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.

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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

I Drank to Dull Pain

My father and mother were Christadelphians and had both been born into Christo families. My mother was the eldest child of 12. My grandparents on her side were hard out Christos – my grandfather even tried to start his own offshoot of the Christadelphians. Although it didn’t work, I was met a cousin at a wedding years ago who tried to tell me there were ‘only about 20 of Gods chosen left’ and that ‘times were like in the days of Noah,’ so I guess this desire to be the purest Christadelphians was passed down a generation and never fully failed. My parents separated and my father remarried an unbeliever, but still calls himself a Christadelphian and still believes in the return of the ‘Lord.’ He is quite confused about what he believes, and doesn’t give it much thought. I guess it is because he has invested so much of his life in the Christadelphians he doesn’t want to feel the immense loss he would if he admitted that Christadelphian beliefs are just stupid and outdated.

My mother was and is a die hard Christadelphian sister.  She is single now. From what I am told my grandparents were so busy running around after ‘The Truth,’ that it fell to the eldest children to look after the younger. I have also come to realise that they also had to look after their parent’s welfare and mental health by becoming devout Christadelphians. So the first 6 aunties and uncles are Christadelphians – proud of it and leading a perfect lifestyle as do their children (as they claim). As for the younger half of the family, the words disgrace, sin, criminal, mentally ill, suicide, feud, lawyer all feature.

The Christadelphians are not a unique religion, or, as I term because of the damage they have caused, cult. Mormonism, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Catholicism, Destiny Church, Exclusive Brethren – they all have same mechanisms of indoctrination, guilt and fear driving them. They have their own form of rapture, even if they don’t call it such.

If you are born into the Christadelphians, you grow up believing and praying to a personal God. You pray to him in the playground, you hope Jesus doesn’t return until you are baptised, you fear nuclear warfare, earthquakes, floods… in fact, all natural disasters because they are ‘the beginning of the end.’  As a badge you wear your humiliation and pain as you try to save others. The greater the pain the more God likes you. You must save as many inferior sinners as possible. Everything revolves around God and all you have been taught about him. It’s no news that children are dependant on their family for survival and self worth. Questioning a cult that is integral to family operation is not an option for a young child.

For me, the first verbal manifestation that I was thinking contrary to indoctrination and looking at facts around me was when I was with a JW classmate. I was comparing my family to others, realising what was expected of me through my life till death (God willing) and seeing that something was seriously flawed with this reality. We both had notes from parents that excused us from school lessons about World War 1 (because it was about politics). Both cults have to be exclusive and special… to be apart from society and community. There is a fantastic opportunity to be this when war comes along. (But it is not just war – it is even in sport. God forbid a cultist should ever go to a football match and yell for their country like heathen hooligans!)

As we were alone doing homework, this classmate asked me if the Christadelphians were a cult. I was about 8. I said ‘yes’. I knew what a cult was. I really didn’t mean to say it… but it just slipped out from nowhere. I couldn’t understand it and felt terribly guilty for many a year.

There were other things I had to stay apart from in school (apart from friends that weren’t pre-approved by parents) – playground fads such as Transformer toys. Actually I lie: I was allowed one transformer toy. It was a robot that turned into a nuclear ballistic missile submarine. I was terrified of nuclear warfare. I was petrified of it, and was told how the whole world was supposedly on a hair trigger for nuclear warfare. I count that act of giving me that toy as psychological abuse.

Every Thursday before lessons there was a school assembly. The flag would be raised and the national anthem sung, but I wasn’t allowed to look at the flag being raised or sing. It is a horrifying thought about how even more messed up I would be if Christadelphian schools existed back then as they do now.

You only get one shot at childhood. One shot to define your world in a way that works for YOU! Not your parents, because their parents defined their world that way. This work is meant to be done in childhood, not as an adult. It is just another mechanism cults use to perpetuate themselves. It is a nightmare to have to take what you thought was reality and start all over again. I think maybe on some level most Christadelphians have thought about it and put it into the ‘too hard’ basket.

But what about family? You may lose them entirely. You certainly will never be able to have a complete relationship with them and their demands and persuasions.

I think that children in cults are raised to have an addictive personality. On Facebook I have seen threads posted by Christadelphians about how proud they are to be ‘addicted to God.’  They just don’t comprehend what they are saying.

