February 23, 2010

Imposing Religion on Children is Abusive

Denver Art Museum - Wheel: Overlays
Denver Art Museum - Wheel: Overlays (Photo credit: Brian Papantonio)
I love hearing from my readers, and I feel "blessed" to have the opportunity to correspond with some truly great people through this blog. Every now and then, I hear a tale of such pain and torment that it really affects me. In catching up with some recent email, I just found such a case. I'm keeping the details on this one vague on purpose because I do not yet have permission from the author to share this with you.

Here's the situation: we have a 17 year-old being forced to attend church and told that he belongs to a particular religion by his parents. He's wondering whether this is legal (I suspect that it is) and has raised questions about what any of us can do to prevent other children from having to endure similar experiences in the future.

Since that is all I feel at liberty to disclose about him, I will tell you that I went through something similar at a younger age, and I'll use my experience to say what I want to say. I'm just going to come out and say it - this is abusive. I realize that our society and our legal system does not currently recognize it as such, but this is abusive! A child should have the right to be secure in his or her own mind, and this sort of imposed religion violates that right.

I endured a years of mandatory church attendance. When I tried to explain my doubts to my parents, literally begging not to have to accompany them to church, I was dragged there anyway, threatened with all sorts of punishments if I refused. It wasn't just that it was boring; it felt horribly wrong. I didn't believe this stuff, and I didn't want to pretend otherwise. I'd been taught that it was important to be true to myself and that freedom was an important value on which my country was founded. There was nothing free about this, and I'm not exaggerating when I say that sitting through church week after week against my will after I had come to realize that I no longer believed in any of it made me feel dead inside. It made me question who I was, and it would take me years to find an answer.

I know my parents meant well. We've finally been able to talk about it - sort of - many years later. But, and it really pains me to admit this to myself, our relationship has never quite recovered. I've tried to forgive them, and I have made some progress in that direction. Still, I'm not all the way there. Man, it really hurts to admit that.

What we can do, if anything, to protect children from this sort of torment? I really don't know. I don't imagine the religious indoctrination of children by their parents will ever be prohibited. We seem content to grant parents the right to do this and many other damaging things to their children without a second thought. I'm a bit too emotional at the moment to think about this clearly right now, so I'm going to have to come back to this question in a later post.
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