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BibleBill Gothard

Lorin Friesen, June 2015.

(Nov. 2015: Most of the links to are now dead. I tried to quote directly from the source in this essay, but unfortunately the source has now removed most of the links.)

Bill Gothard is currently in the news. Unfortunately, not for good reasons. The oldest son of the Duggar family (a family with 19 children) sexually molested several of his younger sisters, and this was covered up for several years. It turns out that the Duggars follow the teaching of Bill Gothard, who himself has recently stepped down from the head of his organization because of inappropriate behavior regarding young ladies. He now has his own website and is no longer part of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (which used to be called the Institute in Basic Youth Conflicts). However, the material that is being taught by IBLP still reflects his thinking, therefore this essay will refer to this material as ‘Gothard says’ and ‘Gothard thinks’.

Bill Gothard was a very popular conservative Christian seminar speaker. In 1971, for instance, about 300,000 people attended one of his seminars, and a total of 2 1/2 million people have gone through his 32 hour basic seminar. I attended his basic seminar in the 1970s in my teen years and his advanced seminar in the 1980s. I have a copy of the advanced seminar textbook printed in 1986 to which we will be referring. (As far as I can tell, there are no major differences between this book and Gothard’s more recent material.)

The theory of mental symmetry started in the 1980s with Romans 12 spiritual gifts. Gothard’s teaching is also based heavily in Romans 12 spiritual gifts, which I will refer to generically as ‘spiritual gifts’. (There are two other list of spiritual gifts given in I Corinthians 15.) I have known for a while that Gothard teaches what he calls ‘motivational spiritual gifts’ in his advanced seminar and I have gone through his advanced seminar textbook in order to compare his traits with the traits that we discovered. My general conclusion is that the traits described by Don and Katie Fortune are significantly more complete and accurate than those given by Gothard, though both are influenced by a fundamentalist mindset. I have examined the Fortune’s books in a previous essay.

I realized recently that spiritual gifts are not just an aspect of Gothard’s advanced seminar but play a more fundamental role in his system. As this webpage explains, Gothard associates seven character qualities with each of the seven spiritual gifts, leading to a grid of 49 character qualities. Each of these 49 qualities has been expanded into a booklet which forms the core of Gothard’s school curriculum. A sample booklet can be downloaded from the ATI website (ATI, or Advanced Training Institute, is the school curriculum than Bill Gothard established). Thus, in the same way that the theory of mental symmetry started with spiritual gifts, expanded to include cognitive development, and then turned into a general meta-theory, so Gothard started with the same seven spiritual gifts, expanded these into a grid of character qualities, and then turned this into a school curriculum.

Given such a similarity, one might think that what Gothard teaches is quite similar to what the theory of mental symmetry suggests. Well—yes and no. There are similarities. But, Gothard’s strong fundamentalism generates what I call the religious attitude, and a religious attitude will naturally warp one’s understanding and interpretation of the Bible. While the religious attitude shapes most of Gothard’s material, one of the primary goals of mental symmetry is to escape the mental straitjacket of the religious attitude. Saying this another way, Gothard’s goal is to teach Christian fundamentalist, whereas my goal is to free Christianity from fundamentalism.

The Religious Attitude

One can see Gothard’s attitude in the introduction to his wisdom booklets. The webpage is titled “learning to see all of life from God’s perspective” and it explains that “In some schools, the Bible is added as merely another subject to be studied. The ATI curriculum however, begins with Scripture and then combines valuable information with character training and life principles.” Thus, the assumption is that ‘seeing all of life from God’s perspective’ means starting from the Bible. In fact, I have learned that the mind is wired in such a way (or if you wish, created by God in such a manner) that it will not see ‘all of life from God’s perspective’ when one ‘begins with Scripture’. This bears repeating. It appears that the mind is constructed in a manner that if one starts with a fundamentalist attitude of ‘belief in the Bible’ then, far from seeing all of existence from the perspective of a universal being, one will suppress most of human existence and then try to squeeze what remains into a limited subculture, defined and enforced by those who are in authority.

Let us state this more formally. (The reader who is not familiar with the concept of mental networks can find an introduction here.) The religious attitude is composed of the three elements of fervor, self-denial, and transcendence, a combination which I refer to as the ‘religious attitude’, and this attitude will naturally emerge when truth about God and religion is based in MMNs (Mercy mental networks) of personal status. When a person believes that the Bible (or any other holy book or textbook) is the ultimate source of truth, then this means that the source of this truth is being represented by a MMN with great emotional status. MMNs struggle for emotional domination. Therefore, if some MMN acts as my source of truth, then my natural response will be to focus upon the source of truth while ignoring other mental networks. Saying this another way, I will attempt to focus upon God and religion while ignoring ‘less important’ places and situations. I refer to this exclusive focus as fervor. One can see fervor in the monk who enters the monastery in order to worship God fully, or the missionary who enters into ministry in order to serve God full-time. The MMN that acts as my source of truth will only remain an unquestioned source of truth if its emotional status is far greater than the emotional status of the mental networks of personal identity. Saying this more simply, in order to believe the Bible fully without any doubts, I must feel that I am nothing compared to my source of truth. This leads to an attitude of self-denial, which feels that it is my duty to deny myself for my source of truth. Finally, if I feel that the source of truth is much more important than personal identity, then I will also feel that it is not possible for me to understand truth fully, leading to an attitude of transcendence. Restating this in religious terms, fervor focuses upon God to the exclusion of normal life, self-denial suppresses personal identity in order to follow God, while transcendence emphasizes that God is too high and lofty to be grasped by mere humanity.

A book is a finite object that is only capable of discussing some concepts. Therefore, even if the Bible is the very word of God, it is impossible for the Bible to provide answers for every situation. When truth is based in sources with emotional status, then the biblical message (or the message of any holy book) will be expanded by religious experts. These experts will be accepted as ‘the voice of God’ and they will be given the same kind of emotional respect that is given to the source of truth. Obviously, these experts will claim to be merely interpreting and applying the Bible, but when truth is based in the emotional status of MMNs, then this emotional intensity will overwhelm Perceiver thought—the part of the mind that evaluates truth. Thus, if one wishes to follow the Bible in all of life, then one will need religious experts to apply the limited message of the Bible to all of life, these experts will claim to speak for God, but in practice the experts themselves will become increasingly the source of truth, and those who follow these experts will be mentally unable to distinguish ‘what the Bible says’ from ‘what the expert says that the Bible says’ or ‘what the expert says that has nothing to do with what the Bible says’. And even if followers notice the discrepancy between the message of the Bible and the words of the expert, they will lack the mental confidence that is required to question the words of the expert. This is what happens when one attempts to apply the Bible to all of life using an attitude of fundamentalism.

One finds this attitude described by those who went through Gothard’s ATI system: “Within ATI, Bill Gothard was viewed as a sort of demigod. I remember attending the annual conferences where he was lauded with 10 minute standing ovations. We awaited every word that he said with baited breath, and took it all as gospel truth. We didn’t ask questions, we just accepted it. And that was the norm in ATI. Bill was all about controlling people’s minds through anecdotes that would strike fear, and using scriptures out of context to say things that he wanted them to say.” Similarly, another webpage concludes, “I have come to several conclusions based on what Bill has not done. These conclusions came partially as a result of a dialogue with someone who knows Gothard personally. Bill has not publically responded to or accepted the criticism of other theologians, pastors, or church leaders who have challenged him on his interpretation of scripture. Bill does not surround himself with those who will challenge him. Bill has never rebuked his followers who idolize him or done anything to deflect the glory, fame, or credit from himself. Bill has never rebuked his followers who have judgmental spirits and attitudes. I have also heard a number of accounts from friends who have had personal interactions with Bill that would make your stomach turn.” In other words, Bill regarded himself as the ultimate expert at interpreting the Bible for his followers, because he ignored the questions of others and surrounded himself with followers who respected him, followed him, and attacked opponents.

We will now look in more detail at the relationship between Gothard’s teaching and the religious attitude, starting with fervor.

Gothard and Fervor

Fervor expresses itself in Gothard’s system as what this webpage calls a ‘doctrine of separation’: “This doctrine is comprised of two degrees of separation. The first degree is the idea of a total separation from the world. From a parenting standpoint, it means keeping any influence of the ‘world’ out of your home at any cost. Parents are to build a hedge of protection keeping sin out of the home, and if you did that, your kids will turn out fine... The second degree of separation is even more radical, and it was the concept of separating from those WITHIN the church who didn’t follow the first degree of separation the same way that you did. Thankfully, we weren’t as radical in this area, as we were members of a SBC [Southern Baptist] church. However, the vast majority of my ATI/IFB friends believed in both degrees of separation, and the IFB also has a long standing history of isolation and disassociation from mainstream evangelicalism.” (ATI stands for Advanced Training Institute, which is Gothard’s school system and school curriculum. IFB stands for Independent Fundamental Baptist.)

American Christian fundamentalist is different than normal Christian fundamentalism, because it associates following God with (a sanitized version of) American history. I suggest that this is because American history (or at least the myth of American history) is similar to the path of Christian fundamentalism. The Christian fundamentalist believes that the Bible was revealed by God to holy men in the past and that one becomes a Christian by believing in the message of the Bible in order to become a member of God’s family. Similarly, the American Christian fundamentalist believes that the American Constitution was revealed by God to the founding fathers in the past and that one becomes an American by believing in the Constitution in order to become a member of God’s chosen country. Notice that this goes beyond merely following the MMNs of culture. The founding fathers are not merely revered as icons of society. Instead, they are also viewed as sources of revealed truth. Saying this another way, America is not just seen as a source of culture but also as a source of fundamentalist belief. Thus, for the American Christian fundamentalist, there is a strong relationship between being a Christian and being a conservative American. Notice that I said conservative American, and not American.

What is now known as ‘the religious right’ came to birth in the mid 1970s when American evangelicals realized that the average American no longer believed in the Bible. As this website explains, “In 1974 and 1975 Bill Bright convened a series of secret meetings with 20-25 key Christian Right leaders. They formed Third Century Publishers to publish books and study guides to link their political agenda with conservative Christianity.” James Robison, one of the leaders who attended these meetings, describes the conversation. “Billy Graham said, ‘I believe God has shown me that unless we have a change in America, we have a thousand days as a free nation . . . three years.’ Bill Bright said, ‘I know. . . . I do not believe we’ll survive more than three years as a free nation. It’s that serious.’ And Pat Robertson said, ‘I believe the same thing.’ Charles Stanley was standing there and I can just remember so well, he put his hand down on the table with resolve and said, ‘I’ll give my life to stop this. I’ll give everything I’ve got to turn this country.’ And I said, ‘Me too. I’ll die to turn this country. Whatever it takes. We can’t lose the country.’” (With God on our Side, pp. 206-7). (I have looked at American evangelical Christianity in a previous essay.)

Thus, fervor for the American Christian fundamentalist means focusing upon the Bible and biblical stories combined with living the way the average American lived when the Bible was still accepted as the word of God. What is suppressed is most secular culture from the 1970s and later, anything that relates to hedonism and pornography (because physical pleasure focuses upon the mental networks of personal identity, which contradicts the attitude of self-denial), and any type of ‘secular humanist’ thinking that does not accept the Bible as the word of God. What tends to get ignored is most science along with the rest of the world.

One can see this type of fervor illustrated by the sample wisdom booklet, which is on the trait of humility. The vast majority of examples in this 64 page booklet are drawn from the Bible (Jonah and Nineveh, Jesus and the money changers, the ascension of Jesus, the grammar of New Testament Greek, John the Baptist, the prodigal son) or from American history (Jonathan Edwards and the Great Awakening, the McCormick reaper, a nine page summary of Charles Finney’s Revivals of Religion, Abraham Lincoln, the song Amazing Grace, and an American Air Force recruit). Similarly, most of the pictures are either old lithographs of biblical scenes or pictures from American history. The exceptions are two pages on the plow (connected with the biblical story of the sower and the seed), one page on pi (illustrated by the city of Nineveh), and five pages about mourning and fasting (aspects of humility) that talk about the limbic system and the hypothalamus.

Curiously, the largest section in the wisdom booklet is a 15 page description of law and cross-examination. Bill Gothard founded a law school in 1994 (Oak Brook College of Law). According to this graduate, the quality of education is quite high and graduates do well in passing the bar exam.

Cognitively speaking, law resonates with American fundamentalism in several ways. First, law focuses upon written revelation. The Christian fundamentalist starts with the written revelation of the Bible; the lawyer starts with the written revelations of the law of the country. Second, we have seen that the American Christian fundamentalist views the American Constitution as almost a parallel structure to the Bible, and connects religious fervor with both the Bible and American history. Thus, practicing law is akin to studying systematic theology.

Third, law uses what I call abstract technical thought, which appears to be compatible with blind faith in written revelation. Looking at this further, mental symmetry suggests that the mind has three primary methods of functioning: mental networks, normal thought, and technical thought. This is described in more detail here. Logic, math, and computer programming are examples of abstract technical thought, which works within a limited mental context guided by clearly defined statements and rules. For instance, when a student learns math, the rules of math are revealed to him through a textbook, guided by the teacher. The student then uses technical thought to solve mathematical problems guided by these rules. The point is that technical thought is locally rational. Fundamentalism may place blind faith in a set of facts, but it is capable of highly rational thought when manipulating these facts. Conversely, the ability of people to use highly rational thought in some limited area does not mean that they are capable of using rational thought outside of this limited area.

Fourth, law involves interaction between people. A similar emphasis can be found in Gothard’s material. For instance, if one scans through Gothard’s list of 49 character qualities, 15 of them are defined in terms of social interaction—how I interact with other individuals, 15 are defined in terms of my interaction with God, and 11 are defined by interaction with both God and humans. Only 8 are defined in a manner that is independent of the opinions of God or others. In addition, God is consistently portrayed in these character qualities as a sort of ‘father in the sky’ who gives assignments and dispenses or withholds approval based upon my conduct. Mental symmetry suggests that a concept of God emerges when a sufficiently general theory applies to personal identity. What is being emphasized in Gothard’s list of character qualities is not the generality of God but rather the application to personal identity. This is like the joke where the person says, “We should not spend all our time talking about me. Let us talk about you. Tell me, what do you think about me?” Similarly, the emphasis here is not upon the character of God but rather upon what God thinks about me. For example, generosity is defined as “Realizing that all I have belongs to God and using it for His purposes.” This is the sort of focus that naturally occurs when the MMNs of personal status act as the source of truth.

Mental symmetry, in contrast, is based in cognitive mechanisms that operate independently of people. For instance, mental symmetry uses the cognitive mechanism of mental networks to explain both social interaction and how the mind forms an image of God. And instead of focusing upon what ‘God thinks of me’, mental symmetry focuses upon the universality of cognitive mechanisms, as well as the similarities between the structure of the mind and the structure of the universe, in order to gain clues about the character of a universal being. Personal identity is then placed within this universal structure.

Saying this more simply, fundamentalism starts with social interaction guided by MMNs and then adds God to the social mixture. Instead of just pleasing men, one now has to please men and God. For instance, deference is defined as “Limiting my freedom in order not to offend the tastes of those whom God has called me to serve.” Mental symmetry, on the other hand, starts with the TMN of a general understanding of the mind and the universe and then places humans with their MMNs within the resulting structure. Notice that this is the opposite of what fundamentalism claims. Fundamentalism says that it is from God because it starts with the word of God. (And if one compares the content of the New Testament with the writings of other Greco-Roman authors, one concludes that the Bible is too clever to have been written by humans from that era.) But fundamentalism ends up being from man because it bases belief in the Bible in the same MMNs that are used to represent people. Going the other way, secular science often claims that it does not believe in God, but it ends up creating a concept of God because a general theory of ‘how the world works’ will turn into a TMN that will lead to the concept of a universal being.

We began our discussion of fervor by noting that Gothard’s webpage on wisdom booklets says that they teach the student ‘to see all of life from God’s perspective’. If the sample booklet is indicative of the other booklets (and comments from those who have gone through this curriculum suggest that this is the case), then this statement is simply not accurate. Instead of viewing ‘all of life’, what is being viewed is almost exclusively biblical stories together with a Christianized view of American history. And one does not find a universal, all-encompassing perspective that is worthy of the name God. Instead, the perspective is very clearly that of the American fundamentalist Christian.

In contrast, our research into Romans 12 spiritual gifts began with my brother Lane Friesen studying 200 biographies in detail in order to gather a list of character traits. This meant studying the lives of individuals who were not Christians, Americans, or fundamentalists. Bill Gothard was personally aware of this research back in the 1980s and he rejected it then as being ‘too secular’. Instead, he teaches that “Each Christian receives one [gift] at the time of salvation, and it is the tool through which God works in him or her to see needs and do something to meet them. These gifts equip believers to take a vital role in the church.” Thus, when Gothard was shown evidence that one should approach spiritual gifts (the foundation for his character qualities and school curriculum) from the larger viewpoint of a universal being involved in the lives of all human beings, he rejected it in favor of applying spiritual gifts only to the subculture of the Bible and the church.

Gothard and Self-denial

We looked at the religious attitude of fervor. Let us turn now to self-denial. Christian self-denial typically expresses itself through charitable activities such as visiting the sick or the imprisoned, giving to the needy, or serving God in some foreign country. In more general terms, many Christians feel that selflessness defines the essence of Christian morality. The topic of self-denial is examined in more detail in another essay. In brief, I suggest that an attitude of self-denial contradicts itself and is not scriptural. However, self-denial can start a person on the path to personal maturity and there are aspects of this path that appear at first glance to be expressions of self-denial.

Self-denial takes on a strange form in American fundamentalist Christianity, because living as a Bible-believing American citizen is viewed as an aspect of being a Bible-believing Christian. The American dream plays a major role in being an American citizen. Quoting from Wikipedia, “The American Dream is a national ethos of the United States, a set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success, and an upward social mobility for the family and children, achieved through hard work in a society with few barriers.” Going further, “In the United States, home ownership is sometimes used as a proxy for achieving the promised prosperity; ownership has been a status symbol separating the middle classes from the poor.”

Adding an attitude of religious self-denial to the American dream of owning a home leads to Gothard’s teaching that having a big home with a large family is an expression of Christian self-denial. The most famous current example is the Duggar family, (their webpage currently has an advertisement for ALERT Academy) who starred in the TLC reality show 19 Kids and Counting, and who are staunch followers of Bill Gothard. The logic appears to be that ‘selfish’ people pursue careers and avoid children. ‘Selfless’ Christians, in contrast, devote themselves to having a family in order to ‘raise up godly seed’ (a phrase used by Gothard). One of the sections in the Advanced Seminar teaches building ‘a dynamic home’ that is a ‘wisdom center’, a ‘learning center’, a ‘hospitality center’, a ‘health center’, a ‘craft center’, and a ‘ministry center’ (p.21).

