Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment June 18, 2011

Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment

We know all too well how children have been sexually abused in the Catholic Church and how kids have been killed (or nearly killed) because their Christian Science parents refused to take them to a doctor.

That’s just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to how children have been harmed by their religious families and communities.

Janet Heimlich, a former freelance reporter for National Public Radio, has documented this awful epidemic in her new book Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.

It’s one freaky book, covering topics like physical abuse, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, and even circumcisions. (You can read Valerie Tarico‘s interview with the author here.)

In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins talks about how indoctrinating children with a faith and labeling them with a religion before they’re old enough to even understand it (“a Catholic child”) should be considered “mental child abuse.” That’s arguable — I was raised in a religious faith and I don’t think my parents “abused” me in any sort of way. But Heimlich covers the spectrum of how religion can really hurt children and her examples are ones theists would have a hard time arguing against.

Two exclusive excerpts are below (reprinted by permission of Prometheus Books), as are instructions for how to enter to win a free copy of the book.


A subset of this larger phenomenon, religious child maltreatment is child abuse or neglect that is largely caused by religious beliefs held or propagated by perpetrators or a surrounding community. Religious child maltreatment manifests itself in many ways, including

  • justifying abusive physical punishment with religious texts or doctrine;
  • having children engage in dangerous religious rituals;
  • taking advantage of religious authority to abuse children and procure their silence;
  • failing to provide children needed medical care due to a belief in divine intervention;
  • terrifying children with religious concepts, such as an angry and punitive god, eternal damnation, or possession by the devil or by demons;
  • making children feel guilty and shameful by telling them they are sinful;
  • neglecting children’s safety by allowing them to spend time with religious authorities without scrutinizing the authorities’ backgrounds;
  • inculcating children with religious ideas;
  • and failing to acknowledge or report child abuse or neglect to protect the image of a religion or a religious group.

Religious child maltreatment happens for a host of reasons, some of which mirror general child maltreatment. For example, perpetrators may be responding to a desire to dominate and overpower victims. Mental illness can also be a factor. However, this book focuses on cases involving adults who are convinced that their acts are righteous expressions of piety.

Phil Quinn gets across this point in Spare the Rod: “Too many parents are willing to do just about anything to their children if they believe… that it is God’s will… They most often appeal to a higher principle, such as religious duty or love of their child… My adoptive parents told me hundreds of times, during the endless beatings, that they loved me. If that was their way to love, they very nearly loved me to death!”


Can religion be bad for kids? The answer to this question is a resounding yes. So where do we start to try to do something about it? The first step is to acknowledge the fact that religious child maltreatment exists and to learn how to recognize it. Of course, getting even that far means coming to grips with the fact that religion can be a force for both good and bad.

This duality was made especially clear to me after interviewing two women, my friend Mary Ann and Cheryl, the woman who was molested by her minister as a teenager. Like Mary Ann, Cheryl told me that she, too, cries when she hears religious hymns. However, her emotions come from a very different place. Whereas Mary Ann’s reaction is one of overwhelming joy, Cheryl’s tears are of sadness and loss.

Presbyterian minister Keith Wright explains this dichotomy well in Religious Abuse: A Pastor Explores the Many Ways Religion Can Hurt as Well as Heal:

We need to give up the idea that religion is perfect — that the church of which we are a part is perfect or infallible. Religion, like our parents, has the capacity to bless us and to wound us and it inevitably does both at different times… Only when we are aware of the capacity of religion to abuse can we guard against that abuse and take steps to curb it where it exists.

As I made clear in the introduction, this book is not a diatribe against all religion. It does not intend to praise one faith over another or to talk anyone into abandoning his or her beliefs. In the words of British actor and writer Stephen Fry, “It would be impertinent and wrong of me to express any antagonism towards any individual who wishes to find salvation in whatever form they wish to express it.” Americans have the right to practice the religion of their choice, and parents should be allowed to teach their children whatever faith gives their own lives meaning. Many children are raised in loving homes by responsible religious parents, and children certainly suffer abuse and neglect in nonreligious homes and communities.

But there are times when the teaching and practice of religion crosses a line that should not be crossed — a line that the United States Supreme Court drew back in 1944. In Prince v. Massachusetts, the Court states, “The right to practice religion freely does not include the liberty to expose the community or child… to ill health or death.”

With a renewed, realistic, and balanced understanding of faith’s capabilities, we can begin a discussion on how to raise children in a safe and healthy religious environment. Recognizing the connection between faith and child abuse and neglect is the first step to reducing the impact of religious child maltreatment and ensuring that a religious upbringing is a positive experience for all children.

