Do we prevent somebody being hurt by superstition or faith by rejecting and challenging those things? 

Is it mistaken to support organised religion in membership or donations?

If people do good because they are human, not because God prompts them then is it right to risk giving God any credit when they alone own their good?

Patrick H





Many believers in religion argue that there are forms of religious faith that are toxic. Many atheists believe that though religion is a bad thing, the reason it is bad is because it is based on religious faith and religious faith is always about what you want to believe and not the truth. Whoever does not care about truth does not care about others much either. If faith is a problem, that gives the critic a way to blame say Catholicism for what Islam does. Catholicism is to blame in the sense that it endorses faith and all the violent Muslim terrorist is doing is putting faith into practice.


Sometimes you expect something to touch a person's good buttons and the opposite happens. Faith could look harmless and be pressing bad buttons if not in all believers but in many of them. What if faith should change people for the better and does not always do it? What if it is faith's fault?


The Christian book Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton (Oliver-Nelson, 1991) is very useful. But despite its grand assertions about the dangers of toxic faith, the fact remains that Christianity, the faith it espouses, is a toxic faith and contradicts the book's main suppositions. Manipulative means having a hidden agenda. Christianity is manipulative - it pretends to be pro-health.


People are always taken in by the people in a sect who are seen as good. Any system needs some charmers to take off. Catholicism likes to parade saints and this attracts people to it despite the fact that a few seemingly good people in a system does not make the system good. It is superficial to judge a religion as great just because some of its members are outwardly great and are paraded. The rule might be that religious people would be better people without religion so those saints could be exceptions. There are exceptions to every rule. It is superficial for people of no religion have the same degree of goodness as most ordinary religious people. Good people in a religion never show that the religion is in any way good but they do show that human nature is good. To call any religion good because of the nice people in it is insulting. It is odd how religion would take responsibility for being inept or a bad influence if most members turned out bad and it does not if the number of bad people is small! It is not a question of statistics!

Jesus was prickly - if he lived - but it seems his followers often did so much good that their religion became a success. The argument that a religion is good if it has mostly good people in it is invalid. Their goodness is human goodness. It is an insult to them to accept their claim that it comes solely from the power of their religion.

There is a dangerous tendency among a few to argue that a religion should be allowed to teach what it wants even if it is pure hatred. But what about the victims? They say that victims should see that it is something in the haters that is the problem and not the religion. The victims them are accused of being unfair if they blame religion or the person as a religious person. It is twisted to protect religion and faith and not people.

Some argue that religion never harms because we are never upset by something another person is or does. What upsets us is how we react.

Those who argue that way are really apologists for evil. Even if we are to blame for being upset, somebody else is too.


Toxic Faith (a summary by B. Jackson)

The following is a summary of the book Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton (Oliver-Nelson, 1991) under the heading of The Roles of Toxic Faith.  It is part B. 


B. The Roles of Toxic Faith summarised by Bill Jackson from the book Toxic Faith by Stephen Arterburn & Jack Felton (Oliver-Nelson, 1991).


a. A healthy system is made up of individuals with a full range of emotions, intellect, free will and the ability to function independently. In a dysfunctional system, each individual plays out a role needed for the system to function. Since individuals lack the ability to function independently, they depend on one another to play out their roles and allow the system to continue. Those roles have to be played so that those in the system can remain in their denial and avoid the overwhelming fear of insignificance


b. In a dysfunctional system, roles evolve to support the system. Each person must be willing to play the roles which become more keenly defined as the addiction intensifies. Individuals become trapped in predictable behaviours that remove God and faith, replacing them with a dependency on a set of rules. As a person's behaviour lines up with one of these predictable roles, any deviation from that role is a sign of rebellion from the system and is dealt with quickly through shaming and rejection. Although each role is difficult to maintain, it is even more difficult to leave the safety and predictability of the role and act independently. A person who takes this step back toward reality becomes an outcast of the system


c. In a toxic faith system, be it family, church or ministry, the person with the role of persecutor heads the group. The persecutor is supported by co-conspirators, enablers, and victims. These people have one primary function: allow the persecutor to function, insulated from reality. Each person in each role believes the organization must continue, and it is each person's job to distort, manipulate, hide, or deny reality so the toxic system can go on. Each person in a different way protects the persecutor from outside disruptions that could stop the achievement of the persecutor's vision

d. These people create a false reality by distancing and isolating the persecutor from contact with the real world. As they grow more committed to the persecutor and the toxic ministry, they become addicted to the behaviours of the role and the feelings derived from participating in the false reality of the toxic system. Once they stop supporting the false reality that allows the persecutor and the ministry to continue, they are no longer needed by the system and are thrown out
The roles

a. The Persecutor

The persecutor plays the role of the father in the family.


