How Former Fundamentalists Are Finding Healing on Reddit

On “fundie snark” forums, mockery can help posters process their religious trauma.

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Millie isn’t always comfortable talking to her friends about her childhood. She grew up Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB), a strict branch of the Baptist faith in which pastors have unquestioned authority over their flock. Each summer, Millie was homeschooled by a woman from her church to counteract the “liberal brainwashing” her parents believed she was receiving at her Pentecostal school. (She recalls one of her summer readings arguing that enslaved people enjoyed their servitude.) But Millie’s most traumatic memory occurred at 15. When doctors found a mass in her kidney, she wasn’t taken for further medical care. Instead, her parents took her to get an exorcism. 

“I have friends that grew up involved in a church, but the experience that I have is so different from theirs,” Millie says. “If I start talking about it, they look at me like I’m from another planet.” 

Millie began having doubts about her faith in her college years, and by 25, she’d fully separated from her church. Ten years later, Millie, who identifies as queer, is still trying to unpack the toxic lessons she learned as a child, especially regarding the church’s rigid, binary gender roles and its denial that gay people exist. In online forums, some former Christians call this process of unlearning “deconstruction.”

On this journey, Millie found camaraderie in an online community known as “fundie snark” (where “fundie” is pejorative slang for fundamentalists). On fundie snark forums, which exist across many social media platforms, users who refer to themselves as “snarkers” both mock and analyze the lives of Christian influencers. The content can be funny and lighthearted, but for ex-fundamentalists like Millie, these forums can also play a key role in helping them reexamine their past beliefs. 

Fundie snark content is available on TikTok, YouTube, and X (formerly Twitter), but it is most well known on Reddit. There, r/FundieSnarkUncensored, started in 2020, boasts 169,000 followers and is in the top 1 percent of communities on the site. While it doesn’t exclusively cater to ex-fundamentalists, many spend time on the subreddit. Women and queer people make up a majority of the community, according to multiple members. By picking apart the lives of extreme Christian influencers, ex-fundamentalists say they have the opportunity to understand their own experiences from an outside perspective with the support of others who can relate.  

Many community members attribute the origins of fundie snark to a backlash against the Duggars, whose sect of Christianity emphasizes patriarchal hierarchy in the home. The family gained notoriety in the early 2000s with multiple TV specials and a hit TLC show, 19 Kids and Counting. After the family’s first special, 14 Kids and Pregnant Again, premiered on the Discovery Channel in 2004, fans started a campaign called “Free Jinger” based around their belief that the Duggars’ sixth child yearned to break free from her ultra-conservative upbringing. Discussions on the now-defunct fan forum Television Without Pity, eventually led to a spin-off forum, Duggars Without Pity. When the Duggars new series was announced in 2008, some Duggars Without Pity users didn’t buy the family’s wholesome image. “The Duggar parents strike me as extremely image savvy. I suspect a lot of disturbing stuff goes on behind the scenes,” one wrote. 

The Duggars eventually faced a public reckoning in 2015 when allegations emerged that the eldest son, Josh, had molested his sisters. In 2021, he was convicted of receipt and possession of child pornography. The r/FundieSnarkUncensored thread announcing his arrest had 8,500 upvotes and 3,400 comments, some of which referred to Josh by his nickname on the forum, “Pest.” 

Since then, several fundamentalist families have attempted to replicate the Duggars’ success, including the Plath, Bates, and Rodrigues families, all of whom have large broods of kids and share their everyday lives through either TV shows or social media content. This fresh crop of Christian personalities has in turn become a target for the snark community. 

Millie found her way to fundie snark through the Duggar forums and the Free Jinger campaign, but now her favorite snarking targets are the Rodrigueses. The parents homeschool their 13 kids and enforce gendered dress codes in which the girls must wear long skirts and modest blouses. Though the family lacks the polish of the TLC-ready Duggars, family matriarch Jill posts roughly edited YouTube vlogs with cuts and transitions reminiscent of an old iPhoto slideshow. On r/FundieSnarkUncensored and r/RodriguesSnark, users mock Jill for hawking the dietary supplement Plexus and for her apparent hunger for Christian stardom. (The Rodrigues family did not respond to questions for this story.) 

The Rodrigueses reminded Millie of her own insular IFB family. She felt an acute schadenfreude when the Rodrigues RV broke down, preventing them from making their usual visits to churches to perform hymns. She told me she was happy “it inhibited their ability to go around and indoctrinate more people into the cult.”