Those excerpts are from Chapter 1. The entire 23-chapter book goes into much more depth.

I think there’s a general consensus among atheists that religion is harmful, period. So instead, I’m asking for your stories.

Was religion a bad thing for you growing up? If you feel comfortable sharing, how?

Or maybe, like me, it wasn’t such a horrible thing. It was just something you grew out of later in life. Was that the case for you?

If you’d like a chance to win a copy of the book, you must live in the U.S. and you must leave the words “Ken Ham” at the end of your comment. If you don’t wish to answer the questions but still want to win the book, that’s fine, too. Just say the magic words. If you’re the winner, I’ll email you next week.

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  • I came from a Taoist background, so no. I find it hard to imagine how a child can be abused in a Taoist household at all. And as there are no eternal punishment for non-belief in Taoism, no one in my family even batted an eyelid when I converted to Buddhism and then finally turned atheist when I was in college.

  • Michael

    For the most part, religion wasn’t a bad thing for me growing up, but thanks to a divided family, I had the advantage of being raised in not one, but several churches. Even thought they were all protestant variations, seeing the differences between the various sects made it possible for me to not fall into the trap of taking it too literally. If they were all the absolute truth, then they would all be saying exactly the same thing, which clearly was not the case. The biggest harm I feel I experienced was the lack of encouragement of critical thinking. If religion could be true, so could astrology, or the I ching, or whatever brand of nonsense caught my attention this week. It took me a lot longer to shake off the aftereffects of religion than it did to leave christianity itself. “Ken Ham”

  • Valerie Herron

    My mother was always Christian, but non-practicing. My father was an Atheist. Whenever I asked them any big questions about death or “God,” they explained a number of the different ideologies that were out there, and then told me to believe whatever made sense to me.

    I am very grateful that my parents didn’t raise me within a religion. I did end up a practitioner of religion (though I am Agnostic by belief) but I got to make my own mind up on the matter. When I have children, I don’t plan to raise them within my religion either.

  • Debbie D

    I was raised in an Episcopal household and it was rather benign as my parents weren’t overly zealous. My husband tells me of some stories about being raised Catholic. He not only had to deal with attending church services but went to Catholic school. Evidently the nuns were known to break a child’s spirit and creativity. “Ken Ham”

  • Eli

    Religion remains a point of extreme tension within my family- my mother has told me on numerous occasions that I’m going to hell for my lack of belief, and says “You know there’s a god”, which is probably one of the most vile, provoking phrases in the world.

    Growing up, I wasn’t encouraged (and she would still prefer I don’t) to question my beliefs. Every time I did I felt emotionally isolated as it was so looked down upon, so discouraged- after all, questioning god is a “sin”.

    Mother taught me that suffering was a blessing, and as I had numerous medical problems in my younger years, this affected my greatly. I prayed to a nonexistant god to help me instead of actually doing something to improve my condition. Yes, I’m quite bitter about it, but I think I have the right to be.

    I grew up in an extremely religious home where I am *still* isolated from my family. I’m glad to hear that some of you grew up in more moderate homes, but some of us aren’t so lucky.

    Bottom line is that labeling a child *is* definitely mental (and even physical) abuse, there are just varying degrees of it.

  • Wes

    Anything I would have said has been said already, really. Children should not be abused in the name of religion, and no justification can ever make it right or virtuous. Also I’m interested in the book, so… “Ken Ham”

  • Ubiquitous religion certainly caused me a lot of confusion as a young teenager, but ultimately taught me a useful lesson – adults lie. I very much resent that none of the teachers, clergymen and youth leaders who presented Christianity as the accepted norm ever mentioned the fact that it’s based on faith alone or that there are many people in the world who don’t believe in gods. This made me feel very isolated and alone. Thanks guys, you all suck.

  • I was raised Jehovah’s Witness, and I have experienced some of these, and know others who have experienced more. Fortunately, I never needed a blood transfusion, but if I did, I would have been denied it (and of course, would have been utterly convinced that this was the right choice).

    As children, we went with the adults door-to-door, and sometimes by ourselves. Girls had to wear skirts/dresses no matter the weather. I’ve been attacked by dogs and nearly broke my backside sliding on ice down people’s driveways.

    I did experience sexual abuse at the hands of a man who held an office in the religion. When the leaders were informed, I was put on trial, disbelieved, and the whole matter was hushed up. He lost his office, but that was it.

    I was told that God was going to destroy the entire world, except for JWs at any day now. I thought all my relatives and school friends were going to die because they were wicked by not being JWs. I thought I would never get to go to high school, drive a car, or go on a date, before this happened. I avoided college, because surely the end would come before I finished and needed to support myself.