In the church this person is the one with the vision that the organization must continue, and it is each person's job to distort, manipulate, when they were younger and, therefore, don't want to risk rejection as an adult. Rather than trust God and risk being rejected or betrayed by God, they focus on what they do in the name of God and what they perceive are the instant rewards sent from God. In this way they lose all faith in God and rely on their own abilities to find God's favor. The fulfillment of the mission becomes everything for the wrong reason and they surround themselves with people willing to say that the progress toward the goal is outstanding


b. The Co-conspirator


For every persecutor, there is at least one co-conspirator who manipulates, plots, and plans to keep the persecutor in power and position. The persecutor and co-conspirator work as a unit; they operate as one. Both are addicted to religion as the means by which they seem to be the one with the vision that he/she and the others find meaning in fulfilling. Persecutors have often been rejected Several work together to form a team of "yes-men" that will do anything to protect and defend the persecutor. They feed into the persecutor's ego and further blind him/her from reality. When there is conflict, they usually find a way to agree with the persecutor and support his/her position. They are loyal in every way. In a toxic faith system, these are the most dangerous followers because of their proactive commitment to keeping the system intact. Their undying faith in the persecutor is the reason so many will continue to support that person when trouble, rumour, or admission of wrong surfaces


c. The Enabler While the co-conspirator actively connives to keep the persecutor in power, the enabler's role is more passive. They allow, more than promote, victimization. They are not active in the decision-making of the organization but willingly support those decisions made at the top. They know something fishy is going on but they don't want to rock the boat by calling attention to it. They are getting their worth serving something "significant," therefore, they purposely don't "see things," thus justifying their enabling activities. The fearful enabler will wait until someone else intervenes. They hope for but are afraid to work for change. Instead, they work like beasts of burden because they feel responsible for everything

d. The Victims

Victims place their complete trust in the leaders of the toxic faith system and become silent victims of something they don't understand. They fear rejection and abandonment so much that they would rather be exploited members of something than be on their own and be part of nothing. Theirs is a blind allegiance

e. The Outcast This is the only role in the toxic system that is not driven by addiction. In any toxic system, there is usually someone who can see the problem and confronts it. In a healthy system, individuals serving in that organization have respect for the person and position of leadership. For it to remain healthy, there must also be respect for the workers. When there is no respect, the "hired hands" are not allowed to disagree. If they don't like something, they are labelled complainers, negative thinkers, and not team players. The toxic system has no place for anyone who challenges the integrity or disagrees with the methods of the leader. The person who is unwilling to play the games of the persecutors and co-conspirators, becomes the outcast. They lose their friends and church because they stood for their convictions

C. 10 Rules of a Toxic Faith System
1. The leader must be in control of every aspect at all times

1 There is no such thing as a system where the leader attempts to rule every part of the life of others for that cannot be done. Any inappropriate control is toxic.  A toxic faith may limit itself to interfering in marriage and that is enough to make it a disgrace.


The leader is most likely to want to be in control not of everything but of the things he or she considers important to her or him. In the case of a Catholic priest, it may simply be the wish to dictate to others what they must believe. It is too much pressure on a religious leader to attempt to be in control all the time. 

2. When problems arise, find a guilty party to blame immediately

2. Christians blame Satan when things go wrong and they love blaming the media for their problems as Christians as well. Adam and Eve get the blame for original sin and our wish to be independent of God.
When Catholic treatments for sin, the sacraments, blatantly fail, the Church says it is the recipients fault for not being sincere enough. 

3. Don't make mistakes

3. The Church supposedly hates sin for it does damage. Mistakes do damage too. They often do worse damage than sin. Deliberate or not, the wrong action will be seen as evil.

4. Never point out the reality of a situation

Any human organisation is in danger of that. But religion because it besots people with the promise of salvation and scares them half to death makes this problem virtually inevitable. An example, the mothers of Ireland had to have known that priests were sexually abusing their children - they did nothing and indeed punished their children for complaining. The priest was a man of God and even if he did evil he didn't do evil.


