Category Archives: Fundamentalism

On mind-controlling cults, Fred Phelps, and Ockham Awards

I spent the weekend before last at QEDCon, a convention for people who like science and don’t like pseudoscience. While I was mainly there to speak on a panel, I also ended up winning an award after you, the readers of Leaving Fundamentalism, had managed to get this blog shortlisted. This was the Ockham Award for Best Blog, sponsored by The Skeptic.

Here I am receiving the award from Nate Phelps (Thanks to zooterkin for the photo). Nate is an escapee from Westboro Baptist Church, the notorious cult. Of which more in a moment.

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The eagle-eyed among you will notice that the usually-professional Richard Wiseman had in fact furnished me with the wrong award, but I was too busy being pleased to win to notice this:

And then someone pointed it out, which led to this:

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My life in an ACE school

This post by Ian is cross-posted from Bruce Gerencser’s excellent blog, The Way Forward. It’s the first two parts of a series. I’ll be reposting them all here eventually, but if you’re impatient you can read up to part 5 over there. If you’re an ex-ACE student, you’ll also enjoy the discussions happening in the comments over there.

ACE Bible Mind Control

My ACE Experience, Part 1

I am writing a several part series on my ACE school experience. I attended three different ACE schools and was associated with a fourth, so I feel I have had a pretty varied experience with them.

This is my story as I remember it. I had good and bad times, as did anyone attending any type of school. Am I a better or worse person for having an ACE education? I don’t know. I truly believe I did as well as I did because my parents were heavily involved in my schooling, both public and private.

As I tell my story, I will write about the bad things I did. This is not to brag, it is to be as honest as possible.

This has been quite the journey down memory lane, going back over 30 years.  For people who have shared my experience, this will bring back memories. For those who have never attended an ACE school, it my be quite an eye opener.

I hope you enjoy what I have written.

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Take a lesson from the kids

This is a guest post by Tyler Francke, owner of GodofEvolution.com

It’s not typical (though probably far more common in Accelerated Christian Education schools) that your principal is also your church pastor, but such was the case at the small private school in Oregon that my wife attended from preschool through twelfth grade.

Based on her experience, I wouldn’t recommend it. Giving a single man (always a man at ACE schools, of course) such broad and absolute authority over impressionable children’s intellectual, spiritual and moral development just seems like an obviously bad idea.

She could tell you horror stories. One of the pastor/principal’s favorite exercises on Wednesday morning chapel services was to call the students up on stage and “separate the sheep from the goats.”

In the original parable that inspired this grim practice, Jesus spoke about how he would judge the nations at his second coming, separating those who lived righteously and gave to the needy from those who were wicked and ignored the poor and suffering.

In Pastor/Principal’s version, he would separate those whom he deemed to be the “good kids” from the bad ones, and my wife always ended up with the goats (those are the ones destined for the eternal fires, by the way, if you’re unfamiliar with the story).

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To New Bethany and back: One woman’s journey to report the man she says sexually abused her

After years of frustrated attempts, of being ignored by the press, dismissed by law enforcement, and disbelieved by the adults that should have protected them, the heroic women of New Bethany have finally achieved a breakthrough. This week, Louisiana’s Times-Picayune is serialising the story of their journey back to New Bethany to report Mack Ford, New Bethany’s preacher-owner,  for rape.

This story should not have been necessary. The reason it became necessary is because of negligence.

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Your sins will find you out

Big news! I’ve just been announced as a speaker at this year’s QED conference in Manchester. I’ll be on a panel with Nate Phelps, son of Fred Phelps, the infamous Westboro Baptist Church leader, and Sanal Edamaruku, president of the Indian Rationalist Association. More info on the panel here, and get your tickets here.

Now, today’s post:

ACE has tirelessly campaigned since its inception that its schools should not require state licences or qualified teachers. By 1993, it has been in more than 150 lawsuits. Today’s guest post is from JP, whose post shows what a school can be like when it’s totally unregulated. It’s the opposite of the rigid discipline I remember from my ACE days, but a whole other world of horrible. Read on to learn what happens when you use an ACE school as a place to sleep off a hangover…

After 8th grade my anxiety disorder had made itself apparent. I was thrown into the grips of not one, but two mental illnesses. I hated my life and was scared of everything. My situation got bad enough that it prevented me from attending public high school. My parents, unknowing about ACE, found New Haven Christian Academy. My dad explained to me what the school was like and took me in for a meeting. It seemed fine at first. I saw the uniforms we had to wear, long skirts and oversized polo shirts with the school emblem on the breast. I was going through a very gothy/emo-y phase at the time so I detested the clothing restrictions, but I was out of options. I began going to this school and everything went fairly well. I was a declared atheist before attending this school, and probably for the wrong reasons considering I decided to be one out of teenage angst and anger at my situation. This school scared me into religion and taught me nothing of value.

