Psychological Abuse, Torture, and Other Fun Bedtime Stories

One thing has become obvious since I started this blog: I got off lightly.

I began writing because I thought I had an important story to tell – and I do – but what happened to me is nothing compared to the abuse some of my commenters have encountered. Timothy Allman bravely shared this:

“My parents had their own ACE school that ended up being a home school just for us. There was no way out. My mother had me convinced that all public school children were evil drug addicts. It was more like a Polish orphanage than a nurturing home. Here is the kicker. After my fathers death, one of my sisters let me know that my father had molested her. From there it did not take much to figure out that all three of them had been molested. And it is clear from my mothers many actions like keeping us isolated and not wanting us (especially the girls) to see a doctor that she was compliant in this. Large numbers of people who say things like, we must abstain from all appearance of evil, might be protesting too much. These schools can safely harbor men and women who abuse children in ways that are just as bad as any catholic priest scandal in the news.”

The stories I have to tell from my youth are generally fairly amusing (to me at least), but most thoughts of my blog being entertaining are flying out the window. I’m going to have to find some Creationist hilarity for you next time to lighten the tone.

As I said in my last post on physical abuse, it wasn’t just spanking. Here’s an example I got emailed by an old schoolfriend, describing her brother’s experience:

“Another time he was getting told off for something by Mrs M and Mrs B, and they made him kneel on a hard floor for so long that his knees began to get really painful. then his legs just went numb and when he tried 2 stand up he just fell over again. So then they stood opposite eachother and made him walk back and forth from one to the other several times which made him feel like he had done something bad again. They had this amzing talent for making children feel as guilty and humiliated as possible about everything didnt they!”

My most vivid memory from Victory was a story from a choral verse lesson. Choral verse was pretty much unique to Victory, and it involved mass Bible recitation, combined with actions. One action was that all the children had to extend their arms out in front of them, palm up, and hands at eye level.

Try holding that position and see how long it is before your arm gets heavy. Of course, everyone’s arms began to droop. So the teachers, in an inspired moment, decided that everyone had to hold the position – for five minutes. This is borderline impossible for children as young as six. And every time anyone’s hand was seen to lower, the time started again. For everybody.

I was not there for this. But I know it happened because one of the teachers thought it was such a good idea that they went and got a camera, came back (they had plenty of time), and took a picture. In many subsequent choral verse lessons, the teacher reminded the school that this had taken place. She was so proud of this great example of discipline. Once, she asked an older student to recount his experience of it. Another time, she produced the photograph.

She spoke warmly of this experience, in a cloying, Professor Umbridge voice. “It was a matter of tears for some of you,” she smiled.

This was the kind of psychological abuse the students were subjected to – the worry that an exercise like that could take place at any time, and complaining would only make things worse. I was terrified, because I was certain I wouldn’t be able to cope.

And here’s the thing – this woman is the nicest person I have ever met. If you met her, you would be struck by what a warm, caring person she is. The real world is not split into heroes and villains like fiction. When Ofsted inspectors and journalists meet teachers like that, they are struck by a Christian woman who loves the children deeply. They have no suspicion that they are dealing with a woman whose theology and personal values demand rigid, unrelenting discipline. In my mind, she is equally the most evil person I’ve ever met. I recently wrote to her, requesting an audience to discuss the way she treated the children. In response, I received an email from her son, insisting that I stop writing because I was causing her “distress,” and that he would not allow her to be subjected to my “vitriol.”

When she heard murmurings, during the choral verse class, that we were struggling, she leapt on the idea. “You should THANK GOD you’re here!” she roared. “In The Hiding Place [Corrie ten Boom’s autobiographical account of imprisonment in a Nazi concentration camp], they were made to parade outside on the icy concrete in bare feet! You should thank God that wasn’t you!”

She honestly told us that we should be grateful we weren’t in a concentration camp. And while it’s true I never saw anyone suffer on that scale in my school, some of Lester Roloff’s disciples have practised things not far away in barbarity. I no longer think my Jesus Jihad post even deserves to be controversial. If Christians are capable of this inhumanity against children, they’ve already committed atrocities worse than some terrorists’.

Now, I realise that when UK NARIC conducted their examination of Accelerated Christian Education schools, they were looking at curriculum and assessment, not discipline. But this type of discipline is intrinsic to the values of these schools, and the underpinning theology. NARIC has endorsed a qualification which is synonymous with abuse. I’m sure there are cases of children completing ACE while enjoying a healthy relationship with their parents, peers, and teachers, but they are the exception.

If students tell me they weren’t abused, I am not sure their testimony is reliable. At the end of 1984, Winston loves Big Brother. I think that being spanked, or worse, every time they got rebellious may have had an effect rather like aversion therapy for many of them. And I think the teachers would be rather disappointed if that weren’t the case.

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About jonnyscaramanga

I grew up as a Christian fundamentalist in the UK. Now I am writing a book and blog about what that's like, and what fundamentalists believe.

Posted on July 20, 2012, in Accelerated Christian Education, Faith Schools, Fundamentalism, School of Tomorrow and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Subscribing in some distress; but thanks Jonny.

  2. Got a bit distracted by the Jesus Jihad post and comments, or I’d have commented here sooner. My head’s a bit sore now but I’ll give it a go!

    Oh gosh that teacher. The very worst kind, who is utterly, utterly convinced that imposing such psychological damage is actually good for a child’s soul. All I can think of is what Jesus said about people who cause children to stumble (Matthew 18), and I hope to goodness that doesn’t happen to her, because it’s not nice.

