What was it really?

Dear X-ATI Girl,

Please advise.  Recently someone asked me the question: what is ATI?

It’s hard for me to ponder the question ‘what is ATI’ because I guess I really don’t know myself.  (Why, it’s the Advanced Training Institute.  Training in what?  Well I’m not sure actually…)

Whether it’s because I grew up so closely associated with this organization and way of life, or because the majority of my friends grew up in it as well thus rarely requiring me to explain it to another, but I always find it difficult to successfully place words in any order that could describe such a ‘way of life.’

After fumbling for words and getting them all mixed up for a few minutes, this individual asked the shocking question: is ATI a cult?



I gasped.  I stopped.  All the wind was knocked out of me.  What?  Was ATI a cult?  Was he serious?  Why yes, unfortunately he was.

I didn’t know how to respond.  I still don’t know how to respond.  Here is a loose narrative of my mixed up and jumbled response:

Well, ATI was started by Bill Gothard, a guy who worked with intercity youth and then his car broke down on the interstate one day and he ran leaping for joy because he was so happy.

Can I pause here and ask a question?  My family always had vehicles that broke down.  As in they broke down all the time – all the time with all of us 12 siblings and my expectant mother.  No one was leaping for joy in those moments, hours, eternities of being stuck on the side of the road.  I digress.

Mr. Gothard lived with his parents until his father died and then he just lived with his mother.  He began courting a nice widow when he was in his 50’s, but his mother told him that she didn’t feel it was God’s will for him to court this nice lady so he never saw her again.

Mr. Gothard still lives in his parent’s house – as far as I know – and has a cabin in the woods on some land that ATI owns.

Mr. Gothard started the Institute in Basic Life Principles in the 1970s.  It was a basic seminar, an advanced seminar, a men’s seminar, a bunch of seminars.  In the 1980s he started ATI – which was at that time ATIA.  This was his Homeschooling limb that wrote Wisdom Booklets, Character Sketches, journals of all types, etc.  (The Wisdom Booklet is my most prevailing and perhaps painful memory.  Oh, and the monthly newsletter they sent out – those were prevailing and painful as well.)

He built a Headquarters (proper noun) for the organization and most of my siblings went there for trainings and to work for free.  Kids went there when they did rebellious things like told their parents they didn’t want to read the Wisdom Booklets or that they couldn’t memorize the Sermon on the Mount.

He started an auctioneering school, a chalk talk school, a law school, and even the Medical Training Institute of America (MTIA).  The irony is that none of us went to school…

Later I got to thinking about some of the things that I learned while in the program:

  • How to conquer the addiction of rock music

  • How to sew and wear skirts that glorified the Lord
  • How to honor my parent’s authority

  • How formal schooling would kill me
  • How sugar was the drug that Satan could use to control us
  • How some people believe in head coverings and some don’t, but lets not fight about it

  • How if you have an impure thought at lunch, you should confess it just before a Knoxville session
  • How you should wear light makeup and your hair in flowing curls
  • How sheep go to heaven and goats go to hell (wait…wait, now I’m getting confused.  I think that was a song, not Gothard.)
  • That beards are bad, bad, bad

  • You should always use CharacterLink to protect yourself from the evil influences of the internet (did this make anyone else suspicious?)

  • The only approved college was Verity College
  • That I was to be a keeper at home

  • How ATI was “Giving the world a new approach to life!”
  • Try to stay away from the flaming darts of Lucifer, ie. get back under that umbrella
  • How to tear down the strong holds in your life ie. my desire to wear pants (gasp)
  • Letters we were supposed to write that started out like this: “Dear Dad, I love you.  I want to give you my heart.”
  • Something about rhemas
  • Al Smith approved music

Do you have similar experiences?

I’ve given this a lot of thought.  I’m going to go ahead and make this bold statement:

ATI was and is a cult.

Here’s just a part of my reasoning:

Dictionary: Cult n.

  1. A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
  2. The followers of such a religion or sect.
  3. A system or community of religious worship and ritual.
  4. The formal means of expressing religious reverence; religious ceremony and ritual.
  5. A usually nonscientific method or regimen claimed by its originator to have exclusive or exceptional power in curing a particular disease.
    1. Obsessive, especially faddish, devotion to or veneration for a person, principle, or thing.
    2. The object of such devotion.
    3. An exclusive group of persons sharing an esoteric, usually artistic or intellectual interest.

