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My Resentment at Moody Bible Institute

OK, I want/need to bring this current thread – or rather, this current tangle of threads – to a close.   I started out talking about what, looking back, I thought favorably about my three years at Moody Bible Institute, and what I felt resentful about it.   This got me on to other things, which I was happy to do, since ten days ago I was at the end of the semester and the end of a book project (which happened simultaneously) and I was burned out and brain dead, and  I couldn’t get up the energy to write anything about serious scholarship on the blog.  But I’m recovered now, and can get on to more important things than me and my life.  Which, frankly, would be most everything!!

But I do need to spend this final post on the original thread to explain in very brief order what I am resentful about when it comes to my education as a 17-21 year old at Moody.   There are three things, all of which I could expand at length, but since I want to move on to other things, I will make just a few comments on each.

The first has to do with social life.    Moody was a highly regimented environment.  There were all sorts of rules involving social behavior.   Some of these rules were draconian.  here was no chance of having a normal young adulthood there, and I’ve long resented the fact that I missed out on lots of things that are normal, healthy, and important for full social and emotional integration into society.   Among the rules were the following.

There could be no drinking (even a beer: drinking age in the country at the time was 18), no drugs, no smoking.  These parts were obvious.  We were also not allowed to dance, to go to movies, or to play cards.  (Seriously: cards are of the devil.)  We were not allowed to have sexual relations of any kind.  Those were reserved for marriage.  (Which is one reason so many people got married very young at Moody.  That, of course, is in many instances a recipe for disaster, as history later then bore out).  By no sexual relations, I not only mean no sexual intercourse.  I mean no sexual contact of any kind, including touching and kissing.    There was a famous “six-inch rule” – a couple was supposed to keep six inches apart at all times.   Yup.

On top of all this there were dress codes.   Men could not have hair touching their ears.   And no beards.  Women were not allowed to wear blue jeans.  (Too sexy, I suppose.)  Their dresses could not be more than an inch above their knees (this was in the days of mini-skirts.).   Monitors would sometimes measure to make sure.  I resent all this now.  I missed out on a young adulthood.

Second thing: my education.  Or lack of it.  I’ve already mentioned that I was and still am grateful for the massive inundation that I received in the Bible.  I do not say “biblical studies” because there was in fact very, very little scholarship involved.  There was mastery of the Bible.  And of what very conservative evangelical scholars said about the theology of the Bible.   But in terms of academics, there was not much more.

These were the years where I should have been, and where I so desperately now wish that I had been, studying in the great disciplines of the humanities and social sciences and hard sciences.   I am not a science guy, and never have been.  But still, I *should* have been studying the basics of chemistry, biology, and physics.  I had none of that.   I am hugely ignorant as a result.   In addition, I obviously never had courses in cultural anthropology, sociology, or psychology.

Much more than that, I regret very much not having plunged at that stage of my life into English (our only courses on that were basically on writing, so we would learn how to communicate the gospels), history (apart from church history, taught with a very strong fundamentalist slant), philosophy (you can imagine what *that* was like at a place like Moody!) , classics, modern languages.

These are all fields that I love.  And I never had a chance to touch a single one of them.

Some readers are thinking, Well, that was your own fault!  You are the one who decided to go there!   Yes indeed, I completely agree.  But I was young and ignorant and was directed there by an older man whom I trusted, when – as I now know — I shouldn’t have trusted him further than I could throw him.   I was passionate for learning about the Bible, and so that’s what I threw myself into.  But how desperately now do I wish I had spent these formative years of my life reading great literature, learning modern languages, studying in depth the Greek and Latin classics, being trained in history, and on and on and on.

It’s true that I did spend two years finishing my degree at Wheaton, and there I did indeed take courses in many of these areas.   That was great, and it awakened in me an interest in real academic work, the study of human knowledge (not just the Bible).  But in effect I had only two years to do it in.  I crammed four years of education into two.  Those were the only two years of my life that I had a broad range of classics in the liberal arts.  Every day of my life I feel  that I was cheated out of a great education.

The third reason for my resentment is related, and is in a sense the flip side of the coin.  Even though I am grateful that I learned so much about the content of the Bible, I am highly resentful of the approach to education taken at Moody.  It was three years of indoctrination.  It was not three years of learning how to think, how to analyze, and to assess, how to evaluate, how to come to one’s own views, how to reason to a conclusion.  It was three years of learning the right answers.   Right answers from within a very narrow and stifling ideological/theological perspective.

