Young Earth, Young People, and Abandoned Faith

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Julie Anne Smith’s blog Spiritual Sounding Board. It was originally published on July 10, 2013 with the title, “Ken Ham, Young Earth Creationism, Young People Abandoning Their Faith: My Daughter’s Story.”

This story pains me.  It’s a personal one.

Parenting is very challenging. Homeschooling children has also been a challenge. When we began homeschooling our children, we chose to do so for a number of reasons.  We wanted to have better oversight over the curricula our children were taught because we wanted to give them a solid Christian foundation.

As typical Christian parents, we did not want them to have “worldly” influences. We got support at homeschool conventions, conferences. I spent time on the internet in e-mail groups, message boards, etc, and got support and information there. In the Christian homeschooling arena, Creationism was taught in the science curricula. Evolution was labeled as evil and we needed to protect our children from those false ideas.

Ken Ham spoke on the homeschooling circuit and we went to his seminars.  Others echoed his ideas and if you were a Christian homeschooler, you very likely taught your children Young Earth Creationism (YEC), as this was the primary science taught in the available Christian homeschooling texts – at least that I saw in my circles.

Science has never been my “thang.”  I don’t need to know the process of how we got here. The Bible told me how we got here.  I believed what it said and that settled the issue for me.   I didn’t need to discuss it further.

My husband, however, is an engineer.  He is very interested in knowing the process of things. I can’t imagine him not wanting to know how things work.  Engineers live and breathe processes.

Teaching creationism was a perfect fit for my husband.  He took the kids to creationism seminars over the years, bought quite a few creationist books about dinosaurs and the origins of the earth, and the kids soaked it up.  I found our eldest daughter devouring the books just for fun. She was sold. It was a foundational issue for faith, just like Ken Ham always said.

Here is a quotation by Ken Ham to students at Bob Jones University:

 “The majority of Christian colleges in this nation won’t take a stand on a literal Genesis, as you do here at Bob Jones University,” he said. And that compromise, according to Mr. Ham, is the very reason that some Christian young people are abandoning their faith. He said, “We have increasing numbers of people who have been led to doubt the history in the Bible, and so they don’t believe the Gospel based on that history.”

A couple of months ago, my older kids and I were at a restaurant and Hannah, 26 yrs old, shared with me a pivotal experience.  I hadn’t heard this story before.  Remember, science bores me.  When she talked this time about science, I was not bored.  I listened with great sadness and also understanding.  It made sense to me.  I asked Hannah if she would share her story here and she agreed.

I do not agree with Ken Ham anymore.  I hope my daughter’s story will open your eyes to another side of the story which Mr. Ham would not dare to admit.  His intentions may be good in holding so strongly to the YEC teachings, but we cannot dismiss that his ministry and possibly livelihood depend upon it.

I don’t care if people believe in Young Earth Creation or not.  To me, it is not a salvation issue or gospel issue.  But the YEC-only way of believing did not work for my daughter, it backfired. I think it’s important to take a closer look at this issue.  Hannah’s story follows.

*****

My Experience with Young Earth Creationism

by Hannah Smith

While on a break between classes at the local community college, a previous homeschooled friend I knew from church and I were sitting at a table chatting in the main lobby. I honestly have no idea how the subject came up, but we were talking about YEC and evidences for it. I was trying to explain Carbon-14 dating (it’s not the easiest thing to break down off-the-cuff, but I was pretty sure I knew the very basic fundamentals of it in order to have it make sense to her.

As I was trying to explain it, one of my classmates overheard our conversation and came over and joined the conversation. He very efficiently sliced-and-diced my YEC “points” and “evidence”, but since I felt I hadn’t brushed up on the subject in a year or two, I’d investigate it more in the light of the contradictions he’d brought to surface. I wanted to see if I could do more in-depth research on the topic and figure out if and how much of what he was saying could be verified and where the disconnect between our two viewpoints occurred.

