So I just did an interview with Sheldon who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. On my blog I enjoy writing about leaving fundamentalism, and Sheldon and I share a background remarkably similar though his journey has lead him away from Christianity. His story is yet another story of sheltering and bad curriculum that needs to be told. So enjoy.
(1) Give us an introduction on yourself. Did you grow up in church? What kind? When were you “saved” and baptized? Tell us anything else you want about your fundamental background.
I made a profession of faith at 5 years old, baptized at 7. I was in a private school from kindergarten to 5th grade in a cult called the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) organization, which is how my older sister became introduced to that group, she didn’t leave that organization until about 3 years ago. (I talk about my experiences there in a guest post for the blog Leaving Fundamentalism).
After that, it was the Assembly of God, and then Southern Baptist denominations. I accepted it readily, and learned as much as I could, and at 9/10 years old, I was having theological discussions with pastors on topics so deep that most of the congregation couldn’t keep up.
My dad was a mechanic (now retired), and a good man, my mom was a stay at home mom, and could be rather abusive. It was very a blue collar upbringing, the suburb of St. Louis where I grew up (and still live now, though I hope to move in the next year or so), is literally wrapped around a steel plant owned by US Steel.
(2) You said you attend an A.C.E. (Accelerated Christian Education) school? Tell us about this experience. What is the school like? How did you take tests? Did you find the curriculum to have a hidden agenda? Did you feel you got a good education, or do you feel you had gaps?
It does have an agenda in a very big way. It’s pro-Creationism, pro-Christian patriarchy, and otherwise extremely fundamentalist . If you want to know more about what the curriculum itself teaches, check out my post on the topic, which was a response to a long comment from Lana about ACE, or check out the blog Leaving Fundamentalism, it’s a blog dedicated to exposing ACE.
First, I was in the private school, then homeschooled with ACE. In the private school setting, you spend the entire day in small cubicles, with dividers so that the students can’t see each other, and the curriculum is set up so that you are doing the coursework yourself. There is no teacher giving a lecture to a class, which is the normal setting in classrooms around the world.
If a student needs to check the work in the textbook, known in the system as a “PACE”, against these books with the answers to the questions in the PACE, known as “answer keys”, or have a test graded by a teacher, they have to put up a flag as a signal. It’s a lot of isolation, day in and day out, and there’s usually only 20-30 students in the school to begin with. When I went from the private school to homeschooling, it went from bad to worse as far as isolation and social skills goes.
(3) Were you isolated from those who were not fundamentalists? Did you have many friends growing up? Were you unhappy as a kid?
For the first question, yes, and even from some people who were fundamentalists. As I had said in an interview with the blog Deity Shmeity, except for the IFB, my family had always been more extreme that the churches I was in, it was rather odd.
I talk about the first post in my Undercover Agnostic series about the legalistic rules of my family, no Christian Contemporary music (it was “rock music”, and therefore “evil”), and no casual clothing of any kind (such as jeans) could be worn inside a church. Those views are views that even the Assembly of God and Southern Baptist churches I was in as a child/teen didn’t share. It made me feel even more isolated than I already was.
Add on top of that deep depression and an inability to relate to people, that some of my readers of questioned whether it is a sign of high functioning autism (I don’t know, I haven’t been to a psychiatrist yet), and it made for a miserable childhood and teen years.
I didn’t have any friends from the time I was 9 to about 16 years old, I just withdrew into myself. That started to change somewhat after getting to know two people I call Sam and Rose when blogging, and a girl who would end up becoming my girlfriend of 3 years.
(4) Has transitioning into mainstream society been difficult? Do you still feel disconnected from it?
I always feel disconnected from the outside world, whether it’s understanding cultural references (I’m getting better at that every day), or just understanding people at all. Right now I’m living in both the fundamentalist culture and in “the world” as fundamentalists would say.
I’m out in “the world”, while working in the warehouse industry, and listening to great music like the Rolling Stones, Metallica, and The Black Keys, but at the same time, I’m not out to most people yet, and won’t be able to come out for about 6 months to a year. So, I’m still attending church each week (I talk about that, and what it’s like inside fundamentalism in the Undercover Agnostic series), and living much of that lifestyle.
I have been getting better at understanding the outside world more, and I’ve improved slightly at being able to understand people in general, though I’ll never be up to par in that regard. I still have problems judging tone of voice, context or double meanings in what people say.
(5) When did you start questioning it all? What was the hardest part of fundamentalism/Christianity to give up?
It all started after a nervous breakdown I had while trying to attend a Southern Baptist college for a year. The depression flared up, I had panic attacks, and I just felt completely lost. The traditional classroom setting was unfamiliar to me, and I was overwhelmed trying to make day to day decisions, from the mundane, to the serious for the first time. I had never been allowed to make decisions for myself before.