At first glance, this sounds good. After all, the objective thinking of science ignores the MMNs of home and family. Is it not good to focus on the family? However, there are several problems with having the home and the family as a primary goal. The first problem is that this is an external goal rather than an internal one. Bill Gothard bases his system upon character qualities, which are internal expressions of mental maturity. However, we have seen that most of these character qualities are defined socially in terms of interaction between people. One of the core concepts of mental symmetry is that most social interaction is occurring within the minds of individuals guided by mental networks that represent people. For instance, when a child gets into trouble, one common response is “If my parents ever find out about this I will be in real trouble.” That is because the mental networks that represent the parents within the mind of the child are mentally predicting how parents will respond. Similarly, a single glance from mother or father conveys a wealth of meaning to the child, because it is triggering mental networks that already reside within the mind of the child. Thus, I suggest that the real arena for personal growth is not the physical home with physical children but rather the mind with its MMNs of personal identity and family. This does not mean that home and children are unimportant, but rather that these are expressions of something deeper and more internal.

Jesus makes a similar comparison: “While He was still speaking to the crowds, behold, His mother and brothers were standing outside, seeking to speak to Him. Someone said to Him, ‘Behold, Your mother and Your brothers are standing outside seeking to speak to You.’ But Jesus answered the one who was telling Him and said, ‘Who is My mother and who are My brothers?’ And stretching out His hand toward His disciples, He said, ‘Behold My mother and My brothers! For whoever does the will of My Father who is in heaven, he is My brother and sister and mother’” (Matt. 12:46-50). Jesus is not negating the concept of family. Instead, he is internalizing it, by saying that a family is composed of those who submit to the same Teacher concept of God, rather than those who are physically related.

Normally, one associates self-denial with poverty and giving up personal wealth. Gothard, in contrast, devotes considerable time to the subject of gaining financial freedom. (For instance, his Men’s Manual, Vol. 2 is a guide to achieving financial freedom.) This is also consistent with the American dream and its ‘set of ideals in which freedom includes the opportunity for prosperity and success’. Achieving financial freedom is then made to appear as self-denial by saying that one makes money in order to donate funds to ‘support the growth of God’s kingdom’. In addition, we will see that Gothard defines the spiritual gift of Contributor (which he calls the giver) in monetary terms. There is nothing wrong with teaching principles of financial responsibility. However, I suggest that there is something deeply wrong with calling the ability to make money a spiritual gift that one receives from God when one becomes a Christian, because this confuses external success with internal transformation. Going further, there is nothing wrong with external success. But the only way to achieve lasting external success is by making internal transformation the primary goal and external success a secondary expression of this primary goal.

Instead of emphasizing spiritual family held together by obedience to a common Teacher concept of God, Gothard teaches physical family held together by obedience to the father of the house. In the advanced seminar textbook, the section on home begins with the phrase ‘a man’s home is his castle’. And Gothard definitely means ‘man’: “Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that the modern father has been convinced that he should opeisn up the doors of his castle to any godless influence which desires to come in, plunder his home, and take captive his wife and children. But God is calling together men who are claiming His power and learning the principles of His word order to raise up the foundations of many Godly generations” (p.21).

Looking further at the concept of male authority, I suggest that the underlying cognitive problem is that fundamentalism only has one dimension, which is that of personal authority based in MMNs. Perceiver truth is then defined by this Mercy authority and Server action is guided by obedience to Mercy authority. The solution is to submit to the TMN of a general Teacher understanding rather than to the MMNs of personal authority, but this cannot be done when an attitude of transcendence insists that it is impossible for finite humans to come up with a general Teacher understanding of the nature of God. The end result is that the relationship between father and mother becomes interpreted as chief and assistant. Gothard gives the following example, “When the father gives a Biblically-based command such as ‘I want her family to be up each morning for Wisdom Searches,’ it is the responsibility of the mother to work out the guidelines in order for this to occur. Her ‘law’ would include bedtime and rising schedules for the children, preparations for breakfast, and coordination of morning routines” (p.25).

The solution is not to treat men and women as equivalent, because that too approaches the problem from a single dimension. Instead, I suggest that a solution naturally emerges when cognitive modules are developed. One then realizes that female thought naturally emphasizes the emotional modules of Teacher and Mercy thought, while male thought naturally emphasizes the confidence modules of Perceiver and Server thought.

When one combines spiritual gifts with gender at a cognitive level, then one also realizes that cognitive style interacts with gender. For instance, a male Mercy person will place a greater emphasis upon subconscious thought than a female Mercy person. Even though Gothard teaches spiritual gifts as a fundamental aspect of his system, he does not appear to be aware of this interaction. For example, if the male is a Mercy person and female a Contributor person, then it usually makes more sense for the wife to handle the finances.

When cognitive modules emerge from the rule of MMNs and start to function independently, then gender differences become multidimensional. That is because the confidence modules of Perceiver, Server, and Contributor tend to function more in the male mind, whereas the emotional modules of Teacher, Mercy, and Exhorter tend to function more in the female mind. Because Contributor thought makes decisions, it makes sense for the husband to have the final say when making a choice. But all decisions occur within some context; one never chooses between everything but rather between a specific set of urges. These urges come from Exhorter thought, which finds its urges primarily in mental networks. Saying this another way, the husband may have greater power, but the wife has greater influence. Similarly, the male mind may usually be better at using logic and skills, but these are specialized abilities that exhibit themselves in a fragmented manner. The female mind is better at harnessing this mental toolkit to reach Mercy goals in a holistic manner guided by general Teacher understanding. Saying this another way, the wife is better at multitasking. Finally, the female may be physically weaker and emotionally more sensitive. This is a disadvantage when society is ruled by physical and mental brute force, but it both forces and enables the female mind to develop higher strategies that solve problems in more subtle ways. Saying this another way, the husband who regards himself as king of his castle will tend to be rather unteachable.

Feminine Intuition

Gothard recognizes feminine intuition when teaching about making financial decisions in his Men’s Manual (The volume I have was printed in 1983.) He suggests on page 237 that “a wife often has inexplicable cautions regarding financial decisions” and “a wife has special alertness to the moral aspects of a business relationship.” He adds that “a wife may not understand technical business procedures, but she can discern the moral character of a business agreement or associate.” He explains that “a wife can express her cautions from four conflicting viewpoints”, namely mental, emotional, volitional, and spiritual. And he cautions that “A wife loses her feeling of self-worth when her husband rejects her financial cautions.” Looking at this cognitively, intuition jumps directly from Mercy experience to Teacher understanding, which means leaping from one aspect of female thought to the other. The male mind tends to find female intuition inexplicable because the Perceiver facts and Server sequences (which matter to the male mind) have not been made explicit. The female mind is also naturally aware of the MMNs of culture and identity, whereas the male mind usually ignores these. Because the childish mind is driven by fragmented, incompatible mental networks, feminine intuition also tends to function in a fragmented manner. The childish male mind is also mentally fragmented, but this is not as obvious because the male mind tends to deal with one fragment at a time. Thus, the husband views the wife’s thinking as fragmented because she is jumping from one context to another, while the fact that he finds jumping from one context to another disorienting shows that his mind is also fragmented. Finally, because the female mind emphasizes the mental networks of identity and understanding, a wife will tend to equate rejection of understanding with personal rejection.

Thus, there is cognitive validity to Gothard’s description of feminine intuition, but it also is rather patronizing and demeaning to the female. In Gothard’s words, “God describes the wife as ‘the weaker vessel’... She is to be protected and cared for by her husband. If in her later years her husband dies, she is to be cared for by family members and, ultimately, by the church” (p.238). However, I have discovered that there is much more to this story. When I attempt to share the theory of mental symmetry with others, I find that it is usually the male who is the ‘weaker vessel’ that needs to be protected and cared for by surrounding females. Saying this more bluntly, the typical male mind simply lacks the mental tools that are required to deal with the emotional building blocks of personal identity in an integrated fashion. As a result, most of my meaningful interaction regarding mental symmetry has been with women and not men, because the typical male mind tends to be specialized, locked into technical thought, and focused upon career and pecking order.

It is interesting to note that Gothard’s methodology could be best described as a form of feminine intuition. Gothard is an Exhorter person, and the Exhorter person combines Teacher understanding with Mercy experience. This combination leads to a form of ‘logic’ which I call ‘proof by example’, in which a general Teacher theory is stated and then this is ‘supported’ by some emotional experience. For instance, Gothard’s statements regarding feminine intuition are not followed by any statistical analysis but rather by two anecdotes. In the first story, a wife warns her husband against investing several thousand dollars in some scheme of a church deacon, based upon her observation regarding ‘the way he looks at women’. The story ends with the deal falling through and the money being lost. In the second illustration a man hires a worker who turns out to be an alcoholic. The man warns the worker that he will be fired if he gets drunk again. When the worker does not show up for work, the man’s wife tells her husband repeatedly that he should call the worker. When the man finally listens to his nagging wife he discovers that the drunken worker is on the verge of committing suicide.

That leads to a rather curious conclusion. Physically speaking, Gothard both preaches and practices male authority. But cognitively speaking, Gothard’s system is not based in male logic but rather in feminine intuition. And Gothard is generally unwilling to allow his feminine intuition to be made more rigorous through the application of male logic. Thus, Gothard is actually using his authority as a male to preach that one should follow a system that was developed using primarily female thought. In terms of male and female thought, this violates Paul’s statement that “I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet” (I Tim. 2:12). Situations such as these indicate why it is important to focus upon male and female thought and regard male and female gender as significant but secondary.

Gothard warns about the limitations of feminine intuition: “A wife’s agreement with the business decision does not in itself make it right” (p.238). I suggest that a similar statement could be made regarding Gothard’s methodology. Gothard’s methodology of jumping from example to general theory is not necessarily right. But neither should one take his ideas and reject them wholesale because they are stated in non-rigorous form. Instead, I suggest that Gothard has provided the useful service of coming up with a starting point for general Teacher theories that involve subjective Mercy experiences. Saying this another way, Gothard has attempted as a male mind to enter within the intuitive realm of female thought. The results are somewhat messy, but they do provide food for thought.

Notice the interplay between Gothard’s ‘feminine intuition’ and the religious attitude. Transcendence insists that it is not possible to come up with a general theory of God and religion, but Gothard is continually using Exhorter thought to come up with general theories of God and religion. The result of this combination is non-rigorous general theories based in personal anecdotes, because (as we shall see later) transcendence prevents one from developing the intellectual tools that are needed to use abstract thought properly. Similarly, fundamentalism insists that truth is based in the MMNs of personal status, while Gothard is promoting a general system of understanding. This juxtaposition leads to theories that appear universal but are actually based in the personal status of Gothard and limited to the realm of the Bible and conservative America. Finally, fundamentalism leads to black-and-white thinking because Perceiver thought is acquiring labels of truth from mental networks in Mercy thought. Therefore, any facts that come from a good source will be labeled true, while facts that connect to a bad source will be labeled false. When this is combined with Exhorter proof-by-example, then the result will be a system of simplistic formulas with no shades of gray, which this personal story compares to the rules of a role-playing game.


When being an American citizen is seen as an aspect of being a Christian, then being willing to lay down one’s life to serve one’s country will be viewed as a core aspect of Christian self-denial. Bill Gothard appears to buy into this mindset, because he runs a one-year military-like training camp, called ALERT. (Several of the Duggar children have attended the ALERT camp.)

Let us look briefly at the relationship between Christian self-denial and American military service. What happens when America invades another country? This is not just a hypothetical question, because the United States has invaded about fifty countries since World War II. What started off as ‘Christian self-denial’ then morphs into maiming, destroying, and killing, which is the precise opposite of self-denial.

My background is Mennonite, and my ancestors have been pursuing a path of pacifism for twice as long as the United States has existed as a country. It is interesting to see what happens when Mennonite culture collides with American patriotism. For instance, Goshen College, a Mennonite college in Indiana, does not play the American national anthem on campus. A local city councilman responded by calling this “anti-American. It really hurts. (The national anthem) is the American way…Instead of living here in Goshen, they should go down and live in Cuba or Iran. Then have them come back and see if their attitude has changed.” This type of response brings to mind two shortcomings of fundamentalist thought. First, as I just mentioned, when Perceiver truth is determined by MMNs of personal authority, then the mind will naturally divide people, groups, and facts into ‘us’ versus ‘them’. According to this quote, if one does not follow ‘the American way’, then one is an anti-American who belongs ‘in Cuba or Iran’. This is a false dichotomy because the world is not just composed of America, Cuba, and Iran. Second, Perceiver thought looks for connections between experiences. When emotional pressure from MMNs overwhelms Perceiver thought, then a person loses the mental ability to compare one situation with another. Looking at this situation rationally, what ‘really hurts’ is not the emotional pain that one feels when a person chooses not to play a patriotic song, but rather the trauma of having one’s leg blown off (or worse) as a casualty of war. For instance, in World War I, 240,000 British soldiers lost part or all of a limb. This may sound like a false comparison, but American patriotism often does mean fighting a war in another country—and losing a limb. The point is that American fundamentalist Christianity tends to view invading other countries militarily as a legitimate aspect of Christian self-denial.

Sexual Desire

Moving on, an attitude of self-denial can also be seen in Gothard’s treatment of sexual desire. Remember that fundamentalism assumes that the MMNs supporting truth are far more important than the MMNs of personal identity. Therefore, belief in truth implies suppressing or denying the MMNs of personal identity. Since sexual experience creates strong mental networks associated with personal identity, fundamentalism will naturally regard any form of hedonism as opposed to truth and God—because hedonism undermines fundamentalist belief in truth and God. Gothard makes it clear in his advanced seminar that lust is bad, pornography is evil, masturbation is wrong, homosexuality is very wrong, and women should dress modestly in a way that attracts attention to the face. Instead, men should make a ‘covenant with their eyes’ and avoid all lustful thoughts. (pp. 275-295). Stating this more generally, the basic premise is that mental networks based in sexual desire are bad, they need to be suppressed, and one should avoid situations that trigger them.

Gothard recommends taking the following seven steps in order to ‘conquer sinful habits’: 1) Memorize and meditate on Roman 6-8; 2) believe that you are dead to sin; 3) Rely on the Bible to carry you away from temptation; 4) Personalize Roman 6; 5) Avoid all sensual material; 6) Be accountable to another Christian; 7) Follow the Holy Spirit. Notice that the Bible is being presented as an alternative to sinful habits. Thus, biblical fervor is combined with self-denial. This is then backed up by the MMNs of important people through personal accountability. However, as we noted in the opening paragraph to this essay, Gothard’s approach is not enough, because Gothard himself had to resign from his organization because of sexual impropriety. The point is that any strategy that involves suppressing mental networks will not work today, because we now live in an environment where any mental network can be triggered via the Internet through the click of a mouse.

The solution, I suggest, is to place physical desire within a larger context. One sees this larger context in Jesus’ discussion of self-denial: “Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it; but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul? For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS” (Matt. 16:24-27). The larger context here is saving one’s soul. The goal is not to deny self, but rather to deny self for the sake of Jesus in order to save one’s life. Jesus then describes the situation in terms of commerce and wealth, asking what one will give in exchange for his soul. He then points out that the final payback occurs when Jesus returns ‘in the glory of his Father’.

Sex involves an exchange of life, both literally and cognitively. Literally speaking, sex leads to the formation of a new human life. Cognitively speaking, sex implants powerful mental networks of relationship within people’s minds. In other words, I suggest that sex and sexual desire must be treated very carefully not because they are evil but rather because they are a physical expression of the deepest form of commerce, which is the exchange of life. That is why Gothard’s description of the Contributor person as a giver of money is so harmful. The Contributor person naturally thinks in terms of commerce, exchange, cost, and benefit. And I present the thesis in Natural Cognitive Theology that a mental concept of incarnation emerges as practical Contributor thought (which handles commerce) becomes integrated with intellectual Contributor thought (which interacts with a mental concept of God in Teacher thought). If Contributor thought is to form a mental concept of incarnation and become capable of handling these deeper levels of commerce, then Contributor thought must stop dealing merely with external symbols of value such of money and start dealing with value itself.

Applying this to sexuality, treating sex in a hedonistic fashion merely as a means of having pleasure is like taking real money that one needs to buy food and lodging and spending it in a game of monopoly. It cheapens a form of exchange that one dare not cheapen. Saying this more generally, a cognitive approach leads to a completely different approach to sexual desire. Instead of seeing sexual temptation as forbidden fruit that is pleasant but must be avoided, one sees sexual misconduct as a cheapening of personal value. (This link has been removed. Google offers the following excerpt: "'Forbidden fruit' appeals to the lusts of our flesh, the lusts of our eyes, or the pride of life. 'All that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and...'") Thus, instead of choosing not to think about it, one thinks about it in terms of value. Does a certain form of sexual impression enhance or cheapen personal value? Forbidden fruit will always attract the attention of Exhorter thought and lead to urges. Gothard says that one should avoid forbidden fruit because of the fear of God. But this answer depends upon how one defines a concept of God. If God is seen as another individual in Mercy thought who adds his approval or disapproval to a situation, then one will still wonder why ‘God is stopping me from having fun’. However, if God is seen as the source of universal law in Teacher thought, then one follows God because ‘that is how things work’. We all know that economic activity can only function within a stable political system. Similarly, I suggest that building the mind upon a deep understanding of ‘how things work’ provides an internal ‘stable political system’ that makes it possible to deal with value itself and not just the external representation of value.

One of the byproducts of a general Teacher understanding is Platonic forms within Mercy thought. A Platonic form is an idealization of many specific Mercy experiences, an imaginary image within Mercy thought that is more perfect, more pure, and more ideal than any specific Mercy experience, just as the Platonic form of a circle is more simple and more perfect than any real circle. The theory of mental symmetry suggests that the mind is composed of seven interacting cognitive modules, and that the goal is to reach mental wholeness by having all parts of the mind function and interact in a wholesome manner. Natural Cognitive Theology presents the thesis that Christianity accurately describes the process by which a person reaches mental wholeness. When one approaches human existence from this perspective, then the exchange of personal life becomes a fundamental cognitive principle that is both described theoretically and experienced at the deepest existential level, because one is continually using life in one aspect of the mind to give rebirth to life in another aspect of the mind. Going further, one of the fundamental principles of mental symmetry is that understanding in Teacher thought can either be reinforced or disabled by personal actions in Server thought. This means that the way one treats sexuality will either reinforce or disable one’s journey to reaching mental wholeness.

Beauty is primarily a Teacher emotion. Teacher thought appreciates order-within-complexity, when many items fit together in a way that is smooth and integrated. This can be seen in mathematical beauty, the beauty of nature, and the beauty of the female form. When one uses a Teacher understanding of ‘how the mind works’ to guide interaction between cognitive modules, then one will acquire a Platonic form that is like beauty and sex but far deeper, internal, and eternal. The external image of a beautiful woman will then be seen as a shadow of this internal Platonic form, and the external act of sex will be viewed as a shadow of a far deeper spiritual and internal giving and receiving of life. Lusting after a beautiful woman then feels like painting a moustache on the Mona Lisa .

Returning to the advice of Bill Gothard, there is truth to his suggestion to ‘engraft Roman 6 – 8 into your soul’, because Paul talks in this passage about the process of rebuilding mental networks of personal identity. But I suggest that this biblical passage will only help to the extent that one views it as an accurate description of universal cognitive truth, rather than as a source of absolute biblical truth.

