It Felt As If I Had Been Held Hostage By a Ghost

When I was 15, my English teacher told me that she expected to see my name in print someday. Flippantly, I muttered something about the Obituary columns, but her comment stuck. Writing has always been my outlet of choice, so here’s an offering – perhaps it might resonate with you, whoever you are, and for whatever reason you’ve landed on this webpage.

Life began in 1973 in Sorrento Maternity Home, Birmingham. I recall hippy-like images of sunshine, long hair, and flowers, and the beautiful sparkling blue sea and quartz-veined cliff rock seen from our Morris Traveller. These are my earliest, loveliest memories. A few years later, new pictures appear clouded, chilled, tarnished – a shabby community hall on Sundays that smelt of last night’s stale beer; paraffin heaters in frosty air; the heavy expectations of others; a lack of freedom, and a growing, non-specific worrying.

A little further on, and the images change to those of concealment: pretending to schoolmates that I knew what they where talking about when they discussed TV programmes and films, and explaining that my ears weren’t pierced because I once saw someone get an earring ripped out, so I couldn’t cope with the thought. There were other concealments too…perhaps things that a small child shouldn’t have seen and experienced, yet lacking understanding of adult concepts, remained sources of conflict and confusion well into adulthood.

Around 10 years old, I tried to set fire to the long grass at the bottom of the garden. I’d read that focusing sunrays through a magnifying glass would do it, so I took a heavy lens from the muddle of old tools in the garage and ran. Horrified, I spat and stamped on the resulting smoulder. As I sat afterwards in the crook of pear tree branches, I thought about God. He’d definitely be angry at this dangerous act of mine. I conjured Him up – white beard, stern face, shining robe, seated in a golden fluffy cloud…some angels? My mind’s eye produced wings and haloes, and most surprisingly, a Celtic-type Mary standing by – no, this wasn’t right at all, certainly not according to the Sunday School Auntie. Where had the wings, haloes, and the Irish Mary come from? I remember thinking that if the ‘wrong’ image had come unbidden to me, why should the ‘right’ one be any more correct? As I sat amid the pear blossoms, I realised that I could not feel the reality of God at all.

Teenaged me was terribly shy and desperately unhappy. At this time my parents were members of a hardline ecclesia that promoted rigorous study of ‘pioneer’ writings alongside the bible. Young people’s study group speakers advised on special bible-marking systems, and I dutifully defaced my calf-bound, wide-margin india-paper King James Version with the approved brand of fine-line ink pen and fluorescent marker. At this time, my formal social life was entirely based around the Christadelphian religion. Because of my shyness and anxiety, most of my peers inevitably viewed me as a figure of fun and the rightful target of group derision. However, I had also started work at 16, and was finding that I could be a very different person amongst my colleagues. This stark contrast made me more confused, especially when I found that I enjoyed illicit after-work pub visits (not the one where I narrowly missed detection by a passing Number 11 bus-travelling Sister though).

Around 17, I had a second chance to see the Truth truly. I had submitted to baptism after enduring a vivid representation of Nuclear War as the Embodiment of Armageddon by a particularly zealous exhorting Brother. I remember this man working himself into a sweat of passion, raging, spittle flying, assuring us that unbaptised young people would see their parents safe in the Kingdom whilst their own sinful flesh melted from their irradiated skeletons in a storm of consequences. I cried. Some months later, I rose soggily from the sinister blue baptismal bath concealed under the Ecclesial platform feeling nothing, not holy, not justified, not reborn or even OK. Only with a sense of having completed the only course of action open to me.

Every Sunday evening, the young people would ‘go back’ to someone’s home for further bible study and the chance to consume quantities of crisps and cake afterwards. On one occasion, it was decided to take a group photo. Everyone was milling about, and someone suggested that the most confident person should take charge. One of my peers shouted out “I know, H can do it!” The room echoed in mockery of me; the Sister of the house roared, her head back, teeth exposed; the boys laughed immoderately; the girls sniggered; even my one friend had to find it funny. My position as the occupant of the lowest rung was officially ratified. Then, in all my distress and shame, a thought seared my mind with real live clarity – I could walk out of there: open the front door, go down the stairs, cross the car park, and start to walk home…and nobody could stop me. And I would never, never, go back.

Needless to say, I didn’t do it.

And spent the next ten years in speechless, powerless, pointless, and needless torment, until I had a breakdown. Part of my recovery was my decision to train as an Occupational Therapist. Going to University inevitably allowed my mind to embrace accurate, humane concepts of life. I also became interested in alternative therapies and metaphysical ideas. The more I opened up to these things, the less psychological grip the religion exerted.

Leaving the Christadelphians actually ended up as less of a catastrophic event than a gradual tailing off, and little resistance was put up by the meeting I was a member of at the time. At the end, it felt as if I had been held hostage by a ghost; in truth, I was holding myself hostage in much the same way that I retained for years a fear of the plant bindweed after my mother, watching the young me twist a piece round my toe, told me that it would take root and grow up my leg.

In 2014, the adult me searches for internal bitterness, resentment, anger. But I can find very little of consequence; this was the way it was and now is not. For me, this is human nature: the ability to recover, to absorb pain and to reconstruct; to keep learning and to really use this existence; and to only aim to be kind and helpful, as human instincts dictate. I am therefore left as an atheist by default. This neither troubles nor liberates – I am merely listening to my pure childhood instinct that there is no God: truly no need to submit, to overcome, or to struggle at all.

HP.

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broken link

Dear Religious Establishment,

I didn’t realise when I joined you
that I actually walked through a Bad Gateway.
My Search Engine was faulty
and did not provide me with enough choices.

When I joined you,
my Home Page was fairly blank,
and my IP Number was in tact.
But over the three years I was with you,
you ate all my Cookies.

I wouldn’t have minded,
but our POP was sweet and intimate,
so I got hurt –
I didn’t realise that your Plug-in
would have that effect on me.

