Leaving fundamentalism: an interview with Jonny Scaramanga

 

 

In a previous post I pointed out the harmfulness of Accelerated Christian Education (ACE), an international fundamentalist “educational” system aiming at producing “godly” children.

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Here I had the immense opportunity to interview Jonny Scaramanga who is campaigning against this abusive and harmful system.

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Accelerated Christian Education in a nutshell

Lotharson: Hello Jonny, thank you very much for being with us!
Could you please tell a bit about your background for the benefit of my readers?
Jonny Scaramanga: Sure.
I was born into a family that was majorly into the Charismatic Movement and also the Word of Faith “prosperity gospel” of preachers like Kenneth Copeland.
I can’t remember a time in my childhood where I didn’t believe in God. The truth of the Biblical creation story was just one of the facts of my childhood, as true as the colour of the sky.
I was praying in tongues by the time I was 6 or 7.
I went to a creationist pre-school when I was 3, which used the ACE system, because some of my parents’ friends had started an ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) school.
My parents decided to send me to an ordinary primary school, though, so I got a proper education until I was 11.
Then part way through my final year of junior school, I went back to the ACE school, and was there until just before I turned 15.
Is that enough background?

That’s a good beginning, thanks🙂 What happened next in the ACE you attended?

Well, I loved it to begin with. It’s completely unlike any other school you’ve ever seen.
Each student has their own desk, and it’s separated from the other desks by two dividers, so you can’t see or interact with your classmates during work time.
That suited me fine. I hated teamwork anyway.
So I really enjoyed having a private desk with my own possessions and just getting on with my work. The room didn’t have a teacher – the staff member was called a supervisor. If we needed help, we raised a flag to get her attention, but otherwise we were teaching ourselves from these books…
Packets of Accelerated Christian Education (PACEs)
which incorporate Bible lessons into every subject.
And I thought this was heaven. I felt so lucky to be surrounded only by good Christians, away from the evil and the temptations of the world. I wouldn’t have used the word ‘lucky’ at the time, because I was taught ‘luck’ came from the root word ‘Lucifer’, as in Satan.
There was quiet music playing in the background, and I was where God wanted me to be. Everyone was so polite and so friendly. I find it sinister now, because I think it was unreal, but it seemed wonderful to me then. And I felt so lucky to be learning the truth about Creation…
…because everyone else in the world was being taught these ridiculous lies about evolution, and I was one of a fortunate few who was hearing the truth about how God made the world.

It seems that many people really appreciate the absence of peer pressure and other positive aspects so that they don’t immediately realize all the crappy things being taught.

Well, there was peer pressure. I just thought of it as positive peer pressure. It was pressure to be the right kind of Christian, not to be worldly.

How did this “godly” peer pressure play out?

Well, for me it was a big thing to be the first to the door at break times so I could hold the door for everyone on the way out…
… to show what a good servant I was.
In the last year I was there, we had morning prayer meetings for the older students, and because the church was very Charismatic (even though ACE isn’t at all), it was a big thing to show how spiritual I was by praying in tongues ecstatically and delivering prophecies.
I was very judgemental of a girl in the school who was curious about the occult. She was just doing typical teenage stuff, reading Interview with the Vampire and trying to learn how to read minds, and I told her she was in league with Satan.
On days where we didn’t have to wear uniform to school, some of the girls came in wearing very short skirts, and by break time the staff had made them change into tracksuits, so there was a lot of shaming of girls, shaming of women’s bodies.
I was conflicted because I liked seeing girls in short skirts but I also judged them for being ungodly.
So I was misogynistic from both angles!

 

Sexism and creationism

Some fundamentalists such as Calvinist preacher John McArthur go as far as teaching that it is a sin for a woman to have a professional job.
Can we find the same kind of extreme sexism within ACE?

Compared to some fundamentalists, ACE is relatively progressive about women. I mean, they have a female president, although that only happened because the founder’s wife divorced him, and she had obviously been planning this for a long time, because she managed to gain majority control of the company, and then divorce and fire her husband.
Some of the Social Studies PACEs have a picture on the cover of what appears to be a woman working as a vet! Amazing – an actual woman doing an actual job!
So by fundamentalist standards, that’s quite progressive. By my standards now, I consider it very misogynistic.
There are cartoons emphasising how girls have to be ‘pure’ by not exposing skin when they dress, and in the PACEs about career choices, there’s a massive section on being a ‘homemaker’, and that’s the only time in the whole curriculum they use ‘her’ and ‘she’ to refer to a nonspecific person. The rest of the time it’s always ‘he’.
In Norway, the gender equality ombudsman found ACE to be in violation of the Gender Equality Act
because the students were having to underline the correct verb in sentences like “A wife will be happy when (he, she, it) obeys the husband.”
Among other things.
The sexism is a big problem. I haven’t written enough about it. It’s next on my agenda.
Is creation science taught there a bigger issue?
The creation science permeates everything. People don’t think about this. It doesn’t just affect biology. It’s in chemistry and physics too, because they reject the findings of cosmologists, and they have their own creationist interpretation of the laws of thermodynamics.
It affects history, because they take the Bible as literally true, and because they believe humans didn’t exist 7,000 years ago…
So 200,000 years of early human history has to be compressed into a few years before and after Noah’s Flood.
They talk about the Flood in Geography and History. Their English literature course has anti-evolution books on it, and their general English course includes learning about William Jennings Bryan’s speech, which I think is called “Evolution vs God”.

