"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?
This is a personal, but secret, blog archiving my deconversion from a Christian to a non-believer.