So I had to leave you prematurely,
and I left with a Virus. I was sick.
For a long time.
It was a Virus
which lasted fifteen years after I left you.

Your Domain Name was exclusive,
and I truly felt I belonged to something special.

But your Javascript was wanting.

Thankfully I have discovered,
rather belatedly,
the Wi-Fi of Freedom
and how to De-frag the fragments of your faulty theology
and weird practices.

And now I am so pleased that your Upload was faulty,
and that my Spyware finally detected your Spam.

Cheers,

Moi.

DF

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The Lord’s Table

emblems

of utmost love

are withheld

 

because

you examined us

and found

we were different

DF

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Sure and Certain Hope

In the beginning was The Word.

Our Shared Hope
is that
The Pope is the Antichrist
The Jews are chosen
Evolution is a lie
You don’t have a soul
The Lord cometh quickly
and we
might have
salvation

Vain, sinful man!
What is he, that You are mindful of him?
In Jesu’s name we ask it
We beseech thee
Hear our prayer

Table duty, flower rota
Dorcas class, Sister’s tea
Sunday School, proofs learnt
She eateth not the bread of idleness

Arranging brethren, special effort
Speaking duty, mutual improvement,
Campaign, Bible mission
Steward duty, on the door
And he who does not work shall not eat

Doing the Daily Readings
Gog, Magog, Russia, the Great Whore
Sodom and Gomorrah
It’s all working out as John Thomas said it would

But
We come now to the highlight of our week
These emblems
Of our unworthiness
That means we might have hope
That we might not be weighed and found wanting

Sister, offer up
Your silence
As a sweet-smelling savour
In thankfulness and praise
And if you want to know anything
Please keep it to yourself
In all submission
As it is written
To Him be the glory

Brother, the Godly head
(Our god is a mighty fortress, the name above all names, inaccessible, God-only wise)
Maybe God is lonely, but
Brethren, be not unequally yoked
Suffer not a woman to teach
Be always ready with an answer
In the service of our Lord

The days are quickly flying
The present world is passing away
The Catholics the Churches the EU the Arabs the Russians the media the scientists the schools the humanists the modernisers the liberals the feminists the gays the lusts the flesh the World
Fear not!
God will make thine enemies thy footstool
We are just passing through

In the World but not of it
Strangers and pilgrims
Of like precious faith
Few of us stand ready
In sure and certain
hope

LB, UK

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Ten Years On

It’s nearly 10 years since the day I realised I’d had enough. I stood on the station platform on the way home from the meeting, one grey English summer afternoon, and knew for certain that I wanted nothing more to do with the Christadelphians. Over time, my feelings have changed; I’m not nearly so angry as I was. I’ve heard the stories of other leavers, and know that I was lucky. I was young, unattached, and, by the time I cut my ties, had friends outside the community. For me, escaping was a relief. 

Once, I was furious about what I saw as the hypocrisy and small mindedness of the community. These days my chief issue with Christadelphianism is simply that it is so dull. It is religion with all the beauty, spirituality and fun taken out. It has no festivals, no good food, and even joyful singing is frowned on. It has no calendar, no time for aesthetic beauty, and unlike most other faiths, its rituals do not engage the senses. It seeks only to engage the mind.

It really an academic discipline, a precise and rigid one. Every Christadelphian child knows the life-saving importance of correct doctrine (a series of don’ts). Life should be lived ‘according to the word’ (another series of don’ts.) Feelings don’t even come into it. It is no surprise that ultra-Christadelphians unite around the word ‘logos,’ meaning knowledge, order, and reason. Not for nothing has the religion been described as ‘Christianity at the autistic end of the spectrum.’ If religious fundamentalism is a scientific approach to religion, then Christadelphianism is a parody of this, so obsessed is it with systematically proving, defining, and reasoning away all spirituality. The God of Plodding Pendantry. Does this touch anyone’s heart? Drier than an Old Testament desert, it does nothing for the soul.  

Why were we drilled with doctrine, while references to ‘spirit’ were dismissed or played down? The word ‘spirit’ gets almost six times as many mentions in the New Testament as the word ‘doctrine.’ (287/49, ‘Authorised’ Version) What is it about this small, beautiful word that causes such offence? If you take away the spirit, doesn’t that mean its dead?

‘Spirit’ cannot easily be defined, and what cannot easily be defined cannot easily be controlled. It is no surprise that spirit should be a thorn in the side of Christadelphianism, with its intolerance of ambiguity and uncertainty. Spirit is lightness, pleasure, mystery, free will. It is hard to pin down.  It is alive, untameable, intangible. One who is spirited does not easily submit, and therefore stands in opposition to what Christadelphianism fetishishes most: authority.

It is essentially a man’s religion. Nothing new there – most religions are patriarchal – but it still needs to be said. It is entirely cockocratic – that is, all authority resides in men. Women have no direct say in the decision making process and their voices are never heard publicly. But, more fundamentally, the religion is primarily about men. The community celebrates and revolves around men –putting them on platforms and in charge, respecting their views, studying the lives of great men, and requiring a married woman to orbit her own life around her husband’s. The lives, views, abilities, knowledge and experience of women are, in general, of little interest. Christadelphian women may make themselves useful with a number of ‘pastoral’ and housekeeping tasks, but the work that is most valued by the community is always performed by men. The ‘issue’ of women comes up only occasionally, as a problem for men to solve.

In this way all of Christadelphian culture is saturated with machismo. Relishing the Old Testament, with its war-like, god of absolutes, the Brotherhood thunders with self-certainty. It takes a real man to have the universe all worked out, to explain the past, present, and future to us. Manliness is proved through intellectualism, its crushing logic showing no mercy on the big-hearted, the weak-minded, the doubters.

Why is a woman’s voice problematic? Because the Bible clearly states that only men may interpret the Bible with authority or speak from platforms. How do we know? Because men, who are the only ones allowed to interpret the Bible with authority, say so. For a religion that prides itself on the soundness of its reasoning, I can’t say I’m impressed.

