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This book is for you if:
-You know little or nothing about the fundamentalist movement in America but you want to understand why it has become such a prominent force in our government;

-You are concerned or curious about the problem of religious abuse and spiritual bullying that takes place in fundamentalist churches and schools;

-You are still part of the fundamentalist movement but you have doubts, questions or concerns; or

-You want to be moved by reading a good story that will make you laugh, cry and become angry.

Spiritual Probation is available in paperback, Kindle, Nook and iBook, and soon it will be in other ebook formats. Although it is fiction, the story is loosely based on the events surrounding the federal lawsuit of Baker v. Bob Jones University. It is ultimately one young man’s survival of religious abuse, a form of bullying that receives little attention.

What is it about?

Nate O’Connor wants to do right. His senior year of college, though, gets off to a rocky start. He’s a student at Bob Johnson University, the flagship institution of higher learning in American fundamentalism, where he and his best friend are placed on spiritual probation after being accused of disloyalty to the school. Their attempt to repair their reputation backfires and when Nate meets two women–one beautiful and smart, the other wise and charming–his entire belief system is uprooted. Nate’s world is further rocked by tragedy and his life will never be the same.

What are people saying about it?

“Setting his tale inside the closed society of a fundamentalist university, Rich Merritt tells a fascinating story that is alternately disturbing and inspiring. Spiritual Probation opened my eyes and touched my heart.
Joe DiPietro, Tony-Award winning playwright of Memphis

“In every decade, a true classic emerges, which demonstrates the strength of the human will to conquer and survive the ills of its society. Merritt has written such a work in this coming-of-age story of courage and conviction in a world that is perceptively lacking in empathy and compassion for the individual spirit and soul. A poignant ‘must read’ for such present times, which is so heavily burdened with the painful effects of emotional bullying and spiritual abuse, so currently at the forefront of daily life.”
Lynda Mandell, M.D., Ph.D., Board Certified Psychiatrist

“For those of us who have left fundamentalism, our exodus stories are often met with a caveat-emptor-inspired ‘You chose to go there!’ or a flippant ‘You should have known better!’ Merritt’s Spiritual Probation meets those consumerist dismissals head on. Merritt’s is a very human story–with bright, promising young people caught in an oppressive, intrusive ideology and thrown into the most senseless tragedy. … This story is our story.”
Camille K. Lewis, Ph.D., author of Romancing the Difference: Kenneth Burke, Bob Jones University, and the Rhetoric of Religious Fundamentalism

Read Dr. Lewis’s complete review at her blog, “A Time To Laugh.”

“Rich Merritt’s assault on the malign effects of religious indoctrination at faith-based schools combines high drama, hot romance and the pathos of families victimized by name-brand Christianity.”
Elliott Mackle, author of Captain Harding’s Six-Day War and It Takes Two

“Mr. Merritt’s writing is brilliant. His use of certain books of the Bible as chapter names brings home some of the ironies. His subtle cues of timeframes (e.g., songs that may not be familiar to younger readers) may not be immediately appreciated, but like any good book, a second reading brings even more details to the reader’s attention. … The story is painful, yet beautiful. The reader will enjoy the friendship, love, and devotion shown by the principal characters and will despise the treachery, viciousness, and power-mongering demonstrated by the antagonists. Most of all, the reader will be reminded of what it’s like to be alive, young, and on the path to discovery of what matters.”
Leland Dirks, author of Jimmy Mender and His Miracle Dog

Young Man Expelled For Watching “Glee” Answers Critics

Chris Peterman kriegt seinen Abschluss nicht, weil er "Glee" geschaut hat

Last week I wrote about Chris Peterman, the young man who was expelled from Bob Jones University days before his graduation for, among other things, watching an episode of Glee. Since then, thanks to readers of this blog and many others, the story has been picked up by a countless number of news outlets, including the Huffington Post.  It has received international media attention as well. Even the Russians are calling into question our schools of higher learning. “в Штатах из универа отчислили за просмотр “Glee”. у нас плохое образование, говорите?”

