[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
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
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
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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