Gothard and Transcendence

Let us turn now to the third religious attitude, which I call transcendence. The fundamental concept here is that God’s ways and God’s character are far too lofty for mere mortal man to comprehend. Gothard teaches in his advanced seminar that “The ultimate goal of education is not to produce a degree, but to produce many godly generations. God charges parents and grandparents, not teachers, with the responsibility to train their sons and daughters. God established the home, not the school, as the primary learning center; the school and church must be recognized as extensions of it.” In other words, the goal is not to gain the TMN of an understanding but rather to produce physical children and then use the MMNs of authority, family, and culture to implant truth within the minds of these children: “God wants the priorities of every family to be built around daily engrafting of Scripture, rather than accumulating man's knowledge.” Thus, one is supposed to teach absolute truth based in fundamentalism rather than universal truth based in observation: “When the Bible is separated from courses, the contents come under the control of human reasoning.” This means remaining at the childish level of rote learning and not graduating to the adult level of critical thinking: “God has set a limitation on learning; thus, academic freedom is no justification for studying the details of evil.” Personal transformation replaces the MMNs of childish desire with the TMN of a general understanding. If one cannot study evil, one is incapable of becoming emotionally free of evil. I am not suggesting that one study the details of evil in order to rationalize evil in Teacher thought or find pleasure in evil in Mercy thought. Instead, one studies evil in order to gain an understanding of cause-and-effect by examining the underlying motivation, the end result, and the legitimate need or desire that is being twisted to produce evil. For instance, that is the approach that I am trying to take with Bill Gothard. We are attempting to understand what motivates American Christian fundamentalism, where it leads, and how one satisfies the underlying needs in a legitimate manner. Summarizing, Gothard applies the religious attitude of transcendence to all of learning. But if God is a universal being whose nature can be understood from the perspective of Teacher thought, then Gothard’s anti-intellectualism is actually anti-God.

In essence, Gothard is following a version of the Amish path. Science and technology are objective. They have transformed the physical world while leaving the subjective realm largely untouched. Saying this cognitively, science and technology are guided by the TMN of a general understanding that ignores the MMNs of personal identity (this is now changing in the postmodern world). Amish education stops at grade ten and the Amish only accept technology that enhances the MMNs of family and culture. Similarly, Gothard preaches against higher education and insists that education should be based upon the MMNs of family and culture.

An attitude of transcendence may appear at first glance to give great honor to God, but in fact it dishonors God while honoring people. That is because refusing to build an alternative source of authority in the TMN of a general understanding leaves the MMNs of human authority intact. One sees this in Gothard’s core concept of the ‘umbrella of authority’: “God-given authorities can be considered ‘umbrellas of protection.’ By honoring and submitting to authorities, you will receive the privileges of their protection, direction, and accountability. If you resist their instructions and move out from their jurisdictional care, you forfeit your place under their protection and face life’s challenges and temptations on your own.” It is important for a person to submit to the rule of law. The primary goal of personal transformation is to rebuild personal identity within an internal structure that is guided by the rule of law. And one should always submit to a higher law rather than rebelling from rules. One will experience painful cognitive consequences if one ignores this principle. But it is very important to view the rule of law from a Teacher perspective and not a Mercy perspective.

Umbrella of Authority

Domain, or ‘umbrella of authority’, is a major concept in math and science with its TMNs of general theory. Every mathematical equation applies only to a certain domain of numbers and applies best to a certain physical domain.

Gothard says that “God is the ultimate umbrella of protection over all people. He rules over the universe and governs in the affairs of nations. He defines the parameters of His umbrella of protection by the commands in His Word, the Bible. When you honor God’s authority, obeying His Word, you will enjoy the protection of living within His jurisdiction.” Notice that God’s authority is being defined primarily in terms of fundamentalism. How does one know ‘the parameters of God’s umbrella of protection’? By the absolute truth revealed in ‘His Word, the Bible’. Thus, God is being viewed from the Mercy perspective of revealed truth based in MMNs of personal status.

Below the ultimate authority of God, Gothard describes four other sources of authority: “Under the overarching umbrella of His protection, God has established significant jurisdictional structures: family: husbands and parents; government leaders; church leaders, elders, and other believers; employers.” Notice that these are all people whom the mind represents as MMNs with emotional status. First, there are the MMNs of family, defined primarily by father. Second, there are the MMNs of government leaders, consistent with the idea that living as an American is an aspect of being a Christian. Third, there are the MMNs of church leaders and elders, people who are responsible for expanding and interpreting the message of the Bible. Finally, there are the MMNs of employers, consistent with the concept that God’s kingdom is a physical personal kingdom that involves making money.

The solution, I suggest, is to extend the understanding of objective science to include the MMNs of family and culture, because science is rooted in the TMNs of general understanding. Using the language of Thomas Kuhn, it is based in paradigms. However, this will lead to a struggle between the TMNs of general understanding and the MMNs of identity and culture. I have suggested that a concept of God emerges when a general understanding applies to personal identity. If the MMNs of culture dominate, then this will lead to a God in the image of man. In contrast, if the TMN of abstract understanding wins, then this will lead to the concept of a holy God combined with humans who fall short of the holiness of God.

Gothard talks about the holiness of God and the sinfulness of man, and his character qualities describe mental functioning that transcends the MMNs of childish identity and culture. However, when one looks at the larger picture, then one concludes that Gothard is not following a holy God but rather submitting to a God that is formed in the image of conservative American fundamentalist culture. That is because whenever universal psychological attributes meet American Christian fundamentalist culture, then fundamentalist culture trumps universality. Similarly, Gothard talks about an ‘umbrella of authority’, which is a fundamental aspect of Teacher thought. But he then forms this Teacher concept into the image of man by defining the umbrella of authority as submission to human authority.

Saying this more bluntly, Gothard’s material does not teach the concept of a Christian God who is omniscient, omnipresent, and all-powerful. Instead, it conveys the concept of a tribal god, with a small ‘g’. Research has shown that this is what most Christians implicitly believe. The difference is that Gothard has turned this into an explicit system of belief which he has publicly taught to millions.

Gothard possesses a partial solution, because he already describes spiritual gifts in terms of universal psychological characteristics, and a spinoff called Character First teaches Gothard’s 49 character qualities (which he claims are expressions of spiritual gifts) as universal traits to secular audiences. But in order to pursue this solution, Gothard must explicitly allow spiritual gifts to extend beyond the subculture of Bible, church, and conservative America. Ironically, for a brief time in the 1980s Gothard was actually paying my brother to do historical research on spiritual gifts. I do not remember how long this lasted and I was not involved in any of this interaction. All I remember is that it only lasted for a short while and Gothard terminated it because he felt that studying biographies of non-Christian individuals was ‘too secular’.

Looking at this in more detail, transcendence insists that it is not possible for finite humans to gain a Teacher understanding of God’s ways. In contrast, the goal of science is to acquire a Teacher understanding of how the natural world functions. One of the primary concepts of science is that the universal law functions independently of the opinions of people. The fundamental principle of Gothard’s basic seminar is that “Just as there are universal laws that govern the world of nature, there are basic principles that govern our personal lives and relationships. These seven Biblical principles apply to every person, regardless of culture, background, religion, age, education, or social status.” Similarly, one of the basic principles of mental symmetry is that just as there are universal laws that govern the world of nature, there are inescapable cognitive principles that govern the mind. And it is possible to define Christianity in terms of these inescapable cognitive principles. (This is what I attempt to do in Natural Cognitive Theology.) Thus, at first glance Gothard’s starting point appears to be the same as my starting point. But there are some key differences. First, instead of examining the internal realm of the mind, Gothard focuses upon the social realm of personal interaction. However, I suggest that most social interaction is occurring within people’s minds guided by interacting mental networks. Second, instead of viewing the Bible as an accurate description of universal ‘basic principles’, Gothard instead uses the Bible as the source of absolute basic principles. Gothard then attempts to universalize these principles by claiming that they ‘apply to everyone regardless of culture, background, religion, age, education, or social status.’ But we have seen that Gothard does not universalize his principles. Instead of applying them to all cultures, he applies them primarily to American culture. Rather than applying them to all backgrounds, he applies them to the fundamentalist background. Instead of addressing all religions, he limits himself to Christianity. Instead of focusing upon all ages, he emphasizes the youth. Instead of applying them regardless of education, he sees higher education as the enemy. And rather than applying them independently of social status, he places a great emphasis upon the male head of household.

Mental symmetry, in contrast, suggests that spiritual gifts define the structure of the mind, and that everyone has the same mental structure, regardless of culture, background, religion, age, education, or social status. One can learn about this mental structure by studying the biographies of people from many cultures, regardless of their religious background, and this mental structure corresponds with the structure of the brain, which is being studied by neurology. The resulting theory of mental symmetry can explain cognitive development and can be applied to both scientific topics and social interaction. And instead of limiting my thinking to the Bible and American history, as Gothard does, I have attempted to apply the theory of mental symmetry to as many different topics as possible.

When one understands that both the mind and the natural world are governed by inescapable universal laws that function independently of people, then one can base a concept of God in the TMN of general understanding rather than in the MMNs of personal authority, because one realizes that universal law that is independent of people and their opinions reveals the nature of a universal being—namely God—who exists independently of people and their opinions.

The umbrella of authority then acquires a totally different flavor. For instance, if my boss tells me to deliver pizza to customers as fast as possible, then I am dealing with two kinds of authority. My boss is using the MMN of personal status to order me to drive my vehicle at high speed. In contrast, the TMN of natural law warns that driving a vehicle at high speed can lead to personal injury or death. Thus, I submit to the umbrella of natural law rather than my boss’s authority. Family and government are secondary sources of authority whose primary purpose is to limit the actions of people who are not guided by an understanding of how things work. (The relationship between God and government is discussed in another essay.)

Secular Humanism

One also sees transcendence in Gothard’s attack on ‘secular humanism’: “Secular Humanism has gained a fierce hold on all aspects of today’s society—its devastating consequences affect every one of our lives... learn abouoft the strong influence of humanistic philosophies in the United States and why they have been so successful in turning people away from the truth of God’s unchanging Word.” The term secular humanism implies three fundamental attributes. First, it turns its back on God by being secular. This violates fervor. Second, is based upon the MMNs of personal identity. This violates self-denial. Hence, human-ism. Third, it has the audacity to build a general system of thought upon personal identity. This violates transcendence. Hence, human-ism. But if one views God from a Teacher perspective of universality, then one notices that there is an aspect of secular humanism that could actually be described as a search for God. Mental symmetry suggests that a concept of God emerges when a sufficiently general theory applies to personal identity. Secular humanism may be secular in the sense that it turns its back upon concepts of God that are based in the MMNs of absolute truth, such as truth from the Bible. But when one goes beyond human to humanism, then one is constructing a general theory that applies to personal identity, which will form a mental concept of God. And Teacher thought wants general theories to apply universally. That is why secular humanism ‘has gained a fierce hold on all aspects’ which ‘affect every one of our lives’. Thus, as Gothard accurately points out in his advanced seminar textbook, humanism is actually a new religion (p.13).

Gothard goes through the tenets of the humanist manifesto on pages 11-20. He starts by saying that “Whenever God’s people abandon Scriptural principles, God raises up a heathen power to judge them” (p.11). One can find several examples of this in the book of Judges, which describes the tribes of Israel being invaded by foreign powers when they abandoned the God of Israel. But if this principle is true, then this means that the work of God extendsbeyond his chosen people. However, we have seen that Gothard’s description of ‘God’s principles’ does not take this larger perspective but rather limits its attention primarily to the ‘chosen people’ of Israel and America.

In addition, Gothard is assuming that quoting from the Bible is equivalent to following scriptural principles, while assuming that not quoting from the Bible means abandoning scriptural principles. On page 15, he says that “The inspired word of God is the final authority for life” and asks “How have courts based decisions on humanistic reasoning rather than on scriptural authority?” But we have seen that the religious attitude causes the fundamentalist to misquote the Bible, while I have repeatedly found that the theory of mental symmetry comes up with principles that are consistent with Scripture—without quoting from the Bible.

Gothard adds that “When there is no fear of God and when man tries to decide what is right and wrong, all moral standards become relative and every man ends up doing that which is right in his own eyes” (p.17). This is an accurate statement if truth has its source in the MMNs of personal authority. Everyone will come up with his own truth unless some authority figure uses emotional status to impose a single set of beliefs upon the population. But the situation is quite different if truth describes how things work. When this is the case, then everyone has equal access to the truth because truth describes principles that can be found universally. And those who either lack emotional status or refuse to be swayed by emotional status are often better sources of truth, because they are not mentally blinded by feelings of personal importance. And because each person has limited knowledge and awareness, is only conscious in one part of the mind, and must apply a truth order to understand it more fully, a fuller picture of truth will emerge when people do what is right in their own eyes.

Gothard then talks about self-denial: “All that I am and have belongs to God and must be used according to His purposes.” He compares this with the human focus of secular humanism: “Believing that religion must work increasingly for joy in living, religious humanists aim to foster the creative and man and to encourage achievements that add to the satisfactions of life. Religious humanism maintains that all associations and institutions exist for the fulfillment of human life” (p.19). Gothard then concludes that “humanist permissiveness has made suicide the number one cause of teenage death... The humanist’s ultimate defiant act against God is to commit suicide” (p.19). Notice the rather startling connection that Gothard is making. The quote from the humanist manifesto talks about ‘joy of living’. Gothard jumps from this affirmation of living to ‘committing suicide’. Gothard makes this logical leap explicit on the next page: “The final tenet of the 1933 Humanist Manifesto reveals the true deception behind innocent-sounding platitudes contained in the document. It speaks of ‘affirming life rather than denying it.’ Yet through humanistic laws, 4000 babies are denied life every day. It speaks of ‘elicit[ing] the possibilities of life, not fleeing from it.’ Yet humanism leads to drugs, liquor, immorality, and many other forms of escape from personal responsibility” (p.20). In order to comprehend Gothard’s leap from life to death, I suggest that one must understand what was happening cognitively within the mind of fundamentalists at that time.

Gothard is making strong statements involving life and death. This is similar to the attitude expressed by other American evangelical leaders at the emergency meeting in the 1970s that gave rise to the religious right. Repeating part of the earlier quote, “Billy Graham said, ‘I believe God has shown me that unless we have a change in America, we have a thousand days as a free nation . . . three years.’ Bill Bright said, ‘I know. . . . I do not believe we’ll survive more than three years as a free nation. It’s that serious.’ ... And I said, ‘Me too. I’ll die to turn this country. Whatever it takes. We can’t lose the country.’” (With God on our Side, pp. 206-7). In simple terms, the core mental networks of American evangelicalism were falling apart. The Bible was no longer accepted as the source of truth. Hippies had rejected traditional morality and were following the hedonistic principle of ‘if it feels good do it’. Similarly, duty to country was being questioned because of the Vietnam War, leading to massive antiwar protests. (Europe had experienced the horrors of militaristic nationalism in the two world wars. America only entered the latter half of these wars and did not experience destruction at home. Thus, Americans went through this political self-questioning in the 1970s at the same time that biblical truth was being rejected.)

The fundamentalist believer often appears to have strong opinions, but I suggest that this is partially because his mind is built upon core mental networks that are vulnerable to attack, because fundamentalism takes the pronouncements of some specific book or group of leaders to be literally gospel truth that applies to all situations. For instance, Muslims give high regard to Mohammed and respond strongly to any sort of perceived blasphemy against Mohammed. The primary reason for this, I suggest, is that the integrity of Islam as a whole rests upon giving emotional status to the specific person of Mohammed. When core mental networks start to crumble, then this leads to a form of existential pain that is experienced as mental death. American fundamentalist Christians in the 1970s and 80s were experiencing mental death. And who was perceived as the source of this death? Those who were attacking the Bible and traditional morality. Thus, Gothard was convinced that secular humanity had a death wish, not because of anything that secular humanism said, but rather because the blatant questioning of secular humanism was leading to internal death within Gothard’s mind and the minds of other American evangelical leaders. And many other American Christian fundamentalists must have been experiencing something similar because millions of American evangelicals attended Gothard’s seminars.

With this in mind, let us look at the newspaper article upon which Gothard bases his statement. Thanks to the Internet, the original 1983 Chicago Tribune article can be accessed here. It says that “suicide is the number one cause of death among adolescents... Fueled by a skyrocketing divorce rate, single-parent families, widespread drug abuse, permissiveness and a fragmentation of traditional social support structures, the problem of adolescent suicides is reached universal proportions... Suicides in this age group are probably the highest they have been in history.” Why were teens were killing themselves in record numbers? Because traditional core mental networks were falling apart, and this existential pain can be so great that a person will do anything, including killing himself, to try to stop the hurt.

As Gothard quotes, the goal of the humanist manifesto is to rewrite traditional religion: “In place of the old attitudes involved in worship and prayer the humanist finds his religious emotions expressed in a heightened sense of personal life and in a cooperative effort to promote social well-being” (p.17). Why does humanism think that traditional religion needs to be rewritten? Because it too is equating religion with the religious attitude. Thus, the humanist finds it necessary to assert “believing that religion must work increasingly for joy in living, religious humanists aim to foster the creative and to encourage achievements that add to the satisfactions of life” (p.19). Fervor focuses upon God and religion rather than human existence. In contrast, “humanism recognizes that man’s religious culture and civilization, as clearly depicted by anthropology and history, are the product of a gradual development due to his interaction with the natural environment and with his social heritage” (p.15). Transcendence insists that the ways of God are too lofty to be comprehended by man. Humanism response to this by insisting that all of existence can be comprehended rationally: “Humanism asserts that the nature of the universe depicted by modern science makes unacceptable any supernatural or cosmic guarantees of human values” (p.15). Thus, both humanism and religious fundamentalism make the same cognitive error of equating religion with the religious attitude.

The primary problem with humanism is not that it emphasizes personal well-being, or that it states that religion should include the here-and-now, or that it tries to fit everything into a rational package. Instead, it is trying to fit all of existence into an inadequate package: “Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.” “Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected” (p.11). Humanism does this because the only rational package we have is our understanding of the natural universe. But it is very rare to meet a person who actually acts as if this rational understanding is complete. Most of the time, we act as if we will continue to live forever (while talking about aging as a natural process), we find personal meaning in institutions and projects that continue beyond our physical lifetime (while verbally insisting that our existence ceases at death), and we treat those we love as if they are more than merely a collection of chemicals (while claiming that nothing exists except physical reality). In contrast, I present the thesis in Natural Cognitive Theology that if one starts with a theory of the mind based in Romans 12 spiritual gifts, then one can come up with a rational self-consistent package that includes natural law, mind and brain, nonphysical existence, the nature of God, and both personal and cosmic meaning.

Be Fruitful and Multiply

Moving on, one also sees transcendence in Gothard’s view of having children. As the Dugger family with their 19 children illustrates, Bill Gothard is strongly in favor of large families, and he is a major driving force behind the quiverfull movement. The advanced seminar textbook says that “Throughout Scripture, the blessing of God and the purpose of God were explained and understood in terms of fruitfulness. God’s promise to Abraham was to multiply his descendents as the stars of the heavens and the sands of the seashore” (p.189). He adds that “the hidden agenda of secular humanism is to reduce the size and strength of the family. A strong family that understands and lives by biblical principles is the single greatest threat to the ultimate control of humanistic forces” (p.189). In a section entitled “How a family put the planning back in God’s Hands”, a couple is quoted as saying “we especially wish to thank you for speaking out on vasectomy reversals. Last November after hearing that particular session, my husband and I repented for taking that part of our lives into our own hands four years before as non-Christians... We told our doctor the reason was to get back in God’s will, and he then blessed us with children – wonderful! But if no children, it would still be a success to us just to give that area of our marriage back to God” (p.194). Similarly, the Wikipedia article on quiverfull explains that “Quiverfull adherents typically maintain that their philosophy is first about an open, accepting and obedient attitude toward the possibility of bearing children. Within the view, this attitude may result in many, few or even no children, because God Himself maintains sole provenance over conception and birth. The duty of the Quiverfull adherent is only to maintain an ‘open willingness’ to joyfully receive and not thwart however many children God chooses to bestow. Contraception in all its forms is seen as inconsistent with this attitude and is thus entirely avoided, as is abortion.” Notice the underlying attitude of transcendence, which feels that family planning is something that belongs in the hands of God and should not be controlled by human methods.

