Reviewed by Debbie Dewart
The recent epidemic proportions of the “false memory syndrome” have spawned a number of books providing both information and counsel. Victims of Memory by Mark Pendergrast is one of the thickest, most extensively researched of such volumes, written by a man whose two grown daughters have accused him of serious abuse and cut him from their lives.
For Christians, this book has limited usefulness. There is a wealth of information about what is currently happening in the area of false memories. Pendergrast provides many personal accounts, from therapists, accused parents, survivors, and retractors, showing us what people are thinking and believing. He also gives us an overview of scientific research concerning human memory and introduces us to the massive literature that has accumulated on both sides of the issue.
However, the author makes no claim to Christian faith and presents some unbiblical standards of morality when he says that “there’s nothing wrong with masturbation or sex between women,” and when he says, “Lesbianism as a sexual choice is fine—but as a creed that encourages a generalized hatred of men and a search for repressed memories of abuse, it is disturbing” (48-49).
Toward the end of the book, Pendergrast again reveals his personal belief that any sort of sexual inclination is morally acceptable, “as long as they do not harm anyone else in the process,” admitting in a footnote that “harm” isn’t easy to define (454). Such abandonment of biblical principles gives us reason for extreme caution in the use of this book. It’s informative in terms of literature, research, and current events, but not a place to look for godly principles about responding to this catastrophic problem.
Christians do need to note the book’s indictment of the church for its involvement in encouraging “repressed memories.” The well-known names of Frank Minirth and Paul Meier (472), Fred and Florence Littauer, Dan Allender, and James Friesen are cited as leaders in the “Christian hunt for repressed memories” (476). Let’s look at some actual quotes from some of these well-known promoters of repressed memory therapy.
In Freeing Your Mind From Memories That Bind, the Littauers state their belief that:
- The person who has memory gaps has built a wall around the painful, hurtful experiences of childhood. They have suppressed those hurts deeply into their subconscious. They have covered them up in the garbage can of their early life and put the lid on them tightly so as never to be confronted again (142-143).
In his approach to psychotherapy for those diagnosed with “multiple personality disorder,” James Friesen emphasizes the retrieval of buried memories:
- Pulling unconscious, dissociated memories into the client’s awareness lies at the heart of therapy for dissociators…. The wounds must be thoroughly exposed, so that the client can receive healing (Uncovering the Mystery of MPD, 167).
Dan Allender often appears more biblical, speaking about sin and repentance far more than some psychologists. However, he too promotes “memory work.” Even physical symptoms, he claims, may be related to “repressed memories.” Allender insists that:
- It is as if the body is warring against the soul by blocking memories or dreams that would unleash a torrent of anguish … physical armor protects against those memories (Healing the Wounded Heart, 151).
Pendergrast notes the sad outcome of such “Christian” therapies:
- Unfortunately, all too many books by “Christian counselors” espouse varieties of recovered-memory therapy, with the ironic and tragic result of destroying families “in the name of Christ” (19).
He also quotes one therapist’s concern that “Christian visualization” appears beyond reach due to the insistence that God is behind the “revelations” produced by it (24). We ought to be alarmed also! Christians should be leading the way out of this destructive maze, not enticing other believers into it. How tragic when unbelievers must rebuke a phenomena that is destroying so many Christian families!
Pendergrast not only convicts the Christian church of its error in this arena of repressed memories; he insightfully shows how “survivorship” has taken on the status of a substitute faith with therapists as the “priests” (chapter 12, 463-494). There is a “mystical, non-rational component” (465). Survivorship includes doctrines, “myths,” ethical teachings, rituals, and social institutions, such as the 12-step and other support groups (468). There is a “conversion” experience, a “radical transformation of identity or orientation” (467). John Bradshaw is the “evangelist of dysfunction” (482-485).
Groups for survivors often function much like religious sects or cults (486-492). Pendergrast attributes Christian involvement to the strong religious element present in the repressed memory crisis. Yet discerning believers should recognize it as a false gospel that rejects God’s Word and salvation as inadequate means of grace. We must return to the sufficient Scripture, to the faith once and for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ to do the same.
Editor’s note: Dewart’s book on John Bradshaw, A Way That Seems Right, is available from this ministry. See PAM Books page. Other books for further study that are not available through this ministry are:
- Suggestions of Abuse by Michael Yapko.
- The Myth of Repressed Memory by Elizabeth Loftus and Katherine Ketcham;
- Making Monsters: False Memories, Psychotherapy, and Sexual Hysteria by Richard Ofshe and Ethan Watters.
- Manufacturing Victims by Tana Dineen.