Could you please give us the sentences you find the most laughable?

Ha! Good one. OK, bear with me on this. We might need to keep talking about some other stuff while I think.

 

Escape from hell

 

How did you escape this crazy “school”?
Well, I told you I loved it at first, but about 18 months into my stay there, that flipped and I began to hate it.
I felt that I had no friends in the world, and going to this tiny school (at its biggest there were 70 students, aged 3-18) where I mostly worked in silence was limiting my social opportunities.
I felt that there was such a thing as a good education, and although I had no idea what that was, I knew that this wasn’t it.
Bear in mind at this point I was still a creationist and a right-wing Christian, so my complaints had nothing to do with that.
I just thought the system was academically awful. I was reading books with titles like “When Science Fails” instead of real literature, and everything was fill-in-the-blank. The form of Christianity was making me miserable, but I had no words to articulate that because the language in the PACEs was so loaded I had no way to express those thoughts.
I just had this vague sense that everything was terrible.
I spent a summer locked in my room feeling suicidal.
When I went back to school that September, I snapped one day. I had this major freakout, and I couldn’t see for a couple of seconds. Next thing I knew I was shouting at everyone in the room.
So at that point my parents thought it best to remove me, and I was free!

It must have been an extremely liberating experience, a feeling almost indescribable by words.

For a week or two I was euphoric. I went to a normal school and started studying Shakespeare, and getting to use science labs instead of just reading about science in a (mostly incorrect) book, and we studied history by looking at primary and secondary sources and learning to evaluate them,
so it was a total revolution. But soon I was depressed again. I really struggled to make friends because I had no idea how to relate to anyone who wasn’t a fundamentalist Christian.
I didn’t have the cultural reference points. I didn’t watch the same TV or listen to the same music. I refused to swear, and I was a total prude. Since all teenage boys ever think about is sex, this was a massive problem. They all had posters of glamour models on their desks, and I was trying to find anywhere else to look, because I thought it was a sin for me to see pictures of women… not even naked women. Just women being sexy.
Then I told them they were going to hell, which didn’t help.
OK, I’ve found the most laughable section of a PACE.
I’m trying to figure out how to condense it down to a couple of sentences for you.
You kind of need to see the whole thing.

I’ll do🙂

They’re trying to show that all modern people are descended from Noah’s three sons…
and the way they’re doing it is to find very old people (possibly legendary) with similar-sounding names
and go “YOU SEE! THAT’S NOAH’S SON!”
So, for example:
“Japheth and his seven sons may clearly be seen as the progenitors of the Indo- European limb of the human tree. Japheth himself may be identified with 1) lapetos (the legendary forebear of the Greek tribes) and (2) lyapeti (supposed ancestor of the Aryans of India).
End quote

But this is truly an amazing coincidence! This proves God’s Word beyond any reasonable doubt!🙂

There’s loads of this. It goes on for PAGES.
And now they have an entire book called After the Flood, which you can find on line…
It’s by Bill Cooper BA (hons).
He’s very keen that you include the BA (hons) part.
He wants everyone to know he managed to get an undergraduate degree.
Anyway, it makes the same argument, but over a whole book. And it also claims that stories of dragons (including Beowulf) are real, and that’s proof that dinosaurs and humans coexisted, which proves the Bible is true.

There is a mighty creationist INDUSTRY feeding such books and teaching materials.

It’s mind-blowing.
People ask me now if I’m angry, but I’ve never really felt angry about being taught creationism for myself, because I discovered it was bullshit very gradually, over a period of years, and it didn’t seem to matter. It makes me angry that they’re teaching it to kids now though, because most of them won’t get as lucky as me, and escape to a good education.
The thing about creationism is that it tells you evolution is *impossible* and that science *proves* the creation account true. And that means that when you’re in a situation like I was, where your faith is making you miserable, you don’t have any options.
Because if creationism is true, according to their dogma, which I didn’t have the critical thinking skills to reject, then all of it is true. And if it’s true, you can’t leave, because you’ll be rejecting God and, like it or not, walking into Satan’s arms.

 

Eternal torments and child abuse

You know, I take folks such as Dawkins et al. to task for asserting that ALL religious educations are child abuses, because there are clear examples of progressive and liberal religious movements where it is not the case.
However I consider it as extremely abusive to teach to small children that all people dying as non-Christians will be eternally tortured.
I think that the harm inflicted on young minds is far greater than that stemming from creationist non-senses.
Would you agree?

I find it hard to separate the two, in this instance. It’s all part of Biblical Inerrancy (which is really MY DOGMA IS INERRANT) and that’s a club used to beat people with.
As well as also endorsing beating children with clubs, by coincidence.
And the thing about creationism is that it is built entirely on logical fallacies, so to teach creationism, you have to teach people AT BEST not to think critically in this particular area. In ACE’s case, it wasn’t compartmentalised like that. There was no critical thinking anywhere.
And that meant I didn’t have the tools to think about the harmful stuff. I was indoctrinated into believing in hell, and not given the mental skills to question that.
How did you finally leave fundamentalism?
I think it was because of listening to secular music. Some girls came to the ACE school who had attended a secular secondary school for a year or two previously, and they brought a tiny bit of that culture with them.
I mean, they were still hardcore Christians by most standards. But to me they seemed very worldly.
And I think partly because of them and partly because of an older boy who listened to the radio, secular songs started to impinge on my consciousness, and I began listening to the radio.
Then one day the supervisor gave a massive lecture to the whole school. She said singing secular songs was the same as rubbing dog dirt on your friends’ faces.
She used that specific phrase. “Dog dirt”.
And that was so ridiculous that I think I listened to the radio MORE after that.
Also, a Christian band called Sixpence None the Richer had a big hit with a song called “Kiss Me”. So I was listening to the radio to hear their song, and of course hearing all the other devil’s music at the same time.
And enjoying it.
Eventually I figured if it was OK to listen to it on the radio, it was OK to buy it. So I started buying secular CDs. And I discovered a few things.
One was that this music was a *lot* better than Christian rock.