Having large families is a way of spreading one’s religious beliefs. For instance, Europe is currently experiencing a ‘demographic time bomb’ because Muslims have much larger families than most Europeans. According to the linked article, Europe’s Muslim population has more than quadrupled between 1980 and 2015. But what is the purpose of Christianity? Is it physical external growth, or is it internal spiritual growth? Islam is a religion that is rooted in the external. The five pillars of Islam all involve words and physical actions. Similarly, the focus in the Old Testament was upon a physical tribe composed of physical descendents performing physical actions within a physical land. When Gothard interprets fruitfulness primarily in terms of having a large family with many children, then he is actually returning to an earlier stage of cognitive development as practiced by a tribal society. The middle school student within Piaget’s concrete operational stage is incapable of abstract thought and needs concrete physical examples, while the teenager who has reached Piaget’s formal operational stage is capable of abstract thought and meta-cognition. However, as the Wikipedia article points out, “Research has shown that not all persons in all cultures reach formal operations, and most people do not use formal operations in all aspects of their lives.” When someone insists upon interpreting the Bible in concrete, physical terms, then this person is not mentally functioning at the level of formal operations—and is implying that God also does not function at the level of formal operational thought.

One sees a similar mindset illustrated by LaHaye and Jenkins’ Left Behind series, which interprets the biblical book of Revelation as a physical Apocalypse experienced primarily by the country of America. This contradicts the concept of God that one acquires through studying natural law. As Paul Dirac, the famous physicist, said, “It seems to be one of the fundamental features of nature that fundamental physical laws are described in terms of a mathematical theory of great beauty and power, needing quite a high standard of mathematics for one to understand it. You may wonder: Why is nature constructed along these lines? One can only answer that our present knowledge seems to show that nature is so constructed. We simply have to accept it. One could perhaps describe the situation by saying that God is a mathematician of a very high order, and He used very advanced mathematics in constructing the universe. Our feeble attempts at mathematics enable us to understand a bit of the universe, and as we proceed to develop higher and higher mathematics we can hope to understand the universe better.” If the Bible is the ultimate source of truth and if following the Bible leads to personal salvation, then why does studying the natural world lead to a higher level of cognition and a higher concept of God than studying the Bible? My thesis is that one can approach the Bible using high level cognition and that this will result not in the denial of faith but rather in a higher concept of God.

Returning now to the topic of ‘being fruitful’, I suggest that Gothard is making three cognitive errors. First, he is confusing the invisible kingdom of God with the visible kingdom of America. Thus, he interprets ‘being fruitful’ as giving birth to many conservative American Christians. Second, while transcendence appears at first glance to give great honor to God, in practice it ends up disrespecting God because it is unteachable regarding the nature of God. There is a legitimate place for humility when dealing with the nature of God. As the last sentence of Dirac’s statement indicates, it is appropriate to say that I only know something about God and want to know more. But that is totally different than saying that it is wrong for me to try to understand the ways of God.

The third error is more subtle. I suggested that mental networks struggle for emotional dominance whenever they collide. When MMNs of personal status collide, then one person must submit to the wishes of another. Thus, the assumption is that following God means not following myself, as illustrated by the attitudes of fervor and self-denial. But when one approaches God from a Teacher perspective, then one gradually realizes that it is possible to follow God and follow self at the same time, because God lives in generality and universality while humans inhabit finite specifics. Saying this more simply, God does not care whether I eat Cheerios for breakfast or have pancakes. Instead, “God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Rom. 8:28). In other words, humans live in details while God brings Teacher order-within-complexity to these details—but only for those humans who place their details within the general structure of God.

Applying this to the family, God wants everyone to grow in maturity and one major aspect of growth is learning to interact with people who think differently. But this can either happen externally by growing up with other children in a physical family, or it can happen internally by developing the different parts of the mind so that they all function and interact in a wholesome manner. These two methods are interrelated. If I suppress Server thought within my mind, for instance, then I will treat the Server person with contempt. Similarly, if I spend time with a Server person, then that will help to develop Server thought within my own mind. When one insists that following God means having a physical home with many physical children, then one is reducing God from the divine realm of universality and generality to the human realm of finite specifics. The end result is a concept of God that is more like the Greek goddess Hestia (the goddess of the hearth, family, and domestic life) than a creator of the universe.

One can also see transcendence in Gothard’s response to those who question large families. Transcendence feels that personal actions in Mercy thought are too insignificant to ever affect general structure in Teacher thought. Gothard says that “projections of running out of energy or food sources are totally misleading. God gave to man the command and ability to fill up the world with people and to subdue the earth for their own needs. Shortages of one product of always been a motivation to create a new product from existing and often overlooked resources” (p. 191). Notice what is happening cognitively. Gothard is focusing upon expanding the MMNs of family and culture through the external means of raising physical offspring. However, the population of the Earth has now reached the point where large families are having a global impact, threatening the structure of the natural world. (Gothard published this in 1986, when the global population was 5 billion. In 2015, we are now at 7.3 billion.) Transcendence is prompting Gothard to say that personal actions and Mercy thought will never threaten global structure in Teacher thought.

It is true that shortages often motivate people to come up with new resources. And it is also true that the population is now falling in some regions, such as Europe, Japan, and Korea, because parents are not having enough children. However, it is a mathematical fact that a finite region, such as Earth, is incapable of handling continuous growth.

Many American fundamentalist Christians are currently responding to global warming with a similar attitude of transcendence. For instance, “In a radio interview, Inhofe [an Oklahoma senator] said it was ridiculous that scientists continue to address global warming. ‘The arrogance of people to think that we, human beings, would be able to change what He [God] is doing in the climate is to me outrageous.” Another website summarizes that “To believe in God, according to these three men, is to believe that the world is under the complete control of an omnipotent deity. The traditional doctrine of divine omnipotence is the idea that God can unilaterally bring about anything (except perhaps for logical impossibilities – God cannot create round squares). Nothing can come about, therefore, unless God causes or at least permits it.” Notice the common thread of believing that what humans do in Mercy thought will never threaten global structure in Teacher thought.

But what exactly is being associated with the providence of God? Not universal natural law but rather the MMNs of identity and culture. Saying this more bluntly, God is being viewed as the defender of the American way of life. Thus, the real God in this case is not the TMN of any general understanding or global ecosystem, but rather the MMNs of American consumerism. (Again we see God being reduced to the level of some god.) Similarly, the Jews of the Old Testament thought that God would never allow the Temple to be destroyed, the Jewish leaders to be killed, the Jewish economy to be ruined, and the Jewish people to be exiled from their homes in Israel. But it happened—twice. Once during the Babylonian exile and the second time in AD 70. This means that even if America were the chosen people of God, and even if the Bible were the only source of truth, the history of Israel still demonstrates that this would be no guarantee that God would preserve the American way of life.

Seven Life Principles

Gothard’s basic seminar teaches seven life principles. Unfortunately, I cannot find my copy of his basic seminar textbook, so the analysis will be based upon what can be found on the web. One brief description can be found on Wikipedia, and another on the official website. Gothard says that “Every problem in life can be traced to seven non-optional principles found in the Bible. Every person, regardless of culture, background, religion, education, or social status, must either follow these principles or experience the consequences of violating them.” Using the language of mental symmetry, the human mind is governed by inescapable cognitive mechanisms. These mechanisms are ‘non-optional’, they are ‘found in the Bible’, and they apply to ‘every person’. This is precisely what mental symmetry claims. And we will see that there is validity to Gothard’s seven principles. Unfortunately, Gothard misses one of the biggest inescapable cognitive mechanisms, which is that an attitude of fundamentalism will warp one’s understanding of truth and the Bible in predictable ways. One of these predictable results is an inherent contradiction between Gothard’s claim that life principles are universal and his limiting of these life principles to the Bible and conservative American culture.

We will now look at these more detail, quoting from the official webpage.

Design: God has a precise purpose for each person, object, and relationship that He creates. As we understand and live in harmony with His design, we will discover self-acceptance, identity, and fulfillment in life.” Spiritual gifts feature prominently on the webpage that expands upon this concept of design. Thus, Gothard appears to be saying precisely what mental symmetry says, which is that the function of the mind is dependent upon the wiring of the mind, and cognitive style is a major aspect of mental structure. Mental symmetry also strongly agrees that one will find ‘fulfillment in life’ by understanding and living in harmony with the design of the mind. However, we have seen that Gothard’s Christian American fundamentalism severely limits the domain and application of this statement, causing much of what he advises elsewhere to contradict this statement. In summary, this is a great statement. Unfortunately, Bill Gothard does not really believe this statement. In contrast, mental symmetry tries to follow this statement to its logical conclusion.

Authority: God assigns various responsibilities to parents, church leaders, government officials, and other authorities. As we learn to acknowledge and honor these authorities, we can see God work through them to provide direction and protection in our lives.” We have already looked at Gothard’s view of authority. Gothard takes the concept of authority and domain, which is a valid Teacher concept, and applies it to the Mercy realm of people with emotional status. I suggest instead that Gothard’s second principle of authority should be linked to his first principle of design, because ultimate authority lies not in people but rather in the structure of the mind. The opinions of people continually change; the structure of the mind remains the same. The punishment of people can be avoided; mental consequences are inescapable. When one combines Gothard’s first two principles by submitting to the authority of the structure of the mind, then a concept of God will emerge that corresponds in detail to the Christian description of a Trinitarian God. Thus, submitting to the authority of the mind is cognitively equivalent to submitting to the God of Christianity. (This correspondence is described in detail in Natural Cognitive Theology.)

Responsibility: God holds us accountable for every word, thought, action, attitude, and motive. When we offend others, asking for forgiveness and making proper restitution are essential steps to maintaining a clear conscience.” This is also a valid principle when combined with the previous two principles. The reason that one is accountable for ‘every word, thought, action, attitude, and motive’ is because the mind is governed by inescapable cognitive mechanisms and one cannot escape one’s mind. As Kant pointed out several centuries ago, everything that one perceives is inescapably filtered by the structure of the mind. This principle is true whether one recognizes it or not. However, one becomes mentally aware of it as one learns about the structure of the mind and submits to this structure. One then realizes that one is accountable for every thought and motive. Using a car analogy, driving too fast will lead to an accident whether I realize this or not. However if my car has a speedometer and if I allow this speedometer to guide my behavior, then I will know when I am in danger of an accident.

Asking others for forgiveness and making restitution in order to have a clear conscience is an important first step in this process, but it is not the fundamental principle. Instead, the purpose of asking for forgiveness and making restitution is to stop the mind from being clouded by peripheral issues so that one can focus upon the structure of the mind. Using the car analogy, forgiveness and restitution silence all the flashing warning lights and buzzers that prevent a driver from focusing upon the speedometer.

The Wikipedia article adds that “Part of this principle is asking forgiveness from whomever has been offended so that no one can point a finger at you and say, ‘You’ve offended me and never asked for my forgiveness.’” This defines responsibility in terms of submission to the MMNs of personal authority, which is a secondary matter. For instance, my father offended many people by choosing to be a conscientious objector rather than fight in World War II, and his choice continues to offend most American Christian fundamentalists. However, he concluded, as did 7000 other Canadian Mennonites, that preserving the integrity of life is a deeper principle than offending people. (Pacifism is analyzed in more detail in another essay.) Using the car analogy, the purpose of dealing with lights and buzzers is not to avoid the situation of someone looking at your car and saying ‘you have a flashing light’, but rather to be able to see the speedometer in order to avoid having an accident through speeding. This does not mean that one ignores the lights and buzzers of social disapproval. They are often indications that one is driving the car in an unsafe manner. But as Gothard’s first two principles teach, social approval is not the ultimate standard.

Suffering: Allowing the hurts from offenders to reveal ‘blind spots’ in my own life, and then seeing how I can benefit their lives.” This is also a good principle, if one approaches it from the viewpoint of mental structure and cognitive styles. Each cognitive style can only ‘see’ part of the mind, and it is natural for each cognitive style to use primarily conscious thought while ignoring the rest of the mind. Thus, other cognitive styles will naturally treat me in a way that ignores the cognitive module in which I am conscious, causing me to be hurt, while treating me in a way that emphasizes the cognitive module in which they are conscious, revealing a blind spot in my own life. If I use this knowledge to develop more of my mind, then this will give me the mental clarity that is required to help others. Gothard adds that “Fully forgiving offenders brings Genuine Joy.” This is true in the sense that hurtful experiences can help me to reach mental wholeness, which will result in genuine joy. However, Gothard’s teaching about forgiveness is often interpreted as forgetting and letting go. But if consequences come from inescapable cognitive mechanisms, as Gothard’s first principle states, then one cannot deny or escape consequences, because they are inescapable. Instead, one must go through a long and painful process of recovery from hurt and pain.

Ownership: Understanding that everything I have has been entrusted to me by God, and wisely using it for His purposes. Yielding my rights to God brings True Security.” This too is an important principle, if it is placed within the context of the previous principles. Following the first four principles will lead to a concept of God based in a general understanding of ‘how the mind works’. Whenever a general theory continues to be used, then it will turn into a TMN, which will attempt to explain situations when triggered. This will lead to a struggle between the TMN behind a concept of God and the MMNs of personal identity. The solution is not to suppress the MMNs of personal identity but rather to place them within the structure of general understanding so that they are no longer viewed as independent entities. Placing these MMNs within a general structure will bring a feeling of security. The Wikipedia article adds that “Gothard teaches that anger results from not yielding personal rights to God.” Anger is a mental network attempting to express itself by imposing itself emotionally upon the environment. Placing mental networks within a general structure will prevent anger because the structure itself protects the mental network.

Unfortunately, this principle is typically interpreted as finding security by submitting to the MMNs of male authority. And instead of placing ownership within the context of ‘how the mind works’, Gothard focuses upon the physical ownership of a house as well as physical offspring, and he defines the Contributor person as someone who has the God-given gift to acquire and own physical property.

Freedom: Enjoying the desire and power to do what is right, rather than claiming the privilege to do what I want. Regaining ground surrendered to sin brings Moral Purity.” This principle makes sense when one is building upon a foundation that was laid by following the previous five principles. The only long-term way to change childish desires is by replacing childish MMNs with a new set of mental networks based in right thinking. One will then have the ‘desire and power to do what is right’. This means reprogramming mental networks that were acquired in childhood that already are the source of personal desire. Thus, it makes sense to refer to this as ‘regaining ground surrendered to sin’. Saying this more technically, the TMN of a general understanding of how the mind works will lead indirectly to the formation of Platonic forms within Mercy thought—internal images of how one could live in a more perfect, pure, and ideal manner. These Platonic forms become the values that guide the goals of daily life. For instance, as I gained an understanding of the Perceiver person, a Platonic form of the ideal Perceiver person gradually formed within my mind, and the emotion contained within that ideal image now produces a desire to ‘do what is right’—which means thinking and behaving more like the ideal Perceiver person.

The Wikipedia page adds that “The key to freedom is learning how to walk in the Spirit and appropriate the victory that Christ has already won through His death, burial, and resurrection.” Cognitively speaking, ‘walking in the spirit’ means being guided by the values of internal Platonic forms. (In both cases one is being motivated internally by something that is more perfect than real life because it is an expression of the character of God.) And cognitively speaking, a person will only walk in the spirit if the mental networks of personal identity fall apart and are reborn within the internal structure of the general understanding that was constructed by following the previous five principles. And there is a sense in which one is learning to walk in a victory that has already been won because one is not creating truth but rather recognizing truth that already exists.

Unfortunately, instead of placing the MMNs of identity and culture within the TMN of a general understanding of ‘how the mind works’, Gothard does exactly the opposite and forces the TMN of his understanding of how the mind works to fit within the MMNs of fundamentalist American Christian culture. The result is not freedom but rather deeper emotional bondage, because culture now governs not just what a person says and does, but also what a person thinks. How can a person become free to do what is right when ‘right’ itself is defined as emotional bondage to authority? That is like teaching a person who lives in prison how to feel free within his prison cell—while leaving him in prison.

Success: Discovering God’s purpose for my life by engrafting Scripture in my heart and mind, and using it to ‘think God’s thoughts’ and make wise decisions. Meditating on Scripture brings Life Purpose.” The Wikipedia page adds that “The success principle is that when people learn to think God's thoughts by meditating on and memorizing scripture, they make wise decisions and fulfill their life purposes.” Evidence suggests that God controls history by manipulating people’s mental networks—guiding people and groups not by what they claim to believe, but rather by their deepest desires and fears. When one is internally transformed, then one becomes capable of performing an intelligent role in God’s greater purpose, because one ‘thinks God’s thoughts’. Using cognitive language, the transformed mind is guided by a mental concept of God that matches the character of a real God whose eternal character is revealed by ‘how things work’.

The problem is that ‘engrafting’ and ‘meditating’ are weasel words that suggest understanding the principles behind the words of the Bible without explicitly stating that one must let go of absolute truth in order to embrace universal truth. Stated bluntly, one is supposed to think, but not too much. One is supposed to apply scriptural principles to life, but only within the subculture of church and conservative America.

In conclusion, Gothard’s seven life principles leave me deeply disturbed, because he is practicing a version of bait-and-switch. The seven life principles themselves contain deep cognitive truth, and one will find mental wholeness if one follows these principles in sequence. But Gothard does not follow his own life principles. Instead, what Gothard actually teaches is quite different. Instead of applying his life principles, Gothard squeezes them into the culture of American Christian fundamentalism. Millions of seminar attendees have swallowed this bait, thinking that they will learn about general cognitive principles, because that is what Gothard says that he is teaching. But a switch occurred and what listeners actually fed upon was primarily American Christian fundamentalist culture. Now that the harmful results are becoming apparent, the common response is to reject everything that Gothard teaches, including spiritual gifts and the idea of inescapable laws of cognition. Thus, instead of leading people on a cognitive path to mental wholeness, Gothard has inoculated countless individuals against such a path. In contrast, I have attempted to use an understanding of ‘how the mind works’ to become free of fundamentalism with its religious attitude. Saying this more simply, mental symmetry adds substance to Gothard’s seven life principles.

One final comment of a more personal nature. I keep reading books by authors who come up with major breakthroughs but then get tripped up by hidden assumptions. The example of Bill Gothard strikes particularly close to home because he also starts with spiritual gifts, he also attempts to discover universal cognitive principles, and he also looks at the process of personal transformation from a cognitive perspective. But his system ends up completely twisted by the assumptions of American Christian fundamentalism. That frightens me, because it is like driving down the freeway and seeing the car beside you have a major accident.

