Celebrating Teen Challenge!

By Duganz

This Sunday the Hockey Mom herself is on her way to Missoula for a day of speechifying amazingingitty. And you can see her (in person!) if you are willing to give your money go to Teen Challenge, a faith-based program geared toward keeping kids off drugs.

I could give a damn about Hockey Mom. She’s become a fly––a pest that darts in and distracts, but adds nothing but static. Teen Challenge (TC) on the other hand, is a tragedy in motion––even when we’re not talking about the number of depressing stories relayed on sites (Sad, also sad) dedicated to covering the organization’s darker moments.


Let’s begin with how they introduce themselves in the TC Mission:

To provide youth, adults and families with an effective and comprehensive Christian faith-based solution to life-controlling drug and alcohol problems in order to become productive members of society. By applying biblical principles, Teen Challenge endeavors to help people become mentally-sound, emotionally-balanced, socially-adjusted, physically-well, and spiritually-alive.

Sounds great. People should be productive members of society. And I’m sure when they say “biblical principles” they are not referring to Exodus 20:21-22, “”If a man beats his male or female slave with a rod and the slave dies as a direct result, he must be punished, but he is not to be punished if the slave gets up after a day or two, since the slave is his property.”

Of course there’s more to the organization than poorly constructed sentences riddled with compound modifiers:

Teen Challenge … concentrates on focusing attention on God and His will for those that enter the program … While recognizing the need for expertise in some areas, Teen Challenge does not subscribe to the medical model of helping an individual involved in drug abuse.

I want to stop my argument there because I’m sure most people reading think addicts getting therapy is a good thing (cause it is), but there’s just so much else wrong with TC.

First of all, people are sentenced to complete the TC Program. From TC:

If you, in fact, committed the crime you have been charged with, discuss with your attorney the possibility of pleading guilty with the agreement that the court would consider sending you to Teen Challenge.

Photo from Wikipedia Commons

So kids who screw up and are afraid of being sent to jail are given these options: Jail or Jee-zuz. And, yes, Jee-zuz appears as a necessity despite proclamations otherwise. Just look at this vaguely judgmental and hostile bit from their FAQ:

Is Teen Challenge open to people of all faiths?

Teen Challenge is based foundationally on a literal interpretation of the Protestant Bible. It is our belief that applying the principles of Scripture to a person’s life will enrich their life and provide them with a path of a personal relationship with God. [Note: How is this story enriching?] Certainly people of other faiths may enter the program but, as they are informed of the nature of the program, they voluntarily choose to participate. It is not required that a student have a conversion experience to enter or complete, but conversion is regarded as the greatest hope for breaking an addiction.

Translation: Get with Jee-zuz(!), or you’ll be on the street scoring smack in no time. Do I even have to point out how deluded and cynical something like that is? The idea of looking at an addict and telling them that without God they’re screwed just seems tacky, and reproachful.

Teen Challenge gets away with selling their faith-based bunk in courts because they’ve sold bogus success rates to the public. TC claims that 86 percent of folks get off of drugs and/or alcohol. However, this number does not reflect people who fail to complete the program. That’s a good number of folks. By eliminating people who leave the camps, TC is able to sell numbers based only on their true believers. It’s like that line from Anchorman about Sex Panther Cologne––”Sixty percent of the time, it works every time.” The numbers just don’t add up.

All told, 40 percent of folks leave within the first eight months of TC. So the 86 percent is from a group of at most 60 percent of attendees. Run that number against their stats, and you get that roughly half of all attendees stayed away from their addictions. (At least of those talked to in an internally-steered study… of the 3,000 who attended TC over the course of the study period a whopping 59 people were interviewed.)

Over the 12-18 months students/inmates/indoctrinated youth attend TC they go through classes, Bible studies, work (one TC camp is a pig farm). Here  at the local Missoula chapter, which is only for women, lists a course called “Obedience to Man.”

Does that mean what I think it means? Hmm… Literal Bible… Ah yes. 1Corinthians 14:34, “women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says.” I always forget to remind my wife ’bout that one.

But, so what? I mean it. Why get so bent out of shape about an organization that’s main focus is helping teens?

Because the organization in fact helps more adults than teens. The Missoula chapter goes as far to say that it is “a faith-based, 20-bed facility located in the heart of Missoula, for women 18+, with no cut-off age…” That’s kind of for teens. But not really.

Okay, so the name’s a damn lie––just like their stats.

There’s more, too, but I think I’ve made my point. Teen Challenge is just pure religious BS. I’m sure it works for some–– those who want to change via a conversion to a certain breed of Christianity. And, really, if you’re willing to pay money for this delusional soul to speak to you, Teen Challenge is your kind of pie.

Still, that doesn’t make it right.

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  1. Whoa. I knew they were one of those crazy Jee-zus based orgs, but I had no idea about they utilize it as a coercive tool.

    To not utilize a medical model to treat addiction? What they hell do they do? Beat, starve and brainwash? That’s more acceptable?