Naomi Janzen, a member of r/FundieSnarkUncensored who grew up evangelical (but not fundamentalist), attributes the fundie snark community’s interest in Jill Rodrigues to her seemingly overbearing parenting style. “It’s very much the way I think a lot of us experienced being mothered,” she explained. “So I think it really is this external thing you can critique when you’re not as comfortable critiquing how you were raised yourself.”

Whether snarkers are making fun of the sparse audience for a Rodrigues family musical performance or mocking the hyperfeminine aesthetics of homophobic videos produced by evangelical vlogger duo Girl Defined, the laughs can also facilitate deeper conversations. For instance, underneath a post about mocking a Girl Defined Instagram graphic that reads, “God is not in favor of the LGBTQ lifestyle,” one commenter wrote: “[Jesus] stood up for the outcasts, and he only judged those that were cruel to others…Maybe you two should read your New Testament and do the same.” 

Amanda Waldron is a former evangelical with a masters in social work who now describes herself as a deconstruction coach, helping people wrestling with doubt who want to remain in the Christian faith. She says that after an ex-fundamentalist has moved through the initial shock of their changing faith, humor can be a tool for self-reflection. “Generally, there’s some sort of pain and behind the snark, some sort of truth behind it,” she says. “Snark can be an easy way to maybe move into, ‘Okay, what was this experience actually like for me?’” 

That was the case for another snarker, Noelle Westbrook, who says their “pet fundies” are Paul and Morgan Olliges, a Christian YouTuber couple. The pair are known for bickering on camera, raging against the so-called “culture wars,” and promoting purity culture. Noelle, who was raised Baptist with beliefs that were theologically proximate to those in IFB, sees Paul and Morgan as a reflection of who they might have become had they stayed in the church. “I have absolutely been that judgmental Christian before,” they say. “I was 100 percent a true believer up until I left the church. And so I was equally confidently incorrect about so many things that I did not have education on. I cringe at things that I said in the ’90s.” 

The realizations that come from snarking can have a direct impact on how ex-fundamentalists approach deconstruction. Millie says that fundie snark helped her truly understand how unusual her childhood had been. When her daughter came out as trans six years ago, the news prompted her to seek therapy in order to confront the prejudices she’d learned during her upbringing. For Noelle, meanwhile, fundie snark helped them understand that religious trauma was at the root of their mental health struggles, and they changed their therapy to accommodate that. “I’ve been able to make massive progress in my own mental health journey,” they told me. 

Alexis, a former member of the Churches of Christ, a collection of independent churches that aims to replicate worship exactly as outlined in the New Testament, recalled receiving a book from her church arguing women’s subordination in the home was actually empowering. Alexis said examining her religious trauma through the lens of fundie snark was cathartic. Both Alexis and Millie compared participating in fundie snark to the experience of attending a family reunion: You’re forever linked to this toxic world, but now can comment on it from a removed perspective. She found it helpful when snarkers pointed out how extreme her experiences were, but at the same time, she says, she never felt pitied by the fundie snark community. 

“There’s something really deflating about telling friends or acquaintances who have no contact with fundamentalism some of those stories, because the thing I get a lot is like, ‘I can’t believe that happened.’ Then my energy is spent on kind of convincing them that it did happen, and it does happen,” she says. “One thing that I’ve learned from fundie snark is that it’s not uncommon. It’s extreme, but that extremity is not uncommon.”

Sometimes fundie snark can go too far, moving from critique to bullying. The Reddit page has rules that warn against contacting snark subjects, slut-shaming, and armchair diagnosing. One moderator, Anne, noted that they try to be open to critique, but when it comes to determining what’s acceptable or not, there’s still work to be done. “We’re constantly trying to evolve to recognize microaggressions,” she says. “I appreciate when someone says, ‘This is why that’s not cool to say.'”

Ultimately, several snarkers say they hope fundie snark can provide a learning experience for both fundamentalists and outsiders. They argue snarking supplies necessary context for casual viewers of this content who might not understand how harmful and extreme it can be. Snarkers suspect that the influencers they mock read their content, and some even hope it could prompt them to reflect on their negative impact. “I grew up with some really backwards, really awful beliefs,” Millie says. “But I feel like if I can overcome those things then everybody can.” 

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