"Statistics show 64% of Christians make a decision to follow Jesus before their 18th birthday. That means the teenage years are PIVOTAL for spiritual development. Statistics alo show church involvement is one of the greatest indicators of a future decision to follow Jesus. DO NOT miss this chance to impact the earthly and eternal destiny of your teenagers. It is well worth the cost."
This is the email that I received from my old church a few weeks ago. Sometimes I'll read something from a lifelong atheist who is confused as to whether the church is aware of the fact that they are indoctrinating kids. Is it really indoctrination or are they just trying to teach their morals and values to the next generation? The email above is indicative of my experience in the church. Religions are very aware that if you get 'em while they're young, you will most likely have a believer for life. In fact, that 64% is a bit off since I found several surveys that put the percentage of people who become Christian before they are eighteen at anywhere between 85-94%. They want the children to come. They want to indoctrinate them. They know that the majority of Christians are created before adulthood. Growing up, I was encouraged to bring my friends to church particularly during an extra special service. Like a big youth group shindig with games and food or VBS. Bring your friend to church, suck them in with fun, and then maybe they will bring their parents too. The church I grew up in had a very active bus "ministry" We bused kids in from all over the city and at one point the church owned four buses that went on two trips each to pick up kids. Our youth group was almost the same size as our church at one point.
Now, here is an interesting phenomenon. I was part of a denomination that had a ton of churches in various African countries like Nigeria, Ghana, Ivory Coast, and Botswana. When people immigrated from those countries to the US, they often sought out a church familiar to them and that was our church. When I tell people I grew up around Africans, they often think African-American, but that's not true. My eldest brother's best friend growing up immigrated to the US from Ghana when he was fifteen. The interesting thing about mixing in other cultures though is that their priorities are different. In the US church there has always been a big push to build community churches, to suck in the young, and make things fun and exciting in order to be relevant. Africans don't give a shit about any of that mess. As our church became more and more African, the focus of the church began to shift. We stopped busing kids in. We stopped with the fun youth group activities. Most of the African parents believed their children should be in services with them so children's church dwindled and died a slow death. By the time I was seventeen, our youth group consisted of about ten kids, down from the hundred or so that used to come when I was thirteen. The church decided to move locations because it made the Africans nervous to be in the inner city, especially since they no longer cared to be part of the inner city ministries and were keen on separating themselves from the African-American community within it. I left the church and moved somewhere where there were people my age. My parents tried to hang in there for a few more years, but eventually left since there was absolutely no priority towards community building, missions, or outreach. It was internally focused and they seemed to care very little about whether more people joined or not. "God will lead them to us", seemed to be their motto. There was one thing that wasn't different though...the children. Even the African parents fully believed that we needed to suck in the kids while they are young. The only church ministry activity now is a yearly VBS. Because despite the shifting priorities, indoctrinating the children is the most important thing.
This used to make sense to me. Have faith like a child. Children see things more clearly. From the mouths of babes. These were phrases often attributed to the kids in my church. If a child made some statement about heaven or Jesus, "Out of the mouths of babes" was uttered in reverence and awe. Nevermind that the child is literally repeating and copying the things they have been taught. I told my son recently about a dream I had about heaven when I was in my early teens. I was sure that the dream came from god. Going back and analyzing it though, I realize that I was quite literally inundated with Christian propaganda and symbolism. It was a constant topic of conversation in every single circle that I was a part of. I would look through magazines full of religious paintings, talking about which ones we should buy for our house. So is it any wonder that I would have some random dream about heaven one day? The real question is, why wasn't I dreaming about heaven all the time? Of course, my dreams were littered with Christian symbolism, which made my mom believe that God was sending me visions and dreams. Truth was, I was a super imaginative kid and half of the shit I told my mom was completely invented. I don't want to say that I was a huge liar, but I learned fairly early on that talking about god or things that god did would get you positive attention from my parents. With four kids in the house, that attention was hard earned. By the time I was a teenager, I was a master at getting it too. However, I was also good at hiding the things I knew my parents wouldn't approve of. You should have seen the books I was reading.
I know this post is a bit rambling. Childhood indoctrination is no joke, but make no mistake, the church is very aware of what they are doing. They want you and they want your kids. Mostly, they want your kids though. Because once they suck them in and teach them fantasy stories, it is very difficult for them to ever break away.
