My Christadelphian experience

by Phynnodderee

Whenever I read blogs by other people who have left their religion, the thing I find most interesting is their personal stories. So I thought I would share my story here in case it resonates with anyone else.


Growing up
I was brought up as a Christadelphian in the UK. As a child I went to Sunday School every week, after which the whole family attended the meeting, which was held in a room in a community hall. The ecclesia my parents belonged to was fairly traditional, with a stiffly formal atmosphere, the sonorous sound of the King James Bible, and strict gender roles. Although I was exposed to normal ideas elsewhere in life, within Christadelphia I was immersed in a male-dominated atmosphere in which a woman’s place was to be silent.

On Sunday evenings there was the lecture, while on Wednesday evenings there was Bible Class, which was held at people’s houses. The Sunday evening lecture was nominally a public lecture, which was advertised in the local paper, but I don’t think the public was ever interested. Occasionally we went to fraternals and other events, and every so often my parents hosted the weekly Bible Class at our house, which always meant nice things to eat after the adults had finished the readings and discussion.

The only ones to understand the Bible?
Generally speaking I was quite happy in the Christadelphian community as a child. I wasn’t expected to pay attention to the exhortation on Sunday mornings, but was allowed to read a book instead. So it wasn’t too boring. It never occurred to me for a moment to doubt the veracity of what I was taught about the Bible, God and Jesus. I believed that I belonged to a uniquely enlightened community, the only ones to understand the Bible properly, the re-discoverers of truth after it had been lost by the mainstream churches.

I do however remember one occasion, when I was perhaps about 11, when I first read for myself Paul’s injunction to women in 1 Timothy 2: “Let a woman learn in silence with full submission. I permit no woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she is to keep silent.” I instinctively balked; I knew, even at that age, that it was sexist and wrong, but it was in the Bible, so how could I argue against it? I didn’t realise it at the time, but cognitive dissonance had begun to set in.

As I got older, I began to experience hints of unease: sometimes certain things about the meeting struck me as silly or faintly ridiculous. But there was still no question in my mind that I could grow up to be anything other than a Christadelphian. I couldn’t understand how anyone of intelligence could fail to see how wise, reasonable and logical the Christadelphian faith was.

Broadening horizons
By the time I went to university, a number of my peers had been baptised. I had assumed I would naturally feel ready for baptism some day, but there were no signs of that happening. I felt intensely puzzled about where faith came from. I believed, but something held me back. Why did other people have such strong faith, when I didn’t? What was faith, and how did you acquire it if you didn’t have it?

After graduating I got a job in the city and started attending the local meeting, which was quite different from the ecclesia I grew up in. It was more broad-minded, lively and interesting, and I went there regularly for several years. During that time I slowly became aware of a different type of Christadelphian. I learned that there were people who didn’t think it was necessary for women to wear head-coverings. I heard open discussion and criticism of accepted ideas for the first time. When I realised that some of them even accepted the idea of evolution, I was shocked – surely believing in creation was an essential part of being a Christadelphian?

Meeting these liberal-minded Christadelphians was a breath of fresh air. I felt that, more than any other Christadelphians I had met, these were people I could get on with.

Like a strongly built wall
And yet there was still an underlying discontent and doubt. I believed that what I was doing, at this point, was deconstructing my faith, sorting the good bits from the bad, in order to retain the good and put them together again in a coherent whole. I felt that it was not only possible, but necessary to critically examine your own faith. Being afraid to do so was a sign that your faith was weak. If your faith was like a strongly built wall, you could shake it, subject it to blows, knock out individual stones and the whole would still stand. Thus, I could modify or eliminate this or that faulty idea and my faith as a whole would not be damaged. I felt I was progressing towards a more mature and compassionate faith, one that was compatible with enlightened, egalitarian and humanitarian ideas. Yet, to my puzzlement, I still didn’t feel any active desire to be baptised.

At the same time I had become aware of the appalling injustices that happen in the world, and – although I knew Christadelphians were not supposed to do things like this – I became involved in the human rights movement. I found myself doing a great deal of thinking about my religion, myself, and the strange creatures we call humans. One day, when I was browsing through an astronomy magazine, I saw an artist’s illustration of the Milky Way Galaxy, showing the location of our solar system in one of its minor spiral arms. It was mind-enlarging. I realised just how tiny and insignificant our place in the galaxy – and the universe – was.