But this male-dominated community appears hardly any kinder to its men – the average Christadelphian man seems barely able to breathe between the requirements to be alpha family man, alpha breadwinner, alpha bible student, alpha speaker, alpha committee man, and 107 other duties. The ideal Christadelphian brother is a Human Doing. He may not have feelings, but he must have the answer to everything – under pressure to be a God-like ‘head,’ he is forbidden to be human.

I realised that the reverence for the male intellect has its origins in the sect’s creation myth. As God produced a perfect world out of the void, so John Thomas is said to have discovered, through sheer Bible study, a unique and perfect truth in the midst of ignorance. In reality, of course, ideas form part of an evolutionary, interactive process, and his own were, like everyone else’s, a product of the time and place in which he lived. Far from being universal, ancient and everlasting, ‘The Truth’ could not have developed at any other time, or at any other place, than the modern West. In no other era could a religion be so painfully literal and inflexible in its interpretation, or be so preoccupied with the accumulation of factual knowledge over gaining spiritual insight and practical wisdom. Many of the characteristics of the community in which I grew up – its stiff formality, pomposity, Europhobia, anti-Catholicism and aversion to displays of emotion – were simply the fossilised values of middle class Victorian England. 

JT called his group ‘Brethren in Christ’ under pressure to avoid conscription to the military, but if I had been given the job of finding a name for the community, I would not have called it ‘Christa’ anything. There may be pockets within the community whose beliefs and practices are Christ-centred, but at heart it is a religion based on the worship of a text. They are Protestant extremists, dedicated to the veneration of that eclectic collection of stories, letters, law and mind-expanding visions known as the Bible.

But this cult of Bible worship represents a paradox: On the one hand, it elevates the Bible to a status which is uncalled for within the text itself, while on the other, it is highly reductionist. Unlike the Quran, for example, the Bible makes no grand claims for itself. It does not pretend to have all the answers. It does not insist that Genesis provides a factual account of how the world came into being, or demand to be the centre of anyone’s life. It never even references itself as a book. But neither does it do the Bible justice to reduce it to a ‘manual’ or ‘our guide,’ (as if life could ever be lived according to instructions). Though it contains plenty of stuff which is irrelevant, tedious, bigoted, and violent (I worked my dutiful way through my Bible reading planner, I know what it says) it also has beauty, poetry, wisdom, and spiritual and emotional truth. It is also rich in wonderful stories. 

So what is the pull, for its adherents, of this serious-minded and isolated group? For some, it’s family and community – most are born into Christadelphianism and cannot envisage life outside it. For others, it is the excitement of world events ‘unfolding’ according to ‘Bible prophecy.’ Its not hard to see why – Christadelphian ‘signs of the times’ refer to events so generalised and frequently occurring, that once the children of Christadelphian parents have been programmed to recognise them as signifiers of the End Times they are likely to spend the rest of their lives in a semi-permanent state of Armageddon Alert.

Thus, we know that that when we hear of ‘wars and rumours of wars’ it’s a clear sign that this is the Beginning Of The End. And if not then, it will probably definitely be ‘when they talk of peace.’ But it will be at a time when no-one expects it. And if you are still in any doubt, hear this: ‘The Son of Man will return at a time when people are eating, drinking and getting married.’ With all this as evidence that the apocalypse is nigh, who would think of leaving the Truth? Of all the quirks and contradictions of Christadelphianism, perhaps this is the biggest: that a culture that despises anything ‘wishy washy’ should be so invested in ‘signs’ so vague they would make your weekly horoscope sound specific and definite.

A lot has changed for me since I stood on the station platform nearly 10 years ago. With time I am less angry with the community, and although, sadly, an encyclopaedic knowledge of the Bible has not yet proved to be a huge asset to me in adult life, that’s not to say that I haven’t gained anything from my time in the Delphs. I learnt the warmth and wisdom of community, to be reflective, and not to spend my time on earth buying stuff and worrying about belly fat. And there is a part of me that will never think quite the same as everyone else.

LB, UK

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I Was a Thinking Child

I was brought up in a Christadelphian household, my father converting my obedient and unthinking mother before marriage. His parents were devout Christadelphians, my grandfather converting my previously-Catholic grandmother before marriage.

Sundays were horrid. Like other posts on this site, we had the weekly ordeal of putting on ‘Sunday best’ when friends were out playing. The Sunday school was a depressing gathering of a handful of kids from toddlers to teens. The small numbers resulted in 3 or 4 groups (by age) of between 2 and 4 kids.

One Sunday, after another rendition of ‘All Things Bright and Beautiful’, one adult declared that God had made everything, then challenged us to “name something”. I volunteered ‘spark plugs’, as I was into motorcycle scrambling at the time, and probably thinking more about my afternoon to come. “Yes, God made them” he confidently confirmed. Puzzled, the kids disputed this and were assured that all of the components came from God. So I tried ‘guns’, to which I was told came from man, who misused God’s gifts. This distinction was asinine, and was one of many occasions when my childhood ‘faith’ was shaken. Had it happened now, I would have volunteered ‘AIDS’ or ‘cancer’ or ‘Ebola virus’.

Fact is, I was a thinking child, and the nonsense spouted every week quickly became irksome. I was a fan of dinosaurs and happily calculated that there was not enough room on Noah’s ark (the measurements are in scripture) to accommodate them. The adults simply made up answers – ‘they were smaller then’ or ‘they were tall enough to stay in the water’.

One adult (I am loathed to call them teachers – maybe ‘miseducators’ would be better) asked me “do you fear God?” “No,” I answered cheerfully, “I love God”. I thought this was the answer she was looking for, but no. She got angry, “you MUST fear him”.

Aged around 12 I wanted to leave, but it was years later before I managed it. It started with the odd week, making excuses about homework or not feeling well or whatever, anything to get out of it. Then came the time when I realised that God is a manmade fabrication. Now it felt like pretending to my parents that Santa was real, in order to protect their feelings.