49 Character Qualities

Bill Gothard uses the same system of Romans 12 spiritual gifts as mental symmetry. As was mentioned before, Gothard has come up with seven character qualities for each of the seven spiritual gifts, leading to a 7x7 grid which can be found here. These 49 character qualities form the basis for Gothard’s school curriculum, and we examined the booklet on humility. A more recent list of these character qualities can be found on Gothard’s website. Mental symmetry originally acquired its knowledge of spiritual gifts through Lane Friesen’s examination of 200 biographies, which has been supplemented over the decades by extensive personal observation.

We will now go through these 49 character qualities in the light of cognitive styles and mental wholeness. We have already seen that most of these character traits are defined in terms of social interaction. I suggest that this is like defining cars in terms of traffic. Cars generate traffic; without cars there would be no traffic; cars are more basic than traffic. Similarly, the mind generates character qualities; without human minds there would be no social interaction; cognition is more basic than social interaction.

The list of seven spiritual gifts can be found in Romans 12:6-8, and the context makes it clear that Paul is talking about different ways of thinking that cooperate to generate wholeness: “For through the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think more highly of himself than he ought to think; but to think so as to have sound judgment, as God has allotted to each a measure of faith. For just as we have many members in one body and all the members do not have the same function, so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another” (Rom. 12:3-5).

Gothard suggests that the seven verses following the list go through the seven gifts one more time. In other words, verse nine refers to the Perceiver, verse ten to the Server, verse eleven to the Teacher, and so on. This concept is elaborated here. I know that verse divisions were not in the original Greek text, however in this case Gothard’s hypothesis appears to fit, and so I see no reason for rejecting it.

We will take the actual text for the character qualities from Gothard’s webpage(dead link), because I assume that this is the most recent version. (Here is the IBLP version.)


The Teacher person is mentally driven to come up with general explanations. Gothard limits this by saying that the Teacher should spend his time studying the Bible: “A teacher should faithfully apply the principle of success and invest time in meditation on Scripture. The discipline of meditation helps the teacher stay focused on the truth of God’s Word instead of on the strength of his own mind.”

Gothard’s more detailed description of the Teacher person describes primarily the intellectual Contributor person, who uses technical thought, as illustrated by logic, math, and computer programming. (Every description of Romans 12 spiritual gifts that I have encountered makes this error. I learned how Teacher thought functions from years of interaction with my older brother, who is a Teacher person.) Teacher thought functions emotionally. One sees this emotion in the feeling of beauty that mathematicians sense. Intellectual Contributor thought, in contrast, uses non-emotional logic, though it is driven by Teacher emotions. Gothard describes the emotional drive: “Teachers are known to faithfully study the Word of God, because researching truth is a source of great joy for them. Unlike many of the rest of us, who must work hard to set aside time to study the Bible, the teacher often has to work hard to quit studying long enough to carry out other necessities of life! For example, many believers with this motivational gift would much rather research a topic than do their laundry, entertain guests, fix their meals, or go shopping for basic needs.” However, he assumes (as do most researchers) that emotion means Mercy emotion: “Teachers are often impractical, analytical, and unemotional. They tend to not be very interested in social activities and consequently may be regarded as a snobbish or selfish person.”

Gothard’s description is phrased in terms of general psychological character traits. One can see this in the previous paragraph, with a reference to studying rather than doing laundry, entertaining guests, fixing meals, or going shopping. And yet Gothard prefaces this list by talking about ‘believers with this motivational gift’. In other words, Gothard is implying that the Christian who is studying the Bible rather than doing laundry or going shopping is exhibiting the gift of teaching, while the non-Christian neighbor who prefers to study philosophy rather than doing laundry or going shopping is not exhibiting the gift of teaching. This illustrates the inherent contradiction of Gothard using Exhorter thought to come up with general Teacher theories (Exhorter combines Mercy and Teacher) and then being driven by the attitude of Christian fundamentalism to limit these general theories to the realm of Bible and church. If a person receives a spiritual gift when becoming a Christian, as Gothard claims, then why are spiritual gifts being described in terms of psychological characteristics that apply to everyone?

We will now turn to Gothard’s seven Teacher character qualities. Unlike the character traits that we just examined, the seven character qualities do make sense when applied to the Teacher person.

“Dependability vs. Inconsistency: Fulfilling what I consented to do even if it means unexpected sacrifice.” It is always possible for the Teacher person to come up with some sort of theory, but checking this theory out to see if it is legitimate can lead to ‘unexpected sacrifice’ in terms of time and effort. And it is important for the Teacher person to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of genuinely understanding. However, instead of phrasing this trait as a desire to gain the internal TMN of a general understanding, Gothard describes it as a willingness to submit externally to the MMNs of personal demand.

“Diligence vs. Slothfulness: Visualizing each task as a special assignment from the Lord and using all my energies to accomplish it.” Teacher thought functions verbally and not visually. Thus, I suggest that it is inaccurate to associate Teacher thought with visualization. However, visualization is a powerful way of recruiting subconscious thought in the Teacher person, which can help the Teacher person to think more creatively. For instance, Einstein, a Teacher person, learned to think nonverbally in school and used visualization as an aid for thinking. (Gothard would never associate spiritual gifts with the thinking of a secular individual such as Einstein.) And viewing a task as ‘from the Lord’ is good advice if one views God from a Teacher perspective as a universal being.

“Patience vs. Restlessness: Accepting a difficult situation from God without giving Him a deadline to remove it.” This is also good advice if one views God as a universal being. Teacher thought is aware of time and sequences. When one follows time, then a job will be finished when a certain amount of time has passed. In contrast, when one follows sequence, then the job will be finished when a certain number of steps have been finished. Sequential thinking is internally driven, while time thinking is driven externally by some clock. It is important for the Teacher person to pursue the general understanding of a concept of God without being driven by some external deadline. Thus, if one views God from a Teacher perspective, then Gothard’s advice makes sense.

“Reverence vs. Disrespect: Awareness of how God is working through the people and events in my life to produce the character of Christ in me.” Teacher thought is driven by Teacher emotions of order-within-complexity. Teacher thought becomes confused when Mercy emotions generated by people and events intrude. Therefore, the Teacher person often tries to retreat to some sort of academic haven that is free of the intrusions of Mercy emotion. However, a concept of God emerges when a general Teacher understanding applies to personal identity, which means that a concept of God will only emerge if theorizing includes people and events rather than rejecting them. Thus, Gothard’s advice again make sense, but only if one uses Teacher thought and not Mercy thought to analyze the nature of God.

“Security vs. Anxiety: Structuring my life around that which is eternal and cannot be destroyed or taken away.” This is excellent advice, if one takes these words at face value. Mental symmetry suggests that mental wholeness is reached by constructing a general understanding in Teacher thought and then placing personal identity within this understanding, or using religious language, to construct a mental concept of God and then submit to God. If one wishes to build the best and most universal Teacher understanding, then one should look for eternal (or universal) facts. And if one wishes to build an understanding that is independent of the opinions of people, then one should look for facts that cannot be destroyed or taken away. However, Gothard’s advice occurs within a larger context of structuring personal life around absolute truth rather than universal truth, and submitting to human authorities whose opinions do change.

“Self-Control vs. Self-indulgence: Instant obedience to the initial promptings of God’s Spirit.” The concept of Platonic forms was discussed earlier. When the concept of a universal God is constructed within Teacher thought, then this will indirectly cause a concept of the Holy Spirit to form within Mercy thought as Platonic forms come together to form what Plato calls a ‘form of the good’. One of the expressions of mental maturity is for a person to be motivated by the MMNs of Platonic forms (held together by a concept of the Holy Spirit) rather than by childish MMNs of infatuation, personal status, and hedonism. Saying this another way, instead of merely pursuing goals, a person should be guided by eternal values within which temporal goals are placed. This is the ultimate form of self-control because one is not merely suppressing desire but rather placing desire within the greater emotional structure of universal understanding and eternal value. Thus, there is validity to Gothard’s advice. The problem lies with the term ‘instant obedience’, because this implies that the mental networks of self are being suppressed. Instead, I suggest that this stage of mental maturity is reached when one follows God’s Spirit in a manner that is natural and effortless.

“Thoroughness vs. Incompleteness: Knowing what factors will diminish the effectiveness of my work or words if neglected.” Coming up with a general hypothesis is easy, especially for the Teacher person. Constructing a general theory is much more difficult, because that means being thorough and doing one’s homework. Teacher theories always appear great at the beginning. The inadequacy of a general theory emerges over time as the theory faces reality and questioning. If a theory is not tested before it is used, then this will diminish the effectiveness of one’s work and words. This is good advice. Unfortunately, Gothard himself does not realize how much the religious attitude has diminished the effectiveness of his work and his words. That is why my brother tried to do a more thorough analysis of spiritual gifts by studying biographies (That was a multi-year project that resulted in approximately a foot high pile of biographical summaries. I read through the summaries but not the original biographies.)


Bill Gothard is an Exhorter person, and his description of the Exhorter person mentions a number of fundamental traits. Mental symmetry suggests that Exhorter combines Teacher and Mercy, using the emotions of mental networks to generate drive, energy, and imagination. More specifically, the Exhorter person finds energy in emotional intensity: “Exhorters are willing and eager to come alongside a brother or sister in Christ during difficult circumstances.” The Exhorter provides energy for thought and action: “Exhorters love to encourage, encourage, encourage!” The Exhorter jumps from emotional experience to verbal theory: “An exhorter uses Scripture to validate experience.” Going the other way, the Exhorter wants theory to apply to personal experience: “Exhorters understand that time reading and studying the Word of God brings more than information; it brings transformation.”

The Exhorter avoids abstract theory that cannot be applied to personal experience: “An exhorter responds to problems by prescribing specific steps of action. His goal is to make the plan so easy to comprehend that people will understand it, see its potential, embrace it, and grow as a result of carrying it out.” The Exhorter is driven by vision and possibility: “An exhorter seems to be able to give thanks in all seasons and circumstances, including the darkest ones.” The emotional intensity contained within mental networks provides the source of Exhorter motivation: “Exhorters regard trials as opportunities for growth.” because the Exhorter jumps directly from example to general theory, the theories of the exhorter person often lack rigor: “They can easily oversimplify solutions, which ultimately results in discouragement rather than encouragement.” The typical Exhorter person is much better at talking than listening: “Surprisingly, exhorters can be poor listeners, even though they make excellent counselors. Sometimes they are so intent on telling you how to view your situation from God’s perspective that they fail to listen to your perspective.”

Unfortunately, Gothard’s description focuses entirely upon the Exhorter person using words to motivate and inform other people. As Gothard says, “Given a choice of helping someone ‘spiritually’ or helping him with a physical need (such as taking a meal to him or mowing his lawn while he’s in the hospital), the exhorter prefers to offer spiritual help.” One of the stages in reaching mental wholeness is going beyond words to personal application. Talking relieves the emotional pressure that motivates this personal change. Saying this more bluntly, as long as a person is able to use his mouth to talk about understanding, he will not feel emotionally driven to apply understanding. The Exhorter person will only change personally when faced with frustration, and the Exhorter person will not face frustration as long as he can use his golden tongue to exhort others. Gothard has made a career out of using his golden tongue to exhort others. One byproduct of using words to motivate people is that the Exhorter person is emotionally dependent upon approval from others: “Exhorters tend to need visible evidences of acceptance and affirmation.” It is interesting that Romans 12:12 (the Exhorter verse) talks about being ‘devoted to prayer’, which means directing speech internally to a mental concept of God rather than externally to other people.

In summary, most of Gothard’s description of the Exhorter is quite accurate. However, there are two attributes that I would question. First, Gothard says that “Exhorters focus on balance; they avoid extremes, especially in doctrine.” This is not true, because the Exhorter person loves extremes and will often play the devil’s advocate in order to get a discussion going. However, there is a sense in which this is true, because Exhorter extremes are limited by subconscious reasonableness. Therefore, the Exhorter will usually push to the very edge by bending the rules, but will not take the final step of breaking the rules. One can see this juxtaposition in the teaching of Gothard. On the one hand, Gothard teaches doctrines which most people would regard as extreme. On the other hand, we have seen that Gothard’s teaching is limited by the cultural context of American Christian fundamentalism. In fact, one of Gothard’s primary weaknesses is that he does not use his doctrine to break out of this cultural straitjacket.

Second, Gothard says that “An exhorter sees every little detail, including the timing of every event, as part of God’s good and loving plan.” This is also both true and false. On the one hand, the Exhorter is not aware of ‘every little detail’, but will rather refuse to listen to technical details that he regards as unimportant. On the other hand, the Exhorter person does focus upon essential details, especially those that involve the flow of events.

Let us turn now to Gothard’s seven Exhorter character qualities.

“Creativity vs. Underachievement: Approaching a need, a task, an idea from a new perspective.” One of the natural strengths of the Exhorter person is coming up with new ideas and projects. However, the Exhorter finds it much more difficult to add rigor to an idea or to complete a project.

“Discernment vs. Judgment: The God-given ability to understand why things happen.” Exhorter thought jumps from Mercy experience to Teacher understanding. When an emotional event occurs, then the Exhorter person naturally comes up with a Teacher theory that explains this situation.

“Discretion vs. Simplemindedness: The ability to avoid words, actions, and attitudes which could result in undesirable consequences.” The Exhorter is a natural salesman, able to present ideas in such a way that convinces others to accept them.

“Enthusiasm vs. Apathy: Expressing with my soul the joy of my spirit.” The Exhorter thrives on emotional energy, and is full of visions and ideas. The Exhorter will go to great lengths to avoid emotional apathy.

“Faith vs. Presumption: Visualizing what God intends to do in a given situation and acting in harmony with it.” Visualization is a key attribute of Exhorter thought. Gothard’s statement corresponds with the concept of righteousness, in which one acts in a manner that is consistent with a Teacher understanding of God’s character. One sees this in the Lord’s prayer: “Your kingdom come. Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10). However, visualization is an expression of Exhorter imagination, while faith (acting as if some principle is true) is primarily a Contributor attribute. Unfortunately, Gothard defines the Contributor (or giver) in purely monetary terms.

“Love vs. Selfishness: Giving to others’ basic needs without having as my motive personal reward.” One sees here the religious attitude of self-denial, which assumes that love is the opposite of selfishness. Compare this with the Golden rule, in which Jesus says that one should love one’s neighbor as oneself and not instead of oneself. Love, I suggest, is primarily a Mercy trait. Mercy love is characterized by long-term emotional attachment based in mental networks, which can either be healthy or unhealthy depending upon the form of emotional attachment. Exhorter thought, in contrast, wants novelty, and tends to leave one emotional attachment for another when boredom sets in.

Evidence from Gothard’s female secretaries indicates that when it came to physical desire, Gothard did not show either love or selfless love but rather recruited a chain of pretty young girls to provide him with novelty and emotional excitement.

“Wisdom vs. Natural Inclinations: Seeing and responding to life’s situations from God’s frame of reference.” This definition makes sense if one views God from a Teacher perspective, because this places the MMNs of identity and life within the grid of a Teacher understanding of the character of God. This combining of Mercy experiences with Teacher understanding comes naturally to the Exhorter person. However, we have seen that Gothard’s Teacher understanding is consistently limited by the MMNs of American fundamentalist culture.

Giving (Contributor)

Gothard’s description of the Contributor is one-dimensional, restricted to business and money: “A person with the motivational gift of giving wants to use financial resources wisely in order to give to meet the needs of others. A giver is usually good at finding the best buy, noticing overlooked needs, and maintaining a budget.” The Contributor person is naturally good at conducting business and making money. However, this is only one aspect of Contributor thought. One wonders why Gothard would regard making and donating money as a ‘spiritual gift that is acquired at salvation’ when Paul says that “the love of money is a root of all sorts of evil” (I Tim. 6:10) and Jesus warns “How hard it will be for those who are wealthy to enter the kingdom of God” (Mark 10:23). The only answer I can come up with is that private enterprise and capitalism are fundamental aspects of traditional American culture, which the American Christian fundamentalist regards as a primary aspect of Christianity. In addition, Gothard defines finances in terms of self-denial by focuses upon giving and saving money rather than making money: “A giver’s basic motivational drive is to conserve and share resources in order to meet needs. Givers take special delight in discovering needs that others overlook and then meeting those needs.”

As Gothard points out, this kind of Contributor person “gets joy by finding less costly ways to do things, whether the cost is measured in time, money, or energy.” And Gothard accurately observes that small expenses bother this type of Contributor person more than large expenses or large donations: “Their families often think givers are very stingy—much too concerned about counting pennies—but the people to whom they give think they are extremely generous.” However, “Sometimes their efforts to conserve resources can turn into being ‘plain cheap.’” For instance, our family has often joked that my father’s taste buds are connected to his wallet.

The practical Contributor person is driven by some bottom line in Mercy thought. With the financial Contributor, money turns into a Platonic form that becomes a stronger motivation than any specific object that money can buy. The end result is a person who is literally driven by the love of money. Gothard describes the joy that money brings to this kind of Contributor person: “Saving resources brings a giver almost as much pleasure as giving them, because they regard saving as the key that opens the door to even more resources. They seem to be able to accumulate savings, even in hard times.” And, as Gothard points out, unlike the Exhorter person, the Contributor person tends to focus upon specific details and is swayed by specific examples: “A giver can easily be tempted to judge a person or ministry based on a single incident that appears to reflect poor stewardship or lack of accountability.”

I am personally familiar with this type of Contributor person because my father falls into this category. (The Contributor person likes to travel. My father took the family on many trips, for which I am grateful. My father was also an honest businessman, which I respect. And my father has given substantial money to many worthy causes.) Physical wealth can give the financial Contributor the illusion of being successful, while focusing on making money causes him to develop only a fraction of his personal potential. Financial Contributors can become so obsessed with saving and investing money that they lose the capacity to enjoy what they supposedly possess. Because the Contributor person naturally specializes, the financial Contributor’s ability to evaluate opportunity can be based upon a rather narrow foundation. Thus, if society shifts, then the financial Contributor may end up losing the ability to evaluate investments. Specializing in finance can cause the abstract understanding of the financial Contributor to be limited to a few facts and slogans. Because of this limitation, the financial Contributor can view facts and knowledge as something to be hoarded in order to get an edge on the competition. Finally, money for the financial Contributor is primarily a way of keeping score, while for the average individual it represents wealth earned through the sweat of one’s brow. In the extreme, the financial Contributor ends up playing games with peoples’ lives, tossing around amounts that involve months and years of labor for other individuals, ruining the personal lives of millions in order to seek financial profit.

I am not suggesting that money is evil, or that it is wrong for the Contributor person to be naturally good at making money. I am also not questioning either private property or capitalism. But I am suggesting that it is shameful for Gothard to define the Contributor person in purely financial terms, because this does a great disservice to the Contributor person, the idea of a spiritual gift, and the mental concept of incarnation. Saying this another way, Horatio Alger is not a Christian saint. However, that is what happens when one interprets Christianity in terms of being a successful American.

Let us turn now to the specific character qualities.

“Cautiousness vs. Rashness: Knowing how important right timing is in accomplishing right actions.” The Contributor person thinks naturally in terms of opportunity, and compares costs with benefits when evaluating an opportunity.