Religion protects its notions from being shown implausible or wrong by telling you that God has the full information and you do not.

5. Never express your feelings unless they are positive

Christianity certainly never taught that - and that its ironically one of its endless flaws.

6. Don't ask questions, especially if they are tough ones

6. The Catholic Church says that if you don't understand its doctrines you must pray for understanding. It adds that many of these doctrines are mysteries that only God understands. Here is an example, God is said to forbid contraception no matter how much good it seems to do for he knows better than us. 

7. Don't do anything outside your role

7. The Catholic Church lays down a role for women that gives them less advantages in life than men.
8. Don't trust anyone


Even the worst of religions needs its people to trust somebody. Each religion argues that it is right therefore it makes out that those who contradict it are untrustworthy.

9. Nothing is more important than giving money to the organization


No religion is that blatant. The problem is not one of religion being solely about money but of religion taking people's money when it has no counselling role, tells them rubbish and makes huge claims and provides no evidence or at least dodgy evidence?

10. At all costs, keep up the image of the organization or the family

10. Catholics were conditioned by their parents and the bishops to look up to the bishops and priests as demi-gods. This led to Ireland doing nothing about the open secret of clerical sexual abuse. And the bishops covered up the crimes of their priests and gave them new parishes to find new flesh. The excuse that they thought that moving the priest would help is glaring. That could not have been their motivation at all. Nobody is that stupid. Plus they knew from experience that moving only moved the problem elsewhere. 

D. Characteristics of Healthy Faith
1. Focusing on a personal relationship with God in Christ, not religion

1. Protestants see God as their personal saviour. That means that spirituality is merely between the believer and his or her God. This is individualism. Brainwashing is less likely.

2. Looking to God to meet the needs for security and significance

2.Looking to God for help and comfort will only add the problem of guilt to a person who is so depressed that they are unable to look. It is better for us to live without belief in God even if it means we will be less happy than for us to propagate a belief that torments many of those who suffer the most.

3. Growing in faith as evidenced by walking into pain

3.An atheist can accept pain better than a Christian can. If I think there is no God to help me, I have no choice but to accept the pain. Indeed it is good to take risks in order to toughen myself up. If I think there is a God, I may reason that I have no choice but to accept the pain for he is letting it happen for a reason and he will not change his plan. The atheist accepts pain because it is inevitable. The believer accepts it though God can stop it but won't. That is acceptance with a big big but. It is not authentic acceptance.

4. Respect for the personhood of others

4. Christians cheapen respect for people by pretending that your sins are to be thought of as separate from you. That really demands that the evil person be viewed the same as the saint. It is hypocritical for Christians send evil people to jail and judge them.

5. Serving others for their sake

5. Serving others for their sake is unhealthy. The healthy person should balance what is good for herself with what is good for others.

6. Being vulnerable

6. People like us to feel vulnerable when appropriate and when the intention is to create rapport with those who are in any kind of trouble. But the Bible claims that its message can give us a sense of invulnerability no matter what happens for God is all-powerful and our stronghold. The vulnerability requirement contradicts Toxic Faith's assertion that we must always feel safe in God.

7. A trusting atmosphere

Christians can only get along when they forget their beliefs. How is telling people that it is bad to intend to harm for it hurts people and hurts God supposed to help people trust? The atheist settles for leaving God out. Making evil out to be worse than what it is, is slander
8. Celebrating uniqueness by recognizing people's spiritual gifts


8. Every religion recognises alleged gifts from God and celebrates the differences but between parameters. For example, Catholics recognise speaking in tongues as being from God and deny the gifts of a person who claims that God gave him the power to consecrate the Eucharist without the intermediary of a bishop. People having different alleged gifts does not mean that manipulating and brainwashing is less likely.

9. Relationships being the heart of everything


9. Relationships cannot be everything to a Christian. The only exception is a relationship with God.

10. People being taught to think

10. Religions never teach the people how to think. Do they teach them the basic laws of logic? Those laws are really different forms of the rule that a is not b in the same way as it is a and at the same time. Anything varying from that is self-refuting. A contradiction is self-refutation. It is against your own dignity to let somebody be a self-refuter. They are trying to be inauthentic towards you. Say something politely.


