February 23, 2008

Christian Extremism on the Playground: 11-Year-Old Threatened With Hell

Combination playground equipment (plastic)
Combination playground equipment (plastic) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
Imagine that your 11-year-old daughter returned from school one day and told you that she had been tormented on the playground during recess. No, it wasn't the school bully. In fact, it was her two closest friends. You see, these friends informed your daughter that the rapture was coming and that she was headed for hell because that is where non-Christians go.

In June of 2007, I wrote a post called Prayer Circles on the Playground. It generated a fair bit of interest at the time, but it is not a topic I have pondered much since then. Since I am not a parent, this is one source of heartache among atheists from which I am relatively free.

A reader, Angela, e-mailed me the story of her daughter and her ordeals with Christian extremist children in their Oklahoma community. Sadly, this reminds me that Christian extremism is alive and well on the playgrounds of our nation's schools. Here is Angela's post:
My family recently moved to a rural community near Tulsa, OK. My 11 year-old daughter previously lived in Morocco for seven years with her loving, Muslim relatives. Everything was going very well at her new school until a couple of weeks ago. During recess, her two very sweet friends tried to save her soul. They informed her that the "rapture" was coming in five years and everyone who wasn't a Christian was going to hell.

My daughter came home from school in tears, telling me she was afraid her family in Morocco were all going to hell. She became violently ill and spent two days in bed without eating or drinking. I took her to a local Unitarian church in Tulsa last Sunday hoping to surround her with some open minded people. She loved it. In fact, there was a female speaker from the local Islam society explaining her religion to the congregation.

We will be attending every Sunday because she loved it so much. My problem is that I don't. The people were very sweet but the chairs in the worship room were uncomfortable and I can't stand the boring hymns everyone sang.

I believe in evolution and really feel uncomfortable in the belief of an all-knowing God. She wants to go to church so she can be "normal" like everyone else. We're stuck between church and social rejection.
I know that children can be cruel, but I would argue that religious extremism leads them to be cruel in particularly devastating ways, many of which are unfortunately regarded as being immune from criticism.

Parents have many responsibilities to their children. One such responsibility should be to steer children toward adaptive belief systems and away from those which are clearly destructive. To raise a child who believes in "souls" or "hell" does the child and the rest of us a great disservice. I do not envy Angela's situation one bit.

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