Yes🙂

And a lot of Christian rock was blatantly plagiarised from secular songs.
So there went my theory that the bands were inspired by the Holy Spirit.
I also discovered that this music made me feel AWESOME. I felt incredible listening to these secular bands, full of joy. It was like the ecstatic worship services I’d experienced, but better.
I’d always been taught that secular music was inferior because it was the devil’s counterfeit…
but here, clearly, was not just something that was a counterfeit. It was the real thing.

Or maybe Evangelical rock itself is the devil’s counterfeit🙂

Ha! That sounds about right.
And finally, I think it was listening to secular music that opened the door to reading secular books. When I was 17 I began reading philosophy.
I would never have done that just a few years before.
I would have thought even considering those ideas was exposing myself to the devil.
Now I think that after I’d been listening to Steven Tyler for a few years, I realised that there was no danger in considering other ideas. They weren’t going to control me. I could still decide what to accept and what to reject.
I figured that the truth would stand up for itself.
That was it, ultimately.
The reason I was angry at ACE was that they wouldn’t let me consider alternative ideas or beliefs.
I still agreed with them about religion, politics, and “science” at that point.
But I thought that if something was true, it would stand up to scrutiny. So I thought they should have given me an education where I got a chance to decide for myself.
And they had done the opposite.
So secular music was the wedge that allowed me to consider other ideas.
That and eventually making friends with my non-Christian schoolmates
and discovering that non-Christians weren’t demon possessed drug taking gangbangers.

Yeah🙂 And how did your worldview evolve after that?

Deconversion and atheism

Well, I read philosophy books and – oh, I’d forgotten this, I didn’t intend to read philosophy of religion. I intended to read philosophy of mind, but the religion section came first in the book I bought, and I felt duty bound to read it in order.
So the devil tricked me!

Or God🙂

And I found the arguments against religion uncomfortably persuasive. A lot of people don’t like Dawkins’ essay “Viruses of the Mind”, but it is a very effective description of fundamentalist religion, if not all religion.
It applied exactly to my beliefs.
That scared me. So I read the pro-religion essays to try to comfort myself, and I found myself inwardly arguing against them.

I think that all hateful and irrational ideologies can be viewed as “virus of the mind”. This concept has a huge explanatory power.

Right, exactly.
So I couldn’t handle it at all, I just buried those thoughts and started living as… I guess a functional atheist.
I tried not to think about it.
Occasionally I felt guilty and wondered if I was going to hell.
Sometimes I’d feel an urge to pray, but I felt that I couldn’t because I would need to repent first, and I didn’t want to repent.
This dragged on over a period of years. I’m writing a book about it.
I bought the God Delusion when it came out. I was like “Well, Dawkins started all my doubts, maybe he can finish them!” But I found the God Delusion put me on the defensive. I found myself sticking up for God as I read it.
I haven’t read it since. I don’t know what I’d think now.
At this point, my beliefs were essentially superstition. I was just terrified that God might exist. I was persuaded by Dawkins’ argument that the God of the Old Testament was evil, but not by his argument that this God didn’t exist.
So I’m just wondering around afraid of what’s going to happen when I die.
And I think that’s all pretty clearly a product of just poor thinking skills on my part.
Which I relate partly to an education and upbringing which discouraged thinking.

My memory’s a bit blurry after that. I’m not exactly sure how I got from there to atheism, which is where I am now.

A fundamentalist universe is an absurd and gruesome farce, given that billions of humans are going to suffer forever.
Would you say you feel rather convinced that the ultimate reality (whatever it is) is impersonal?

I don’t really think about that; I don’t find it a useful concept. I would say I have little grounds for speculation about the ultimate reality.

Historically, you would have been called an agnostic in France and Germany
where most people hold such a view
Einstein said that our human mind is so small than we cannot fathom the ultimate mystery beyond the universe

The harmfulness of Biblical inerrancy

Yeah. I didn’t mean to turn this into a conversation about atheism!
But here’s one thing I think your Christian readers can get on board with:
I never really considered other forms of Christianity, because I’d just been brought up to think they were absurd.
I was always told my options were fundamentalism or atheism.
Looking back, in my late teens and early 20s, they were the only paths I considered.
I’ve considered other things since then, but at the time it was all or nothing.
I was told you have to believe every word of the Bible or none of it.
And that’s a recipe for producing atheists.

Fundamentalism is destroying Christianity, this is why moderate Christians CANNOT stay indifferent
If people care about the future of Christianity, they’ve got to stop teaching children Biblical inerrancy is the only option.
Because Biblical inerrancy is completely untenable.

