Finding Freedom from My Demons: Nicholas Ducote’s Story, Part One

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

Friends of mine and readers of Homeschoolers Anonymous may notice that, despite my involvement in HA from the beginning, I’ve yet to tell “my story.”

At first, I wasn’t sure what my story was or what information I wanted to make public, so I waited.  I also hoped my gentle public criticisms of homeschooling would start a dialogue with my parents.  Quite the opposite: they talk to everyone but me about HA.

I do not want a bad relationship with my parents, but I am no longer willing to limit my expression in an effort to try and appease them.

It’s sad because my parents no longer participate in ATI, but they still hold to the most radical and cultic beliefs promoted exclusively through Gothard and his allies in IBLP and ATI. Sometimes I see glimpses of the loving, fun people that my parents are, but the religious fundamentalism preached by ATI hijacked our relationship.

To put it simply, I was raised in a homeschooling cult (ATI) and my parents were/are emotionally manipulative and spiritually abusive. It has taken me a long time to be able to write that, and for the longest time I didn’t want it to be true.  But my time reading others’ stories and talking about our complicated parental relationships, patterns began to emerge. I hope that telling my story can help other troubled young adults to find ways to assert, defend, and express themselves with their parents.  As for me, I’ve given up waiting for the fun, loving version of my parents to take over the fundamentalist version.

Many people will call me embittered, angry, or any number of pejorative terms to delegitimize my story, but I am not telling my story in an attempt to lash out and hurt my parents. I am telling my story because I now know that my story is not unique. All across America, former homeschoolers are dealing with convoluted and dysfunctional relationships with their parents. Sometimes parents give up the rigid legalism of Gothardism as they age. But my parents did not.

All too often I see the scared little boy (me) that my parents created — cowering in fear of reprisal, instead of confidently asserting my thoughts and beliefs.

This may seem odd to the people that know me because I am far from meek in debates about politics and religion. I debated competitively for eight years, which makes me good at finely tuning my advocacy to avoid conflict.  Over the past few years, I’ve carefully avoided answering questions about my religion because I was too afraid of the reactions my immediate family would have.

It was easier to lie to them than to deal with being their “project.” 

So for all the people who wonder where I am coming from — and I know religion is prima facie to many Christians when weighing an argument’s or source’s validity — here is it all laid out.

I am a non-Christian Theist.

I believe that there is something in the universe that is omnipresent and supernatural — unexplainable by modern scientific knowledge — but it certainly is not some father-God-Lord-Universe-Creator. I believe the universe originated at the Big Bang, which may have been triggered by aforementioned supernatural being, and life evolved. I believe humans have consciousness that is equivalent to a soul.  I arrived at these beliefs through years of study, exegesis, and weighing of all sides. I don’t need evangelizing.

As far as the Old Testament of the Christian holy scriptures, I view them as a typical ancient history where a cultural group claims some supernatural justification for their conquest. I do not believe a loving God would order genocides, but I believe a group would commit genocide in the name of God and defend their actions with “God told us so.” I view Muslims, Christians, and Jews as essentially the same monotheistic religion, relying on ancient incorrect history to prop up a modern religion. That said, I believe the modern forms of these religions look nothing like they did in their original form. All religions evolve substantially over time, often changing core tenants or relying on arbitrary man-made decisions as Divine Truth (i.e. Council of Nicea, Papal Ex Cathedra, etc.).

When it comes to the New Testament, I believe that the historical Jesus was nothing like he was portrayed in the epistles and NT outside of the Gospels. Jesus was likely a real person, but the historical Jesus and verifiable source texts do not reflect the modern Biblical interpretation of Jesus’ divinity. That said, I believe Christianity, like Islam, Judaism, and many other religions, introduced many great moral codes to humanity.

When I traveled to Afghanistan to teach debate, I could not believe how similar the rural orthodox Muslims were to patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers.  (I’m sure some of you are incensed reading that, but remember I’m just being honest).  Women were treated as second-class citizens, many were forced into a form of “stay-at-home daughter,” and laws discriminated against them.  It was the exception for a young Afghan girl to attend as much school as her male peers, and certainly to attend a university.