I live a very intentional life. Thinking, reading, writing, and philosophy are the hallmarks of my life. If I make a choice to not follow a certain societal custom you can bet your ass I have a good reason for it and have thought through this decision. My kid understands none of this as he has never analyzed anything in his entire life. Recently we have this conversation:
Teen: Why do you say that? Why don't you say bless you?
Me: Do you know what gedundheit means? It means good health. It makes more sense to say that, then bless you because bless you or God bless you is a leftover superstition back when people believed you were sneezing our your soul. I see no point in saying bless you because 1) I am not the one who is blessing them and 2) I don't believe there is anyone out there who is blessing them.
Teen: But everyone says it. It's just a saying.
Me: So is gesundheit.
Teen: That's stupid. You don't have to mean anything by it or believe in a god to say it. It's just polite.
Me: So is gesundheit. And I am wishing them something that means immensely more to me. Good health. Why wouldn't you want to wish good health on them?
Teen: Well, this is what I believe.
Me: Is it? Is it part of your religion to believe in people sneezing their souls out?
Teen: Well...noooo. But it is polite.
Me: I am aware that you believe it is polite. I don't think it matters one iota. Absolutely nothing will happen if you don't say it. And frankly my dear, it's kind of weird that you do it to every stranger we walk by, even if they are far away or you can't see them. It's almost OCD.
Teen: ::grumpily:: well, it IS polite.
I get that he has been taught it is polite. Perhaps you were taught that too. In my mind, this is a leftover superstition from medieval times when people believed in changelings and people used to pass their children through cheese rinds. When I realized this was purely based off of superstition, I quit using it. I was still a Christian then and I felt the Bible was fairly clear in concerns to Christians falling prey to superstitions. I see the irony in this now, but at the time it made sense that as someone who obeys God, one cannot hold on to ridiculous superstitions no matter how "polite" it is perceived in society. Nevermind, that the Bible is also clear as to who is blessed and why. Nowhere does it say, blessed are those who sneeze. Now, as an atheist, I see it not just as an archaic throwback, but a religious statement. Who I am asking them to be blessed by? Me? Of course not. The implication is still, God bless you. Even if you leave the word out, everyone knows what you mean. But I don't mean it. I don't see any evidence for a god, let alone one who spends his day blessing everyone who sneezes, which would be billions of people all day every day. In my mind, it would be disingenuous to use this phrase.
I know it is a small thing, but like I said, I live a very intentional life. I don't just do things because everyone does them. I want to think about and analyze those things in my life to be sure that if I am doing something, it is for the right reasons and morally upright. My kid does things because someone taught him to do it and he can't be bothered to learn about it or think about it beyond this-is-what-people-do. He does this for everything by the way and a common phrase I hear in my house is, "Have you ever considered....?" followed by that ghosts are real, that god exists, that heaven is real, that angels are real, etc. etc. etc. Yes, kid. I've thought a LOT about it. I've read books, watched movies & videos, gotten in debates, attended church for years, learned apologetics, took ethics and philosophy classes. Yes, I've considered all of that. The real question is, have you?
Another great article that really strikes home.
An interesting article concerning the story of Ezer and Elead and what this means for archaeology, Biblical narratives, and Biblical literalism.
Two weeks ago I had a liver biopsy to determine if I had non-alcoholic fatty liver disease and what stage I was into the disease. Turns out I am in the very beginning stages and it is reversible so I just have to lose some weight (which I have already done. 14 pounds down! woohoo!) and keep eating healthy and I should be good. Sadly, my liver biopsy itself wasn't without complications. Apparently, the large-ish needle that they used punctured my liver in a way that created a subdural hematoma (a bruise) on my liver and some of the juices from my liver leaked out into the needle site. Now, neither of these things will kill you, but it will hurt like a motherfucker. I don't think I can fully describe the levels of pain I was in. It's like nothing I have ever experienced. Breathing hurt, walking hurt, standing hurt, sitting hurt. At one point, I attempted to lay/sit in bed and the pain was so bad that my body was jerking uncontrollably. My husband was on the phone with the doctor trying to get a pain medication prescribed while also trying to decide if we needed to call an ambulance. I was panting, sweat was dripping down my head because I was in so much pain.