Absolutely🙂

Legal actions against fundamentalist brain-washing

But now I have a more practical question
Many people tell that in an open society we ought to tolerate ACE
What is your response to such an assertion?

Well, I haven’t finished making up my mind about that yet. There’s an excellent book called Religious Schools vs Children’s Rights by James Dwyer, and I’m still thinking about his argument.
He thinks there is a case for state regulation in cases like ACE. I want to agree with him, but I’m still thinking over all the implication.
implications.
But I will say these things:
Even if we accept that ACE schools have the right to exist, we should still criticise them. I believe that racist groups and neo-Nazi political parties have the right to exist, but I will still oppose them in any way I can.

Second, even if ACE schools have the right to exist, school inspection bodies should take an uncompromising stand on pointing out where they are failing children from an educational point of view.

You know Jonny, I really admire your careful thinking and moderation. Giving your background it is truly fantastic🙂

Thanks. You’re very kind.

What are the main evidence clearly showing that ACE is harmful for the well-being of kids?

Well, there isn’t any, really. That’s why I’m doing a PhD looking at ex-students, because no one’s ever undertaken that kind of research.
I can say, however, that ACE’s vision of education goes against everything that psychologists and educators currently think about what makes for effective schooling.
So it’s profoundly unlikely that it’s helpful.

Have you been accused of being too biased for carrying out such a research?

Yeah, of course. I think about that a lot. The truth is that nobody is neutral, though. And also, in some cases ACE schools have actually abused children very seriously.
And to be neutral in cases of abuse is a moral failure, in my view.
I would never want to be accused of being neutral about that.

Absolutely!

But still, I accept that it’s important to carry out research which is rigorous
So what I do is I always think “What would prove me wrong? What evidence would weaken my argument?”
Then I go looking for that evidence.

This is the scientific method at its very best🙂

So in the case of ACE, I’m looking for people who say it has benefitted them. Most of them don’t want to speak to me, because I’ve campaigned against ACE so much, but I’m trying.
If I can’t speak to them, I still think I can make some useful points. I mean, I am in touch with more than 100 people who say they were abused by ACE. Now, even if those are the only 100 people in the world who feel that way (and I know they aren’t), those people still matter.
It makes me angry how dismissive ACE and the schools have been about the people who feel wronged by the system.
It’s so unchristian of them.

Precisely.

I am a teacher.
If someone came to me and told me they had been harmed by my teaching, I would bend over backwards to listen to them and try to put it right.
So when my old teachers won’t even agree to meet me or reply to my letters (and I’m thinking of one in particular here), that strikes me as cowardice.

Well said!
Do you believe that ACE can be improved in such a way that the harmful elements are removed? Or is it beyond any hope of redemption and should cease to exist altogether?

I see it as pretty much without redeeming features.
The individual study thing seems to work for some students, but I think even those students need a greater breadth of educational activities.
Under ACE, the majority of your academic life is spent studying alone, in silence, from books which contain all the answers.
I think students need to be trained to do more group activities, teamwork, and research.

I am very thankful for all the time you have accorded to us. What final thoughts would you like to convey to my progressive Christian readers?

Thanks for caring. Thanks for not preaching at me and the ex-ACE people who have heard enough sermons for two lifetimes. Please speak out against creationism. A lot of people won’t listen to me because I call myself an atheist. A lot of those same people won’t listen to progressive Christians either, because they say you’re not True Christians. But there’s a chance they’ll listen to you, and it’s a much bigger chance than I have.
I guess that’s it! Thank you for having me; I appreciate this opportunity.

It has been a true delight. I am looking forward to reading your upcoming book and PhD dissertation!
Thanks! I’ll try to finish them sometime this decade!
Have a good night🙂
Thanks! And you.

34 thoughts on “Leaving fundamentalism: an interview with Jonny Scaramanga

  1. I read Jonny’s blog, and it was nice to learn a bit more about his background. I appreciate how he approaches his criticism of ACE. He is able to clearly articulate his logic and reasoning when he discusses his objections to the “curriculum”. He is incredibly polite to those who attack him. If he was still a Christian, he’d be a good example of one. But Jonny certainly proves that you don’t have to be a Christian to want what is the best for the most people around you.

  2. Reblogged this on Leaving Fundamentalism and commented:
    I haven’t talked much about my own escape from ACE on this blog (I’m saving it for the book!), but I did an interview about ACE with LotharLorraine yesterday and a lot of it came out. If you want to know why I oppose ACE, there it is.
    The interview was done as a Skype chat, so that explains my at times fragmented answers, but I think it’s come out well, especially now Lothar’s removed the horrific photo of me he originally posted with the interview.

  3. I believe that racist groups and neo-Nazi political parties have the right to exist, but I will still oppose them in any way I can.

    Well, no. You wouldn’t, because those two positions are in conflict with each other. If you’re going to oppose them in any way you can, then you’re going to make them de facto or de jure illegal if you can. If you’re not, then you’re not going to oppose them in any way you can. You will, at a certain point, defend their right to exist.

    If your attitude is, ‘ACE schools should be legal… but they should be forced to teach religion in this way, and evolution in this way, and…’ Well, then you’ve just found another way to say ACE schools should be illegal.