Modesty is also rigidly enforced in both cultures, to an obsessive degree.  Only in Afghanistan and American homeschooling have I seen so many arbitrary rules regarding modesty only for women.  Granted, the level of modesty required of American homeschoolers does not reach the level of the burqa, but the philosophy and its outcome is relatively the same thing.

Just like many of the rural Orthodox Muslims, patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers want their version of Christianity enforced through the government.  Afghans also revere and respect their elders – a tradition that thrives in patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschooling.  Even as a married adult, my advocacy in America faces the “you’re just a rebellious bitter child” line all too often.

The similarities were haunting and during my month there I started writing what would become a catalyst for the stories that built HA.

My mind made so many connections and being in the repressive atmosphere brought back so many memories. Even teaching Afghans debate mirrored my experience teaching patriarchal fundamentalist American homeschoolers.  At first, they could not grasp the idea of arguing both sides — since they had been raised to only believe in one side. But as the light bulbs went off they lit up and they were so excited by debate.  One thing that struck me was how religiously devout the Muslim students of the universities remained.  Although they were among a very small cohort of their peers who attended secular universities, they all left the debate tournament after lunch to pray.  The entire tournament halted because they needed time to pray.

Something like that would never happen at an NCFCA tournament!

My next essay will focus on the impact of ATI on my childhood and teenage years.  And the terminal third essay will explain how ATI’s toxic teachings continue to poison my relationship with my parents.

Part Two >

A Call for Stories for HA’s Upcoming Series on Gothardism and ATI

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By Nicholas Ducote, HA Community Coordinator

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It is time for Homeschoolers Anonymous to talk about Bill Gothard.

It is time to speak up about Gothard, the Institute for Basic Life Principles (IBLP), and Gothard’s homeschooling cult, the Advanced Training Institute (ATI). 

IBLP was founded in 1961 and it grew consistently over the next two decades as hundreds of thousands were exposed to Gothardism.  At first, the seminar was called Basic Youth Conflicts and Gothard focused on the causes of, and solutions to, teenage rebellion.  He expanded with the Institute of Basic Life Principles (often called the Basic Seminar), which covered more general life advice and expanded on themes of forgiveness, the wrath of God, and other ways to apply fundamentalist interpretations of Scripture to your life. Gothard told stories about wooden “African masks” screaming when families to burned them (to release the demons). Bill Gothard built a vast multi-million dollar ministry with many facilities and programs across the United States, Asia, Australia, and Europe.

Some Terminology

IBLP is the parent organization, headquartered in Illinois on a vast campus.  IBLP has a plethora of different organizations within it. I will explain some of the terminology that you will see in this series.  IBLP refers to Bill Gothard’s seminar series — usually given in churches or in home for those who cannot access a conference.

Gothard founded a series of training centers, youth “retreats,” and international orphanages (in Russia, the Philippines, Romania, Ukraine – usually on property gifted to him by devoted followers, and thousands of young people in ATI spent months – sometimes years – volunteering or serving at these “ministries.”

ATI was Gothard’s homeschooling cult, founded in  1984, sold Wisdom Booklets as the primary curriculum.  Wisdom Booklets were a set of 54 booklets with sections on science, math, history, English, and course, ancient Greek.  ATI describes the Wisdom Booklets like this on their website:

In most educational systems today, the curriculum divides learning into academic subjects that are studied independently of one another. In some schools, the Bible is added as merely another subject to be studied. The ATI curriculum however, begins with Scripture and then combines valuable information with character training and life principles.

Each of the fifty-four Wisdom Booklets was based on a verse from Matthew chapters five through seven.  The Wisdom Booklets were divided into linguistics, history, science, law, and medicine sections, the subjects were not taught in any sort of order.  Rather, the subject or issue being covered was related back to the Bible verse. Jeri Lofland wrote a fantastic article about Gothard’s philosophy on education, available here.

