I have said before that in my view raising children in a religiously ultra conservative - particularly a Christian fundamentalist home - is a form of child abuse. Strict conservative Catholic homes are not much better and I have often thought that no one can f*ck up a child's mind (and life) more than the priests and nuns of the Roman Catholic Church in the 1950's and early 1960's. Luckily, my family was not fanatically Catholic but given the era of my childhood, plenty of damage was nonetheless done. With the benefit of hindsight, I regret that I made my children attend church as much as I did during the years that I was trying so desperately to "pray away the gay." ave My intentions were good and, thankfully, my children seem to have put religion behind them and have moved on to value intellect, logic, reason and seem to be able to deal with objective reality. A piece in Salon looks at one former Evangelical Christian's change of heart once he adopted children. Here are excerpts:
Before I became a father, at the age of 36, I never suspected that adopting a young child, Nathan, would so powerfully dismantle my fortress-like evangelical beliefs. Nor did I anticipate the storm of turmoil, anger, and grief I would soon experience, as I relived my own childhood and confronted the dogmas I grew up with.
From day one, Nathan’s innocence, mischievousness, inquisitiveness, explosiveness, and affection fascinated and challenged me. He was so different from me, so much livelier, so able to live in the moment, and so unstunted in his capacity to enjoy life. Yes, Nathan desperately needed to develop communication, social and behavioral skills. But I didn’t want to destroy his spark. On the contrary, I hoped to learn from Nathan how to enjoy life and live in the moment.
As I contemplated my deep parental bond with Nathan and how I ought to raise him, I began reexamining the Christian dogmas with which I was reared. Childhood memories of the dreadful dogmas I had been taught at Nathan’s age boiled up to the surface. I recoiled with bewilderment, grief and anger.
So there I was, alone in my bedroom. My five-year-old mind pondered with terror and horror a God who hated disobedience so much that He would condemn people to a place of eternal fire and torment. I felt abandoned and alienated. I stared toward the window. The sunlight that once warmed me felt alien, hostile and cold. The sun’s rays symbolized the distant foreboding flickers of a hateful eternal fire waiting to torment the souls of the lost.
I stood there in that room all alone, condemned, diminished and stripped of all human dignity. God hated me for who I was. I didn’t stay in my bedroom long. I went out to the kitchen and asked Mom to help me pray Jesus into my heart. And so I became a Christian. But the alienation I felt on that summer afternoon stayed with me. It became the fearful cornerstone of my understanding of God.
Next, painful memories surfaced of the countless stories from Good News Club lessons I attended every week of every summer between the ages of 7 and 10. . . . GNC presents these stories with terrifying, unmitigated detail. These are not whitewashed versions suitable for young children.Lessons about God’s commands to Abraham to sacrifice his son (Gen. 9) and to Saul to slaughter all of the Amalekites (I Sam. 15) exemplify God’s demand for total obedience. Lessons about Lot’s wife being transformed into a pillar of salt for stealing a last glance at Sodom (Gen. 19:26), of Aaron’s sons being consumed with fire for offering strange incense to God (Lev. 10:1-3), of Uzzah being struck dead for reaching out his hand to stabilize the ark of the covenant (2 Sam. 6), and of 42 children being mauled for mocking Elisha’s bald head (2 Kings 3:23-25) exemplify God’s terrible punishment for even trivial sins.
Almost every GNC lesson intones that sin—“anything you think, say, or do that breaks God’s laws”—must be punished. The worst sins, of course, are thought crimes: doubt and unbelief. The punishment for sin is death and eternal separation from God. The lessons repeatedly admonish children that they deserve death.
GNC’s repeated themes about sinfulness and unworthiness are always “balanced” by reminders of God’s “love,” manifested by the opportunity that each child has, through submissive “belief” in the dogmas with which they are being indoctrinated, to be saved.
As I read through the GNC lesson books, my childhood memories of those stories, and the terror and shame they inspired, came flooding back. For the first time, I recognized how evangelism artfully harnesses the phenomenon known as the Stockholm Syndrome. Named after a famous incident in 1973 in which robbery victims held hostage for six days grew emotionally attached to their captors, and defended them after they were freed, the Stockholm Syndrome frequently manifests when a captor strips the victim of all forms of independence, self-worth and dignity, alternately terrorizing and offering kindness to the victim. The victim embraces the kindness and views the captor as giving life simply by not taking it.
Evangelical Christianity employs the Stockholm Syndrome to full effect. God gains obedience and worship by reminding humans of their utter unworthiness, dangling them over hell, and then “saving” them, in exchange for submission, from the very torments he threatens.
I pondered these dogmas with the newly acquired insight and sensitivity of a father. As a vulnerable child, these dogmas had repeatedly attacked, and ultimately destroyed, my self-image and sense of intrinsic value. As early as my pre-teen years, I struggled with low self-image, depression and suicidal ideation. Now it was unmistakably clear: my religious upbringing was the cause.
For the first time in my life, I understood how abusive, degrading and destructive those dogmas had been.
It took me more than 30 years to begin consciously processing the damage I suffered as a child. Nathan has not yet begun that process. Although Nathan knows he is adopted, he does not yet know the tragic details of his first years of life. It is incumbent on me, as a father, to continually love and affirm him so that he develops a secure enough sense of identity and value to weather the facts he will eventually come to know.
Sometimes I gather Nathan into my arms, and look into his eyes. I tell him: You are precious; you are beautiful; we longed for you before we ever saw you; before we ever knew who you were, and in the month you were born . . .
My childhood was not as grim as the author's, but damage was indeed done and it took years to recover from it. I hope I did not damage my own children by trying to raise them as "good Catholics." Folks like Victoria Cobb, the members of the Catholic Church hierarchy, and the professional Christian crowd have not recovered from the damage they suffered. Worse yet, they seek to inflict that damage on all of society.