So after I went home, I dug up our trusty creationism-is-true-sort-of books commonly found in good Bible-Believing Homeschooling YEC family’s libraries. After reading the articles and chapters, I did what my father always said to do and “checked the source” – probably more to see if there were books completely dedicated to the topic of Carbon-14 dating that I could look up in the local library.

Flipping to the end of the book with the citations I was shocked that pretty much all of the sources for their proof was from other Christian YEC-believing books. So I quickly determined that they were just quoting what other people who believed similarly where saying, rather than going to scientific journals and scholarly articles written by secular authors and scientists. For example, take a look at the following excerpt taken from an article at Ken Ham’s Answers in Genesis site (Doesn’t Carbon Dating Disprove the Bible?):

In 1997 an eight-year research project was started to investigate the age of the earth. The group was called the RATE group (Radioisotopes and the Age of The Earth). The team of scientists included:

    • Larry Vardiman, PhD Atmospheric Science
    • Russell Humphreys, PhD Physics
    • Eugene Chaffin, PhD Physics
    • John Baumgardner, PhD Geophysics
    • Donald DeYoung, PhD Physics
    • Steven Austin, PhD Geology
    • Andrew Snelling, PhD Geology
    • Steven Boyd, PhD Hebraic and Cognate Studies

That looks very impressive – every single person, a PhD. But they probably all have a vested interest in this – 3 of those 8 people have written books advocating YEC and you can find that information one simple mouse-click away from the article.

Look at the sources quoted at the end of the article – they go back to other Christian Scientists with published books on the subject (the scientists above) – unless they are quoting the opposing viewpoints for comparison.

I found this info out in about 1 minute while I was writing the first paragraph above, about the same amount of time it took me five and half years ago, when this originally occurred. This kind of circular reasoning raised (and honestly still raises) major red-flags for me from a logical and scientific standpoint. If they can’t find outside sources, how does them quoting from their friends make it true?

This was the starting point of me doubting my faith. I never recovered from it.

Hope For A Better Tomorrow: Matthew Gorzik’s Story

Hope For A Better Tomorrow: Matthew Gorzik’s Story

Hello, my name is Matthew Gorzik.

I’m a 19 year old from Missouri, recently liberated from my parents and my homeschool. I was taught via the curriculum offered by Alpha Omega Academy, a YEC-oriented set of curricula which taught the wrong things and didn’t even teach them well. I learned that Pi = 3, that the Earth is 6,000 years old and that the *only* way fossils could possibly exist is if a great flood happened. It also tended to use History class as indoctrination, and tried to teach 9 and 10 year olds that they should only vote for Christians in elections because ‘otherwise, we’d have to live by Man’s law, and not God’s.’ All of this, of course, paled in comparison to the largest problem this caused.

I was completely isolated from civilization for most of my life, with the exception of the internet.

My parents were extremely sheltering, to the point that they demonized things like public school. Because of this, I only knew my family. I knew some of my extended family, but only got to see them on a monthly basis. Otherwise? I didn’t know a single person that I did not share a blood relation with.

And my family? They were not nice people.

My father was emotionally abusive, constantly reminding you that everything you had was his, that he could take it away at any time. He would threaten to kick me out of the house for speaking against him, and would openly say to my mother that I was lucky that he didn’t slap me into submission. My mother, of course, was a parent of the same vein. She would use my father as a mouthpiece when she didn’t want to get her own hands dirty, and would basically lie you into doing what she wanted. If the lies didn’t work, she would basically say “I’m the parent. I run barter town. You don’t get to question me, you get to do what I tell you to.” Failure to comply would result in having things taken away from you, or being slapped if you didn’t apologize for daring to question her authority.

I lived in the belief that this was normal.

