Guest Post: Karen Garst’s New Book on Women v Religion, an Atheist’s Perspective. A Look at the Topic of Shame from Religion

A guest post by Karen Garst who blogs as the Faithless Feminist. This post looks at a chapter in Karen’s “Women v Religion: The Case Against Faith — and for Freedom.” This post deals with an essay by Candace Gorham that deals with the topic of shame from religion. The Wondering Eagle is excited about this book and hope that others will pick it up when it is released as a paperback on June 1, 2018. 

“Shame is a soul eating emotion.”

Carl Gustuv Jung

“Shame is an unhappy emotion invented by pietists in order to exploit the human race.”

Blake Edwards 

“I have endeavoured to dissipate these religious superstitions from the minds of women, and base their faith on science and reason, where I found for myself at least that peace and comfort I could never find in the Bible and the church. . . the less they believe, the better for their own happiness and development. . . .

For fifty years the women of this nation have tried to dam up this deadly stream that poisons all their lives, but thus far they have lacked the insight or courage to follow it back to its source and there strike the blow at the fountain of all tyranny, religious superstition, priestly power, and the canon law.”

Elizabeth Cady Stanton in “The Degraded Status of Woman in the Bible 

Today The Wondering Eagle is thrilled to feature a guest post from Karen Garst, who blogs as the Faithless Feminist. Karen is publishing a new book called, “Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith —and for Freedom.” Karen’s book will be released on June 1, 2018 in paperback. Before I get into Karen’s guest post, let me give you some biographical background. Karen was born in Bismarck, North Dakota. She earned a B.A. in French at Concordia College in Moorhead, Minnesota. Next she studied French Literature at the University of Wisconsin – Madison where she earned a M.A. Finally she completed her educational career with a Ph.D also at Madison in curriculum and instruction. Upon finishing at the University of Wisconsin Karen moved to Oregon where she took a position as a field rep for the Oregon Federation of Teachers. She then served as the executive director for the Oregon Community College Association and then became the executive director at the Oregon State Bar. As Karen cares about women’s causes she is deeply inspired by Elizabeth Cady Stanton. Stanton is well known as an American suffragist, social activist, abolitionist, and a strong leader in the early women’s rights movement. What is not as well known is that Stanton also was a leader in free thinking. History remembers Elizabeth Cady Stanton for unveiling the Declaration of Sentiments at the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848. Seneca Falls was the first women’s rights convention in American history. Today Karen resides in Sherwood, Oregon and she has also published “Women Beyond Belief: Discovering Life Without Religion.” As an atheist Karen is involved in many different atheist or secular humanist groups to include The Freedom from Religion Foundation and the Center for Inquiry. I republished Karen’s review of the Center for Inquiry’s Women in Secularism Conference here in the Washington, D.C. You can read that in, “Guest Atheist Post: Karen Garst Reviews the 4th Women In Secularism Conference in Arlington, Virginia.”

Karen’s guest post deals with the subject of shame in religion. It deals with Candace Gorham’s work on shame as a current mental health counselor. Shame is a topic that deserves a lot of attention and is one of the darker problems in religion. Shame in evangelicalism is used to control people. Its a powerful and toxic emotion that leaves a lot of damage in its wake. One of the best examples I can think of when it comes to shame deals with Josh Harris and Sovereign Grace Ministries.  Josh Harris wrote and published a book called “I Kiss Dating Goodbye.” The book discouraged dating and instead promoted courtship. Sex was criminalized in many ways through shame. The legacy of the book and the sexual purity movement resulted in a lot of people who never married because they so feared making a mistake. They also feared their sexuality. Many who dealt with shame also had to deal with psychological issues because of the purity culture inside Sovereign Grace.  I remember hearing of a situation where a guy wrote to Josh Harris an email a couple of decades later incensed because the shame from the purity movement prevented him and his wife from having sex. Shame is a very manipulative and toxic emotion. And as we all know today the irony with shame and Sovereign Grace is that they did this and messed with people psychologically while allegedly covering up child sex abuse, domestic abuse and other issues. You can read more about that in the Washingtonian in, “The Sex-Abuse Scandal That Devastated a Suburban Megachurch.” So with that said let me turn this over to Karen. This is a book that looks interesting and I hope people will consider and contemplate. I will have to put this down on my growing to read list. 