I end up having to return home, and I’m blamed for the nervous breakdown, it was all my fault according to family, it’s just “guilt”, I “didn’t have a right relationship with god”. I actually believed all of this (believing it is one of my biggest regrets in life), and I started diving back into Christianity, reading the Bible and the teachings of popular fundamentalist ministers like John Piper with a new intensity that I never had before.
Upon reading the Bible again, though, something changed inside me. All of the passages of the Bible that I had tried to ignore or explain away for so long was now staring me in the face, and demanding that I recognize them. I look in the Old Testament and there was the Old Testament law, which I was starting to see as no better than Islamic Sharia, and the massacres that god supposedly told the Jewish people to carry out. I look into the New Testament at Paul’s commands concerning women, (Don’t let women speak in church, women should “submit” to their husbands, etc), and I also saw the barbarity in the book of Revelation, in what the Bible says god will do to people who don’t follow him.
In all, it was a disgusting and repulsive view of god, I began to see the god of the Bible as bloodthirsty, egotistical, misogynistic and homophobic.. That’s not a god I could bring myself to worship, even if he did exist (which I was starting to doubt, seeing that ideas of who god is reflected the views of the people and cultures who were writing about him).
The hardest part about giving up fundamentalism? The sense of loss, of grief, like a vital part of my life and identity had died inside of me, I was very lost and depressed in the first few months surrounding my de-conversion, as many former Christians online call it. It’s one of the reasons that it makes me angry when people claim that former fundamentalists were never “true” Christians. If I was insincere, then why did I have such a sense of loss? What was I mourning for then?
(6) Do you struggle with feeling alone on this journey away from Christianity and fundamentalism? Have you found a community here on the internet who understands, and if so which blogs do you recommend for those leaving fundamentalism?
I did feel alone at first, and if it wasn’t for the internet, I still would. When I first started getting more involved online, I ran across the forums at ex-christian.net, if someone is a former Christian, or is on the brink of becoming one, it’s a site I highly recommend, and it was very instrumental in helping me recover.
Then I ran across Canadian blogger Godless Poutine, (he has quite an interesting story, he went from fundamentalist Catholic to Wiccan to atheist), and started reading and commenting. He suggested that I should start my own blog, that it was “good therapy”. He was right. I have gotten to know some great people through blogging, and ran across more great blogs from former fundamentalists along the way.
In recommending good blogs for people who are in recovery from fundamentalism, I would recommend your blog, Libby Anne’s Love Joy Feminism, Leaving Fundamentalism by Jonny Scarmanga and Confessions of a Heretic Husband, all are written by former fundamentalists, people who know where you have been, and what it’s like. If you want to take a look at the Bible again, and re evaluate it, Hausdorff’s Bible Blog is a great way to do that.
(7) When did you first start realizing God might not exist, and what was the key factor that led you to this realization? Were you sad to give Christianity up? Indifferent? Relieved?
For the first few months, I didn’t know what I believed after leaving Christianity, and didn’t know if I believed that there was anything divine in this world. After a while, I gave up on the idea of an all powerful god. There are so many paradoxes involved in believing in an all powerful god. Could he create something so heavy even he couldn’t lift it? Why not? Whether the answer is yes or no, you’re saying that there’s something that even he couldn’t do, then he wouldn’t be omnipotent.
As for whether I was sad to give up Christianity, as I said is question 5, yes, there was a big period of mourning after I left
(8) Where are you today? What are your views about religion/politics?
As for religion, I’m an agnostic. I highly doubt any claims that an all powerful god is out there, and I find the idea of an afterlife just as unlikely. I’m not afraid to call out religion when it causes harm to people, and I always like to question, to explore what people believe. If someone is religious, but a sensible/more moderate person, then I don’t mind having that person around at all. My “enemy” if you will is not religion itself, but the close mindedness in fundamentalism, and people who harm others in the name of religion.
When it comes to politics, as you would expect, I’ve become very liberal in social views, I support gay marriage, as long as the government remains involved in marriage. I don’t think governments should grant marriage “licenses” become involved in marriage, or decided who gets married (so long as everyone is consenting adults). I think abortion should remain a legal option, and marijuana should be legalized.
However, I’m also very anti-war, anti-Drug War (addicts should be helped, not imprisoned), and I am very much in support of civil rights, I feel the Patriot Act and NDAA are unjust and run counter to the US Constitution. Some people might call me a libertarian, call me what you will…..
Click here to read the Q&A I did on his blog.
If you left fundamentalism, leave a comment below and share your story. If you want me to share your story in a blog post, email me at wideopenground [at] yahoo [dot] com