Breaking Free: Sheldon’s Story



HA note: Sheldon blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. This is an original piece that Sheldon wrote for Homeschoolers Anonymous.

In December 2013, I cut my abusive parents out of my life once and for all.

It took quite a bit of emotional strength to do it, but when I finally did, I felt worn out, but I realized that all feelings for my parents that once had were no longer there, they felt dead to me, they were living human beings of course, but I no longer felt any love or affection for them anymore, still don’t.

What led to this point? Well, that’s a lot of details to that, and hopefully I can explain it without writing a book. There was plenty of abuse in my childhood, but besides the effects of the isolation from homeschooling which still cause issues for me to this day at 25 years old, what really got me was how I was treated as a young adult by them.

It started when I tried to attend Southwest Baptist University as a Political Science major. I just couldn’t adjust to being 250 miles from home, going from isolation as a homeschooler to an actual classroom experience, dealing with people on a regular basis, and actually being able to make decisions for myself on a regular basis, from the mundane to the major.

I didn’t realize at the time that I was dealing with depression, and panic attacks started with a vengeance, I lost count after a while of how many I had, but in a 10 month period, I probably had around 15-20 major attacks, with many smaller ones, and that combined with extreme fatigue and hopelessness from the depression, I could no longer function.

Everything came crashing down around me, all my hopes and dreams that led me to become a political science major. I ended up having to face the reality that I could no longer continue attending Southwest Baptist, and was brought home after the end of the freshman year.

Most parents would would do their best to help out their child at a time like this, console them, help them to put their life back together, and emotionally support them. Not mine. My father understood what had happened, but he wasn’t the one who ran our household, my mother was, and to her, the depression was the result of “sin” and “not having a right relationship with god”. Her idea was to punish me for what she saw as recklessness and misbehavior.

I was forced off of medication for depression that I had started upon coming back home (after realizing what the depression actually was), and was treated like a rebellious teen.

I was controlled and emotionally abused to the point that when I tried in desperation to leave with enough of what I owned to fit in my vehicle and a few hundred dollars in my bank accounts, I was convinced that I had to leave, or it would end up leading me to end my life. She personally barricaded the doorway to stop me from leaving, threatening violence, and telling me that if she did attack me, I would deserve it.

I kept fighting, and just saw this as a temporary setback, I worked, saved up money, and finally a bought a house. She did help me rebuild the house, along with my father, but her dark side was showing up again, her controlling and hostile ways. I finally had enough, and told her no longer wanted any help on the house if she was going to act that way. She called me an “ungrateful brat”, I didn’t care anymore, her guilt trips did nothing to me by this point, I told her never to show up at the house again, and I would bring back dad’s tools to them.

I knew, based on the past, that something drastic could happen, so I went out, and bought new locks, and was in the process of installing them that night, when she showed up, I knew it couldn’t go well, I shoved the door shut quickly, with the lock in it half done, it was a fortunate occurrence that the lock jammed because it wouldn’t been properly installed yet, because when closed, it wouldn’t allow the door to open.

I could hear screaming, and her pushing and shoving the door, and futilely trying to open it, she was trying to force her way into the house.

I had enough, I called my town’s police department, and when the officer finally showed up, I went out the back door to talk with the officer, and my mother started the victim act, lying to the officer, claiming that this was all because I didn’t “want to help them work on the house”. My own father, who used to run interference  to protect me and my sister as children tried to punch me in front of a cop.

His betrayal that day (along with his increasing habit of trying to cover for her and make excuses for her in the year leading up to that time), is really what got to me the worst, my mother is who she is, and I doubt she will ever change in her lifetime, but for him to turn into a carbon copy of her was shocking.

It’s been severals months now since that day, and it’s been hard, I’ve had to give up the social circles that I had, since most involved the church I was in, along with my parents (it was bound to happen eventually anyway, I couldn’t keep my change in beliefs a secret much longer), and I had to stand my ground with the manipulative pastor of that church who tried to guilt me into accepting my parents back in my life, despite me personally telling him what they had done, both then and in my past.

Enough of that, I’m tired of being forced to be someone I’m not, to please people who won’t accept me anyway. I’ve had a lot of new experiences, I’ve learned what’s it’s like to have the simple freedom of walking around in public with a Pink Floyd or Sons of Anarchy shirt, and not give a care in the world.

I’ve learned how to work on my house myself, I’ve started coming to terms with the fact that I don’t really feel masculine or feminine emotionally on the inside (I recently changed the gender status on Facebook to “non binary”). I’ve found a great Unitarian Universalist congregation where I can be me, and be accepted as one of the group anyway.

Life now can be challenging, but it’s worth it, there’s no going back.

Coming Out About My Unbelief to My Sister

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sheldon, who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. It was originally published on November 27, 2013.

