The Fundamentalist Mindset

April 19, 2008

In 1985, Richard Yao, the founder of Fundamentalists Anonymous, started talking about “The Fundamentalist Mindset. In every media, at every stop, Yao defined The Fundamentalist Mindset as the “black-and-white, all-or-nothing, us-against-them” mindset. He argued that it is this mindset, not the different theologies it spawns, which is the core of Fundamentalism. And which makes it so intolerant and dangerous.

Now we’re in the 21st century and locked in a religious war between Fundamentalist Christianity and Fundamentalist Islam with no end in sight. So some observers now see Richard Yao‘s emphasis on and definition of The Fundamentalist Mindset as ahead of his time, if not downright prophetic.

As American ayatollahs inveigh against Islamic ayatollahs and vice versa, the avowed mission of Yao’s movement to rescue millions from the clutches of The Fundamentalist Mindset seems even more relevant and urgently needed.

Bush Junior’s slip of the tongue after 9/11 that he was launching a “crusade” (some “crusade”!) against Islam revealed what his so-called “war against terror” is really about.

The fact that this “crusade” was launched without the real support of Wall Street or even of the U.S. military’s top brass shows the Religious Right has the most say in the Bush White House and the Republican Party.

When Richard Yao first debated Jerry Falwell on The Today Show, he met Bryant Gumbel, the show’s co-host, in the Green Room.

Gumbel took one look at Yao, shook his head, and gasped “Oh my God, you look like a kid! Falwell’s going to kill you on the air!”

In Gumbel’s nightmare, it was like refereeing a kid against an 800-pound gorilla.

Yao assured Gumbel that so long as he shared half the screen with Falwell and did not faint, he would do fine. And he started telling Gumbel all about what he calls “The Fundamentalist Mindset.

Gumbel unceremoniously cut Yao off. His advice was blunt, if well-intentioned. “That’s a mouthful,” Gumbel warned Yao. “Don’t even mention it. No one will know what you’re talking about.”

Yao did anyway.

He argued that this Fundamentalist mindset is more important than the specifics of “fundamentalist baptist” or “pentecostal” or “charismatic” theologies. And that is the mindset that does so much damage, and therefore it’s the mindset we need to focus on.

Apparently millions of Today show viewers got what Yao was talking about. For NBC’s switchboard was swamped after the Falwell-Yao debate. And over 70% of the callers to the NBC switchboard supported Yao!

Jerry Falwell would have described it as a miracle—if the over 70% support had been for him. Well, it was a miracle. Especially since the Today audience had never seen or heard of Richard Yao until he suddenly materialized on their TV screens, and held his half of it most effectively indeed against Jerry Falwell, a recognized master of the medium.

Now “mindset” and “fundamentalist mindset” are used so frequently on TV and in the media. When Yao first used it on Today, one rarely ever heard those terms. Now they’re part of the mainstream consciousness.


The Fundamentalists Anonymous Story

April 5, 2008

In the mid-eighties to early nineties, a miracle happened with the help of Richard Yao and Fundamentalists Anonymous (F.A.)

  • An exodus of millions from the fold of Christian fundamentalism.
  • TV evangelists PTL’s Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart collapsed.
  • The media, public, American Psychiatric Association recognized bad religion as a serious mental health hazard.

Fundamentalist Anonymous, founded by Richard Yao — a former fundamentalist, a Wall Street lawyer, and a Yale Divinity School graduate — was the catalyst, behind-the-scenes player, or driving force behind all the above.

In sheer effectiveness, media coverage, widespread support, and mass embrace by the victims of what Yao called “the shattered faith syndrome,” the fact is we have not seen anything like Fundamentalists Anonymous again.

It all started when Yao took out a two-line classified in The Village Voice. The ad got scores of responses, including one from the producer of “Donahue,” then the reigning daytime TV talk show and as potent as “Oprah” today.

A few days before taping “Donahue,” Richard Yao wrote a little book in one feverish sitting. He titled it “There Is A Way Out!” It was his answer to A.A.’s Blue Book.

It has since helped countless thousands make sense of their fundamentalist experience and their exit. And helped free them from the bondage of Fundamentalism in the U.S. and around the world.

Drawing on his fundamentalist upbringing, Yao explained in his booklet “There Is A Way Out!” why”The Fundamentalist Mindset” often turns the fundamentalist experience into a mental health hazard.

Reading Yao’s book was an eye-opening experience for people leaving fundamentalism or dysfunctional religious experiences. And thousands responded by pouring their hearts out to Yao in a flood of letters.

What was unique about Fundamentalists Anonymous?