    Ken Ham

  • Angela

    I grew up being foreced to go to a Southern Baptist church. You know…the Jerry Falwell kind of mind-set? And yes, it did harm me!! I remember being elementary school sged lying in bed trying to go to sleep and fearful that my own thoughts and musings would send me on a direct path to hell. When I was 8 or 9 years old I asked my Sunday School teacher, “What happens to all of the Jewish people…do they get to go to heaven too?” (Keep in mind, I lived in south Florida, so a good bit of my school friends were Jewish.)Her response (in almost a yelling tone)was that only those who accept Jesus Christ as their savior were admitted through the gates of heaven. Then I asked, “But Jesus was Jewish…so I don’t understand why he wouldn’t want HIS people to be there him.” The Sunday School teacher was so mad, so exaperated with my questioning, she told me that it was thoughts like that that will insure my ticket to hell. Ummm….child abuse…yes, I think so!

  • Angela

    Oh yes, and I almost forgot “KEN HAM”!!! Hahaha.

  • Religion wasn’t particularly bad or dangerous for me, because I grew up in a liberal Jewish household with one atheist parent. The one thing is that I learned in college (right before I became an atheist) that I absolutely cannot fast. I don’t care how much it pisses off my in-laws, when I fast, bad things happen.

    Fortunately, it’s just the one holiday a year and the rest of the year, my biggest danger is from overeating every Shabbat and getting overweight.

    There are some serious horror stories from the Orthodox side, though. Sadly, our wackos are just as wacko as the Christian wackos. I hope the book covers some of the serious child abuse happening in the Orthodox community.

    And I’d love to get a copy of the book 🙂 “Ken Ham”

  • Jake

    Religion just plain wasn’t a thing for me growing up. Sure, I got Christian RE lessons as a kid, but at the same time I was reading books about dinosaurs and planets and junk like that. The science books tended to be right, so when religion contradicted them I just thought “lol no” and disregarded it.

    At the same time, I was reading children’s history books, and so I knew a lot of old gods. And if they didn’t really exist, why should some other god that made just as little sense? So yeah, I packed in the whole thing pretty early on.

    Of course, children raised by really religious people don’t get that opportunity to read up on science and history, and depriving them of information like that is, arguably, a form of child abuse.

  • Jenny

    Religion was just something I grew out of. I experienced pressure to conform to the norms of my community, but that happens in nonreligious spheres as well. “Ken Ham”

  • I found myself in a peculiar situation the other day ‘defending’ the WBC and it wasn’t their freedom of speech, etc. Someone was saying that it was basically child abuse to teach children the hate and violence that the Phelps family teaches. He went on to argue that there should be laws against it and that the children should be taken away.

    It’s difficult for me because in a sense teaching religious views is a form of child abuse — especially in the case of the WBC. But I don’t think we can draw the line anywhere at all when we talk about what beliefs parents pass on. Atheism is unpopular, not quite as unpopular as the WBC, but I don’t doubt some people out there want to outlaw teaching “atheism” and “evolution” to children.

  • I wasn’t religiously abused. Sometimes when my parents made less than wise parenting decisions, they had religion-based excuses at the ready, but it wasn’t abuse and it was largely not really about religion.

    The worst example I can think of wasn’t really that bad. A friend of mine in college belonged to Assembly of God. The church was supposedly tight knit, and she acted like she trusted the members of the congregation, but it seemed to me they were bullying her and her family. (Apparently some of the church members REALLY did not like her father. I didn’t either, but I remained uninvolved.)

    She introduced me to her boyfriend, a man who was deeply troubled and in poor health. They had nothing in common. It seemed that my friend had been pressured to date within the confines of the church, and this guy was her only age-appropriate choice. I never said a negative word to either of them, but my private thoughts were less kind. Later they married, and I was relieved to learn that she divorced him and found herself a healthy guy as her second husband. (I hope he’s healthy. I want to reunite with her again, but I’m afraid I’d shatter her world.)

    I don’t know if I have the stomach to read this book, but I’ll “Ken Ham” anyway.

  • Religion certainly caused a lot of confusion for me. I was raised a Catholic, but did some religion hunting before just throwing up my hands and realizing that I am an atheist. What harm it did me is negligible, because I was able to get through and past it.

    What disturbed me is that the church I belonged to didn’t seem to act in according to our church’s teaching to love others as ourselves. There was a subtle approval of racism evidenced by the following memory that I wish to relate:

    Our priest was getting up in years and asked, at a church function, if the parish would let him go to bed early on Christmas Eve and move “Midnight Mass” to 8pm from 12am. He said that too many people come in drunk to the Midnight Mass, something that I had never witnessed.

