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To varying degrees, and in a variety of ways, childhood religious indoctrination fills the most trusting, eager, and vulnerable of minds with intense fear, shame, and guilt. This indoctrination can damage or even destroy a child’s curiosity and critical thinking skills. Many of us who experienced such indoctrination are left with lifelong scars of one form or another. Our rationality, intellect, and skepticism are often no match for the pernicious after-effects of childhood religious indoctrination.
And this indoctrination isn’t going to stop anytime soon. We may not want to admit that, we may wish that it weren’t true, but it is. It’s just not reasonable to think that all forms of childhood religious indoctrination can be stopped, at least not in the near future. Such indoctrination has persisted this long for one reason: it works. It keeps the churches full. Most children who are indoctrinated into a particular religion remain members of that religion for life and grow up to indoctrinate their own children into that same religious tradition. They perpetuate the cycle. And as for the permanent scars caused by childhood religious indoctrination? From the perspective of someone whose primary concern is perpetuating his or her religious tradition of choice, the emotional trauma caused by such indoctrination is just collateral damage: unfortunate, perhaps, but inevitable.
So, while raising consciousness about childhood religious indoctrination is a vitally important endeavor, we must also acknowledge the fact that this indoctrination isn’t going to end anytime soon and adjust our actions accordingly. As such, I think that it would be worthwhile to divert some of our time and resources towards helping (in what way(s)? What does “helping” mean in this context? How can we avoid making this seem like some sort of touchy-feely group therapy thing?) adults deal with the after-effects of childhood religious indoctrination. The consequences of such indoctrination are rarely given the consideration or attention that they deserve. Despite the fact that most children remain in the religious tradition into which they were indoctrinated, there are many of us who, at one point, decided to leave our religious faith behind. Yet most of us are at least somewhat reluctant to discuss our experiences. It’s a rather taboo topic, even among atheists. I suspect that many of us are afraid that we’ll be accused of using our experiences as an “excuse” for something or other. We (quite understandably) don’t want to play the victim card, so we pretend that we’re strong enough to completely rid ourselves of the pain, fear, and guilt that never really goes away. But many of us aren’t. And admitting that doesn’t mean that we’re weak or that we’re making excuses. Our feelings are nothing to be ashamed of. They’re simply an understandable response to a specific kind of childhood trauma.
The problem is, I’m not really sure how such an endeavor could/should be accomplished. I do have one idea, though: I think that, if we’re comfortable doing so, it’s important for those of us who experienced any form of childhood religious indoctrination to share our experiences and to encourage others to do the same. Sharing our stories and engaging in the conversations/discussions they spark can be helpful for both ourselves and others. It’s always a relief to know that we’re not alone and that others can relate to our experiences and feelings. Additionally, discussing our experiences may help make this topic less taboo and convince others that it’s something that deserves to be taken seriously. I think that it might be worthwhile to set up some sort of website that could serve as both a repository for these stories and a collection of helpful resources (what kind of resources, though? I’m not sure) for individuals who are struggling (in one way or another) with the after-effects of their experiences with childhood religious indoctrination. In order to to make such a website as useful and effective as possible, I think that it would probably be best to divide it into separate sections for different religions (ex-Catholic, ex-Christian, ex-Jewish, ex-Muslim, etc.).
That’s just one idea. As I said, although I think that this is an important issue that deserves our time and resources, I’m not sure what, precisely, can/should be done about it or how our time and resources could best be utilized. Education is the most effective tool we have in the crucially important goal of raising consciousness about childhood religious indoctrination. However, because such indoctrination isn’t going to end anytime soon, I think that we should also try to find ways to help those who have left behind the religious tradition in which they were raised.
Do you have any suggestions or ideas? Any answers to the parenthetical questions I’ve posed in this post? I’d love to hear them. Thanks!