Guest Post: Damon Fowler – Adventures with Indoctrination

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Indoctrination
I stood in front of a large man in a suit; someone I’d known my whole life (as far as I could remember). With my mom standing next to me, he asked the question, “Would you like to accept Jesus as your lord and savior?” Not wanting to disappoint either, I said “yes”. I was about 4 years old. I didn’t understand what I was agreeing to and it certainly wasn’t an option to say “no”. This is one of my earliest memories as a child growing up in the small town of Bastrop, Louisiana, and the initiation of my indoctrination into the Christian faith.

When you’re indoctrinated, you’re taught to act and think a certain way. This usually occurs during the developmental years of a child’s life, attacking their brain when it’s like a sponge. It’s absorbing the world around it, learning how it works and how to be a part of it. Children look to authority figures (usually parents) for these examples, and when the parent is telling them that there is a force that controls the universe, that loves you, but will burn you in hellfire for eternity if you’re bad, the child believes. All of these older people telling me the same thing can’t be wrong, right?

Indoctrination has been compared to brainwashing many times, which I see as a faulty comparison. Brainwashing is the act of breaking down someone’s mind and removing preexisting beliefs so that they can become molded to anything you want. Indoctrination has no need to break down the mind. The mind is there and ready to be molded. All you need is a set of hands.

My family attended an Assembly of God church for my entire conscious life. All five brothers and sisters were forced to go twice every Sunday and once on Wednesday night. I never thought anything of it, because that was something that I grew with. My world was small, as a lot of people’s are as children. I knew nothing beyond Bastrop.

The few churches I attended could definitely be considered cults. There is no disputing that. All of the people within the church body were weak-minded, and you had a single authoritarian figure telling everyone what they should and shouldn’t like, what is sin, what they should allow their children to do. If the pastor called Harry Potter evil, Harry Potter is out of your house. It was obvious when observing my parents that they accepted anything their pastor had to say with no questions, as they had 3-4 different pastors, all with slight variations in opinions which mirrored onto my parents.

Growing up, I never knew of any other ways of thinking. I only knew about Christianity until I was nearly a teen. Then learned about all of the “wrong” religions, but I knew nothing more than their names and that they were wrong. Any outside beliefs were scorned or not even brought up. I didn’t even know what to call a person who didn’t believe in a god until I was around 15 years old and came across something on the internet.

All of my friends, family, teachers, authority figures were at least a theist. This forced me to think that Christianity was right. The majority of Bastrop was quite judgmental, anti-gay, and hypocritical. They did not exemplify what they expected of others. When indoctrinated, you not only inherit the belief itself, but since everyone does certain things, you consider those things to be norm. Yes, I used to be like them. I defended the Bible with weak evidence without even reading it, I was a homophobe, I was hypocritical, and I judged people. It was only in my early to mid teens that I actually considered that maybe it wasn’t the right way to do things. It took years to break those habits, and I feel I still have years of work ahead to erase many other things that were hardwired into my brain when I was younger.

My parents openly discouraged me thinking for myself. Later in life, they told me not to “get too smart for God”. My step father actually made the analogy of examining the Bible too much with examining money too much. He pulled out some change from his pocket and picked up a quarter. He began to look at it and said “You can’t examine God too much or you won’t think he’s real. Just like this money: if you stare at it long enough, you doubt that it’s real as well.” I refrained from making a comment on counterfeit money and just nodded and walked away.

After I actually broke free from the indoctrination (or, actually, stopped trying to believe in a deity out of desperation and a need to fit in) , there was a period where my parents attempted to brainwash me. They would sometimes remove all access to the internet so no outside forces would interfere, they would spark debates and try to prove me wrong, they would try to make me feel guilty for thinking for myself, they handed me some sort of propaganda book titled “Why God is Real” or something along those lines.

As a last resort, I was sent to something called The Ramp. It’s a sort of revival service stationed in the middle of Alabama. I was forced to go with a bus full of theists to this church for about three days, with church service ongoing throughout the day and only a few couple-hour breaks between them. The speaker there, Damon Thompson, spoke negatively about gays and atheists constantly, using the word “queer” multiple times. It was nothing more than a brainwashing service, kind of like a Jesus Camp for teens. He made everyone think they were unworthy of being alive, then made them ask for forgiveness for it.

Over these few days, I was constantly asked if I believed in God yet. More than anything, I was annoyed beyond belief and only tolerated it without acting out because I considered a couple of them my friends at the time. I stood in the back of the church area, watching everything from behind for most of the trip. I felt like the only person alive and aware in the entire place, and everyone else was delusional. This trip killed anything religious in me if there was anything left at this point. The brainwashing had failed, and I was free.

This, of course, is just my personal experience with indoctrination. I don’t claim to have it worse than anyone else, but I do feel like much of my earlier life was negatively affected by it, as is the same with millions. It’s one of the worst things about religion, in my opinion. It is an extremely harmful practice and much of my hometown is still under its influence. It caused people to hate me and anyone not like them, it hindered questioning, and it bred bigoted, ignorant, and judgmental people who will one day pass that on to their children. I can only hope they one day awaken and choose to stop this tradition.

Thanks for reading.
– Damon

Damon Fowler is a recent graduate of Bastrop High School. He opposed a school endorsed prayer at his public school’s graduation and hopes to become more involved in the secular movement. He also enjoys long walks at night and is only typing this bio because Dave does it and he wants to seem legit. This is his first blog post and if you’re still reading it, that’s a good sign. He is also treasuring this moment he gets to refer to himself in the third person. :D

Helpful resources:

Godisimaginary.com
Iron Chariots Wiki
Skeptics’ Annotated Bible / Skeptics’ Annotated Qur’an
AtheismResource.com
TalkOrigins.org

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57 thoughts on “Guest Post: Damon Fowler – Adventures with Indoctrination

  1. Wow, I feel so much sympathy for you. My parents are nominally religious or at least moderately so to the point that they are more than accepting, far as I can tell, of my nonbelief, except when I can admit I become obnoxious about it, as I am prone to doing in part. They wanted me to get an education and had no problem with me studying various religions or philosophies in college, an Episcopal college by tradition, though there was no pressure to attend church at all, excluding the 2-3 required events for graduation purposes, etc. And I live in Tennessee, raised partly in a town that smacks of Bible Belt ignorance and is chock full of churches, though I think being raised in what is a veritable oasis in the desert of typical Tennessee bible thumping and evangelism might have contributed a great deal to my becoming a skeptic and then an outright atheist. Ironic that I never went to private school and became atheist and my brother, who went to private school for his later years, is now a Christian (reaffirmation and all)

  2. Thinking for yourself is priceless. Too bad more don’t do so.

    It is fear that drives people to treat their children this way. A sad state of affairs really, that people fail to enjoy their time here because of abject fear of what might come after.