Growing problems
Misogyny
I meandered along for another couple of years, still a regular attender at the meeting, but increasingly disenchanted with Christadelphia. Most of all, I was deeply troubled by the apparent sexism and misogyny in the Bible – which I still considered to be God’s revelation of himself – and the traditional gender roles that most of the Christadelphian community insisted on, which struck me as utterly illogical. But there were other, fundamental things about the religion that just didn’t make sense. I didn’t even see the point of the ritual of baptism – without which I could never be formally accepted into the community.

One day, I commented to one of my liberal Christadelphian friends on the fact that Christadelphians are convinced that they alone have ‘the Truth’. He replied: “The truth is that Christ died on the cross for our sins.” I liked the simplicity and directness of this confession; it was inclusive and uninflected by complicated doctrine. If you had asked me, around this time, what my religion was, I would have answered: “Love God and love your neighbour.” It seemed to me that that was the main thing that mattered, and everything else was mere detail. I began to consider myself a Christian rather than a Christadelphian.

Through my interest in human rights, I learned about more and more instances of appalling suffering caused by abuses in various parts of the world. Every time I read one of these stories, unanswerable questions clamoured in my head: How could a loving God allow such atrocities to happen? How could it possibly be part of a good and wise plan? I signed petitions, I donated to appeals, and I prayed. But I couldn’t help wondering what the point of my prayers was. Did they avail anything? Why did God require me to pray about these things in the first place, as if he didn’t know about them?

Shattered foundations
The final blow came on a beautiful spring day. It came in the form of a report describing the brutalities of the prison camps in a certain country.

It was the most shocking thing I had ever read. It made me tremble with revulsion and horror. Even now, years later, I can hardly bear to think about it. The routine barbarism, killing, rape and starvation. The child dragged out of bed to watch his mother being shot. The woman forced to drown her newborn baby in a bucket. I could not believe that such appalling cruelty could go on in the world. How could human beings be so evil? How could God look on as his creatures were tortured and tormented beyond belief, and do nothing?

Suddenly the world was different. I was different.

That night I slept, but it was a strange kind of sleep; the night seemed very short and when I woke in the morning, it was as if hardly any time had passed. For two days I felt no desire to eat, and it took nearly a week before my state of mind felt ‘normal’ again.

It was not the first time that I had been shocked by human cruelty – I knew something about the horrors of the Holocaust, for example – but for some reason this particular report made a greater impression on me than anything ever had before. I don’t think I had ever fully grasped the sheer depths of vile, gratuitous, organised cruelty that humans can sink to. For the first time, the ‘problem of evil’ produced intolerable cognitive dissonance. The strongly built wall of faith I had been so proud of had been struck at its very foundations, and it was toppling.

I kept going to the meeting for several more months, although my attendance became somewhat irregular. I don’t really know what I believed at this point in my life. Questions continued to plague me, and I certainly didn’t feel uplifted by my attendance at the meeting. I simply sat through it, feeling unmoved and faintly bored, and usually left promptly at the end. It was a matter of routine; it was simply what I did on Sunday mornings. I felt increasingly detached from Christadelphia, yet I felt that I couldn’t ever belong to the ‘real world’ either.

For years I had wondered why other people seemed to have such strong faith when I didn’t, even though I so much wanted it and prayed for it. I remember one occasion when I prayed on my knees for God to reveal himself to me, allow me to feel his presence, give me some sign to strengthen my faith.

But nothing happened.

The problem of evil
That September I watched a documentary about humanitarian aid efforts in a country affected by civil war. I was deeply distressed by the civilian suffering and moved by the courage of the aid workers. Once again I wondered how God could allow such suffering to happen. There were volunteers risking their lives to relieve the misery, but God appeared to do nothing. It crystallised the dreadful feeling that I had more faith in the goodness of people than in the goodness of God. I felt fearful for having this thought, as I feared it was a kind of blasphemy.

It must have been some time during that summer or autumn that I first consciously thought: “Maybe there isn’t a God after all.” It is hard to convey how shattering this possibility was, what an extraordinary thing it was for me to consider. I was confronted for the first time with the possibility that everything I had been taught was false and empty.

The months that followed were spent in a state of confusion, doubt, anxiety and loneliness. As a doubting Christadelphian it's extremely difficult to find anyone to talk to - either within the community, where doubts are not generally welcome, or outside it, where no one has even heard of the religion.

I went to the meeting for the last time just before Christmas. I remember sitting there, surrounded by others yet feeling so apart and so lonely. I knew that I no longer shared the worldview of the other people in that room. I decided then that it would be the last time.