“Contentment vs. Covetousness: Realizing that God has provided everything I need for my present happiness.” Contributor thought works out the steps that are required to reach the goal from one’s current state. This mental content channels Exhorter drive to focus upon taking the next step rather than identifying emotionally with the goal in a covetous manner.

“Gratefulness vs. Unthankfulness: Making known to God and others in what ways they have benefited my life.” The Contributor person likes to think that he is a self-made man who achieved success through his own efforts. However, the Contributor person is seldom an original thinker, but rather excels at improving and optimizing the ideas of others. Similarly, Contributor choice never occurs in a vacuum. Instead, Contributor thought chooses between urges presented by Exhorter thought, which acquires these urges from emotional memories and mental networks within Mercy and Teacher thought. Therefore, it is important for the Contributor person to recognize how others have benefited his life.

“Punctuality vs. Tardiness: Showing high esteem for other people and their time.” The Contributor person can have a problem being late. This often occurs because the Contributor person gets involved in the current plan or tries to fit in one more thing before heading to an appointment. However, the Contributor person thinks in terms of value and tardiness in the Contributor person can reflect a lack of respect for other people.

“Resourcefulness vs. Wastefulness: Wise use of that which others would normally overlook or discard.” The Contributor person is naturally talented at generating value by seeing opportunities that others miss. This is a good trait to develop.

“Thriftiness vs. Extravagance: Not letting myself or others spend that which is not necessary.” We live in a consumer society that exhorts us continually to buy new products. It is important to learn from the Contributor person to spend resources in an efficient manner.

“Tolerance vs. Prejudice: Acceptance of others as unique expressions of specific character qualities in varying degrees of maturity.” The Contributor person has a natural tendency to look down on people who do not share his area of expertise. This tendency also shows up in the intellectual Contributor. Gothard describes this attitude of condescension in his description of the Teacher (whom he confuses with the intellectual Contributor): “Because a teacher is able to accumulate knowledge skillfully and apparently with ease, he can easily be tempted to be prideful and have a condescending attitude toward others who do not demonstrate these gifts.” The solution is to gain ‘contentment’ when dealing with people and not just with things. In the same way that plans must be carried out one step at a time, so personal maturity is also reached one step at a time.

Organizing (Facilitator)

Gothard’s description of the Facilitator person is fairly accurate, but it only covers one aspect of Facilitator thought, which is organizing. Gothard says that “The organizer leads others to complete projects. He might not necessarily do the job, but through organization and delegation, he makes sure the job gets done.” The underlying assumption is that one is performing projects, which means using concrete thought to reach physical goals. This type of activity will dominate when Christianity is associated with building a home, training children, and having a successful business. But Facilitator thought also gravitates to areas such as politics, medicine, scientific research, philosophy, and psychology. The general point is that the character of the Facilitator person is heavily dependent upon the environment. This is because Facilitator thought stands apart from the rest of the mind, observing, balancing, and mixing the function of other cognitive modules. When the rules of a society are clearly defined (as they are in a fundamentalist system), then the Facilitator person will work within these rules, as long as there is freedom to blend and adjust. When the rules of society are not defined (as is the case with postmodern thought), then the Facilitator person may turn into a philosopher, attempting to use blending and mixing to determine the nature of truth.

Let us look now at Gothard’s description of the organizing Facilitator person. “A person with the gift of organizing has the ability to discern the strengths, weaknesses, and talents of others. When a project is launched, the organizer does not focus on how the job can be done but rather on who can do it best.” This external adjusting between people and tasks reflects the internal adjusting that Facilitator thought does between competing mental networks. Contributor thought naturally comes up with plans. Facilitator thought adjusts these plans to fit the abilities of specific people: “The organizer leads others to complete projects. He might not necessarily do the job, but through organization and delegation, he makes sure the job gets done.” This external ability to organize the work of other people is an expression of the way that Facilitator thought internally organizes the function of other cognitive modules: “If the goal is to construct a water tank, the organizer will oversee the construction of an efficient, sturdy water tank, but it may not be an attractive water tank. However, the goal—to build a functional water tank—would be accomplished. If the goal had been to construct an attractive water tank, the organizer would have focused on that goal.” In the same way that the Facilitator person functions within a plan that is set by other people, so Facilitator balancing and mixing occurs mentally within the context that is set by other cognitive modules: “An organizer is even-keeled—it takes a lot to ruffle his feathers. He sees emotional expressions—good or bad—as a waste of time.” That is because Facilitator thought stands apart from mental networks with their strong emotions and observes them from a distance. Saying this another way, the Facilitator person often feels that he is watching himself go through life. Because Facilitator thought observes from a distance, the Facilitator person is not naturally seen as a leader with charismatic personalities: “Although organizers are designed to lead, they don’t always have the personality of an obvious leader. Therefore, they can easily go unnoticed when the need for a leader arises, and the job will frequently be given to an aggressive prophet or server.” (I should mention that the Server person is not aggressive. However, the Contributor person who uses Server thought—which Gothard lumps together with the Server person—is aggressive.)

The traits that we have just discussed all apply to the Facilitator person. Gothard’s remaining traits describe not the Facilitator person but rather the goal-oriented Contributor person, who is also capable of planning and managing. (It is interesting to note that Contributor traits show up in four of Gothard’s seven categories: server, giver, organizer, and teacher.)

The practical Contributor person is driven by the goal of some vision within Mercy thought: “Organizers always see the big picture. They can look past today’s circumstances and see where the group needs to be tomorrow or next week or next year.” The Facilitator person, in contrast, generally finds it hard to internally visualize the big picture. Instead, the Facilitator person is susceptible to becoming motivated by strong mental networks that enter the mind and cannot be dislodged. For instance, the Facilitator person may be driven to get a PhD in order to compensate for disapproval received as a child from parents. That is because motivation comes from subconscious Exhorter thought which is attracted to mental networks while conscious Facilitator thought can only observe and adjust mental networks from a distance. The result is that the Facilitator person is typically driven over the long term to either fulfill or frustrate implanted mental networks.

The practical Contributor person is driven by the bottom line and thinks in terms of cost-benefit and efficiency: “Organizers tend to judge spirituality (including their own) on the basis of accomplishment, and they evaluate accomplishment on the basis of doing the best job with the fewest resources in the shortest amount of time.” The practical Contributor person is typically driven by goals that avoid emotions: “The organizer is simply preoccupied with tasks, not with feelings.” The practical Contributor person finds it difficult to include personal emotions in his planning: “An organizer makes decisions based on what is best for the sake of the project, not what is most convenient for the laborers.” As a result, the practical Contributor person often treat people as pawns within his plan: “People tend to feel used and discarded when their usefulness is over.” The male practical Contributor person finds it almost impossible to apologize for failure: “Rather than accepting responsibility if something goes wrong, immature organizers will delegate the blame too—not just the work assignments.”

I should emphasize that the objective thinking of the typical practical Contributor is a sign of mental immaturity. Stated bluntly, this type of individual pursues the peripheral while discarding the truly valuable. He is the one who achieves business success while ruining his marriage and ignoring his children (the male Contributor person is especially prone to this behavior). However, when Christianity is interpreted in physical terms as having a successful home and business, then the external objective focus of the typical practical Contributor person will not be seen as a character deficiency.

Let us turn now to the seven character qualities.

“Decisiveness vs. Double-mindedness: The ability to finalize difficult decisions based on the will and ways of God.” We see here a combination of Contributor and Facilitator. On the one hand, the practical Contributor person is capable of making decisive decisions. However, these decisions are often made on the basis of an inadequate bottom line. Hence the need for understanding the ways of God, which requires a general Teacher understanding of God and his ways. The Facilitator person, in contrast, has problems being double-minded, because Facilitator thought will attempt to find a consensus that balances between conflicting mental networks. This ability to continue following plan B as a backup plan while pursuing plan A can be very useful when plan A fails. However, Gothard’s advice here could be interpreted as ‘Be a Contributor person who makes up his mind and not a Facilitator person who sees everyone’s point of view’.

“Determination vs. Faintheartedness: Purposing to accomplish God’s goals in God’s time regardless of the opposition.” The Facilitator person is capable of pursuing a goal over the long term. One classic example is William Wilberforce’s lifelong attempt to get slavery abolished in the British Empire. And the Facilitator person is naturally good at waiting patiently for the right time. However, the Facilitator person is also capable of pursuing a vendetta over the long term, and can hold a grudge for decades, waiting to get even at the right time. (Hence the earlier statement about being driven over the long term to either fulfill or frustrate implanted mental networks.)

“Loyalty vs. Unfaithfulness: Using difficult times to demonstrate my commitment to God and to those whom He has called me to serve.” The Facilitator person is naturally able to ‘listen politely with a closed mind’, giving the public impression of loyalty while being disloyal behind the scenes. Gothard defines this trait socially. But what really matters is the internal filtering and censoring that is happening within the mind of the Facilitator person. Is the Facilitator person mentally being loyal to truth and righteousness.

“Orderliness vs. Disorganization: Preparing myself and my surroundings so I will achieve the greatest efficiency.” The Facilitator person is naturally good at organizing people and items. However, this takes active effort on the part of the Facilitator person. What sometimes happens is that only some of the Facilitator’s life (or house) will be organized while the rest will be a dirty, chaotic mess.

“Responsibility vs. Unreliability: Knowing and doing what both God and others are expecting from me.” The thinking of the Facilitator person is dependent upon context. Therefore, if the mind of the Facilitator lacks solid information, then the Facilitator person will be an unreliable creature of the environment whose commitments change depending upon the context. However, following the expectations of others is precisely what the immature Facilitator person naturally does and needs to go beyond. The solution is to replace the fear of man (of which the Facilitator person is very aware) with the fear of God and not just add God to the ‘table of consensus’ that immature Facilitator thought uses to determine truth. If one mentally represents the nature of God as a general understanding of ‘how things work’, then this will provide a solid internal grid that will cause the Facilitator person to think and behave in a responsible manner (by being loyal to truth and righteousness).

“Humility vs. Pride: Recognizing that it is actually God and others who are responsible for the achievements in my life.” This trait has both a Contributor aspect and a Facilitator aspect. The Contributor person (especially the practical Contributor person who is being described here) is not an original thinker, but rather excels at improving the ideas of other individuals. However, the practical Contributor person has a strong tendency to pretend that he is original by stealing ideas from others without recognizing the source. The practical Contributor can become more original by developing the intellectual side of Contributor thought (the part that is described in Gothard’s Teacher). The Facilitator person has a natural tendency to to adjust the emphasis on situations to make self look better and others look worse. That is also a matter of humility versus pride, but it is a slightly different trait than what is being described here by Gothard.

“Initiative vs. Unresponsiveness: Recognizing and doing what needs to be done before I am asked to do it.” This also has both a Contributor aspect and a Facilitator aspect. The practical Contributor is naturally talented at seeing needs and meeting them without being told. Because the Facilitator person adjusts thought from the sidelines, there is a natural tendency for the Facilitator person to be a passive observer. Therefore, the Facilitator person has to choose to step out and be an active manager rather than just observe passively. Again, Gothard’s version applies more to the practical Contributor. (And Gothard is again defining the trait in social terms.)

Summarizing, Gothard’s traits of the organizer are a combination of Facilitator traits and practical Contributor traits. The Facilitator person is naturally a social creature, and can only find mental wholeness by building internal structure instead of being merely a creature of the social environment. One can see this by comparing the fundamentalist Facilitator (who has solid internal content) with the postmodern Facilitator (who believes only that nothing can be believed). Therefore, it is imperative to define Facilitator traits in cognitive language rather than social language.


Gothard description of the Server person is fairly accurate, but it also applies to Contributor persons who emphasize the Server side of their personality. (Remember that Contributor combines Server and Perceiver.) Because Server thought can express itself through physical action, the natural tendency is for the Server person to limit cognitive development to the concrete world of physical actions. As Gothard says, “Sometimes servers get their priorities out of order because they are so tuned in to physical needs. Consequently, spiritual priorities may take a back seat, at least temporarily.” However, Server thought also plays a major role in math, science, and organization, and it is possible, though unusual, for the Server person to develop this more abstract form of Server thought.

The typical Server person focuses upon physical action: “A Server expresses himself most satisfactorily by doing tangible work. He serves by doing, not by explaining or teaching or discussing or giving or organizing, though he may do some or all of those things.” The Server person wants to know what can be done in the present and becomes emotionally unstable when facing long-term uncertainty: “Servers prefer short-term tasks.” One byproduct is that the Server person finds it much easier to do actions himself rather than delegate to others: “Servers would rather carry out responsibilities themselves, and be done with them, than assigning the tasks to someone else.” Server actions interact with Teacher understanding, indicated on the diagram of mental symmetry by an arrow leading from Teacher to Server. One expression of this is that the Server person naturally acts in a graceful manner, performing movement in a manner that expresses Teacher order-within-complexity.

This Teacher understanding can be provided externally by telling the Server person how his actions are appreciated and how essential they are to the larger plan. This makes the Server person a superb minion to an Exhorter leader. The Exhorter provides the excitement and the vision, tells the Server person what to do, and then uses words to tell the Server person how essential he is. Obviously, such a relationship is subject to abuse: “If a server has been pouring his life out for others and feels misunderstood or unappreciated, he can easily be tempted with thoughts of rebellion or jealousy.”

Server thought thinks in terms of sequence and order: “Order is essential for a server.” The Server person wants to finish sequences of actions: “You can count on him to be one of the people who are still around at the end of the project, to see it through to completion.” In addition, the Contributor person who focuses upon Server action is driven by Contributor optimization to do the best job. The Exhorter who finds details boring can find this extremely annoying: “Servers tend to be perfectionists. They can drive the rest of us crazy because they want to cover all the bases—even ones we think are unimportant.” In other words, the Exhorter person loves Server minions but can become annoyed by their insistence upon completing tasks and focusing upon details.

Fervor expresses itself in the Server person as a desire to serve and an inability to say no to requests: “Servers constantly have to deal with the temptation to become over-committed, which can lead to stress and frustration for them and for their families.” Self-denial expresses itself as a willingness to do menial tasks: “God seems to give special grace to servers to exercise humility, especially when it comes to doing menial chores.”

Gothard’s description of the Server as a menial servant provides the counterpart to his description of the Exhorter as a talking mouth. This limited viewpoint is one byproduct of viewing spiritual gifts as something that a person receives from God that is added to innate personality when becoming a Christian. One sees this portrayed in the previous quote which says that ‘God gives special grace to servers’ to do ‘menial chores’. However, most of Gothard’s descriptions portray a way of innate functioning that is expressed in all of life and not just some religious subculture. For instance, “They are the ones washing dishes after we’ve gone home. They are the ones putting up the chairs while we crawl over them to get to the exits. They are the ones who ask if they can help carry or clean or deliver while everyone else is in their cars heading home. They enjoy the party best if they’re in the kitchen or at the barbecue pit or handing out the food.” Does the Server only have a special God-given grace to do menial chores when washing dishes at a church supper while others are crawling over them to get to the exits from the church building? Does the Server lack this God-given grace when washing dishes at home or at a business dinner? In contrast, if one views these as psychological traits then this causes one to pose questions of mental maturity, such as: Is the Exhorter person incapable of physical action? Can he only work with his mouth? Is the Server person doomed to be a menial worker? Is it right for Servers to be the servants of Exhorters? Is the giver only a source of financial resources? How can Servers, Exhorters, and Contributors develop more of their personality?

Ironically, by portraying a spiritual gift as something religious, Gothard avoids the very character development that is his claimed area of expertise. Millions have listened to Gothard precisely because he claims to teach character development. But what he calls a God-given spiritual gift tends to be a caricature of the mature mind. In contrast, my obsession has been to work out how all spiritual gifts can reach mental wholeness. Gothard’s 49 character qualities are somewhat better, but even here most are defined not as character qualities but rather as external, social expressions of a character quality guided not by the internal concept of an invisible, universal God but rather by the MMNs of male human authority.

Let us turn now to the seven character qualities.

“Flexibility vs. Resistance: Not setting my affections on ideas or plans which could be changed by God or others.” Server thought gains confidence in sequences as they are repeated. Thus, there is a natural tendency for the Server person to do things in a habitual way because ‘that is the way we do things’. One way to bring flexibility is by allowing Server actions to be changed by other people. Righteousness, in contrast, allows Server actions to be guided internally by a Teacher understanding of the character of God. Jesus often referred to this relationship. For instance, “I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner” (John 5:19). God’s righteousness deals with general sequences rather than specific Server sequences, giving flexibility to Server thought. For instance, God’s command to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ can be satisfied in many specific ways. One can have large families and train children, as Gothard instructs. One can experience internal fruitfulness as a result of personal transformation. One can gain converts through preaching and teaching. Or one can use an understanding of natural law to come up with new technology. All of these kinds of actions are aspects of the general divine sequence of ‘be fruitful and multiply’, which themselves can be expressed in many different specific ways.

“Joyfulness vs. Self-pity: The spontaneous enthusiasm of my spirit when my soul is in fellowship with the Lord.” The Server person naturally acts in a gracious, self-contained manner; Teacher emotions make Server actions smooth and elegant while repetition builds Server confidence. This may look like ‘the joy of the Lord’ but it is driven by Server confidence in ‘how we do things’ rather than by a general Teacher understanding of ‘how things work’. If one defines joyfulness in terms of social expression, then there is no way of distinguishing between the joy that comes from performing habits in a gracious manner and the joy that comes from acting in a righteous manner.

“Alertness vs. Unawareness: Being aware of that which is taking place around me so I can have the right response to it.” Both the Server person and the Server-like Contributor person are naturally aware of physical needs. Using Gothard’s example (p.80), when a plate of food is spilled at the table, then the Server person will naturally clean up the mess. Such physical awareness is very helpful. However, the Server person who functions only at this level is nothing more than a robot driven by stimulus and response. The Server person is capable of much more than being merely a minion.

“Availability vs. Self-centeredness: Making my own schedule and priorities secondary to the wishes of those I am serving.” While the Server person naturally meets physical needs, the Server person tends to be inflexible in the way in which a need is met, doing things ‘the way that they have always been done’, regardless of whether this is appropriate or efficient. As I have suggested, it is important for the Server person to learn flexibility. However, Gothard’s solution merely turns the Server robot into the Server minion, a slave of others rather than a slave of routine. A better solution is to replace both habit and obedience with righteousness. This does not mean that one does not serve others, but rather that this service occurs within the context of a general understanding.

Endurance vs. Giving up: The inward strength to withstand stress to accomplish God’s best.” The emphasis here is upon long-term projects and emotional confusion. The Server person is emotionally very stable (almost robot-like) when performing actions in the here-and-now. The Server person becomes emotionally unstable when there is nothing that can be done and there is long-term uncertainty. The Server person grows in mental wholeness by facing this emotional uncertainty and learning to make long-term plans.

“Hospitality vs. Loneliness: Cheerfully sharing food, shelter, and spiritual refreshment with those whom God brings into my life.” Hospitality is a natural trait of the practical Contributor person, who loves to open his home to visitors. This is a good trait. However, as usual, Gothard defines the trait socially. Instead, I suggest that the Server person (and practical Contributor person) can only achieve mental wholeness by internally opening up the home of personal identity to other forms of thinking and behaving. One of the primary benefits of practicing physical hospitality is that it does open up the mind to new ways of thinking and behaving.