Aged 34, I find my parents views so depressing. Dad witters on about how scientists are all hiding the truth, whilst wallowing in the fruits of their work – his computers, his car, his health care. In fact, he puts all of these things down to God.

I am sickened by his attitudes towards gay people and towards women, all inspired by his Bible. And worse, the joy he feels when disasters happen around the world. He gets a glint in his eye when talking about it. He knows how I feel, so masks it a little – “even scientists are saying there have never been this many storms”, as if I don’t know he’s really saying ‘the Lord is coming’. Despite (or perhaps because of) the horrendous suffering.

I didn’t quite realise how much my mother buys into it, until a couple of years ago when Dad left the room and I made some comment about his ignorance regarding evolution. She snapped – “so where do you think the animals came from? They didn’t just happen, did they?”

I feel that if you’re that stupid you should keep your mouth shut. I’m sorry to talk so disparagingly about my parents, but I feel that if the Bible and the Christadelphians had never happened to their lives, that they would be nicer human beings.

Perhaps unrelated to Christadelphianism, my mother often remarks (as she has done so for as long as I can remember), that I “think too much”. My retort remains the same, “no, you don’t think enough”.

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‘It’s not About Theological Correctness’

The Power of Redemptive Love

My story with the Christadelphians centres round the fact that in 1994 I ‘married out’ to a Christian whose doctrinal beliefs in some areas are not quite the same as my own, and as a result of this there was the inevitable knock-on effect which this situation had on my membership with the Christadelphian movement.

My connection with the Christadelphian movement goes back many years, to when I was 16. I am from an unbelieving home, but I became a Christian aged 15 through learning the synoptic gospels at school. It was the parable of the sower which spoke to me; I so wanted to be the ‘good ground’ and to have the ‘ears that hear.’ I joined the Christian Union, then a charismatic Methodist church, on the recommendation of my religious education teacher who was a born-again Christian. I requested baptism by full immersion which my Methodist minister was pleased to arrange and do in a Baptist church.

However, after about a year I was searching for more depth of teaching, and while out shopping one day, I was handed a flyer to visit ‘The Bible Exhibition’ presented by the Christadelphians, which I gladly went along to. I was so impressed by the prophecy stand that I signed up for Christadelphian Bible classes. I was the only one to sign up, so I got personal tuition in the Scriptures from a lovely brother and sister who gave me classic Christadelphian ‘instruction,’ starting at Genesis, and very soon I was eager to become a Christadelphian and join an ecclesia.

As it turned out, I didn’t become a Christadelphian at that time. The problem was that as part of the traditional Christadelphian initiation ritual, I was required to be re-baptised, and at that time I was not prepared to do this. For me, as a 16 year old, my first baptism only a year earlier was totally valid.

So I drifted away, and eventually I became back-slidden from the Lord altogether.

However, during the Gulf War at the age of 30, I decided I should really get my life back on track, so I went to my local Christadelphian ecclesia and requested baptism (15 years after my first baptism). Although in some ways re-baptism is a questionable practice, for me it was a personal choice and I desired it due to having been back-slidden; a fresh start and fresh commitment to God was just what I needed. In many ways, this was my real ‘conversion.’ However, I have wondered in the past what path my life would have taken had I been accepted into the Christadelphian community aged 16 without the pressure to be re-baptised so soon after my first. But I will never know, so best not to dwell on it or go there.

I was a member of my local Christadelphian ecclesia for about three years before I resigned to ‘marry out.’ A major turning point (as recent as last year) was when I acknowledged that my three years in Christadelphia were actually very unhappy. I was in denial about this for a long time. After my Christadelphian baptism I was overjoyed at being in fellowship and being in a right relationship with God during those first few months, but it gradually went pear-shaped for me when an elderly brother dying of cancer attached himself to me emotionally. There was nothing untoward or sinful in this relationship, but I found it very difficult to navigate this role which was emotionally draining, and in many ways I found it quite damaging. It caused me lots of problems. I have now achieved closure on this sad episode, and in his pain and suffering this elderly brother desperately needed someone to share some very personal issues with before he fell asleep, so I have come to a place of accepting what happened. I now consider it a privilege that he shared his sad story with me, which is a sacred thing for anyone to do on such a personal and emotionally intimate level.

The hub of my issue with the Christadelphian movement was the ‘closed table,’ because having ‘married out’ to a Christian, we both desired to break bread together as husband and wife. Around 2005 I talked my situation through on-line with some very patient Christadelphians who were very caring, sympathetic and concerned, but who had no real solution to my problem because they could simply offer none, and eventually a sister accused me of marrying out ‘for what? For love!’ And hurtful as that comment was at the time, looking back, I am still mystified as to what was wrong with marrying someone ‘for love’ – don’t even Christadelphians do the same?

I have found, however, some Christadelphians who are quite happy with sharing bread and wine with non-Christadelphians in certain settings – and indeed over the years I learnt of several Christadelphians which have done so. I have met Christadelphians who told my husband they would be willing to break bread with him personally; yet collectively as a movement there is a different attitude and practice. This incongruity between personal conscience and that of collective conscience is interesting, and one which there could well be a valid explanation for. I also feel that the basis of fellowship for open communion is one of shared need, rather than the clinical purity of theological correctness.

Here I should add that in fairness to the Christadelphian movement, I must concede some positive benefits to the closed table – sharing communion in an exclusive setting promotes a genuine sense of real relationship and fellowship between believers, and we should always bear in mind that liberalism can be legalism in another form, however the closed table based on doctrinal purity can be a false unity because the focus is centred on man-made interpretation of Scripture, rather than the human need for forgiveness and spirituality.

I resigned my membership in order that we could go elsewhere to a fellowship which practised open table and would welcome us both. Had I not resigned, I would have eventually been disfellowshipped for non-attendance anyway (which is fair enough in some ways, though only God can ever truly ‘disfellowship’ at the judgement), because neither myself nor my husband would have been happy going our separate ways on a Sunday morning and suffering the pain of being polarised by Christadelphian practice. We chose to celebrate unity in our uniqueness through the love which God had given us.