A new beginning
This has only been a summary of my experiences in the Christadelphians and I have not discussed in detail any of the specific issues that troubled me, because those would be articles in their own right. The way I have told my story here perhaps makes it sound as if my deconversion was inevitable; but the evaporation of my faith, when it happened, came as a complete shock to me. My life was to a large extent built on my faith; I could not imagine being anything other than a Christadelphian. It provided my worldview, my comfort, my frame of reference, my identity. I had a massive process of adjustment ahead.

Now, years later, I can truthfully say I have never been happier. Leaving the Christadelphians was the best decision I ever made. In leaving them behind I have reclaimed my identity, my mind and my conscience. While I was in the grip of the Christadelphian religion, I was in agony; now I am filled with calm and peace.

Thanks for reading.


17 comments:

  1. "I had more faith in the goodness of people than the goodness of god". YES! Just look around to see the truth of this. There is no visible goodness of god in famine, or disease, or pestilence, or tempest, or earthquake, or flood, or . . .so much more. But look how the goodness of people is manifest in seeking to alleviate suffering from these things which come upon their fellow human beings.

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    1. For me this was a profoundly disturbing realisation. But in the end it was comforting, because it meant that we humans have a great capacity for good, which is always downplayed by Christadelphians, who emphasise the evil. I realised I had been underestimating human beings all my life and not giving them enough credit.

      There was also no need to agonise any more over why God didn't act to prevent or mitigate suffering (in spite of believers' fervent prayers) - the fact is that these things just happen, for various natural reasons, and our job is to try and relieve suffering and prevent it where we can. Many courageous and kind-hearted people work hard every day to do exactly that. My Christadelphian upbringing had blinded me to human kindness and potential. I'm so glad I was able to throw off that warped perspective.

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  2. Thanks for that, Phynnodderee. Much to identify with, and yet each story is different.

    "I remember one occasion when I prayed on my knees for God to reveal himself to me, allow me to feel his presence, give me some sign to strengthen my faith.

    But nothing happened."

    I find this a fascinating one. I can't prove it, but anecdotally I suspect that most serious Christians who quit have done this. I certainly did, and have read many other accounts of people who did. Losing the certainty can be incredibly painful - why wouldn't we beg and pray and wish for that pain to go away and that certainty to return?

    And yet I also find many Christians present it as the one, sure-fire solution to all our problems. As if, unaccountably, we might never have thought of it. I guess it goes along with narratives like "You just quit because you wanted to sin" (and yes, I can remember believing that too).

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    1. On the one hand I can understand why believers wouldn't want to believe that a heartfelt prayer didn't work. But on the other hand the typical accusation is that you didn't pray hard enough, or with enough humility, or something. Whatever the reason for the prayer not being answered, it's the petitioner's fault, not God's. This can heap even more confusion and guilt on a person's head when they are already suffering the torment of doubt.

      On a related note, someone on an ex-Christian forum once said "I suspect those of us who quit are the only ones who took it seriously." No one could have pleaded more sincerely with God than I did. No one could have felt more desolate when the answer was silence.

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  3. Hey Everyone - I can relate to so much that has been said.

    At first, I loved being a baptised Christadelphian and I felt like I would convert the World.

    Although I still have psychological baggage to deal with, I am mostly, through the being angry bit - why was I exposed to this toxic religion as a young child etc. Now, I wonder why it was even a question as to whether women should be treated equally.

    My wife and I used to attend this liberal meeting when one day, my wife decided not to wear her hat at the Sunday morning meeting. Wow you should have seen the reaction and judgmentalism from this so called, liberal meeting. The irony in all this is that it had already been voted on that if women did not want to wear a hat it was ok. Suddenly, our friends ran for the hills and it might as well have been that we had committed murder!

    This was one of the occasions that speeded up our leaving the Christadelphians. And you know what - the misogyny was as much from the women as the men!

    Now, I look back on this with amusement more than anger and regard this like a scene from The Life of Brian. You know the scene where they were stoning someone and all the women were disguised as men by wearing beards? What so many strait Christians and Christadelphians miss about The Life of Brian is that it shows how stupid people get when they stop thinking. And more than that what a brilliantly funny film it is.

    I am so happy that I do not put up with this nonsense any more.

    Good stuff.

    Mad Max

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    1. Yes, sometimes women were the most vociferous advocates of the gender roles! I guess it's a case of people liking what they're used to, even when it's not good for them.

      I really must get round to watching The Life of Brian :)

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    2. You haven't seen Life of Brian? It's a must!
      I promise you won't regret it!

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  4. What’s also interesting is that anger you describe Max, about being exposed to religious rubbish at a young age, can hit at any time.