Jim Logan, one of Gothard’s closest friends and ideological allies, told stories (at all sorts of IBLP events and programs) of exorcisms and demonic possessions, which bolstered Gothard’s message about spiritual warfare.  If you want to see the sort of thing he teaches, watch this sermon about the “Manifestations of Demons.”

One of the most troubling IBLP affiliations is Joel’s Army, which uses a disturbingly militaristic tone (there are two good investigative features here and here).

But not all of Gothard’s non-profits organizations are strictly focused on promoting Gothard’s brand of fundamentalism.  In fact, he has made a concerted effort to gain influence in secular circles domestically and internationally (especially in Romania, Russia, and the Ukraine).

The Character First! program, which I helped lead in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, taught character qualities to public school children gathered in an auditorium.  The sessions were never overtly religious.

Through the Character City program Gothard succeeded in bringing his message to a wider audience – municipal employees.   For more information you can check out this training manual for “How to Build a Character City.”

Jeri Lofland published another great article on the political reach and influence of Bill Gothard available here.  Mike Huckabee is one of the most prominent politicians adhering to Gothardism.

The Umbrella of Authority

Central to Gothardism is the “Umbrella of Authority,” which explains how God reveals his will and why people can be exposed to evil.

Gothard believed the nuclear family unit to be the central unit in proper Christian living and all divine inspiration flowed through the male head of household – typically the father.  All members of the household should subordinate themselves to the male head, or risk attack from Satan.  Because if you stray outside the Umbrella of Authority, God allows Satan to have his way with you.  If it was God’s will for you to, say go and be a missionary, your father would agree with you.  His disagreement would be a sign that it was not God’s will.  Gothard also preached that music with a “backbeat” was literally opening up young people’s minds to Satan and causing rebellion, which he justified with some creative racism.

Through the IBLP video seminar, the Advanced Seminar, the preaching of Bill Gothard and his disciples, hundreds of thousands were exposed to his teachings.  In the early-1980s, Parents who wished to apply Gothardism in a more radical manner to their lives could enroll in the Advanced Training Institute.  There was a yearly conference in Knoxville, which eventually spread to half a dozen satellite locations across the US, and all the youth were required to wear navy and white. Once a year the people of Knoxville would joke about the cult that descended on the University of Tennessee campus

My family joined ATI in the mid-1990s and we quickly became eager devotees to the teachings of Bill Gothard. My parents were first exposed to Gothard’s teachings at an IBLP seminar, which consisted of Bill Gothard covering all the things you needed to know to live happy and healthy.  Nuggets of wisdom like most mental health problems were caused by Satan building strongholds in your mind, that Rock and Roll music especially opened up young people to Satanic influence because the African-Americans brought their demon-worshipping beats from Africa, or that spiritual authority in a house flowed through the father, then to other members of the family.

To summarize Gothard’s view on music, when the Africans were brought to America as slaves, they brought with them their music. The African music was built around complex beats and rhythms, which Gothard claimed were used in their Satanic rituals.  The African-American slaves continued their tradition of “rhythmic demon worship,” but it slowly morphed into what we know as the blues. Gothard argued that early blues musicians literally “sold their soul to the devil” to expertly play the guitar. Gothard traced these Demon Beats through their development into Elvis’ rock and roll. He made it very clear that the Africans corrupted “white music” with their Demon Beats.

In my discussion with alumni of Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute and reading through stories of alumni, I have discovered a number of troubling patterns and trends in parent-child relationships. I believe that ATIs doctrines and ideology promote spiritual abuse and dysfunctional families.

HA’s Current Stories on Gothard and ATI

HA has featured some stories about ATI and the impact on families of involvement in Gothardism. Ralph discussed his experience with ALERT, the quasi-paramilitary force trained in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and Big Sandy, TX.  One of our most shocking stories of physical and sexual abuse, Mary’s “Home is Where the Hurt Is,” occurred in a well-known ATI family.

