Friday, December 10, 2004
The Emperor's Clothes
Continuing in our non-satirical, substantive series on why I am an ex-ATI guy, here are some thoughts on the Institute's emphasis on appearance and the resulting false humility.
IBLP and ATI employ what members of the leadership have called the "Tool of Appearance." The Tool of Appearance is making use of appearance to expand one's ministry and to declare a particular set of standards and convictions. In other words, IBLP families stand out and ATI students are impressive because of their appearance: the appearance attracts the admiration of rock-music-deadened juveniles and government leaders (who were formerly rock-music-deadened juveniles themselves).
Accordingly, the appearance of ATI folks is specifically manipulated to have the maximum attraction factor. Not in a sexual way -- God forbid that we would inspire libidinous thoughts in the Russian government officials -- but to secure an audience and convey spiritual credibility.
Staff and students, therefore, are required to wear the uniform navy and white. An emphasis is placed on the brightness of the eyes and brilliance of the smile. Rock music is avoided, as well as excessive attention to the opposite gender. Other rules can be cited: no facial hair, no jeans, no t-shirts with brand names or messages displayed.
At a fundamental level, there is nothing wrong these standards. If a person has a genuine conviction about a specific behavior, by all means obey your conscience. But the Institute's method of adopting these standards in order to create the perception of spirituality is spiritual politics at its worst.
And it produces stupid results: feeling guilty if you hear rock music in a public place, refusing to sing in a church choir because they sing praise choruses, avoiding the opposite sex to the point of rudeness, etc. Young ladies have learned how to use carefully-applied mascara and eye drops to "brighten" their eyes. An IBLP supervisor once advised me that staff fellows should not remove their suit jackets when eating out at a restaurant after a seminar; seminar attendees might be eating there too, and they need to know that public anonymity does not change our high dress standards.
In all fairness, Gothard does not teach -- and most ATI folks do not expressly believe -- that perception is more important than reality. Instead, this attitude slowly invades the heart, so a person assumes that the "appearance" of spirituality is the evidence thereof.
This facade has its deleterious effects. You begin to think humility and other spiritual characteristics are "appearances" to create, rather than properly perceiving them as attitudes of the heart. This is why a person with significant moral failings can be placed in positions of leadership in the program, and why ATI students implode for (seemingly) unexplainable reasons. They've become very skilled in maintaining the facade.
The facade of spirituality is nothing more than false humility -- the 50th character quality in ATI circles, and is motivated by spiritual pomposity. It's all very mixed up.
Another related evil: many individuals in ATI filter their thoughts, words and behavior through the possible effect they will have on others, rather than evaluating things on the basis of their inherent value. You begin to develop character because it impresses others, not because it is good.
Governing human behavior by the result it produces in others is like trying to drive by always looking in the rearview mirror. In ATI thinking, if I smile at a girl and she experiences a defrauding flash of attraction toward me, I was wrong to have smiled at her, regardless of the purity my own intentions. Additionally, it becomes very easy to try to judge the inner thoughts and motivations of others -- another common ATI trait.
Those students who recognize and speak out against the incongruity of the Tool of Appearance are labeled as rebels: "Aha! You don't want to conform because you have a sinful heart. Your rock music has caused you to reject God-given authority!" Well, no, these students object to the stupidity of the "Tool," rather than disputing a particular conviction.
The little child has observed that the emperor isn't wearing any clothes.