[FoRK] reas. conv. 12/4: Beyond Faith

Jeff Bone < jbone at place.org > on > Tue Dec 5 15:51:18 PST 2006

On Dec 5, 2006, at 4:04 PM, Jeffrey Winter wrote:

>> I've come around to the point of view that
>> religious indoctrination of children is
>> child abuse.
> Good Lord.
> I still think Dawkins and his acolytes need to justify
> this escalation of rhetoric.

(Note the use of the term "acolyte.")

This isn't about Dawkins;  frankly, for me this is quite personal.   
Recent events like Dawkins supporting this line of thought and the  
release of the movie "Jesus Camp" merely reinforce a long-standing  
personal opinion.  (BTW, in case you haven't seen "Jesus Camp", you  
should;  the full movie was available on YouTube for a few days  
before being pulled in the last 18 hours...  but pay to see it,  
support the documentarian --- I did.)

I wasn't really aggressively indoctrinated;  I was sort of passively  
second-hand indoctrinated by being dragged along to church on (most)  
Sundays by my parents.  They meant well, but not the kind of over-the- 
top fanatical well-meaning of *many* mainstream Christian parents,  
cf. aforementioned movie.  The church we attended was The Church of  
Christ --- a particularly unpleasantly dour if middle-of-the-road  
denomination, if you're not familiar with it;  Calvinists w/o quite  
the nihilism of predetermination.  No musical instruments in the  
church, members shouldn't ever drink / dance / etc.  Pretty middle of  
the road.


One summer aged four or five I spent several weeks running outside  
every hour or so just to make sure the sky hadn't cracked open and  
started filling up with angels, thus heralding the end of the world.

I cried at every funeral I attended before age 11 or so --- and there  
were many, I had many living ancestors early on --- not from grief  
over the death per se, but rather because the relative in question  
had not managed to last until the Rapture, and had to go through the  
anguish of bodily death.

I could've told you every detail of both the experience of being in  
Hell and the experience of being Crucified, so many times had these  
things been SHOUTED at me on various Sundays from some pulpit.

For over a year, between the time I was about 9 and 10, I was  
afflicted with almost-nightly "night terrors."  The subject of the  
nightmares was, inevitably, religious in nature.  Demons in my room,  
premonitions of my own certain place in Hell.

I grew up with constant feelings of inadequacy as a Christian due to  
my occasional skepticism about my own faith, or my failure to live up  
to the standard I believed I needed to in that regard.

By the time I was 10, I had a proto-ulcer from worrying over  
eschatological concerns and, particularly, my own fate on the no- 
doubt soon-to-happen Judgment Day.  I spent a year eating bland foods  
and drinking fruit nectar (no sodas) to get that whole thing  
straightened out, gastrically-speaking.  I was the only kid in grade  
school with a nuclear attack / second coming "emergency response  
plan" for my family.  (And that didn't come from the parental units,  
either --- that was my own get-out.  They actively discouraged it,  
and that pissed me off --- how could they be so cavalier?)

I'm not making this shit up.

By the time I was 12 or so, I had been told --- by various ministers  
--- such outrageous lies as follows:  one claimed to have  
*personally* witnessed a demon, here on earth, in his own home.   
Another claimed --- upon learning of my interest in science and  
particularly dinosaurs and early hominids, that "cavemen" had never  
existed and that the dinosaurs had lived in Eden with Adam and Eve.   
(Never mind how dinosaur remains might have ended up all over the  
planet.)  Another claimed that the water from the flood was known to  
have come from the bursting of a water-bubble around the planet, as  
we had observed these bubbles around all the other planets in our  
solar system.

Another, spectacularly, claimed that in order to send men to the moon  
NASA had to navigationally account for the divine stopping of the sun  
in its course in some hoary old Jewish conflict or other, related in  
the Bible.  (That was just about the one that broke the camel's back  
of credulity, even for a kid.  Nonetheless I continued to believe  
this until some time in early high school when I had the good fortune  
to actually meet somebody who worked at NASA.  And, kindly, they  
didn't just laugh in my ignorant, brainwashed face.)