My total closure on the whole of my Christadelphian background came mid 2010 as I began to see the absolute total power of redemptive love manifest through Christ and His finished work on the cross, to which I can add nothing. He has done it all; no amount of doctrinal correctness will earn me – or anyone else – anything in God’s eyes. This is not to say I am not grateful for my Christadelphian background and the knowledge and truths which it has imparted to me, and it is not to say that I will never go back into fellowship (only God knows or could lead that way).

My recovery from being out of Christadelphian fellowship has been a very long drawn out process, and quite damaging emotionally and spiritually, but it began in earnest around 2003/4 when I read Dr John Thomas’ ‘Phanerosis’ and ‘Elpis Israel’ for the first time in my life, and discovered, to my surprise, major inconsistencies between what I had been taught in my ‘instruction’ and the ethos of my ecclesia and what Dr Thomas wrote. These caused me to seriously take a second look at what my beliefs were really based on, and when I saw and became aware of cracks, differences (and some were fundamental differences between sub-sects of Christadelphia) and divisions, I began to navigate and process my ‘out of fellowship’ status in a more positive manner. I also discovered that on some doctrines I had received a degree of Christadelphian ‘spin’ – for example on the trinity I was told that Trinitarians believe in ‘three gods.’ This is untrue. (Trinitarians actually believe in one god manifested in three persons – something quite different) …..and many other such things I discovered as I began to educate myself about Christadelphian history and mainstream Christian beliefs.

But the power of redemptive love in Christ is such that the ‘true’ doctrine for me now is love in action: First to God – which also means loving others who I can see – both believers and unbelievers. It is as an activist (not a theorist, or pragmatist, or a reflective naval-gazing believer, which we can all be in danger of becoming) that redeems. And redemption makes whole, restores, makes good that which is broken – and redemption is sacrificial and costs (as many Christadelphians know all too well, as do many ex-Christadelphians).

Redemptive love sees beauty in the disregarded, it gives value to what is not valued, embraces the imperfect, validates the inadequate, and gives restoration to that which incomplete – because true agape love hopes all things, believes all things and never fails.