The nature of fundamentalism is that it blinds its adherents to the world around them, because they are taught that the world is an evil place. When a situation like Chris Peterman’s arises, they are unable to see what is really going on. They react by attacking and that’s what they’ve done to this fine young man. They impugn his motives, question his credibility and make false accusations. Rather than link to this detritus, here is Chris responding to these allegations in his own words. I trust this man to be his own best advocate. If you have an ounce of judgment, no doubt you’ll agree.


“Glee” Is Too Gay For THIS Man’s School?

Earlier this week, Bob Jones University senior Christopher Peterman was expelled for, among other things, watching an episode of Glee. Glee is unacceptable to BJU because of the worldly music, dancing and homosexuality.

What is Bob Jones University? It was founded in 1927 by, guess who? Bob Jones Sr. It was then presided over by his son, Bob Jones Jr.

Meet Bob Jones Jr., who, before he became president of Bob Jones University had aspirations of becoming a thespian:

Student Expelled From College Days Before Graduation For Watching “Glee”

(This just in: DailyKos reports on Christopher Peterman story!)


This is not a headline from The Onion. It happened to Christopher Peterman on Tuesday.

Here’s what really happened.

In the late 1990’s, a 15-year old girl was raped by a married man at her fundamentalist church in New Hampshire. She became pregnant. When the girl reported it to her pastor, the pastor had her publicly apologize to the congregation for her role in an adulterous relationship. Then he sent her to live with people in Colorado where she had the baby and gave it up for adoption. The pastor’s name was Chuck Phelps. (No apparent relation to Fred Phelps of the Westboro Church in Kansas).

A year ago, ABC’s 20/20 aired an entire episode on this incident, with Elizabeth Vargas reporting. Soon after, the rapist was brought to trial, convicted by a jury of his peers and sentenced by a judge to 15-30 years in prison, where he is today.

As it turns out, however, the pastor who covered this man’s crimes for fifteen years remained on the board of trustees of Bob Jones University, the self-proclaimed “Fortress of Faith” in Greenville, South Carolina. The founder of BJU famously said that if his university ever strayed, he hoped alumni and students would take action and demand the administration “Do right.” His most famous saying was “Do right til the stars fall!”

Christopher Peterman decided to do just that, to follow the founder’s admonition and demand that BJU “Do right” and remove Chuck Phelps from the board. BJU, in typical fashion, rather than do the right thing, threatened Chris with expulsion if he continued to protest the school’s board member.

Chris refused to be silenced. Rather than back down, he organized a protest of students and alumni. A protest at Bob Jones University! Last December, those who opposed BJU’s decision to keep Phelps on its board wore red to show their opposition to Phelps. A BJU spokesperson told a reporter that the university would take no retaliation against any students organizing or participating in the protest. Days before the protest, in an unprecedented move, Phelps stepped down from the board. Naturally BJU said his resignation had nothing to do with the protest.

At BJU, however, nothing is ever as it seems. Despite its claims that no retaliation would be taken against the students, Chris became a marked man. He was called into meeting after meeting, sometimes in the middle of the night, to talk about his spiritual condition with a dean. They moved an informant, a resident assistant, into his room, to report on his activities. Finally, days before he was to have graduated, they expelled him. Supposedly, his expulsion was due to an accumulation of demerits for offenses like watching Glee. But we know the truth and the truth has a nasty habit of coming back to haunt those who don’t want the truth to be known. Just ask Ernie Willis. He’s just begun a 15-30 year prison sentence because the truth, although slow, eventually became known by everyone.

Here’s what happened in Chris’s own words:

Kooky Conservative Emails, Part One: “Progressive Insurance”

You know what I mean. Your phone, iPad or laptop beeps or vibrates. You’ve got an email. Maybe it’s a lead on a new job you desperately need or notification that an obscure class action lawsuit you’re part of has settled and you’ve got a check for $42.57 on the way. You check your device, hoping, praying…but no. You knew it all along. It’s never good news. Instead, you’ve got another kooky conservative email…from Uncle Harold. Or Great-Aunt Margaret. Or that brother-in-law you barely know who picks his teeth at restaurants.