    They run that drive-thru coffee shop over there at the orange street exit…and they have a second hand shop over on Mount. Where else are they enslaving people?

  2. JayByrd

    Court-ordered religious indoctrination?
    Sounds kind of Saudi to me.
    It’s enough to drive you to drink.

  3. mr benson

    Regarding, “Religious bs”. It’s important to remember that most people are convinced of the supernatural. That’s most people in the world, and most people in any civilization including this Western one.

    So a statement like “religious bs” weakens what is otherwise a very revealing story about Teen Challenge.

    I’m speaking for myself and not being critical in the sense of challenging you to a duel, I just think the piece is better without a weak moral tag at the end. I’m not superstitious, not witch doctors, earth mother, other new age bullshit, nor any of the middle eastern monotheisms, nor any of the far eastern mystics, nor mind/body dualism. But I’m in a very small minority.

    For most people, the existence of a supernatural being who takes an active role in the universe, the lives of men, or the sparrow’s fall, is an accepted, unchallenged fact. Learning to accept that, and figuring out how to respect it, is a good step towards being able to express your own opinions.

    Otherwise, thanks again for a revealing look at the organization.

    • JC

      Well, I’ll start off by disagreeing that Duganz’s stab at “pure religious BS” in any way “weakens what is otherwise a very revealing story”. The story stands on its own, even if you don’t like the commentary at the end.

      That being said, while I appreciate the background on Teen Challenge, my more immediate concern is the mixture of politics (Palin’s speech) and recovery. The recovery industry is a varied, multi-faceted beast. But at its core are the people, who without some sort of intervention in their lives will die from their addictions. And who most likely will hurt many people along the way, and in some cases, kill other people.

      People in early recovery have no need for politics (or for that matter religion) in their quest to overcome addiction. TC’s resorting to bringing in a highly polarizing political figure to raise money does a great disservice to those most in need–its clients. And this says as much about TC’s leadership as all of Duganz’s reporting does. It is poor judgement, with a political/religious motivation that TC tries to obscure from public scrutiny.

      Personally, I don’t care what motivates someone to seek recovery: the courts, families, health, religion, spirituality, etc. What matters is that once a person is in active recovery they can begin to make personal choices that they could not before, i.e understand the differences between spirituality and religion. The clients in recovery at TC have an opportunity with their new-found sobriety to explore whether or not religion suits them, or if , say, a 12-step approach to continued abstinence that is “spiritual, not religious” is more suited to them.

      So back to Mr. Benson, at the heart of debate between religion and spirituality, I ask you, do you see a difference? Or do you lump the two together? I believe that one can be spiritual without being religious, or following any specific philosophy.

      In that way, I agree with Duganz about the nature of “religious BS” that can motivate a business to seek out political radicals to further their goals. Whom is ultimately hurt by this, though, is not readily apparent, as it is the client who must deal with political controversy while trying to sort out more germane, and life-changing necessities for survival.

      Recovery and addiction is about life and death, and the choice to pursue one or the other. Injecting Sarah Palin, politics and religion into the whole mess assures that the pendulum will swing in the wrong direction.

      • mr benson

        Can you show me the “debate between religion and spirituality”? Where is it held?

      • JC

        It’s held in the head of individual recovering addicts, and in groups of just about every 12-step program out there. Though I don’t expect non-addicts to understand it, and certainly won’t debate it with one. You want to experience the debate go to an open 12-step meeting and broach the question. Then sit back and listen for an hour, as you’ll hear an earful.

        The concept is in contrast to every commercial, faith-based recovery program around.

        For a semi-outside look at the topic, look at the works of Jung (who influenced the development of AA, and from there other 12-step programs). If you really want to get into the topic, start looking at the notion of secular spirituality (atheists included). And to get way out there, there are people trying to dissect the nature of the universe and spirituality without having to resort to a “god”, like Capra and Goswami. And don’t forget that Hawking just put out a new book, “The Grand Design” which ignited a furor over his postulation that a god wasn’t needed to create the universe.

        Secular spirituality (which about 1/4 of americans practice, according to one poll) is a rising phenomenon (partially due to the success of 12-step programs), which may explain why religions, and religious businesses like TC are pushing their belief systems as hard as they are right now–they read the writing on the wall. It also helps explain the religious fanaticism that is sweeping our country in right wing political movements, as they “cling to their guns and religions”…

        • mr benson

          How about something from people who aren’t needing to exchange one crutch for another?

          • JC

            You know not of what you speak. Don’t be such an idiot. I offer to engage you in a reasonable dialog, I gave you 4 authors to look at, and you return it with nonsense. C’est la vie.

            Have a good day.

            • mr benson

              Name-calling, then surrender. Of course.

              There’s nobody “holier than thou” worse than a burnt out drunk.

            • JC

              “Holier than thou.”

              I say that your attempt to make the problem of addiction to be one of a moral failure is your way of trying to gain the moral high ground, Mr. B.

              Speaking of which, if you are an atheist (as your comments suggest), on what basis are you pinning your moral proclivities?