    I left the Christadelphians at a young age, and was lucky enough to have never been baptised and get fully immersed in the cult. Most of my family remained however and it wasn’t until some 30yrs or so later that I got angry. Even though I had completely ignored religion for that time and had no doctrine remaining. I don’t even really know why, I guess it’s because of ignorance, mine and everybody else’s, the answers are there if you have a desire to know. It’s not a mystery.

    I came across a documentary called “Zeitgeist” (you can watch free online) and the first 20min or so explained religion as an “Astro-theological - Literary Hybrid”, which struck a chord with me and made sense, so I started researching religion again down those lines and the whole dog and pony show that is religion fell apart for me.

    Religion is an ancient cosmic story, told in many allegorical forms and Christianity is the latest Western form. Which could be explored more on this site.

    One mind bending book, I recommend every person on the planet reads, is called “The Secret Teachings of All Ages” by respected Masonic historian Manly P. Hall. Impeccably researched and by no means an easy read at 700 odd pages…You can find it free online, (if you can stand to read PDF’s on a PC). It will change your understanding, period… I could not put it down the first time and have just started reading it again, which prompted my comment.

    A couple of quotes from Chapter 9 ‘The Sun, A Universal Deity’:

    Pg. 135: “The origin of the Trinity is obvious to anyone who will observe the daily manifestations of the sun. This orb, being the symbol of all Light, has three distinct phases: rising, midday, and setting. The philosophers therefore divided the life of all things into three distinct parts: growth, maturity, and decay.

    Pg. 137: “One expression of the solar energy is Solomon, whose name SOL-OM-ON is the name for the supreme light in three different languages."

    Pg. 138: “Among other Allegories borrowed by Christianity from pagan antiquity is the story of the beautiful blue-eyed Sun God, with his golden hair falling upon his shoulders, robed from head to foot in spotless white carrying the Lamb of God, symbolic of the vernal equinox. This handsome youth is a composite of APPOLLO, OSIRIS, ORPHEUS, MITHRAS, and BACCHUS, for he has certain characteristics in common with each of these pagan deities.”

    Good luck on your journey…

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    1. Like you Brett I found it was important to learn about the origins of religion because that knocked religion off its sacred pedestal and reduced it to just a sociological phenomenon that could be dispassionately studied.

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    2. Yeah agree Phynnodderee. It was critical in helping me remove the last of the remaining guilt, fear and indoctrination

      If you understand religion at its roots, it then reduces most traditional thoughts and discussion’s about it to moot points in my opinion.

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    3. I developed a keen interest in how the Bible came to be written and translated, etc. while I was still a believer, long before I started questioning my core beliefs. Even then I was met with questions from some others about why I wanted to look into it - as if even reading about this stuff was taboo! I eventually did manage to buy a book about it from the ecclesial library, but it was so light on details as to be fairly useless.

      Years later I did discover more about the Bible's early origins, and it was a shock. Very few Christadelphians take an interest in this stuff, and even fewer look into it critically. I guess we know what happens to those who do. Even if they retain their belief in the Bible, they cannot remain fundamentalist and thus will risk disfellowship unless they keep their mouths shut, or move to a more liberal ecclesia.

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    4. Your right Thom, it is a shock, it was a shock to me as well even though I had been removed for a long time. As though some small part of me was still holding on to an element that it may still all be true. But now I find researching the subject enlightening and therapeutic. I can easily see the impact it would have on someone who held strong beliefs.

      The symbology that comes out of the Catholic institution blatantly tells the story of Pagan influence, Sun worship and plagiarism, for those with eyes open. Christadelphians think that a difference in doctrine, ceremony and ritual separates them from Catholicism and Christianity as a whole, but they have the same god, believe in Jesus and everything else in between. So, not very different at all, just another branch within the Christianity tree, same roots.

      It’s a shame they can’t see that, it’s pretty easy to spot

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  5. Thanks for sharing your story, Phynnodderee!

    Like you I am also very interested in reading people's stories of why they left. I'm probably also interested in stories of why people joined the religion as well, but those seem far less common.

    Your story shares some common threads with mine but also some differences. For example I also experienced a shift from never daring to question to starting to think more independently for myself. I can also relate to the journey of rewriting one's faith over time, believing it was all leading to a more resilient faith and a more realistic one, only to eventually find myself completely unsure whether a god even existed.

    Meanwhile I never really questioned gender roles until much later in my deconversion than you. These roles were taught as if they were some kind of divine law ever since I was a child, and questioning them was taboo. So I just accepted it uncritically and even defended it at times, much to my embarrassment and shame now.

