Saturday, June 1, 2013

Q&A With Samantha Field of Defeating the Dragons

I'm happy that Samantha Field of the blog Defeating the Dragons recently agreed to a Q&A interview for the blog. Like Lana, who I did a Q&A interview with several months ago, Samantha is a survivor of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) movement and a homeschool alumni

I've been reading her blog for a while now, it's funny how the name of the blog reminds me of the band Imagine Dragons. I will have a guest post of my own on her blog post this upcoming week, I will let you know when it's published

I asked her about her time in the IFB, (you can read more about it here), and about why she thinks that some people who leave fundamentalism leave Christianity altogether, and why some people stay in Christianity. (This is a question that I have been pondering for some time).

1. For my readers who may not be familiar with your blog, Defeating the Dragons, or with the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) organization, can you explain what the IFB is, and what your experiences with them were like?

On the surface, IFB churches all have extremely conservative "standards," (known as "legalism" in mainline evangelicalism. IFB churches re-define "legalism" to mean something entirely different). These standards usually show up in no contemporary music of any kind, Christian or otherwise, no dancing, no alcohol consumption, never go to a movie theater, do not have cable TV, and insane "modesty" rules for men and women. 

Dinosaur with saddle at Ken Ham's Creation Museum
Ideologically, you are Tea Party Republican, and a Young Earth Creationist. Many IFBs homeschool their children and are extremely anti-public education. I grew up in the South, so most of the IFBs I knew were explicitly racist-- they believed that segregation is "biblical" and that inter-racial marriage is a sin. 

The biggest part about being IFB, though, is being absolutely certain that you have "the right doctrine," and you essentially despise anyone who disagrees with you-- so, pretty much everyone, including Christians who aren't IFB. IFBs have a persecution complex like none other-- they glory in being the laughingstock of everyone, and frequently rail against "being politically correct" (which, they also re-define). This results in the IFB doctrine known as "Separation," which means exactly what it looks like. They do their best to never encounter anyone or anything that disagrees with them.

2. What convinced you to stay in Christianity despite what you went through in the IFB? Was there ever a time where you considered giving up on Christianity altogether? 

2.) Immediately after my parents finally left the IFB church I'd grown up in, I gave up on being a Christian. I don't know how to refer to those years of my life-- I was probably agnostic, since I was no longer sure God existed, but mostly it was just apathy. It didn't matter if the Christian God-- or any God, for that matter-- existed, because I couldn't bring myself to care. If he did exist, I didn't want anything to do with him. 

A big moment for me was reading Dawkins' The God Delusion, especially his description at the beginning of chapter two-- where he calls God a tyrannical, genocidal maniac. That statement rang deeply, horribly true for me. That was the only god I'd ever known. The IFB movement had made no bones about it-- that was how they described God, although using different words and not usually condensed like that. Seeing it all crammed into one paragraph, using words that actually said what they meant... it was a turning point.

What brought me back to faith... for me, personally, art had a big role. The first semester I was in grad school I refused to go to church-- but I spent a lot of time reading. And I ended up in a lot of art museums, somehow. And after absorbing all of that art, reading everything I had-- I'm not exactly sure what happened, but I found myself believing in Something. I had no idea what that Something was, or who it looked like, but I'd my first taste of something that was just . . . more. 

My second semester, a friend I trusted invited me to his church, and I very warily accepted. It was the first time I'd been to church without being forced to go in years-- and it was radically, impossibly different than anything I'd heretofore experienced. I can't describe what happened, but I spent the rest of the day wavering back and forth between bewilderment and wonder. 

That was when I started reading and investigating in earnest. I blew through basically anything I could find on the existence of that Something-- for, against, didn't matter. Slowly, my head fell in line with my heart, and I could accept the premise that "something" existed. 

That was when I ended up talking to Gary Habermas-- who is the philosophy chair at my grad school, and probably the best-known expert on the resurrection of Christ. He walked me through the arguments in favor and against the historicity of the resurrection, and a month or two later, I felt comfortable with the idea of a historic resurrection. That was when the "Something" took shape for me-- at least a bit. 

I'm still struggling with basically every single basic tenet of Christianity-- and I have no idea how to describe where I am. I'm beginning to think that Universalism (everyone goes to heaven, there's no hell) more accurately reflects what Jesus says, I believe that the Bible was written by men, and maybe God had something to do with it... I'm not sure about a whole lot of things, but my faith is completely different than what I was exposed to as a child. 

3. D
o you consider the IFB a "cult" like many of it's former members and critics do?

3.) I would definitely describe the IFB church I grew up in as a cult-- it fit 10 out of the 14 qualifications for a cult. Nearly every other IFB church I've been in was also probably a cult, as well. I don't know if I'd categorize the entire movement as a cult, but I have no problems with calling it evil and abusive. I think fundamentalism of any stripe is inherently problematic, bordering on the dangerous-- and IFBs are perversely bad, in my opinion.

4. What do you think is the difference between former fundamentalists who become liberal/moderate Christians, and those who have become atheists or agnostics? What separates the two groups, why do some leave and some stay in Christianity?

4.) Oh, wow, so many factors. How bad their experience was with fundamentalism might be related, from what I've seen happen to friends. Personality and temperament, too. I'm a creative, soulful type-- I intuit things first, and then analyze the crap out of it. For some, that initial "existential leap" that Kierkegaard talks about is not a leap that feels right to them, or a leap they can honestly make. The people I know who left Fundy-land but stayed Christians all seem to have a spiritual bent-- trusting in Something enriches our lives. For some, that's not something they need or desire. But there's probably as many reasons as there are people. 