              • Come on JC, don’t do that. We both know the “no god; no morals” argument is a red herring. Dawkins, Shermer, Hitchens, etc., all have morality–as does Mr.B.

                We’re moral creatures with or without god(s). That’s why not every atheist is a murderer, (some are) and why some Christians/Muslims/Hindus/etc. are (and some are not).

                You and I both know you have better arguments than taking swipes at Mr. B’s alleged atheism.

              • JC

                Well, let him make that argument.

              • mr benson

                You really think there’s any evidence that believers in the supernatural have a superior morality? Airplanes in to buildings, holy war, jihad, crusades, burning and hanging witches, human sacrifice, hindus vs muslims, etc. don’t provide evidence of morality. People like to point to the Great Awakening as evidence of superior Christian morality: the abolition of slavery or the equal rights movement have their roots in Christianity. However, equally, slavery was justified by using the same sacred script, as was segregation, anti miscegenation laws, even the death penalty for homosexuality.

                In fact, Christianity argues that “none are righteous, no, not one” and that only, either a, you’re picked, or b, whosoever believeth, offers salvation. You’ll notice, no real goodness or charity is required.

                I’d argue acting out of fear of punishment, or acting in order to obtain a ticket to heaven, is no indication of morality. Real morality comes from genuine choice, which usually comes from deciding, “best for me, or best for others?” Much of that might be nature, intelligence, genes, the ability to reason; I don’t think animals of lower intelligence are making decisions of “right and wrong”. In the animal world, the higher the intelligence, the more likely there’s altruism. It makes sense to have a peaceful world, to have intelligent humans who don’t act out of ignorance or superstition. A rational human would conclude, as the enlightened founders did, that an educated humanity would be capable of righteous self government.

                Believers in the supernatural have a far bigger problem with the problem of evil than I do with the source of good.

              • JC

                “believers in the supernatural”≠secular spirituality.

                And you’re still avoiding the canard about addiction being a moral problem.

              • mr benson

                Knowing your economic and political preferences, you might prefer, “one opiate for another”?

                “Secular spirituality” is an oxymoron. As I said, it’s an American product of Americans who want religion without any rules. Of course, that’s a natural for people who’ve made bad choices.

  4. Turner

    I’ll not live long enough to see a country free of religious superstition. The fact that so many people, most people, are religious is beside the point. For centuries they’ve been deluded by institutions who profit from telling people not to be afraid of death because they can live forever somewhere up in the sky.

  5. Sounds like a religious cult to me. Check out the series that Dogemperor did at Daily Kos a few years back about this “kiddie gulag”, a mission of the Assemblies of God church:

    http://www.dailykos.com/storyonly/2008/5/3/17742/55658

    How much federal funding does Teen Challenge USA, and its affiliates, receive? Just wondering.

  6. people in the state of Minnesota are questioning state funds going to this religious mission as well:

    http://minnesotaindependent.com/52630/state-funding-for-minnesota-teen-challenge-questioned

    • Man, I hate the Vikings, but suddenly Minnesota seems like an awesome place.

  7. Mr. B. I see what you’re saying, but I have to express myself by being straight with things as I see it. I understand that people are religious, and have faith in their lives. It’s a beautiful thing to me, though I do not share in it.

    But, let’s be serious, there is a difference between belief and comfort, and manipulation and coercion. Most people I know who have faith use it in a personal way. Their faith is where they look to explain chance, and embrace hope. Nothing wrong with that.

    When I say “religious BS” I am referring to the idea that some other’s faith can/should change your faith, that one is superior because he or she has the right idea, and thus the moral high ground. I don’t buy into that. At all. No one faith or idea is so morally, or righteously superior that it is the ONE TRUE FAITH. That is why above I often use the pejorative “Jee-zuz!” instead of “Jesus.” One is a fictional, catch-all-hater, while the other is a man who probably lived around 30AD and was a Rabbi. There is a difference in the people who believe in one or the other.

    I hope I’m being clear. If you think religion is a worthy topic, maybe it can be something I continue posting about.

    • mr benson

      Duganz, it’s a difficult subject: “handle with care”. I confess I’ve moved from Jefferson’s “it does me know harm” or your “nothing wrong with that” to a discrete, “kinder gentler” form of “Harris, Dawkins, Hitchens militancy”.

      • Well, I am a big Dawkins/Hitchens fan, so I completely understand that.

        I just can’t get to that point of being militant. I understand, but I cannot walk-the-walk.

  8. but is the hostess of the tea party ready for the montana beer party?

    http://twitter.com/beerpartymt

  9. mr benson

    A little secular mysticism:

    “I need a woman ’bout twice my height —
    Statuesque, raven-tressed, a goddess of the night
    With a secret incantations, candles burning blue.
    We consult the spirits.
    Maybe they’ll know what to do.

    And it’s real, and it won’t go away. Oh, no.
    Can’t get around it, and I can’t run away.
    I need a miracle every day.”




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