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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“The ACE system is an abomination. It is isolating, oppressive, racist, sexist, ill-informed and abusive.” You probably won’t be surprised to read those words on this blog. But you will be surprised about who they’re coming from. Today’s post is from Simon Dillon, who is still a creationist and a Christian fundamentalist despite attending an ACE school for seven years. Take it away Simon.
When Jonny asked me to post on his blog, I felt both humbled and honoured that he would want me to do so. After all, I am a born-again Christian Creationist, and would no doubt qualify as a “fundamentalist” in the eyes of many. However, Jonny recently said this about me, one of the highest compliments I have ever received: “If all fundamentalists were like you, I don’t think I’d be one, but I almost certainly wouldn’t have a blog called Leaving Fundamentalism”. With such an endorsement, I hope you will read on.
If you’ve spent any time at all reading about creationism online, you’ll be familiar with the infuriating experience of attempting to have a reasonable conversation on the subject. Creationists are notorious for quote mining, for a seemingly wilful ability to misinterpret the clearest of arguments, for ad hominem attacks, and for repeating the same arguments after they’ve been addressed. This has been so widely observed that it’s led to the internet adage that arguing with a creationist is like playing chess with a pigeon: They’ll knock over the pieces, crap on the board, and then strut about clucking like they won.
What’s really interesting, though, is seeing creationists use these same tactics on each other. I first observed this when I was a kid, and I should have seen through the whole enterprise back then.
I doubt there’s a long-running ex-fundamentalist blog on the internet which hasn’t received a comment along the lines of “You were never a REAL Christian”. I got just such a charming message the other day.
What’s with that? Why are fundamentalists not sniffing around their churches for impostors? There must be a fair few of them around, if everyone who has ever left the faith turned out to be a fake. Why are fundamentalists so intent on denying that I was ever one of them?
It’s all part of the problem I discussed in “Why fundamentalists will never listen to me“. Fundamentalists believe that in order to understand the Bible, and real Christian faith, you must yourself be a real Christian. Without salvation, you cannot understand the things of God.
This has the handy side-effect of meaning they never have to listen to anyone who disagrees with them. People who disagree with fundamentalists are Not True Christians, and therefore incapable of understanding Christianity. It follows that these people cannot possibly make valid criticisms of their faith. Who says fundamentalists can’t do logic? Read the rest of this entry
You may remember David Waldock’s excellent guest post, Jobs a Creationist Can Do. I mentioned that David was an ACE survivor, but for personal reasons preferred not to write about his own experience. Today he left a comment in which he described how attending an ACE school and fundamentalist church felt when he was a gay teenager. I defy you not to be moved. With permission, I’m reposting it here because I want everyone to see it. This comment was left in reply to today’s earlier post, in which Caroline, an ACE student, defended Accelerated Christian Education and the view that homosexuality is a perversion.
Caroline, let me tell you what I hear you saying:
“YOU DON’T EXIST. YOU DON’T EXIST. YOU DON’T EXIST. YOU DON’T EXIST. If I acknowledge you exist, it will fundamentally challenge my identity. THEREFORE YOU DON’T EXIST.”
Let me tell you about myself.
I was raised as an evangelical, fundamentalist, literal word of god believing good Christian, in an ACE school. I believed that I believed all the right things. Young earth creationism? Check! Infallibility of Biblical wisdom? Check! Christ born of a virgin? Check! Fundamental sinfulness of man? Check! Man led astray by woman? Check! Women inferior to man in every way? Check! Death and resurrection of my saviour? Check! Personal relationship with god? Check! Importance of strict discipline for children? Check! Satan hiding behind every street corner waiting to tempt me into sin? Check! Importance of being pious and judging the sinners (especially those believers who believe the wrong thing!) so they know they need to receive Jesus into their hearts? Check!
I had it all. And yet, I was never able to achieve the behavioural standards demanded of me. I got caned five times one week for leaving my flag up. I got demerits and detentions for looking insolent. I got told off publicly for arguing with monitors and supervisors. I was bullied by fellow students then punished for responding to it. We had staff who were bitter, twisted, abusive and poorly trained who took it out on me and other students. Then, when I got home, I would be criticised again, hit with a tennis shoe for showing my parents up. But at least nobody spoiled me by sparing the rod, eh! I left that school with three GCSEs. Read the rest of this entry