Marion Lorne as "Aunt Clara"

We’ve all got one. An insane relative who lingers under the misguided impression that it’s cool to pass along every loony email she receives. You can spot the emails: the subject line and at least half the text are in all caps and two or more of her cats had a disturbing fascination with the exclamation point key (quite a feat for a cat since that key usually must be paired with the shift key). Another indicator that it’s a dreaded email from the crazy relative is the amount of scrolling down you must do past multiple forwarded email addresses to get to the actual substance of the damn thing. FOR CHRIST’S SAKE, LEARN HOW TO CUT AND PASTE ALREADY!!!

Ugh. I’ve succumbed to the temptation of caps lock and exclamation points. For the sake of brevity, we’ll refer to these kooky conservative relatives collectively as “Aunt Clara.” (for the record, I LOVED Aunt Clara – who didn’t -I just wanted an excuse to post her picture)


What’s your EGI? (Earliest Gay Influence) or “The Hardy Boys Made Me Gay”

A gay comedian (whose name I can’t recall, unfortunate because he was HI-larious!) said that his earliest gay influence or role model was C3PO from “Star Wars.” After the laughter, the comic described the droid as “tooling about space, all decked out in gold lamé going ‘Master Luke! Master Luke!’ proving his point. R2D2 was also a lesbian, he said. “Tool belt on wheels!”

My EGI (Earliest Gay Influence – work with me, people, I’m trying to “start a meme” here as my young friend Will puts it) was not a robot, but he was extra-human. You may know him as Paul Lynde from the Hollywood Squares but I’ll always remember him as the warlock, Samantha’s Uncle Arthur from “Bewitched.” “Well, Endora, what are you going to turn Darren into today?” I can still hear him ask. One reason I still have so much lingering bitterness toward Richard Nixon is the Watergate hearings deprived me of my morning “Bewitched” ritual the summer of ’74. Not a nice trick to play on a budding six-year-old homosexual boy. Yes, that’s a lot of bitterness I realize.

But another early gay influence that I wrote about in my memoir was a series of books I read. No, not the Danny Orlis series, that’s another blog post. Here, I’m talking about The Hardy Boys.


The Tea Party Marine And The Constitution (and how Bob Jones U gets it wrong…again)

Promotion to Captain, June 1, 1995

When people join the military, they swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” That’s the beauty of our system: there’s no loyalty oath to an individual or even to an office like a monarch or President. It’s to the Constitution.

I like the part about “against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” My original idea for a title for my novel Code of Conduct was “Against All Enemies” because in my view, anyone who supported “Don’t ask, don’t tell” was a domestic enemy. I have my reasons. I didn’t go with that title, though, because by the time I published it, about a half dozen authors had stolen my idea for a title.

But that was fiction so it was fine. And I never intended to publish it while I was in the Marines. Part of the reason was that I didn’t know how to publish a book back then but I also understood that Marines don’t criticize their superior officers, including the Commander-in-Chief. Remember, it was President Clinton who passed “Don’t ask, don’t tell.” Even when the Navy Times published my column, pseudonymously, in 1997 criticizing “Don’t ask, don’t tell,” I was careful not to criticize the President, as much as I wanted to. Members of the armed forces don’t get to do that. It’s one of the many rights people surrender when they join the military.


Myth or Fact? “Christians in America today face a situation just like the Jews under Hitler”

(The Columbine tragedy occurred 13 years ago today. This is the final part in a four-part series about the myths that continue to linger from that terrible event. Read parts one, two and three.)

We could discuss other aspects about Columbine. Why boys were able to obtain such powerful weapons so easily. Why Eric Harris’s mental condition wasn’t diagnosed and treated properly. Why boys who had been in so much trouble with the law before had been treated so leniently (psychopaths like Harris can turn on the the charm when it suits them). I highly recommend Dave Cullen’s book, Columbine. He explores these issues and many others. This week, however, I’ve been sticking to the theme of the myths of Columbine and today I’d like to veer off into a discussion of another psychopath: Hitler.

