The Dangerous Duggars: How Fundamentalism Begets Abuse

I hope that very few of my readers have been following this sex scandal about the Duggars, the bloated, backwards family from TLC's 19 Kids and Counting. I hope you haven't followed it because you don't have the time or inclination to gawk at their purposefully-antiquated beliefs or their shameless self-exploitation. But the scandal crime that has rocked and shocked their fans is so endemic and has been so widely mishandled that I wanted to take a minute and talk to you guys about it.

First, in case you don't know, the Duggars are extreme evangelical "Independent Baptists" who eschew birth control (hence the 19 kids), revealing clothing, sexual contact before marriage, equality, etc. They believe in traditional gender roles, home-schooling, dressing like Laura Ingles Wilder, etc. And their oldest son, married, 27 year-old Josh Duggar, molested a bunch of little girls —  his younger sisters among them when he was a teenager.

The family knew about it. Their church knew about it. A state trooper knew about it. And nothing happened. In fact, none of them seem to really understand what he did wrong.

I've written before about how hard it is to change people's minds. And, I'll admit, I definitely disagree with everything the Duggars stand for. They campaign against tolerance, against homosexuality, against feminism, against abortion, against stem cell research; they don't believe in science education, in sex education, in higher education for women at all. They're self-righteous, uneducated zealots who make gobs of money on a reality show and have single-handedly overpopulated Arkansas. I'll admit it: I don't like them.

So, to someone like me, wouldn't it seem like delicious comeuppance to find out that they are not, in fact holier than us? Of course. So, I spent some time thinking about the fact that I was already inclined to dislike them and how that might impact the schadenfreude-type satisfaction I get out of their misfortunes.

Because we all love a story about the uptight, sanctimonious family man being exposed as a cheater, a sleazeball, a sinner, right? A "family-values" Republican's sex-scandal is always going to be bigger and better than a liberal Democrat's; the hypocrisy is just so deep and dirty and succulent. But, as I read more and thought more and became more outraged, I think we've been wrong about how we view these scandals. I don't think they're a few aberrant pockmarks on the smooth face of extreme moral conservatism; I think these scandals are the products of it. Our disgust and indignation is much bigger than schadenfreude: its actual fear at the truly disturbing, damaging ideas people like the Duggars are peddling.

Josh Duggar provides a perfect test case. Unlike the other fundamentalists huddled in small clusters throughout this country, the Duggars are perfectly segregated specimens. They don't have the influence of moderation or outsiders or mainstream education seeping in; they don't have classroom friends from different backgrounds or the mind-expanding teachers or the interloper spouses. They don't have the benefit of other ideas, other opinions. They are purebreds.

They are, of course, a cult.

And they're televised.

Duggar was just forced to resign from his position as the Executive Director of the Family Research Counsel, an organization labeled as a "hate group" in 2010 by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Because of this, we all get to see what happens when you cultivate the Duggar's reactionary ideas in an isolated, antiquated Petri dish. And what this test case reveals is that this scandal isn't the unfortunate, hypocritical undoing of the Duggars, it is the inescapable outcome of their belief system. Is it really shocking that a group of misogynistic fundamentalists who devalue women and refuse to teach their kids about sex would raise a teenage boy who molested little girls and then gloss over his crime as if it were a mere youthful transgression? If all women are chattel and all men are victims of lustful temptations, wasn't this bound to happen? This isn't an ironic scandal; it's an inevitable one.

And how could it be avoidable? You see, the Duggars home school all of their kids. The curriculum they use for the homeschooling is called the "Advanced Training Institute, a Bible-based homeschooling program run by alleged cult figurehead Bill Gothard." These textbooks emphasize male dominance, creationism, subservience, etc. Gothard, as it so happens, just resigned from his post amid allegations that he sexually assaulted as many as 34 women. I would love to be more shocked by this.

What's unbelievably sad is that Josh Duggar is sick and he needs the kind of help that his anti-science, male-exonerating cult is incapable of giving him. What's pathetic is the way his family stepped up to conceal and acquit these crimes, even when the victims included their other, younger, more vulnerable children. What's alarming, what's disturbing, what makes the back of my throat throb with anger, is the fact that their public fan base is rallying around the Duggars and their multifaceted abuse. 

