A Look Inside The Evangelical Mind

June 1, 2009 at 11:34 pm 15 comments

It can be easy to feel superior to theists who blindly follow around like docile then alternately hostile sheep, parroting whatever nonsense is fed to them by their minister or media of choice. They can seem stupid, however they are smart enough in some respects to be unnerving and to keep most of us supposedly intelligent freethinking atheists hiding in our closets. Although any mob is dangerous, and sheep are no exception.

What are the causes of sheep mentality? Does it only happen to dumb people? These are questions I am curious about especially after reading an excerpt from Matt Taibbi’s new book, The Great Derangement. I’ve never heard of Taibbi before, but he has his own Wikipedia page. He works for Rolling Stone, oh, and it seems that he is a regular contributor to Real Time with Bill Maher.

So my friend linked me to freethoughtpedia to an excerpt of this book. It’s kind of long, but I found this to be an exceptionally compelling must-read.

Taibbi infiltrates a christian zionist church in Texas. He’s an atheist but he goes undercover to an “Encounter Weekend” to get a look “inside the evangelical mind-set that gave this country eight years of George Bush”.

I found it to be very insightful, frightening and downright hilarious reading. I would highly recommend it. If you’re going to read it and want the full experience, click here. Otherwise if you need more tempting, here are a few really compelling quotes from the excerpt:

There is a transformational quality in these external demonstrations of faith and belief. The more you shout out praising the Lord, singing along to those awful acoustic tunes, telling people how blessed you feel and so on, the more a sort of mechanical Christian skin starts to grow all over your real self. …

…those outward ministrations assume a kind of sincerity in themselves. And at the same time, that “inner you” begins to get tired of the whole spectacle and sometimes forgets to protest….

At any given moment, which one is the real you?

You may think you know the answer, but by my third day I began to notice how effortlessly my soft-spoken Matt-mannequin was going through his robotic motions of praise, and I was shocked. For a brief, fleeting moment I could see how under different circumstances it would be easy enough to bury your “sinful” self far under the skin of your outer Christian and to just travel through life this way. So long as you go through all the motions, no one will care who you really are underneath. And besides, so long as you are going through all the motions, never breaking the facade, who are you really?

…By the end of the weekend I realized how quaint was the mere suggestion that Christians of this type should learn to “be rational” or “set aside your religion” about such things as the Iraq War or other policy matters. Once you’ve made a journey like this — once you’ve gone this far — you are beyond suggestible. It’s not merely the informational indoctrination, the constant belittling of homosexuals and atheists and Muslims and pacifists, etc., that’s the issue. It’s that once you’ve gotten to this place, you’ve left behind the mental process that a person would need to form an independent opinion about such things. You make this journey precisely to experience the ecstasy of beating to the same big gristly heart with a roomful of like-minded folks. Once you reach that place with them, you’re thinking with muscles, not neurons.

By the end of that weekend, Phil Fortenberry could have told us that John Kerry was a demon with clawed feet, and not one person would have so much as blinked. Because none of that politics stuff matters anyway, once you’ve gotten this far. All that matters is being full of the Lord and empty of demons. And since everything that is not of God is demonic, asking these people to be objective about anything else is just absurd. There is no “anything else.” All alternative points of view are nonstarters. There is this “our thing,” a sort of Cosa Nostra of the soul, and then there are the fires of Hell. And that’s all.

I originally posted this article in September 2008 on HDC. So it’s been over 8 months, and what Taibbi wrote has really stuck with me. What would it be like to “belong”? To not have to think and reason? That’s what resonates the most, I guess. I don’t really have any answers. It’s just a thought in the back of my mind sometimes, especially when I hear the news or deal with christians.

Maybe I’ve been an atheist for so long that I just can’t get back in that mindset. I’m not complaining about that, of course. It’s just an observation. Anyway, I thought I’d share this with you.

