July 26, 2013

In This House, We Go to Church

[Church building and fence]
[Church building and fence] (Photo credit: SMU Central University Libraries)
I made it quite clear to my family beginning around the age of 13 that I was not interested in attending church. It would take a few more years before I would finally be allowed to stop going. In the meantime, I was told, "In this house, we go to church." It didn't seem to matter that I could tell my father did not enjoy it much either. The matter was not open for discussion. In fact, the subject of why I had to attend church was one of the few times I can remember receiving the classic "because I said so" response from both parents. Looking back on it, I realize that they did not have any sound reason and they likely knew it.

I believe now - much as I did then - that it is wrong for a parent to drag a child to church or subject a child to religious indoctrination against the expressed wishes of the child. That is, if the child clearly expresses to his or her family that he or she is not interested in attending church or participating in religious indoctrination, the family should not insist on it anyway.

I made my position on this subject clear to my family long before I had ever heard of Richard Dawkins and several years before The God Delusion was published. I explained that the manner in which they forced me to attend church against my will for years after I told them I was no longer interested in going felt abusive. Needless to say, this was not an easy conversation to have. I was angry at my family for some time, and my anger undoubtedly strained our relationship. I have forgiven them; it was not a burden I wanted to carry any longer. And yet, it remains an emotionally charged issue for me even today.

I often find myself thinking about children living with religious families who have realized that they do not share any sort of god belief. I think about them being subjected to indoctrination and dragged to church over their protests. I feel incredibly sad and angry when I think about this. Yes, I turned out okay in some respects. But this does not mean that I do not have my share of emotional scars or that my life would not have been happier in many respects without having to endure this experience. It upsets me to know how many children today are still going through it.

What do we possibly say to these children? It is temporary and won't last forever. Your family is wrong to do this to you. It will get better, and once you are an adult you'll never have to set foot in a church again. I suppose that's all true, but if you are going through it now, I don't expect any of it help you feel better. It certainly didn't make me feel better at the time.

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