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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 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