Holy Brainwashing

Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it-Proverbs 22:6 KJV

The verse listed above has been used to justify the religious brainwashing of children that takes place in more traditional Christian homes. I heard it countless times as an adolescent. Christians are certainly not the only ones guilty of this behavior, as members of other organized religions are guilty as well. For me, the scripture listed above proved false. For in spite of the fact that I was baptized twice, sat through hours of indoctrination weekly and was raised in a family where Christianity reigned supreme, I still left. And while I’m glad those days are behind me, I can’t help but feel sympathy for those who are left behind in that prison and for those who are being sentenced to life as I write this.

I speak of those like me-adults who were brainwashed when they were young-and for the innocent minds being twisted right now. The ironic part is that those doing this to children truly believe they are doing the right thing. I know that is what my family thought. In telling me that Jesus was the only way and anyone who didn’t accept him would go to hell, they believed they were doing the best to ensure a positive outcome for me, in this life and the next. No one stopped to think what damage such an idea would do to me mentally. No one stopped to think of the fear and terror that the concept of hell would bring to little children. No one stopped to think that they were setting me up to be a religious bigot, looking down on others who didn’t belong to my religion. Instead they used their position of authority to shove religion down my throat. “As long as you are under my roof, you will go to church, whether you like it or not!” Imagine hearing this as a minor, when you are dependent on your parent/guardian for food and shelter. If you question or doubt publicly, if you object to church having a monopoly on your time and your life, you risk being homeless and ostracized. As an adolescent, I didn’t have the ability and strength to face that. So like many others before me, I fell in line and did what was expected.

Fast forward to 2004. I’m now a grown woman, no longer under the thumb of others and expected my first child. When I was pregnant I thought and worried about so much. One of those worries was religion-how would I raise the little boy or girl that was growing inside of me? The expectation from family was that s/he would be christened as a baby and raised Baptist. I felt very conflicted about that. My conscience knew that the way I had been indoctrinated was wrong. If I had simply been exposed to Christianity but allowed to make my own choice when I was old enough to think for myself, with no duress, that would have been okay. But for it to be mandatory, to be made to feel that I would be accepted, to be told that I could not depend on family for a place to live if I didn’t share their beliefs- that was inherently wrong. So before my daughter was born, I came to the conclusion that history was not going to repeat itself. I would not do to her what others had done to me. I wouldn’t raise her to hate religion, but I would raise her to think for herself and allow her to make her own decision to believe or not to believe. I looked at the way my mother had taught me when I was a little girl. She never told me what to think, she simply showed me how. She never made me feel that she would love me less or treat me any different because of religion, and I do the same with my daughter.

I wish that more parents would follow my Mom’s example, but I know that’s hopeless. People will continue to force belief on children. In a sick way I can understand it. For in conversation with some believers, I find that doubt is not as uncommon as we think it is. There are people sitting in churches every Sunday and attending masjid weekly who don’t fully believe what they have been taught. But they can’t face it because of the fear that was instilled in them at a time when they should have been protected. They are hooked at an age when they are the most vulnerable. And as much as I hate to say it, the brainwashing works perfectly. The devout get people while they are young, ensuring that organized religion will survive and keep mankind in its iron fist for generations to come.