As I’ve said before, I’m really growing weary of the charade I have to keep up in order to remain in the atheist closet. I had been talking to my fellow ex-fundamentalist bloggers on Twitter about whether I should come out to my sister, who has always been there for me throughout my life (she even helped to raise me as a young boy, long story there I won’t get into right now.

On Sunday, I was debating whether or not I should come out, but then lost my courage at the last minute. Well, finally, Tuesday night, I finally worked up the courage to finally come out to her.

My sister, in recent years, has gone from the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult to what would be considered more mainstream beliefs in the fundamentalist/evangelical world (beliefs more along the lines of the Southern Baptist denomination).

I’m glad she’s out of the IFB. She fell into that group because of the influence of the IFB ran “school” I went to in my elementary years. She was there too — though, because of the age gap between us, she was in her high school years at the time, and fell prey to them pushing Hyles-Anderson College as a great place to go.

Still, I wish she would give up fundamentalism altogether, especially for the sake of her kids. Right now, she is homeschooling her kids with ACE.

That’s the same awful curriculum I grew up with.

I talk to my nephew and two nieces on the phone, and when I’m visiting her in northern Indiana. It kinds of breaks my heart to see how they just seem more childlike, than other children their age.

They do get to spend time with other children at their church, and with some young neighbors, but still, the isolation inherent in fundamentalist homeschooling is taking its toll. She doesn’t even realize it. She doesn’t realize the effects of that because she wasn’t home schooled herself.

I’m wondering that if in 10-15 years, I’m going to be getting that coming out call from one of her kids. She means well, and isn’t hostile or abusive towards her kids by any means, like our mother was. She just doesn’t know the difference. Really, it’s unfortunate. I wonder how many young fundamentalist mothers like her are out there.

I called her, and I just spilled it to her. I didn’t use the dreaded “A word” (Atheism). I didn’t know if that would distract from the whole conversation. She was surprised as I expected, and she said that it would have “blown her socks off if she was wearing them”.

I started from the beginning, from the nervous breakdown, being told that my depression was “guilt” and not having a “right relationship with god”, the unfortunate falling for that cruel lie, doubling down on Christianity, soaking up as much as I could about the Bible again, studying it and the works of various theologians, and eventually coming to realization that I couldn’t believe in it anymore.

It worried her to some extent, she seems to think that it’s just a time of questioning, despite me repeatedly telling her that it’s been 4 years now since I came to the conclusion that I can no longer believe. She told me to be sure before I eventually have to approach my mom and dad about this, and warned me about how that she is likely going to throw all she has been doing recently for me in my face.

She knows what my mom is like.

My sister had the worst end of the abuse growing up, because she was the only one willing to stand up to my mom.

I just tried to survive as best I could, staying out of her way, avoiding anything I knew would trigger her anger. Though it didn’t often work. She would invent any excuse necessary to take out her anger on us.

My sister doesn’t seem to understand what it going on, that this is not something I came to lightly. But the important thing is, she’s standing behind me. She has made it clear that she will stand behind me, even after this, and won’t let her beliefs get in the way of family.

In some ways, she can see how I reached this point. She said at times that he has questioned everything. She says at times she doesn’t feel as close to God as she used to feel, but she always ended up coming back.

I had told her, looking at it now, when I’m “undercover” in the church  I am in, (the one I am a member of still, and have attended since I was 12), that I hear what people are saying around me, and I can’t understand how I possibly believed it in the first place. She said it was because that was all I ever knew from birth, had I been raised in another nation, the predominant faith there would have been all I knew.

In some ways she gets it, and in some ways she doesn’t. I hope that the more open I become with her, that it will help her gain more of an understanding of why I came to this point, and that it’s who I am now. I told her that I’m growing weary of all this, I can’t keep hiding who I am now, and that I’m not looking forward to dealing with my mom.

It really will show my mom’s character (or more than likely, lack thereof), when I finally come out to her. I could lose the financial help and help with rebuilding my house, and taking care of my dog that she is currently doing, which would be hard to deal with. But I can learn to cope, the rough road ahead will be worth it.

I want to finally be able to live openly — and if that means losing the relationship with my mother, or being forced to cut her out of my life for my own sanity, then that is worth it.

In fact, it sounds horrible, but that’s probably the best outcome in the end, the one that will help me to heal over time.

I wish my mom could be more like my sister, willing to accept me for who I am, even if she doesn’t understand it. In fact, I wish more families, and parents especially, would follow her example.

You don’t have to agree with your family members in order to love them, and if you are putting your faith, your dogma, over love for your family, it’s showing that your religion (or more than likely, your interpretation of it), is more important to you than the people you are supposed to love.

It reveals to me, especially if you are a parent, that you are using your faith as means to control and manipulate people, and that if your children/family members are rejecting that, then they are worthless to you as a human being.

If someone feels this way, then they are not someone I want in my life, and I have no respect for them at all.