  3. Hey, Damon, enjoyed reading your thoughts/experiences. I’ve been following the saga from afar and really admire your courage and tenacity. Your discussion of indoctrination seems right on, and I recognized all too well that knee-jerk reaction to criticism you received from so many people. You’d think they’d eventually realize that kind of defensiveness doesn’t reflect well on them, wouldn’t you? But no. It’s telling. And wow, “The Ramp” sounds ridiculous and horrible. As a gay person, I can’t help but see a parallel to “straight camps”- programs like the camp you went to are just as manipulative, and, for people who don’t believe in God, just as pointless. The same language of “choice” gets thrown around in both contexts… “we all have a choice: to accept Jesus or deny him”, etc. Well, I didn’t choose my sexuality, and following an argument to its logical conclusion isn’t some conscious act of will any more than that.

    • Damon Thompson (of The Ramp) openly criticized anything to do with homosexuality, saying it’s disgusting and he doesn’t want to see it on his TV and all that. His anti-gay bullying can be found on YouTube.

      • Ummmm . . . . He specifically states in the blog that he WAS anti-gay. He’s not disputing that. He is also saying that he WAS anti-gay because of his religious upbringing and no longer feels this way. Did you actually read the blog?

  4. Damon, having been raised catholic in a small louisiana town, i can sympathize. I “woke up” at the age of about 12 or 13 but only recently came out as an “out loud athiest”. At the age of 55, i am STILL dealing with the superstitions and judgmental issues i was raised with. Your piece is powerful and the rawness and newness of your writing gives veracity to your words. I wish you luck and even MORE success in your coming years, and may they be MANY (your years) … we need more young people with your “intestinal fortitude”!
    Geralyn Mott

    • Thank you very much! It can be hard as an atheist in Louisiana, as most people are religious and few are liberal. Being away from that place has really helped me get a lot of those superstitions and judgmental issues straightened out. Thanks for reading and good luck! :)

  5. Honest, detailed, and heart-felt. Love it mate. :)

    You’ve had a difficult time leading up to now, and i’m sure more struggles ahead, but deciding to think for yourself and not let others do it for you sure beats being an indoctrinated robot any time mate. Please continue as you are, I’ve been enjoying following your journey, even tho I’ve only been aware of it a few months now. Self-awareness is a great thing. You’ve woken up, and you know it. Maybe someone else might wake up from that hell-hole also. Cheers. :)

  6. You sir, are my idol. I live in New Zealand, where religion isn’t nearly as strong as what it seems to be in the US, but it is still present. In primary school, everyone was made to learn bible stories. When I got to highschool, I was made to attend chapel services before school in the morning, occasional Sunday church services, and RE classes. During this time, I called myself a Christian and really didn’t form my own opinion. In my final years of highschool, I began to learn about religion in history, from back in Ancient Rome times to Tudor-Stuart England. It was during this time that I finally realised that religion was actually a dangerous weapon, that in the wrong hands could have terrible consequences. Since then I have called myself an atheist, and really began to think for myself. Although I was never treated like you were, I still get strange and disapproving looks from those who still call themselves Christian. The world is a strange and horrifying place…I only wish people could be more like you and not just follow the crowd like sheep. You have given me hope for humanity :)

  7. What a horrible way to be brought up to believe in G-d. You are right about your upbringing being akin to being brought up in a cult. My belief in G-d is that of the perfect parent, and the perfect parent does not need to be reassured that he exists. Furthermore, the perfect parent revels in his children’s ability to think and reason for themselves. At least I revel in my kids’ ability to think and reason for themselves, and I am far from the perfect parent.

    sjl

      • In Judaism, it’s considered blasphemous to write out the word “God.” The thinking here is that you never know what will happen to that piece of paper, and you don’t want it to end up in a trash heap. Similarly, if you accidentally drop a book with the word “God” written out in it, you’re supposed to apologize to God and kiss the book. This superstition has carried over into the digital world, as in you’re not supposed to TYPE the word God, because you never know if that comment will be deleted…? LOL.

        I’ll leave it for now ;)

        – Dave

        Here’s more info about why Jews do this. The short answer is, superstition:

        http://www.jewfaq.org/name.htm#Writing

    • That’s certainly a very humane conception of the God that you believe in, and I’m proud of you for that, but surely you don’t believe in the God of the Bible, because he is nothing like the God you seem to believe in. So I’m confused as to what religion you belong to.

  8. You go. Damon! I helped contribute to your freedom fund and hope you continue your education. I am an old lady, and look to fresh faces like yours to raise the profile of atheism. I actually know manyatheists who have not yet had the guts to come out publicly because they didn’t want to disappoint their families and friends. Ths has got to stop./ We are her and we can be powerful.

    • Thank you very much! It means a lot to have your support. I know what you mean… few in my home town won’t even come out as atheist because of what everyone will do. As recently as yesterday, someone told me that they hate me simply because I’m atheist. I try not to let it bother me. I just hope more people come out and show everyone that we’re all around them.

  9. Great stuff, Damon! I’ve been following your story through atheist blogs. I’m glad to see you writing about your experiences!

    I live in a small city in the deep south myself. It’s a bit less benighted, probably because there is a university here. But I still feel the pressure to conform because socializing here revolves around church and people have no qualms about asking you what church you go to. I’m a lawyer and I can tell you that even local bar association meetings are opened with a prayer!

    It must have taken tremendous courage for you to stand up for your rights in Bastrop. It was a great inspiration to us bible belt atheists. Keep up the great work!

  10. Hey Damon, thank you for taking time to share these things that reflect the formative stages of your life. If ALL that you have recounted here is anywhere near honest and accurate (i.e. not intentionally exaggerated/inflated to defend your current perspective to those who did not personally witness your circumstances), then I am truly sorry that these were your memories and experiences with the Church. It makes me truly sad when I hear of true accounts of communities that call themselves “Christian” behaving in this way.

