Thursday, March 10, 2011

The Religious Indoctrination of Children

‎"Sunday School: A prison in which children do penance for the evil conscience of their parents." — H.L. Mencken

I posted the quote above in a status message on my Facebook page and an atheist friend pointed out in the comments that she felt that parents were well-meaning but misguided. 

I have to agree with her. I think "evil" in that quote is a bit unfitting and religious people are indeed misguided but in my opinion I think it's rooted in religious bigotry... religious people are raised to believe that their religion is the only good, true, and correct religion to adhere to regardless of the fact that religious belief is simply handed down traditionally and had someone been born to another family in another part of the world they'd have been indoctrinated with an entirely different worldview... but religious people don't really consider the implications of that and question what they were taught to believe. This was offered as a challenge by John W. Loftus which he called the "Outsider Test for Faith". He explains it in greater detail in his book, Why I Became An Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity, which is the book I am presently reading and it's really quite compelling.

So anyway, religious people are taught that their religion is #1 and everyone else is wrong... on top of that they are taught that people that follow their particular brand of nuttery are the most morally decent and upstanding people on the planet. This creates elitism on top of bigotry and if someone from their flock does something morally objectionable they distance themselves from that person and claim that person wasn't a "true follower" which takes the blame off the belief system and places it on the individual despite the fact that the individual was using their religious beliefs as the motivator for their actions, like Hitler; a devout Catholic exterminating Jews to punish them for the crucifixion of Christ or the leader of the Children of God cult requiring the women in the movement to engage in sex acts with strange men as a method of proselytizing. These are extreme examples of course but they illustrate my point.

So a parent has been indoctrinated by their own parents to believe that their parents' particular worldview is the one true worldview and every other conflicting view is wrong and they are raised to believe that being good, moral, decent, or upstanding requires adherence to that particular worldview. I myself was raised by a strict, devout Catholic family and I remember they used to say things to me like how they desired for me to grow up to be a "good Christian man" as if  "good" and "Christian" were mutually inclusive and it's the only path to righteousness so naturally a parent would want the same for their own children. No parent wants to lead their children down the wrong path.

Problem is everyone seems to think it's a different path and they're all wearing blinders preventing them from seeing their own beliefs and views in the same light as they see the beliefs and views of others.

Therein lies the reason I'm an atheist. The Catholic belief system did not work for me from a young age. In reading about Malcolm X and how he converted voluntarily from Christianity to Islam and further mentored  champion boxer Muhammad Ali down the same path from Christianity to Islam. This was a turning point for me at as a young teen. I had heard of people converting thru marriage by marrying someone of a different religion, but a voluntary conversion? I didn't think it was possible. Certainly no one in my church ever talked about the possibilities of choosing another religious belief. It was actually discouraged and heavily frowned upon. So it came a shock to me that people could convert voluntarily but I didn't really know where to begin at that point. So I started with Islam like Malcolm X and Muhammad Ali. I found it fascinating, but it just seemed like more of the same shit to me and in a lot of ways worse. No pork? No Alcohol? I already thought giving up shit for 40 days of Lent was bad enough.

I went on to study Judaism, Mormonism (I had a crush on a Mormon girl at the time), Buddhism, Hinduism, and a few others. I didn't study these religious beliefs in depth greatly. I didn't even pick up a copy of a Koran let alone read one, but I did get a copy of the Book of Mormon (mainly to impress girl mentioned above) and I cracked it open and read a few pages and was as bored with it as I was with the fucking bible. In fact it's been awhile and I don't remember the content I read but I vaguely remember thinking that it was even sillier and more ridiculous than what I had read in the bible as a Catholic youth.

But my tip-of-the-iceberg research into various religious beliefs lead me to realizing that many seemed to worship the same god (Judaism, Christianity, Islam) yet had branched out with various different beliefs while other belief systems were entirely different. I was overwhelmed with trying to decide which one was right. They couldn't possibly all be right so how would one decide which is right? The only thing that seemed to fit me even remotely was Buddhism but the whole reincarnation thing seemed almost as silly as the crap I was spoon-fed at home. This lead to agnosticism and eventually atheism.

The reason most atheists and other non-believers have a larger knowledge of religion than that of theists who follow them is simply because most of us were once indoctrinated theists ourselves and in shedding that worldview for an entirely new one wasn't easy. For most de-converted believers it's quite a long journey because changing your entire belief system isn't a simple process at all. The new non-believer is giving up everything from their lifestyle to their community to even their own family and friends. Many even choose to remain anonymous and keep their non-belief to themselves while continuing to go to church and participate and fake prayer out of fear of ostracization. There are ministers and priests who are atheists yet continue to quietly lead their congregations because they spent years in education for a career path which is now a lie but it's all they know and especially in today's economy the job market isn't exactly friendly.

I've gotten off track here but my point is those of us who have abandoned whatever religious bullshit we were indoctrinated into didn't do so lightly and took everything into consideration before deciding to break free... this includes studying in depth in your own religion as well as others. And therein lies the additional knowledge we have. But despite leaving our religious beliefs behind us and moving on many of us continue to study religion and read more books on religion partly as a hobby and partly to further satisfy our own curiosity about religions by digging deeper into our original research.

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