    The priest had moved from a parish that was on a reservation, and so a wag in the audience said “That was the Indians, Father!”

    People laughed. It seemed like everyone laughed. The priest didn’t laugh, but he didn’t admonish the wag, either.

    I had a hard time believing that catholics would act this way, at the time. There were other times that kids told me some of the racist things that their parents, good upstanding members of the parish, had taught them. “My dad hates niggers,” his dad being one of the lectors on Sunday.

    I think religion did harm me in subtle ways, but not in the ways that are usually thought of when we talk about abuse. It certainly harmed the kids in the parish who were taught that the Golden Rule only applied to white people, not explicitly but implicitly.

    I still have racist and sexist thoughts that come to me and that I have to purposely silence because of the way that people acted when I was growing, racist remnants that the church officially disapproved and sexist remnants that the church officially approved. The catholic church is still harming kids by teaching them that homosexuals are “wrong” and shouldn’t be allowed to participate fully in the sacraments, making them second-class citizens.

    So, even if I was never abused because of a “spare the rod and spoil the child” mentality, my upbringing in the church affected me in negative ways which I still fight to overcome.

    ken ham

    (I do not seek to minimize the pain and suffering of people who were and are more blatantly abused because of religious teaching.)

  • RyLaB

    I grew up in a pretty liberal Lutheran family, and I don’t really feel that I was abused by religion as a child. And honestly, even if it did have minor negative effects on me, I don’t really blame my parents. They did what they thought was right and best, and while I disagree with them, I do appreciate the intentions.

    (Just to make sure that we get the right keyword in there) Answers in Genesis, AiG, Ken Ham

  • Eli

    Oh. Did not see the contest bit at the end- teaches me not to ‘tl;dr’.

    “Ken Ham” :3

  • Cindy Stimson

    Actually I can respond to this from the stance of a bit of both sides. My parents divorced when I was 6. My mother is very much of the belief that you should learn a variety of belief systems and then choose what works for you. She also believes that “Deity” is all one being, regardless what name you put to it. My fathers parents however were VERY Baptist. After the divorce, my father married a woman who is Presbyterian. Yes it got “interesting”. My grandparents would get us for summer visits and usually sent us to church camp for a week, sometimes longer. This consisted of going to the mountains with large quantities of other children in a variety of ages. There were all sorts of activities that revolved around church services. We spent the time learning the Bible, being informed that we were all the worst sort of sinners, and encouraged to “repent, take Jesus into our hearts and be baptized”. It made for some huge confusion within. I do have to say that it was this confusion that lead me to question and search for myself. Eventually it set me on the path that I follow today. Ken Ham

  • Amy

    Religion was a bad thing for me in many ways. Mostly, it prevented me from getting help. To talk negatively about my parents even if they abused me was sin because it wasn’t honoring them. Children had to obey their parents unless the parents ordered them to do something sinful, and since silence wasn’t a sin, I was bad for talking about things that my parents had done because they had told me not to talk about those things. In the end, I was told I had to let everything go, to forgive or I wouldn’t be forgiven, meaning I could either get over it and never speak of things again or else I could burn in hell.

    Religion hurt me in a lot of other ways, too. Put yourself last and loving yourself is wrong but you can’t love anyone else if you don’t love yourself (even though you’re supposed to do just that). The contradictions ensured I could be demonized whatever I did. When I was succumbing to depression, I told a “helpful” pastor I felt utterly worthless. He told me I really was worthless, showed me in the bible, and told me to stop taking up other people’s time (that apparently, unlike me, had worth). It took me a very long time to get over that.

  • If all the religious leaders around me had been like my parents, I don’t think it would have been damaging. I don’t feel I was indoctrinated, even though I was also homeschooled and we did lots and lots of Bible memorization (something that may have helped develop my excellent verbal memory). My dad believed in evolution and both my parents raised me to think for myself and didn’t assume anything about what my beliefs were or would become.

    Because I was also raised and socialized in the church community, though, I absorbed stronger messages from outside the home. I spent my adolescent years feeling inadequate because I didn’t keep up with a daily quiet time, wasn’t personally moved during worship and prayer times, and didn’t witness to my nonreligious best friend (although my religion told me she should be miserable and wallowing in sin, it seemed to me she was at least as happy and effective in life as I was.) I was a really good kid — smart, compassionate, rule-abiding — but I knew I was missing something in following my faith, and that was disturbing to me.

    The idea that maybe it was all false was inconceivable to me, largely because all my community (except for that one friend) was Christian. That, I think, was the real damage. Because everybody I loved and respected was Christian, I couldn’t question my faith until my mid-20s. I feel I would have escaped a lot of guilt and confusion — and sexual repression — if I’d felt able to consider Christianity from an outside perspective sooner.