These right answers were the key to eternal life and earthly happiness.  We simply had to learn the answers and … we would have the answers.   How stupid.  How ignorant.  How mind-numbing.   How mind-killing.   It is not simply that we were not taught how to think or encouraged to think.  We were actively *discouraged* from coming up with our own views, establishing our own perspectives, deriving our own conclusions.  Doing such things was seen as dangerous.  We had to toe the line.  And the line was very clearly marked.

I am possibly most resentful about this last area.  I did not start learning how to think until I left Moody, and then it took me much longer to learn how to think than normal intelligent human beings take, since I had to drop so much baggage that I had been burdened with.   And this was emotionally difficult, because Moody not only loaded me up with baggage, but the people loading the baggage insisted that the only way to have a happy life and blessed afterlife was to carry that baggage all the way to the end of the road.

I don’t feel I started to become fully human until I realized that they were completely wrong, and that their approach to education was, in fact, sinister.  And I resent that I underwent that kind of treatment from people that at the time I considered to be leaders and responsible adults.

I want to stress that there are things about Moody that I appreciate.   But more than appreciation I really do feel resentment.

 


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Comments

  1. Avatar
    Bazooki  May 21, 2015

    “But still, I *should* have been studying the basics of chemistry, biology, and physics. I had none of that. I am hugely ignorant as a result.”

    Dr. Ehrman, I don’t know if you’ve heard of a company called The Teaching Company, but you *could* choose to challenge yourself today with science courses. That’s how I have started filing in the gaps of my education and how I found your courses. I recall that in a previous post you said “…I came to think of the brain as a kind of muscle that can be exercised.” Well, maybe it’s time to exercise it with new material (in your spare time).

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2015

      Yes, I’ve produced eight courses for The Teaching Company!! And I have watched some of their science courses, most recently the one on neuroscience. But I wish I had learned all this when I was 19, so it would have been a part of my life!

      • Avatar
        qaelith2112  May 22, 2015

        I know that feeling well enough! Here at 44 (younger than you, but far from 19) I find myself disappointed with myself that I didn’t take more of an interest in some things that I now do, so that I might have gained a better understanding. At this age I’m a bit slower to learn, less able to bring myself to look as carefully at the intricacies of a topic, and more likely to read through more quickly because I have 100x more going on now than when I was younger. Mostly, though, because my brain doesn’t want to pick up new things as readily as when it was a younger brain.

  2. Avatar
    mjordan20149  May 21, 2015

    A good analysis of what passes for education at institutions like MBI. Unfortunately, a great many people in public life, these days, are “educated” in this way. Look at our “leaders” in business, the military and politics. It makes me very sad to hear some of the dreck that comes from the mouths of these people. People who have no training in the sciences are in charge of government agencies that regulate scientific inquiry. People who have no training or background in education are regulating education. It seems to me that there is less and less critical and analytical thinking going on, especially among the people who need to be capable of criticizing and analyzing. We are paying a high price for this kind of leadership, and will be paying an even higher price in the future.

  3. Avatar
    rivercrowman  May 21, 2015

    That was candid Bart, and I appreciate it.

  4. Avatar
    jhague  May 21, 2015

    I did not attend a Christian university but I was raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist Christian church. I feel resentment about this upbringing much the same as you mention. We were required to attend all services when the doors were open. Minimally, Sun am, Sun pm and Wed pm. If a person missed a service, there was a possibility of a visit from one of the elders. We were told that many things were sins that sent a person to hell: any type of premarital sex or contact, all drinking, smoking (drugs without mention), woman having any public role in a church service, instrumental music, divorce for any reason other than infidelity (even then the divorcee became a second tier christian), etc. Some thought that other “offenses” sent a person to hell: length and style of hair, length of skirt and type of clothing, playing games with cards or dice, mixed swimming, etc. People were told to confirm everything that was said by looking it up in the Bible. If you came to a different conclusion, you were sat down and given the proper conclusion to draw. If you did not agree, you would never be able to service in any public role of the church service and were treated as a non-member. As you state: “We were actively *discouraged* from coming up with our own views, establishing our own perspectives, deriving our own conclusions. Doing such things was seen as dangerous. We had to toe the line. And the line was very clearly marked.” I understand your resentment as I lived it too.