Two of our anonymous posters, “Cain” and “Thomas” (friends during their time in ATI), wrote about some of their spiritual and emotional abuse as a members of ATI, which included book burnings.  Cain recalled an instance of when a specific rock and roll song stopped him from considering suicide, despite the depression and desperation imposed by ATI’s ideolgies. “Esperanza” wrote about how the forced veneer of being a “perfect ATI girl” led her to self-injury. “George,” raised in ATI, tells of his journey to homosexuality and freedom. “Susannah” wrote about her complex PTSD and how ATI’s toxic teachings on mental health impacted her life.

Jeri Lofland discussed the impacts on her life of ATI’s teachings on her life.   Adam O’Connor published two poems about ATI’s encouraged book burning and their miseducation through the Wisdom Booklets (“Bonfire Chorus,” and “homeskooled )q.e.d.)”    Lana Hope wrote about ATI’s arcane doctrines on sexuality and why she rejected them.

Submit Your Story!

You might think, “Wow! HA already has a lot of stories about ATI, why have more?”  Trust me — we have only scratched the surface. I have been blown away by the response to my initial discussion among our alumni community. People are excited to tell their ATI stories.  If you want to contribute, but don’t know what to write, simply read through these stories and let the memories come back to you.  Try to capture the memories, and your more mature perspective now, in writing. Not all of your memories may be negative, so feel free to submit positive stories.  We do not want to present a one-sided story, just the truth.

The deadline for submission is Sunday, December 8, 2013.

As always, you can contribute anonymously or publicly.

If you interested in participating in this, please email us at homeschoolersanonymous@gmail.com.

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part Two

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

*****

"I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists."
“I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists.”

There are two versions of me: my parents’ version of me and my version of me.  Before my high school years, I don’t think there were two versions of me.  Instead, there was just the version my parents wanted.  This is probably true of most children, but my parents were fundamentalist Christians involved in ATI – a homeschooling cult.

In my middle school years (I can’t really tell time by years, or by grades, my youth is blurred and marked by big events or debate resolutions), my parents plunged me into the patriarchal/men-must-be-leaders movements of the 1990s.  They saw homosexuality, single women, women in authority, and feminism as threats to traditional gender roles.  So they trained me to be a warrior for godly men.  ATI’s version of this was called ALERT (Ralph has written about it here) and they liked to play Boy Scouts – but with less fun and more Bible study.  I became a biblical scholar around this age, constantly studying passages, their Greek and Hebrew meanings, cross-referencing those passages in lexicons and study tools, and recording my observations on something called the “Meditation Worksheet.”  Ironically, these worksheets prepared me deconstruct my cultic worldview and to rebuild my own worldview– whoops!

I was that really Christian kid that probably drove you nuts.  I preached to my Christian neighbors that they shouldn’t be reading the NIV because it was Satan’s tool to undermine the divinity of Jesus.  I passed out tracts at restaurants.  I was not afraid to judge everyone, as a thirteen year old, and inform them about the Straight and Narrow Path to Holiness.  Some of my closest friends became the pastor of our small Southern Baptist church – we would regularly discuss theology.

In high school, I started to think for myself and form my version of me (I’ll call it “me-me” and my parents’ version “parent-me”).  Whenever me-me would discuss his thoughts with my parents, I would come into conflict with them.  Their Christian worldview permeated every sector of knowledge – biology, geology, and especially politics, history, and religion.  Throughout my high school years I vacillated between me-me and parent-me.  At will, I could “turn off” all the parts of myself that my parents disliked.  However, when there was something me-me really wanted that I couldn’t just “turn off” my desire for, it drove me crazy.  Usually it was girls.  It wasn’t a sexual thing, I just loved the intimacy and having someone I could share all my teenage angst with.  My parents and I fought for probably five years over girls.

My parents decided that I needed some relationship indoctrination, so I got to learn all about “courtship.”  Courtship is about as traditional and stupid as it sounds.  I was told that I was supposed to “guard my heart” against “serial dating.”  They made dating and breaking up sound like this violent emotional crime that left people with long-term scars.  This meant that, before I entered into any relationship, I was supposed to ask my parents’ permission before I asked the girl’s father for permission to date her.  Mind you, all power and authority over women was supposed to flow through men.  Like any good patriarchy.  Physical contact during a courtship is almost always a strict no-no.  You are not allowed to hold hands, kiss, hug, or even be together alone.  Some of the courtships I have seen have ended in terrible marriages and, in one case, double homicide.