Adolf Hitler was born 113 years ago today. (A few days ago I saw a cartoon on a right-wing Facebook page that showed a guy praying to God, asking Him why the Divine hadn’t sent anyone to cure cancer. God replied: “I did, but you aborted him.” My reaction to that sort of propaganda is: Okay, but don’t we wish someone had aborted Hitler? Maybe in some cases, even from a right-wing perspective, abotion isn’t such a bad thing.) One of the first false rumors to emerge from Columbine was that Harris and Klebold were neo-Nazis who had chosen April 20 because of that connection. Harris had written about Hitler in some of his early journals so people made that assumption. The truth, however, is that the boys never explained why their original choice was April 19, but they discussed “topping Timothy McVeigh,” the Oklahoma City bomber, which had occurred April 19, 1995. When the date rolled around, Harris decided he wanted more ammo so he decided to wait one more day. No explanation. April 20 – Hitler’s birthday – was just a bizarre coincidence.


April 19th: A Day That Will Live In Obscurity

This week I’ve posted about myths – things that turned out not to be literally true – about the Columbine shootings, including random myths like the shooters were part of a “Trenchcoat Mafia” and whether Cassie Bernall said “yes.” I also referred to Bart Ehrman‘s book, Jesus Interrupted, to show that if you read the Bible literally, it can’t be true, not as written. This post continues with the theme of “things that turned out not to be true” but isn’t about Columbine. Oh, today was SUPPOSED to have been the day of the Columbine shootings, had Eric Harris’s plan gone the way it was supposed to, but I’ll write about that tomorrow. This post relates to the reason Harris wanted April 19th to be the day.

Many Americans – well, many Americans who know anything about history – would probably say the most “infamous” day in US history is December 7, 1941. After all, President Roosevelt declared December 7th a day that will live in infamy. We don’t get Presidential decrees like that very often. For most Americans alive today, however, the actual, if undeclared, day of infamy, is September 11, 2001. Most of us remember that day and it was a made-for-tv mass murder. In both cases, our enemies knew what they were doing and they did it with precision. But there’s a third day that to, seems more ominous. That day is today. April 19th.

As tragic as 12/7/41 and 9/11/01 were, those were days that somebody attacked us. Someone else, other than us. An enemy. The Japanese navy attacked and we obliterated much of Japan. Al Qaeda attacked, and we wiped out Al Qaeda. The problem with April 19th is that everything that happened on this day, we’ve done to ourselves. For this reason, we like to forget about April 19, a day that will live in obscurity.


Myths from Columbine, Part Three – Columbine and Christ

The past two days I wrote posts about the Columbine shootings that took place 13 years ago this week. Part one was about nine commonly-held misconceptions about the tragedy; part two was about the story of Cassie Bernall and the legend that has arisen about her death.

One of the lessons of Columbine that is overlooked is that it illustrates in real-time how a myth is created. I use “myth” here in the modern sense, to mean something that isn’t true. Without going off on a tangent, the actual definition of myth, according to the late Joseph Campbell, is “truth speaking to us as metaphor.” Although I prefer Campbell’s usage, I’ll succumb to modernity for this post and use the word to mean a falsehood.

Within minutes after Cassie’s death, the rumor began that she had died as a martyr for Christ and because of her mother’s book and the song by Michael W. Smith, the odds are that most people today who know of Cassie believe in the literal truth of her martyrdom. Think about – it’s been only 13 years, with all the modern technology we have and people still believe a legend rather than the factual account.  (Perhaps it’s BECAUSE of modern technology, but that’s another subject…) Now, go back in time to the desert of the Middle East 2000 years ago. Bart Ehrman has written extensively about this subject; most of the information below is from Jesus Interrupted: Revealing The Hidden Contradictions In The Bible (and why we don’t know about them).

The year is approximately 30 A.D. (or 30 CE as it’s now called). There were no recording devices, not even pencil and paper. Let’s assume Jesus did live (even though there’s no record of his existence other than the Biblical account and the manuscripts that didn’t make it into the Bible). The disciples and the others who followed him didn’t write down his words; most of them were illiterate fishermen or other laborers. After Jesus died and his followers dispersed, how do you think his story was recorded? That’s right, by word of mouth. For almost forty years, the story of Jesus was passed around his groups of followers and early converts verbally. Imagine the children’s game of telephone for over a generation. How accurate is it going to be?