    All this aside, the subject of “indoctrination” intrigues me quite a bit. I wonder if you would take some time to read a story about a man who claims to have endured the very same process of “indoctrination” as you have, but from the complete opposite position:

    http://www.doesgodexist.org/AboutClayton/PastLife.html

    The author relates his story with the same heart-felt passion and clarity as you have yours. Particularly interesting to me is that it seems that the things that he was “indoctrinated” in mirror quite well the type of perspective and behavior that you now attribute to “free-thinking”. In other words, in an environment that supposedly stifled his freedom of thought and forced him to believe in a world without God, his perspective on life was virtually the same as the one you now expound. And yet you have somehow arrived at this understanding entirely as the result of “free thought” and non-biased exploration. You might call this breaking free from indoctrination. But I would like to suggest another idea.

    You might be familiar with the term “worldview”. Worldview, in the sense that I am using it here, is the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual, group or culture interprets the world and interacts with it. Quite simply, the so called “indoctrination” you went through attempted to develop a framework or lens through which you could interpret the world around you. The danger with worldviews is that the longer one holds on to their view, the greater the damage that is done if something comes along that causes their worldview to come crashing down. Several things usually result from this. The person feels profoundly wounded by all things perceived as being responsible for their now “debunked” worldview. The person will probably search frantically for another foundation upon which to begin developing a fresh, more trustworthy worldview. It is wired into the very core of who we are. Somehow, we have a need to explain our world, partly for teaching others, but more importantly for the sake of our own sanity. We feel that we must have all the answers to the important questions of life to be able to function comfortably in society. Consequently, the search will begin almost immediately. The search for this new foundation will almost always begin as far away from the original foundation (polar opposites) as possible. And this search WILL ALWAYS include a somewhat obsessive journey to find any “evidence” to further discredit those that still hold their now obsolete worldview.

    My question to you is: What if the worldview that you have walked away from was based on an incorrect view of God and Scripture? If what you recounted in this article is factually true, I have great reason to conclude that this is what has happened. Fundamentally, if this is the case, logic would dictate two general alternatives to the original view: 1)a different view of God and Scripture, or 2) a rejection of both God’s existence and the authority of Scripture. I assume you have taken the latter alternative. But what about the former? Like I said above, usually the searching person will try to get as far away from what wounded him/her as possible. Anyway, just some food for thought. I do pray that your mind is truly free.

    • “How I left Atheism”? Seriously? There’s nothing to leave. Atheism isn’t a belief system, it’s a lack of belief. But then, that title wouldn’t look as dramatic if it were to be honest. It’s also not about “rejecting god”. There is no evidence of the existence of such a being, that is why most people have no belief. The fat that you lot seem still unable to absorb this basic fact is somewhat annoying. People grow up and learn that there is no evidence for such a thing as Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, but we don’t need labels for these folk. They simply grew up and realised that the stories used to control them as children had no bearing on their adult lives. There is no “rejection” involved, it’s simply becoming aware that it’s something people made up, learning to treat it as such, and getting on with our lives. Not all of us need the threat of burning forever in hell to lead good lives. We do it because it’s the sane option.

      • Not to mention the article suggests that every atheist believes the same way as those that he brings up. All I can say is that conversion back to Christianity was more a matter of psychology and charisma from Church of Christ people in their zealous piety and such.

      • “People grow up and learn that there is no evidence for such a thing as Santa Claus, or the Easter Bunny, but we don’t need labels for these folk.”

        yeah we have a label for those folks … adult.
        ;-)

      • @ David Lally:

        My mentioning of the “Why I Left Atheism” article was simply for the purpose of sharing it with Damon. I thought that he might find it interesting because of how some of it relates to his circumstances. It was certainly not my intention to share it as a proof of anything, but all the same, I appreciate your thoughts on the matter. I’ll take the opportunity to address a couple of your comments.

        “Atheism isn’t a belief system, it’s a lack of belief.”

        I very much hope that you are not reciting this trite saying just because other atheists have taught you to say it to “religious” people for the sake of attempting to defend yourselves and your refined intellectuality. The statement is after all not factual, but betrays a faulty line of reasoning meant to direct the conversation down never-ending rabbit trails. It is categorically equivalent to a religious person saying that their view of the world isn’t based on a belief system, but on a lack of belief…a lack of belief in the idea that what we see with our eyes is all that there is. Similarly, it’s like a Christian saying that Christianity isn’t a belief system, it’s a lack of belief…a lack of belief in the idea that all things can be explained in purely naturalistic ways. In both cases, the “lack of belief” is the result of a perceived lack of evidence. In conclusion, if we did concede (for the sake of discussion) that your statement is factual, then it must also follow that the religious person’s (or Christian’s) lack of belief statement is also factual. I’m going to assume (unless otherwise informed) that an atheist would not allow a religious person to stand his/her ground on such a statement, therefore, I would not allow an atheist to stand his/her ground on such a statement. Don’t let someone else tell you that you don’t have beliefs when it comes to the mysteries of life. You need to honestly and exhaustively examine that for yourself.

        “There is no evidence of the existence of such a being, that is why MOST people have no belief.”

        The ignorance of this statement should be immediately evident to anyone who takes 5 minutes to look up statistics regarding religious belief in the world. Never in the entirety of recorded human history has there ever been a time when most people had no belief in a divine being. Take a look at even the most recent findings. They are strikingly at odds with this statement.

        By the way, people’s perception of evidence is incredibly important. I could spend several hours writing about it here, but that would not be appropriate. I’ll attempt to sum it all up by saying this: Much of what people share as evidence is nothing more than glorified hearsay. People are so utterly convinced about things which they personally have no capability whatsoever of observing themselves. People somehow convince themselves they are experts regarding the validity of something simply because they have read some articles. So we should constantly be asking ourselves this question: What things do we claim as 100% factual that we have not on our own proven as being demonstrably true in our own lives? (I am guilty of this all the time.) On a side note, due to the basic nature of Biblical Christianity, it is not the responsibility, nor the inherent desire, of Christians to prove to someone else that God exists. That would be an impossible task. Biblically, God himself is the one who takes on that role by personally revealing himself to each person in some way. What a pitiful person I would be if I had relied solely on the attempts of someone to prove God’s existence to me. It is very unfortunate that some attempt to prove God’s existence to others. That is no more possible than it is for someone to demonstrate that All things have a natural explanation. So please stop asking Christians to prove that God exists, for Christians should not be preoccupied with asking Atheists to prove metaphysical naturalism.

