Growing up with Religion Instead of Faith

Kids in church

IMAGE DESCRIPTION: A row of pre-school age children sitting in chairs looking intently forward. Several have their hands in a prayers pose.

I was raised in what I call, a “too conservative for most conservatives” home. In other words, my parents are very right-winged, both politically and religiously. I grew up in this Christian Far-Right bubble. All the places my parents took me – church, home school co-ops, 4-H clubs, etc – were places full of like-minded people. Places where the same dogma was taught over and over and over again. Places where, no matter what doubts you may have had in your head, you never voiced those doubts. The most important thing in the world was to believe the ‘right’ things – the things a Good Christian should: evolution is lie from Satan, everyone who isn’t Christian is going to hell, homosexuality is an abomination to God, no matter the reason, a woman who gets an abortion must be judged, and young girls are to be well-behaved, quite, patient, nurturing, submissive mothers and wives when they grow up. And above all else: never, ever question these staple Christian beliefs. Of course there were other essential things one had to believe in order to be a ‘real’ Christian, but those were the big ones. 

One thing that was never addressed, never thought about, was humans. No one ever talked about human rights, equality, or social justice. I was told to “love thy neighbor” in Sunday school, but what the teacher meant was, “behave yourself and be nice to the other kids in class.” As I got older and sat through the sermons with my parents, the pastor would always talk about how much Jesus loves us. But what was implied was “Jesus loves you, so you should become a Christian,” or, “Jesus loves you, and he told me to love you, so I guess that means I love you [out of obligation],” or, “Jesus loves you, but he really hates what you’re doing.” People were loved, but with ulterior motives. Loving people wasn’t something we did freely, or because it is a good thing to do. In fact, it was drilled into my head that, “just being a good person isn’t good enough,” and, “good deeds won’t get you into heaven. That’s what Catholics believe, and Catholics aren’t real Christians, and if you’re not a real Christian you’re going to hell. You don’t want to go to hell do you?” Of course, people in church didn’t actually say those things, at least not word for word. But it was implied. It was felt. And it was believed. 

Of course a young child does not want to go to hell, so they learn all the ‘right’ things and eventually believe them. That’s what I did at least. I believed evolution was bad, gay people were bad, non-Christians were bad, feminists were bad, democrats were bad (because they are pro-choice), etc. Now don’t get me wrong, no one walked up to me when I was little and told me, “evolution is bad, gay people are bad, non-Christians are bad,” and so on. (Actually, people did say feminism was bad, but I’ll leave that for another day.) However, when a child is taught that these people are “sinners” and that sinners go to hell, they start to judge these people. That judgment then turns into discrimination, and discrimination turns into bigotry and hate. So much for “love thy neighbor,” right? Well, I suppose “love they neighbor” still applies as long as your neighbor is WASP like you.

Now, I’ve heard a lot of questions like, “how could people believe the earth is six thousand years old?” or, “how can people hate so much they want to prevent people from getting married?” I am not entirely sure myself, but I’ve been there. And unless you have actually lived in that right-winged Christian bubble, there are things you just cannot relate to. Imagine, being so isolated from secular culture, thinking, knowledge, etc, that you’ve never even learned what evolution actually is. All you’ve ever been told are things like, “it’s a lie the devil wants to feed us,” and, “the Bible says God created the world in six days, you can’t go against the Bible,” and, “humans are too special (because we’re made in God’s image you know) to just randomly evolve from soup.” (Yes, the word “soup” is used in Christian ‘science’ curriculum.) So, if you never actually learn about evolution, learning instead why it’s evil and ungodly, and no one bothers to tell you about the opposing arguments to creationism, it is pretty easy to believe the Good Christian thing (which is “evolution is a lie from Satan”). And it works exactly the same way with every other stereotypical, ignorant Christian view.

So what does this mean? Well for me it meant a lot of painful unlearning and re-learning, a lot of redefining my idea of what and who God is, and a lot of questions. But was does this mean for children who grow up in the same bubble I did? For children who might not attend a liberal university and be exposed to other views which aren’t riddled with religious dogma? For children who might never break out of that bubble and start learning and questioning things for themselves? Will they forever be stuck in this vicious cycle of raising kids in a world of discrimination and ignorance which they never leave, and then in turn raise their own kids in the exact same way? Probably. Unless there is huge uprising from within the Christian Far-Right community. But something tells me that isn’t very likely. For now, I guess conservative Christians will continue to grow up, live, and raise their own families in bigotry, narrow-mindedness, and ignorance.

At least they keep to themselves right? Ha! Fat chance. They’re convinced they have all the answers, they’re beliefs are the right ones, and there is no room for disagreement. Those are the people who protested outside the Supreme Court with signs that read “marriage = one man and one woman,” and “homosexuality is an abomination to God.” The thing that really creeps me out are the people who brought their kids along. Some of those kids weren’t old enough to fully understand what was going on, yet there they were, standing beside their parents holding a sign protesting equality. But the absolute worst part about these people and their dogma is they think, they really think, they’re doing this out of love. God hates homosexuality, but loves people. We’re supposed to love people, but we can’t love homosexuality. We have to change these sinners, right? So, if we keep people from being homosexual, we can keep them from going to hell.” I’m not kidding. That is the sort of crap these people think. And then some of them end up running this country like Sarah Palin, Paul Ryan, Michele Bachman, and Rich Santorum. How many more of these people will be bred and brainwashed? How many of them will rise to political power? How big of an influence will they have on this country and this world? How much damage can they cause?

It would seem, unfortunately, that religious fundamentalists will continue to indoctrinate their children, raising new generations of ignorant bigots, who will – like their parents did before them – convince themselves they are doing wonderful things for the world through their discrimination and judgment. My question is: What will it take to make it stop?

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