I wasn’t sure if I wanted to do another post about that 2021 fundagelical deconstruction book, Before You Lose Your Faith. But once I read its second chapter, I knew I needed to do exactly that. For years now, I’ve talked about the Deeper Magic of fundagelicalism: the programming that goes into its belief system. This indoctrination-before-indoctrination makes people vulnerable to the manipulation and irrational arguments that fundagelical recruiters use (and indeed must use). This book’s second chapter perfectly illustrates what happens when a deconstruction fails to go far enough.
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Everyone, meet Ian Harber
The inclusion of the author of the second chapter, Ian Harber, confused me at first. As we discussed last time, the author of the first chapter, Trevin Wax, has impeccable fundagelical standards. He holds a PhD from a Southern-Baptist-affiliated seminary, has amassed impressive job titles at big-name fundagelical groups like Lifeway and Wheaton College, and has authored various books that sorta relate to this book’s topic.
But Ian Harber has none of that. His blurb mentions his work at an unnamed local nonprofit. (Paid? Volunteer? Who knows?) It then informs us that “he is pursuing his MDiv” at another Southern Baptist seminary.
Finally, we learn that he “ministers to young adults in his church.” We’re meant to assume this means a formal ministry position. However, when dysfunctional authoritarians leave out information, we should assume the opposite. He is likely not even a formal volunteer.
(By this standard, my Evil Ex, Biff, also “ministered to young adults in his church” by swanning around the altar after services ended to find vulnerable marks to pray with.)
So I did a little digging.
How to make an unimpressive bio sound better
According to his LinkedIn account, from 2018 to April 2022, Ian Harber worked as a communications director and infosec guy for Serve Denton. This nonprofit acts as a liaison between various social services and the people who need them. I can see why the bio blurb doesn’t mention its name, given how very hostile fundagelicals are toward any show of kindness to the poor.
In May, Harber began working as a social media and partner manager for a group called Truth Over Tribe. This group tries to address tribalism in fundagelicals. He appears nowhere on its current staff list. Rebecca Milner currently wears the job title he claimed on his LinkedIn, so I’m guessing he’s parted ways with these folks.
(And as we’ll see, Harber himself represents a cautionary tale about how difficult it is to excise tribalism from an indoctrinated fundagelical. Maybe that’s why he maybe didn’t fit in well with Truth Over Tribe.)
On the LinkedIn, Harber claims to have earned his MDiv in 2018. So I’m not sure why the blurb for a 2021 book doesn’t state that. Also, if he entered college at 18 in 2012, then he’s 28 now. I wonder if the editors wanted him to seem younger?
As for that unnamed church, at least as of 2020 Harber attended Denia Community Church in Denton, Texas. (Do a search for his name and he pops up several times.) He appears nowhere on their current staff list. At most, he has done some weeknight Bible studies for them, like this one that pushes quite a gross deepity. According to their website, Denia is a hardline, ultra-conservative, bigoted and sexist, literalist/inerrantist, culture-war-embracing, uber-Calvinist church.
None of Harber’s background is completely inadequate, of course. He’s par for the fundagelical course. But compare him to Trevin Wax. It’s just striking, how different they are, especially when we notice how hard the book’s editors had to pump Harber up to make him sound more authoritative than he really is.
Harber likely came to the attention of the fundagelicals behind this book because of his “reconstruction” testimony. And you’ll soon see, as I quickly did, why they likely wanted this otherwise lackluster guy to contribute their second chapter.
A deconstruction that didn’t go even half far enough
The second chapter of Before You Lose Your Faith is titled:
‘Progressive’ Christianity was even shallower than the evangelical faith I left
Hooboy. Ian Harber begins by quoting John 6:67. In this chapter, Jesus’ teachings have alienated many of his followers. They begin to leave him, one by one. Peter remains behind with the rest of the Twelve Apostles, however. Seeing them, Jesus asks Peter if they, too, mean to leave him. In turn, Peter asks Jesus where they’d even go now that they know Jesus is “the Holy One of God” with the “words of eternal life.” Harber tells us that he resonates with both the followers who deserted Jesus and with the Twelve who couldn’t imagine leaving.
Though Harber leaves it out, Jesus’ reply to Peter is interesting. He really comes off as a petulant, childish, spiteful, angry little narcissist who’s enraged that his followers didn’t slavishly accept his teachings without argument:
Jesus answered them, “Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!” He was speaking about Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot. For although Judas was one of the Twelve, he was later to betray Jesus.
As for Harber himself, he drew away from fundagelicalism initially because it is both wackadoodle and cruel. But when progressive Christianity threatened his Deeper Magic culture-war programming, he returned to it despite not having a single one of his concerns addressed.