      • Not all atheists are metaphysical naturalists, though many may be. Just like many atheists might not believe in an afterlife and believe in evolutionary biology, but these are accidental. For you to even insinuate that because atheism might be a belief that it is also a belief system is ludicrous, though you may not have said that. Atheism is like theism in that it is a quality of a belief system, not the entire worldview.

        If nothing else, you’re called by Peter to have an answer for the hope that lies in you, but you’re right in that you’re not called to prove it. Not to mention if you could prove God, God is reduced to the scope of logical demonstration, which is an insult to the entity you believe in, I’d imagine

      • @Dylan

        “I very much hope that you are not reciting this trite saying just because other atheists have taught you to say it to “religious” people for the sake of attempting to defend yourselves and your refined intellectuality.”

        No, I said it because it’s a truth. There is nothing to “defend”. I certainly wasn’t “taught” to say anything of the kind. But thanks for displaying what kind of tactics you’ll be sinking too already. Not at all unexpected really. The statement IS factual, and is not meant to direct the conversation anywhere, despite your grandiose claims.

        Your attempts to twist and distort things already, much as you seem to be implying others try to, highlights your hypocrisy quite nicely.

        “it is not the responsibility, nor the inherent desire, of Christians to prove to someone else that God exists.”

        What a crock. You claim extraordinary things, and when people ask for evidence you resort to claiming you cannot for the most flimsiest of reasons. If this being ever interacted with our reality, there would be evidence left behind. This same being allegedly was quite happy to talk to bronze-age desert-dwellers, yet cannot show itself to modern-day people? The only “evidence” you have of your god, or indeed your Christ, is the Bible. And your lot often claim the bible is true because the Bible says so. Circular logic, special pleading (you’ve already resorted to that one), and other irrational hand-waving actions are all you have.

        It’s sad.

      • @ David Lally’s last reply:

        I’m perfectly willing to engage in meaningful and constructive conversations with those that hold very different views than me, and to be corrected in my understandings when it can be shown that I have made a mistake. But I refuse to spend any more time responding to an individual who fills his correspondence with verbal abuse and fails to provide any sources or rationale for the generalized statements that he makes. Perhaps you could have carefully reviewed all of my posts and listed for me, line-by-line, each of my statements that led you to believe that I was using “tactics”, “twisting” things, and implying that others were twisting things (which you did not). Then it would have been appropriate to articulate, in a reasoned way, why each of those statements exhibited their respective negative characteristics (which you did not). Ideally, if you had attempted to identify mistakes in my reasoning as I sought to critique your statements (which you did), those mistakes should have not only been listed clearly, but also accompanied by reasoned arguments as to why my reasoning was incorrect (which you did not). But instead, you merely claimed that I was attempting to “twist and distort”, employ subtle “tactics”, and accuse others of doing similar things. If you had actually done all of the above, we might actually be in a position to continue this conversation in a constructive way.

        Here’s an example of what I mean. You said, “Atheism isn’t a belief system; it’s a lack of belief.” You stated this matter of factly, as though the statement is true beyond all doubt. I responded by saying that “the statement is after all not factual, but betrays a faulty line of reasoning meant to direct the conversation down never-ending rabbit trails.” I stated it this way to let you know that I had reason to believe that the statement was not true. I then proceeded to present a reasoned argument for why I take this stance in regards to your statement. In your response to me (“No, I said it because it’s the truth.”), you completely disregarded the argument I put forth and merely restated that your original statement is a truth. Not only did you fail to address my argument for my position to reveal its potential mistakes, you failed to accompany your statement with a reasoned argument. All I have is you saying, “it’s a truth”.

        Finally, your last paragraph exemplifies the unfortunate attitude and behavior of something like stereotyping. Without knowing me even the slightest, you have already decided in your mind that I am lumped in with a group of so-called Christians, who you may or may not have met personally. This group has supposedly claimed “extraordinary things” that they cannot provide evidence for. They apparently claim that the “bible is true because the Bible says so”. I wonder which statements of mine echo any of these stereotypes. I can’t find any. I am truly one person talking to another person. I certainly did not self-identify as a Christian or claim any specific personal stance on the Bible, and so I really can’t understand why I should be talked to as a spokesperson for this “group” of yours. You mentioned that I’ve resorted to “special pleading”. It’s unfortunate that you didn’t list any specific example of my supposed use of this tactic.

        As you say…”it’s sad”.

      • Oh look, we have one playing the victim card already. :)

        As for “disregarding the argument you put forth”, of course I did, it’s yet another example of trying to make the accepted meaning of a word to mean something else, and you pleading yet again that anyone who disagrees with you is trying to “direct the conversation down never-ending rabbit trails.” Seriously, you seem to think that if you use a great many words that people will be somehow forced to accept they are wrong. Your arguments are flawed, and you do indeed resort to special pleading (“Christians don’t need to show any evidence for god” my arse, you little weasel).

        You start from a flawed premise (god is real, anyone who does not accept this simply does not “understand”), offer zero evidence for your belief, try to claim words have different meanings than they do, and when your weasel ways are pointed out, you play the victim card. Standard practice for people annoyed that others don’t accept their delusions as real.

        The onus is on you to prove your claims, not on me/us to prove you wrong. You seem to keep failing to understand this. There’s about as much evidence for the existence of Zeus, Odin, Thor, Krishna, or any number of other supposed “deities” as there is for your imaginary friend in the sky. You started here suggesting Damon might be making shit up, moved onto playing the “No True Christian” card, suggest the only reason he walked away from Christianity was because the “worldview” of the sect he was part of was not the “right one”, and basically resorted to special pleading in no time flat (but, funnily enough, you don’t seem to see this, but then the religious never do, because their default position is to assume they are right). So many cards played in such a short amount of time, and when people point this out, you claim to be the victim. The fact you can’t prove a single claim should come as a shock to no one with a even a modicum of common sense. But then, when confronted with the fact your “worldview” is built on a house of cards, rather than provide evidence, you resort to getting all offended. So sad, yet so predictable.