The car ride home was torture. Walking up the stairs to our third floor apartment was an exercise in mind over matter. As I slowly walked up those stairs I kept moaning, "Oh god, oh god." Even in my mind-addled state it occurred to me that I was basically calling out to a god who didn't exist and couldn't help me. So I switched to my husband's name. In a way, this was more distressing for him because there wasn't much he could do either, but he could do far more than a non-existent being could. He fluffed the pillows, held my hand, called the doctor over and over until they prescribed me pain medicine, heated up the heating pad, got me water, mopped my brow. At one point, in the midst of the worst of it, I moaned, "Oh [husband]. Help me. Help me." His voice cracked with tears when he replied, "There's nothing I can do." Just hold me, I told him. Just hold me. And so he held me until the muscles in my side stopped contracting and I could breathe again.
It took three hours to get the pain medication. Three hours of the worst pain I have ever experienced in my life. And I am proud of my choice to not call out to a being who, if it does exist, has little regard for the suffering of human beings. I am also proud of my husband who did everything in his power to make sure that I was okay, comfortable, and comforted.
"The only way you will get through this is through prayer."
Yes, my friends. Apparently, you can only parent a child from hard places if you pray to a particular god, otherwise it's doomed to fail. This is not what my mother said, but it was most certainly implied. Of course, I've read that other places too. There are entire Bible studies devoted to prayer and adoption. But let's say for the sake of argument that prayer really did work. What would you pray for? And does prayer absolve you from doing the hard work?
My mom would say that you should seek guidance from The LORD. That he will give me the wisdom to know what to do in any given situation and that if I pray hard enough, God himself will reach down and "heal" my son. The truth is though, that my son already came from a believing family in which prayer was utilized. It didn't fix him or make his bio mom any better of a mom. My mother and her prayer warrior friends prayed for months for our adoption process to speed up and it didn't. In fact, it got slower. And the only reason things moved was because physical human beings stepped in and made a fuss. Not a single person had it "impressed on their hearts" to suddenly pass his paperwork along. More importantly, we have been connecting with and parenting this young man for several months now and I have not prayed once. And we are doing just fine. Perhaps it is the magical prayers of other people? Seems silly that a god who would condemn me to hell would be willing to step in and give me parenting wisdom just because my mom asked for it.
In fact, I have been a non-believer for two and a half years now and my life has gotten better and better. I haven't actually prayed for longer than that and yet things seem to be improving. My husband has gotten promotion after promotion, to the point where we have crossed into a new tax bracket that makes my lower middle class self rather uncomfortable. We are going to buy a house next year and saving up for the down payment barely changes our spending habits. My marriage isn't just good, it is thriving, despite the setback of my deconversion. Although we argue occasionally, I can honestly say that I am in a happy and healthy marriage. Our kid, despite his many issues, has not been awful. I know he will struggle for the rest of his life and we will certainly be there to guide him, but in the end his issues are his. We can only guide and love, not change, fix, or heal. I have several amazing good friends, most of whom know about my deconversion and have been super supportive of it. I find myself fairly relaxed, well as relaxed as a perfectionist can get. I discovered a love of gardening, have a fantastic job that I love, and am healthier than I have been in years. I'm getting older so I am beginning to have health issues that come with age, but nothing that worries me too greatly.
I know this comes off as bragging, but what I am really trying to convey here is how great my life has become over the past several years. I am so happy that I could reach this point and a lot of hard work went into getting this far. I know there will be rough days ahead. If you read some of my previous posts you would know that I am no stranger to sudden tragedies either. But I have done much of that without prayer and if we were following the correlation=causation fallacy it could be extrapolated that not praying actually makes ones life better. But we shall not fall into that trap. No, the real answer is that your life will have ups and downs and whether you pray or not has no bearing on your life whatsoever.
Last Friday I took our young man to a church sponsored shindig with hot dogs, hamburgers, and ice cream sundaes. This event was hosted by my old church, but my kid has a crush on one of the teenagers and I thought it would be a nice outing. Besides, I know a lot of these people and hadn't seen them in a while. Now, for most of the people that I did know, they were all very respectful and kind. Most are my friends on Facebook and they know what we have been doing for the past year and a half. None told me that I should come back to church, none invited my son to church, and all were respectful of the fact that he is of a different religion.