Posted in Christadelphian, ex-christadelphian

I’m Not an Angry Atheist, Merely a Disappointed One

I was born in the winter of 1972, first son to two teachers. My parents and my grandmother had been instrumental in the setting up of an ecclesia, purchasing and converting an old mill built on the edge of a steep drop. I have fond memories of that building. It was built of dark stone, and had a large grassy area between it and the large carpark. The upstairs had been converted into an area for the ‘young people’ to use and featured a large stage, and plenty of space to run around in. In the main hall the chairs were a kind of khaki green and tubular in construction – no doubt there are community centres all over the world with chairs almost exactly the same as these. Being made to go practically from birth I didn’t have many feelings about the religion itself. I would spend the hour and a half of the service every Sunday morning happily drawing or quietly playing with toy cars, pausing only to admonish my mother for singing the hymns (even at that age I was showing signs of being a critic!).
The Meeting, as we called it, didn’t impact a great deal on my toddler world, and it was only when we moved area when I was about 5 that I started to notice it more.
Being of school age it was deemed appropriate that I should be sent to the Sunday School at the ecclesia that we’d joined. Suddenly Sundays were taken up almost entirely with going to the Meeting. My younger brother and I would be taken along in the morning to sit through the service (still made bearable at this point by us being allowed to take books to read), be encouraged to stay in our Sunday clothes over lunch (often shared with a visiting speaker – the Christadelphians don’t have a main vicar or leader, their sermons are given by members of their, or other, ecclesias), then taken back to the hall to be instructed in the stories of the Bible.
I hated it.
Suddenly half my weekend had been taken away, and I started to wake up on a Sunday morning with a sinking feeling, only compounded by the sound of Radio 4’s Sunday Service drifting up from the kitchen. Even now I can’t stand to listen to hymn singing. Still, I tried to make the best of it, and endeavoured to make friends with the other children at Sunday School and the Meeting, whilst making excuses to my school friends when they asked me to come out on a Sunday.
Despite my best efforts to be as ‘normal’ as possible at school it still got out that my brother and I had to go to Sunday School once a week….or ‘Sunday Baby School’ as one wit in my class had it. Increasingly I missed out on things that my friends outside of the Meeting were doing, whilst simultaneously being encouraged to spend more time with my Christadelphian peer group. I now see this as a classic tactic for making sure that unwanted ideas don’t enter into the group – many of the young people I grew up with in the Meeting have no real friends outside of it, enabling a constant reinforcement of the group belief.
*
It was during one of these Sunday School lessons that I was told something I remembered for years, something that when faced with the truth of the matter, started my journey into atheism. My father was giving a talk at an ecclesia in another town resulting in my brother and I having to attend their Sunday School during the afternoon. If going to our own meetings was bad enough, being forced to spend the afternoon in a room full of strangers was far worse, and usually came after we’d had a most unpleasant Sunday lunch courtesy of our hosts for the day.
On this particular Sunday the class we were placed in was teaching creation, indoctrinating the young minds with the notion that the Earth was created in a single week by God, around 4000BC. The teacher had covered all the usual stuff, going into detail about the first couple of books of Genesis, when he said something I’ll never forget – ‘Of course, you may hear about dinosaurs, but they never existed’.
Dinosaurs. Never Existed.
He actually said it. He then went on to explain that any skeletons of dinosaurs on display in museums were based on single bones (a piece of spine perhaps, or a tooth) with the rest, the entire skeleton, being made up out of moulded parts based on guess work.
This seemed to be a commonly held view amongst Christadelphians, as time and time again I heard variations on this theme trotted out by Sunday School teachers, lecturers, and even my parents. Myself and countless other young people were repeatedly told that a complete dinosaur skeleton had never been found and that the whole notion of them ever having existed was just an elaborate hoax being played by non-believing scientists.
Being young, I believed them. Why, after all, would adults lie to me?
Not only were Sundays taken up with church stuff, but Saturdays started to be invaded whenever there was a ‘Preaching Effort’ (a special talk, or an exhibition) which needed promoting. One of the Christadelphians’ favourite techniques for spreading their message is leafleting, or ‘Billing’ as they call it. This involves going around housing estates with a bag full of glossy flyers and shoving them through every letter box. The children of the group were actively included in this, often being sent off unsupervised into strange areas of town (the oddest incident of this I ever encountered was being made to do it in Switzerland during a holiday with other Christadelphians!) to peddle beliefs that they didn’t fully understand to people who couldn’t care less. So confident of the importance of this was that the ecclesia was instructed to ignore any signs in windows which expressly requested ‘no flyers/junk mail’.
Needless to say I hated billing as well, and hated even more the houses with dogs who would try and take your fingers off when you pushed the latest leaflet through the door.
It wasn’t all bad though. There were times that were thoroughly enjoyable, tellingly often the ones that had nothing whatsoever to do with religion. We would go on holiday with other Christadelphians, and for a while my parents arranged camping trips where up to 10 families would meet up in France, Germany or Switzerland and spend a week together. With the exception of the nightly Bible reading sessions, these were mostly enjoyable trips with plenty of children around to play with.
As I got older more evenings were taken up. First Friday fell to the CYC (Christadelphian Youth Club), then Thursdays were wrenched from Top of the Pops and converted to Bible Class – an evening where members of the Ecclesia would sit around and discuss the Bible at length. I found Bible Class tedious beyond words, but CYC was ok as the religious content was limited to 10 minutes at the start of the evening.
A move to an new ecclesia when I was 14 just made it worse. I was now sent on ‘Youth Weekends’ with my brother, often being dumped for an entire Saturday in some strange town with a bunch of overly enthusiastic twenty-somethings. The worst I can remember was an event so grim that my brother and I resorted to calling home from a phonebox in an attempt to get picked up early…..unfortunately my parents had gone out for the day and the mobile phone had yet to become anything more than a brick being shown off on ‘Tomorrow’s World’.
Then there was Swanwick.
Swanwick was a weekend away that involved lengthy Bible study sessions in a large country house that had been converted into a conference centre. Swanwick started on a Friday evening and ran right through to Sunday evening. And it was ok. Seriously. Often going along with friends, a great deal of mischief was to be made at Swanwick and, as I got older, even the Sunday morning service (the’highlight of the weekend) could be skipped for a crafty trip to the local pub.
Swanwick also had large grounds with a lake and wooded areas, supplying ample opportunity for young couples to get away from the organisers. Though I never thought such a thing could happen at the time, I now wonder how many Christadelphians lost their virginity in the rooms at Swanwick? Considering the atmosphere of repressed sexuality that swamped the place I’d be surprised if no one did.
At the time I was going to Swanwick there was a fashion for women to wear culottes, trousers so baggy that they looked like a skirt, only revealing their true nature if studied closely. These were frowned upon by some of the older members of the church, as they took various Bible verses about woman dressing like men a little too literally (they conveniently ignored the fact that men in the time of Christ would have worn long smocks or gowns, very similar to the ones worn by the women). Watching a blustering man in his fifties telling girls in their teens and twenties that it was a ‘sin’ to wear culottes struck me as thoroughly ridiculous.
*
It was on a trip to Wales on a CYC camp that serious cracks in my beliefs started to appear. During the evenings we’d have an hour of Bible study, discussing various parts of the Old and New Testament. It was during one of these session that the group leader explained that people who had never heard of Jesus, or the Bible, would not be able to enter the [future] Kingdom of God. This struck me as hideously unjust – how could it be fair that someone be excluded from eternal happiness just because they’d never heard the message of it? I questioned the Brother in charge of the study and he replied that it wasn’t fair or unfair, and that the people who would ‘just’ live and die would never know any better. As an answer this seemed utterly lacking to me, but the teacher proceeded to quote the Biblical verses that backed it up….which made it far worse in my eyes. How could a supposedly benevolent God deny so many people? ‘What about the countless millions who had lived in other parts of the world before the spread of Christianity?’ I asked. The answer was that they too would be denied a chance of eternal life. Not only did this seem wrong, it seemed almost evil. Why would God do that? If He was meant to be all powerful why would he deliberately exclude and punish completely innocent men, women, and children?
The answer came from Isaiah 45:7 –
“I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the LORD do all these things.”
Was this verse saying what I thought it was? Was God really confessing that nothing could happen without it being his will? And if that was the case did that mean that free will was an illusion, that we were all on a set path from birth and that none of us could be held responsible for the ‘sins’ we committed? After all, if God made everything happen then how could we possibly be to blame for anything we did?
I mentioned this to a few of my peers the next day as we climbed over rocks on the beach below the camp site. Their opinion was that I shouldn’t bring it up and that it sounded like I didn’t really believe that what we were being told was true.
*
When I was 17 to went along with the inevitable and got baptised, even though, by that point, I had serious doubts about the veracity of the claims made by the Bible. I remember wanting to cancel the baptism in the week before, feeling that I wasn’t ready, but by then it had all been organised with family and friends from far and wide due to come and celebrate my embracing of Jesus as my Saviour.
The ceremony was held at the Ecclesial Hall where they had a large baptismal bath below the stage. Christadelphians believe in whole body baptism, so I was clad in a weird karate suit/pyjama combo and lowered beneath the surface of the water, to be ‘reborn’ when I emerged, sodden and newly holy.
My first ‘sin’ as a freshly baptised ‘Brother in Christ’ came mere moments later when, dripping wet, I slipped on tiles in a back room and let out a loud expletive.
*
One afternoon, a little while later, I was sat at home watching TV whilst my mother worked on something at the dining table. I was watching a show about dinosaurs, marvelling as complete fossilised skeletons were being dug up by archaeologists, this clearly showed the ‘dinosaurs never existed’ statement to be a bare-faced lie. The programme went on to discuss how birds had evolved from reptiles, and how it was probably that the descendants of smaller dinosaurs are still with us, hopping around in trees, filling our skies, and pooing on our cars. My mother was clearly listening and decided to clarify something, ‘Of course, they’ve never found a fossil that shows a half lizard half bird’. Her timing couldn’t have been worse, as the very next moment there appeared on screen a fossil of a winged lizard with teeth and feathers, as perfect a transitionary form as one could hope to see. ‘What about that one?’ I asked.
Either the Bible was wrong, or the evidence of the world around me was wrong…..the Bible was starting to lag behind on points.
*
It didn’t take long for these feelings to solidify, and I took to spending Sunday morning meetings scouring my Bible for evidence either way. I’d sit, ignoring the brother giving the morning exhortation (as they called the sermon), cross referencing, scribbling in the margins of my Bible, and generally trying to make sense of the whole thing. There were, without any shadow of a doubt, things that didn’t make sense about what I’d been brought up to believe. Dates didn’t match with known historical events, and in some places the Biblical history was completely at odds with what remained of the contemporary writings of the time. Battles that the Old Testament had claimed as glorious victories for the Hebrews had in fact been humiliating defeats and many didn’t seem to have happened at all. The Creation and Flood narratives made no sense and that one verse from Isaiah kept coming back to me.
I finally left the church when I went to university. I tried to explain to my parents as calmly as possible that I no longer believed the Bible to be true and that I wanted to resign from the ecclesia. To do this I had to spend several evenings discussing my feelings with two brethren who tried everything they could think of to change my mind. In the end though they had to admit that I was no longer convinced by the Bible’s teachings and that my faith had completely gone.
*
I tell you all this to give some context to my own background, to show that far from being an ‘angry atheist’ I am merely a very disappointed one. Over the years I became convinced that the Christadelphians were utterly wrong in their beliefs.
Two things were responsible for my final shift into atheism:
Firstly, the Bible itself, a book so riddled with contradictions and outright nastiness that it deserves to be almost taken apart verse by verse (and is, at the wonderful http://www.skepticsannotatedbible.com/ )  The second is Evolutionary Biology, a fact so inarguable in its anti-creation myth fire power that it reduces faith in an all knowing, all powerful creator God to a smouldering pile of rubble.
So there you go. Some people will no doubt say I was never a true Christian, others may see parallels in their own upbringings, either way, that’s my story, and that’s why I am where I am today.