      • Perhaps I did not make the purpose of my last reply clear enough for you to understand. In case this is so, let me clearly restate it here:

        It’s apparent to me that our conversation has thoroughly past the point of being constructive. This is what I stated (in slightly different words) at the beginning of my previous response to you. It was my first, but apparently failed, attempt to restore our correspondence to that of being constructive. This is my second attempt.

        It should be realized that conversations routinely get off track and begin to lose constructiveness. In any conversation, this could be the result of any one or a combination of the following: one or both persons consistently misquote the other; one or both persons virtually abandon attempts to present accurate and reasoned arguments for what he/she states; one or both persons resort to name-calling; one or both persons wrongfully stereotype the other. This is not an exhaustive list, but it is seems to me to be some common contributors to failed interpersonal communication. It is obvious that once these things occur in a conversation, that conversation is well on its way downhill, and fast. Tempers begin to get short, egos inflate, and eventually it comes down to who is better at belittling the other.

        In this situation, when the constructiveness of the conversation is believed to be compromised, it can be helpful for a third party to step in and evaluate the conversation from the outside looking in. Are there any takers? Is there anyone willing to look over what has been said and determine what if any of the above mentioned negative elements are present and who might be at fault? I feel that I must and should refrain from responding any further until a “mediator” steps forward to suggest a venue, other than here, for the three parties to continue constructively. I realize that this may be too difficult a task, and am somewhat content to let the whole conversation, such as it is, end here if necessary.

    • “What if the worldview that you have walked away from was based on an incorrect view of God and Scripture?”

      Freethought means I can see all religions and all sects of religions without bias. I see faults, contradictions, any views without bias. To me, a sect of religion, or just one specific way to interpret the Bible out of hundreds that have been formed, and goes on a person’s or a group of people’s preference. A lot of people may become uncomfortable with verses of the Bible or dislike certain teachings in the church and branch off into a new sect.

      I didn’t reject the “Assembly of God” part of Christianity because of a bad experience or because I was “wounded” by it. I rejected it because I found the belief as a whole to be absurd. I have no reason to believe any of it, and in the years I’d been asking, no one was able to provide me with that. It just holds no water for me.

      • @ Dylan and David.

        I can’t say I’m completely biased, since I was technically responding in part to your sweeping generalizations of atheists and freethinkers, Dylan, but if nothing else, you are contributing negative elements in saying all atheists are intellectual and academic and sitting in their proverbial ivory towers, but I can assure you that’s not the case. This alone could be said to be the biggest problem in that you already come in here seemingly trying to convert Damon back to Christianity in some sense by use of an anecdotal and therefore virtually ineffective and insufficient as any kind of evidence he’d actually take. Not to mention your convert went to Church of Christ, somewhat notable among Protestants as being particularly inclusive and holier than thou in their behavior, at least from what I’ve heard from my parents.

        David might have come on a bit strong, heck I can admit I’ve been a bit of a negative stereotype of atheism, but I don’t think you can completely blame us when you yourself are bringing in a preconception of atheism from Mr. John Clayton. Not all atheists are so excessive, nor are their critiques necessarily completely unjustified. To try to defend creationism as science is like defending a bird as a reptile. Now birds seem to have some evidential shared characteristics with reptiles from a common ancestor, for instance.

        But just because creationism results from many so called scientific minds rooted in the system doesn’t mean creationism is a science, nor is intelligent design for another iteration of this idea that positing something unfalsifiable and unverifiable cannot be posited as strict science, but at best a form of philosophical theology where you use inductive reasoning in a different format not explicitly related to the physical world.

        So in conclusion, there may be some general bad habits from general stereotypes you’re presenting to David and others, Dylan, you are, it seems, at the epicenter of the issue because you try to engage on a philosophical level, but then throw an anecdote in there and pull logical fallacies, one of which David astutely pointed out, the No True Scotsman. Your arguments seems to be, in that instance, if I’m not mistaken, that Damon experienced false Christians and thus, if he just met true Christians like you have met, I assume, he would see the error of his ways and go back. But even if he met Disciples of Christ, much more basic in their affirmation of Jesus as Savior without extraneous creeds and doctrines, it wouldn’t mean I’m actually convinced of the truth of what they believe.

        I can respect anyone who believes things I believe to be nonsense, superstition and otherwise unjustified or unnecessary, but I don’t give them free range to patronize me or others as if they hold a monopoly on truth. I will not tolerate that. And before you start spouting that I’m supposedly tolerant, yet intolerant, I’ll qualify that I am in no way a violent person by nature, so I would never advocate violence against you or any believers, unless it absolutely required a use of force, since I consider myself a fairly strong pacificist. So since I’ve made that clear, I leave you with my honest, yet imperfect, assessment

      • @ Jared

        Thanks for chiming in Jared. I stand corrected on one part of your evaluation.

        – “you are contributing negative elements in saying all atheists are intellectual and academic and sitting in their proverbial ivory towers…”

        Okay, Jared, I’ll concede for the moment that my statement about atheists was inappropriate based on how it was interpreted by you (except the part about sitting on proverbial ivory towers; I’m not sure how you discerned that from my statement). But I must also be perfectly honest: I must make determinations based on what I personally observe. When I observe a self-identified atheist speaking or writing to a religious person or to religious people and referring to them as “delusional”, I can’t help but think that the atheist believes that his/her intellect is somehow enlightened or “refined” more so than the religious person’s intellect. And when I personally observe this over and over again (indeed in virtually every instance), I am inclined to think that all self-identifying atheists tend toward this mindset when referring to religious people. But alas, you seem to be the very first exception, in that you have managed not to mention the word “delusional” or any similar words. Furthermore, you’ve “assured” me that not all atheists think that their intellect is more refined than a religious person’s intellect. For your sake, I will try to never say anything remotely like this again.

        Some points I’m a little at odds with:

        – “…you already come in here seemingly trying to convert Damon back to Christianity in some sense…”

        As I mentioned to David in my first response to him, my purpose in attaching the “Clayton Article” was simply to “share it with Damon. I thought that he might find it interesting because of how some of it relates to his circumstances. It was certainly not my intention to share it as a proof of anything…” The only element of Clayton’s article that I mentioned anything about was that he also claimed to have been “indoctrinated”. I mentioned this because Damon had associated “indoctrination” with religion (one could argue that he was implying that “indoctrination” happens only in religious contexts), and I was wondering what he would say to the idea of “atheistic indoctrination”. I’m sorry that it “seemed” to you that I might be trying to “convert Damon back to Christianity”; I certainly did not get the impression from Damon’s response to me that he had felt in any way that I was attempting to convert him. He merely attempted to answer one of my questions to him.