5. What is it that you enjoy most about life now, post-fundamentalism?

5.) The freedom-- the liberation. The connections I can make, the friends I can have, the experiences I can enjoy, the things I can learn. I can live life with abandon, and it's incredible. Throwing off the overwhelming fear, guilt, shame, and oppression is magnificent. I can watch TV. I can laugh at jokes. I can read books that aren't missionary biographies. I can get to know people who think differently than I do, and genuinely appreciate their experience without trying to convince them to agree with me. It's bloody fantastic. 

6.What advice would you give someone considering leaving fundamentalism and/or an abusive group like the IFB?

6.) First, I'd probably tell them to take their time. One of the hardest parts about getting away from fundamentalism is learning to trust yourself again-- but you have to. You have to be able to listen to your feelings, respect those feelings, and act on them. If someone or something is making you feel unsafe, leave-- and you are not answerable to anyone. No one gets to dictate to you what you're allowed to feel and how you're allowed to respond. Not your parents, not anyone. 

A big part of getting away, for me, was learning to give myself permission to do what I wanted, when I wanted, and who I wanted to do it with. At first it was almost hair-raising. Simple things, like tasting a beer or sitting on the same couch as a man made me feel panicky and nervous. It took a long time, but I'm a happier person for it. 


  1. great Q&A. Same for me. It just doesn't feel right that this world is all there is. I don't feel like a person without a soul. I feel like a soul trapped in a body. It enriches my life to believe in something. Art is a very good example. Art that points to something beyond ourselves feels all the more richer.

    1. I see that in the writings of people who are questioning, some don't want to leave Christianity, because they have a nagging feeling that there has to be something more, something more powerful than us out there.

  2. I appreciated the interview. . learning more about Samantha's experience growing up in IFB HELL. Thanks for doing it.

    A couple things said above reminded me of these words from the introduction of Mike Mason’s book The Gospel According to Job. Here it is, bold emphases are mine:

    "Going over and over the things I had written proved to be a therapeutic process in itself, and eventually, I think, I found myself actually listening to my own message and taking it to heart. I began, I suppose, to trust again. I began to trust, not merely God, but myself.

    "I do not mean this quite the way it sounds. As Jeremiah warned, “The heart is deceitful above all things” (17:9). But let me put it this way: when I became a Christian, God came to live in me. God lives in Heaven, but now He also lives in me. He lives in the deepest parts of me, and that means that as I walk with Him I can trust my deepest instincts. In fact, I must trust them, for they are the habitation of God. Knowing this gives a brand-new dignity to being human, and to all that being human entails. It gives one the sudden freedom to doubt, to be overwhelmed, to fail, to fear, to be angry, to have passions—in short, to be completely oneself. This the kind of man Job was. What I discovered through my study of Job was that it is all right to be a human being. I found out that mercy is the permission to be human."

  3. Great interview, I just hope Samantha leaves religion ultimately. The reason I say so, is if you believe in universalism then what is the point of the bible anyway. It shows to me that her morals are coming from a way better place than anything from the bible.

    1. Hmmm.... There has been times where I have wondered what the point is in still trying to remain in Christianity when you reject most of what the Bible says (and for good reason)>

    2. I guess that depends on what you mean by "what the Bible says." For the context here, I'm still not sure what I think about Universalism, but, there are things in the Bible that lean more in that direction than what I understood as a child ("few there be that find the way to heaven," etc.)

    3. It's all in interpretation, for sure.

      What I was referring to is people who reject the Bible as the inspired/inerrant word of God, and reject many aspects of the Bible, like Paul's misogyny, for instance.

  4. A very interesting post. Thanks! I left fundamentalism for an evangelical church in 1970, but your descriptions are remarkably similar to how I was raised. The exceptions are home schooling and the tea party, which were later developments.

    1. Yes, fundamentalism didn't really become the political force it is today until the 80's

  5. Good interview! I've been reading Samantha's oh for a couple months now. I never realized she left Christianity altogether for awhile, I always wondered how she managed to hang on to Christ while leaving all the other stuff, because I had assumed she never stopped believing.

  6. Great interview. I completely agree about the freedom of leaving a fundamentalist church (although it sounds like mine wasn't nearly as extreme as hers). Still, freedom of thought with no guilt is amazing.

    In reference to the cult, you said "it fit 10 out of the 14 qualifications for a cult."

    What are the 14 qualifications for a cult?

    1. I would have to have Samantha answer this, I will e-mail her about it. I've seen various lists of characteristics of a cult, and the IFB meets many of them.

    2. This is the resource I found when I first started asking if my church had been a cult:

      My church fit these:

      The group is focused on a living leader to whom members seem to display excessively zealous, unquestioning commitment.

      The group is preoccupied with bringing in new members.

      Questioning, doubt, and dissent are discouraged or even punished.

      The leadership dictates sometimes in great detail how members should think, act, and feel (for example: members must get permission from leaders to date, change jobs, get married; leaders may prescribe what types of clothes to wear, where to live, how to discipline children, and so forth).

      The group is elitist, claiming a special, exalted status for itself, its leader(s), and members.

      The group has a polarized us-versus-them mentality, which causes conflict with the wider society.

      The group's leader is not accountable to any authorities (as are, for example, military commanders and ministers, priests, monks, and rabbis of mainstream denominations).

      The group teaches or implies that its supposedly exalted ends justify means that members would have considered unethical before joining the group.

      The leadership induces guilt feelings in members in order to control them.

      Members' subservience to the group causes them to cut ties with family and friends, and to give up personal goals and activities that were of interest before joining the group.

      Members are expected to devote inordinate amounts of time to the group.

      Members are encouraged or required to live and/or socialize only with other group members.

      And.. that's actually 12 of 14.

    3. Wow, that sounds pretty intense :(


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