“Generosity vs. Stinginess: Realizing that all I have belongs to God and using it for His purposes.” Ownership is a key concept for Contributor thought. And it is important for the Contributor person to view ownership from God’s perspective—if one uses Teacher thought to understand the nature of God. When one sees ownership from the viewpoint of a universal, invisible being, then one will see that ownership means far more than possessing objects, and value runs much deeper than financial wealth. In contrast, when one views God from the Mercy perspective of church and conservative America, then one will think that using possessions for God’s purposes means giving money to needy people and religious organizations.

Mercy-giver (Mercy)

Gothard’s description of the Mercy person is accurate but incomplete. The Mercy person is conscious in the part of the mind that forms and stores MMNs (which are composed of emotional memories and triggered by experiences): “Mercy-givers sense and reflect the spiritual and emotional atmosphere around them.” The mind uses MMNs to represent both people and culture: “Mercies have a God-given ability to sense a person’s spirit or the atmosphere among a group of people.” The Mercy person uses the affective aspect of ‘theory of mind’ to try to guess the feelings of other individuals: “They recognize the feelings that may be at work in others’ minds and hearts.” A mind that is ruled by MMNs is emotionally unstable: “Mercies can be indecisive, tossed to and fro by their emotions.” People with similar MMNs are naturally drawn together to form a culture: “Mercies are drawn to other sensitive people.” The Mercy person naturally expresses himself emotionally, which can be interpreted by other cognitive styles as personal affection: “The mercy-giver’s warmth can be falsely interpreted as personal, intimate affection.”

MMNs are composed of emotional memories and triggered by experiences. Because we live in a physical world of experiences within a physical body that adds feelings to these experiences, Mercy thought is vulnerable to the external and social environment: “Because mercy-givers try to avoid conflict of any kind, they often avoid confrontation that is needed. Mercy-givers would rather hide from or ignore their enemies than confront them.” MMNs imposed by the social environment can grab the attention of the Mercy person: “Mercies are quick to take up others’ offenses, which can quickly lead to anger and bitterness.” The Mercy person can look for affirmation from MMNs that reflect the social environment: “Mercies need to be needed. People with this gift must reach out and get involved, or their mercy will turn inward, resulting in an introspective focus that concentrates on their own hurts or fears.”

Mercy thought works with experiences, Teacher thought with words. A verbal theory in Teacher thought can give emotional comfort to personal identity in Mercy thought: “To the mercy-giver, spirituality is not a textbook analysis but rather is an emotional confirmation of God’s presence in his life. He is interested in learning doctrine mainly so that he can act on it and then feel that he has been obedient. If no feelings accompany his experience, he tends to downplay its significance.” Similarly, a Mercy person finds emotional comfort by interacting verbally with a concept of God in Teacher thought: “To them, prayer is an expression of their hearts to God, and nothing else they can do releases these emotions and captures God’s heart better than prayer.” I am not suggesting that prayer is only a cognitive interaction between personal identity in Mercy thought and a concept of God in Teacher thought. However, it does appear that any interaction between me and a real God will be strongly filtered by internal interaction between personal identity and my concept of God. In addition, the emotional comfort that comes from a Teacher understanding makes it possible to handle the Mercy pain of personal honesty.

The religious attitude of self-denial expresses itself in the Mercy person as a desire to help the hurt and the wounded: “Mercies love the unlovable, such as the handicapped, the elderly, the seriously ill, and the wounded in spirit. They are drawn to the outcast, the out of fellowship, and the rebellious. Mercy-givers run toward people who are unpleasant or unresponsive, reflecting the heart of God toward needy people.” However, the Mercy person who practices self-denial tends to project his own personal emotions upon others: “They often become rescuers of those who do not need to be rescued.” The religious attitude blocks off the MMNs of childish identity rather than transforming them. This means that these childish MMNs remain within Mercy memory, waiting to be triggered: “It is easy for mercies to develop a poor self-image, since they tend to be introspective and remain acutely aware of their own failures. The longer the mercy dwells on his failures, the more worthless and wicked he feels.”

These are all accurate observations of how the Mercy person typically behaves under fundamentalism. Don and Katie Fortune give a similarly depressing description of the Mercy person. What is missing is the creativity and joy that emerge when Mercy thought is freed and transformed. The Mercy person is capable of coming up with truly original solutions that solve problems in weird but wonderful ways. Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple computers, provides a good example of Mercy creativity, and the weird-but-wonderful solution can be seen in the video circuitry of the Apple II computer as well as the floppy drive controller. The joy emerges when the environment is emotionally healthy, when self-denial is not taught as a doctrine from God, and when a concept of the Holy Spirit emerges guided by a general Teacher understanding of the character of God. The story of Anne of Green Gables portrays the sort of joie de vivre that can characterize the Mercy person.

Let us turn now to the specific character qualities.

“Attentiveness vs. Unconcern: Showing the worth of a person by giving undivided attention to his words and emotions.” The mind uses MMNs within Mercy thought to represent people and emotional situations. The Mercy person has a natural ability to use concentration to focus upon people and situations.

“Sensitivity vs. Callousness: Exercising my senses so I can perceive the true spirit and emotions of those around me.” The Mercy person is naturally able to take an emotional snapshot of people’s character, and this picture is usually accurate. However, the Mercy person is also capable of closing up emotionally in order to avoid hurt.

“Compassion vs. Indifference: Investing whatever is necessary to heal the hurts of others.” The Mercy person is naturally able to sense emotional hurt in other individuals. Bringing lasting healing to emotional hurt is a long-term process that requires significant time and energy. The problem is that Gothard is defining this compassion socially, in terms of one person bringing healing to another. However, the primary struggle is for each individual to bring internal personal healing to himself. In fact, one can describe much of the process of salvation as bringing lasting healing to childish MMNs.

“Gentleness vs. Harshness: Showing personal care and concern in meeting the need of others.” Mercy thought has to struggle with two contradictory impulses. One is emotional sensitivity, which motivates the Mercy person to be subtle by addressing deep emotions in indirect ways. The other impulse is tribalism, which motivates a person or group to reject others who do not share the same mental networks. This leads to a struggle between gentleness and harshness.

“Deference vs. Rudeness: Limiting my freedom in order to not offend the tastes of those whom God has called me to serve.” There are several levels to this statement. At the level of politeness, it is important to act in ways that recognize the mental networks of culture. The Mercy person has a natural ‘cross cultural sensitivity’. Cognitively, this means recognizing the mental networks that guide surrounding people, and trying to behave in a way that does not violate these mental networks. At a deeper level, this means recognizing where people are in the process of maturity, and trying to help individuals in a manner that takes them from where they are to some place better. (I would define this as love. Love is a fundamental characteristic of mature Mercy thought.) At the deepest level, this means placing personal relationships within the mental grid of a general Teacher understanding of the character of God. At this level, one is no longer serving people or submitting to people. Rather, one is acting in a serving manner because the ultimate benefit comes from following a Teacher understanding of ‘how things work’ and not from climbing any social ladder. Thus, we see again that the primary battle is an internal one guided by a Teacher-based concept of God, and that the social expression that Gothard describes is secondary.

“Meekness vs. Anger: Yielding my personal rights and expectations to God.” The Mercy person is subject to bursts of anger. When mental networks collide, then they struggle for emotional dominance as each attempts to impose its structure upon the other. A Mercy outburst of anger occurs when a mental network that is being suppressed uses emotions to attempt to impose itself upon the environment. Gothard’s advice is sound if one defines God from a Teacher viewpoint, because yielding rights and expectations to God then means thinking and behaving in a way that is consistent with ‘how things work’. Using a simplistic example, suppose that I want to walk from one side of a crowded room of people to the other side. I could march straight across and bang into people along the way. Or I could maneuver around people without banging into them. At first glance, this may appear to be simply a matter of social politeness. However, at a deeper level, it is a recognition of ‘how things work’. People live in physical bodies which occupy physical locations. That is how the physical universe works. Meekness recognizes this universal structure and behaves in a way that flows with this universal structure rather than attempting to fight it. Notice that this is quite different than self-denial that prompted by the religious attitude, because that merely suppresses personal identity in order to submit to people with social status.

“Justice vs. Fairness: Personal responsibility to God’s unchanging laws.” I suggest that this character quality is misplaced, because the Perceiver person is concerned about justice, while the Facilitator person thinks in terms of fairness. However, both of these qualities indirectly affect Mercy thought because justice applies Perceiver truth to personal identity, while fairness applies Facilitator averaging to personal identity. Obviously, it only makes sense to talk about ‘God’s unchanging laws’ if Perceiver thought is searching for universal truth and a concept of God is based in general Teacher understanding. Fairness is an inferior method of determining truth because it is based in people rather than ‘how things work’. Fairness gives each student a gold star, regardless of what they have done, while justice gives a gold star to students who have done their homework. This does not mean that Facilitator thought is inherently inferior to Perceiver thought, but rather that Facilitator thought functions within the context that is established by Perceiver (and Server) thought.

In earlier versions, the trait was “Fairness vs. Partiality: Looking at a decision from the viewpoint of each person involved.” This describes the contrast between Facilitator averaging and Mercy tribalism. The natural tendency of childish Mercy thought is to favor those who belong to my family or culture while ignoring those who are different. Fairness attempts to include those that tribalism would naturally exclude. This is an important distinction, but I suggest that the distinction between Justice and Fairness is more significant.

Prophecy (Perceiver)

Gothard’s description of the Perceiver person can be found here. Perceiver thought looks for truth by searching for connections that do not change, leading to a knowledge of universal truth—truth that applies everywhere. Fundamentalism uses MMNs of emotional status to overwhelm Perceiver thought into knowing what is true, leading to the concept of absolute truth—truth that is true because it has its source in some established authority. Fundamentalism provides the starting point for Perceiver thought. That is because Perceiver thought can only evaluate truth if it is functioning and it can only function if it knows truth. Thus, Perceiver thought initially acquires truth through rote learning and fundamentalist belief and then retroactively evaluates this truth using critical thinking.

When Perceiver truth is determined by Mercy status, then Perceiver thought will divide truth into right and wrong. Whatever comes from a good source will be accepted as right, while that which comes from a bad source will be rejected as wrong. Gothard’s description of the Perceiver person describes how Perceiver thought functions under fundamentalism. (The attitude of fundamentalism is less present in the description of the Perceiver on this page.) The fundamentalist Perceiver regards the Bible as the source of absolute truth: “A prophet is confident in his use of Scripture, because he regards Scripture as the only source of truth.” The fundamentalist Perceiver uses absolutes to evaluate truth: “The prophet accepts absolutes easily. The rest of us try to explain them away; prophets simply take God at His Word.” The fundamentalist Perceiver rejects compromise because it uses the opinions of questionable sources to determine truth: “For a prophet, any solution that involves compromise is unacceptable.” This leads to black-and-white thinking: “They tend to see issues as ‘black or white,’ not ‘gray.’” One can also see the characteristics of fundamentalism in Don and Katie Fortune’s description of the Perceiver person.

Postmodern thought says that there are no absolutes. For the Perceiver person, this type of mindset is mental suicide. Perceiver thought cannot exist without absolutes. But Perceiver thought can change the method by which absolutes are determined. Instead of basing absolutes in the opinions of esteemed experts, Perceiver thought can base absolutes in facts that are consistently repeated. For instance, why is smoking bad? Absolute truth says that smoking is bad because my pastor or parent says that it is wrong. Universal truth says that smoking is bad because smoking leads consistently to painful consequences such as lung cancer. This uses the logic of Kant’s hypothetical imperative. Going further, it is possible to base Perceiver absolutes more purely in repetition, as illustrated by Kant’s categorical imperative. For instance, why is murder bad? Because it is not possible to repeat the action of murdering. Once a person is killed, he cannot be murdered again. And if everyone is murdered, then there will be no one left who can kill.

This may sound like coldhearted logic, but as Gothard explains, “A prophet’s need to be ‘painfully truthful’ may result in insensitivity or harshness.” Perceiver thought finds it difficult to function in the midst of emotional pressure. Therefore, the natural tendency is for Perceiver thought to function in the absence of emotions: “Prophets often have little sympathy and patience with people who do not respond objectively.” And the Perceiver person rejects emotional pressure because it shuts down Perceiver thought: “He is not easily swayed by emotions.” As Perceiver thought gains confidence, the Perceiver person recognizes that facts are independent of feelings and that it is possible to both feel and assert truth at the same time. This type of both/and thinking that believes in absolute truth while simultaneously accepting personal emotions is not mentioned by Gothard, because it only emerges when a Perceiver person goes beyond the concept of absolute truth to universal truth. Instead, the fundamentalist Perceiver person has a schizophrenic relationship to truth. When establishing absolutes, Perceiver thought shuts off and Mercy status becomes all-important. (It is true because it says so in the Bible. Here is the verse.) When using absolutes, Perceiver thought functions by ignoring Mercy emotions (leading to long theological arguments).

The religious attitude tends to express itself in the Perceiver person as a strong sense of duty to truth. That is because Perceiver thought focuses upon the facts that come from esteemed experts. The Perceiver person feels that it is his duty to obey this truth fully (fervor) regardless of the personal cost (self-denial) even in the absence of general understanding (transcendence). Or as the alternate webpage puts it: “Once prophets are committed to a cause, they are wholeheartedly involved in it.” “Prophets are eager to embrace suffering when it comes as a result of standing for the truth or doing what is right.” “Prophets tend to draw conclusions from a few known facts.”

Because of this sense of duty to truth, is possible to use facts to change the thinking of the Perceiver person: “He is usually more teachable than others, especially when discipline or correction is required.”

Let us turn now to the seven specific character qualities.

“Boldness vs. Fearfulness: Confidence that what I have to say or do is true and right and just in the sight of God.” Perceiver thought labels each fact with a label of certainty or confidence. Absolute truth evaluates new facts by comparing them with truth that comes from esteemed experts, and is guided by MMNs of personal status. Universal truth evaluates new facts by comparing them with universal principles that reflect the character of a universal being, guided by the TMN of a general understanding. Thus, if one interprets God from a Teacher viewpoint, then Gothard’s advice makes sense. Notice that Gothard defines confidence socially, because it guides what a person says or does. However, confidence is a mental label that Perceiver thought places upon factual memories, and words and actions are an indirect expression of this internal confidence.

“Persuasiveness vs. Contentiousness: Guiding vital truths around another’s mental roadblocks.” The Perceiver person has a natural sense of self-image, which is defined by the Perceiver facts that apply to MMNs of personal identity. For instance, as a Perceiver person, I find it difficult to remember people’s names, but I find it easy to remember what people know, what they have experienced, their skills, and their knowledge. I also remember peoples assumptions and what they regard as undiscussable. For instance, “John is an architect who spent time in France who does not like to talk about Germans.” The Perceiver person uses this cognitive aspect of ‘theory of mind’ to share information using analogies and illustrations that fit the knowledge of others while avoiding triggering mental networks that prevent knowledge from being evaluated. Thus, Gothard is describing a valid Perceiver ability. Unfortunately, the fundamentalist Perceiver person is usually so distracted by his own mental networks of good and evil combined with his sense of duty to truth that he never gets around to using theory of mind try to guess what the other person is thinking.

“Sincerity vs. Hypocrisy: Eagerness to do what is right with transparent motives.” The Mercy person is aware of sincerity, which can be defined as social interaction triggering a set of consistent mental networks. Saying this another way, the sincere person does not have hidden ulterior motives. Instead, what is being broadcast is a consistent emotional message. The Perceiver person, in contrast, is aware of hypocrisy, which can be defined as a mismatch between what a person says and what a person does. Again, I suggest that Gothard is defining a trait socially that can only be achieved cognitively. If one merely attempts to do what is right, then one is not dealing with underlying motives. And if underlying motives are not addressed, then there will be no eagerness. Similarly, focusing upon behavior cannot lead to transparent motives because people can only judge what I do in public and not what I think or do in private. And if ‘what is right’ is defined by absolute truth, then truth will depend upon the context, which will lead to mixed motives. Thus, the only way that the Perceiver person can ‘eagerly do what is right with transparent motives’ is by internally using universal truth guided by a Teacher understanding to transform Mercy desires.

“Truthfulness vs. Deception: Earning future trust by accurately reporting past facts.” Truthfulness is very important to the Perceiver person, and Perceiver thought evaluates truth by looking for connections that are repeated. Gothard refers to this idea of evaluating truth through repetition, but he defines it in social terms. Truthfulness, according to him, means that others believe what I say because they have repeated experiences about me being honest. I suggest that this social trait is a secondary expression of the internal characteristic of making my internal grasp of truth more accurate by looking for connections that are repeated.

“Virtue vs. Impurity: The moral excellence and purity of spirit that radiate from my life as I obey God’s Word.” The Perceiver person is very concerned with ‘moral excellence and purity of spirit’. Self-image (the facts about me) is extremely important to the Perceiver person, because self is composed of the mental networks that cannot be ignored, while truth is an expression of Perceiver thought, which the Perceiver person cannot ignore. The problem is that the fundamentalist Perceiver is incapable of fully living up to his standards of moral excellence, because Perceiver thought can only suppress unwanted Exhorter urges for a while before they express themselves in some way through forbidden thought and behavior. Similarly, the fundamentalist Perceiver cannot achieve purity of spirit because fundamentalism divides the internal world of mental networks into good and evil while purity implies that all of the mind is composed of the same substance. If the Perceiver person wishes to achieve moral excellence, then childish MMNs must be reborn and placed within the TMN of a general understanding. Similarly, if the Perceiver person wishes to become pure in spirit, then all ‘forbidden’ MMNs must be seen as inadequate ways of satisfying legitimate desires.

“Forgiveness vs. Rejection: Clearing the record of those who have wronged me and allowing God to love them through me.” The Perceiver person is very aware of injustice and often experiences injustice. The Perceiver person is mentally conscious in the realm of truth and conscience and thus must internally acknowledge truth and facts. Other cognitive styles do not have the same mental need for truth, relying instead on the fact that the physical world is composed of solid objects that occupy physical locations. Using an example that is currently in the news (and one that touches me personally because my great-grandfather emigrated from Ukraine), there is strong evidence that Russia has a substantial number of troops fighting in eastern Ukraine. But Vladimir Putin, the leader of Russia, insists categorically that there are no Russian troops in Ukraine. Putin feels no need to acknowledge the truth verbally as long as he has facts on the ground. As long as Russian tanks establish physical facts, Russian words can say whatever they want.

When the Perceiver person views people with emotional status as the sources of truth, then it is easy to fixate mentally upon the MMNs of sources of lies and injustice, declaring, for instance, that “Putin is a corrupt, pathological liar who achieved power through corruption.” This may all be true, but it is also beside the point when it comes to God’s interaction with humanity. Mentally speaking, fixating upon the MMNs of hurt, evil, and injustice will emotionally attach personal identity to these experiences, making it impossible to move on. Therefore, my mental development depends upon me ‘clearing the record of those who wronged me’. Saying this more succinctly, bitterness prevents growth. This does not mean that one pretends that injustice did not occur. Instead, it means relying upon inescapable cognitive mechanisms to punish the offender. For instance, in the case of Putin, “Russia’s once-mighty space sector has been rocked by a series of embarrassing accidents and allegations of corruption in recent months, including the loss of two expensive space probes and a scandal over unpaid wages at a new space centre.”