    • Avatar
      dragonfly  May 25, 2015

      Instrumental music??? I’m stuffed then!

      • Avatar
        jhague  May 25, 2015

        That’s right! All aquapella singing. And I forgot to mention, NO DANCING!! That sends you to hell faster than most other sins. Divorce and remarriage was worse than murder. You could be forgiven for murder but not divorce and remarriage!!

  5. Avatar
    Todd  May 21, 2015

    Regarding science:

    I also am not proficient in the depth of science or math but am very interested in them and how they relate to our understanding of the nature of reality and the universe…issues which touch upon many mysteries found in scripture…especially quantum physics and quantum mechanics.

    I think that such science is very much related to issues you deal with in your books.

    Any thoughts on how contemporary science might widen our understanding of many such biblical mysteries…rather than being oppositional, science may be highly supportive?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2015

      My view is that modern science will never help us understand the Bible better, since its authors were completely ignorant of science.

      • Avatar
        Todd  May 23, 2015

        I agree and I think I did not state my question clearly enough. Modern science deals with many of the big issues that are primitively hinted at in scripture including issues of time, the nature of reality, the nature of this planet an universe, and so on. I’m looking at this a bit differently than you and I find it difficult to express my question clearly. Thank you for responding anyway.

      • Avatar
        tms  July 5, 2015

        In a way, our knowledge can get in the way of understanding what the biblical authors meant, since we tend to project our knowledge onto them. What, for instance, could they have been thinking when they wrote that a star pointed out a house in Bethlehem? Stars are hundreds of times larger than the Earth; how could one possibly single out a single building? It only makes sense when we realize they they thought that stars were lanterns hanging from the dome of the sky. Of course, they were completely wrong about that, but at least it makes the story coherent.

    • Avatar
      sgodwin  May 28, 2015

      Todd – I’m not sure if this is exactly what you’re addressing, but you might be want to check out the Center for Consciousness Studies at the University of Arizona (here in Tucson). They hold biennial conferences that bring together scientists and philosophers, monks and physicists – a wide range of people who all seem to be moving toward some kind of unified theory of conscious awareness, but approaching it from different angles.

  6. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  May 21, 2015

    Reminds me of my apostolic days. No cutting my hair, skirts at or below the knee and dresses only, no makeup ( nobody wants a Jezebel) or jewelry–except wedding bands, no movies, sports, television, or secular music, no swimming in mixed company, no bowling, playing cards are okay! (I know right?) no dating outside the faith–and by dating, I mean speaking to each other at a distance in front of several chaperones because everybody knows no chaperone=whore. I missed prom, messed up a 4-year scholarship because my pastor informed me there were homosexuals at that particular college and gave a sermon directed at me about not praying enough to know God’s Will. The guilt was too much for me to do worldly things like getting an education. If we died from a car accident that was the result of breaking the speed limit, we would go to hell for breaking the law. Have an evil thought, then died before repenting? Hellbound. I finally left at the age of 24 after the ministry stated depression was our fault and would result in hell. I was doomed, so why stay? I did go back to college at the age of 30 and earned a master’s, but so much of my life was wasted.
    Meanwhile, the pastors and ministers are still there, living like royalty in blissful ignorance of all the lives they have manipulated. My ex-pastor’s daughter is now earning a bachelor’s degree in nursing (well, duh, everyone needs an education) goes to country music concerts, huge UK fan, wears lip gloss, etc… As for everyone else, poverty is key. They wouldn’t want the congregation to be materialistic.

  7. Avatar
    Jacobus  May 21, 2015

    Dear Prof. Ehrman

    Your last post on Moody, reminds me very much of the resentment a lot of white men in South Africa felt when Apartheid ended. A Political system of indoctrination made people see things in a specific way. When they discovered reality was different from what was perceived, they became disillussioned with themselves and the goverment that conscripted them. Ideology, be it religious or otherwise, seems to forebear resentment. Yet, it seems its is people of a young age that tend to fall prey to it.

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2015

      Interesting. Thanks. (I’ve konwn some South African white who continue to be upset that Apartheid ended. It’s no longer like “the good ole days.”)

