Banned Book: About Leaving the Fold by Edward T. Babinski

"The book was recently removed from the shelves of the Anderson County Public Library in South Carolina (Babinski's home state), due to complaints from patrons. The book contains nearly three dozen first-hand testimonies from former fundamentalists who have become liberal Christians, agnostics or atheists. According to Babinski, 'I've tried to get the local newspaper to interview me since writing my book, but they never had the time. Sales have been slow. Now, miracle of miracles, the book is being mentioned in newspapers, television and radio. God bless those Christians!'"

The Secular Humanist Bulletin

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Controversial Book: "Leaving the Fold: Testimonies of Former Fundamentalists"

by Edward T. Babinski

This book is primarily a collection of testimonies by people who were Protestant Christian fundamentalists and who later left fundamentalism (with the exceptions of Tom Harpur and Harvey Cox, who were moderate Christians whose views underwent a broadening similar to what some fundamentalist contributors experienced).

A hard-line fundamentalist may wish to warn the authors of this book's testimonies, and anyone reading this book, that "hell" is probably their "next destination." But he will have to do better than that if he hopes to convince his former brethren to rejoin him in his "straight and narrow" appreciation of the Bible and Jesus. He may even have to read this entire book to understand where his former brethren are "coming from" rather than simply predict where he thinks they are going.

I first tried marketing this book in parts. The testimonies of those who had left fundamentalism but remained Christians were to be published by a moderate liberal Christian press; the testimonies of those who had left both fundamentalism and religion were to be published by an atheist or agnostic press. However, some testimonies, such as those by William Bagley and Ernest Heramia, did not fit easily into either category.

I contacted several moderate and liberal Christian publishing houses and found that none of them were interested in "testimonies." I think that is a defect of moderate and liberal Christian sensibilities. Perhaps they do not wish to "lower" their standards, so to speak, by copying confrontational evangelistic techniques used by conservatives and fundamentalists, one such technique being "testifying." (Can I hear an "Amen," brother?) Yet personal testimonies are remarkably effective at conveying feelings, not merely facts; deeds, not merely dogmas; and they incite people to act as well as to think. For many years evangelical Protestant Christianity has used the power inherent in a single person's "testimony" to win new converts and buoy the faith of old ones.

So, after several rejections from moderate and liberal publishing houses, I offered the testimonies to the largest free-thought press in America, Prometheus Books. At first I was skeptical whether a "free-thought" press would print testimonies by people who had remained Christians, but I was assured that promoting genuinely free thinking was more important to the press than selectively chopping up every hundred-thousand-word manuscript they bought until it resembled a ten-page primer for atheism. Prometheus has published three full-length autobiographies of people whose faith in Christianity was shattered after they had witnessed the unethical or demagogic practices of church leaders and the naivete of their followers (i.e., Salvation for Sale, Don't Call Me Brother, and Jesus Doesn't Live Here Anymore). None of the authors of those books is an atheist. Furthermore, printing only testimonies advocating atheism would be to fall into the same error as that of the fundamentalists, who feel it imperative that everyone believe exactly as they do.

I suppose that the nearest that fundamentalist Christians ever came to advocating greater diversity rather than greater uniformity was when Jerry Falwell founded the Moral Majority, which, until its demise in 1986, focused on the moral (and political) concerns of Protestants, Catholics, and Jews. Considering what fundamentalist Protestants teach about the grave errors of Catholicism (not to mention Judaism), that was quite an amalgamation for a fundamentalist like Jerry Falwell to construct. But, as they say, "politics makes strange bedfellows." For that matter, so does televangelism."


This book exemplifies how an even more diverse array of people (far more diverse than the Moral Majority) is willing to band together to speak out on an issue that has intimately affected all of them, hoping thereby to increase the volume and scope of their declarations.

Once you have read all the testimonies, certain threads linking them together become apparent: the dilemmas and fears each person faced in leaving fundamentalism behind; their gradually dawning courage to ask crucial critical questions, and to continue asking more questions; their discovery of how wonderful it can be to allow one's innate curiosity the freedom it craves; and the blossoming of their distinctive personalities and beliefs. Anyone who enjoys a novel with idiosyncratic and markedly diverse characters will enjoy reading what lies ahead.

Of course, people who have left fundamentalism can differ markedly in their reactions to it. At one end of the spectrum are those who bid fundamentalism a "fond farewell." They had fun as fundamentalists, particularly in their youth. They also remind us that belonging to a fundamentalist church is a healthy alternative to drug addiction, alcoholism, and crime. A fundamentalist church setting can provide some with the social and psychological context that helps them to legitimize and catalyze radical changes they wish to make in their lives. (Of course, individuals must also want to change in the first place. No mere context can do that for you, as groups like Alcoholics Anonymous have pointed out.)

At the other end of the spectrum are those who aim both barrels at their former fundamentalist lives and beliefs. They view fundamentalist organizations as robbing people of their money (through "tithing," "giving till it hurts," and phoney come-ons to garner more contributions than a television ministry knows what to do with); robbing people of their time (every minute involved in church activities); robbing people of their health (phoney promises made by "faith healers"); and robbing people of their individuality, their freedom of thought, or even their ability to appreciate life.

Both perspectives can undoubtedly be true, depending on each individual's personal experiences. It was left up to each contributor to discuss in whatever terms they chose their entrance into and exit from fundamentalism, and to explain where they are today.

If you are a Christian, you may be interested primarily in testimonies by former fundamentalists who remained Christians. If you are not a Christian, but open to non-Christian spiritualities (wiccan or eastern), then you may find testimonies of that nature more to your liking. If you "don't know" which part of the book you might enjoy reading first, try the testimonies of those who became agnostics. If you are an atheist, your curiosity may be peaked by that section. Or, if you are a historian, you may wish to flip to the final section of testimonies of historical figures.

Readers of all persuasions should peruse the annotated bibliography that lists further testimonies. Or, you may wish to advance directly ahead.

© 2003

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