I lived thinking it was normal to obey your parents without question. I lived thinking it was normal for someone of my age to not even be considered a person in their own home, thinking that it was normal for a parent to be nothing but a fear-monger to the child, demanding respect and complete obedience under threat of physical abuse or being kicked out. It drove me to a deep depression for a time, to the point that I considered myself completely without worth.

Then the internet found me, so to speak.

I had been online for a few years at this point. I had made friends – good friends. Friends that still stick with me to this day. They helped me realize that life wasn’t meant to be full of fear, and they helped me find a voice for myself. They helped me find my own personality – something that I would be completely lacking without their influence. I didn’t realize, though, the true extent to which they would help me. I found a forum for a site devoted to poking fun at the overtly religious and downright insane people of the internet. My boyfriend poked me into showing them some of my schoolwork, and telling them about my family.

They did not like what they heard.

My family situation, and their anger about it, escalated to the point that they banded together, raising $1,000 for a rescue operation. One of the members of that forum literally drove out to MO with a friend and picked me up in the morning without my parents even noticing until I called, I even got out with most of my belongings. We then drove for three days straight into Salem, OR.

Nowadays? I’m living with the family of the member that saved me. They have done more for me than anyone could possibly know, and they have been more of a family to me than my own. I’m going to a community college – trying to get my GED – and they’re doing everything they can to help me make up for lost time.

Where my life before was left empty — and I wondered if I would ever amount to anything more than just another person forgotten by time — my life is now filled with hope. Hope for a better tomorrow and, with the fact that the word is getting out about this kind of behaviour, hope that nobody will ever have to suffer my yesterday.

I Have to Live My Life: Eve’s Story

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

My homeschooling experience in and of itself was not particularly awful. It started out harmlessly enough. My older brother was very ahead of his public school class in first grade and was bored so he asked my mom to homeschool him. (Or so the story goes, I’ve never actually bothered to ask if that was actually the case). I do know that there was a very strong homeschooling movement in our church and we immediately joined that group. For the most part I enjoyed school growing up. My older brother and I were very inquisitive and my mom did her best of fulfill our desire for knowledge. Unfortunately for me, much of my interest centered on biology. I was provided with plenty of Creationist curriculum, but very little that explained any actual science.

Church was a different matter for me. I was rarely happy at church. I did not understand many things and I had a lot of questions throughout high school. My questions were always met with the same types of answers, “We know best. Just trust us we’ll get to your answers eventually but for now just focus on the stuff we’re teaching you. You’re still young and the Bible says that when we are babies we need milk.” It was an empty reply and it always left me even more unhappy. When I tried to start a study group with some of the other girls my age so that we could find some answers for ourselves, we were immediately shut down. Even though we were meeting off church property we were told that in order to have a bible study we had to have one of the women from the church oversee us. Again I was left in the dark. All I ever wanted was for someone to sit with me and be honest. I needed someone to either tell me that they didn’t have the answers I wanted or to help me find them. No one would because asking questions was against the rules in my church.

I tried very very hard to have faith. Everyone around me believed so fervently in God and Creation. I went to Bible Camps, Summit, raised money and went on mission trips, joined Bible studies and read so many study books I’ve lost count, but I never had faith. I don’t know that I’ve ever truly experienced faith. This was a terrifying realization to come to. The thought that everything I was taught growing up, everything that my parents so fervently believed was not what I believed shook me to my core. I am terrified of disappointing my parents. I always have been and I think I might always be. All of my life up until college revolved around making my parents happy. I was the good kid.

Then, of course, my family became heavily involved with the NCFCA. I hated it. I  have never liked speaking in front of people. I willingly participated for one tournament and that was it. After that I supported my older brother. I had much more fun when all I had to do was help him research and then during tournaments I could run around doing whatever and helping my mom do Judge’s Hospitality. I never really made friends in the NCFCA. Most everyone loved my older brother so most everyone knew me (if only as his little sister), but I never found my own group of people. To be honest I was fine with that. I didn’t really like most of the NCFCA so I was fine just doing my own thing and living in my brother’s shadow.