    The more I read on this blog the angrier I get – at stuff done in the name of Jesus from which he would recoil in horror, and at my own weakness in not speaking out against these actions. Yet I’m so glad you’re publishing this stuff Jonny, because knowing more about it is getting me thinking about how to engage with it creatively.

    The difficulty comes, when criticising other Christians, in the knowledge that I have no claim to greater authority or knowledge than anyone else – the journey towards humility is part and parcel of the Christian faith. Modern liberal Christianity tends to veer more towards the conciliating than confrontational, possibly because it wants to stand against the confrontational attitude of more right-wing parts of the Church. But I make excuses. For my part, I believe there is no defence for any Christian who causes a child to grow up with such a twisted idea of love, until they are able to repent and help make amends for the damage they have caused. And yes, of course I concede that without knowing it, I may fall into that category myself. I am as much subject to the command to repent as any other Christian.

    • Thanks for this. I’ve often wondered why it’s so hard to get liberal Christians to speak out against fundamentalist excesses, and your explanation makes a lot of sense. The point about having no greater claim to authority is important. I believe now that fundamentalist beliefs are wrong and harmful with a huge amount of passion, but I try to guard against becoming dogmatic in the opposite direction. I have been certain before in my life, and been wrong. It could happen again. I try to be fair and intellectually honest, although not all my commenters agree that I succeed in this.

      I think the important thing is to admit, on all sides, that we don’t know anything about God for certain (although fundamentalists think they do). As a result, it’s essential to have an education system which teaches methods of enquiry, open-mindedness, and critical thinking.

      I really appreciate you bringing a Christian perspective to the comments, by the way.

      • OK. I am going to be bad here, but this does bother me.

        He means well, and I know you are interested in a dialog with liberal Christians, but I just feel that the theology at its very core is flawed. The founder(s) of the church created the doctrine of Hell from the beginning, drawing upon Zoroastrianism and similar theological doctrines.

        The very doctrine of “sin” and eternal punishment and needing Jesus to die for our sins (because the Demiurge screwed up so badly LOL) inevitably leads to such abuse. Because we are flawed and “deserve it” for our “own good”.

        How does he “know” Jesus is the warm and cuddly liberal lover he claims? For every St. Francis of Assisi there is a teacher like this one lovingly torturing people

        I also see Mitchell and Webb’s Bad Vicar’s response to this argument “That is a very recent idea that I don’t think is going to catch on”

        But definitely…better liberal Christianity than fundamentalism. Some of the nicest people I know are deeply religious but still very liberal people.

        I promise…no more evil Gnu Atheist ranting from me! I love the blog.

      • Just to remove any misconceptions, it’s she not he – and that’s my fault sorry, logging on through WordPress it used my WordPress username.

        The spectrum of Christian faith ranges from absolute certainty (fundamentalism) to absolute uncertainty (you may remember one particular bishop questioning the virgin birth). I come somewhere in between, though I couldn’t say exactly where. There are at least one or two things I hold onto as certainty. And whether Christians would have other people realise it or not, we all have a choice of how much certainty we adhere to. Our big mistake is when we equate the bible with God. The bible isn’t God, rather it’s a resource through which we can learn about him, and must be used in conjunction with tradition and reason or, as we’ve seen on this blog, it can be harmfully misapplied.

        So yes, how do I know Jesus is a warm and cuddly liberal lover? Well I have to say I don’t know for certain. I don’t believe that describes him accurately anyway because my understanding of him is so limited. My experience tells me I’m onto something but that goes down a far more personal road, where academia can’t really follow…

  3. Fair enough, poie…not meaning to attack you personally in any way. Bit of a strawman sydrome, perhaps. I am one of those evil atheists who “hates” the concept of god outlined in christianity, so I tend to react negatively.

    • That’s ok, I didn’t feel like it was a personal attack. You’re right there are some truly awful ideas of what God is like being bandied around, I think mainly because we find it so extremely difficult to understand what concepts like grace and freedom really look like when we apply them. Human tendency is to run in the opposite direction because it’s easier, and possibly feels safer. So we constrain ourselves with law rather than abandon ourselves to grace, impose that law on other people, create systems based on it and call it Christianity. I have a strong suspicion that the same thing happens with other religions too. There are those of us who don’t sit so well under such a yoke, and we either ditch the whole thing or suppress our huge doubts and stick around because we’ll feel too guilty if we don’t. Or somehow manage to find another way while still having a presence within the system.

      Sorry, getting all preachy and a bit off-topic – though I suppose the previous paragraph goes some way to explaining why Christians can sometimes act in such a damaging way. And not just Christians, since control is a natural human tendency.

      Oh, my real name’s Sarah by the way – meant to say in the last post!

  4. And sorry, Jonny, I also meant to say thanks for your comments, and I think you’re doing a pretty good job at being fair and intellectually honest. Not easy when your own experience is so involved in the debate, but the effort is appreciated. Particularly, from my point of view, because you feel it’s worth listening to other Christian voices rather than assuming we’ll all say the same thing. Cheers, and keep up the good work!

  5. Fundamentalists use tactics reminiscent of something from ‘A Clockwork Orange’ regardless of which religion is followed. These people are serious nut bags that should never ever be placed in a care in the community scheme, they should get life in a main prison and only ever leave in a coffin. These individuals are sadists with a taste for blood and what easy way to fulfil their vile desires than to hide behind a veil of put on piety and meekness. It makes me shudder.

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