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.

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A native Seattleite and recent East Coast transplant, I have been interested in politics, religion, and race from the day I saw “The Autobiography of Malcolm X” on the bookshelf belonging to my BFF’s mom back in 1991. While my zealotry has thankfully diminished with maturity, I remain the deep thinking, passionate, and humble woman I have always been. I reside in the suburbs of NYC with my husband, daughter, and our two feisty but deeply loved cats.

4 thoughts on “Holy Brainwashing

  1. So on time!!!!! I was just discussing with my children this morning what they wanted to do for the upcoming “holiday” season! I’ve never really participated since I grew up with Jehovah’s Witnesses. Learning holiday history kind of took the fun out of it. 🙂 This year my kids are asking about them. I’ve decided that they’re going to have to help plan and budget it out. Maybe with their involvement, they’ll figure out on their own what the holidays mean to them. I do like Kwanzaa though, that was a nice “ritual”. I also want to explore more African traditions/religions with them and see what we want to incorporate into our own family culture. We like the “rite of passage” concept for sure… I don’t want to tell them who they are or what they should believe. I always wondered myself what I would believe, if no one told me what to believe/do.

  2. So your mom was that open to differences even thought you were raised in the church? If this is true, her example certainly provided you an trap door through which to escape that most of these kids being raised in Fundamentalist homes do not have. I am so glad you are taking the time to write this. All of my nieces and nephews (I’m from a huge family) are being raised in such exclusivity, home-schooled, only socializing with church people. Everytime I visit them, it’s odd how they sort of flock to me, they aren’t accustomed to someone actually listening to their concerns, actually demonstrating curiousity about who they are. They are literally taught not to accept their emotions, not to be sad, but to rejoice and trust Jesus (even when their little sister died of a brain tumor). I would never contradict their beliefs, it’s all they know, so I am quiet around them, like your mother was with you, and let them soak up what they can from my actions. Though they have learned that I am the “ungodly, unsaved” aunt, they continue to wrap their arms around me, continue to be baffled by the necessary contradiction my presence provides them. I must say, it is horrid for me though, as one must be strong to not become reactive around people who have been taught to think you’re going to hell. It is a constant sorrow to me that my siblings remain trapped in these religions, that they continue to enjoy the “close fellowship” with one another, while they reserve something else for me. When we were young we lost our parents, we all saught comfort for our grief in the church. For some reason I was the only one who came to view that world more as a stumbling block than a springboard, on the pathway to goodness.
    Again, thanks for writing, your words are important.

    1. Hi Patrice,

      From the time I was born until I was around ten years old, my Mother was my primary caretaker and did not raise to me to be religious at all. She didn’t take me to church or have me baptized. All of that started when I was eleven years old and her family was responsible for my indoctrination. I am incredibly grateful for the way my Mom raised me in the beginning though, without her I would be a very different person.

      I really feel for your nieces and nephews, I think that we do children a huge disservice when we close them off from different world views. One day they will have to go out into the real world, and if they have been completely sheltered they will be in for a rude awakening. It’s also sad to hear that your siblings don’t treat you the same due to differences in beliefs, but then again this is what religion does to people. We are willing to disregard even kinship and blood in the name of pleasing god. It’s not right!

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