After the age of 18 I was legally able to buy alcohol, and that addictive personality of mine found itself unable to have one drink – it fixated on the next one. Before that it was bulimia and very nasty depression, cutting even. The loneliness has been constant throughout life. Friendship, companionship, social skills, these are lessons that I missed. Not much liking Christadelphian peers and having an inbuilt aversion and fear of non-Christadelphians, (helped by some nasty bullying for my differences) school and high school years were spent being lost in fantasy novels and games. I would read and read myself to exhaustion.

My life between the ages of 18-27 was summed up by many crap jobs, and hitting exercise like a maniac… it was an outlet for a lot of rage for me and I was drinking every night. The drink hid a lot from me. I drank to dull pain and in doing so continued to miss the lesson the pain was trying to teach. I didn’t think much about the Christadelphians in these solid drinking years… drinking, not thinking. I didn’t want to know about them or my family, which I was removed from.

When I was 18, a few months after I said I was done with the Christadelphians, my family began to put pressure on me to return. They could see that I was serious about it and were worried they would never see their son filling out their needs. It didn’t work. I got sick of the manipulation going on, the agenda people had when they talked to me. I resisted and things just reached boiling point. I took a couple of hundred dollars I had saved, caught a train to the city then a bus to the state border. I worked the harvest season from the Victorian border way up into the Heart of Queensland and even further into the resort islands. I slept under bridges, hitch hiked, walked many kilometres down isolated country highways to reach the next down. I stayed in back packer’s hostels. I worked very hard and when I had enough money I would cut and run to the next town.

When I came back home things had changed. My family realised I was serious and would go it alone rather than become a Christadelphian. I also understood it was just going to be me for me from here after. My parents were about to go through separation. My father was under a lot of pressure for liking football and ‘worldly friends.’

At 27 I wanted to get out of the country for a fresh start. I wanted to do things that scared me. I realised I was living a very tough life with poor pay spent on alcohol, and little but an obsession for exercise that felt for me. I moved country and studied, something I had previously thought I could never do because I was so un-academic. I studied for 4 years. I became a different person and discovered I was much better in many ways than I had previously thought I was. I studied sport and recreation, won a body building competition and used the confidence won on that to get me into alcohol rehab at 30. I made a pact: if I had the confidence to get up on stage and pose, I would walk into an Alcoholics Anonymous group and work on recovery. For me a powerful lesson was learnt as to what I could be capable of if I could overcome my demons.

I was terrified of touch, but wanted it because I kept so apart from other people. I studied massage and for reasons I couldn’t fathom, my tutors showed great confidence in me. It wasn’t just good marks academically – it was empathy and careful consideration when dealing with dignity and respect. I didn’t understand it at the time – I kind of felt like the teachers pet and was a little uncomfortable thinking I wasn’t worthy of such marks. I got placements in a hospice for cancer patients and day centre for people with mental health issues – depression and bi polar mostly. I would like to do more with this massage path in the future when I get myself back together enough.

At 31 I had moved cities and felt very bitter sweet about my 4 years of study. I actually had some friends I was leaving. I was also leaving a place that had redefined who I was. I did a medical detox at 31 and had very good time off alcohol. But it was hard… very, very, hard because I was looking back at a past I had purposely buried. I learnt lessons from the pain that was finally being faced:

Guilt: I was saturated in it. Guilt for being a poor son. Guilt for not communicating or standing to be near family. Guilt for failing my family. Guilt for not being a Christadelphian. Guilt for using alcohol and an eating disorder. Guilt for not being able to trust people. But most of all was the guilt that I had failed my family.

Recognising the guilt in me finally allowed me to learn that this guilt was misplaced, and that it was misplaced because I was still under Christadelphian influence. I had been told so many times in so many ways I was wrong, I was guilty, I was weak and a failure. I believed what they had told me, when in actually fact all I was guilty for was for following my own path – a path which they had sabotaged as they belittled and abused me emotionally, intellectually and spiritually.

I ever so cautiously approached my family to sound them out on this and received iron rejection and more guilt loading right from my tentative suggestions that they had done me a wrong. At first I was furious and would go into rages. I had been doing it for years in the gym, but this was different. It was blind rage I felt helpless to direct anywhere. It burned inside me, it scared me. I ended up telling my family to fuck off. I realised they were incapable of having a healthy relationship with.