    The biggest problem I have with this interview is that, while the crazy upbringing does indeed seem to have been crazy, it doesn’t really seem to have been replaced with calm. Now instead of fearing to look at girls in short skirts because of the Wrath of the Almighty God, there’s fear of looking at girls in short skirts because of the Sin of the Misogynistic Male. Instead of it being of supreme importance to get everyone to believe that solar fusion is a lie and bones were planted in the ground by the devil, now it’s of supreme importance to fight creationism however we can.

    I think there are better routes.

      • In that case, it would be enormously helpful if you’d deign to share your wisdom and suggest what some of these better routes might be.

        Gladly.

        If the big problem with ACE is the educational shortfalls, then stop treating it as a wicked and terrible program that must be eradicated. Point out the flaws, provide your evidence. Acknowledge what goals the ACE system designers have in mind clearly – at least some of those goals are clearly educational – and illustrate where and how they fall short. More than that, offer ways they can improve on those fronts while retaining what they regard as essential to the system. Also acknowledge some of the potential benefits of it, because if you tell me that rote learning (to give one example) has zero educational applicability, you’re just transparently throwing out bad information.

        I suppose that’s the important question, though. What are you really gunning for here? Improving education generally? Fighting back against a particular religious sect you dislike? Against Christianity generally? Against conservative social views? Because as it stands, you just went through an interview where ACE came up repeatedly, but start to finish your concern seemed to be religiously based, and you end with an appeal to fight creationism. If education in the sense of learning useful and fundamental information and how to apply it is the big concern, that didn’t come across.

        • I find that your comments on the two posts about ACE on this blog are generally more obstructive than illuminating. I’m trying to figure out what your root assumptions are that you aren’t making explicit. For someone who is not a creationist, you appear to be doing a lot of sticking up for creationists. I can’t figure out why.

          Well, no. You wouldn’t, because those two positions are in conflict with each other. If you’re going to oppose them in any way you can, then you’re going to make them de facto or de jure illegal if you can. If you’re not, then you’re not going to oppose them in any way you can. You will, at a certain point, defend their right to exist.

          This is such a stubbornly literal reading which I can only think you’re making this point for the sake of disagreement. Clearly, from context, “any way I can” means within the limits of respect for freedoms of association, speech, and belief which are implicit in my statement that such groups have the right to exist.

          If your attitude is, ‘ACE schools should be legal… but they should be forced to teach religion in this way, and evolution in this way, and…’ Well, then you’ve just found another way to say ACE schools should be illegal.

          Indeed. But I haven’t committed myself to any position on the legal restriction of these schools.

          Now instead of fearing to look at girls in short skirts because of the Wrath of the Almighty God, there’s fear of looking at girls in short skirts because of the Sin of the Misogynistic Male.

          Total strawman. No fear of looking at girls in short skirts; I commented in a blog post about how this is one of the freedoms I love now I have left fundamentalism. I would now treat women with respect based on their humanity. This would involve not wanting to make them feel uncomfortable by staring, and not making judgements about their intelligence or worth based on their clothes. I dislike the anti-feminism that I infer from your comment.

          Instead of it being of supreme importance to get everyone to believe that solar fusion is a lie and bones were planted in the ground by the devil, now it’s of supreme importance to fight creationism however we can.

          I fail to see how this is an argument. I wouldn’t say it’s of “supreme importance”, necessarily, but creationism is something which we can oppose with little effort, and I think opposing it is worthwhile. Don’t you think children ought to have a good education?

          If the big problem with ACE is the educational shortfalls, then stop treating it as a wicked and terrible program that must be eradicated.

          I think ultimately, you don’t believe me that this system is as bad as I say it is. I wonder what would change your mind.

          The terribleness and the wickedness are separate. The terribleness is educational. The wickedness is in the poisonous theology, the misogyny, and the advocating of child beating.

          Point out the flaws, provide your evidence. Acknowledge what goals the ACE system designers have in mind clearly – at least some of those goals are clearly educational – and illustrate where and how they fall short.

          Academic paper on just that is in the works. This isn’t really the forum for it – no one would read it. If you care I’ll send it to you when it’s done (or watch my blog).

          More than that, offer ways they can improve on those fronts while retaining what they regard as essential to the system.

          I think the areas they regard as essential are among the ones I think should be rejected.

          Also acknowledge some of the potential benefits of it, because if you tell me that rote learning (to give one example) has zero educational applicability, you’re just transparently throwing out bad information.

          Do you want me to invent some potential benefits so that I appear more balanced to you?

          I suspect we fundamentally differ on what education should include and what it should look like.

      • . For someone who is not a creationist, you appear to be doing a lot of sticking up for creationists. I can’t figure out why.

        For the same reason I stick up for mormons, muslims, non-Gnu atheists, LGBT advocates and more when I think they’re unfairly targeted – because my disagreements with people, even opposition to some of what they stand for, doesn’t mean I take a hands-off approach if I think they’re being maligned unfairly in a particular instance.

        This is such a stubbornly literal reading which I can only think you’re making this point for the sake of disagreement. Clearly, from context, “any way I can” means within the limits of respect for freedoms of association, speech, and belief which are implicit in my statement that such groups have the right to exist.

        I’m pointing out that there comes a point where those words start ringing hollow. You say the respect for freedoms of association, speech and belief, but then you talk about being on the fence about government regulation over this – which gets into the de facto and de jure illegality issues.

        Total strawman. No fear of looking at girls in short skirts; I commented in a blog post about how this is one of the freedoms I love now I have left fundamentalism.

