Fundamentalist Flashbacks

Fundamentalist Flashbacks November 21, 2013

I recently woke up in the middle of the night, gripped by a sudden panic. What if I’m wrong?

If I’m wrong, I’m going to hell.

I’ve spent the last several years campaigning to raise public awareness of fundamentalist Christian schools that I consider abusive. I went to such a school myself, so I have a dog in this fight. If what they taught me is true, then I have spent these years fighting against God himself.

The fear claws at me for a while, and then in my groggy state I manage to remember some stuff:

If the strict Muslims are right, I’m equally doomed whether I’m a Christian or an atheist, yet that has never given me a moment’s worry in my life. My fear is not spiritual, or rational. It’s cultural.

And anyway, the notion of a just and/or loving God sending me to infinite punishment for finite sins is self-contradictory. It can’t be true.

Panic over, I go back to sleep.

I haven’t believed in God for seven years. I’ve openly identified as an atheist for four of those, but there are still situations where I have flashbacks to my fundamentalist past.

I’ve visited the Natural History Museum in London twice in the last year. It’s a fantastic place for anyone, but it’s incredible if you used to be a creationist. All this information that most people take for granted is new to me. Reading it is like inhaling oxygen after holding my breath for twenty years.

And yet…

My first reaction on reading any date older than 4000 B.C. is to start denying it. It’s a reflex. I can’t help it. “Four billion years? They can’t possibly know that! That’s just speculation. How do they know their dating methods are reliable?” The thoughts come piling into my head before I have a chance to engage my brain. Fortunately, scientists have to answer those questions, and their responses are more interesting than “it was a miracle.”

My automatic reaction to my first ten sexual encounters was guilt. Rationally, I knew that sex was nothing mystical. Between consenting adults, it should be a mutually enjoyable experience. But I was conditioned to think that it was only acceptable within a Christian marriage (and even then only within certain limits). I couldn’t turn those thoughts off.

I remember sitting on the edge of the bed as my first girlfriend looked at me.

“You’re sad,” she said, looking at my hunched up body.

“No, I’m not,” I insisted. “I’m glad we did that.” I really wanted it to be true.

“It’s all over your face,” she replied, and she couldn’t help taking it as rejection. The relationship lasted two weeks after that.

I’m mostly better now. I’m doing a PhD which requires me to read a lot of creationist mumbo-jumbo, and occasionally it still wears me down. I’ll be knee-deep in some obscure point of biology, and a creationist will raise an objection I haven’t heard before. Crap, I think, what if they’re right? Then I remember. Even if creationists have found a genuine problem for the theory of evolution – on their millionth attempt – that is no evidence for creationism. I’ve momentarily fallen for the ridiculous argument that if evolution were proven false, literal readings of Genesis would be vindicated. This is like saying that if modern physics turns out to be flawed, Star Trek would be proven true.

But one good thing has emerged from all of this: At least I now question all my beliefs. When I was a creationist, I didn’t stop for a moment to consider that I might be wrong. I knew I was right. Allowing the possibility that I might be wrong keeps me honest. By making me suppress problems which I knew were real, fundamentalism forced me to be dishonest with myself.


I’m now part of the Spiritual Abuse Survivors’ Blog Network! This is my first post as part of this awesome blogging collective. It’s cross-posted at No Longer Quivering. The network is a way for bloggers to support each other in recovering from and standing against abusive religion. There are a lot of awesome blogs in the list, and frankly I’m not sure it’s wise for me to point them out to you, because a lot of them are much better than mine. Still, I highly recommend Libby Anne, Bruce Gerencser, Samantha Field, Lana Hope, Calulu, and Vyckie Garrison. To the others I haven’t mentioned, no offence is intended. I’m looking forward to discovering your blogs.

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