Wasn’t that umbrella a little extreme and false?

Come on, those blue and white outfits were unconventional.

So was learning medicine from a Wisdom Booklet written by a man who lived with his parents.

Nonscientific guide to medicine – check.

Obsessive, faddish devotion to a person, principle, and thing

Being told to write a letter to your dad giving him your heart.

I’m stopping here with my argument because this letter is long.  Please advise.  What in the world am I going to do with the bomb-shell realization that…that…I was raised in a cult?

I thank you in advance for your time,

Cliqued out in Clairmont


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16 Responses to “What was it really?”

  1. Seriously Says:

    Seriously, don’t drink the Kool-aid.

  2. DefraudedbyGothard Says:

    Yes it is a cult. No I have not been involved, but have had my church, child, and fellowship disrupted by others who have drunk the Kool-aid and emmulated, these evil, pernicious, heretical teachings,

  3. Brandin Burns Says:

    Any organization that follows a man with unquestioning reverence should be looked upon with suspision. I remember working at different training centers and watching grown men move their families there – often for no compensation – just because Gothard told them to. I have seen reason be ignored because “thats what Bill wants” and reality become distorted.

    When you are told not to question authority and stay cheerful with a smie on your face in all circumstances, you must question if that is where brainwashing begins. When you are woken up late at night to be interrogated by Brandon Macdonald and his minions and later told you were the toughest to be “broken”, you must start questioning a cultish atmosphere. If discussion is not even allowed that contradicts the main leaders OPINION… you must take note.

    ATI was a cult. ATI is a cult. People get out every day and are shocked at what it is like living in reality…

  4. Lizzy Says:

    Yes, it’s a cult.

    What to do? I’m still working on that. I usually just tell people I was raised in a very strict, very conservative religious home. Saying I was raised in a cult tends to scare people away, I think. :P

  5. DragonKat Says:

    I’m with Lizzy. I never, never mention ATI or it’s various components. Most people have an idea what homeschooling is, and I leave it to whatever their imagination is.

  6. DragonKat Says:

    BTW, I think my husband is TOTALLY freaked out whenever he visits this blog and gets a glimpse at what my life was like as a teen. I don’t blame him, though I do assure him my parents were bad ATIers and we didn’t half the stuff we were supposed to.

  7. jon anonymous Says:

    Do you have any more information? I’m 30 now, and still sometimes feel I am living that nightmare….I was an ALERT Responder….I had no childhood, my life started at 19 when I “rebelled” and got out….I wonder how many others remember the navy blue and white and multiple BASIC seminars…You can contact me at forget789@yahoo.com

  8. angela Says:

    That sentence “Daddy, I give you my heart” is sick, twisted and absolutely horrifying. The relationship fathers and daughters were told they were supposed to have in ATI only stopped short of actual exploitation and abuse.

  9. Rebekah Says:

    Yes, it wasn’t long ago that I looked up the definition of cult and… O.O …my eyes were finally completely open to it all. A few years ago I was at my old church for a shower and I wanted to skip through the the halls. I felt SO free and looking at those still in attendance, I just wanted to scream, “I’m not under the weight of this bulls**t anymore!” It made me so happy. I have grown SO much spiritually and emotionally in the past few years, I can’t believe it! :-)

  10. Marie Says:

    If it walks like a duck and sounds like a duck…yes, I’m afraid it is. And unfortunately most children raised in this system never know it until they “rebel” (a sin liken to witchcraft, btw.) I was raised by conservative set of parents who were simply ate up with all things Gothard and Micheal Pearl. Now I’m not saying that parts of these peoples’ principles do not hold some truth, but turning the philosophies of people into the Word of God is dangerous. I really wish my parents had done some deep research into the Gothard movement before embracing it whole heartedly. I can’t help but feel that the ATI principles encourage a horridly judgemental attitude and a sense of self loathing, both of which I remember from my childhood. I remember feeling insuficient all the time.