  8. Avatar
    Forrest  May 21, 2015

    I can’t help Bart, whether or not you are experiencing the “Road Not Taken” syndrome. I went to a public university and was able to play cards by the hour and drink adult beverages. Matter of fact, on Wednesdays there was a bar pool hall that hat 25 cent beers and 10 cent games of pool right at noon hour. I don’t know how many times I cut English Lit which was right after lunch. Maybe if I had of gone to a school with strict standards I would be teaching English Literature. I sometime wish I had gone to a stricter school. But I didn’t. So that’s life, no need to look back with a lot of regret. Bart you have done well and have helped a lot of people in their life’s journey. I’m glad you went to MBI.

  9. Christopher
    Christopher  May 21, 2015

    Touching, Bart. As someone grown up in a radical fundamentalist household, under parents who shared the approach to critical thinking, that you described above as the mode of the Moody educators, it is very comforting to see someone who not only understands, but has come so far, and done so much good work in the education of Christian History.

  10. Avatar
    Stephen  May 21, 2015

    There has some talk over the last few years about so-called atheist “anger” and stridency. I think your post goes some way in showing why this might be. Many people are genuinely harmed by their religious upbringing. If someone such as yourself who is perceived as successful (however defined) in their life’s work can still be affected by it then we can imagine how someone who has not so successfully managed their life might feel.

    If the polls are correct more and more people are slowly but surely finding their way out of toxic religion. But no one escapes unscathed. Prof Ehrman I think you should give some thought to writing about your own journey for publication. I know you’re done this to some degree already in your books but consider a memoir of your personal journey. You could help people navigate these waters as you’ve helped educate them about the Bible.

  11. Avatar
    Epikouros  May 21, 2015

    Thanks for this. It gives me better insight into my elderly father in law, who studied at a very conservative Protestant seminary. He’s an extremely intelligent man, but his thinking has clearly been constricted by fear of deviating from the “right” path. It’s been made worse by developments in his denomination, which has become even *more* conservative and fundamentalist over the years. He’s retired now, but when he was active as an ordained minister, he had to continually worry about straying outside the church’s very narrow lines. The whole thing has made him quite sad and anxious. He would prefer a less extreme denomination, but doesn’t want to leave the church that he’s spent his whole life and career serving.

  12. Avatar
    Jason  May 21, 2015

    Did they have Bob Jones University style bans on interracial dating at Moody?

    • Bart
      Bart  May 22, 2015

      I don’t know if there was an actual ban. Then again, there were not many people of color there!

  13. Avatar
    living42day  May 22, 2015

    When you started your freshman year at Moody, I was starting my freshman year at David Lipscomb in Nashville (a school affiliated with the Church of Christ). The social rules at Lipscomb were identical to those at Moody, but the educational opportunities at Lipscomb were much better. Nevertheless, I transferred after my freshman year because I wanted more. Will never regret that decision. There was a joke in those days that was often told by the students at Vanderbilt: “Lipscomb is a wonderful place to get an education that will prepare you for life–in the 19th century.”

  14. Avatar
    alasta  May 22, 2015

    I’m glad I recently discovered your work, so I could start freeing my brain from lots of baggage!

  15. Avatar
    mrdavidkeller  May 22, 2015

    Sinister seems an appropriate discriptive of any institution that attempts to influence young intellects toward a path contrary to the primary focus of theological study, a spiritual aspect of bible study should be the path toward heaven, conservative evangelicals seem to feel the bible also imparts infallible wisdom in the discipline of science. You can be both scientist and spiritual however once you believe the bible teaches both the path to heaven and the orbits of the celestial bodies, your ability to remain objective toward either is compromised.

  16. Avatar
    Steefen  May 22, 2015

    Let it go.
    You haven’t forgiven them, yet?
    You can still have the same constructive criticisms.
    Unfortunately, I think you have not stepped for enough away into objectivity from the franchise/s of Christianity.

    In yesterday’s post, you insist you haven’t reported to the trade audience anything that has not been known in scholarly circles for a long time.

    I just looked at the Fa 2014 and Sp 2015 courses in Religious Studies at UNC-Chapel Hill. I do not see courses that put Early Christianity in its proper context. The Gospels must be seen within the context of the Jewish Revolt and an outcome of the end of Temple Judaism. The Roman defeat of zealots and rebels at civil war was not an act of salvation? Taking down these militant messiahs and making propaganda of a non-militant messiah is not part of Christianity years 66 to 100? The Parable of the Wicked Tenants is not a 40 year deliverance upholding the God of Moses by repeating the motif of a 40 year deliverance?