Posted in Christadelphian, ex-christadelphian

I Chose The World

A round peg in a square hole …… where do I belong and what is my purpose for being?

I grew up feeling like a round peg in a square hole. For me, this was probably the primary reason I rejected Christadelphia.   I hated being different at school – I just wanted to be like the other kids.  I didn’t feel as if I belonged in Christadelphia because we weren’t one of the ‘in’ families.  From a very young age I can recall thinking that things just didn’t add up.

My school friends were no different to my Sunday School friends.  My dad didn’t seem to be well liked.  Growing up I thought it was because he was a troublemaker, but as I matured I realised that even though he was a ‘legalist,’ he stuck up for the underdog and the oppressed and I and respect him for that now.  I saw him bought to his knees many a time emotionally, which I blamed the church and AB for.  At 7 I was a sponge that saw adults behaving badly toward each other yet preaching the opposite.  People seemed to believe that the quote ‘judge not that ye be not judged’ had some sort of ‘except if’ fine print or out clause.  As time passed, this was one of the few things in the Bible I believed was black and white.

Later, when I rebelled, I was blamed and made to feel responsible many a time for my actions impacting on my parents’ emotions and their standing in the church.  It felt as if this was more important to them than hearing my reasoning or what I felt and had to say. The whole narcissistic nature of the family unit, created by the system, is another topic on its own.  Suffice to say, I certainly felt like the people ‘in the world’ were more accepting of me and far less judgemental than Christadelphians and my own family.

As an independent adolescent I finally got to exercise free will and I chose the world, but the cost was high on many many levels.  The guilt and heartbreak I felt for breaking my parents’ heart was enormous and lasted for years, and so was the feeling that there was  something wrong with me and my thinking.  Why was it that so many others had a faith and love of God and I didn’t?  Why  couldn’t I be a sheep and make my parents happy instead of a cow? (I was actually called that once or twice)!

When we are part of Christadelphia, we are told that we are nothing in this life – we are just a speck and that the world and all those in it are evil.  We leave feeling even less than the nothing we already believed we were.  Rather than a square peg in a round hole I became a round peg in a square hole, still not comfortable in my own skin but happier than enduring the alternative.

The feeling that I should be reckless and just live life because I am going to die anyhow still exists within my psyche to a certain extent and certainly influenced many decisions and non-optimal behaviours.  Only now have I started to feel a sense of belonging and find a sense of purpose.  Only now am I starting to realise my value, although this I still struggle with.  Changing deep-seated thinking and behaviour doesn’t happen overnight.  The consequences and impact for many of us are so unfair considering our only crime was exercising our God-given free will.

A good friend of mine posed a question: what do I want out of being involved in ex-Christadelphian forums?  To share my experience and to be heard.   I finally have, and feel, the unconditional love, acceptance, respect and admiration of my family which has been amazing.  Having their support and belief in me finally inspired me to return to university at 35 because it gave me that belief in myself that I lacked.  From there my sense of belonging and purpose and reason for being has emerged.

It is not easy for parents to acknowledge they were wrong towards their child.  It has been hard for my parents to confront and acknowledge their part in my ‘non salvation,’ but I thank them for finally taking the time to hear me out through many tears and listen to how it felt for me. To hear them say, we see you, we get it, we understand, we love you.  My parents chose to blame themselves and to defend Christadelphia.  I don’t blame them.  I blame the system.  My parents did what they thought was best at the time with the knowledge they had.  They  just wanted to fit in and belong, just as I and we all do and to avoid judgement by their peers.  To hear my mum say:  ‘we are sorry we were legalists and that we were wrong and you were right when you said at 17 years old that religion should not be all rules and regulations and judgement and doom and gloom  –  it should be a joyful celebration of life and living and humanity and compassion and empathy’  was more than I could ever have hoped for.