        – “…but then throw an anecdote in there…”

        Which of my statements are you considering to be an “anecdote”?

        – “…and pull logical fallacies, one of which David astutely pointed out, the No True Scotsman.”

        None of the statements/questions that I made to Damon qualify as the “No True Scotsman” fallacy. Read the last paragraph in my comment to Damon a couple more times. I assume this paragraph is where you are thinking that I used the logical fallacy. But please read it again. My question to Damon was, “what if the worldview that you have walked away from was based on an incorrect view of God and Scripture?” The implication of this question is that he may have walked away from a worldview that held an incorrect view of God and Scripture. It is simply the responsibility of each and every Christian to ask themselves, “is my view of God and Scripture accurate?”. If I had asked, “what if the worldview that you have walked away from was based on a group of people that called themselves Christians but actually were not “real Christians”, that would have definitely been the use of “the No True Scotsman Fallacy”. My question was not phrased like this at all, and consequently, my argument was not that “Damon experienced false Christians”.

        I hope this has clarified things a little more.

      • ‘Here’s an example of what I mean. You said, “Atheism isn’t a belief system; it’s a lack of belief.” You stated this matter of factly, as though the statement is true beyond all doubt.’

        It isn’t a belief system anymore than, to borrow a phrase, not collecting stamps is a hobby, That is a fact. Atheism is not a religion, it has no beliefs. At elast get your arguments beginning correct.

      • @Dylan. The sitting on ivory towers is an implied association with the idea that atheists are intellectuals, since intellectuals apparently in common understanding like to sit up in ivory towers.

        I would use the word delusional, don’t misunderstand me, but you seem to misunderstand what it means. I am in no way saying that if you are delusional, you are stupid or severely lacking in intellect, but merely that you are persisting in a mistaken belief within a particular sphere of consideration, or within a specified worldview. It doesn’t mean that you’re ultimately deluded, but only deluded in particular areas. We’d both agree on certain things, I imagine, but I’d contend that you are fabricating something based on your personal experience to apply to everyone else as if it must be the truth, when that is not the case.

        You were using Clayton as a witness in a similar fashion that you might use yourself as a witness. And I don’t deny that there could be something like atheist indoctrination, but fundamentally it’s not atheistic in nature, but scientistic in that it regards science as the only way to get at truth, which I would contend is mistaken. Clayton is the anecdote I’m referring to, not any statement you yourself made.

        And you are indeed using the no true Scotsman fallacy because you already assume that the Christianity Damon describes is not true/biblical and thus that any Christians are implicitly not true Christians. You don’t have to say it outright when you’re pretty clearly implying it by saying that their view of the bible and God is inaccurate. The fact that you’re trying to dance around that only suggests that you insist on using this line of argument because you have nothing else to go on, it appears.

        You couldn’t just start attacking his atheistic worldview, like so many people insist on doing? At least that would be a bit more philosophical and logical, but instead you have a presuppositional apologetic that Christianity is right and then try to skew anything that doesn’t agree strictly with yours as false doctrine or heresy and still insist Christianity is right and atheism is wrong. This is all bald assertions with no evidence to back them up, and that is the problem we have with your commentary.

        If this was merely a matter of you saying that you are sorry for his bad experience, then it’d be at least less condescending in some sense as opposed to you saying that there are good Christians out there and that they might convince you that Christianity is right, even if you didn’t explicitly say it.

    • Creationists are not known for their honesty, and Clayton is no exception. I would take his story about his background with more than a truckload of salt.

  11. Sofiira :

    Ummmm . . . . He specifically states in the blog that he WAS anti-gay. He’s not disputing that. He is also saying that he WAS anti-gay because of his religious upbringing and no longer feels this way. Did you actually read the blog?

    Sorry, but I think you misunderstood. I am the person who wrote the blog. Damon Thompson is a preacher (we both share the same first name). He spoke at “The Ramp” assembly that I was forced to go to. Sorry for the confusion.

  12. Sofiira :
    Ummmm . . . . He specifically states in the blog that he WAS anti-gay. He’s not disputing that. He is also saying that he WAS anti-gay because of his religious upbringing and no longer feels this way. Did you actually read the blog?

    Damon Fowler and Damon Thompson are two different people. Did YOU actually read the post?

    • Hey, anyone could have made that mistake. Here’s some person who comments on the blog of someone named Damon, saying that someone named Damon was homophobic. If you don’t notice the difference of last names, it would be perfectly logical to assume he’s referring to the same Damon. Anyone could have skipped over or mixed up the last names, and assumed they were referring to the same Damon. Some people may not even have noticed the last names at all, which would be an encoding failure, like when someone speaks to you but you’re not listening, so you can’t remember what they said later because it never even got as far as your sensory memory. In fact, that might be what the original poster did — they saw the first name and an association with The Ramp, and leapt to a conclusion (why else would they post what they said in such a context?). It’s like how if you write something on two lines, and you use the word “the” twice, once at the end of the first line and once at the beginning of the second line, most people won’t notice right away. It has nothing to do with whether you actually read it or not.

  13. Now comes the real test, in my eyes: Will Dylan admit that he was wrong, that he WAS clearly espousing the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy, and that he DID supply nothing but anecdotal evidence? He’s been caught out, the errors pointed out concisely and specifically here for all to see. Will he be an adult and admit to his obvious errors, or will he act like nearly every other hypocritical so-called Christian that I’ve had the dubious pleasure to observe online?

    My guess? Rather than admit his mistake and try to reason like an adult, he’ll decide that we atheists are just too ‘angry’ to waste his time on, and rather than providing any sort of substantial rebuttal to the holes that have been poked in his claims, he’ll flounce out in a huff. I know which one I’ve seen happen most often, but I’m always willing to be surprised if someone wants to try something different.

    Of course, Dylan had best be -very- careful if he wants to keep talking. He might learn something if he does, and it’s an irrefutable FACT that being -educated- is one of the best and quickest ways to stop believing in fairy tales. Statistically, the more intelligent one is, the more educated one becomes, the more likely one is to have grown out of belief in primitive superstition and fable. That fact alone should make a real difference, but people are good at deluding themselves when they don’t want to face unpleasant facts or inferences.

