At one point in my ministry I worked with a sizeable group of people who were being led by a legalist teacher. He had rules and standards for almost everything in life. It’s hard to imagine the level of influence these teachers can achieve in the lives of their people. Somehow the system designed by the teacher accounted for almost every facet of life: including intimate relations between husband and wife, daily diet and health, and personal dress and grooming.
It is one thing, however, to conform in action to what an authority dictates and it is quite another to agree that the action is good. For example, the women were told to wear skirts all the time, that slacks were for men. While the women conformed, at least in public, many of them felt the rule was arbitrary and silly. Their feelings did not conform to the system. So what do you suppose they did? Of course, they wore pants, even jeans, whenever they could and not get caught. The same inconsistency was in the keeping of many other rules.
I began to see some of these people in counseling relationships. They suffered from a great deal of stress. In order to maintain their feelings and opinions as valid, they had to compromise and deceive. They worried about getting caught and branded as rebels or failures. They felt anger when they thought about the rules with which they didn’t agree. Then they felt guilty for being angry because the teacher said that anger was evil and came out of sin. Whichever way they turned, they were failures and traitors, either to the system that demanded conformity or to their own hearts that desired to be free. They chastised themselves for keeping the rules and for breaking them.
Legalism usually tries to establish a culture around its people to reinforce teachings and reveal wrong thinking. Outsiders are seen as dangerous and evil. Only those who conform truly belong and belonging is everything. If a person should become strong enough to leave the group, there is often nowhere to go. Feelings that do not conform could be very costly. So “friends” come alongside to tell others how to think. “Oh, you shouldn’t feel that way,” they say.
But what I feel is as close to me as I know how to get. I could be wrong about things. I may have wrong feelings, ones that should be adjusted by better thinking, but I have to make those changes myself. If I do not, if I simply submit to the group or the system, I will begin to lose myself. Fake feelings are not my feelings. If I give up and reject my feelings so I will fit in, then not even I will be able to recognize myself.
2 responses to “Fake feelings are not my feelings”
I had so much stress trying to keep up the legalistic system. I felt like a fraud and hypocrite because I couldn’t. It’s so toxic to people and their spiritual life. I saw a lot of outward conformity while gross iniquity was inside the home that no one knew or talked about. Some people make it look like it works SO WELL and is THE WAY. There is a television show that glamorizes this life style with a very large family. The question I always wondered was….the teachings that family follow object to television…but they are ON television. Rules are arbitrary based on how they promote or don’t promote some teacher’s agenda.
I once taught a homeschool group about the danger of comparisons and I talked about marketing. Legalism markets its success stories just like any company. But you never get to see behind the scenes of a success story. The family on the cover of the homeschooling magazine, just like the girl on the men’s magazine, has been groomed and retouched and represented as desireable without regard to reality.
It seems good to me to hear of young people speaking out against the airbrushed models that are lifted up as ideals in the magazines. They claim that the perfect dimensions and complexions achieved through photoshop create an unreachable standard for young girls and are responsible for a great deal of the depression suffered. In the same way, legalism presents its phony models and tells everyone to be like them. No wonder people feel like failures!
The television show you mention is really a classic example of the hypocrisy of legalism, particularly the movement that family is part of. You are right that the people are taught not to watch TV, yet here is a family that makes its living from its television contract. Those who have been in the life of this group know that the message is compromised and the lifestyle is misrepresented so that people will accept the group as they watch the show. Not only does this family not represent the norm with the huge number of children, they also seem to have a great deal of money. Try having a big family in a normal or small house with old cars. Then see how much fun it all is.
I love having a big family, but I don’t want to lie about it. A big family presents unique problems and challenges. There is a lot of love and a lot of fun, but there is also a lot of work.