Isolating Kids to Shield Them from “The World” Is Not Only Harmful, but Counter Productive

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sheldon, who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. It was originally published on October 28, 2013.

Recently, I published a post titled Can You Sincerely Believe in Something If You Have Never Doubted or Questioned It?, it was a repose to a blog post by Christian blogger Kansas City Bob about the “Idol of Certainty”. I had said that I can’t really see how a belief in anything, politics, etc, but especially religion can be a personal belief, a true and powerful part of someone’s identity if they have never seriously questioned it or doubted it at some point.

Blogger Jack Vance had this to say in response to the post:

Here was my long, rambling response, which really got me thinking about the fundamentalist homeschooling movement and how it makes questioning downright impossible when a young person is in it, due to the constant isolation in order to protect children from “the world”:

Not only question the maturity of it, but the strength of it? How strong can someone’s beliefs be when held up to questioning and opposition if someone has never questioned and tested it?

I think that was kind of a fatal flaw of the current fundamentalist system. Fundies like to blame secular colleges for their kids leaving the faith, as though professors are actively trying to de-convert students (you of all people would know that’s the farthest from the truth), (Sheldon’s note: Jack Vance is a university professor in Mississippi) but it’s not the colleges that are leading to the de conversions, it’s being allowed to experience the outside world for the first time, being exposed to all varieties of people, and realizing that the world doesn’t fit in a nice little fundamentalist box, and that some people aren’t as bad as they were lead to think.Their faith is being confronted with reality, and it has never been questioned by reality before. They’ve never asked the hard questions about their faith, because they haven’t been outside of fundie land, and never been faced with questions before.

I think the forced isolation is not only destructive, but counter productive to the efforts of thew parents to keep their children in the faith. Because their faith has never had to face the hard questions of life before, you end up with young students that know their faith well, and can repeat all the lines and canned arguments, but their faith has never been hardened by being exposed to outsiders, and facing the hard questions that facing reality will bring about.

They have never had to ask “Is this truly what I believe?” because they have never had to make the choice to believe.

Any normal, rational person can see how isolating a child from the outside world is harmfully psychologically, and that kind of closed environment is a fertile breeding ground for abuse (if you can’t see it, just spend about 30 minutes on Homeschoolers Anonymous, if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will).

Fundamentalists isolating their children in order to protect them from”the world” don’t seem to realize that not only will they be creating adults who feel like a foreigner in their own country, and have a hard time coping as adults, but that their efforts in trying to keep their children in the faith well into adulthood (which they think will happen by keeping the out of the corrupting influences of “the world”), are actually counter productive.

Let me explain.

I sincerely believe that in order for a faith to be real, and personal to someone, a major part of their internal identity, they have to at some point question what they believe.

Without questioning, the faith is merely what that person believes due to the fact that it is all they have ever  known in their culture, or just what they have believed due to the fact that is the way they have always seen the world, and they don’t want to change that fact.

To me, genuine faith can not come about without questioning, or doubting at some point, without it, it can’t true representation of who that person is, and what they believe with every fiber of their being. Questioning usually comes about as a result when someone is questioned about their faith, or confronted with new perspectives that they have not encountered before.

Neither of which can happen if someone has never been exposed to the outside world.

When a person raised in such an environment finally has to go out and be in the outside culture, whether that be in the workplace, college, etc, their faith gets shaken even harder than it would have been had they ever been allowed the opportunity to question, because though in some cases, question leads to an abandoning of the faith (like in my case), if someone can sincerely question the faith, and still decide to remain in it, it comes out on the other side as a much stronger faith than before.

Fundamentalists don’t seem to understand this, and they are scared of questioning, they try to limit their children’s exposure to the outside world to keep them from questioning, and it ends up creating a generation of people, who until they are able to walk away from such an environment, don’t even know how to question and explore their beliefs.

It’s a very closed culture where outside ideas are not allowed in, questioning isn’t just discouraged, but up to a point, the very concept of it doesn’t exist. Questioning is only allowed, and can only be comprehended in very limited ways. When taught how to debate, they are only taught how to use certain talking points to back up what they already believe, with consideration ever given to the possibility that what is taught is wrong on some level.

Questioning in such a way is a concept that someone in that culture, especially young people can’t even grasp. Words are redefined, as many different bloggers showed in the Learning the Words project organized by Samantha of Defeating the Dragons.

It’s a deliberate tactic to keep their children in the fold (hopefully for life), and it bears an uncanny resemblance to Newspeak in the book 1984.

Newspeak was a new language designed for the people of the empire of Oceania, whose main goal was to make dissent impossible. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 5 of 1984 where the main character, Winston, a government clerk, is talking to Syme, a clerk responsible for helping to create Newspeak dictionaries:

(Syme is speaking in this conversation):

‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.  