Debate did, however, open me up to the world of the internet. I was suddenly immersed in research for debate, but also in everything else. All of the ideas on the internet fascinated me. I made friends with a very outspoken atheist who constantly questioned my beliefs. He never did it in a rude or antagonistic way. He could tell I wasn’t entirely convinced about my faith, but it was so deeply ingrained in me that I would never have admitted that to him. So instead he just persistently asked me why I believed what I believed. I never did have an answer for him.

In college I moved rapidly away from my parents’ beliefs. I majored in biology and was fascinated with everything I learned. When I took a class on evolution I had so many questions that I spent a large amount of time in my professor’s office. He was very understanding and very, very helpful. I stopped going to church when I moved to college and focused instead on answering all of those questions I’d had growing up. Unlike the elders in my church, my professors wanted to do nothing more than give me answers. I thrived in college. I made friends for the first time and was social. All the while, my relationship with my parents started showing signs of wear. Practically every time I went home we had a conversation that ended with my crying and feeling like I was nothing but a disappointment. All I wanted to do was figure out for myself what I believed, but because it was looking like I wasn’t going to believe what they did, they were very unhappy.

After graduating I got the hell out of my state and moved to the East Coast. I had some friends in the area but it was still a terrifying transition. I went from living near/with my family to living 18 hours away in the middle of a big city. Thankfully with the support of my friends I adjusted quickly. My parents were sure I’d be back to my home state after 3 months. I’ve now lived up here for almost 3 years and I’ve never been happier. Soon after I moved I met a guy and we started dating. He was the first guy I ever actually dated. Even when our relationship became serious, my parents never really made any effort to get to know him. He is not a conservative Christian so they don’t care to. I brought him home with me once for Thanksgiving and within 30 minutes of him being in my house my dad was trying to convert him. They  have still never actually invited him to come to their house for the holidays with me.

These days my relationship with my parents is superficial at best. I no longer feel comfortable sharing things about my life with them and they never ask anyway. Occasionally we talk on the phone to catch up a little but it’s always small talk. I do hope that one day they will begin to come around and accept that I just don’t believe what they do. I hope that they’ll realize that I still very much want to have a good relationship with them but that I can’t keep living my life just to make them happy. I will always be afraid of disappointing them and it will always profoundly hurt when they tell me that I have done so, but I have to live my life with the goal of achieving my dreams and desires, not theirs.

Currently, I no longer consider myself religious at all. I do not have any sort of faith. I would not go so far as to call myself an atheist. Agnostic would probably be the best if you have to term it.

Homeschool Confidential: Leaving Generation Joshua

By R.L. Stollar, HA Community Coordinator

*****

“Generation Joshua wants America to be a perpetual city on a hill, a beacon of biblical hope to the world around us.  We seek to inspire every one of our members with faith in God and a hope of what America can become as we equip Christian citizens and leaders to impact our nation for Christ and for His glory.”

~ William A. Estrada, Esq., Director of Generation Joshua

*****

The story that follows is a cautionary tale.

It is the story of a generation, overwhelmed and frightened by the 1960’s and 70’s, that wanted to create an isolated bubble in which to raise kids untouched by the chaos and depravity of the American world. It is the story of a generation that partied so hard that, ashamed of its doings, wanted its progeny to not do the things it did. It is a story of how you can so easily throw the proverbial baby out with the bath water — or, put another way, how babies always grow up and have to make their own decisions, no matter how hard their parents try to avoid that day.

***

This story is not meant to antagonize people, though it will surely antagonize many. It is not meant to attack anyone, but it will involve some serious disagreements. This story is first and foremost a personal statement of my personal experience — my experience of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling subculture in which I grew up.

I didn’t just grow up in the subculture. I was one of its most outspoken advocates and champions. I wasn’t merely a conservative, Christian homeschooler. I was raised and groomed to be a model for its tenets, an inspiration for my peers, and someone who trained my peers to also be advocates and champions.