  • Nerdette

    I grew up Methodist, and my childhood religious experience was relatively benign. I went to a summer Bible school when I was 10, and found it to be the most pointless thing ever, but that was my only real memory of church. (That’s a lie: From age 4, I have a great memory of being scolded for crying during Sunday School over my just-ruined Little Mermaid pantyhose. The teacher was lecturing me over meaningless possessions – didn’t she realize how awesome my Little Mermaid pantyhose were?!) My mother was more spiritual, and my grandparents were open-minded and let me think for myself on most topics.

    All the abuse came after age 12 when I came out as an atheist. Suddenly people who never cared who I was started bullying me. But I suppose that’s a tale for a different post.

    I would argue it’s not raising children with religion that is necessarily abuse – raising children to be close-minded is more accurate. When a child asks a question, there is a difference between answering “Evolution is a lie; Jesus created dinosaurs” and answering “Some people believe evolution to be true; we believe Jesus created the dinosaurs.” Making a blanket statement with no proof in effort to assert religious preference, without giving the child the option to think for themselves, is more akin to abuse, from my point of view.

  • Julie

    The hasidic jews on my mother’s side completely cut off my mother for marrying a gentile (but my parents are both atheists for the record)… My mother’s own mom and sister would not accept that she adopted a black child (she was 6 years old), (I didn’t even know jews could be racist) so my sister was not invited to any family functions, and so we stopped going. Still hurtful to think about. That whole experience practically turned me into a self-hating jew until I was older.

    I am lucky that the way my grandparents treated my mom did not get passed down to me, but it very easily could have, and probably does, in other families.

    “Ken Ham”

  • Natalie

    I grew up going to a Methodist church, and not entirely regularly, so I wasn’t exactly submerged in religion. The only problem was that I was surrounded by believers; I wasn’t really aware that there was any other option. So, even though I wasn’t sure I really bought it, I tried and tried to believe in god, and didn’t give that up until I was almost out of high school and out of the church community. What a waste of time!

    On the other hand, I enjoyed certain parts of it very much, like the work portions of the mission trips (I avoided doing anything bible-related whenever possible). I’m glad I had a taste of religion so that I could more knowledgeably set it aside, but had my parents or my church been more strict about it, I’m certain it would have had a larger negative impact on me.

    Ken Ham!

  • Fundie Troll

    Christianity wasn’t something that I grew out of, but rather grew into.

    I was raised in a very loving agnostic home, and my parents always gave me every opportunity to make up my own mind regarding these matters. I was not raised in any religion, and other than a brief exposure to the Catholic Church I never had a “religious” background as a child. As a matter of fact my father had a deep-rooted contempt for Christianity, which was mostly due to the hypocrisy rampant in the Christian community. And of course, me being a child and being influenced by my father, I developed a deep-rooted contempt for Christianity as well – which makes the fact that I am now a Christian so ironic. My father passed away 4 years ago, and I came to Christ perhaps a year after he passed. If he were still alive, how would he have responded to the fact that I am now a Christian? Would our conversations still be vibrant and engaging, or would they be punctuated with those “uncomfortable silences”? Sorry for digressing, back to the point…
    Anyway, I find it deeply disturbing that people would use religion to abuse and control their children, although I believe that religion is not always the root cause of the problem, but rather more than likely a means to an end. I have a sneaking suspicion that these people would be abusive even if they claimed no allegiance to any religion at all. I’m sure some here at this forum would disagree, and perhaps if they were intellectually honest enough they might admit that their deep-rooted disdain for everything religious might have something to do with that opinion…but once again, I would argue that, at least for many, religion is merely the means by which they express their abusive natures and not the cause itself. I wonder if this book addresses that issue?

    Ken Ham

  • C H

    I was raised Southern Baptist in North Carolina. My entire parents are still very devout. My grandmother on one side was very involved in the church (church librarian and historian for many years before I was born until her death). I couldn’t tell you whether my grandfather was or not. I have no memory of him ever attending church services or any other church function. I was told that he, too was very devout. 

    I was taken to church almost every Sunday. I looked forward to those mornings when I wasn’t made to go. Those were rare. During the week, church wasn’t mentioned very often. As my parents have aged, that has increased. As they get older, they get more religious. As I do, I get less—if that is actually possible. 

    My first memory of “questioning” the veracity of the faith is from when I was about five. My parents had “blessed” me with only taking me to “Sunday School” one sunny morning.I think it was in the Spring. I had been given some sort of booklet. I remember looking at it, thinking—in whatever terms a five-year old would think—what a bunch of baloney!  I did not consciously think about it again for quite some time. Later on, I was pulled more into the church, not because of any growing belief, but because I didn’t know any different. 

