women in Personal Life, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 114.

[33] Ibid., 145.

[34] Ibid., 5

[35] Ibid., 5

[36] Ibid., 199

[37] Ibid.

[38] Ibid., 13.

[39] Ibid., 15.

[40] Ibid., 199.

[41] Kant, “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’” In Kant: Political Writings  ed. Reiss (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1970), 59.

[42] Ibid., 57.

[43] Ibid., 54

[44] Ibid.

[45] Ibid.

[46] Kant, 54.

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