‘By 2050 earlier, probably — all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron — they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’ 

George Orwell was right, orthodoxy is unconsciousness, it’s believing without thinking. That is the goal of this kind of thinking, people who believe without sincerely questioning. They think this will result in children growing up to believe it as a matter of fact for the rest of their lives without questioning it.

The problem is, at some point, a person, has to become an adult, they have to be able to work outside the home, they will end up moving out, and having unbelieving neighbors and co-workers, or maybe just simply people who are Christians, but not as extreme as them. At some point, this exposure to the outside world will become overwhelming to them.

They will be for the first time, forced people who don’t look, act, think like they do, forced to face the reality that exists outside of the narrow confines of the world they grew up in. It automatically either forces them to retreat into a lonely shell, or make them face questions that they never had before, which is a highly emotional process that they don’t quite know how to deal with, because they have never been able to honestly question before.

They don’t know what to believe, or what to think of the world around them, because they have never experienced it before.

Suddenly the canned response they were taught to give in response to challenges to the faith (lovingly called apologetic in the world) seem to be falling short in response to this new internal struggle. They will be forced to re-evaluate everything they have been taught, and decide for themselves what they truly believe.

For some, they will end up coming back to fundamentalism somehow, and more determined to be a “better Christian”, but most will either come back to Christianity in a more moderate form, it give it up all together, the experience will lead to their former fundamentalist beliefs collapsing like a house of cards.

The parents who wanted to try to keep their children in the faith by isolating them don’t realize that that their tactics are back firing on them, creating a generation of former fundamentalist who have given it all up, and who realize just how toxic that belief systemis, people like me and Lana Hobbs, Jonny Scaramanga, and Samantha Field, just to name a few.

In trying to create a army of fundamentalist foot soliders who follow orders, and believe what they are told without objection or question, they have actually created toxic fundamentalism’s worst enemy:

A generation of people willing to tell the truth about fundamentalism.

Crosspost: My Advice on How to Cope with the Outside World Post-Fundamentalism

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HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sheldon, who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. It was originally published on September 6, 2013.

Recently, I ran across a post from Lana Hope of Wide Open Ground about her struggles in trying to deal with the outside world. Here’s an excerpt:

When I write about cultural disconnect or socialization problems, I am not just talking about some short painful period after high school, where I went to college, experienced intense culture shock, and then got over myself and became a regular adult. If only that were true.

I am bombarded weekly with mainstream cultural references and ideas, and 90 times out of 100, it’s met with a blank “What The Heck Are You Saying?” from me. In other words, my childhood stabs me in the back, constantly.

She then goes on to talk about an incident with a neighbor where the neighbor mentioned the fact that the 70’s band, the Eagles, grew up in a town not far from her hometown, and the neighbor’s astonishment at the fact that she didn’t realize who the Eagles were.

Reading the entire post, I just wanted to reach through the computer screen and hug her (though I don’t know if she would be comfortable with that, lol). I’ve been there, it makes you feel like an idiot sometimes when you don’t know what someone else is talking about, or makes you feel so disconnected and out of touch from everything around you. I’ve had a double dose of that feeling, both because of my fundamentalist upbringing, and the way that my mind works, it can make communication with people in person difficult enough, then to throw in the cultural disconnect makes it far worse.

There is so much that you miss out on being so isolated from the outside world. It can be embarrassing sometimes to not know what someone is talking about. My biggest problem was the lack of proper sexual education in an environment like that.

It’s embarrassing to say that I wasn’t even familiar with what masturbation was until I was 18 years old.

I’m sure that are more people out there who are dealing with this right now.

Though I’m definitely not the shining example of fitting into society, here are a few things that I have learned, and maybe, I hope that it will be able to help others who are dealing with this same problem.

Here are my biggest tips on trying to adjust:

When trying to learn about modern music, to better understand its influence on culture, YouTube is your best friend.

Just immerse yourself into music, dive into it. It’s especially important to familiarize yourself with classic rock, because it has had quite a bit of influence on American culture, especially among people from the baby boomer generation. YouTube now has entire albums and full concert recordings up on the site. Get familiar with groups like AC/DC, the Rolling Stones, and yes, even the Eagles. You will be surprised just how much their music influences various cultural references.

Learn more about sex and sexual health from reliable, sex-positive sources.

I can’t stress this enough, this is one thing you will need to catch up on. I suggest for a start, the Sex + Show with Laci Green on YouTube, and the Loveline radio show with Dr. Drew Pinsky.

Familiarize yourself with good comedy.

This may not seem very important, but it is. It will help you to understand people a little better in conversations, not necessarily because of cultural references, (though that does help), but it will help you understand speech patterns that people often have, and the way they try to joke around. Growing up in a closed fundamentalist environment, you were likely not made very familiar with things like intentional double meanings, sarcasm, etc.

