I can’t remember ever not believing in God. I know that I prayed the sinner’s prayer when I was very young. I think I started praying in tongues at six or seven. It was something I’d heard my mum do a few times. It had been strange and scary to hear these alien noises coming out of her mouth with such intensity. After I heard her do it a few times I asked her what it was. She explained that it was the Holy Spirit inside her praying the perfect prayer..
I said, “I think I’ll try.”
“You can’t try. You have to pray and God will give you the ability.”
Eventually, I plucked up the courage to try speaking. “Sandaracki sanderay,” I said.
Was that the Holy Spirit, or just me making a weird sound? I called to my mum, who asked me to show. I felt embarrassed, but I said it again. Mum confirmed that it was the Holy Spirit. And that was it. I could speak in tongues.
I went to an ACE school when I was 11. As I and the dozen or so guest bloggers I’ve had will attest, it can be a soul destroying experience. I’m at university doing a PhD studying these schools right now, and it will be all I can do not to write a thesis in response to this question. Just the fact that I’ve decided to spend three years of my life studying and critiquing these schools should give you some idea how much it affected me.
In short, the biggest problem from an academic point of view is that the children mark their own work from answer books. This means that the best way to succeed in the ACE curriculum is to cheat. And even if you try not to cheat, you have a system that just tells you the right answer each time you make a mistake, so you automatically memorize it without necessarily understanding why.
Also, for the system to work, every question must have one correct answer, and that answer must be simple and short. That means questions that require any kind of thinking are out. The way the system is designed shuts down original, critical, or creative thought.
Most people get caught up on the Creationist agenda in ACE, which is bad, but I think the political agenda is even worse. The political content reads like they would find Conservapedia a bit too liberal. They actually state that it’s against God’s will for governments to provide welfare or healthcare.
(3) Were you isolated from those who were not fundamentalists? Did you have many friends growing up? Were you unhappy as a kid?
I was suicidal when I was 14 and 15. I reached a point where I couldn’t believe most of what I’d been brought up to believe anymore, but I also couldn’t reject it because I’d been indoctrinated into thinking that evolution was impossible and fundamentalist Christianity was the only truth. It left me with nothing to believe at all, and no hope of finding any answers. If you spend your whole life believing that, without the foundation of the Bible, you can’t know anything, what happens when you start to doubt your beliefs about the Bible itself?
(4) Has transitioning into mainstream society been difficult? Do you still feel disconnected from it?
It was hideous. I almost had a breakdown at my ACE school, so I went to a normal school. On my first day, another kid asked me to say “fuck”.
It was like he’d picked me up on some kind of Christian radar. I refused. Immediately, there was a witch hunt to get me to sin. I got more and more preachy, and alienated myself further and further.
(5) When did you start questioning it all? What was the hardest part of fundamentalism/Christianity to give up?
Questioning it was a gradual process. As soon as I went to a proper school, I started learning things which contradicted ACE. My history teacher taught us that socialism was in many ways quite a Christian concept, and I was absolutely furious. The indoctrination worked on me quite well. I refused to consider ideas that contradicted what ACE had taught me.
But the contradictions I learned must have piled up, I suppose, until eventually I couldn’t ignore them all anymore. I read Richard Dawkins’ “Viruses of the Mind” which just plunged me into agony because he was right, but I really didn’t want to agree with him. Whatever you think of Dawkins’ critique of religion in general, “Viruses of the Mind” is a perfect description of the way my beliefs used to work.
The hardest thing to give up was a black and white world view. Even after I stopped believing, I still wanted a moral code that was rigid, and everything had to be good or bad, true or false. Even musical taste. In my mind, the bands I liked weren’t just good, they were right. And people with other tastes weren’t different, they were incorrect.
(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 certainly did, although I feel alright now. I blogged about this recently for the Rationalist Association. I think there’s a need for communities more generally, and there should be an alternative for people who aren’t religious. I’ve certainly felt great about finding other people online who agree with me about ACE. So few people have heard of it that it’s really difficult to get people to notice. I really appreciate the guest bloggers who have shared their stories on my site.
There are tons of great blogs; I almost don’t want to start listing them for fear of leaving some out. Ex-fundy was another good one, even though Lorena is now retired.
(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?
Like I said, when I was about 16 I reached a point where I really had no idea about anything anymore. But then I fell in love with this fundamentalist girl, and I threw myself back into God in a big way, thinking that would make her attracted to me. It didn’t work.
For some reason, the possibility that there might be a God haunted me long after I stopped thinking it was likely. I read all the arguments, and I concluded that, if God does exist in the form I used to believe, then he is a bastard. But I couldn’t let that go. I was like, “Well, maybe God is a bastard. What makes us think that God should be good? If there is a God, why would he have the same standards as us? And what if my thinking this is making God really mad and sealing my doom?”
That really bothered me, and it was a painful time that lasted a couple of years. I think, ultimately, I realized that if you’re going to believe something just because you can’t disprove it, then you up believing in almost anything. I concluded that there could be a God, but if there is, it is nothing like any major religion’s concept of God. It is probably fundamentally unknowable. So then I just stopped worrying about it. I was reluctant to call myself an atheist for ages because I was afraid of being dogmatic ever again, after my brush with fundamentalism.
(8) Where are you today? What are your views about religion/politics?
My political views are rapidly lurching to the left. Funnily enough, the political indoctrination hung around the longest. Even when I’d rejected everything else ACE taught me, I was still furiously right wing. But I’ve learned that there were big flaws in their radical free market ideology just as much as in other areas, and now I’d like to see politics that takes care of the poor and the planet.
I also think we should impose regulations on faith schools to ensure that they meet academic standards, and they don’t indoctrinate in the way that ACE did to me.