– Neece

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Walking away from Christianity gaining in popularity Now the kids know (about my de-Conversion)


  • 1. mightbethewalrus  |  June 2, 2009 at 2:42 am

    I find your blog fascinating, and even being a Christian I agree with a lot of it. I think that the Christian Fundamental churches are misguided and I kind of feel sorry for them. In the end they are the ones filled with all the negativity anyways. I’ve seen some of it first hand (being invited to a protest against gays) and have had to point out that the Jesus in the bible was the one who spent time with all the oppressed people. My church is different up here, we serve in the community regularly and my pastor is a real forward thinker. Keep up the interesting posts.

  • 2. mikespeir  |  June 2, 2009 at 11:08 am

    I wish more atheists would read this, but for a reason other than the intended one. It really isn’t a matter of just “being rational.” These believers are convinced they are being rational. For them, to not believe would be irrational. It really is a very different way of thinking, one that seems perfectly right to those indoctrinated in it. To understand this, I think, would make us atheists a little less inclined to “demonize” believers as people who will eschew the intellect in the face of “the obvious.”

  • 3. notabarbie  |  June 2, 2009 at 1:49 pm

    Having been a full on fundamentalist Christian and now an agnostic, I’m in a unique position. I know how it feels to be in that Christian mindset, although I find it a bit embarrassing now and I also know what it is like to not be able to believe it anymore, after discovering that there is absolutely no evidence to support that belief system. With that said though, sometimes it still surprises me that even in the face of so many inconsistencies, they blindly believe. So for someone who has never been entrenched in Christianity, it must be mind-boggling.

  • 4. Frreal  |  June 2, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    Neece you exhibit the same “sheep” mentality believers do you just follow a different herd.

  • 5. Rover  |  June 2, 2009 at 7:48 pm


    We are all in some ways victims of the “sheep mentality”. I don’t think it means we are stupid,just lazy, but perhaps a better word would be comfortable. I don’t want to get into a political argument, but look at the US goverment. We are spending ourselves into oblivian but do the American people say that we must stop? No. We are sheep. We want things to continue as they have always operated. We don’t want to fight against the practices that bring us security. As a Christian I don’t think I am stupid. Am I a sheep? Yes I am. I am sheep by nature, but in regards to society I am quite the rebel.

  • 6. ArchangelChuck  |  June 3, 2009 at 2:13 am

    Rooted in the metaphor of the sheep is the accusation of non-thinking, but even in fundamentalism — though it appears that nobody is thinking — they are. They think wrongly in almost every way imaginable, but they still think.

    We say that flock of sheep would be blindly led to their own destruction, and then apply that in the cases of, for example, mass suicides. What we are ignoring is the fact that they made that decision consciously and willingly because they believe in something greater. The difference is subtle, but it’s there.

    The phenomenon you’re referring to is group solidarity, not sheep mentality.

  • 7. ArchangelChuck  |  June 3, 2009 at 2:24 am

    Joe / Frreal / Rover: Why do you keep changing your name? It’s called an IDENTicon for a reason.

  • 8. ArchangelChuck  |  June 3, 2009 at 2:45 am

    Ugh, my mistake… Looks like several people have the same icon. Sorry Frreal / Rover. It’s late.

  • 9. Odchudzanie  |  June 3, 2009 at 7:29 am

    Most of my life I had got God shoved down my throat. When I was young, living in a catholic country, I had to follow these silly rituals with the rest. When I went to college I broke the shackles of faith and became agnostic. And still I had to fight the church.
    Now that I’m old I believe that faith is our personal thing and we should respect each other here. If someone needs an imaginary friend to hold his hand through his life, so be it. I won’t mock him, I might feel a bit sad but thats it.

  • 10. lifeasacupofcoffee  |  June 3, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    There might be something to be said for religion and giving up a part of yourself for something greater, but this sounds more like a cult if you ask me. The constant praising, the pressure to conform–it sounds like brainwashing. While I know from my Christian background that not all churches are like this, it’s a little scary to think that there are churches out there that go to such extremes.