Fundamentalists tend to not use such mannerisms; they tend to be very literal about most everything that they say. I suggest for a start, sarcastic comedians like George Carlin, the rather deadpan humor of David Sedaris, and watching a lot of sitcoms like The Big Bang Theory, Two and a Half Men, How I Met Your Mother, etc. Sitcoms tend to use a lot of humor with double meanings, in a more conversational style.

Realize that many aspects of mainstream culture will make you uncomfortable at first.

Rock music will sound like senseless noise to you at first, a racy line from a comedian may make you cringe (especially if it’s something sexual, or poking fun at Christianity), it will be hard for you to handle, but you will get used to it, and even enjoy some aspects of it, some of it you may feel awkward about, but then grow to love.

Also, it may happen that you may actually feel some guilt over watching/listening to all of this. Voices of disapproval may echo in your head, the old guilt machine embedded into you by parents, your minister, and even just the fundamentalist culture in general may spring up to haunt you. Ignore them as best as you can, and keep going.

Immerse yourself in the culture, but give yourself a break at times, take time to be alone.

There will be times it will feel too overwhelming, and that’s OK, it’s normal, allow yourself time once in a while to shut it all out to keep from becoming completely unraveled.

Take a cue from my namesake, the character Sheldon from The Big Bang Theory. This clip is from the episode “The 43 Peculiarity”  Howard and Raj were desperately trying to figure out what exactly Sheldon was doing in a storage room during his lunch break at the university that they all work at.

Communicating with people primarily online may be easier, but you have to practice in person as well.

It maybe easier, and more comfortable to only communicate online, because it is so much easier to understand simple text without reading tone of voice, body language etc, but you need the practice of speaking to people in person.

I’ve gotten this practice because of my job, getting out in the workplace forces you to interact with people in person constantly. Dealing with 80-150 truckers in a 12 hour period several days a week was uncomfortable, and frustrating, but it sharpened what little ability I had to carry on basic conversations.

Realize that you may understand the outside culture intellectually, but it will never fully feel like home to you.

This may seem like a depressing piece of advice, but once you learn to accept it, you will have more peace of mind. You will often feel like a foreign in a strange land, or a cultural anthropologist studying a native culture somewhere, and that’s OK.

To use the example of the anthropologist, you can learn the habits and practices of the culture around you, learn plenty about the behavior of people around you, understand what they are doing, maybe a little of why they do it, but you will not understand everything about the culture, because it is not truly your home culture. There will always be gaps in what you understand about it, even if you can advance to the point to where you can blend in and become rather accepted by the outside culture.

Trying to hard to understand everything will result in plenty of unneeded frustration, and will end up with you stressing yourself out trying to overanalyze everything and everyone. Here’s a secret: Most people don’t understand themselves why they do the things that they do, or why they act a certain way.

Like Winston Smith in 1984, you may understand how but not why. You may learn how our culture works, but not why it operates that way.

Reach out to fellow former fundamentalists.

It’s essential, they are the only people that can understand what you have been through, and can tell you what they have done to help get them through these struggles, learn from them, reach out for support from them.

I Am Not A Victim, I Am A Survivor

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sheldon, who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. It was originally published on Confessions of a Heretic Husband on June 21, 2013.

“Where are you going?” she kept asking over and over again, with defiance and a hint of amused contempt as she stood in the middle of the only doorway out of the room. I had told her just minutes before that I was leaving, and she immediately blocked the door. I had some of my stuff packed, and I was desperate to leave her home for good, but she just stood there and said I had “no right” to leave.

Was I some pouting 12 year old kid at the time? No, I was 21 years old. I was desperate enough that I was willing to leave the home of my Mom and Dad with just a few hundred dollars to my name and an old van.

What drove me to this point? It was many different things, and I should start from the beginning. Just two years earlier, I had come back from a prominent Southern Baptist college after a nervous breakdown that included severe depression with constant fatigue, muscle pain/weakness, and some bizarre panic attacks. Needless to say, I couldn’t keep it together, and had to return home.

When I did return home, I explained what had happened, and all of it was dismissed as “guilt” and “not having a right relationship with god”. You see, in her mind, my struggles with mental illness were not an illness, they showed a lack of character. Her attitude reflected much of what what can be seen in fundamentalism: that true happiness can only come from serving god, and if you aren’t happy, then that must be a sign that your relationship isn’t right.

The real kicker is that I actually believed for this for two years, and generated a lot of self hatred and frustration. I couldn’t figure out why it wasn’t working. I begged god for “forgiveness”, I doubled down on my dedication to my faith, but it wasn’t working. I was beginning to realize that the relationship with god had little to nothing to do with it, and that I had a real disorder. The problem was that my mother was never going to see it that way, and dealing with her ignorance left me feeling trapped in this situation.