You see, if you go on the Duggar's Facebook page, there's a lukewarm apology from the family. You can read the statements by the parents and Mrs. Josh Duggar (standing eternally by his side, of course) for yourself, but I wanted to excerpt Josh's "apology" in full:
 Twelve years ago, as a young teenager I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret. I hurt others, including my family and close friends. I confessed this to my parents who took several steps to help me address the situation. We spoke with the authorities where I confessed my wrongdoing and my parents arranged for me and those affected by my actions to receive counseling. I understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life. I sought forgiveness from those I had wronged and asked Christ to forgive me and come into my life. I would do anything to go back to those teen years and take different actions. In my life today, I am so very thankful for God’s grace, mercy and redemption.
How hollow, how self-centered, how utterly void of concern for the well-being of the young women his young sisters whom he terrorized! These little girls who are raised to believe that all physical contact with men before marriage is verboten, disgusting, sinful, that holding hands with a boy makes you "unmarriageable" and unworthy. These little girls, who at four or five years old had a trusted family member violate the laws of family and man and God and make them dirty forever? Where is the concern for that?

Josh ultimately found contrition because he "understood that if I continued down this wrong road that I would end up ruining my life." "I," "me," and "my." His life would be ruined, he would give anything. This is the public statement not of someone who is unrepentant, but someone who is so indoctrinated in his own power that he does not even grasp what he did wrong.

And what's worse that Josh Duggar's selfish, deluded statement? There are literally thousands upon thousands of Facebook comments from supporters and fans. Here's a small but ominously representative sampling of the types of comments on the page:


Now you feel sick, too, right? And what you guys can't tell (because I kindly though perhaps undeservedly concealed the names of these posters) is that every one of these commenters are women.

I'm not saying Christian fundamentalism turns people into child molesters. I am saying that Christian fundamentalism breeds a culture that is more inclined to dismiss, underestimate, absolve, and obscure these acts, more inclined to disregard, belittle, and ignore the victims, and more inclined to blur the lines between "sin" and "crime." Evangelicals like Josh Duggar substitute the imagined forgiveness of God for real-world consequences for their actions.

What I'm saying is, where a demeaning view of women is sown alongside a demonizing view of sex, incest and abuse will grow. And the Duggars might be a joke, a gimmick, a sideshow, but the 16,000 people who questioned "why this story had to be told" is not. And that, my dear friends, is terrifying.


Related on the Blog:
What Do We Do About Woody Allen?
Woody Allen Redux: The Blame Game
Fred Phelps and the Westboro Baptist Church


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Blake
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May 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM delete

Excellent post.

The last facebook comment is definitely the most bothersome to me. That kind of attitude, that we forgive and forget everything, is at least part of what lets these kinds of things keep happening. You are driving toward that idea in your second to last paragraph, but you limit it to Christian fundamentalists. From what I can tell, that kind of attitude exists all over the place.

People are already whitewashing at Penn State and re-lionizing Paterno. And that doesn't have anything to do with Jesus. It has everything to do with 1) people not wanting to admit that they personally did anything wrong, 2) other people not wanting a flashlight shined on what they did wrong, and 3) people who actually did nothing wrong initially not wanting to think about it because it's so bothersome and gross. So let's hand out some wrist slaps to a couple people directly responsible and forget about the whole thing.

The result? Sure, there's a lack of real repurcussions, but the worst part is that there's a nationwide complete disinterest in prevention of this kind of thing because no one is even willing to have the conversation.

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Unknown
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May 29, 2015 at 4:41 PM delete This comment has been removed by the author.
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Unknown
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May 29, 2015 at 4:42 PM delete This comment has been removed by the author.
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Unknown
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May 29, 2015 at 4:44 PM delete

As long as we all realize that fundamentalists like the Duggars and their Christian peers pose a far greater threat to civilized society than, say, ISIS . . . But seriously, ask yourself: are the Duggars more representative of mainstream Christianity than ISIS or Al Queda is of Islam? Even if (astoundingly) you think Duggarites are more the outlier, which group is more dangerous? Which imposes more evil upon the world? It seems odd to chastise the rat under your table when a tiger is loose in the living room.

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Anonymous
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June 2, 2015 at 10:59 PM delete

But how do the Duggars' fans' reactions differ from the (initial) reaction of Woody Allen fans or Bill Cosby fans to those abuse/rape disclosures? The bathetic, orgolous god-bothering bugs me too, but what these folks are really saying, behind that rhetoric, amounts to, 'do we have to hate him? I'm such a big fan! How can I admit I was wrong?" Studies suggest you're right about abuse in fundamentalist households (the Amish have a huge problem with incest too), but the reaction to the Duggars doesn't prove much.

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