    Ironically I hated the fact that I was so pressured into performing several public roles within the ecclesia and I felt that being a good Christadelphian was much easier for women than men. About one Sunday a month or more I was rostered on to do readings or steward duties, both of which I dreaded. And every year when the rosters were drawn up I was pressured by several other baptised men to sign up for even more duties, which I refused (feeling guilt as if I was somehow letting God down even though the mere thought of doing these duties stressed me out considerably). Eventually I resorted to attending other meetings for the 3-4 weeks while the rosters were being done, because the pestering (actually more like bullying) was just too much.

    As far as Christadelphians' (and the Bible's) treatment of women was concerned, I was quite blinded by the idea that if the Bible said it then it must be good and right, and any opposition to that was opposition to God and must be condemned. It really wasn't until I allowed myself to question the Bible as a collection of ancient human-written books that the blindfold was removed and I began to see the injustice of it all. If it was divinely inspired, there should be evidence of it, and so there was nothing to be lost by "trying the spirits to see whether they were of God".

    I think once someone makes that transition to thinking for themselves and allowing themselves to hold viewpoints that might not agree with the Bible, the rest of the Bible tends to crumble. It seems to be held up by a tangled web of immutable beliefs inherited through childhood indoctrination, and when those become mutable, and a person starts to use their intellect to weigh things up for themselves, the whole foundation disappears.

    Sometimes all it takes is to grant oneself the permission to disagree with the Bible. When you speak with Christadelphians, often they will quote the Bible rather than offering their own opinion. The question, "I know that's what the Bible says, but what do you think?", tends to confuse them, because many of them have simply never permitted themselves to entertain an opinion that differs from the Bible, and weigh up the relative arguments for themselves. The pressure to have their beliefs conform with someone else's is so strong that many never manage to break through it, either for fear of ostracism/exclusion, or fear of divine punishment.

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    1. What you say about dreading Sunday morning duties is interesting, Thom. Forcing women into a given role is unfair, but forcing men into a given role isn't fair either. In my case I think the awakening happened the other way round - the injustice of the Bible's attitude to women was clear to me even when I still believed it's was God's word, and I struggled massively to reconcile that in my head. When I came to the realisation it really was just a collection of human writings, it was such a relief not to have to struggle like that any more.

      "I know that's what the Bible says, but what do you think?" - great question to ask!

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  6. Thom Jonas,the reason why people joined the Christadelphians in my day is probably three-fold. This was in the 50`s (I might be old, but not too crumbly yet!): 1. Those who were sons or daughters of Christadelphians almost automatically became baptised members, due to the saturation of indoctrination absorbed, without question. 2. Young friends of Cd`s kids coming under the same influence by close association, before they were older and having more mature judgement. 3. Older people, because of influence from their Christadelphian employers, and, sad to say, when they saw a material advantage in doing so. This did happen.
    What is surprising to me is that in these days, when young people have so much more that they can access for balanced information, they still get immersed. I suppose most of them because they are children of Cd`s, and the indoctrination still plays a large part in their (non) thinking.

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    1. In my experience, childhood indoctrination is the major factor and is incredibly difficult to overcome. That said, I think the global trends show that religion is on the decline, at least in the West, and some experts think it will continue that way.

      https://youtu.be/YtAR_OGzlcg

      Christadelphians are a fringe minority religion and it's only a matter of time before the young people figure that out and decide to find out more about the wider (real) world for themselves.

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  7. Hi Everyone - I just wanted to go back to The Life of Brian, because is so, relevant. John Cleese was being interviewed about how the LIfe of Brian was written. He said that Monty Python looked at the characteristics of ultra, ultra right wing political parties, and ultra, ultra left wing political parties and the same for the equivalents in religion. What they all had in common, was that they were right & everyone else was wrong & the fewer the members - the more strange the thinking becomes.

    In The Life of Brian there were two political parties: "Popular Front of Judea" and the "Judeans Popular Front" - they did not speak to each other and the one Partie had a membership of one!

    A Christadelphian told me that there are the Christadelphian equivalents of the above two nutty & extreme groups. And, yes you have guessed it - they both have a membership of one and they don't talk to each other as each think they are the only one, who will be saved!

    When people say to me that The Life of Brian should not be shown - "blasphemous". I say that you are the very people who should watch the Film to see how stupid it can get when you stop thinking. Part of the reason this film is so funny, it because it is a wonderful observation of
    human nature gone fanatical & nutty.

    Must see Life of Brian again, to remind my self how damn funny that film is!

    Mad Max

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