For the first time, here were people who had left the fundamentalist fold, people who walked the walk and talked the talk, people who can describe and empathize with the untold nightmare of guilt, fear, and shame that countless millions were suffering through in fundamentalism.

People leaving the fold helping others leaving the fold. Ordinary people, not experts. But ordinary people doing extraordinary things.

  • Unlike the ACLU, psychiatrists or other experts or critics, Fundamentalists Anonymous was able to speak directly and most knowingly to the one-third of the U.S. in the fundamentalist fold.
  • And unlike many critics of the Religious Right, Yao and F.A. did not look down on them, or talk down at them.

This was what made the Fundamentalists Anonymous movement uniquely potent in a way that no group like the ACLU or NOW or an atheist group could ever hope to be.

This was the power of F.A.

And Jerry Falwell and The Religious Right got it right from the getgo.

Even before “Donahue” aired, the New York Daily News ran the first print media story on Fundamentalists Anonymous. Amazingly, Jerry Falwell, at the height of his so-called “Moral Majority” power, was already denouncing Yao and F.A. in this article.

The response to the “Donahue” show was phenomenal. Despite the heckling and initmidation of fundamentalists in the front rows of the “Donahue” studio audience, the message of Fundamentalists Anonymous got through. It struck a raw nerve.

Donahue had aired F.A.’s phone number and P.O. Box address. That summer, the phones Yao had set up in his apartment as an act of faith rang from 6 in the morning to midnight, seven days a week. Yao’s ragtag band of ex-fundamentalist volunteers who were skeptical they’d get any response was both ecstatic and exhausted.

  • More than 50,000 people responded to the “Donahue” show alone! From all fifty states. A torrent of overwhelming response from the “Bible Belt” (southern states).

When Yao sent out his booklet (which became a book) “There Is a Way Out!” to the people asking for help, the response was more than anything he had hoped for.

Thousands wrote to thank Yao for it and said it opened their eyes and made sense of their experience and helped free them from a life of guilt, fear and bondage.

This was how Fundamentalists Anonymous (F.A. pronounced “F-A”) started. It was an audacious, almost miraculous beginning. Richard Yao and F.A. demanded of the Religious Right to “Let My People Go!”

And the most publicized, organized, and powerful exodus from Fundamentalism began! As seen on Oprah, and TV!

Whatever Happened to Fundamentalists Anonymous?

January 10, 2008

In the mid-eighties to early nineties, a grassroots movement called “Fundamentalists Anonymous” (F.A.) inspired an unprecedented exodus of millions from the fold of Religious Right Christian fundamentalism. Founded by Richard Yao, a former fundamentalist, former Wall Street lawyer, and Yale Divinity School graduate, the F.A. movement also helped topple TV evangelists like Jim Bakker and Jimmy Swaggart. And ever since then, it has become recognized that dysfunctional “bad” religion can be a serious mental health hazard.

But then what happened?

This webblog is to answer the persistent question “Whatever happened to Fundamentalists Anonymous and Richard Yao?”

And whatever happened to that booklet he wrote? And to that really much-anticipated big book that some big agents had sold to some big publishers but mysteriously never saw the light of day?

That springtime of exodus and liberation from the Religious Right’s fold was cut short and crushed by the Pharaohs of the Religious Right. But F.A.’s legacy is in the countless tens of thousands whose lives have been transformed from an endless nightmare into a truly “abundant life.”

And in the many sites for people fleeing dysfunctional religious experiences dotting the Internet.

This webblog is in response to all those who have asked what happened?

And to all those who knew all about the Religious Right persecution of F.A. and Yao but stood by them through thick and thin, Richard Yao wishes to thank them here. All those generous, grateful letters which have somehow found their way to him through the years. From the likes of Frank Zappa, “Tonight” show creator Steve Allen, to New York’s Episcopal Bishop Paul Moore.

And perhaps more importantly from grassroots former fundamentalists who can say like the title of Yao’s potent book “There is a way out!”

This webblog will answer once and for all the question “Whatever happened to Fundamentalists Anonymous?” Ultimately, this webblog is a tribute to all those brave and incredible souls who made Fundamentalists Anonymous. You may be certain that if F.A. were the only thing you did in your life, it would be more than enough!

Feel free to get in touch through this webblog. And may your tribe prosper and increase!

But please note:

  • Richard Yao is not interested in reviving Fundamentalists Anonymous and running it again. And no, Yao is not interested in doing media on F.A. either.
  • Yao has done his part. He has even forgiven his persecutors and moved on. If F.A. or something like it is to ever see the light of day again, ex-fundamentalists able to do the job must step forward.