    There was only one point in my life I can say I think I might have truly believed. I was twelve when I decided I should be baptized. I really had no idea what I was doing, but I went up to the front of the church and professed my belief and desire to be dunked. It was a lie, but I couldn’t even admit that to myself. I thought it was something I was supposed to do. My family told me how proud they were of my decision. The following summer I went with the church youth group on its annual trip to the beach. I never went because of the large amount of time we had to spend in “class”. I just wanted the free time so I could blow my spending money on arcade games. That year we had the unfortunate pleasure of being visited by hurricane Bob (1985), a weak storm but a hurricane nonetheless. We were right in its path. We left the facility where we were staying to go to a shelter, and escaped the storm unscathed. The chaperons took advantage of this moment to impress upon us kids that a monumentous miracle had just happened! We had been spared! (Never you mind those five people who snuffed it during the storm!) Most believed them. It was a highly emotional moment, and I got caught up in the group mentality and I believed. My belief grew the rest of the summer, but it wasn’t long after the summer was over before I noticed something was amiss. I didn’t know what it was, but later I realized exactly what had happened. I had just gotten sucked into what the group was thinking and feeling. Was it just because I wanted to belong? Had that been real? Had the “Holy Spirit” actually visited us and blessed us?

    I floated through the next few years until I went off to college. That is where I discovered I was not alone in my way of thinking. In the religio(n|us), I found flawed reasoning—I probably didn’t know to call it that—and loads of contradictions for which I could find no satisfactory resolutions. I distanced myself from the church and have been a godless heathen ever since and have felt better for it, mostly. There have been times when I have questioned myself and wondered I maybe I should believe, but the answer has always come back, “No!”

    I had two relatives who were very open about their atheism, which I wasn’t aware of until about college. I remember the conversations between my parents about them and how angry the sounded when they would mention my relatives and their atheism. I remember them saying things about waiting to see how they were on their death-beds. They were being smug in thinking my relatives would break down and confess while lying in bed, dying. I couldn’t have been more disgusted. 

    Since I have been on my own, my parents have  broached the subject of my (lack of) going to church. A few years ago, my mother asked me if I was one of those dreaded agnostics. I responded that my religious thoughts and opinions were personal and I did not wish to talk about them, ever. My parents have rarely defied my request. Part of that is my true opinion. Another part of that was the fear they would have the same conversation about me as they did my relatives. The only issue I have with my situation I care about is confrontation. At this point, I don’t care what they would eventually think; I’d rather just avoid the confrontation. I have lived my life well and have dedicated a part of my life to raising monies for a few charities which I am passionate about. This came about within the past handful of years. The accomplishments I have made in that arena are something I think I can feel proud to have been and continue to be a part of. I am about to become a parent.  I look forward to raising a kid the best that I can (see the smbc guest spot on xkcd). I could say that I feel vindicated that if they know about my atheism they also know that I haven’t needed God to be a good person, but that certainly isn’t my motivation for doing the things I do. I think my parents probably know what my thoughts on religion are. I should probably not be intimidated by the possibility of conflict. There is no tension between me an my family because there is no discussion of religion in as far as its “truths” and how I need to get me sone religion. If they mention something that happened at church or anything related to what they believe, I listen and am not offended by it. I have even gone to church services with them. It makes it easy to see old family and friends I haven’t seen since the last visit to my hometown. They an continue to believe what they want as ling as they continue to not push it on my or mine. Which does make me think about the future and how they mat treat my kid. I’ll prepare and deal with it when that day comes. 

    And for the book: Ken Ham

  • C H

    Sorry for the the typos and auto corrects. Typed all that on my phone. Thought I did a better job of proofreading. Apparently not.

  • Bill LaLonde

    Religion was pretty much a non-issue for me growing up. It was something in the background, like a vase or a framed picture, that every now and then would be commented on but had no real effect on day-to-day life.

    And so:

    Ken Ham

  • HnrSpk

    I guess I was lucky. As I was growing up, my father wasn’t at all religious and never went to church. My mother took my sisters and me to a United Church of Christ – she went to church and we went to Sunday School. In Sunday School we were taught that the UCC way was only one way to spirituality and we were encouraged to question the teachers and, in fact, the minister took us on field trips to see other faiths in action when we were old enough to become members of the church.

    My mother’s only rule was that we had to go all of the way through Sunday School and become members. Once we did, we could choose whether or not to continue going to church. None of us continued going. I’m sure she was disappointed, but she never said anything to us about it.