Deconstruction as a narrative, for good or ill
Ian Harber presents his deconstruction as a narrative. Here are the broad outlines of it: He grew up a proper fundagelical lad raised by his deeply religious grandparents. (Unfortunately, his parents sound like they were extremely unfit to an extent that required estrangement.) At a website called Dallas Doing Good, he goes into a bit more detail about his childhood, though he curiously leaves out religion as an important part of his upbringing.
He claims that the internet led him to serious critiques of fundagelical beliefs, politics, and behavior. After finding no answers in fundagelicalism, he “left the faith completely” and “wanted nothing to do with Jesus or the church.”
This had to have happened very quickly, because by 16, “God began to reenter [his] life.”
Remember, by 18 he’s enrolling in college. The college? Dallas Baptist University. So clearly, between 16 and 18 he fully accepted progressive Christianity, then rejected it, then reentered fundagelicalism by 18. He has been a true-blue fundagelical ever since, despite never getting meaningful answers to his concerns.
(This is sounding a lot like Shane Hayes’ biography. He, too, tried to make his spiritual wanderings sound like they were protracted and extensive, but in truth that period lasted at most a few years between high school and college. His self-professed atheist phase couldn’t have lasted more than a few months, if that.)
I’m sure that a teenaged fully-indoctrinated fundagelical is more than capable of critically examining his most deepest-set beliefs. Yep yep.
People tend to remember things as part of a constructed narrative. A narrative is a story we tell to make sense of events in our lives. Harber’s narrative, like that of a lot of fundagelicals, tends to make the known events in his life jangle discordantly against his storyline, to elbow for room, to raise questions. But fundagelicals never ask questions or seek clarification. He’s on safe ground here, with them at least.
The concerns that led Ian Harber to deconstruction
In his subsection “How my faith crumbled,” Ian Harber tells us about the questions about fundagelical claims that sandblasted his li’l soup cracker as a boy:
What about the contradictions and scientific inaccuracies in certain biblical stories? How have we ever shrugged at the passages in which God commands Israel to slaughter her enemies and their children? How could a loving God condemn his beloved creation to eternal torment? What about all the other religions? Aren’t they all saying the same thing?
Fundagelical behavior and politics likewise bothered him:
Why did our policies seem to particularly disadvantage poor and marginalized communities? Why was it common in the church to see Christians degrade immigrants, made in the image of God, who were simply seeking a better life in my Texas town? As important as abortion is, surely we’re supposed to care about those suffering after birth as well, right?
Every one of these concerns can be easily answered if one understands that the Bible isn’t a divine document of any sort, much less a scientific or historical text, and starts recognizing that fundagelicals are more of a theocracy-craving political movement than a religious one.
How Ian Harber’s deconstruction led him straight to progressive Christianity
But Harber was a child, and one raised as an authoritarian at that. He’d mastered all the spirit-crushing lessons that authoritarians need children to learn. And he still had his Deeper Magic indoctrination to wrestle with.
He still had his ache for certainty, his fear of the unknown, his need to hierarchically organize people into groups based on their power, his need to feel safe and protected even past childhood, and his own need for firm explanations for the big questions that humanity has always struggled with.
Challenging that stuff is really hard for a child, I suspect, and it’s probably almost impossible for one with Harber’s troubled past.
So instead of challenging any of it, he fled to progressive Christianity.
Progressive Christianity is no country for frustrated authoritarians
Unfortunately, in his deconstruction he encountered all kinds of responses to his Deeper Magic indoctrination that categorically didn’t make his inner authoritarian happy at all.
Instead of certainty and firm explanations, he got exhortations to embrace “mysticism.” Instead of “tools to rebuild,” he found, well, nothing at all. That’s because progressive Christianity doesn’t actually do much of that. From what I’ve seen, they don’t even promise they can offer such things.
Harber’s Deeper Magic indoctrination cried out for this stuff, and he certainly expected to find it. But when he didn’t, he decried progressives as “lazy, irresponsible, dangerous, and isolating” for not doing what they really don’t promise anyone they can do in the first place.
And when progressives began getting really loud about human rights and general anti-Trumpist sentiments, that stuff slammed head-first into his Deeper Magic wall of culture-warrior indoctrination. That is when he began feeling dissatisfied with progressive Christianity.
Sidebar: That time I pissed off a major progressive Christian leader
This is reminding me of this one time that I tangled with a progressive Christian writer and pastor. If you were active in the Christ-o-sphere in the 2010s, you would easily recognize his name. This encounter happened before I even began blogging.
The guy had written a post about Hell. In it, he tried to make the case that it might not be a real place at all. He offered an alternative vision of the afterlife that he hoped fundagelicals would accept instead of their literalist take on the matter.
Very politely, I pushed back in his comment section. I replied that when I looked at his post from the viewpoint of a fundagelical, it was extremely unsatisfying. It didn’t matter if fundagelicals liked his ideas more than their own beliefs. What mattered was what they thought was true. If Hell was real, then they needed safety from it above all, and that meant falling in line with fundagelicalism. If he was saying that Hell wasn’t real, he needed to offer proof that they could accept before they took the supreme risk of buying into his teachings. Otherwise, they’d dismiss him as a false teacher whose followers were taking the fast train to Hell.
