What it’s like to be an English teenage fundamentalist
The worst thing about growing up as a fundamentalist in England was that I didn’t have any friends. This was partly down to introversion on my part, but it was mostly because I hardly knew any other fundamentalists. Now, I’ve previously estimated the number of Young Earth Creationists in the UK at up to 1.2 million. I’ve also put the number of Christians who are at least sympathetic to my old cult, the Word of Faith, at six figures. But those numbers don’t consider the sheer divisiveness of fundamentalism.
The trouble with fundamentalism is that all fundamentalists believe they interpret the Bible literally, and they also believe that everyone else’s ‘literal interpretation’ is wrong. If you didn’t believe all the same things as me, I regarded you as a bit suspect. It wasn’t that I wasn’t allowed to socialise with less extreme Christians. The brainwashing was so thorough, I didn’t want to.
At one point, I did have a real friend at Sunday school, but in the quest for pure doctrine my family drove 15 miles to church, so I never saw him on weekdays. Later, we went to a church where I was one of precisely three teenagers aged 13-16. The others were girls, and I didn’t like them. They weren’t even hot, which – to a teenage boy steeped in Christian patriarchy – made their value close to zero. Then we left that church for one that was just starting. There, the youth group numbered precisely one. Me.
I wanted to hang out with guys who liked the same Christian metal bands as me. At my ACE school, I converted one other boy, and then immediately hated him for buying all the same CDs as me.
Being a fundamentalist hipster is tough.
After I left my ACE school, and found myself in a church youth group, I had exactly zero friends.
American fundamentalists don’t have the same isolation. I spent the summer of 2000 staying with the pastor of a smalltown Bible Belt church. Over there, it was a different story. The population of the town was 5,000; of those, 500 attended this church. The youth group was enormous and close knit. There were successful companies in the town that seemed to employ only members of that church. It was possible to live your entire life without touching the outside world. And, best of all, these guys believed all the same things I did.
I spent a glorious fortnight hanging out with the youth group. The best times came after dark, when the temperature was finally low enough to be bearable in a T-shirt and shorts. We drank soft drinks and played basketball, and listened to Christian rock bands. The Christian rock they had was better than the stuff in English Christian bookshops. It sounded good in the way that supermarket cola tastes good if you only have a vague memory of real Coke.
We went on a float trip down a massive river which flowed through gorges and forests. At night we made camp and hung out. Everything was perfect. The many girls in the youth group were hot, which – to a teenage boy steeped in Christian patriarchy – made them very worthwhile indeed.
Then I had to return to the UK, and to my suicidal thoughts, which were compounded by that glimpse of an idyllic life I would never have.
If I’d grown up in that church, I’m sure I would still be a fundamentalist. I would have been happy playing guitar in their awesome band. Eventually, one of the southern belles would have taken a shine to me, and we’d have been married, and as long as I never read any books I would have lived happily ever after.
Some ex-fundamentalists say they always had a questioning nature, but I don’t think I was really one of them. When I had doubts, my first response was to look for reassurance, not to rock the boat. I did eventually abandon my faith for rational reasons (well… largely rational), but I only began to ask questions when I realised my faith made me miserable. If I’d grown up in the American south, I don’t think that would have happened.
So I suppose I should be extremely grateful that I grew up in England.
- How vodka and Coke rescued me from Creationism
- Why fundamentalists have no social skills
- Ex-fundamental girl goes clothes shopping (wideopenground.com)
- Why It’s Difficult to Leave Fundamentalism (Part 2 of 3) (ryangear.com)