The same cannot be said for the strangers at the party who began to attend that church after I left. Although they were quick to grant me saint status for being an adoptive/foster mom. They were also quick to let me know how important it was that I indoctrinate this kid as quickly as possible. The most perplexing example of this was an old man and his wife. (although they were by no means the only ones) I don't remember their names, but they were in their eighties. Now, I give some leniency to old people and some of their archaic views on things, but these people were really just your typical clueless Christians. The old man told me that he had met several Jews in his life and that none of them knew anything about their religion. And they always asked him about his. The man was invited to a Passover meal with a Jewish family and had the audacity to tell me that they really didn't know what Passover was because they asked him to explain his beliefs concerning that holiday. He took their curiosity about his religion as not knowing about their own. And then formed a biased opinion about all Jews based on this information. So the fact that our son says he is Jewish is obviously deeply concerning because he doesn't know about his religion. True, our kid doesn't, but it isn't because he is Jewish. It's because he isn't curious about things and has been mentally stunted by neglect and trauma.
I did try to explain that Messianic Jews are Christians, but he and several others were having none of it. It's not the right flavor of Christianity for them. Then at the end of the night, as we are leaving, several people (again not my friends) wanted to invite him to church. He politely declined telling them he was of a different religion, but they persisted. "You never know what you will learn" and "I think you will really find Jesus at our church" being the two I overheard. I left him on the porch to fend them off, but mostly because I had been trying to give him as much space as possible all night.
Now, the kid wasn't offended. He thought they were just being kind. And maybe in a way they were. But what I saw was a flagrant disregard for another person's beliefs and an insistence that they had the right version of Christianity. Those who knew us well were gracious and accepting. Never once did they feel the need to invite me back to church. Strangers were not so kind. But here's my thing. You should be respectful to everyone you meet, friend or stranger. If someone looks at you and tells them they are of a different religion, you don't immediately try to convince them that they are idiots who know nothing about their religion and therefore need to join yours. The whole time I kept wondering what these people would do if they knew I didn't believe anymore?
Change comes from within. It's a fairly benign phrase often used to remind people that the only way something is going to change is if they start with themselves. Another one of a its ilk is the old adage, The only person you can change is yourself. Both of these phrases are a very simplistic way of how I see the world.
On a personal level, I know that it is impossible for me to try change anyone. I don't even try. My husband is as he is. If I couldn't accept him as he was, with the full knowledge that he may never change, then I had no business marrying him. Same goes for friends, family, co-workers, classmates, etc. If good changes happen then that is fantastic, but it is neither expected nor even needed. My husband doesn't even believe people can change, a semantics disagreement we have often because he does believe that people can modify their behavior. In his mind though, a person will always struggle with that behavior modification. If you were an angry person, you will always struggle with being an angry person, even if you no longer act upon these feelings in a negative way. To most people, this does constitute their definition of change. Last night I took one of those quizzes concerning politics. It was actually a rather extensive questionnaire and I ended up left of center, which I already knew. But if I had taken that quiz fifteen years ago, it would have said I was far-right conservative. The way I view the world has changed so drastically since then that there are days when it is hard to recognize that person. I've been keeping a journal since I was eleven. Reading through my old journals is a fascinating journey into those changes. I see my immaturity, the lack of understanding, the fear of "the world" as the Christians viewed it, the judgmental attitudes, and the desire to find some kind of connection to a god that never replied. I ran across one from when I was probably in my late teens where I was obviously grappling with the homosexuality issue. I was just beginning to really try and logic it out and I was running into some serious conundrums. I was appalled by the attitudes of my fellow Christians toward one of my good friends, but was also painfully aware of what the Bible stated clearly. There is an entry about two years later where I finally declare that God made these people this way, homosexuality can be found in nature, and that if being right was more important than loving someone....then I wanted no part of this homophobia that is so pervasive in the church.