I have struggled most of my life with sorting through everything I experienced as a homeschooler. Not the education, mind you — I can read, think, write, speak, and debate. But as I have been increasingly dealing with major depression, panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, and all sorts of other problems, I have been reflecting on my childhood. And I realize that the pressures put on me by the conservative, Christian homeschooling subculture have contributed significantly to my problems today.

It’s not the conservatism or the Christianity or the homeschooling, per se. It’s not my family. But it’s the combination of everything and especially my years in the homeschool speech and debate league that made me who I am. And lately I’ve been talking to other people who went through the same things. And I am starting to see patterns. I am starting to hear stories. Stories of pressure, control, self-hating, self-harming, and even abuse — emotional, physical, and sexual.

I am starting to hear that I am not alone in my problems.

Everyone, of course, has a different experience, even those who were homeschooled. Some of us were in the Home School Legal Defense Association. Some of us did speech and debate, while others did Teen Pact or Teen Mania. Some of us did Creation Science seminars; others did not. Some of us grew up in Quiverfull homes, or homes dedicated to Josh Harris’ model of courtship, or even betrothal homes. Some of us were allowed to date. We all have different experiences. Some of us are atheists now, or agnostics, or Buddhists, or still Christians. Some of us are liberal; others are conservative.

But there is a pattern emerging. And that pattern has a story that needs to be told.

***

What you might not know about conservative, Christian homeschoolers is that we are actually a smart bunch. Unlike the completely ridiculous cultural stereotype, many of us received more than adequate socialization. We had park days, sports teams, missions trips, and political rallies. We had drama clubs and the Bible verse memorization club AWANA — but more than that, many of us were in speech and debate leagues, moot court, summer camps dedicated to worldview training, and all sorts of other activities meant to make us articulate defenders and proponents of our beliefs.

We were, in fact, probably able to school our secular peers in argumentation and public speaking. And that was no coincidence. There is a vast, well-organized machine that yearly churns out advocates of the conservative, Christian, homeschooling viewpoint.  We were part of the so-called “Generation Joshua,” the new generation meant to reclaim America for the glory of the Christian god.

To my subculture, Generation Joshua means two things. First, it is a Christian youth organization founded in 2003 by the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA), created to train children to be activists for conservative candidates who support pro-life and otherwise socially conservative platforms. But more importantly, Generation Joshua is a metaphor. It is a rallying cry based on a jumbled amalgam of biblical stories with the purpose of inspiring conservative parents and their kids.

In the Old Testament, the Egyptians held the Israelites in captivity. The Hebrew God chose Moses to lead the Israelites out of captivity and into the Promised Land, a land flowing with milk and honey. But the Israelites and Moses disobeyed God on numerous occasions, so God made them wander in the wilderness for forty years, banning them from ever entering the Promised Land. But God had compassion on them, and chose a member of the next generation, Joshua, to lead the Israelites’ children into that land of milk and honey.

While this story is considered by academics and exegetes to be a straightforward historical narrative, conservative Christians have transformed it into a metaphor for the United States. In this metaphor, the Israelites are U.S. citizens. The U.S. was founded as a Christian nation, but the forces of secularism have held us in captivity as the U.S. progressed. So God — now the God of Republican, conservative Christians — chose homeschooling parents to lead the U.S. away from its godlessness and back to its Christian roots. But the parents were once part of that secularism, so God will not allow them to see the fruits of their labor. God has nonetheless shown compassion towards their efforts, so the parents’ children are the new Joshuas. These children are to be trained in God’s original plan for the U.S. to be a Christian nation, and they will grow up to invade all levels of the U.S. government and society and reclaim the U.S. for Republican, conservative Christianity.