The anger was hard. Really hard… but I stuck at it and didn’t drink. One day the anger turned to grief. That was a very unique day and I think that perhaps if I had been near understanding help I might have made it. I was in a crowd and I looked around and I couldn’t see one person walking by themselves – I saw families and lovers. For a second a terrible feeling of deep and unending grief shocked through me. Then somehow, like it was a Pandora’s box I had opened, somebody else slammed the lid down on it firmly. Drinking became an issue again.

I am still angry with the Christadelphian system and with the people who call themselves Christadelphians while living in utter denial about how damaging they are to people who don’t subscribe to their belief, but are surrounded in it and how much they do to ensure their young do subscribe to their cult. But at the same time I am sad and I pity them. What they have invested over a life time when they could have been so much more. The families that have been torn apart – they put cult before children and spouse. Their black and white thinking and their search for perfection they cannot achieve. Life is not perfect, neither is it meant to be. It is a lesson and its lessons escape the Christadelphians because they believe they know exactly the meaning and purpose to life. In doing this they close themselves to so much that could have been experienced. They are just another limiting cult, a prison of the soul.

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I Felt Like an Outsider

Throughout my life at school I felt like an outsider, not a lonely one (I did have friends, I just wasn’t popular) but a lucky one. Even though the children I sat next to in the classroom appeared happy and content, I knew that their lives were shallow, empty and above all sinful. It was obvious to me that they led a life of sin, their parents took them to pubs for meals, they watched television and probably ate takeaways in front of it on a Saturday night. To me their world was alien and even though I was desperate to be included, deep down I pitied them. Looking back now I think that that arrogance, hypocrisy and condescension was obvious to my peers; even if they couldn’t articulate it at such a young age.

At every stage of my education I was bullied and shunned. I used to take a certain pride in this, happy in the knowledge that it was because I was ‘different’ and not part of the herd. Now I look back I realise it was simply that they could see how much I looked down on them. The attitude of being literally ‘holier than thou’ pervades Christadelphianism, now that I am free of it, I can see how negatively it affected my life. At the age of 17 I was still living out the same routine with those around me – interacting with non-Christadelphians, but never being fully part of  ‘The World.’  One day I was talking to an agnostic friend from school, patiently explaining to her that gay people were inherently sinful when she simply said to me “What is the harm in being gay? What is it about it that’s wrong?” I didn’t have an answer.

I put the question to various Christadelphians; I brought it up in discussion groups and on one memorable occasion was informed that homosexuality was a sin because ‘the human anus is not large enough to accommodate the penis comfortably.’ It was obvious they didn’t have an answer either. I began to think that if Christadelphians could be so spectacularly wrong on that issue, then what else were they wrong about? Was any of it true at all?

I’m now an ardent atheist and can see why Christadelphians have created such a closed community. Talking to anyone outside ‘The Truth’ makes people question ‘The Truth.’ And once you starting picking away at it, ‘The Truth’ quickly unravels. I am now, for the first time, truly happy in my life and I can honestly say it has nothing to do with my background as a Christadelphian. In fact, much of my happiness is rooted in the complete freedom I now have from the guilt and negativity imbued in me by the Christadelphian faith.

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I’ve Never Looked Back

Like most Christadelphians, I was born into the community. My parents were and still are middle-of-the-road traditionalists. As I was growing up my Dad was a speaker and AB, my Mum was appropriately silent. We did the daily readings, learnt our proofs and went to Bible School in the holidays. There was no TV, no pop music, and Christmas was a guilty compromise – trees allowed, but strictly no carol-singing. We were allowed non-Christadelphian friends, but not on Sundays.

From a young age I understood that there was no greater sin than False Doctrine and that the EU was all a papal conspiracy – because the Bible told me so. I grew up in the shadow of the impending Apocalypse; we were living in the crumbling feet of Daniel’s image and the whole thing was about to come crashing down around us. The great whore rides a beast with seven heads and ten horns, and this was the age of the tenth horn. We were always, as my brother put it, just one beast metaphor away from doom.