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Tax-funded creationism and sexism

So the British Humanist Association has declared war on publicly-funded creationist nurseries in the UK. They’ve identified 67 nurseries of concern, of which nine are using the ACE curriculum. Of course, I first told you this was happening a year ago, so it’s nice to see something happening at last.

In a stupendous feat of good timing, two weeks ago a friend purchased the entire ACE kindergarten curriculum for me, so I can show you where your tax money is going if you live near one of these august institutions. Of course, we knew about the creationism already. What has shocked me (and angered me, since I went to an ACE nursery and I’d forgotten most of this) is the sexism. It turns out the rigid gender roles and wives-submit-to-your-husbands indoctrination that characterises ACE in later years begins when the pupils are aged three.

And in Britain, public funds are being used to pay for this.

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More Christians denounce Accelerated Christian Education

As you’re no doubt bored of hearing, I was on BBC1′s The Big Questions last week, debating the question “Can children be damaged in fundamentalist religions?”.

While Twitter was busy talking about my hair, something fairly historic took place. On British television, for the first time to my knowledge, two Christians (of very different sorts) publicly denounced Accelerated Christian Education.

In the battle to save children from indoctrination and poor education, my contribution was probably the least important in the whole segment. By the end of the show, even the person they’d invited to defend fundamentalism agreed that she condemned Accelerated Christian Education. Here’s what happened.

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Believe I’m going to hell? You’re either insincere or don’t care. Pick one.

Fundamentalists: you have not been trying very hard to save me. Either you do not really believe I am going to hell, or you do not care. Which is it?

I wasn’t going to post this until next week, but I needed to get it online while the relevant Big Questions episode is still on BBC iPlayer so you can see what I’m talking about.

Liz Weston is a member of Christ Church Southampton. She was on The Big Questions this week to defend fundamental Christianity against the charge that it is harmful to children.

Let me say this first: I like her. She got a lot of bile from Twitter atheists when the episode aired, but I chatted to her after the show and she was genuinely nice. I got the feeling that we could have spoken for a long time and found many areas of common ground. Liz was shocked by my experiences of fundamentalism and expressed genuine regret. She was also far more tolerant than I was in my fundamentalist days. I got the feeling that where we disagreed, we could have done so without it being a source of animosity.

So yes, I think Liz Weston is a good person, and that’s important to remember in light of what I’m about to say.

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There is definitely no such thing as hell

If I’d designed the atheist bus campaign, it would have said:

There is definitely no hell. Now stop bothering me and enjoy your life.”

There is probably no god. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.

Ariane Sherine and Richard Dawkins launch the original atheist bus campaign, 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The doctrine of hell is the cause of about 95% of what’s wrong with fundamentalism. I admit that I do not know whether any gods exist, but I am certain there is no hell. And if everyone would just realise that hell is imaginary, religious conflict would mostly go away.

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Your idea of love is fucked up.

There’s a lot of swearing in this post. That means the people who need to hear this most will ignore me. That’s fine. There will be other posts on other days to engage sympathetically. And at this point, the bridges between me and those I criticise are mostly in flames anyway.

When Reverend Oliver Harrison spoke out against ACE in January, he wrote “I was in my twenties before anyone told me the first and most foundational truth of Christianity: namely, that God is love”. To which AislingNB replied:

‘God is love’ is an underlying basic principle which is often stated in the PACES. Perhaps your experience of ACE was negative because of the people that administered it. Don’t blame the actual curriculum for this.

Then Kara Deacon piled in:

I am an ex-pupil of the school you are criticizing… I don’t quite understand how you can say that you were not taught about the love of God because it was taught in every assembly and it was a huge part of school life.

So who’s telling the truth?

I believe all of them. I’m sure the King’s School, like all ACE schools, talked about love all the time. I’m equally sure that Oliver didn’t learn anything about real love while he was there.

It’s because when ACE talk about love, they mean something different from the rest of us. The trouble is that fundamentalism poisons the meaning of love. Yes, they talk about love all the time, but love is a stick to beat you with.

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