Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Colorado shootings and religious abuse

Matthew Murray, a troubled 24 year old Coloradan, who killed four people at a mega church and a youth center and then killed himself was no stranger to Youth With a Mission training center where the killing began. Five years ago, Murray signed up for the program, but was told he wasn't stable enough to travel with other students for field training, according to the Rev. Peter Warren, the program's director.

According to Marlene Winell, a Berkeley psychological consultant, educator, and writer in Oakland with 28 years experience in human services in both community and academic settings, "
We don't know exactly what Matthew Murray was going through that led to the Colorado shootings. But he apparently wrote the agonized postings of "Nightmare Child," on He was suffering a lot of pain and rage, partly about his upbringing in the church and his continuing frustration with Christians. (Some of this was in May, 2007, when I invited him to contact me for help.)" She never heard from him.

" Matthew Murray, the son of a prominent neurologist, grew up in Englewood, Colo., and was home-schooled in what's been described as a deeply religious family. A computer enthusiast, Murray had only one previous brush with the law — a traffic ticket earlier this year, according to

But according to the Joe.My.God Blog (click on title of this post for a link) , "After trying to "go all out for God" and failing, Murray wrote he fell into a deep depression." It goes on, "Last summer, he wrote, "People like us are going to go to hell, according to Christians." He lists several reasons why. Reason number seven is bluntly stated, "I'm bisexual." In other postings, Murray wrote, "...
I can never get a female date. I am at least able to get some male action.""

Later he wrote about confronting his Mother on the issue of his bisexuality. Murray wrote that he told her, "Using drugs, alcohol and having gay sex, I'm just trying to do what any Christian pastor would do. At least I'm not doing meth like Ted Haggard." Murray also noted that the Church forgave Haggard and wrote, "I want to know where was all the love, mercy and compassion for my supposed imperfections?"

It is important to note that Youth With a Mission has been described as "associated with the ex-gay organization Exodus International," which has been criticized by some as a 'cult' and attacked for 'brainwashing' members and promoting anti-gay messages."

Psychologist Winell, who holds a doctorate in Human Development and Family Studies from Penn State and is the author of Leaving the Fold: A Guide for Former Fundamentalists and Others Leaving their Religion, suggests that fundamentalist religion, and in particular fundamentalist Christianity, may bear some responsibility for his state of mind at the time of the shootings. She describes something she calls religious abuse and says it's traumatic, in that it teaches small children they are a) bad and incapable, b) responsible for the horrible, bloody death of Jesus Christ, and c) in danger of burning in hell for eternity. Winell calls this abuse of the worst kind.

According to her website, "
Children at an early age do not have the cognitive ability to evaluate this, nor are they given any alternatives. If they are indoctrinated young, the ideas become deeply held assumptions that are very hard to change despite intellectual changes later in life. Hence the secret anxiety and sometimes terror that is too shameful to talk about. (People who convert at an older age are usually in a vulnerable state and the dynamic is similar.)

Winell's website ( continues, "
Fundamentalist, authoritarian religions teach that it is a sin to doubt, to question, to think for yourself. This is the most insidious of many examples of circular reasoning that keeps people trapped in the system. Another is the idea that if the religion is not working for you, it must be you that is not doing it right, and the solution is for you to try harder not to disappoint God."

So, did Matthew Murray kill because he had been indoctrinated to believe his bisexuality was evil and that there was no redemption for him? If so, what do we do about it?

"Our society (the U.S.) venerates "freedom of religion" along with freedom of speech, and therefore turns a blind eye to toxic teachings," according to Winell.

If Matthew Murray's actions were precipitated by religious indoctrination can we afford to shelter such acts under a "freedom of religion" rubric? I say it's time to call out the elephant in the room: fundamentalism is dangerous and should not be permitted to operate in the U.S. any more than in Afghanistan.

A full investigation of the incidents in Colorado should be undertaken including the religious teachings that may have prompted them. And I hope the American Psychiatric and American Psychological Associations will weigh in on this phenomenon. Further, I believe that Congress should investigate this situation. A country that calls itself a world leader should take the lead in protecting vulnerable children from psychological indoctrination/brainwashing regardless of who does it.

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous2:07 PM

    Outstanding report. It is my belief that all religion is based on fear and even though some who bend to it are less than convinced they join because "better safe than sorry". It does not matter how entertaining the ritual might be; at the end of the day those in the funny hats and garb do not know any more about an after-life than I do. Charlatans abound and use the fear for wealth and even sexual gratification.