Guest post: Putting the fundamental in fundamentalist

I’ve had a relative inundation of good quality guest post submissions lately. Which is great. I was starting to look like a lone fanatic, so it’s great to have other ex-students explain how they found their experience of ACE and fundamentalism harmful. Today, “Sheldon” from the Ramblings of Sheldon blog talks about his experience with Independent Fundamental Baptists. Those guys are the most fundamentalist fundies of all.

I attended an ACE school from kindergarten to 5th grade, then I was home schooled with ACE until high school graduation.

The ACE school I attended (as well as my sister) was a part of the Independent Fundamental Baptist (IFB) organization, a group that today, I make no apologies about calling it a cult, if you are not familiar with this group, check the section I have dedicated to them on my blog.

Unfortunately  this exposure to the IFB led my sister to go to one of their colleges, Hyles-Anderson, where she met her husband, she didn’t leave this group until three years ago.

The school was small, as ACE schools typically are, usually averaging 25-30 students a year. It was run then by a pastor and his wife (it is now closed, but they do still sell ACE curriculum for home school families through the church).

The pastor was an old style minister, constantly preaching about hell and judgement, and just about anything imaginable was a “sin”. He had quite a flair for the dramatic, especially when he believed it would get the attention of his students and/or congregation. He had this obnoxious habit of not only raising his voice during speeches, but slamming his hand on the podium, open handed, sideways (with the thumb facing up). The constant thumping would echo through the room, and on his microphone, it was almost enough to cause a headache. I had heard shortly after I left the school, that one Sunday morning, he had to be taken to the hospital during one of these pulpit pounding routines, because he hit the edge of the pulpit at an awkward angle and broke his wrist. 

He would do anything that he thought would get his point across, including walking across the tops of the pews. There’s one incident I remember quite well. One morning, the students were assembled to hear him give an opening speech for the day, it usually wasn’t much of a speech, mostly announcements him or his wife felt were important to say that day, mundane details about upcoming events, etc. On this particular morning, he said that he had found a Janet Jackson cassette (this was the early 90’s) left behind on the floor, somewhere in the church/school building.

He tried to get one of us to confess to losing the cassette, but either  none of us was willing to confess to owning it, and it is likely that it belonged that it belong to a bus kid, which is what we all thought was the case   (it was Monday morning, and the church, like many fundamentalist churches was obsessed with bringing more people in through bus ministry).

We figured that’s what he would assume, and move on, or more likely that he would go on a rant about how “sinful” that kind of music was. Neither happened. His dramatic side kicked in. He set the cassette on the floor, moved a metal folding chair closer to him, stood on it, and jumped off onto the cassette, crushing it.He wan’t content to leave the whole incident at that, he had to keep stomping on it as well (as if the weight of a grown man jumping on it wasn’t enough to destroy it) Contrary to what most people reading this post might assume, none of us was surprised about this, because of his past behavior, some found it amusing, others just brushed it off.

After the 5th grade, I left this school, and my sister graduated from there. It was this time that the home schooling began, with ACE as the curriculum. From here, the isolation just got worse, going from 20 or more students to interact with, to just my family. This began a life long struggle with depression, (which I still have to deal with to this day). From the time I was about 9 years old to about 16 years old, I just shut down, I buried myself into my my classwork with ACE, and didn’t like to associate with most people, especially others my age. I didn’t want to be around them, and I didn’t understand them in the first place. The opening paragraphs of Jonny’s guest post on my blog sound rather similar to my experience, but not only was I socially awkward, I just did want anything to do with other young people, period.

This started to change when I was 16, due to two good friends I call Sam and Rose in my writings (not their actual names, I’m trying to preserve their privacy and mine), and a persistent girl who would end up becoming my girlfriend of 3 years. This gradual reaching out to people around me, wasn’t enough to prepare me for what would come next: college. The isolation, combined with preexisting depression (and many people have told me that I show signs of high functioning autism, I need to get tested), made for a miserable experience that led to a nervous breakdown once I entered college.

The college I attended, even though it was a fundamentalist Christian college, the class room style was much like a US public school, and there was a wider variety of people than I was used to. People from any different places, and not all were fundamentalists (chapel attendance was required, but no profession of faith).

It was just too much to handle, it wasn’t at all familiar, and I didn’t know how to handle it. Despite what Christian fundamentalism will claim their home schooling/private schooling world does not prepare people for actual life. I went home, back to fundamentalist family. I had to try to pick up the pieces, while facing their wrath over the nervous breakdown. It was my fault, I didn’t actually have depression, it was nothing more than “guilt” or “not having a right relationship with god”.

Regrettably, I started to believe it. I buried myself deeper into fundamentalism, spent many hours begging god for forgiveness, and started to sincerely double down on fundamentalism, reading the Bible more, reading and listening to like minded ministers, trying to get back into my faith. It seemed to work for about 2 years, until around my 21st birthday when doubts hit very fast.

Part of these major doubts were the fact that I was raised with the belief of divine inspiration, the belief that all of the Bible is divinely inspired, that god personally directed the authors of the books of the Bible. Nothing was written that he didn’t personally tell them to write. This creates some dilemmas.

A major one is the Old Testament, and its barbaric law code. I was told by many fellow fundamentalists that it was “only for that time period”. First of all, let’s not mind the fact that they like to quote from the Old Testament when it suits them (such as condemning homosexuality), but ignoring what they don’t like (don’t eat shellfish, women should have to marry their rapists). My thought was that if god had approved the Old Testament law at any time in human history, that was deeply disturbing, and it made him a god not worth worshipping. This was only one of several major issues, but one of the most important that led me out of fundamentalism.

Today, post fundamentalism, I’m a blogger, who has managed to find some success in the atheist/agnostic blogging world (far, far more, than I could ever imagine), telling my story, and giving people a first hand look at what fundamentalism really is like for someone who has lived it, I think many atheists out there who haven’t personally experienced it can fully understand it, and I try to show them what it is really like.

Sometimes I get discouraged when blogging, but there are moments that make it all worth it. Just this morning, I found a comment left on one of my posts from a woman who was an IFB survivor, and also from the St. Louis area where I’m from. She said she found my blog trying to find any information on the IFB school she went to, but could find any, she wanted me to e-mail her.

I did e-mail her, and I’m awaiting her response, just knowing that I have reached out least one other person out there, a fellow survivor makes the blog worth it to me, it makes telling my story something worth doing.

If you want to know more about my past, read my blog Ramblings of Sheldon, or follow me on Google +, I’m  Sheldon Cooper over there, and yes, the name is after the character from the show The Big Bang Theory.

Big thanks to Sheldon for writing. Please get in touch if you’d like to write a guest post.

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