Is Religion Child Abuse?

I think religion, specifically the one operating in the name of the Christ figure, is not for children. It’s too much for them to process and it does them little good. They haven’t been through enough pain to appreciate the relief the Christ figure can offer.

In fact, I would say teaching the Christian religion to children tends to backfire. Adult children of Christianity (“ACC” meetings, anyone?) often end up feeling bitter towards spiritual things that would otherwise be a force for good in the adult world.

I would even go so far as to say teaching the Christian religion to children in many cases is a form of psychological abuse. To tell a beautiful little child that she is evil or that he is somehow responsible for a holy man suffering on a cross is to instill a guilt complex that can become horribly debilitating–psychologically disfiguring, even–later in life.

Christ’s followers were grown men, not little boys. In fact, the twelve disciples were required to completely abandon their families and follow the Christ at all costs. Not exactly a family affair.

I was not raised in a church, but I grew up with a mother who was a “recovering Catholic” yet still believed heart and soul in God. As my mother attended A.A. meetings all the time, I was regularly surrounded by people who depended on a spiritual mindset in order to survive. These were all grownups who knew the meaning of suffering; religious thinking served an important role in their lives.

But children? They’re just not ready. They are perfect as-is. We are not required to shove the Christ mythos down their throats. We are only required to love them as Jesus loved them: unconditionally and with appreciation for their innocence and purity.

That is what I currently believe. How about you? Is religion child abuse?


6 thoughts on “Is Religion Child Abuse?

  1. I’m late to the party but I have to comment. Thank you, Will, for the thought provoking post. As an ACC (love that) raising a little girl that I hope will one day find the peace, hope, joy, and pure love that I have found in Jesus Christ, you have given me quite a bit to think about.

    My take on the topic for today is this: you say “We are only required to love them as Jesus loved them: unconditionally and with appreciation for their innocence and purity”. I could not agree with you more.
    If we do this they will grow up know everything they need to know about God.

    • “If we do this they will grow up know everything they need to know about God.” Amen!

      Charissa, I’m so glad we can now relate on this level, in addition to both being fellow alums. :)

  2. Friend, can I just say a whole big YES to all that?! I went through all that when I was growing up as a Catholic.

    I think there are certain aspects of faith that can and should be taught that are essential to raising socially conscious, respectful, well- rounded children, and there are others, as you say, that need to be left out at all costs because they are psychologically damaging and can lead people to eventually turn away from their faith altogether, including the good aspects. I was once talking to a Muslim lady who was saying she needed to find a new mosque school to send her 8 year old daughter because the teacher told her that she was going to burn in hell (for some technicality which i can’t even remember). My jaw actually dropped. You don’t tell an 8 year old that she is going to burn in hell. Talk about giving kids a complex!

    Children are fragile. We need to be very careful about what we teach them. One of the aspects that I love about Islam is that there is no such thing as original sin. So when a child is born, their slate is completely clean. Muslims also believe that you’re not held accountable for your sins until you reach the age of understanding (around puberty.) I remember freaking out in Catholic school because I was told I was not only responsible for paying for Adam and Eve’s (peace be upon them) sins, but I was going to have to pay for all of the sins I was accruing now and in the future. Pretty scary when also being told about the Day of Judgement. Then I was told Jesus (peace be upon him) died to save us from our sins. As a little kid that confused the living heck out of me! …And also led me to choose a different faith later on in life.

    This: “We are only required to love them as Jesus loved them: unconditionally and with appreciation for their innocence and purity.” That’s all we need to do. I hope more people will wake up to that and try to practice it.

    Have a great day!

    • Great thoughts from you as always. Really glad we ran across each other. I read your comment here a few hours ago. In the interim, I met with a friend of mine who follows the Christ as he understands him. We studied the bible, talked about spiritual things, exchanged opinions which diverged at certain points, but we embraced our cognitive differences and celebrated the underlying unity that brings peace to us all. Doctrine is of secondary concern to us. Anyway, I found occasion to mention something you had said about Islam. I told him about the tradition you mentioned about children not being held accountable for their sins until adolescence in Islam. He and I both agreed that that Islamic tradition made a lot of sense! And he’s a Catholic! So. Kumbaya, you know? :)

  3. Good and honest post!

    I must confess, I have no direct personal experience about this, as I am an atheist in the third generation. However, I agree whith you mostly, as from my viewpoint and having known people whose mind was taken over by this religious mind set of self-loathing, emotional (almost infantile) dependence on supernatural help and a moralistic view of outsiders to their particular faith. And I am not talking about just Christians. Many religions share the very same problems.

    The AA is doing important work. Yet, I have an atheist friend who recovered from serious case of alcoholism, by becoming aware of the fact, that he alone (nobody else, including any gods) was the one who could change his life for better. Nowadays he is a moderate user of alcohol. The underlying question is, could his experience be repeated in a community such as AA? I have no idea, but it seems to me, that it could. And it woule be better than to send them into a limbo of dependance on gods and social support from peers. There is this phenomenon of peer support creating an athmosphere of normality whith the addiction and constant struggle.

    • Good and original thoughts from you as always! Two thoughts springing to mind in response to your comment:

      1. I know what you mean about “infantile dependence” on gods and such. It’s kind of pathetic and endearing, in a way. And in a way, I myself have compared myself to an infant, of late. I indeed feel like a newborn baby: fresh, new, helpless, dependent. In some ways I’m a fully grown man, but in a spiritual sense I am embracing the infantile in myself. I find there’s a certain…humility?…in looking at that aspect of myself. I am indeed humbled by my recent “spiritual awakening”, as one calls it. So yeah, religious thought is indeed infantile in a big way, and I’m totally comfy with that. Right on.

      2. A.A., yeah, it’s a mixed thing. There are cult-like aspects to it, and “limbo”-like aspects to it as well. That’s a good word for it: limbo. It works for some, and not for others.

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