        Your own words: On days where we didn’t have to wear uniform to school, some of the girls came in wearing very short skirts, and by break time the staff had made them change into tracksuits, so there was a lot of shaming of girls, shaming of women’s bodies.
        I was conflicted because I liked seeing girls in short skirts but I also judged them for being ungodly.
        So I was misogynistic from both angles!

        You’re the one who included liking seeing girls in short skirts under the misogynist label, not me.

        I dislike the anti-feminism that I infer from your comment.

        So?

        I fail to see how this is an argument. I wouldn’t say it’s of “supreme importance”, necessarily, but creationism is something which we can oppose with little effort, and I think opposing it is worthwhile. Don’t you think children ought to have a good education?

        Little effort? You already talked about possible support for yet more government regulation of homeschooling. That’s a funny definition of little effort.

        Yes, I think children ought to have a good education. But do you? Or is your concern for their education largely seen through the lens of ‘opposing creationism’ and ‘opposing (‘right-wing’?) Christianity?

        I think ultimately, you don’t believe me that this system is as bad as I say it is. I wonder what would change your mind.

        Why suspect I don’t believe you? Because I’m not advocating attacking it with rhetorical guns a-blazing?

        The terribleness and the wickedness are separate. The terribleness is educational. The wickedness is in the poisonous theology, the misogyny, and the advocating of child beating.

        Let’s just say I find your views about misogyny so far hinted at, less than compelling. Poisonous theology? Depends what’s meant. Advocating of child beating? I’d certainly oppose that. Or are we talking mere corporal punishment, which – while there are multiple schools of thought – would be bizarre to universally equate as ‘child beating’.

        Academic paper on just that is in the works. This isn’t really the forum for it – no one would read it. If you care I’ll send it to you when it’s done (or watch my blog).

        I’m talking about a change in approach, not a request for an academic paper.

        I think the areas they regard as essential are among the ones I think should be rejected.

        Like?

        Do you want me to invent some potential benefits so that I appear more balanced to you?

        I have this strange belief (no doubt partly borne out of my crazy religious sensibilities) that people who choose something like ACE are doing what they simply think is best for their children, and that in this case ‘best’ manifestly includes educating their child. Apparently they are making some bad decisions on that educational front. So, insofar as I – non-YEC (in fact evolution-accepting) individual that I am – would hope they better educate their children, I’d recommend calmly communicating the problems of ACE education if tests and measures are available indicating such. (And if there are not, well, I better try to get some.)

        I suspect we fundamentally differ on what education should include and what it should look like.

        Is this really about helping children become better at math, science, language and critical thinking? Or is it in large part about promoting social values you like, and conclusions you endorse?

        Let’s say ACE’s administrators drastically overhauled their curriculum tomorrow, and in a year, tests came out. The children scored better than the national average in science, english, etc, at every grade. They were healthy, well-adjusted… and YECs. What’s more, YECs who still maintained all their current social and cultural views.

        Would your ACE opposition end?

        If you tell me yes, then okay, clearly the concern here really is education after all.

        If you tell me no, well, then we’d have to ask just what this is really all about.

        • You talk as though I have some hidden agenda. I am opposed to teaching creationism. I am also opposed to poor education. ACE is both.

          If the students are coming out YECs en masse but are being given good quality, accurate information about what it is that scientists think and what the evidence is for evolution, I would have to shrug and accept it. If ACE improved in every other way but continued to misrepresent the views of mainstream scientists, I would complain about that.

      • Jonny,

        You talk as though I have some hidden agenda. I am opposed to teaching creationism. I am also opposed to poor education. ACE is both.

        I talk as someone who is trying to *understand* your agenda, in light of your own comments.

        If the students are coming out YECs en masse but are being given good quality, accurate information about what it is that scientists think and what the evidence is for evolution, I would have to shrug and accept it. If ACE improved in every other way but continued to misrepresent the views of mainstream scientists, I would complain about that.

        Wonderful. Then their social views are irrelevant. It really is all about the education. It’s not even about opposing creationism, at least in the context of this concern.

        Which gives you a clear route to deal with them: focusing on the education side of things. Showing what’s been demonstrated to work, and what isn’t, and why. When it comes to evolution, the goal isn’t ‘get them to accept evolution’ but ‘get them to accurately represent what scientists say about it.’ Seems pretty direct.

    • Sorry, but I also oppose these groups in what they do and say, but I do not believe in making them illegal. This is not a conflicting position. Opposing in any way is not the same as forcing them to shut down.

      As for A.C.E., there is a standard of education that is being denied to children. Regulation with the standards going toward the benefit of children’s education is what is required. Allowing them to exist, but adding guidelines and standards is good. This, also, is not a contradictory stance.

      As racist and Neo-Nazi groups are required by law to abide by certain guidelines, so should A.C.E., and when they don’t, they should be taken to task. Their propaganda should ALWAYS be challenged.

      • kitty,

        Sorry, but I also oppose these groups in what they do and say, but I do not believe in making them illegal. This is not a conflicting position. Opposing in any way is not the same as forcing them to shut down.

        It’s a position which conflicts with ‘opposing them in any way’, if you’re sincere. If you wouldn’t shut them down – de facto or de jure – then you’re no longer trying to oppose them in any way. There are some ways, some straightforward legal ways in fact, that you would oppose. We’re not talking about some kind of esoteric “I would NOT send them off to death camps” situation either, but some pretty standard, seen-often methods.