I think that this change comes from within mantra is also true on much larger scales too. My co-worker and I got into it the other day about bad cops and police violence. As you know my husband was a former cop and although I didn't know him when he was a police officer, I know him to be a man of integrity and generosity. My co-worker *Leslie believes that all the good cops need to step out of their police headquarters, become whistle blowers, publicly shame their fellow officers, and join ranks with the protesters and social justice warriors. If this happens then the police shootings will stop and the people will at least know the police are on "their side". It will let everyone know who the good ones are. I don't see how a bunch of good people quitting their jobs (because they would have to quit being police officers at that point) is going to change anything. Particularly if you believe that it is the good ones who are protesting. That just leaves all the "bad" ones in power. No, if you want things to change you have to do it from within. Become a cop, move up the ladder. Become a legislator who works to add laws that will provide more training and pay. You want better cops? Stop paying them shit. Cops do need to be accountable and we need laws that make it so, but asking them to betray all the men and women who risk their lives daily just so you can feel better about...whatever...is foolish. It is also very wrong of Leslie to assume that if someone isn't speaking out, then they must be one of the "bad ones". I've written before about how I am not very vocal in public concerning my viewpoints, but it doesn't mean I am for or against something just because I didn't speak up. That's like suggesting that someone is secretly a villain just because they don't come against the things you dislike. In their minds, you're a bad cop because you don't publicly condemn your fellow cops who are fuck ups. It doesn't matter if you swore an oath, there is confidentiality issues, or it has already been dealt with internally by reporting an incident. You don't think cops don't get fired? Sure they do. My husband helped get a fellow officer fired when he wrote a false police report concerning a domestic violence dispute, because he suspected the guy was an illegal immigrant and he hates illegal immigrants. The guy didn't last six months on the force.
Change has to come from within.
I have a friend who wanted to be a social worker and help change the very broken foster care system. He went to school for social work and worked at a group home for a few years. He soon realized that at the level he was at, nothing would change. There was absolutely no way that he, a lowly social worker, would ever be able to change the system. So he went back to school, but this time to get a dual Master's degree in social work and law. He wants to help change things on the only level that the foster care system seems to change, legislation. He graduates in December. I have high hopes that if anyone can do something about this, it could be him. Quitting his job as a social worker in order to protest and write op-ed pieces about how broken the system is would have done nothing.
I think this applies to anything. If you have problems with how your organization is run then you need to position yourself into a place of influence. Complaining about it on social media will do nothing but get you fired. It's okay too to say, you know what, this doesn't matter to me enough to fight it, I'm just going to quit. It's also okay to stand on the outside and say, this company clearly has some unethical practices and we should put some pressure on them to change. But the only people who can exact that change are those within. Go ahead and put pressure on the police. They need to know that people are watching, that they are angry, and that this effects them. But police departments are not one giant unit. They are different from state to state, county to county, city to city. And they aren't going to change just because you stood outside the department shouting, "Hey hey, ho ho. Crooked police have to go!" Every Monday in my city, there is a group of protesters who stand outside the Capitol building, usually get arrested, and they have not done one damn thing to change a god damn thing. Their protests have been impotent at best.
I know there are instances throughout history in which people have managed to change things from the outside. These are the exceptions to the rule and almost all of them ended up positioning themselves into places of authority in order to make those changes. Many of them failed multiple times before they were successful. Obviously the changing cultural and social norms play a large part in how our society views certain things. Religious views tend to hold a lot of sway. America and the world are not the same place they were seventy years ago. Society can also regress.
Pulling this back to a personal level. There isn't a whole lot that I can change in my life. I am not in a position of authority at work, I'm a foster/adoptive parents who can't even get people to do the paperwork we need them to do, and I am not on a single committee or group that would change anything. Nor do I want that. Well, maybe not the work thing because I would totally be okay with a promotion. I think the foster care system needs to change, but I do not want to be a lawyer, politician, or social worker. Instead, I am changing the world for one kid. It's seems like such a small thing in the grand scheme of things, but it will have to be enough. I'm never going to be one of those people who changes the world and is remembered throughout history. I like to work quietly on the sidelines. Signing petitions, protesting, complaining on social media, posting memes. I just find these things to be a waste of my time. I speak up when necessary. I talk to our kid about prejudice and discrimination. I've deleted friends on social media who say hateful things. I've made it clear to certain relatives that their hateful ways will not be tolerated. With my level of authority, that's all I can do. And it will have to be enough.
And if a time comes where I have to physically step in and do something, to help someone who is being discriminated against, I would do it in a heartbeat. I've done it before. But remember, just because someone isn't out protesting every weekend, it does not mean they are duplicitous nor are they the enemy.
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.