    Jesus tell us what is going to happen after the son is killed: the land will be given to another, and elsewhere he states the Temple will be destroyed. It is after these two things happen that Matthew, Luke, and John are written. This is the contextual environment (historical setting) in which three of the four canonical gospels needed to be written. End of Temple sacrifice leads to the establishment of the sacrifice of Jesus and all who wanted a kingdom of the God of Israel in Judea as atonement for the sins of the Wicked Tenants.

    The gospels are First Jewish-Roman War literature plain and simple. Jesus is defeated by Rome, the Jewish fighters are defeated by Rome. To not even address this parallel in Christian studies is detrimental in similar ways that Moody was detrimental. And when this is done with general readers, they are being short-changed also.

    Raising the educational standards for contextualizing the gospels because when we do not, skeptics will smell a rat and dismiss not only Christianity but the “Ancient” History that first century Judea under Rome and its Revolt is. 11 years it has taken me to see how Jesus’ Parable of the Wicked Tenants and mention of the destruction of the Temple actually play out in history, an important lesson to have learned for tightening the credential of being educated as opposed to being dismissed by skeptics and ridiculers who demand such tightness.

  17. Avatar
    Jim  May 22, 2015

    As a teenager, I once seriously considered becoming a Lutheran minister. My parents and I met with an influential minister and I still clearly remember him saying that I needed to transfer out of my public school to a parochial school where I could begin my “indoctrination.”
    Only years later I came to the realization that indoctrination is a code word for brain washing.

  18. Avatar
    RonaldTaska  May 22, 2015

    A great series of posts. Thanks for sharing. To tell you the truth, the church a few blocks from my house, that I used to attend, seems to do the same three things, especially the third one. So, one does not need to go all the way to Moody to get what is available in one’s own neighborhood and I have both positive and negative views about this church “education,” but mostly a lot of “resentment.” If you had been university educated primarily in the sciences, the jarring cognitive dissonance about evolution and about the biology of homosexuality between university and church educations would be even more jarring. How to move on with less resentment has been a real struggle for me. Hopefully, your writing about it has released some of your energy about the matter. The bottom line is that churches really need to improve what they teach children and adults, but especially children.

  19. Avatar
    paulmiller  May 22, 2015

    Hi Bart,
    I can relate to the resentment you feel towards Moody, the Christian college I attended had all the same draconian rules and oppressive atmosphere. I had lost both my parents to cancer by the time I was 19, and even though I was raised Catholic I had found comfort and security in a fundamentalist church. While there I also had an older mentor who recommended that I go to get a well rounded bible education. I would hear things like why are you playing the devil’s music when I would play a blues riff on the guitar. I remember thinking what happened to the message that Jesus sets you free? Then, why do I feel Iike I am living in a prison? During the chapel time (chapel was required) a former student distributed through the dorms a pamphlet disparaging the colleges biblical foundations they had a major freak out sending out all the RA;s to snatch them up before anyone was on duly influence by them. Mine was snatched right out of my hand. This left me wondering why are these people are so afraid. I left the college after a year but continued going to the fundamentalist church through my 20’s until I just couldn’t do the mental gymnastics it took to continue. I had a hard time putting my finger on it until I started reading your books. No wonder I was inwardly conflicted, so was the bible I was reading. I have managed to remain a believer but with a faith that looks and feels very different then the one I had 30 some years ago. On a practical level the moral expectations they placed on the students were ones they could not keep themselves. During the time after I had left the Jim Baker and Jimmy Swaggart and the Oral Roberts six hundred foot Jesus was happening it came out that two youth ministries professors one systematic theology professor and the director of the business office were all having affairs on their spouses! As a side note I recently picked up from the library your book, “Jesus, Interrupted”, and some well meaning fundamentalists had placed a post it note inside the book with web sites and a list of books that refute the points you make in the book. Is there no escape?! LOL! You may have upset some of the Moody crowd as for me I am glad you did! Thanks Paul

  20. Avatar
    jmaclean  May 22, 2015

    Bart – good post. Just pal a quick question, when did you start questioning the “right” answers that you were taught at Moody. Also, since you are an agnostic, I assume you will be rejoining the Episcopal Church 🙂

    • Bart
      Bart  May 23, 2015

      I started to question things, a *bit*, at Wheaton, and then a bit more at Princeton Seminary. Things started changing seriously in my third year of my MDiv program there.

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