    I think that Taibbi makes an interesting point about identity, though. After a certain point, you lose your identity in a situation like that, and though some people might claim that they are losing their selves to become more like God, it sounds like they’re just losing themselves to get lost in the group. Personally, now that I’m an agnostic, I’d rather think for myself and be able to be myself with many diverse groups of people instead of sacrificing my identity just for a sense of belonging.

  • 11. Brad Feaker  |  June 22, 2009 at 9:56 pm


    Neece you exhibit the same “sheep” mentality believers do you just follow a different herd.

    I won’t pretend to speak for Neece but I am almost sure she would agree – questioning and insisting on empirical evidence is not a ‘sheep’ mentality. Sheep don’t think critically or for themselves – they need a ‘shepherd’.

  • 12. Richard N  |  July 4, 2009 at 11:28 am

    Hmmm… crowd mentality. Ever been to a high school “pep rally”?
    Ever been to a basketball game and couldn’t help but yell and stomp your feet with everyone else ? Ever been part of a ‘wave’ in a crowd ?
    There is just something about human beings that sparks us when in a crowd. We all just sort of act the same.
    Intelligent “leaders” have known this since the beginning of time. It seems to work especially well with religion. The clapping and singing are all mesmerizing. The speaker saying all the “right words” to get you feeling excited- is all carefully planned.
    Think- Hitler. If you have ever seen him talking to a crowd you see this huge dynamic going on. You don’t even have to understand German to see the effect. Sieg Heil !! Praise Jesus !!
    It does really work on the human mind quite well.

    I am an atheist, yet I have found myself moved listening to Dr. Dobson speak when I lived in Colorado Springs. I was there escorting my Mom, who thinks the world of him.
    Yeah, he kind of got me going, for sure. But I got over it. The kind of “vibes” his talking puts out gets the whole crowd captivated.
    It’s a wonderful example of mind control. If it is done to you often enough, you can get very caught up in whatever beliefs are being spewed.
    Just my 2 cents.. oops.. one cent, inflation, ya know…

  • 13. Nick  |  July 5, 2009 at 9:27 pm

    Belief for beliefs sake isn’t and cannot be a bad thing, in my opinion – it’s simply what you do because of it that counts against you. Whatever it takes for you to get through one day and into the next.

    My chief (only?) quarrel is that religious people (stereo)typically aren’t content to accept their belief is unique – like some kind of infectious disease, they feel the need to pass it on, sometimes with results not dissimilar to contracting an infectious disease.

    If the religious were content/capable of accepting their beliefs as rational, and not forcing them unasked and undesired upon others, I for one would be happy to let them be. Don’t preach in my school and I won’t try to teach in your church.

  • 14. Richard N  |  July 6, 2009 at 10:14 am

    Hey Nick. I also have a “let live” attitude. Normally I just find theists to be amusing and I don’t interact. The ones that get to me are the ones that spout-off about the book of John and the message that if “you aren’t with us, then you must be against us”. Or words to that effect. Actually they fear that I might need desperately to be “saved” from the antichrist, so they decide it is their duty to ‘save’ me, whether I like the idea or not. That gets to me and raises my ire. After a protracted argument they give up and say that I am hopelessly ‘damned’. Whoopeedoo. Like I care.
    The downside is that I have lost a few friends over my lack of belief in their dogma. Well, all I can say is that I can’t and won’t compromise my beliefs (.. lack of them ?) just to stay a friend. Of course I would prefer a neutral area that will allow friendship but they are the ones who usually find that arrangement untenable. Like you said- their desire to convert is like a disease. Pity….

  • 15. anti_supernaturalist  |  July 26, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    sin and neurosis

    Religion and psychiatry are one in creating fictitious “illnesses” for which each offers sham cures at premium prices.


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