Every time I had even internal doubts about the veracity of any of  
this bullshit, it was attended by a rush of guilt and a twin rush of  
absolute fear of eternal damnation.  My father, particularly, was  
open-minded enough about such things that we openly discussed them,  
often until the wee hours of the morning through my high school  
years;  looking back, I believe that he's in effect an agnostic.  But  
we were both then, and he still is, too cowed by family and community  
to frankly dismiss all the bullshit openly, much less call bullshit  
on it.

One of the more amusing events is as follows:  despite the church's  
admonition on drinking alcohol, my grandmother had a heart condition  
that her doctor recommended she address in part by a daily glass of  
red wine.  (She resisted, but ultimately gave in.  My own parents  
were not tea-totallers, but everyone else in the extended family  
was.)  Now, the CoC takes communion every Sunday.  My extended family  
goes on a fishing trip every year, and we leave on Sunday.  But  
rather than miss communion, my aunt and uncle would "check out" a  
"communion travel kit" from their church and bring it with us.   
Communion in the CoC consists of an unsalted cracker, broken into  
little bits and nibbled, and a little plastic thimble full of Welch's  
grape juice.  But one year we forgot the Welch's.  Rather than break  
the prohibition on alcohol and simply give everybody a thimbleful of  
my grandmother's red wine, my uncle actually got in a car and made an  
hour-plus round trip into Taos (the nearest town) to buy *1 single 6  
oz bottle* of Welch's grape juice so that communion could proceed.

I mean, give me a fucking break.  Really.

The onset of puberty led, of course, to its own dramatic and  
traumatic set of sins and associated guilt...  And so finally, what  
reason alone could never do, nature --- in particular hormones ---  
accomplished:  they helped me finally break free of faith.  I was  
honest enough with myself to recognize that I had neither the will  
power nor the desire to stifle my newfound urges, nor could I  
reconcile them with my religious beliefs as I understood them at the  

Spurred on by a need to understand the rules as clearly as possible  
so as to know exactly what the boundaries were and push the envelope  
as far as possible, I sat down to read the Bible in its entirety.

And having done that, I laughed my ass off.  Long before Dawkins ever  
pointed it out, it was entirely clear to me:  NO sane so-called  
Christian can both have actually read the Bible *and* take it  
literally and seriously.  No way.


I've managed, at great effort and no small cost in friction in  
familial relationships, to rid myself of as much of that childhood  
religious baggage as possible.  I was effectively an agnostic by my  
mid-to-late teens, and effectively an atheist by my mid-20s.  And  
during that agnostic phase, I burned countless hours trolling through  
world religion, looking for some evidence that somebody else had done  
it "better" --- if only I'd been working that hard those years to  
digest topology or linear algebra or category theory!  But it's been  
a difficult struggle to get where I knew I needed to be with respect  
to faith.  And I can't account for the vast amounts of intellectual  
energy I must have wasted throughout my life desperately struggling  
to reconcile the "faith" of my childhood --- really of my family ---  
with the products of my senses and reason.  Vast amounts of time and  
energy spent merely to silence those guilty little pangs, those  
pernicious little fears, those childhood nightmares.  Intellectual  
contortions;  "rationalization" of all kinds.  Ultimately futile,  
absolutely unnecessary but for the relatively mild indoctrination I  

My parents were spankers, too.  Not beaters, but spankers --- and not  
in any particularly aggressive or eager or frequent way.  It was  
always a matter of last resort, I'm sure, and I'm equally sure that I  
was probably about as trying as any child could possibly be.  And I  
don't harbor them any ill will for any of how they brought me up;   
we're friends now.  And indeed, they *also* gave me many of the tools  
I needed to become a free enough and inquisitive enough thinker to  
break free from the shackles of my early religious education.

But if I had to "indict" them for one or the other offense, the  
psychological and intellectual trauma and other costs of even a  
passive Christian indoctrination of a bright kid is, without a doubt,  
the greater crime by far.

It's child abuse.  Done with the best intentions --- but child abuse  

I have no doubt of it.



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