From when I left my ACE school (aged 15) until I was 19, I almost never socialised. I just didn’t know how to socialise with people who weren’t fundamentalists. Almost everything they ever did was a sin, and I didn’t like any of the same music or TV as them. South Park was strange and offensive, and I didn’t want to be around people who would laugh at such depravity.
As we got older, the people I knew spent more and more time in pubs. Apart from the food-serving kind, pubs were frightening places. Drunk people were scary and unpredictable. But the real reason I hated pubs was because I hated beer. This wasn’t really a moral thing. In my most radicalised phase, I had believed that Christians shouldn’t drink at all, but in the UK, most evangelicals are comfortable with alcohol (as long as you don’t “get drunk”). There isn’t the same puritan streak that runs through US fundamentalism. It’s just that beer is an acquired taste, and I hadn’t acquired it.
Then, on my 19th birthday, someone bought me a vodka and Coke. And this was brilliant, because it just tasted like awful Coke. I could drink awful Coke. I already did when I went to my step-gran’s house and she produced a bottle that had been sitting open, in direct sunlight, for a month.
The discovery of vodka and Coke, which meant that I could go to the pub and join in, changed everything. I immediately started going to a Wednesday night rock club, where a double vodka and Coke was about £2. Because I’d never drunk in my life, I could get absolutely hammered for less than a tenner. And I did. A lot.
The first time I went clubbing, a girl took it upon herself to sit in my lap, before leading me to the dancefloor and kissing me passionately. This was the future.
The second time, I finished the night dancing in a circle with three incredibly hot girls. I say incredibly hot. I’d had a few drinks at the time. They might have looked like Yoda for all I know. All I can say with confidence is that their clothing and hairstyles were consistent with the hypothesis that they were female.
So these incredibly hot probably-females were passing around a cigarette, which of course I accepted, because I was cool now. I had no idea what to do with it, but I sort of sucked on it a bit and passed it on, triumphantly managing not to cough. And my main memory is of absolute euphoria. This wasn’t sin; this was brilliant. I’d been in Charismatic meetings where the entire church falling around praying in tongues and laughing hysterically, and this was… better. I was happier.
All my life people had told me these things were sinful. As I danced awkwardly with three girls, that seemed laughable. I thought of the dour-faced fundamentalist who would remind me, via Hebrews 11:25, that “sin has its pleasures for a season”, and I knew they were wrong. Fundamentalism had had its pleasures for a season, before it became a prison. Now I was liberated from the shackles of Biblical slavery. I was truly free.
Of course, after years of repression, I took it too far. There were many nights I ended up an absolute mess. Eventually, too much drinking and too little sleep left me totally burned out. I think about it now and I’m not sure what to say. I don’t want to recommend excessive drinking. But at the same time, I don’t think I would have escaped fundamentalism without it. I needed to go and party with the sinners to find out that they weren’t sinners. I needed to experience what the church called “Satan’s counterfeit of God’s joy” to realise it was better than what God had to offer.
So yeah… I’m not necessarily proud of this. Some people become atheists because of rational argument. Some people because of questions the church can’t answer. Some because of abusive pastors. Me, I left my religion because of alcohol.
How about you? Did you go through a rebellious phase when you left religion? What made you leave fundamentalism behind?