This idea of courtship was huge and fixated on sexual purity and emotional purity.  It grew huge after Joshua Harris’ book I Kiss Dating Goodbye and it was advocated at basically every homeschooling event and by most institutions.  Some groups formed solely for the purpose of educating people about courtship and Patrick Henry College (started by Michael Farris to train homeschoolers to be influential in Washington, D.C. politics).  ATI was huge about courtship, they even advocate betrothal!  That’s where the children have even less power in their romantic lives and the parents “pick” out a decent mate for them, then they are forced into a marriage because it’s “God’s will.”  Of course, only fathers, and occasionally mothers, know God’s will

So commitment in my romantic relationships was usually propelled by the guilt of needing to be in a “courtship.”  Of course, you aren’t supposed to court until the man is financially able to support a woman, which meant I was supposed to avoid romantic relationships til my mid-20s.  This was unacceptable, so I just engaged in quasi-courtship with three different girls through high school – sort of promising to marry them all, planning our lives and futures together, and then usually they broke up with me because God told them to (though I was an ass).

I remember I would form a lot of what would become my identity on the car rides home from something.  My truck became my only escape on a daily basis – with my truck came the first time in my life I had literal freedom.  I could go where I wanted, when I wanted.  That freedom usually provoked thoughts and I would work big issues like courtship in my mind listening to music.  I’m always amazed at how my parents will dismiss me-me and try to guilt and shame parent-me out of the shell.  De-construction and re-construction your identity is not easy and my parents always acted like it was fun for me to rebel.  Yes, when I was a teenager it was fun to let the immature me-me out for a joy ride, only to be clamped down on and repressed.  But that excitement ended in college.  I slowly came to a peace about myself that did not depend on my parents, or their affection.  Finding the me-me was one thing, but synthesizing that into my emotions was much more difficult.

I say all this to try and explain both of the versions of myself.  I can be parent-me, I can turn it on, and turn off my own desires and personality.  It took years for me to even find out what me-me wanted from life and I found a tremendous peace when I discovered my desires and not my parents’.  Throughout college, I would go home and I would let a little more of me-me come out – it was a very slow “coming out,” to borrow a phrase.  I admitted to smoking tobacco.  That I wasn’t a libertarian anymore, I was a liberal – lots of these involved political discussions where my parents felt almost as betrayed that I no longer shared their political beliefs than if I had renounced the faith.  I never did renounce Christianity, only the corrupt vessel of the Christian church.  Admitting I was dating took awhile – I just recently admitted I believed in evolution.  Usually, each admission of the me-me ended in a fight or conflict.  Even in college, they could not let go.

When I first started dating my wife, I asked if she could stay the night in my parent’s house because I needed a ride back to school.  My father said he wasn’t comfortable with that because it would give my younger sister a bad example of “serial dating.  To put this in perspective, this would be the second girl I brought home to my family ever.  I said that I was really serious about this girl and if they chose to act like this, I would tell my girlfriend, and I would understand if she didn’t want my children around them.  This sobered them up quickly and they agreed to let her stay.  But it demonstrates the types of conflicts that would occur when me-me contradicted parent-me.

When my parents manage to convince me to attend their church, my mom always expects me to sing.  My mother and I spent a lot of time bonding in the church choir when I was younger, so she expects me to find the same joy in it now as I did then.  It simply does not work like that.  Me-me does not enjoy church because it reminds me of all the negative feelings of guilt, shame, and intense pressure to be good.  These days when it comes to spirituality, me-me cannot compromise.

Even now that I am married, my parents still want and expect parent-me.  I don’t like the same things, I’m not the same person, and when they laugh and reminisce about the great times they had with parent-me, I can’t help but feel uneasy inside.  They reminisce for parent-me because they know they may never see him again.  They still try to draw on the guilt and shame they instill in me by saying things like “that’s not what we wanted for your life.”  Or telling me the consequences of my sins, then questioning why I don’t think certain things are sins.  When they pressure me-me to revert to parent-me, I get angry, defensive, and emotional.  So I just stop expecting anything, sharing anything, being vulnerable.  I don’t want parent-me for my life – that should mean something.  And I don’t take spiritual advice from cultists.