    Dylan says, “It is simply the responsibility of each and every Christian to ask themselves, “is my view of God and Scripture accurate?””, but somehow he never seems to think about the fact that the people who take that responsibility most seriously, who DO educate themselves about the bible, their church, and the respective histories of both, are the most likely to drop religion and god altogether. It’s certainly a big part of how I was able to escape from the crushing strictures of my own religion; – I -studied- it, and that was what it took to show me all the obvious errors, tortured logic, and doublethink that went into keeping my belief in God alive.

    It worked for me, it worked for Damon, it could work for Dylan too!

    So what’ll it be, D?

    • @ermine8

      “[I]t’s an irrefutable FACT that being -educated- is one of the best and quickest ways to stop believing in fairy tales. Statistically, the more intelligent one is, the more educated one becomes, the more likely one is to have grown out of belief in primitive superstition and fable.”

      Your comment gave me a thought. They should do a study on which factor is a better indicator of religiosity — your upbringing, or your intelligence? I can’t know personally, because I was both raised in a secular environment and have a high IQ, so no one could possibly know which factor contributed more to my atheism. But they should take a group of people who were raised without religion but have average or below-average IQs, and a group of people who were raised with religion but have high IQs, and see which group has more atheists. That could be a very interesting and revealing study.

    • Please forgive me for taking so long to reply. My responsibilities as a husband and a college student afford me only so much time during the week to devote to conversations like this. Please know that I hold in high regard these opportunities to interact with all sorts of different people from various places and walks of life. Rather than clutter up this blog page even more with separate replies to various comments, I will include all of them in this single reply and indicate in each instance who I am directing my statements to.

      I will begin by addressing all those who have responded directly to me or merely in reference to my comments, in order to draw attention back to my original comment directed toward Damon Fowler. Nowhere in my post to Damon did I state anything that remotely implies an attempt to prove Damon wrong and me right. Read my statements again carefully. It’s apparent to me that simply because I posted a comment to him that did not worship the ground he stands on, some have, from the very beginning, decided in their minds that I am attacking him in some way to discredit his experience with religious indoctrination or to prove that Christianity is right and atheism is wrong. Consequently, it is very apparent to me that this presupposition by some has led them to twist the implications of my statements just enough so as to justify their presupposition. Once that happens, as far as they are concerned, any statements I may make to correct their misunderstandings of what I wrote seem, to them, as nothing more than desperate attempts to dance around the issues and argue for the sake of arguing. The likelihood increases that all that I write to explain where I am truly coming from will go largely unnoticed or be misconstrued. It’s obvious to me that it is necessary to return to the very beginning and try, hopefully, one last time to put an end to all false presuppositions in this conversation.

      One presupposition that seems to be prevalent, but has no basis from my original post, is that I am attacking either Damon, atheism, or both and trying to prove something false and another thing true. I’m not sure how my post could have been interpreted this way, but I’ll try my best to maybe identify one or two of my statements that might have been misunderstood. Here’s one: “If ALL that you have recounted here is anywhere near honest and accurate (i.e. not intentionally exaggerated/inflated to defend your current perspective to those who did not personally witness your circumstances), then I am truly sorry that these were your memories and experiences with the Church.” This is a simple “if, then” statement. It’s the same as if “billy” told me, “building ‘A’ is taller than building ‘B’”, and I were to respond, “if what you have told me is true, then building ‘B’ is not as tall as building ‘A’”. My response would not have been understood by “billy” as an attempt to imply that his statement to me involved false information. However, my response to “billy” would only have actual validity if his statement to me was accurate. Another element of misunderstanding is probably based on my mention of the “Why I left Atheism” article. I tried several times in my responses to people to show that my mentioning of the article was strictly because it claims to present an example of indoctrination. None of my statements referencing the article made any claims for or against atheism. I admit that I should have included a statement saying that I do not agree or hold the same view with many of the statements that the article makes, particularly in regards to atheism. I would assume that Damon has the ability to read such an article and reflect on what it is saying about indoctrination, while sifting through and filtering out any statements that are “way off base”. Apparently, other readers of this page don’t believe that Damon can do this on his own, so they have taken it upon themselves to do this for him by attacking the character of John Clayton, the man who wrote the article. Unfortunately, this has only served to confuse the conversation and make it impossible to go forward.

      Another presupposition that seems to be prevalent, but also has no basis from my original post, is that I am claiming that the Christians that “indoctrinated” Damon were not true Christians or that Damon’s Christianity was not true. I imagine that this is a result of a misunderstanding of this statement: “My question to you is: What if the worldview that you have walked away from was based on an incorrect view of God and Scripture?” I am not in any way implying that an incorrect view of God and Scripture is the result of being around “not-true Christians”. Some have concluded that I did imply this simply because they believe I said everything short of flat-out saying it. This is, in my opinion, a very weak argument, but I’ll take some time to address it anyway. In asking him this question, I had assumed that Damon, and indeed anyone else reading my comment, would understand that a person’s view of God and Scripture is ultimately his/her responsibility, not exclusively dependent on the words or actions of others. To attempt to illustrate this, suppose “billy” and 20 others attempt to share with me a description of a particular car, let’s say a red 2004 Dodge Intrepid. Each of the 21 share with me a descriptive statement regarding one characteristic of the car. Being that I am not sure if I have ever seen a 2004 Dodge Intrepid, it is quite possible that my mental picture of this vehicle would be significantly different than the actual vehicle. I may not even be able to identify this vehicle if it drove by me on the road. This is not necessarily because the 21 describers gave me false information, but I would submit that it’s because my mind formed its own ideas from what was said. I am sorry that my question was misunderstood, and I’m not going to try to prove that it should not have been misunderstood. But as I become more aware of why it was misunderstood, my attempts to clarify what I was saying should not be assumed to be anything other than clarifying what I was saying. I’m not arguing for the sake of arguing. I just sincerely believe that my question was misunderstood.

      Now, onto a couple of individual responses:
      Human Ape said: “Worldview is a religious word for superstitious morons like you Dylan.”

      Could you (Human Ape) please show us a legitimate source that clearly explains the term “worldview” (world view) as an inherently religious term? Because if not, I’d have to say that your ability to waste everybody’s time with such a worthless assertion is quite impressive to me.