    I am twenty-one now. When I was eighteen, I was mercifully allowed to attend a private, Christian school. (Being raised on a farm–nearly to the hermatige sense–I had no social skills and was shy and didn’t fit in well.) Gothard’s shameful philosophies about women’s purpose being only for domestic endevous had leaked into my own parents teach and I had NO self esteem. Later that year, I met a boy at my hometown church and began talking with him over facebook. My father was determined that we would follow the “courtship” principle, if we were to be seeing each other at all. I really don’t think HE even knew what the real implications of courtship entailed other than not letting the couple be alone for ANY amount of time. The boy I came to fall in love with was a strong Christian, but not in ATI and he quickly became frustrated as my father made strong handed attempts to keep us apart. Indoctrinated, Dad became down right rude and disrespectful: sending me to a toddler’s class to keep me away from him and making me sit with him at church events. The both of us, both me and my soon to be fiance, became very offended and upset. He began urging me to break away from that lifestyle, saying that I was eighteen and didn’t have to be disrespected that way. I was very slow to oppose my parents in any way…I had always done exactly what they had told me to do and the thought of breaking away sounded ominously sinful to my brain washed, ATI steeped mind.

    I did finally…and instead of brimstone and fire for my “rebellion,” I found a life that I had wanted inside all along. I was free. I am very sad that I am now estranged from my still zealous and angry parents, but I would not change it again. My fiance and I are happy together and are getting married this year, but I have six other brothers and sisters that still live under my parents misguided rule. I worry for them…everyday. I hope they do not all have to learn to live in the real world like I had to when I went to college.

    Most importantly, I didn’t write all of this down to offend anyone. I know a lot of ATI families are upstanding people, I won’t repute that. I just beg anyone considering taking up the teachings of Gothard to research hard before jumping in with both feet. Some of his stuff must be taken with a pinch of salt. Consider it before stuffing it down your children’s throats…God makes it pretty clear how he feels about people who cause little ones to stumble.

  11. Jon wharton Says:

    There is a brand new website that was just put up that deals with old Gothard and his cult. I’m thankful to say I’ve been out for 10 years now! Recoveringgrace.org email me at forget789@yahoo.com if you are an ex ATI student or still are an want out!

  12. Are the Duggars Guilty of Child Abuse? | Running With A Book Cart Says:

    [...] Don't forget Bill Gothard. He's the one who started ATI and IBLP, the asshole over in Oak Brook running a religious cult through the guise of Biblical-based character training and in the name of God. It's not just a "more conservative theology," but rather a way to subjugate women and abuse children. [...]

  13. Christina DeSota Says:

    I do agree that ATI is a cult. I have had to come to accept that yes, I was raised in a cult, yes, as an adult I have had to deal with issues and rethink my entire belief system. But I have accepted it. I can’t change the way I was raised but I can change the way I think now and how I raise my children. My oldest son recently asked me what “courtship” was. The long and short of it is, through that cult I met and married my best friend and I wouldn’t change that for anything! Thankfully, my husband although raised in ATI he had parents that did help him by teaching him to always search out the scriptures on his own and don’t just believe what you are told. Learning to truly put this into practice as we got married has led us away from that lifestyle and although I wear pants, listen to music with drums and send my kids to a regular school (gasp!) I still love God and seek to serve Him with all my heart.

  14. leslie allebach Says:

    leslie allebach…

    [...]What was it really? « X-ATI Girl's Blog[...]…

  15. sandlwhit Says:

    Wow! My cousins are ATI. The oldest has claimed for years that it is a cult. Was just doing a little research because 2 of the other girls have been sent to this girls camp & now, he claims, “they” won’t let the girls (15 & 18) come home. They “hired” them on for something. My mom is worried they might be “brainwashing” my sweet wonderful cousins. They are such good girls & try so hard to do what’s right. I wish I could help them somehow. Now, after reading this, I want to go get them & bring them to my house.

  16. Esbee Says:

    so Mr. bill’s mom did not approve of the widow he finally decided to court when he was in his 50’s??????????????? I think it is Mr. bill’s mom, her behavior, personality that should be a topic of study…then we will know much more about what makes Mr. bill tick.

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