    Much later, my father started going to church with my mother, but he stopped going after she passed away and no one could answer the question of why such a good and kind woman (and she definitely was) had such a rough life (horrific childhood abuse) and terrible death (cancer). He got the normal “God works in mysterious ways” platitudes but, to his credit, they didn’t satisfy him one bit. While he never completely lost his faith, he passed away having never set foot inside a church again. He never quite understood my feelings about organized religion – in fact he compared me to Hitler once when I said I disliked them; but, for the most part, he accepted my feelings, so I’ll say again – I guess I was lucky.

    Ken Ham

  • Benjamin

    Free books are always good.

    Ken Ham.

  • T-Rex

    Question. why all the Ken Ham tags? Is that a word search thing so Mr. Ham will see all of these comments?

  • Erica R.

    I was raised Lutheran (until it became easier on my parents to send me to the Presbyterian church next to our house – lol). I think the “damaging” part to me was the fact that my parents only attended services on the big holidays and yet I was forced to go every week and to Sunday School afterwards as well even though I’d been professing my disbelief since the age of 4. I think it was the forcing and the cramming and the being there against my will that has made me the “angry” Atheist I am 🙂

    “Ken Ham”

  • Mr Ed

    So what damage am I doing to my kids raising them without religion. At a restaurant down by Yale the bathrooms were marked Adam and Eve, my daughter wasn’t sure what that meant. You should have seen the eye rolling when I told her the creation myth. When she was 11 she asked why one of her cousins was late for an easter egg hunt. She thought easter was when the bunny came and had no idea about the original meaning of the holiday, she also found the rabbit thing easier to believe.

    She is almost 13 now and I wonder if she isn’t missing something in her education that will let her understand cultural ques based on religion.

  • stephanie

    To agree with the author, I found that religion was both a source of fear, shame, and insecurity, and a source of comfort and inspiration. I was raised (and home-schooled) in very religious Christian family. The idea of Original Sin and especially the idea that humans are always completely unworthy of God’s grace and that nothing we do is really “good” were constant themes. I still struggle with deep feelings of shame and unworthiness. The idea that my own will and desires were not only unimportant but ultimately evil has been a hard one to get over, as well. As an adult, I sometimes find it nearly impossible to make important decisions for myself. Sometimes, I find it difficult to figure out what I want at all, and once I do, I feel guilty and fearful about working my own will.

    I blame religion for only part of the abuse I suffered as a child. My mother has a mental illness, which at times made her very rageful, cruel, and abusive to her children. My father was very enabling of this behavior, and reinforced that God wanted us to honor our parents no matter what they did. He also believed in biblical corporal punishment and would occasionally whip us (with switches and belts), citing the Bible. My oldest brother also has a mental illness which caused him to be physically violent and abusive. He feels extreme guilt for this as an adult, but that’s another story.

    However, as I dealt with the emotionally (and sometimes physically)abusive environment in my home, the complete social isolation of home-schooling, and many times of intense grief and fear; the belief that a God created me, cared about me, and had a plan for my life was often the only thing that kept me going. I did all sorts of mental acrobatics to keep my belief in that God alive. I needed to believe that someone knew and cared what was happening to me and would keep me safe. Jesus was that person for me. While I found (and still find) some wisdom and inspiration in the teachings attributed to Jesus, for me he was basically a powerful imaginary friend who promised me I was going to be alright. It was not the fear of Hell, but the belief that someone – Jesus – cared about me which kept me from ending my life on any number of occasions.

    Of course, once I was out of that environment and able to keep myself safe, the need for belief faded, and I finally allowed myself to let it go.

    tl;dr: Religion contributed to the abuse I faced as a child, but belief that Jesus loved me was often my only source of comfort and hope.

    Ken Ham

  • Nyuu

    Ken Ham

  • SP

    I grew up completely irreligious, my mum was convinced it’s more likley there are aliens than gods.
    But as I get older and I think back to things that happened in High School, it occurs to me how much went on with those students that went to the local church youth groups.

    Simple things, like movie nights, and school plays where all organized by the same set of Church goers. Very odd.

    I was adopted, and after reading how children were treated in church orphanages at the time, the “What if” is really one one of the few things that almost make me vomit.

  • Steve

    @Mr Ed
    I don’t think many atheists consider teaching children about religion abuse. As you point out, telling them about this stuff can be very useful. She also seems to be very skeptical, so I don’t see the harm in teaching her the myths. And as just that.

    It’s indoctrination that’s child abuse. Telling them Christianity is the absolute truth, overemphasizing religion in their lives, scaring them with eternal damnation if they don’t obey, and instilling them with shame and guilt over their bodies and feelings.