        I bring this up to avoid obvious situations like this: ‘I support the ACE curriculum’s right to exist! But it should be illegal to teach children that evolution isn’t true. Or to promote the idea that same-sex sexual behavior is wrong. Or to promote these views of male-female relationships. Or…’ And so on and so on until, imagine that, you support the right of ACE to exist so long as ACE is not ACE.

        david,

        I don’t see why allowing racist/neo-Nazi groups to exist, and opposing them are inherently in conflict.

        Because the issue isn’t merely opposing them, but ‘opposing them in any way.’ Illustrated above.

        I am in favour of people having the right to making homophobic statements, but I will counter them with statements highlighting what idiots they are.

        Is it possible, in your view, for someone to have a critical view of same-sex sexual behavior and yet for them NOT to be idiots?

        The only time I would seek to limit freedom of speech is when such speech incites violence, but I would also seek to limit such speech across the board.

        See, that’s actually a great example, because some people draw a line from ‘Bible quote’ to ‘violence’, or in fact from ‘critical view of same-sex sexual behavior / LGBT culture’ to ‘violence’.

    • I don’t see why allowing racist/neo-Nazi groups to exist, and opposing them are inherently in conflict.

      I am in favour of people having the right to making homophobic statements, but I will counter them with statements highlighting what idiots they are.

      The only time I would seek to limit freedom of speech is when such speech incites violence, but I would also seek to limit such speech across the board.

  4. Jonny, this interview is a good insight into your thinking and background. Your insider knowledge, coupled with your open-mindedness and desire to understand others’ motives and opinions, make you the perfect author for such a topic.

    I respect you.

  5. I find it sad that once a person has been indoctrinated with a fundamentalist image of God that they seem unable to alter it – so they accept the fundamentalist God or become atheists, always wondering if they might be going to hell. Is it not possible to consider a progressive image of God? A God of love who does not send people to hell at all?

    • Michaeleeast,

      Yes, it is possible to alter one’s perception of god. This is what many of us do. In my case, I looked to other religions. I embraced the kindness of the Lutherans. but I had so many questions. Finally, I settled beautifully on Unitarian Universalism and Paganism. These resonate wonderfully, because there is the understanding that there is worth in everyone, and it is quite affirming and celebratory of diversity.
      I still sought more understanding. Reading and study, of the Bible, and of other religious texts, as well as history, made me question even more.
      Once I read The God Delusion, by Dawkins, it all clicked. There is no god, as far as I am concerned, and it’s liberating and beautiful.

      • Once I read The God Delusion, by Dawkins, it all clicked. There is no god, as far as I am concerned, and it’s liberating and beautiful.

        Does it bother you at all that The God Delusion has not only been heavily panned by atheists, but that the arguments about God’s existence contained therein have been shown time and again to be both wrong and terribly misinformed?

        Also…

        These resonate wonderfully, because there is the understanding that there is worth in everyone, and it is quite affirming and celebratory of diversity.

        On materialist atheism, there is no intrinsic value in anyone and anything – neither persons nor diversity.

        Is that beautiful as well? I can see how it can be, in a nihilistic fashion, liberating.

      • I agree that if you were raised to believe in a god who will eternally torture billions of persons for sin they could not have avoided, atheism can be an extremely liberating and joyful experience.

        But the Conservative Evangelical way to look at the Bible isn’t the only one:
        https://lotharlorraine.wordpress.com/2013/09/18/on-the-inspiration-of-the-bible-and-other-books-von-der-interpretation-der-bibel-und-anderen-buchern/

        Anyway I believe that a sincere atheist rejecting nonsensical views of God are far closer to the Almighty than most religious fundamentalists.

        Cheers.

  6. Raises hand, oh, oh, pick me, pick me.

    Raised “fundamentalist”, happy, well adjusted, critical thinker am I! YEC, OEC, Theistic Evolution, whatever, for the Christian it comes down (always) to Jesus. The fact that Jonny never mentions Jesus is telling. I don’t believe anyone with a brain in their head leaves Christianity because YEC doesn’t seem to be true and thus Christianity false (not implying Jonny isn’t smart, just that there is more going on here than his YEC bubble bursting).

    It simply boggles my mind how people just can’t embrace the mystery. Atheists have to have everyone boiled down to meat puppets, with everything figured out down to the particle. Calvinist’s have to have God pulling every sting (Tornado in trailer part=God’s white trash vacuum).

    I will say that a “Christian” education ought to include all view points and that some are too rigid and won’t even allow the topics to be covered. That is where Jonny was done a disservice. Yes Jonny, there are millions of Christians who aren’t YEC.

    Sort of funny, sitting in church Sunday the Preacher says “and man and dinosaurs existed together, they have foot prints showing that” I almost laughed out loud, mom would not have appreciated that! Shockingly my faith in Christ was not shaken by my preachers dinosaur talk.

    • The assumptions that it is map-treatment that makes one an atheist, and that atheists cannot “embrace the mystery” is simply incorrect.

      Children deserve to be taught science. This is not up for debate.

      • The assumptions that it is mal-treatment that makes one an atheist, and that atheists cannot “embrace the mystery” is simply incorrect. The assumptions are great on this thread.

        Children deserve to be taught science. This is not up for debate.

      • The assumptions that it is map-treatment that makes one an atheist, and that atheists cannot “embrace the mystery” is simply incorrect.

