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.

11 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

wow. that was excellent.

8:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm, "This is why a director of ATI can get away with adultery" not sure he "got away" with it.

Maybe would be more accurately stated "why someone with big moral problems could get away with being an ATI Director".

8:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well put together thoughts on one of many facets that have prompted me to leave the life of ATI and have convinced me to never let my kids even know what the word "ATI" means. I lived way to long in a two faced life, struggling to reconcile my desire to be a good blue and white kid, but knowing there was more to life and that God didn't create us human beings to be insular and live by legalistic rules. I do confess some of these fake "apearances" were self induced and there are ALOT of awesome guys and girls that have been brought up in ATI but that know that there is a balance in life and what not to digest willingly. It's not wrong to have dress standards, heck I can't wear sandals, ripped jeans and a Megadeath T-shirt to my job, I'd be sent home if I did. We even have to "dress" up when the big wigs come down from DC, and I don't mind that. It's wrong when your spirituality is judged on par with your appearance. Like many of the rules or suggestions that ATI gives, they fail to realize the faithful followers will take them paramount to the word of God and go completely overboard in their implementation. You don't see Donald Trump hanging out in faded cutoffs and Nike's, it's alright to dress up when you are in the presence of world leaders, but when you cultivate a conviction that has people wearing their suits to bed, that's when it's all gone wrong. Let my children cry "Mommy, why is that pompus man in a blue suit being laughed at?"

10:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

An excellent "fair and balanced" perspective. Right on the money.

4:10 PM  
Blogger ribald said...

The first time I knew it was all a big dog and pony show was when I saw Bill's hair from a balcony in a Russian church. He really does'nt have any hair on the top of his head. He grows the one side really long and then plasters it down with about a half a can of black grease (which is also why he is a senior citizen but has no grey). I know this sounds like an insignificant trivial thing but for me it was proof that he was just as shallow and driven by insecurity as me. The thing that separates the die hard institute person from the rest of the rational world is that a rational person admits that its all a charade. We are all broken.

10:38 PM  
Blogger X-er said...

To the second comment up above, good clarification. I have more accurately stated my opinion.

12:34 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What do you think will happen to ATI after Bill dies?

7:09 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Right on the money...that was so painfully true!

7:50 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I love this: "the appearance attracts the admiration of rock-music-deadened juveniles and government leaders (who were formerly rock-music-deadened juveniles themselves)." that was SO good! *grinning*

5:51 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good and clear post... been trying to finger the "tool" for awhile myself

9:10 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm not an ATIer or ex-ATIer, but I've lived some time with them, and what you say is true. I appreciate you being able to talk about it in a such a non-bitter way.

God bless you.

5:03 PM  

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