Anyone who has left religion, whether it was a fundamentalist religion or a more liberal variety, knows the role that religion plays on our mental psyche. We feel guilt that we are making mistakes and not being the person the holy book tells us to be. We feel shame when we engage in pre-marital sex if our church condemns it. And when we leave, some of those feelings are hard to let go of. We may be depressed because of a loss of community or we may feel anxiety that we haven’t yet encountered others like us.

Candace Gorham, a former Evangelical minister, became a mental health counselor after leaving religion ten years ago. She knows about these issues because she has experienced them herself and has helped clients overcome them. She writes about religion’s impact on our brains and well-being in a new book: Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom. Dr. Karen L. Garst, the editor of the book, has compiled thirteen essays by women atheists who talk about different aspects of how religion has subjugated and damaged women. “Candace’s essay is the first in the book for a reason: it’s hard to leave your faith beyond. Candace helps us understand what we need to do to be whole again.”

In her first paragraph, Candace differentiates between shame and guilt.

Shame involves how one feels about oneself. It is painfully intense embarrassment and humiliation that arises from having done something wrong. People full of shame have done something wrong, and they feel bad about themselves for having done it. Guilt, on the other hand, is about feeling responsible for something wrong. Guilt involves feeling remorseful and deserving of blame. When observing the psychological impact of religion, we must start with guilt and shame, as many religious traditions thrive by playing upon them to manipulate the minds and prey upon the emotions of their followers.

She points out that hundreds of actions in the Bible are “deemed illegal, immoral, or detrimental to one’s relationship with god.” So we have a good range to pick from in order to harbor shame or guilt for our actions. She also discusses the impact of depression and anxiety that can cause triggers to a person many years after she leaves religion. It is good to know, however, that counselors like Candace can help people through these episodes, restoring a stronger sense of self. Many mental health issues go untreated while a person is involved with religion. They are told to “pray to God” for what they have done, which as we all know, just isn’t going to work. Thus, when a person does leave, these symptoms have often built up to something very significant. Some religions rely on an overemphasis on hell which can also inflict damage to one’s sense of well-being. It is hard to go forward with your personal goals if you are constantly worried that if you do something wrong in god’s eyes, you are going to burn forever in a very dark and hot place.

It is not unusual for people to experience the symptoms of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after leaving religion. Symptoms include: nightmares related to specific events you experienced, flashbacks, intrusive thoughts that you cannot let go of, negative thoughts, etc. These symptoms rarely go away immediately upon getting out of the traumatic events that caused them.

Candace cites the Bible verses that condone corporal punishment. Four out of five Evangelical Christian families use spanking according to her research. I remember my mother giving me the choice of a spanking or not going to a friend’s overnight party as a punishment. I chose the spanking. She used a plastic hairbrush and it left my buttocks red. But I really wanted to go to the party!

Folly is bound up in the heart of a boy,
but the rod of discipline drives it far away. (Proverbs 22:15)

Do not withhold discipline from your children;
if you beat them with a rod, they will not die. (Proverbs 23:13)

The rod and reproof give wisdom,
but a mother is disgraced by a neglected child. (Proverbs 29:15)

Candace also emphasizes the need to be safe when you do leave. If you have been significantly affected by some of the mental issues outlined above, seek the help of a professional mental health counselor before you leave, even if you have to do it on the QT. Everyone who leaves religion faces a loss of community, whether family or friends. You don’t want to be unprepared for the impact that will have on you. It is also important to seek out people who have also left religion so that you know you are not alone. The Meet-up site lets you find groups locally who are humanist, secular, or atheist. You will be welcomed with open arms. Many national organizations, Freedom from Religion Foundation, American Humanist Association, Center for Inquiry, Sunday Assembly, and others have local groups across the country.

Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom contains 12 other essays that deal with issues affecting African-Americans, Hispanics, Transgender, ex-Muslim, and ex-Jewish women, as well as others. It is available for pre-order on Amazon, Barnes and Noble, and will be available in bookstores sometime in May.

Karen L. Garst, PhD


3 thoughts on “Guest Post: Karen Garst’s New Book on Women v Religion, an Atheist’s Perspective. A Look at the Topic of Shame from Religion

  1. Reba Riley was I believe the first to coin the phrase, “Post Traumatic Church Disorder”, and it is a very real trauma that I know from personal experience. Thank you for sharing this post David, and thank you Dr. Garst for the work you are doing to liberate so many women from subjugation and sexism that is rampant in the faith community.

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