To be continued.

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part One

Burn In Case Of Evil: Cain’s Story, Part One

HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Cain” is a pseudonym.

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In this series: Part One | Part Two | Part Three | Part Four

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Religious fanatics simply ruin children.

"Evil rock and roll saved my life."
“Evil rock and roll saved my life.”

The quaint, happy, innocent life of a child can quickly be replaced by the stark absolutes of fanaticism. Muslim, Christian, and Jew are one in the same monster. Their fanatics take different names, they act in different ways, but they are all the same.  Fanatics know no middle ground.  They know no compromise – other than our mutual destruction. Bill Gothard turned my parents cultists and they focused all their energies “training up” a perfect son. My parents attended an Institute of Basic Life Principles conference and eventually joined ATI, Gothard’s homeschooling cult.  I remember my mom coming in to tell me we were going to burn some things to remove the evil:

“Honey, your father and I have decided to make some changes around the house.  We’re going to stop getting cable and we’re going to get rid of some of our things.”

“Ok, mommy. What are we getting rid of?”

“We are going to get rid of our evil books,” she said.

I had never thought a book could be evil. But I certainly wanted to get rid of all the evil books we had! My parents explained that we would be burning books, movies, and records. 

 “Of course, mommy!  I’ll look through my books right now!”

There was only one book that stuck out to me as especially “evil.” I can’t recall the exact title, but I remember that the title had something to do with the devil. Of course, it was really just about a submarine voyage, or maybe some Moby Dick variation. It was part of a compilation, so my mother said we didn’t have to burn the whole book, maybe just the title page. Not many people have experienced a book burning, I must say. I guess that makes me special?

Children are so impressionable. In retrospect, most everything I was taught was ridiculous and mostly untrue. Rock and roll was not invented by the devil, or even just by the “evil Africans” who brought over their “demon beats” in an attempt to corrupt America. But what child is going to risk being possessed by demons just because they listen to rock music? I certainly wasn’t. It was easy for others to convince me I needed to proselytize, pass out tracts, and otherwise make myself a general asshole. My adolescence was little more than a protracted church service.  When you’re homeschooled, the son of fanatics, and not allowed to even go in the neighbor-children’s houses, it’s difficult to think for yourself. I was always a well-mannered, funny kid, so I had friends, but I was beyond sheltered. 

I always felt that “normal kids” had it so easy. I envied the kids that attended private school and my parents would not let me attend a school outside of our home. Of course, I did not envy the public school kids, because I was told that they were being brainwashed by a communistic system and God was being forced out. Before I became involved in NCFCA (a Christian, homeschool speech and debate league), I was a huge sports nut and I always craved the camaraderie and friendship of the people on my team. My parents did not allow me to go into my neighbor’s houses because I might see some television – yes, I am being serious. 

Without the internet, without Wikipedia, or without message boards, it’s possible that I would be a mindless, fanatical robot. But, for a sheltered child with very little contact with the outside world, the internet is like heaven. Unfortunately, that internet usage was limited by firewalls, parental filters, and the like. However, Wikipedia was never blocked, nor was peer-to-peer downloading. Most children without sex-ed are left to flipping through encyclopedias and dictionaries to discover sexual issues. I knew the very basics from my parents, but they never cared to elaborate. I was taught that AIDS was a GAY DISEASE, that gay people received from being gay. I was taught that if I had more than one sexual partner, I would most likely get an STD. Reading studies, normal people’s thoughts, and seeing that my parents were crazy about just about everything helped me grow up a lot. 

The internet was my trail-guide on the trip to knowledge and enlightenment. When you hear of the 18th century “Enlightenment,” some people might think that term is a bit ostentatious, but I disagree. There is nothing like the pure bliss of understanding the truth. Indeed, to cut through the bullshit that the powers-that-be throw at you on a daily basis. To rise above the propaganda. To cut through the paranoia. Some people call me arrogant, and I suppose I can come across that way. But really, I just want to share my enlightenment. 