It was pushing me to the point that I was starting to become suicidal. For a while I pondered jumping off a local bridge during the winter, but then I started to think that if I did, I would be giving my mother exactly what she wanted: control over me for my entire life. That thought bothered me more than the thought of ending my life. I knew I had to do something, anything, to break away, but I was stuck.

At the time, I was in a local college, and I was starting to realize that they were a scam, but of course, she didn’t see it that way. I proved it to her in so many different ways, I even told her what some people in the field that my major was in told me at a summer job (that the college was a scam), but all to no avail. It didn’t work.

She told me the only acceptable plan for my life was to go to college, and she kept pontificating about how supposedly I would never make it financially without that piece of worthless paper from the scam of a college I was in at the time.

Allegedly, I would be working 3 minimum wage jobs, have no time for anything, and would be starving. She called me “lazy” because I would rather work (I still haven’t figured out the logic behind that argument). She tried to make me feel without hope, that I would never leave, and that I couldn’t make it without her. I knew that was a lie, and meant to keep me defeated and powerless. I knew I wasn’t getting anywhere while trying to reason with her. I knew that if I stayed, it would be many more years suffering under her rule, and it might just lead me to finally end my life.

So I packed some things, and was going to leave that morning, but there she was, standing in the doorway to barricade me in the room. “Where are you going?” It’s not as though she didn’t know, I explained it to her just minutes before. It was more of a challenge than a question. I had a phone sitting out, because as angry as I knew she would get, she hadn’t become violent with me since I was 11 years old. But she loved to threaten it when nothing else worked, and I couldn’t be too sure. 

She noticed the phone sitting out, and insisted to know why it was laying on a desk. She figured it out, and told me (keep in mind I was 21 years old at the time), that if she were to hit me, I would deserve it. I pointed out to her how hypocritical her statement was, due to the fact that she was always ranting about how bad her childhood was with a physically abusive father (and rightfully so). She had nothing to say for once, she simply walked away.

I realized that if I was to ever reclaim my life, and get back any sense of hope, I had to push back, and resist in any way possible. Eventually I would wear her out, reasoning sure wouldn’t work. I refused to go along with her plans, and finally won on the college front. I got a job (not three minimum wage jobs), and saved my money, paycheck by paycheck

She tried to slow me down by making pay “rent” for living in her home (the home “I had no right to leave”),  which I payed, but I kept pressing on anyway. The muscle pain and weakness came back, but I fought through it, sometimes working up to 64 hours a week, despite the pain and stiffness. She told me that I was so lazy, that even if I did get a job, I wouldn’t stay at it very long.

Guess what? I have not only been at the same company since September 2011, I have moved up within the company (thankfully to a job that is no longer physically demanding). I saved up enough money over the last 2 years to buy a foreclosure house, and closing procedures will take place next week (the week of June 10, 2013) [Note: this has happened!]. I paid cash for it, and won’t ever have to worry about house payments. My finances will be a little stretched to say the least while rebuilding it, but I never would have thought I would have gotten this far only 3 years after that day that I was barricaded in that room.

There are times, like when I’m writing a post like this, that I feel much the same way I did that day: defeated, humiliated, like a victim, but then I remember, I’m a survivor. I fought, and clawed my way towards finally getting the right to start my own life, and won. I survived the toxic self hatred and ignorance of fundamentalism, and cast it aside.  I have a long way to go to rebuild my life, financially, emotionally, and in so many different ways, but I won the fight for my freedom.

Step Forward And Call For Change: Sheldon’s Thoughts

Step Forward And Call For Change: Sheldon’s Thoughts

The author of this piece writes under the pseudonym Sheldon at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon. He describes himself as “a former Christian fundamentalist” who “is now a semi-closeted agnostic” that writes about “his fundamentalist past, his beliefs now, and the cult known as the Independent Fundamental Baptist denomination, which his sister was a part of (and he also had some personal experience with).” Also by Sheldon on HA: “Looking Back at my Fundamentalist Home Schooling Past.”

"I know there are good homeschooling parents out there, and I would like to see more of them step forward and call for change."
“I know there are good homeschooling parents out there, and I would like to see more of them step forward and call for change.”

I spent about a year at a well known Southern Baptist university, and some of the people there were homeschool alumni. They use to make jokes about the “awkward homeschool kid” stereotype, and many of them were even members of a Facebook group that was built around such jokes.

It wasn’t very funny to me. They were relatively well adjusted, or at least appeared to be. Many of them had been a part of homeschool groups, sports, some had even been to community colleges or spent some time public high schools before they entered college. They seemed, at least for the evangelical world I was in at the time normal. I never felt that way.

I was lost, confused, very depressed, and unable to understand the people around me in any way, shape or form. It lead to depression, panic attacks, alternating muscle pain/weakness, fatigue, and and overall nervous breakdown that lead me to move back with family in Southwest Illinois.