When we were small, my parents decided that the meeting we belonged to was too liberal, so we left and joined a large meeting with the usual Christadelphian features – it’s members were mostly white, middle-class, and all related to each other. On Sundays the meeting room filled up with Sunday best outfits and big hats and the car park filled up with big-but-not-too-flashy status cars. Not many members lived in the neighbourhood – most drove in from large detached houses in the comfortably-off suburbs. The meeting was full of kids our own age, which was probably why our parents chose it, but they could be brattish, and my brother and me have some unhappy memories of our time at this meeting.

Rather unusually for a Christadelphian family, both of our parents ‘came in from outside,’ so we were not members of any CD clan. Our relationship with our secular extended family was complex. Our grandparents have all been traditional church-goers, although this didn’t stop us being indoctrinated with the commonly-held CD view that Christians are idiots who practise a shallow pseudo-religion. We did see our relatives, although we had little in common with them. Through child’s eyes my extended family seemed the epitome of worldliness – they had TVs, listened to pop music, and drank beer out of cans.

Otherwise, people ‘in the world’ were best kept at arm’s length. My Dad was especially hot on this. After all, how could anyone deny the truth of the Bible while the Holy Roman Empire re-formed before our very eyes? It must be willful blindness. My Mum has few friends outside the community, my Dad none that I am aware of.

I began asking questions almost as soon as I was baptised. I met a group of rebellious Christadelphians, who challenged the established CD views about the role of women and headcoverings. I still remember the first time I sat in the evening meeting, wondering if I had the courage to take off my headscarf. (I did)

After that, the rest came easily. I began to wonder why God had given women brains if we were not supposed to use them. And why was I being harassed for wearing trousers to the meeting? How could you reconcile the claim to be a ‘true Christian’ with the snobbery shown towards outsiders? I couldn’t see any justification for the total separation from other churches. I noticed some interesting psychology at play – when we discussed this amongst ourselves, no-one else could find any convincing reason for it either, but none of us took the logical next step. And the ‘us and them’ attitude towards people ‘in the world’ was quite ridiculous. In one group discussion, we wondered how best to approach these outsiders, if we were ever going to bring them to the Truth, so someone offered his insights: ‘You’ll find they all think the same,’ he advised us, ‘because they all watch the same things on the TV.’

I began listening to Christian music and reading Christian books.  I began to identify as Christian. I broke bread with other Christians, and didn’t feel guilt. I realised that I didn’t want to marry a Christadelphian man. By this stage I had many friends who weren’t CDs, and I realised I didn’t want any of them to become one.

One summer I tried to speak openly with my grandmother about our religious differences. At first she was defensive, probably expecting another attempt to convert her. But eventually she opened up. She told me she thought we didn’t love her as much because she wasn’t a Christadelphian. We were both crying. That day I realised I’d had enough.

I severed my links six months later. I’d been going to mainstream churches, and spoke about my involvement with the Christadelphians in the past tense. I was a devout Christian by then and I fasted for two days before telling my parents, who weren’t happy.

I was furious. I felt as if the values instilled in me as a child – that to do the right thing involved the intellectual acceptance of some abstract, academic concepts, together with the arrogant rejection of almost of everyone around me – were a twisted inversion of the Christian message.

I’m no longer a practising Christian (although that’s another story). I am still technically a Christadelphian, as I’ve never resigned or been disfellowshipped. But I’ve never looked back.

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Follow Until You’re Blind (Poem)

Children summoned from ‘round the world
Brethren in Christ. Dear Brother!
Hurtling through time with no care for Now
The Kingdom – here it comes!
Read the Bible, say your prayers, follow until you’re blind
Doctrine, dogma, goodness, faith…
Sit still, accept, stay dumb.
Appearance of evil – pleasure be gone!
Even thoughts can do you wrong.
Auntie, be quiet! Make the tea,
Sweep the hall, prepare the meal. Your husband is your head.
Daughters, be pretty, pray for grace, but keep it to yourself
Put on your hat, your hair is glory – your glory and your shame
Hide your Self and learn your lines: In Jesu’s name we pray
His will be done while yours is mute
And sing these dreary songs
Gather, rejoice that we’re the Ones!
Love and works and arrogance; they are our true salvation
But stray from the flock, you will be scorned
And left for the world to eat you.

Joanna Tebbs Young. August 24, 2010

http://wisdomwithinink.com/

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