The strangest feeling is after your enlightenment, when you return home. My relatives had served in the military, been “around the block,” and refused to believe that my college education gave me any insight into the truth. To my reborn self, everything in my parent’s home became a symbol of my oppression and repression – all the books, the magazines, the religious rituals before mealtime, and the constant use of Biblical allusions in conversation. Every conversation with them eventually comes to a head with their religious beliefs – a black and white world.  Every time I asked them for advice, I don’t get just a normal answer with life advice. It’s all about God’s will, his plan, his desires. 

For the longest time, I could not even admit to my parents that I believed evolution was true. It took me three years to work up the courage to tell them that. I knew it would upset them because they spent so much time indoctrinating me about creationism. When we get into arguments and they start breaking out Bible verses and condemnation, I have an uncontrollable physical reaction. So many arguments in high school, which usually involved them telling me to stop talking to a girl that I really liked, ended with me feeling trapped and isolated. On one occasion, at the age of fifteen, my parents made me call the girl I’d secretly been IM’ing (because I wasn’t allowed to talk to girls over email or IM and they caught me) and break up with her. Then they sentenced me to a month of solitary confinement – I was banned from talking and hanging out with any of my friends. I could attend the weekly speech class held in our home, but that was it. I was stuck in my parents’ house, trapped by their ideologies, with no one to talk to. As you can imagine, that’s a lot for a 15 year old to handle. 

Essentially, I was imprisoned and the people who put me in there were constantly there with me. I couldn’t go to school every day and get that escape and that’s all I wanted. My only escape was a Sony Walkman that included an FM radio. I remember laying in my water bed, with my headphones in, tears streaming down my cheeks. I don’t know exactly what emotion I was feeling at the time. I don’t know if there’s any worse feeling than being forced to not speak to the one girl who loves you and listens to you. Sure, I was only 15 and I wasn’t going to marry the girl, but why be a bitch about it, mom and dad? I knew my dad kept many handguns in his room and plenty of ammo. At the time, I was in total desperation. I couldn’t tell anyone about how I was feeling, not even my guy friends. This left the thoughts and feelings to run laps around my brain, never stopping. The only way I felt like I could be whole again was to kill myself.

Translucent, I wonder the halls,

In search of companion,

In search of purpose,

Cannot gain traction.

Reaching out, my hand passes through,

All the bodies,

All the walls,

Everything.

Ironically, that’s when evil rock and roll saved my life. I don’t know if I would have actually killed myself, but I was pretty damn close. The fact that I heard that specific song at just that time seemed absolutely divine. The girl I’d been forced to break up with and I both loved Green Day, especially the song Time of Your Life (Good Riddance). Thanks, Green Day. Their punk asses understood my teenage angst and told me that everything would be ok.  After this point, I decided I had to have privacy and I had to have an escape.

My laptop became my secret diary, if you will. It included all the instant messages I sent to the girls I wasn’t supposed to be talking to, all the movies I wasn’t supposed to download, and let’s not even mention all the evil rock and roll I wasn’t supposed to even own. As I said before, even my internet was covered with protections. If I ever visited a site that could be considered related to drugs, sex, nudity, anarchism, or full of profanity, my parents would receive an email telling them exactly where I went. The internet was also set to go off at 10pm. This was pretty shitty since all my girlfriends were long-distance (you just try to date someone who lives in the same city when your parents track your every move). I found a way to circumvent the Evil Firewall and talked to my girls on AIM or Gtalk. 

I dove headfirst into books, films, and music. I wanted to learn about these beautiful expressions of self that touched me so dearly. I read books about what good films were supposed to look like and my friends and I made our way down IMDB’s Top 250 Movies. I obsessively began to immerse myself in popular culture. I went 15 years not understanding movie references, pop songs, and TV shows. I know it seems petty, but when everyone is talking about their favorite band, something they saw on tv, it’s easy to feel excluded. Even the other homeschool kids could listen to rock music, but not me. But after that I didn’t care because I just wanted to be able to cultivate healthy relationships with people who liked me. 