The “awkward homeschool kid” jokes weren’t funny, because it was very real to me. It was my experience. I was raised in a family that always seemed to be more extreme that most of the churches that they were a part of, which I always thought was odd. My father was always a rather easy going parent towards me, but my mother could have her abusive moments, and she rejected the outside world almost completely, and expected me to do the same.

She saw any modern forms of music, especially anything with a beat as “evil” (except for, hypocritically, more modern forms of country music, which she liked), she hated anyone who didn’t look, think, act, or believe like us. People with large amounts of tattoos/piercings? Must be evil! Does someone follow another religion, or is a liberal Christian? They’re evil! Are they gay/bi-sexual etc? Evil!

As you can expect, shutting out most of the world around you, and fearing them as well doesn’t do well for developing someone’s social skills. To this day, I have a hard time understanding the culture around me, but looking back, I realized I couldn’t understand other children my age at the time either. Not only do I not understand the culture around me at times (though I have gotten far better at that by immersing myself in it), I just don’t understand how people think and act the way that they do in ways ranging from the major to the very minor. It’s like I’ve never learned how to be “normal” in most people’s estimations.

When I’ve talked openly about this, I have had people question whether I was autistic. I really don’t know if I am or not, I can see quite a few similarities, but I have never been to a psychiatrist (though I should, if for no other reason than my persistent depression), and I wonder how much of it is in fact due to my own mind, the isolation of homeschooling or the compound effects of both. It’s hard to tell, especially, since I keep encountering so many stories of people who have experienced the same effects from isolation in their own life.

Some homeschooling parents love to dismiss or even mocked concerns about socialization, but in a recent post by Lana of Wide Open Ground, she complied 12 statements from me, herself, and 10 other people made on her blog alone, from people who had experienced this kind of isolation, and are still struggling to fit into this world.

I’ve had my struggles, but also had my high points in my journey to live post-fundamentalism. Being able to experience music I never heard before, and growing to appreciate and love it. II now listen to that “evil” rock music, and love it. There’s few things I enjoy more than listening to Cake, Rise Against, Metallica, or Alice in Chains.

I’ve also had the opportunity to meet people that I would have never met before, both in person, and online. I remember getting involved in a local discussion website, and getting to know a woman who was a Wiccan. Along with her husband, she owned a music store in my town (unfortunately it closed last October). I was so surprised when I got to know her, not only did she shatter all the preconceived notions I had about Wiccans, but she showed more of a sense of love and compassion to the world than most of the Christians I knew at the time.

I have also gotten to know some great people online as well, many of whom have lived through fundamentalism, and have left it behind. People like Lana, Jonny Scaramanga, and Godless Poutine are people that I am proud to say that I know, and they have been an inspiration to me, as I plan to move on, and come out as agnostic sometime this year.

Though life is starting to turn around for me, the isolation still had its effects, and though some may disagree, I think it’s abuse to isolate a child to the point that they are shut off from the outside world. Letting children interact only with people within a narrow circle of fundamentalists is not socialization, despite what such parents may say, and it does not prepare them for life.

I hope that as time goes on, that we will start seeing some changes in the Christian homeschooling community, I know there are good homeschooling parents out there, and I would like to see more of them step forward and call for change.

Looking Back At My Fundamentalist Homeschooling Past: Sheldon’s Story

The author of this piece writes under the pseudonym Sheldon at his blog, Ramblings of Sheldon. This piece was originally published on Reason Being on December 20, 2012. It is reprinted with Sheldon’s permission. He describes himself as “a former Christian fundamentalist” who “is now a semi-closeted agnostic” that writes about “his fundamentalist past, his beliefs now, and the cult known as the Independent Fundamental Baptist denomination, which his sister was a part of (and he also had some personal experience with).”

Recently, I have begun to start thinking about homeschooling, how I feel about it now, and how it has affected me in my life.

Two things have really gotten me started thinking about this. First, my sister decided to homeschool her children. And second, I read recently an article on the Patheos blog, Love Joy Feminism.

As I have talked about in the past, my sister was once a part of the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult — more specifically, the First Baptist Hammond/Hyles Anderson College complex. This complex was, until this summer, run by the infamous pastor Jack Schaap, who is now awaiting sentencing after a guilty plea on federal sexual abuse charges.

Thankfully, she left that group about 3 or 4 years ago. But she just traded a fundamentalist cult for fundamentalism lite (the Southern Baptist denomination). It’s a vast improvement from where she was, and both she and her kids are happy in this church. But I feel she’s dealing with what Lewis of Commandments of Men, the brilliant anti-cult/anti-fundamentalism blogger, calls the Halfway Houses effect.

Some people, like her, don’t want to give up fundamentalism entirely. They have come from such an extreme cult life background that even other fundamentalist lite groups like the Southern Baptist denomination, etc, feel refreshing. (Which is pretty damn sad when you think about it).