      Bruce Gorton said: “Creationists are not known for their honesty, and Clayton is no exception. I would take his story about his background with more than a truckload of salt.”

      Thanks for your opinion Bruce…but seriously, what a completely useless statement. In the realm of debate concerning any issue, it could be said that there are none who are known for their honesty; rather, most are known for their unwavering commitment to the views they hold. To single out “creationists”, as you have, and make a bald assertion about them strongly indicates that you have nothing intelligent/constructive to add to this discussion but simply must have your voice heard. Do you even know this Clayton personally or have some verifiable evidence beyond mere speculation that shows him to be a man of dishonest character? If so, I will gladly admit my mistake in assuming his story to be his honest account.

      Jared Cowan said: “Clayton is the anecdote I’m referring to, not any statement you yourself made.”

      So merely out of curiosity, if Clayton’s article is considered an anecdote, would Damon’s post also be considered an anecdote?

  14. Damon, I was very impressed with your courage when you stood up for what was right at your graduation. I am now impressed with your articulate description of your upbringing. I am so glad that you were able to get away from that town.

  15. Dylan :
    As I mentioned to David in my first response to him, my purpose in attaching the “Clayton Article” was simply to “share it with Damon. I thought that he might find it interesting because of how some of it relates to his circumstances. It was certainly not my intention to share it as a proof of anything…” The only element of Clayton’s article that I mentioned anything about was that he also claimed to have been “indoctrinated”. I mentioned this because Damon had associated “indoctrination” with religion (one could argue that he was implying that “indoctrination” happens only in religious contexts), and I was wondering what he would say to the idea of “atheistic indoctrination”.

    The idea of indoctrinating someone into atheism is as absurd as the idea of indoctrinating someone into lack of belief in Santa Claus. I’m not saying it can’t be done, or hasn’t been done, I’m saying, why the f*** would anyone do that? Atheism is the default position, you don’t have to “indoctrinate” someone into it. All you have to do to raise an atheistic child (at least until they reach the age where they might become interested in following a religion) is to raise them in a secular household, in a secular community. Saying that this is somehow “indoctrination” into atheism, is like saying that raising a child without telling them about Santa Claus is somehow “indoctrination” into believing that Santa Claus doesn’t exist. I haven’t read the story you linked to, so maybe the man you mention really was “indoctrinated” into atheism (by some obviously very messed-up people); but if all that happened was that he was raised in a non-religious family, that’s not indoctrination.

  16. I googled “The Ramp”, and under FAQ’s, there is a section for how to become one of their “Chosen” that goes out and “imposes the Lord”. It specifically related to the process of being chosen.

    “Each member of Chosen has been hand selected by Karen Wheaton. The process always begins with a drawing that Ms. Karen feels toward an individual. As opportunity comes, Ms. Karen grows relationally with that person to see if the Lord has called her to pour into him or her as a spiritual mother. Once there is a clear answer from God, that person must determine whether he or she is willing to make the personal sacrifice it takes to be a part of the team.”

    This sure sounds like a euphemism of Ms. Karen having sex with many young people, and then if they please her, they become chosen. Grow, pour, sacrifice? Yeah, a euphemism… almost makes me want to join!

  17. Stopped in from Myer’s blog to read Damon’s statement. Feel quite strongly that although Damon feels there is a primary difference between his indoctrination and the phenomenon called brainwashing, he was brainwashed nevertheless. Every four year old (or any aged kid) has a perfectly valid and often brilliant view of the world. When you are exposed to the mind-numbing, emotion wrenching Assembly of Gawd services you are very definitely being brainwashed by the blood of the lamb, baby… the imagery is shocking and songs are way over the top in emotion…. Jesus bleeds and is tortured and dies for your four year old sins every week or more if you get to the services…. that is qualifies as brainwashing, Damon…. indoctrination occurs more and more as you are ‘churched’, confirmed in your brainwashing through memorizing and blackbook study and so on…. I am happy you escaped that torture Damon. Best wishes to you from B.C., Canada.

  18. Great story, Damon. As a former member of a United Pentecostal Church, I can sympathize with everything you have said and congratulate you on your emergence from the dark. :)

  19. The extinction of Religion is the next major step in the human evolutionary ladder. Every day we get a little closer. There was a time in recent history when a child who was indoctrinated so strongly would not have had any moment of awakening such as this at all. Now, children are awakening more often and at younger ages. The more this trend can continue, the faster our species can advance, and break away from the ridiculous ties that Religions have bound their followers with for centuries. My daughter was never indoctrinated, she has been raised as an analytical thinker. Her exposure to religion was accompanying my Grandparents to their church on alternating Sunday mornings. But, she was able to recognize the shortcomings of these teachings at less than 10 years of age, and without any prompting whatsoever from us. Many kids are seeing Religion for what it is, and rising above it and for me, that’s a huge source of hope for the future.

  20. Well done Damon, and well done on this article. You have an open, honest and wry writing style. Your analysis of the dfference between indoctrinaton and brain washing is also spot on. There is a blogger over at Freethought Blogs called Al Stefanelli….you should get in touch as he likes to run guest contributons and like you is a fellow escapee.

    Good luck in your journey my frend, hope the college stuff works out, and do keep writing.

  21. @Dylan Technically Damon’s story is an anecdote, but his argument doesn’t use his own anecdote as a justification, but as an example of Christianity in general, which I don’t claim he has never seemingly looked at varieties of Christianity. You seem to think Damon has just looked at the singular examples he was exposed to and claim that is Christianity as a whole, when I don’t think that’s the point.

    His anecdote, like Clayton’s, has justifiable critiques of both extremes, but fundamentally, Clayton’s seems to make a particular defense of a particular Christianity (Church of Christ), unlike Damon, who isn’t defending some particular brand of atheism, especially since atheism doesn’t have any real orthodoxy, unlike Christianity.

    Even if both of these were anecdotes, my fundamental distinction is that Damon didn’t follow atheism because of some charismatic figure as Clayton did, which almost seems to be another logical fallacy in itself; that because someone holds to a belief with such vigor, it can’t be false. Damon merely believes because of skepticism about the examples he brought forth, which is anecdotal incidentally as opposed to precisely anecdotal in why one converts.

  22. Pingback: A comment about “Christian” bullying « The Official MU SASHA Blog, Updated Daily

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