Hi, guys! I'm taking a short detour from my book review to actually revisit a post from January of this year, titled "Wasted Time." I haven't altered the content of my post, which you may have already read. My point is to direct your attention to the words of a commenter who offered a very profound and thoughtful perspective on the extreme difficulty of leaving a religion that you were indoctrinated into. I hope you'll find his words as helpful as I did. Thank you, AlanW, for sharing your heartfelt words with us.
Mark 9:42 Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea.
In other words, it was my obligation as a Christian parent to not be the stumbling block to my children's salvation; and rest assured, I felt that immense responsibility. It's the primary reason that I decided to homeschool my children, a way to protect them from the outside world, the others. Spending time with my kids, tailoring their education to their unique needs, flexibility of schedule- those were secondary perks. In my eyes, homeschooling was the best way to ensure that God was not only a part of our daily lives but that I would also be with my girls in heaven one day. Hence, the cycle of indoctrination began. One might be wondering How did she get there in the first place?
This is a question that has plagued me a bit lately; and while I don't want to waste too much time on regret, a little self-reflection is probably a worthwhile pursuit. The truth is, I lament the precious time I wasted being devoted to what I deem to be a nonexistent god. I feel angry with myself that from approximately the ages of 25 to 40, the years in which my feeble brain was perhaps at maximal functioning, I poured myself into biblical study. Not just poured but rather drowned myself in it. Why? I would have been just as well off to spend 15 years studying flying unicorns! Of course, there are some fruitful teachings in the Bible, but could I not have gained so much more by reading beautiful literature and poetry or challenging my understanding of our natural world with a little Dawkins or Krauss? Back to my question...
I grew up in a very secure home with two parents who loved me infinitely. My dad was the leader and decision maker of our family, and I have no doubt that every decision made was believed to be in the absolute best interest of our family. I trusted my parents in all regards and thus never felt a reason to question their authority or guidance. Therefore, I harbor no bitterness towards my parents for my Christian indoctrination, as it was all that they knew and information to the contrary was not readily at their fingertips as it is now.
So, what's my excuse? I honestly don't have one. Maybe I was complacent, or maybe my adulthood was a natural extension of my youth in which I never exercised my ability or even my right to question things because I trusted others to do it for me. Maybe both. Recreating the Christian bubble of my youth, I surrounded myself with people who were just like me, raising their kids just like me. Given those circumstances and with no one to challenge me, I had very little reason to doubt my beliefs. Sure, questions occasionally entered my mind. What religion would I be had I been born on a different continent? How can Christians alone have the truth if Muslims, Jewish people, Hindus, etc... also make the same claim? I pushed these thoughts to the back of my mind knowing that God, in his infinite wisdom and sovereignty, had a plan that would be beyond my understanding. Who was I to question the ultimate authority? Obviously these are the most basic of questions, yet if I had just given myself the permission to dwell on these for any amount of time, maybe things would have been different. If I had challenged my beliefs and maybe even challenged authority... but I didn't because I trusted, and I was certain.
I guess that leads me to my point. Christians, if by chance you are reading this, don't be like me! Those nagging questions, those biblical inconsistencies and contradictions that undoubtedly rear their ugly head in the back of your mind, listen to them. Your brain is telling you that there's something wrong because there is something wrong. In all humility and earnestness, I truly don't want you to find yourself in my shoes, looking back and wishing that you had done things differently. More importantly, you don't want your children to come back to you one day and ask Why? Why did you lead me down this path of Christian certainty when the answers to so many questions were just a keystroke away. I trusted you. We have no excuses anymore, and it is our responsibility to encourage our kids to question everything, including us sometimes. Let's lead by example. Open your mind, and let the questions flow!
Comment from AlanW (3 weeks ago)
This is my favorite of all your writings (all of which I've been loving). You are describing the heart of regret and that path towards self-forgiveness and awareness: was what we did and taught as Christians done in purposeful, intellectual turpitude, or was it a path from which we couldn't escape at the time? I am forgiving myself, in part, because I believe it is the latter. I have two models in my mind that explain it for me:
One is "the Matrix" (I talk about that a lot on my Everyone's Agnostic interview, episode #206 if anybody is curious). We were brought up in an alternative reality, told that anything we hear from outside is evil, from satan. And as you mention, Janet, our parents themselves weren't willingly complicit - they were brought up to believe that they were saving our very lives by presenting us this "virual reality". And that reality was well-built and answered (almost) any question. We almost literally breathed, touched, ate, and swam in that reality. The cracks in it, the flaws in the logic, were always explained away as "the work of the adversary".
The other model I'm arriving at for understanding how the religious mind-set had been so unstoppable is co-dependency and gaslighting. Co-dependency co-opts normal empathy responses and turns it against our own survival. But it never starts out seeming "evil". From little on up, we were taught the bright side: god loves you; you're saved; Jesus wants to be your friend. Every time we went to camp it was church camp - hearing the same salvation story again and again until it wasn't just a story - it was REALITY. But the co-dependency (or gaslighting) creeps in slowly, and like a frog placed in a pot of heating water, we just adapted to it. Our reality was that we had to control every thought and emotion and incoming data because that's how we could love god. We controlled others' information and lives - yes, our own children - because we loved them. The co-dependency had a hereditary trait to it - we caught it from our parents, and we bathed our children in it.
Oh, how I am ever so grateful to have escaped - and how aware that escape was the most unlikely of events - certainly beyond my own control!