Faith claims to be helped along by reason but beyond it. That means that you are taking a chance. What if what you think is beyond reason but is to be believed? It could be something against reason that is being mistaken for being beyond reason.

11. Balanced thinking rather than extremes in black and white

11. The notion that God comes first automatically endorses extremist thinking. It is putting belief in an entity above all things.

12. Non-defensive

How a faith that says you might go to Hell forever at death and that Satan is the god of this world and a Jesus who said that the whole world was in the hand of the Devil, the supreme fan of evil, can ask people to be non-defensive is a mystery.

13. Non-judgmental


Christianity says that sin has ruined God's creation, and forced Jesus to become man to die on the cross to atone for it and will take people to Hell to suffer forever. Obviously we should welcome being judged. It might save us from damnation. And to say that our sins put Jesus on the cross is judgemental. Nobody believes that people should be judged when there is no proof that they have done what they are accused of.

14. Reality-based



The Old Testament of the Bible and the Book of Mormon claim to record history. The faiths based on them try to corrupt history. No valid historian takes them seriously. We know that the Book of Mormon history is fictitious but if enough Mormons became historians it would ruin history forever.


Religion threatens our knowledge of the past.

15. Able to embrace our emotions



If sin is as bad as Christianity says, then we should fear any feeling that invites us to sin.

16. Able to embrace our humanity as evidenced in the ability to allow for mistakes


How can a religion that says human nature is sinful - ie we sin because we are sinners and it is not the case that we are sinners because we sin - seriously make point 16?

17. The ability to laugh

I'd not be as keen on laughing if I really believed that people could suffer in Hell for all eternity.


If God comes first that is no laughing matter. God cannot have a sense of humour for you need to be able to be surprised to have it. And God knows all so he cannot be surprised. Is putting such a being first going to make you more humorous? No.

A. I think that each of the toxic roles is actually a counterfeit for genuine gifts and roles in the kingdom of God:


a. A person receives a vision from God to start a certain type of ministry, be it church or Sunday school. They articulate that vision and impart it to a group of people who partner with them to fulfil it, not to gain identity but as an outflow of the gifts of the Spirit exercised in faith. The difference between the persecutor and the true godly leader is motive and degree of control. The true leader obeys by faith and is secure enough to not be controlling. He/she does not lay down in front of the people and do what they say because of being afraid of them (cf. 1 Sam. 15.24), nor do they lord it over those they lead. The leader definitely leads but as a servant and an example to the flock


b. True leaders gladly submit themselves to a group of people with whom they can know and be known. They trust their council and value relationship with them above pursuit of the vision. They wait for them so they can walk together




Despite talk about the leader having to be really a servant the fact is that a true leader is not a servant. He is an authority and a superior. A leader playing at being a servant is not a servant.


1. The persecutor is the counterfeit for the real gift of leadership which God gives to a man or woman by the Holy Spirit

God himself sanctioned persecution in the Bible. The apostle Paul and Jesus both wanted people hated and ostracised for breaching Christian morality.
2. The co-conspirator is the counterfeit for true eldership and government


a. Leaders need an accountability and decision-making structure around them. They (leader and eldership) function together as coequals with different functions based on giftedness. Those who serve the leader who is serving them do so as those who already have an identity in God and are merely walking out their response to God's grace according to the measure of their faith. They are "elding" for the right reason


b. They are not "yes men" but neither are they of an interdependent spirit. They recognize the leadership gifting on the point person and trust in what God has put on him/her. They also trust that the leader understands how the elders complement that leadership and know that he/she will listen and heed
their council. While the leader leads by giving direction and going first, they govern the church together


Not a single word is given in the Bible for helping accountability and decision making among the leadership. It preaches what leadership should be but gives no guidance in helping it be what it says it should be.
3. The enablers are the counterfeit for the true servant workforce in the church


a. Jesus told us to pray for labourers in the harvest, for the harvest was plentiful but the workers were few. Nehemiah saw to it that it was the people's job to build the wall around Jerusalem, not his. He saw to it that they had whatever they needed, training, supplies, etc.


b. The true workforce of the church is serving according to their spiritual gifts by faith and not for a sense of belonging and worth. They are not passive co-dependents who would enable the sickness of leadership because they need the sick system for their pain medication. They know they are not gifted in government so they trust that gifting on the eldership. But they also know that if they had a question, even a hard one, that the leaders would be open to their concern and make proper adjustments when necessary. They serve God, not the leader or vision, with joy in their hearts


An enabler in this case is a person who enables a religion to do evil. Merely being part of its structure or seeming to be is contributing to its evil. The less need you have to be in the religion the more you are to blame for the problems. You are keeping up a system which creates the conditions for bad things to happen.