As I recall, the guy got really pissy with me over it! But he ended up taking a vow of silence after I pushed back a second time—still politely, of course—to explain that his alternative views of Hell were simply opinions, same as fundagelicals’ own. He took them as trufax, same as they did. If one belief offered safety and the other didn’t, then fundagelicals were always gonna grab for the safety-granting belief.
That’s exactly how I had once felt, after all.
That need for safety was the Deeper Magic indoctrination of fear speaking to my lizard brain. It’s really hard to shake those beliefs. Often, they’re so deeply-ingrained that we don’t even recognize them as indoctrinated beliefs.
I think Ian Harber falls into that camp as well. Without the courage to challenge all of those Deeper Magic beliefs, we run the risk of returning to them in one way or another.
Dude still has no good answers for his deconstruction concerns
What’s interesting here is that Ian Harber’s chapter ends with him never receiving any good answers for any of his deconstruction concerns. Instead, he learned basic apologetics blahblah and handwaving. He mastered the arts of compartmentalization and double-think. And he Jesus-ed his little heart out, a show of obedience that clearly led to greater faith in the exact same deeply-flawed system he’d recognized and rejected in his childhood.
As a result of his “reconstruction” back to the worst-of-the-worst controlling, cruel, authoritarian flavors of Christianity around, he offers readers three pieces of advice.
First, he totally understands that churches are rarely good places to explore doubts. That’s true! But he says you just have to keep searching till you find one that is. Period. He never asks why so many churches utterly fail to help doubters. Nor does he accept rejection of Christianity as a logical decision after seeing just how poorly most Christians live out its ideals.
Second, he tells us, deconstruction is awesome—provided it goes the same direction his did, of course. If a deconstructing fundagelical isn’t where he is, then they need to aim for that direction. Maybe learn more apologetics arguments!
Third, watch out for those darn dirty progressives and all that “mysticism” bullshit they peddle. Harber insists that why yes indeed, fundagelicals can have absolute certainty that their beliefs are literally true.
But again, he just offers apologetics, compartmentalization, and general hand-waving as answers to the very real questions doubters should have about fundagelicals’ beliefs and behavior. The end result is a believer whose basis for faith is even more wobbly than before.
I suspect Ian Harber would be the last to recognize that truth.
Deconstruction needs to tackle all of those beliefs, not just the big obvious ones
Ian Harber’s testimony really nails one point home above all others: Deconstruction needs to tackle the Deeper Magic beliefs too, not just the ones that look obvious.
If, as a child, Harber could have asked the really tough questions, maybe he’d be in a way better place right now. But I’ve read between the lines of his narrative. He couldn’t endure a world where no gods do anything for anybody, where the Bible is just another ancient book of mythology, where miracles are simply errors in perception or even lies and exaggerations, where women really do have full human rights and everyone owns their own body, and where consenting love between adults should never run counter to secular or religious laws. He couldn’t face a world where his tribal affiliation meant nothing, where his religious sensibilities and control-hunger translated into nobody else’s problem or obligation.
Most of all, he couldn’t handle not having even empty promises of certainty and a clear set of commands to follow.
He wanted all of that stuff so much that he swallowed fundagelicals’ worst comebacks to his valid concerns, just so he could have it all back again.
It breaks the heart. Some days, I really understand why some atheists want fundagelical indoctrination to be considered child abuse.
A post-deconstruction career of doomed attempts to make fundagelicals more Jesus-y
These days, it seems, Ian Harber works hard to make fundagelicals into decent human beings. Good luck with that, as I told that one progressive pastor years ago. Nobody can. Cruelty, fear, and control-hunger are the Deepest Magicks of all. Without suffering from at least one of those, nobody would ever want to affiliate with his tribe in the first place, because at their core, their recruiters offer nonstop empty promises of safety and sadly-not-always-empty offers of easy dominance and power.
Ian Harber might as well be trying to teach fundagelicals to live on nothing but sunlight and air. It’s not gonna happen because their entire worldview runs along those three Deepest Magic rails. But meanwhile, hey, at least he got to write a chapter in Before You Lose Your Faith.
Did you guess why the fundagelicals behind the book wanted him so bad, despite his lack of solid credentials? Yes, I bet so: because he’s their all-important boots-on-the-ground voice of their one allowed form of reconstruction after deconstruction. As piss-poor as his reasoning is, as hollow as his final conclusions are, fundagelical leaders need to parade a dazzling image of happiness in this one kind of street-legal reconstruction (and, of course, someone’s complete dissatisfaction with any off-limits results of deconstruction) before their readers.
I don’t think it will fool many fundagelicals facing deconstruction. At least, I hope it won’t. But Deeper Magic indoctrination really is powerful.
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