How I Accidentally Swindled My Way Out of Conservative Christianity: Dallas’ Story
CC image courtesy of Flickr, Ryan Hyde.
HA note: The author’s name has been changed to ensure anonymity. “Dallas” is a pseudonym.
Once upon a time, I won awards for citing Ann Coulter and defending her viewpoints. I’ll get to all of that in a moment, but to fully appreciate this story, you first need some background about my homeschool upbringing.
Living as a teenage atheist in a home of pastors and devout Christian lifestyles is one of the strangest American experiences I can think of having — yet that was my reality. For most of my growing up, my father was heavily involved in church life, eventually becoming commissioned to be an ordained pastor around my ninth birthday. My mother was a stay-at-home mom who picked her battles, and my three younger siblings were and are all very active ‘Jesus Freaks.’
I was one of those myself as a small child, but I was quickly withdrawing from the church by the time I was 13. As church community was stripped away from me as my father’s church grew, then shrank, then reinvented, then rebuilt, my need for people was taken away as my parents felt dogma and religion was the most important elements of a “Christian Walk.”
Part of that “Christian Walk” at the age of 15 was being forced into participating in Impromptu Apologetics under the NCFCA umbrella.
(Background concluded, we now resume the buildup for why I defended Ann Coulter.)
Now, I was already a strong speech and debate kid by the time I was 15. I had already qualified for Nationals in Impromptu Speech, Extemp and Lincoln Douglas debate, and I served as a ‘Senior’ student in our local club. I was ready to try my hand at something in the interpretives, but my parents had a different idea in mind. By gosh, I was now the son of a pastor, and I needed to know how to defend my faith (despite the fact I was already well-weary of Christianity).
I protested. I fought. I cried. It didn’t matter. I was going to do Impromptu Apologetics, and that was the beginning of the grand swindle.
The next school year came up, and at first, Apologetics wasn’t nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be. I was given a lot of non-direct questions about Christianity, with questions like “Why does a society needs laws?” and “Is there such a thing as absolute truth?”
Sure, those questions asked for a slanted answer and biblical references, but I was able to use reason and historical examples to defend my points on a philosophical level. I was placing near the top at club mock tournaments, and I was feeling very comfortable during the events.
Then, the next semester came, and my fears came true: I started getting the weird questions which could only get dogma-based answers, and even worse, several questions were touching the subjects of Christianity and modern politics.
Unsurprisingly, I started getting low marks for not giving specific Southern-style, conservative Republican, Christian answers on gay marriage, abortion, the infallibleness of the Bible and the historical proofs of Jesus.
Although I was uncomfortable, I pretended it was all fine and good. I embraced my inner Lee Strobel and Frank Turek, giving the circular reasoning that the homeschool mothers who judged the club events were looking for. I didn’t like it, but it let me keep winning.
My faith declined and declined further as I gave arguments I didn’t believe in, but in February, my Lightbulb Moment hit.
In front of the club president and head coach (a deeply Southern Baptist Republican 50-something woman who was campaigning for Mike Huckabee while actively lobbying against civil unions in our state), I pulled out the first question I had zero answer to. As an adult, I still don’t know what it wanted.
The question was this: “How does the Book of Acts describe the moral code of the church similarly to the one seen in Genesis 2?”
I was in a deep panic. I was the ‘senior student’ who routinely knew his business. I was supposed to never flinch. I was supposed to answer the question and give a logical answer rooted in Christian belief. Stuck at my wit’s end as the timer told me my prep time was up, I was active in my Lightbulb Moment.
For the next seven minutes, I made up Bible verses, biblical characters and spat out fake philosophy that I credited to the 14th century theologian St. Saban.
Did Stephen the Martyr really command to obey the Lord fully like Adam as he was stoned to death? Did a prophet really foreshadow the church’s early movements in the book of Nehemiah? Did St. Saban, a man I made up based on the then-Miami Dolphins head football coach, actually exist?
I don’t know. Nor did I care. Because when I got my ballot back, not only had I won the round against nine other speakers, but I had the highest speaker praises including “Well-credentialed arguments and excellent research points”.
That was my Lightbulb Moment: If it sounded good, then that’s all that mattered for Christians and defending Christianity.
After reading that ballot, I decided to try an experiment. For every club event, for every practice and for every tournament, I was going to make it all up.
The 3rd-century Roman historian Nicholai was going to have lost works that explained the miracles of Christ. Verses like Matthew 17:48 and Exodus 49:11 were totally going to exist and be real. Hezeriah was going to be a part of the Old Testament of Biblical prophecy, as would be Surach and Baruch.
Surely, I thought, surely one of these deeply fervent homeschooling mothers, fathers or friends would call me out on it. Surely someone at the regional tournaments would smell something off, right?
I got my answer when I reached out round after out round, eventually finishing in second place in my region, qualifying for the NCFCA National Tournament.
As a 15-year-old who was learning how to bend the rules and get away with it, it didn’t take long to take my deceiving to other speech and debate fronts.
I’m embarrassed to say I was winning extemp rounds by saying Hillary Clinton told reporters at a campaign stop that she’d be willing to invade Israel. Likewise, I won Impromptu rounds by citing that Christianity was blackballing a Russian pop act from entering a recording studio.
What I’m most embarrassed about though is that I qualified for nationals in Team Policy by quoting an Ann Coulter column disguised as a “study by Yale University,” resulting in a standing ovation after that quarterfinal round debate.
I haven’t really forgiven myself for that one. Sorry Yale.
Regardless, there was my moment.
By faking everything, particularly conservative Christianity in culture, history and philosophy, I became an award-winning speaker and debater.
The epilogue is that I refused to go to the national tournament, selling my parents that the tournament was “old hat” and that I didn’t want to return to that competition. They saved the money they would have spent on that trip and we went on a family vacation to Arizona instead, where I happily played golf with my uncles and saw the Grand Canyon with my dad – experiences I’d take any day over bickering with teenagers about why I like AC/DC and why Obama isn’t a secret Muslim terrorist.
To this day, I cannot believe the dozens of Christians I somehow managed to dupe and I now play the “what if” game on what would have happened had I tried my strategy at the national tournament.