        What’s the evidence? There’s in principle a variety of reasons people embrace atheism. That seems to be one.

        Children deserve to be taught science. This is not up for debate.

        Sure it is. I mean, -I- believe it. But then, I come from a theistic and Catholic tradition where knowledge and reason are valued, even sanctified. What’s the materialist-atheist reason for it?

        And ‘taught science’ has to be cashed out. I have a very different definition of that than, say… Jerry Coyne has. Indeed, I think my version is superior.

    • Rufus,

      Raised “fundamentalist”, happy, well adjusted, critical thinker am I! YEC, OEC, Theistic Evolution, whatever, for the Christian it comes down (always) to Jesus. The fact that Jonny never mentions Jesus is telling. I don’t believe anyone with a brain in their head leaves Christianity because YEC doesn’t seem to be true and thus Christianity false (not implying Jonny isn’t smart, just that there is more going on here than his YEC bubble bursting).

      You know, I have to admit that’s something I missed, and it’s entirely relevant. No mention of Jesus at all. Weird.

      And weird that I missed it. Then again, I usually focus on God, not Christ, in these discussions.

      • Sadly enough, this reflects a conservative Evangelical tendency to focus much more on the “right” doctrines than on the person of Christ.

        To my mind, this naturally flows from the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy.
        As a reformed Anglican told me, if one single law in the OT can be proven to be ungodly, we no longer have any ground for believing in the resurrection.

        Conservative Evangelicals are digging their own grave.

        There is as world of difference between their defense of the Gospel and that of Pope Francis,.

      • Lothar,

        Sadly enough, this reflects a conservative Evangelical tendency to focus much more on the “right” doctrines than on the person of Christ.

        While I think it’s fair to complain that people focus on having the ‘right’ views rather than what’s important, I don’t think this at all can be attributed to some kind of ‘conservative’ problem.

        It’s not like the liberal/progressive Christians I run into are issue-free. Quite the opposite.

        Conservative Evangelicals are digging their own grave.

        And I don’t see this one either. Again – where’s that booming, thriving, growing liberal Christian church? Why is it ‘conservative evangelicals’? The unitarians are the ultimate in feel-good messages and minimal doctrines. They’re also irrelevant.

        If anything Pope Francis is more in the conservative column – he’s illustrating that it’s approach, not change of doctrine, that really has an impact.

  7. Oh I don’t know, what happens when you hand an inerrant book to an errant people?

    I doubt the problem is the Bible, very likely the problem is ours.

    Micah 6:8
    He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

    I really don’t think Christianity is all that complicated. But we people sure do our level best to make it as complicated as possible.

  8. I think the disadvantage here is that by regularly addressing these issues you are thinking about yourself before adulthood. Children and teenagers makemistakes and I feel you are quite critical of some small things which you did which don’t really matter. You were reading books which you wouldn’t read now – I can see no harm in this. You flipped out and shouted at people on one occasion – Great show! they might have deserved it and found it funny, no harm done…..I am concerned about the logo ‘one child at a time’, and think that what you are doing is possibly a good thing. Perhaps you could make it clearer that your attack is on one small and unique branch of Christianity rather than Christianity as a whole. Good luck and all the best JS!

    • “Perhaps you could make it clearer that your attack is on one small and unique branch of Christianity rather than Christianity as a whole. Good luck and all the best JS!”

      It’s not as small as you may think. The Fundamentalist evangelicals have great power in the United States. The “Religious Right” is made up primarily of those who believe in Biblical inerrancy, and absolute parental authority over children, regardless of how those children are treated.

      You can’t really separate the religious from the education in ACE curriculum, because they are deliberately intertwined. It’s a good idea for you to visit the web sites of the ACE, A Beka, and other Christian homeschool curriculum, to find out their missions. All education is done from a “Biblical” and “Christian” view. That’s why you see criticism of both the theology and the educational standards when Jonny speaks of ACE.

      The promoters of ACE deliberately and systematically use their curriculum to indoctrinate the children. It is their express purpose to “impact the world” for Christ by sending out the children into the word to make it a Fundamentalist Christian nation. As a Roman Catholic, I find that troubling. I don’t want the Fundies to shape policy according to their doctrine. Government needs to remain secular. This is exactly what the Fundies are fighting over–the identity of the United States.

      • Well I am in the UK, politically right wing and Christian but also extremely scientifically minded. All sorts of protestant branches of Christianity will warmly accept me, and I feel it is important to realise how usually people’s hang ups are not with Christianity itself but with a particular denomination…The sheer number of Christian denominations is remarkable, and opposition to a denomination can be really constructive, and it is nothing new (think of Martin Luther nailing his thoughts to their door)… Perhaps this just shows how Christians themselves should ‘push for reform’ of ACE, in various ways… Removal of slogans such as ‘one child at a time’ seems like a good idea to me, although I would not prioritise changing the furniture particularly!Thanks.

    • Sorry, I can’t correct my typos. The idea is to send children into the world, not the word. And, the purpose being to impact the world and especially here in the US, to make it a Fundamentalist Christian nation. I’m sure my ending was very confusing. Sorry.

  9. thank You for revealing that there are still biased education systems that do not allow all opposing views to be given a fair hand in historical events and suppressing at least some interpretations of real love. that interview is example one of reasons why i a catholic semi-creationist am against bias based beliefs/theories.

    thank You.

    God bless

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