To be continued.

The Truth About Sheltering Your Kids: Ralph’s Story

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HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Ralph” is a pseudonym.

I was raised in a family where homeschooling wasn’t just the preferred method of education, but the only right one. Homeschooling was a way of life or a lifestyle if you will and everything revolved around my parents’ opinion of what God’s will was.  Other than AYSO soccer, I had no social contact outside of church, family, and the homeschool umbrella group until I went to community college. This was when I discovered that I was socially retarded (yes that’s a technical term).

The religious sheltering of my childhood was only made more extreme and miserable by the international homeschool conglomerate cult ATI (Advanced Training Institute) aka IBLP (Institute of Basic Life Principles) run by ‘his eminence’ Bill Gothard. I won’t go into too many details of how involved my family was with this group or how many times we went to the IBLP seminars or the national conference in Knoxville Tennessee. But even at a young age I can remember wondering what the point was of all the putting on of shows, the mass gatherings, and the ridiculous dress code which looks nearly identical to that of the Mormons.

Besides the endless hypocrisy of Mr. Gothard’s teachings, the suppression of children’s natural instinct to ask questions of things that don’t make sense, and the plain and simply false teachings that go against recorded history and scientific fact — the most damaging moment of my experience with this group and quite possibly of my childhood (ironic that at the age of 20 both my parents and I still considered me a child) was when I attended the ALERT Academy. ALERT stands for Air Land Emergency Resource Team, but is really nothing more than a glorified boy scout troop; often referred to by some as ‘Gothard’s boy scouts’.

The main point they tried to drive home to their ‘trainees’ (typically 16-18 years old) was that no matter what adversity or difficulty you are facing, either physical, mental, or spiritual, all you need to do is cry out to God and he will get you through it. The way they taught us to do this with the physical aspect was by hiking with 60-80 pound back packs at nothing short of a speed-walk pace which often turned into a jog for miles on end without ever disclosing how far or long we were going.

Again, I won’t go into too many details but the ‘physical training’ done at ALERT made Basic Combat Training feel like a summer camp when I joined the Army years later. During this abusive level of physical training I ended up spraining my back which caused horrible pain during these hikes, but as I was told, “just ask God to make the pain go away and you will make it through.” Needless to say this was not a satisfactory answer to me and I ‘developed an attitude’ according to the leadership there.

I eventually was kicked out with them citing a ‘prideful spirit’ as the root cause of my problems.

This explanation is truly only scratching the surface of my experience at ALERT, but I don’t really want to turn this into an book. A few years later I found myself thinking that being a youth pastor might be a good path for me to take. So I attended a Christian college to begin studying for this purpose. However it didn’t take long from being out of my parents immediate control and having even a tiny taste of independence and freedom to begin rethinking everything I had ever been taught. Of course this did not happen without some outside influence.

After years of hearing my mother rail against psychology as nothing but excuses and philosophy as a way of opening your mind to Satan, I decided to take some classes and ended up majoring in both. She was partially right about something, philosophy does open your mind, but not to an imaginary evil gremlin whose ultimate goal is to enslave humanity. It simply opens the mind to new ideas and not being close minded.

To this day my parents curse my philosophy professor for ‘leading me astray’.

Some may say I’m just another typical example of how the devil can take possesion of people through exposure to worldly things. The truth is if you shelter your kids from ‘the real world’ they are going to wonder what you are keeping from them and many will run at the first chance they get. If philosophy, being the love of knowledge by definition, is so evil, then what are you saying by telling people to stay away from it?

I’m pretty sure there is a word to describe the rejection of knowledge; it is called ignorance.

After years of rebuilding my beliefs and life I have come to clarity. I realize my parents were raising children, and while this is typically what people say, I believe the mentality of child rearing needs to change.

Stop ‘raising children’, start raising responsible and educated adults who will not only be beneficial to society, but understand how to be a part of it.