That is why Roman Catholics who think the Vatican is seriously evil are only hypocrites. And that is what they will be until they defect and depart.

4. The victims are the counterfeit for the godfearer fringe


a. These are those that attend the larger meetings and are trying to decide if they want to give themselves to the local church. Many are Christians who have had bad experiences in the church and are hesitant; some are frightened "pew sitters" who need to be loved into the family and joyful service, others are non Christians who are checking out the faith.


b. Whichever category, they are the fishing pond out of which disciples are made. Jesus chose 12 then 70 out of the crowd that followed him. What makes the difference whether these people become disciples or victims? Everything depends on the actions and motives of the group they are walking among. Is it healthy, glorifying Jesus and honouring personhood or is it toxic, glorifying the leader and denying personhood? Motive is everything.


This is interestingly humanistic. There is no mention of Christianity's irresponsible doctrine, "God is all-powerful. Thus you must trust in him to change hearts. Even the worst of sinners can change overnight.  God is always waiting to transform them and all they need to do is ask."

5. Outcasts are the courageous detractors in the toxic system who are trying to bring health to something sick
Just as God will try to heal something that is sick, Satan will try to destroy something that is healthy. In the healthy system will be found both rebels and wolves


a. Rebels are Christians who for whatever reasons have enough wounding to create problems for members in the flock because of their sin. They are good people who are just not conscious of what they are doing and why. They may be caught in a sin and need to be restored gently (Gal. 6.1). They may be acting out congregational pain that they have not been able to understand. Whatever the case, the flock is called to a process of lovingly winning these rebels through ardent pursuit outlined in Matthew 18. This passage begins by talking about true shepherds who make lost sheep their priority. It then says we are to go to our brother who is in sin and try to win him. We are to offer numerous opportunities for repentance, each with a higher relational price. If losing relationship is worth something to the rebel (this is what separates rebels from wolves), then he/she will eventually repent and have a genuine heart change. The key to this process is love. The parable of the unmerciful servant which follows in the text highlights how the atmosphere needs to be permeated with forgiveness


b. There is a difference between the rebel and the wolf. Rebels are good people with wounds who need to be loved back to health. Wolves are divisive people with hardened hearts who the enemy has planted with a strategy to destroy the fellowship. Titus says, "Warn a divisive person once, then twice, then have nothing to do with him" (3.10). Paul told the Corinthians to expel a wicked man from their midst (1 Cor. 5.13).


Discerning rebels from wolves and treating them accordingly is one of the jobs of eldership (even wolves are to be treated lovingly and with respect as human beings!). The difference is in the heart and the heart must be discerned.


This suggests that rebels are believers who have something against their Church for reasons they might not fully understand. It is said that sometimes it is necessary to end the relationship with the rebel to get them back on track. But read Matthew 18. Jesus said that the rebel was to be treated as a tax collector or a publican! In other words, treated with contempt not love.


Christianity when it follows Jesus properly is a toxic religion. Jesus said in Matthew 18 that the person is the problem - no love sinner and hate sin there! 

The Bible text quoted does not distinguish between a rebel and a wolf. The wolf has to be a rebel. The rebel is a wolf for his intention is to cause division and trouble and to draw others into it. The text is manipulated because Jackson does not want to urge the Churches to expel all who stubbornly rebel. It's bad for the collection plate.


1. If Jim Jones was a 10 and totally healthy is a 0 then most families and churches would fall somewhere on the spectrum. Healthy would go from few to some toxic behaviours, unhealthy from frequent to compulsive toxic behaviours. How toxic we were is a matter of debate. There is no question that I/we had dysfunction. How much is (in my opinion) a fruitless sidetrack. Whether it is one cancer cell or a thousand, let's call it cancer and ask God to root it out.
2. This book was extremely helpful to me because it gave me crucial insight into what was happening to us. If we understand what toxic faith is and what drives it, we can recognise it and choose never to walk in it in any degree.

Condensed by Bill Jackson