One of the ways she is going through the Halfway Houses effect is the decision to home school. I was just at her house in the Northwest Indiana suburbs of Chicago this past week, and she was showing me the curriculum she was using.

It was the same atrocious Accelerated Christian Education (A.C.E) curriculum we were raised with. I spent my whole school life with it, first in a IFB affiliated private school, then in home school. She spent from about 5th grade to graduation with A.C.E curriculum in that same private school, which is what unfortunately got her introduced to the Independent Fundamental Baptist cult, where she remained until recently.

(If you really want an eye opener, read some of the A.C.E survivor stories at the blog Leaving Fundamentalism, for just how bad A.C.E itself is, and how many of the schools who use it act towards their students).

I knew she had been using the curriculum for a while now, but to actually see those books sitting on her table, it was a mountain of flashbacks, and definitely not in a good way. I thought she would know better, after what she has been through, but I guess it all feels like home to her.

I could go on and on about the problems of fundamentalist home schooling and of the private school culture within those groups, but I think Libby Anne of Love Joy Feminism says it best. Libby Anne was raised up in a home in the Quiverfull movement. Her family’s beliefs were very similar to Independent Fundamental Baptist cult that my sister fell into head first. Like Quiverfull, the IFB also rejects birth control except for in extreme circumstances (such as a future pregnancy putting the wife’s life in danger).

Reading an article from her last week made me think about my current feelings on home schooling.

First of all, do I think home schooling in and of itself is harmful? No.

There are many families who do their best to educate their kids at home while exposing them to the world around them, and encouraging them to keep an open mind. There are even atheist families that home school.

There are many reasonable circumstances that would lead a family to home school their child, from having a child who has a serious physical illness, to having a job that causes a family to move often (such as one parent being a solider). Then there’s always the desire to have one’s children get one on one attention, to help them learn.

However, using homeschooling as a tool to isolate your children from the outside world is wrong. I’ll even go as far as to say it is emotional abuse. Fundamentalist groups deliberately use home schooling this way so that their children are rarely, if ever, exposed to people they don’t agree with politically or religiously, or to people who they feel are “evil” (such as people in the LGBT community).

When someone like this is isolated to such an extent, the basic social skills that most of us learn at a very early age are not developed. I will not say that this was the only cause for the problems that I have now in relating to people. It’s more than likely something I was born with, but this isolation only made far worse.

Not only are social skills impaired, knowing how to deal with normal classroom life is affected, as well as things like changes that come by moving out of home. Libby Anne talks about coming to tears more times than she can remember in her attempts to adjust to living away from home after being in such an isolated environment. At least she had a solid group of people who helped her to work through the stress. In my case, it led to a nervous breakdown.

Simple things that everyone around me knew, such as where the little pop up desk was on the side of the auditorium style seats in most class rooms in that college, (or the fact they even existed), was unfamiliar to me, in so many thousands of ways, and people kept expecting me to know it all, and I didn’t. Just like Libby Anne, I didn’t know how to write a foot note for an academic paper.

All of this, combined with a cultural disconnect from other people, led to a miserable time and downright debilitating depression.  People who have never been through this don’t realize just how much everyday conversation and interactions are based on the culture around us. I love the way Libby Anne talks about this in a post on socialization:

I sometimes wonder if one reason so many home school parents cannot seem to understand the real meaning of the socialization question is that, having been socialized themselves, they cannot imagine what it would be like to not be.

They don’t understand what it feels like to be a foreigner in your own country. They don’t understand what it feels like to not be able to fit in. They don’t understand what it’s like to berobbed of the ability to be normal because they have the ability to be normal. Parents who home school may choose to be different, but their children have no such choice.

When I read this, I reflected on both my family, and all the families that I have encountered that home school, or send their kids to fundamentalist private schools, she’s right. All of them grew up in what could be considered normal families, attending public schools, usually with parents that were either non-Christian or were only casual followers of a religion. What’s even more ironic is that many of them were baby boomers who experienced the decadence of the 1970′s. They have no idea what this kind of isolation does to someone.

This isolation and this culture that is hostile to the outside world and everyone in it will cause two extremes in the people who were raised into it. Either people will be hesitant to leave, because it’s the only life and way of thinking that they know — a perpetual Stockholm syndrome, like my sister is experiencing. Or it will drive people to leave it, like I did.

Most people of younger generations who were raised in this system are fortunately going the same route I did. The hostility towards the outside world is one of the primary reasons why younger generations are leaving fundamentalism at a very fast pace. A 2011 study by Christian polling group Barna researched most of the top reasons listed for young people leaving the churches. They had something to do with their broader rejection of the outside world, and isolation from it (which is the major aim of the fundamentalist home schooling movement). Whether that is their rejection of science, hostility towards outsiders, or hatred of homosexuality, this isolationism is starting to disgust the people raised into it.

I can only hope that this trend continues.