February 11, 2016

Growing Up Without Religious Indoctrination

Teach children religion for a better community -- religion means reverence - obedience - order, irreligion means chaos - crime - social collapse, parents, wake up American Legion (80830)

I was indoctrinated into a mainstream Protestant denomination of Christianity from an early age. I sometimes wonder what would have been different if I had grown up in a secular household and not been subjected to religious indoctrination of any kind. It is impossible to know how things might have been different, but I'd guess that Christianity would have seemed far less normal to me than it once did.

Many of the things I used to believe as a Christian seem downright absurd now. This was not an abrupt shift for me but a very gradual one. It took years for me to progress from tentatively questioning what I had been instructed to believe to admitting to myself that I no longer believed in gods. Even then, it would take awhile longer for me to come to terms with what atheism meant and recognize that I was in fact an atheist.

Before beginning this process, though, Christianity seemed normal as normal could be. It was the default for me because it was all I had ever known. It was all I ever heard from my family, and at least during my early childhood years, all I heard from my peers. But more than that, it seemed to pervade most aspects of the culture that surrounded me. Even though I was fortunate enough to grow up in a part of the U.S. where evangelism was frowned upon and asking strangers what church they attended was considered rude, it was clear that most people were Christians of some sort. Against this backdrop, anything else seemed strange and unfamiliar.

Had I been raised in a secular household, I would have been at a significant social disadvantage back then. I suspect this would be less true today, at least it would be less true in the region in which I grew up. But back then, it would have conferred an outsider status upon me. Given that children tended to attack anyone who stood out from the crowd even a little, this would have led to some unpleasant experiences.

And yet, I think this sacrifice might have been worth it anyway. Without the Christian indoctrination, I think I would have been more open-minded, tolerant of others, had a healthier sense of self, and far less anxious than I was. Of course, this is just a guess since none of us have any way of looking back and knowing what might have been had we experienced different circumstances. But I guess that I would have been better off in these ways without this early indoctrination.

Had I grown up not regarding Christianity as the norm, I think it is likely that I would have embraced skepticism, atheism, and maybe even freethought much sooner than I did. This means I might have wasted less time laboring under ridiculous superstitions and worrying about how best to appease nonexistent entities. I think I would have been less apt to judge others harshly for deviating from obsolete forms of morality, and this might have made it easier to treat others with kindness.

Of course, it is also possible that I might have ended up being religious in this alternative scenario. Perhaps my teenage rebellion would have involved becoming "born again" to drive my secular family crazy. Or perhaps I would have been driven by simple curiosity to try Christianity as I grew older as a way of exploring possibilities to which I had not been previously exposed.

This does seem a bit far-fetched, but there is actually something about this possibility that I like. Had I been raised without religious indoctrination and embraced religion later in life, it would have been because I freely came to religion on my own terms rather than being compelled into it before I had any real understanding. That seems like an important type of freedom: the freedom of thought.
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