Tuesday, May 29, 2007

A Little More About Religious Child Abuse - Personal Experience and a Plea

In my recent video I said what I've said here, recently, that the way that religion is taught is tantamount to child abuse because it teaches that disobedience is punished by eternal suffering. Someone cruised by and asked if I'd really been taught, as a child, by my parents, if I would go to hell if I disobeyed.

The answer is, well, yes. As a full disclosure, I don't recall my mother saying it, but I was raised in large part by my grandmother and it was one of the tactics she used to control me as a youth.

But there was more to it than that. I was taught that in my Sunday school classes. Which were approved, at least ostensibly, by not only the parish priest but also my parents. I can, to this day, recall everything about the Sunday school teacher who taught me these things. He was a middle aged, slightly portly man with glasses and bald on top, with short hair otherwise, clean shaven. He always wore button down shirts, slacks and a tie to church -- perhaps he had a sports jacket, but I never saw it in Sunday school class. He would teach Bible study with a tremendous glee. He would reinforce that we were good Christian children, so we had nothing to fear, but he was equally clear that unbelievers would go to Hell. It is in the Bible. It is Christian dogma. Unbelievers burn. He would read passages from the Bible where the penalties for flouting the Christian god are revealed. You deny the holy spirit? You go to Hell. You disobey your parents? You're wicked in the eyes of the Lord, and you to Hell. The same was true, of course, for lying, stealing, etc., unless you begged Jesus for forgiveness.

This is the thing I remember most clearly. We were being taught Revelations. It was being taught as if it was right around the corner. The teacher was painfully clear. Armageddon was in Israel. Russian and American forces would fight in the Holy Land. The blood would be up to the fenders of the tanks. He took various passages as alluding to nuclear war.

This fucked me up for years. I lived from around 9 to 14 absolutely sure that global thermonuclear war was around the corner. I fully expected to be alive for the End of the World. Because I had all sorts of disobediences and sins that I did hide from the church, I was equally sure that I would not be saved in any Rapture and that I'd live to see the dragon of the Apocalypse and the Whore of Babylon and the last Anti-christ. When I was about twelve, I remember talking to my mother about it, tears down my face, saying that I knew that the "end" was coming, and she said there was nothing I could do about it, but never denied it.

With the narcissism of youth, I am not sure how many children were in the class. I would guess about forty, but it could be half that, or double. With most of them, of course, I have no idea what was taught in their households. Even with my own friends, I'm not sure what was taught in their churches, since we were not of the same denomination. But I do know with that church it was commonplace for children to be taught, with glee, that non-believers and disobedient children would burn in Hell.

This was in my pre-pubescent days. By the time I was a teenager and going through confirmation, we were expected to be able to know that sort of thing by heart. By then, I was going to a different church. Of course, teenagers are still children. It was more of the same. End time crap, absolute vicious fear-mongering. And we were old enough that no attempt was made to shield up from the absolute ugliness in the Bible. We were encouraged to read and discuss the most disturbing things, from Lot being raped by his daughters, Jael nailing her husband's head to the floor and, of course, that favorite horror story, again, Revelations.

I do not think that my religious education was particularly severe. My family was not fundamentalist. They were pretty liberal Christians. But at the end of the day, what are you to teach about the wages of sin? The Bible is extremely clear. The Lord is a wrathful sonofabitch. Unless you're in some church that carefully and deliberately hides the gruesome parts of the Bible -- which means ignoring about 99% of it -- it is normal to teach children that disobedience to Christian doctrine is punished by an eternity of flames.

I find the idea that it is not the case that is normal for Christians to be frank about the fate of disobedience to Christian doctrine massively suspect. But I'll listen. Spread this around to religious people, right? Am I wrong? Is it normal for Christians to forgo teaching children the consequences of sin, being hellfire? If so, when are they introduced to the concept of eternal damnation that awaits everyone who isn't a Christian? Do you wait until they're . . . 10? 13? 15? Is it normal for Christians to wait until their co-religionists are eighteen, and legally adults, before subjecting them to the violent pornography that is much of the Bible (Old Testament and New)? In my experience, it is not the case. In no church I have ever attended was it hidden from children the consequences of sinful disobedience to religious doctrine (gussied up as the word of their god).

But I'd love to hear otherwise.

P.S.: And what about Muslims? When do they start to teach their kids about Hell? And what about Hindus? When do they teach the consequences of defying their dharma? This isn't addressed to just Christians -- most religions use virulent intimidation to enforce their religious doctrines. They all teach child abuse, IMO.


L>T said...

I know so much about what you are talking about...
I was raised Pentecostal, which is really wacky, BTW, because The indocrination is extremely emotional & intangling.

I was afraid to cross the street for years because my mother, (in an angry & trying to take control moment) told me that God had the power to...have me run over by a car as I was crossing the street.
My mothers completely self-absorbed religion that she projected on her hapeless children, played havoc with our lives. My brother just below me spent the time from his 13th birtday until his 18th in juvenile prison for 2nd degree murder, because he had no ability to cope with the bully that was making his life a living hell, except to kill him. Thanks to parents that could not cope with their own lives in a realistic way & in turn could not instruct their children in how to deal with their own lives.
Yeah, just turn them over to God. It is abuse & it makes me angry!

Chris Bradley said...


Obviously, that's exactly what I'm talking about. That's exactly it. And this is OK with people!

Heck, the discussion that prompted this still goes on, hehe. The Xtians argued that because I was not directly threatened with Hell, that I would only go to Hell if I changed or whatever, that it was somehow not a threat. I pointed out that's precisely what a threat is -- to compel an action by offering violence unless obeyed.

Somehow I doubt that she'll agree that's the veritable definition of a threat!