Globally speaking, God is capable of using both evil pharaohs and god-fearing Josephs to carry out his plan. Evil leaders act as sticks, good leaders as carrots. Similarly, God can manipulate society even when no one tells the truth, by using the deep feelings within core mental networks to draw people and groups in desired directions.

I am not suggesting that it is wrong for the Perceiver person to want justice. I am also not suggesting that it is wrong to have a system of justice. Rather, I am suggesting that a person can only become emotionally free of the sense of ‘being wronged’ by realizing that God is playing a much bigger game that is far more frightening and long-lasting than petty human feelings of injustice. As the ancients saying goes, “The wheels of justice turn slowly, but grind exceedingly fine.” When a person clamors for human justice, then this takes attention away from these larger inescapable mechanisms. In contrast, when a person ‘loves one’s enemies’, then this directs attention to the internal realm of cognitive mechanisms. Paul describes these principles in the verses that follow right after the passage on spiritual gifts: “Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord. ‘But if your enemy is hungry, feed him, and if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.’ Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” (Rom. 12:19-21).

In conclusion, Gothard’s advice is sound, but only if one views God from a perspective that is larger than the MMNs of personal status.

Good versus Bad Analogy

“Obedience vs. Willfulness: Freedom to be creative under the protection of divinely appointed authority.” The fundamentalist Perceiver is not creative. Instead, he is a stodgy conservative who evaluates everything in the light of ancient revered authorities. However, when Perceiver thought submits to the divine authority of universal truth guided by a Teacher understanding of the character of God, then the Perceiver person becomes capable of creative thought through the use of analogy. Analogy builds connections between one situation and another based upon common features. Analogy is carried out by the frontopolar cortex, which resides at the very front of the frontal lobes.

Gothard’s system of education places a high emphasis upon analogy, and Gothard’s use of analogies has come under heavy criticism. Like Gothard, my research also starts with Romans 12 spiritual gifts and uses analogy to extend to other areas. Because of this apparent similarity, we will take a few pages to distinguish between good and bad analogy. A detailed description of Gothard’s method of analogy can be found on this website, from which the next few paragraphs will quote.

Modern thought is characterized by specialization, and we are inundated by info-glut. If we wish to become mentally and societally integrated, then this fragmented knowledge needs to be presented in an integrated fashion. This was Gothard’s aim and it is also my goal. “When he first started ATI, Bill Gothard said that the ATI curriculum was far superior to other education materials because it taught using analogies and integrated Scripture with academic subjects. He stated that teaching individual subjects (Math, English, science, history, etc.) separately from each of the others, as is done in traditional education, prevented children from being able to have a broader scope of reasoning and thinking. The ATI curriculum was supposed to be an advanced training system because it integrated the academic subjects.” Notice that Gothard was using analogy to integrate knowledge around the Bible.

However, reality fell short of Gothard’s claims: “Gothard told us that with the content and design of the Wisdom Booklets, in 12 years the ATI program would not only give a child a high school equivalent training, but would also give the equivalent of four years of college, a pre-law, a pre-med, and a business education. The Wisdom Booklets, in reality, could not achieve even close to any of that. They were mere booklets that had to be supplemented with other textbooks. Many mothers felt frustrated, not knowing how to implement the curriculum to achieve the results that Gothard had promised (lied about). Because they thought Bill Gothard was such a Godly and honest man, they felt that their own inability was the reason why the curriculum seemed incomplete and why their children were not succeeding like others in the ATI program appeared to be succeeding.” Gothard claimed that his material presented an integrated Teacher structure that included college, pre-law, pre-med, and business. Teacher structure comes from order-within-complexity, when many specific items fit together in an integrated manner. Using the analogy of a store, those who used Gothard’s curriculum found that the store lacked merchandise, but those who shopped at the store had been evaluating the store by the MMN of Gothard’s emotional status as owner of the store, rather than by the TMN of order-within-complexity of the merchandise being sold by the store. As a result, parents had to shop at other stores in order to find merchandise. I should mention in passing that this type of situation is typical of an Exhorter-led project, because the Exhorter person excels at using his personality to hype a grand theory based upon a flimsy foundation.

Those who shopped at the store also discovered that the merchandise lacked quality and was displayed in a disorganized fashion: “The ATI Wisdom Booklets do not give systematic and comprehensive training in the various subjects. Because of the training with analogies and trying to integrate the various subjects around a verse in scripture, the training in science, medicine, history, English, etc. is hodge-podge and piecemeal instead of systematic and logical. Students are not trained to think in a logical progression and to be able to analyze things in a logical and analytical way. Logical thinking is vital for advanced reasoning processes.” A lack of logical thinking is also typical of Exhorter thought. That is because technical thought emerges when the mind is controlled by Contributor thought and not Exhorter thought. This does not mean that Exhorter thought is worthless, which is what the typical technical Contributor person thinks. Instead, Exhorter thought provides a starting point for technical thought, because every technical system is based upon a non-rigorous, unprovable foundation.

What is being described so far is the weakness of building an entire system of education upon pure Exhorter thought, and I would agree with these conclusions. However, the webpage then continues to criticize the use of analogy in general, quoting from a physics Professor who attacks the use of inadequate analogies. I have done a fair bit of research and thinking on the appropriate use of analogies, and a more academic discussion can be downloaded from my academia page. I have mentioned that the Contributor person excels at technical thought, which uses rigorous thinking to follow chains of logic within some limited field of thought. We have also seen that the Contributor person has a natural tendency to belittle any thinking that lies outside of his area of expertise or does not meet his standards of rigorous thought.

There are three problems with using technical thought to evaluate all of existence. The first problem is that is not possible to come up with a technical explanation that covers everything. Analytic philosophers such as the early Wittgenstein tried and failed. It is interesting to note that Wittgenstein’s technical approach was incapable of even including interaction with other philosophers: “Wittgenstein would not meet the Vienna Circle proper, but only a few of its members, including Schlick, Carnap, and Waissman. Often, though, he refused to discuss philosophy, and would insist on giving the meetings over to reciting the poetry of Rabindranath Tagore with his chair turned to the wall. He largely broke off formal relations even with these members of the circle after coming to believe Carnap had used some of his ideas without permission.” As far as I can tell, if one wishes to bridge one technical field with another, then one must use the normal thinking of analogy, which the technically educated Contributor person typically despises as inadequate. However, technical thought combined with analogy is very powerful. For instance, Richard Feynman, one of the world’s foremost physicists, was famous for his ability to use analogies as an aid for comprehension.

That leads us to the second problem, which is that technical thought is only one aspect of the mind. Human thought and behavior is driven by mental networks and not by technical thought. In addition, Thomas Kuhn’s work on paradigms and paradigm shifts makes it clear that using technical thought within some field will emotionally trap the supposedly rational researcher within his current technical field of expertise. Thus, the technical Contributor person may reject the non-rigorous thinking of the Exhorter with its focus upon character qualities and the mental networks of family and culture, but it is these mental networks that drive people and societies, including Contributor persons and their academic societies.

The third problem is that analogy plays a fundamental and apparently inescapable role in human comprehension. As Lakoff and Johnson state in Metaphors We Live By, “Metaphor is pervasive in everyday life, not just in language but in thought and action. Our ordinary conceptual system, in terms of which we both think and act, is fundamentally metaphorical in nature” (p.3). While I think that Lakoff and Johnson are overstating their case, the fact still remains that comprehension is based upon analogy.

This means that one must distinguish between good analogy and bad analogy. The physics professor who attacks analogies mentions nine traits of a good analogy. While analogies can never be fully rigorous, I have attempted to follow similar guidleines in order to make my use of analogies semi-rigorous. Let us look at these nine characteristics.

“1. The analogy should compare the unfamiliar to the already familiar.” Gothard starts from the Bible, which every Christian fundamentalist knows. Thus, the Gothard’s starting point is only familiar to a specific culture. My starting point is spiritual gifts, which everyone can know firsthand by observing friends and family.

“2. The analogy should be simple and easy to present.” The analogical analysis that I use continually refers back to simple concepts such as ‘facts as connections’, ‘theories as order-within-complexity’, ‘emotional status’, or ‘mental networks’. In contrast, Gothard’s “training in science, medicine, history, English, etc. is hodge-podge and piecemeal.”

“3. The analogy should be reasonably complete in all important details.” In other words, the details of one situation should also correspond with the details of the analogous situation. The reason I write fifty page essays when analyzing a book or system is to compare the details of one system with the details of another, rather than making merely a surface comparison. As far as I can tell, Gothard’s analogies do not contain this level of detail.

“4. The analogy should be mathematically analogous.” Math is an abstract, integrated language with clearly-defined terms and functions. While the theory of mental symmetry is not mathematical, it is an abstract, integrated theory with clearly-defined terms and functions. Thus, it is math-like. Gothard uses the Bible to integrate his analogies. However, Gothard is using the Bible as absolute truth as his source of integration. But absolute truth cannot be used to build connections because it is not based in connections. If one wishes to build connections, then one must use universal truth that is defined by connections.

“5. The analogy should be physically analogous.” Mental symmetry compares situations based upon the underlying cognitive similarities. Thus, analogies are being used to connect different fields based upon commonalities in the way that the mind interprets these different fields. For instance, mental symmetry suggests that Teacher thought handles all forms of order-within-complexity, regardless of the field. Similarly, neurologists have found that mathematical beauty, visual beauty, musical beauty, and moral beauty all correlate with activity in the same region of the brain (the medial orbitofrontal cortex). Mental symmetry looks for cognitive similarities because people use the same minds to evaluate different situations. Gothard, in contrast, bases his analogies in the external realms of family, church, and conservative American culture. This is a limited realm that is quite different (and which does its utmost to remain different) than most of human existence.

“6. Analogies must never replace rigorous mathematical and physical development.” Here I would partially disagree with the physics professor. The reason that physics uses math is because physicists have discovered that math can be used to describe ‘how the natural world works’. Thus, the real basis for physics is not math but rather ‘how things work’. Similarly, the reason that mental symmetry uses the diagram of mental symmetry is because it appears to describe ‘how the mind works’. Thus, the real basis is not the diagram but rather the structure of the mind. In contrast, while Gothard’s analysis of spiritual gifts does contain some understanding of ‘how the mind works’, Gothard is very clear that his ultimate basis is not ‘how things work’ but rather ‘what the Bible says’. However, mental symmetry suggests that the Bible is true because it is an accurate description of ‘how the mind works’.

“7. The analogy should not be restricted to a single case or special case.” One of the key concepts in mental symmetry is that the same cognitive analogies can be used to analyze many situations in many different fields. Gothard, in contrast, is famous for using ‘proof by example’, backing up some general principle through an analogy with a specific anecdote.

“8. All obvious extrapolations of the analogy should be valid. The analogy should continue to give correct predictions for other cases that will occur later.” Over the years, I have repeatedly discovered that the theory of mental symmetry can be extrapolated to analyze new fields. For instance, I had no idea when I began studying spiritual gifts that it would be possible to construct an entire system of theology upon the structure of the mind. In contrast, those who are using Gothard’s curriculum discovered that “The little Wisdom Booklets do not even have enough content in their small number of pages to be able to give a child a high school level of training, let alone the equivalent of a triple college degree.”

“9. There should be no hidden or unstated assumptions required to make the analogy ‘work.’” I have attempted over the years to use mental symmetry to analyze not just various fields, but also the hidden assumptions that lie behind these fields, including the assumptions that lie behind my Mennonite background. One of the strengths of the theory of mental symmetry is that it is capable of analyzing itself. In contrast, Gothard’s analogies only work for those who start with the unstated assumptions of American fundamental Christianity.

Finally, while analogy is not the same as rigorous logic, I have attempted to use analogies in a semi-rigorous fashion, and I have attempted to connect analogies with the rigorous thinking of various specializations. These attempts can be downloaded from my academia webpage. I know that I am not capable of the level of subtle logic used by a Contributor person with a PhD in analytic philosophy. However, I have spent literally a lifetime attempting to become reasonably knowledgeable in a number of fields, and I find that as I continue to use the theory of mental symmetry, I am increasingly able to comprehend and analyze the subtle distinctions used by Contributor-controlled technical thought. Gothard’s “Students are not trained to think in a logical progression and to be able to analyze things in a logical and analytical way. Logical thinking is vital for advanced reasoning processes.” In contrast, I often find technical experts with their specialized knowledge telling me that they are unqualified to evaluate my research because they lack interdisciplinary understanding.

In conclusion, I suggest that there is a radical difference between the way that Gothard uses analogy and the use of analogy by the theory of mental symmetry. Gothard’s analogies may be inadequate, but that does not mean that it is wrong to use analogy. Similarly, I suggest that it is a faulty analogy to think that mental symmetry is the same as Gothard’s system because both use Romans 12 spiritual gifts, both talk about character qualities, both respect the Bible, both connect with Christianity, and both use analogies. If one looks deeper, one sees that there are major differences, primarily because of the religious attitude, fundamentalism, American conservatism, and proof-by-example that colors Gothard’s thinking. In contrast, much of my research has been motivated by my desire to transcend a similar set of assumptions that I inherited from my Mennonite heritage.


Summarizing, one finds in Bill Gothard a juxtaposition of three different mindsets. First, there is the Christian fundamentalist mindset that approaches the Bible with a religious attitude of fervor, self-denial, and transcendence. Second, attached to that is the American version of Christian fundamentalism, which views the American Constitution revealed by the American founding fathers as a parallel structure to the Bible revealed by the authors of the Bible. The feeling is that both of these sets of authors were in some way divinely inspired. Third, overlaid on top of this is Gothard’s theoretical system created through the Exhorter method of ‘proof by example’. This theoretical system is then extended through analogy to cover a range of topics from either the Bible or American history. The glue that holds this all together is not the TMN of a general understanding but rather the MMN of Gothard’s authority as a male leader, reinforced by the MMNs of each father as the head of the family.

The end result is not the transformation of childish MMNs, but rather a combination of partial transformation, partial censorship and suppression, and partial childish culture, enforced by submission to authority. Every child's mind begins life integrated around MMNs of family, culture, parents, authority figures, and physical pleasure. Gothard has developed the core of a legitimate theory of cognition that is potentially capable of transforming these MMNs, but instead he leaves childish MMNs of family and parents intact, restricts the MMNs of culture to pre-1970s American culture, suppresses most of the MMNs of physical pleasure, and rules over this using the MMNs of parents, bosses, and government leaders, as interpreted by the MMN of his leadership through his organization. The end result is a conservative American citizen who is admired because he works hard to build a solid home. However, he also preaches against the sin of modern culture, is prone to committing the same sin against which he preaches, and believes strongly in submitting to authority—especially male authority.

Christian fundamentalism starts with blind faith in the Bible. Similarly, I suggest that all education begins with blind faith in some holy book or textbook, such as the Bible, the American Constitution, or a school textbook. But this rote learning is then followed by critical thinking, which is composed of three related aspects. First, one goes beyond an attitude of submission to the MMNs of personal authority. Second, one uses Perceiver thought to compare religious facts with secular facts. Third, one ties the facts together into the structure of a general Teacher understanding, allowing the TMN of a mental concept of God to replace the MMNs of personal authority. The end result is that absolute truth turns into universal truth. Notice that the first aspect contradicts self-denial, the second contradicts fervor, while the third contradicts transcendence. Gothard does attempt to come up with a general Teacher understanding, but he is unwilling to let go of the religious attitudes of fervor, self-denial, and transcendence.

Once one has a mental concept of God based in universal truth, then one moves on to the next stage of righteousness, which is acting in a way that is consistent with the character of God. Gothard attempts to practice righteousness by telling people to apply his general principles. But he does not allow his general principles to become truly general because he limits their application to the Bible, the church, and American culture. One sees this in his treatment of spiritual gifts, which are stated as universal psychological characteristics, but he then says that these gifts are acquired by Christians at salvation and he applies these gifts to the church and the Bible. The end result is that the ultimate motivation for applying these principles comes not from the TMN of a general understanding of God’s character, but rather from the MMNs of parental and male authority, headed up by the personal authority of Bill Gothard himself. This is made official by his teaching of the umbrella of authority, which takes the concept of domain, a legitimate aspect of Teacher thought and Teacher theories, and interprets it in terms of people, MMNs, and Mercy thought.

Following the path of righteousness will cause a concept of God to grow and apply to more aspects of personal life. That is because Server action and Teacher understanding are linked. Understanding grows as understanding is applied. Eventually, the concept of God becomes so universal that the MMNs of personal identity are forced to fall apart and be reborn within the mental grid of God’s truth and righteousness. This leads to a reborn identity, social structure, and culture. To some extent the American Christian fundamentalist is now being forced to rebuild identity, social structure, and culture rather than merely regard America as a country that is already following God. That is because what is being revered is a culture that no longer exists. Therefore, the American Christian fundamentalist has to re-create what it means to be a conservative American. However, the connection between Christianity and the religious attitude is still very strong, both for those who follow American Christian fundamentalism, and for those who reject it.

When one adds some country (such as America or Britain) to Christian belief, then this will externalize the message of the Bible, because Christianity deals primarily with internal attitude and conscience whereas a country focuses upon external structure and external power. Gothard finds a biblical basis for this externalization by looking to the Old Testament. In the Old Testament, God dealt primarily with a tribe of people (Israel) who were the physical descendents of of a godly man (Abraham) who lived within a specific parcel of land (the land of Israel). When Abraham lived four millennia ago, all that existed was tribal systems and tribal mentality. A transition from group to individual occurred during the Babylonian exile, which is described in Ezekiel 18, and Jeremiah 31:27-34 describes this transition as a new covenant that deals with the individual rather than the group and the internal rather than the external. This is reinforced by Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount (Matt. 5-7), which internalizes Old Testament law and emphasizes that behavior should be guided internally by obedience to God and not externally by MMNs of social pressure. By adding the American country to Christian belief and then backing this up by quotes from the Old Testament, I suggest that Gothard is cognitively regressing to the culturally imposed group-think of tribal Israel.

When people are incapable of thinking as individuals, then the family is the fundamental unit and not the individual. When one lives as a tribe defined by physical descendents in a physical land, then one experiences blessing from God by having a large home with lots of children. When there are only a few million people on the whole Earth and one has only begun to understand how nature functions, then it is pointless to be worried about running out of room or running short of natural resources. Old Testament laws may contain timeless principles, and Old Testament life may provide illustrations and allegories of Christian principles, but today’s world is entirely different than the world of Old Testament Israel. Using biblical language, Gothard is attempting to put the ‘new wine’ of modern existence into the ‘old wineskin’ of Old Testament tribal life. It does not fit. Similarly, I suggest that Gothard is also attempting to put the ‘new wine’ of spiritual gifts into the ‘old wineskin’ of religious fundamentalism, and I have learned that this also does not fit. If one pursues spiritual gifts to their logical conclusion as mental symmetry attempts to do, then this will end up questioning the mindset of religious fundamentalism. But the end result of this questioning will be a reformulation of Christianity that is far more powerful, a grasp of truth that is far more universal, and a concept of God that is more worthy of being called God.