My new found purpose in life is advocacy,  and advocacy works best with a collective voice.  The system still exists.  It has changed somewhat but it has a long way to go and I feel that the voices of ex-Christadelphians need to be heard so that individuals who make up the system have an awareness of the pain and injustice it has inflicted in the past and its ability to continue to do so.  Our stories are different but the commonalities are clear for all to see.  Collectively we may be able to bring enough awareness to inspire change and help others.  Are Christadelphians bad and evil individuals?  Absolutely not!  Is the system flawed and evil?  Yes it is!  Can they change it?  Yes they can and they should.  If organisations can reinvent themselves and change their culture, then so can Christadelphia.   If they are smart they will not be defensive. They will not write us off as bitter and angry. They will open their hearts and minds and learn from what we share and find their unconditional love and compassion for all humanity, despite who they are or what they believe.  The best I feel we can ultimately hope for is that those that exercise their God-given free will not to be a Christadelphian, as I did, can do so unscarred, with dignity and the continued unconditional love and support of family and friends.   Lets get to work.



Posted in Christadelphian, ex-christadelphian | Tagged

I’ve Made a Better Choice

My Dad became a Christadelphian when I was 4. We’re from Washington DC, and his whole family was Catholic. My parents were a big drug infested mess when I was born, so I guess when my dad finally found the Christadelphians it was like his born-again moment, and he’s never looked back. As a kid, I loved the weekends and Bible schools and the friends and thought it was like candyland every day I spent at one. Because I was taught that they were my only real family, I didn’t even hang out with biological cousins or anything, because they were ‘of the world.’

My parents enforced ‘Bible time’ on me every morning in elementary school, and I think this is where I first remember having issues. My parents would keep me from going to school on time and even had physical consequences should ‘Bible time’ have been neglected, and often I would show up to school in a mess of tears trying to explain why I had no note to my teachers. My parents told me that this took priority because in the Kingdom, my education wasn’t going to matter anyway, with all the glorifying God that I would be expected to be doing.

My teenage years were a mix of rebellion and trying to find my place in Christadelphia. I wasn’t one of the cool kids, and was definitely made fun of and outcast in a lot of the Christadelphian youth cliques. My dad told me to ‘try harder to fit in, they are good kids, and your family.’ I always wanted to be accepted, but I’ve just never been interested in apparently what was cool. It was a mix of being superficial and hypocritically spiritual in my book, and I couldn’t get behind either mentality. I maintained a very few Christo friends and spent most of the time at Bible schools and weekends crying alone somewhere because I just didn’t know how to make this make sense to me. At home, I was completely messed up too – I’ve battled a long standing history of substance abuse, and my teen years and early 20’s were the worst. These things my parents also ignored blatantly, even when I asked for help, because their good Christo daughter simply doesn’t succumb to such evils of  ‘the world.’ I ran away from home, I went to live my non-Christo mother, I even went to rehab, just trying to get a grip on it all. I was in a bad situation back in 2003 where I ended up being raped by a roommate, and when I confessed to my parents they told me that I should have expected that, because God did not intend women to have male roommates as a casual thing. I still had this super engrained mentality that Christo life was the only life, and I was really scared to let that go.

I got baptized in 1997, thinking my parents would be proud, and I would have something in common with all the people I grew up around again. No one noticed. I went to Bible class every week, got super involved in things and even tried to bring my non-Christo boyfriend in on the action when we were 20. A year or so later, I was living with a new boyfriend, and my meeting caught wind of that and had a old fashioned biblical intervention with me, and tried to convince me to leave my life of sin and move in with a family where I would be expected to keep up the good church life. Well, since my basic instinct is to pretty much rebel against any type of authoritative control, I declined, and went back to my apartment with my boyfriend. I went to one more weekend after that, where I got caught up in the same nastiness in my social circle, and I decided I was done.

I wrote my letter a couple months later. The AB actually rejected it. Like, if they don’t let me go, I’ll never technically be out, and they can get me back. I’m not even kidding about this. They still act as if I am a member. Even though they never cared when I really was and they never make any attempts to know me now. I too had a very good friend take me out to lunch and tell me we couldn’t be friends anymore because I was choosing a path of the world, and she wasn’t.

I took out a lot of my anger in writing as well. I wrote a blog for a long time and got a lot of Christo heat because of it. I saved it all….. angry comments and all, to remind myself exactly of all the emotional upheaval this as put me through. I even tried to find a happy medium with my anger, but no one in Christoland wants to hear anything but their way of praising the Lord. Everything else is not the way of The Truth.

I barely believe in God anymore. I think there may be a higher power that put things into motion, but that’s about it. I believe in science, and people making of their lives what they will. I don’t like the idea of being rewarded with an eternity of servitude for being the person you should already want to be on this earth, good and decent. Good people act on their own accord, not driven by the promise of a gift in the afterlife. The whole belief system came completely unraveled for me once I really started letting go. My parents still believe I will return to the fold, and still try to pressure me into coming back, but I have no intention of it.

I met a man a year and a half ago. He’s unconventional, and liberal, and my best friend. He’s also in the Army, and 4 months ago I became an Army wife. You can imagine how that’s going down in my family…..The thing is my husband has taught me more about selflessness than any Christadelphian I have ever met, and any verse in the Bible has ever taught me. I found what Christadelphians preach about being in a man that is everything the church despises. It’s only further confirmation for me that I’ve made a better choice than all the confusion I’ve been living with my whole life up to now.

Thats the short of it…..if you can believe that.

Posted in Christadelphian, ex-christadelphian | Tagged