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Hugs, bones and rock n roll

By Andy ~

What a fantastic site, there’s some truly inspiring material in some of these testimonies. Whilst mine is less dramatic than some, I felt I needed to get into pixels some of the absurdities I experienced.

I grew up in southeast England near Brighton, where I attended the evangelical church that was to eventually grow into the 700-strong church corporation, New Frontiers International. I wasn’t raised as a fervent Christian however. We’d say grace before meals at the family dinner table and occasionally went to the little traditional church in the village, but I never sensed much heartfelt interest in the whole thing from my parents, let alone pressure to convert.

For several years my parents had three born-again Christian offspring under their roof – my two elder sisters had introduced me to the church before I also joined the ranks. They must have looked on wondering where it all went wrong, but despite their children telling them they would go to hell, like they always said, they thought that preferable to us being out ‘wandering the streets taking drugs’.

My conversion was nothing more dramatic than going up the front after a meeting. Something must have made enough sense for me to make a commitment. It just felt Right. Nothing complicated, no intellectualizing. Besides, here was a large, ready-formed group of seemingly lovely people I would be instantly accepted into.

So there followed about four years of countless youth group meetings, prayer meetings, bible weeks, church ski trips, youth group holidays. All the social activity, was designed of course to prevent us from mixing with non-Christians, and was organized by youth group leaders from whom we’d receive instruction on being good Christian boys and girls.

The term ‘dodgy’ was informally adopted for example. This was an umbrella term covering anything that could lead one astray. It was a large umbrella. Certain music, TV programs, movies, books, shops, magazines were all warned against. Even university, those evil institutes where people think for themselves and may cause you to. It was even used at times to describe churches that weren’t affiliated with ours, although listening to Black Sabbath was a notch or two up the dodgy scale compared to sneaking into a Church of England service, even though the lead guitarist of the worship at Downs Bible Week was none other than Saxon’s Doug Scarratt.

At some point it was noted that the customary greeting adopted by the youth group and indeed the wider church – The Full Frontal Hug – was suspected of being hijacked by the hornier members of the congregation (so all of them probably) as the sole opportunity to get some physical action from the opposite sex. Needless to say this was considered a distraction from God’s work, so a memo was sent round instructing the youth group leaders to come up with a solution, therefore, the Sideways Hug was born – side on, arm round the shoulder – problem delayed.

Leaders at times would have to contend with thorny questions such as where did dinosaur bones come from when they’re not mentioned in the Bible (put there by Satan to mislead of course) and at other times they’d find themselves consoling young men visibly crestfallen when informed of the double whammy that yes, masturbation is a sin and in addition frontal hugs are no longer allowed.

I got heavily involved in evangelism, ‘witnessing’ to people, writing my personal tract to hand out, even open air preaching a couple of times. The belief I was one of God’s ‘chosen’ gave me an ugly arrogance that overlaid my naturally shy self in a way that makes me cringe to remember. I remember speaking in tongues once too, at least in the sense that I was joining in – the whole time wondering if anyone else was also feeling stupid that they were making it up.

Then there was the idea that God directed intimate details of day to day life – the girl telling me how the family had prayed to God asking which car they should buy (the big SUV he answered, allegedly), people thanking God for good weather, a sports result, for finding them a room at a hostel and so on, meanwhile awful things were happening to hundreds of thousands of people elsewhere in the world…

I began to doubt and gradually could no longer pretend to myself I believed. I became too old for the youth group and therefore had to join crushingly dull ‘house groups’ –weekly meetings at peoples houses, which made me increasingly feel like a fish out of water. The final catalyst was attending college where for the first year I was a squeaky clean Christian, but mixing with and making friends with ‘non-Christians’ for the first time, opened the floodgates so by the second year I was up to my eyes in having fun, smoking pot and thinking for myself. And what a surprise, not all ‘non-Christians’ were the chaotic, directionless, lost, miserable people the church had painted them as. They were just regular people in all their fallible beauty acting from their own judgment, not out of their devotion to an acquired creed.

My parents not being Christians meant of course I was freer than some to leave. One friend who left when I did, had both of his folks in ministry in his hometown and they practically disowned him, which did little for his already fragile state of mind.

‘Backsliders’ is the term they use for those who lose their faith, ironic really, as once outside of that bubble, backsliding felt for me more like leaping forward.
It was only once I’d left college and got a place of my own, that I began to experience the crushing loneliness that came from losing a circle of friends. One or two left at the same time and I hung out with them for a few years, but we never talked about our experiences, it was too raw still.

Whilst having a thoroughly good time involved in rave culture, techno music and the enlightening effects of various psychedelic drugs, I mixed with a group of friends who practiced meditation, in between smoking joints. This led to my enrolling in evening classes in what was called ‘practical philosophy’ in an organization my mother had spent many years in. I found it immensely helpful in healing the confusion from deconverting, by gaining a broader perspective on many other religions and schools of thought and the deep peace I found through the meditation practice they taught helps me to this day. I dropped the evening classes finally around 10 years ago once I felt myself getting too drawn in – it was in hindsight a case of using a thorn to take out another thorn.

So there it is. Now the peace I experience is simply through having a quieter mind – not one tied up in knots trying to follow and defend a religion, or reading book after book about gaining spiritual enlightenment. I can finally look upon life simply, naturally, unfettered and free.