To this end, all aspects of a homeschooled child’s life are to be tailored to this vision. Every effort is made to ensure that the children become full-fledged advocates of this viewpoint. You see, many conservatives fear one thing almost more than everything else, including Bill Clinton and abortion: that their kids will grow up and disagree with them. There is an enormous apparatus in place to prevent that calamity. There are books, videos, seminars, and camps dedicated to keep kids in line with their parents’ ideology. One of the most talked about and feared statistics every year is how many kids gave up on their parents’ beliefs once they go off to college. This statistic will go viral everywhere. It will terrify parents, reinforce their mission, and inspire them to push and brainwash harder, faster, stronger. You don’t want to be that parent — the parent with the bad seed, the apostate.

It can be a major embarrassment and shame or alienate parents or families out of their long-trusted circles. “The family that has the atheist kid?” Or, “The family that has that girl who got pregnant?” “Surely they raised their kid wrong. Let’s not associate with them anymore.”

It kills relationships.

To be clear, there are many kind, sincere, and well-meaning members of this subculture. There are parents who believe and know they can offer their children a better education than public schools; or who withdraw their kids due to personal handicaps, bullying, or other real and serious complications; or who are capable of teaching their kids to think for themselves instead of merely indoctrinating them.

That I am even writing this is itself a testament to both homeschooling as well as the power of human experience to triumph over human doctrine. I can read, write, reflect, and self-reflect. Much of that is due to a good education.

Much more, however, is due to the continual wrestling my mind had to do with everything in homeschooling that is not education — the attitudes, culture, worldview, and underlying biases that often are more important to homeschooling than the education itself. If homeschooling in a conservative, Christian environment was merely a parent rather than a publicly licensed stranger teaching me 1+1=2, I would not be writing this.  But I am writing this, and that is because, where I grew up, 1+1=2 because God is a protestant Christian deity who wants us to reclaim a fallen United States of America for His glory.

***

As I slowly and painfully extricated myself from this world in which I grew up, I felt very alone. But the more I broke free and was willing to not just admit to others my differences in opinion but admit to myself I was changing (often the harder task, as I still fear that maybe I am wrong and thereby will be burned alive for eternity in God’s hell fire), I found that I was not alone. I would hear from increasingly large numbers of my peers, my former students, and even my former teachers that they, too, had or are trying to break free.

I had always been a rabble-rouser in homeschooling circles, but one from within being self-critical. So I am not unfamiliar with making waves and being chastised. So to take a significant, real break from this community is terrifying. But once I finally took a stand, I realized — sometimes, someone just needs to have the courage to say what others have been hoping to hear.

I think, for a lot of us, we are afraid to say what we feel, to say that we have changed. A lot of our subculture’s message to us was to shut up and get in line. That makes us, even as adults, fearful of a former community’s backlash. We have stuffed our questions and our seeds of discontent for so long that remaining silent has become a habit. Even as adults, we have that inner child who is terrified of saying, “Hey, I’m don’t want to be like that. I want to grow up. I want to have my own beliefs. I want to be my own human being.”

The fact is — I am my own human being. And I always was. I just was raised to not think that way. And I have witnessed with my own eyes, ears, body, and heart so much pain that comes from not acknowledging I am my own person. And I have heard of so many others’ pain. So I cannot keep silent any longer. I will no longer keep my mouth shut and I will no longer play the games of this strange world. While I do not oppose homeschooling in theory, how I have seen it practiced in many ways demands a reckoning.

From the Quiverfull movement to the betrothal/courtship mentality to Generation Joshua and the dominionist attitudes of HSLDA, there are many survivors who — like myself — are trying to put their selves’ pieces back together. We are slowly but surely standing together to make our voices heard. I want the world to hear our stories and I want to give hope to those who are still immersed in this subculture. There is a way to break free and reclaim your self.

So here I am today, deciding to take the leap and be honest about what I experienced and how I have changed.

***

I, Ryan Lee Stollar, long ago left Generation Joshua, and I think you should, too.