  • Mr. Anon

    Wasn’t a bad thing, was quite a good thing for the formative years – would’ve spiraled into a very bad thing if it had stayed with me long enough to turn me off to science and such. Left before I got to that age. ‘Till then, good community, good role models, no abuse and no problems.

  • John

    Ken Bacon!

    shit, no wait…

    Ken HAM!

  • Amberbug

    Ken Ham!

  • Karen

    It wasn’t too bad for me, but then my Dad never went to church or mentioned religion at all, and my Mom stopped making me go to the Presbyterian church around second grade. I always got the impression it was something she felt like she had to do, but was never really comfortable talking about. So it kind of confused me, but didn’t really bother me much.

    Ken Ham!

  • Ellie

    Can I say religion was and wasn’t horrible for me? I was raised in a catholic home but I never believed and spent my whole childhood and teenage years being forced to go through all the religious motions that come with it, that was horrible. But every time I questioned something I was either given a time out in catechism or brought to a priest so he could answer my questions which was actually something I found great satisfaction in and it only made my non belief stronger. However there was a long time that some of that catholic guilt rubbed off on me because I was always told I was being watched and god knew all my thoughts. That was something I always found creepy and unsettling and I think telling a young child that isn’t the best thing to do even if they don’t believe in the bible.

  • Hugh Kramer

    Mine was a mostly secular Jewish family that only observed a couple of the more important holy days and pretty much blew off the rest of Jewish practises the remaining 360+ days of the year. By the time my parents decided I needed a greater knowledge of the faith (as I approached the Bar Mitzvah age of 13) and started sending me to Hebrew school and an orthodox temple to observe the Sabbath, it was too little, too late… and it didn’t take.

    I resented having to go (especially to Sabbath services where I had to sit through interminably long prayers in a language I didn’t understand) but I don’t regard it as child abuse since my parents bribed me into it by dangling the rewards of the presents I’d get at my Bar Mitzvah. It also gave me an education about what religion is (and isn’t) and eventually led to my abandonment of it.

    So… ken a’ hora and “Ken Ham” too.

  • SlipperyWhenWet

    What Richard meant by abuse was that they are making kids grow up with something absolutely insane so they never question it later in life, especially if they keep them surrounded by other kids whose parents have done the same, and only teach them things that don’t contradict the Bible (by sending them to Bible camps and private Catholic schools). Teach a child that the flying spaghetti monster is real and love you from birth, they will always believe it to be true.

    I was lucky enough to have parents that sent me to public school and non-religious themed summer camps.

  • JulietEcho

    The threats of Hell and teaching that I was a sinful, horrible creature caused me a lot of anxiety growing up, and sometimes I still have moments where it hits me, and I start thinking, “What am I doing? I’m going to suffer in Hell for leaving Christianity!”

    Then I run over my logical reasons for my lack of faith, and I can usually calm down.

    Specifically, I think one area where religious teachings about shame and sinfulness does the most damage is around sex – it causes harm by making teenagers feel ashamed to ask questions or seek methods of safe sex (because you shouldn’t be planning to have sex!), it pushes abstinence-only sex ed, and it leaves many, many people with a pervading sense of shame around a part of life that should be great.

    Ken Ham

  • frank

    Ken Ham

  • MaddieLynn

    I never want to meet

    Ken Ham

  • Rain Lady

    Growing up, I was forced to go to church. As a child I never wanted to go, ever. Eventually I would lock myself into the bathroom, and shower until my mom banged on the door and threatened hell and all that jazz. I might have been about 10 years old, but sitting there in the bathroom I would just cry because I would believe it. I didn’t want to believe in those silly stories. I never even believed in Santa Claus, and once I even told some neighbors my age that there is no Santa Claus, and explained why and how it’s their parents, and they ran to their parents crying that they’ve been lied to this whole time (their parents later went to my mother, not happy with what happened).

    I had an abusive father, though he wasn’t particularly religious, he never attended church but he did believe in god. My mother, being religious didn’t want to leave him, regardless of how he treated us, no matter how much he hurt us… because it is her “duty” to stay with her husband regardless of the circumstances. It was only until my father nearly killed my mother that she finally decided to leave him, and even then she wanted to get back with him, and us being 11 and 12 knew better than letting our parents get back together.

    As a teenager I tried to go to church, a christian one. Why? I felt there was something wrong with me. Even now my family treats my atheism as though I’m sick. As though eventually I will be “cured” and I will try to follow jesus again. lol. It sounds funny now, but growing up it really did feel like I was sick, like I was different, and they always told me that I could never be happy not believing in god… I battled a deep depression because of this fact for many years,along with dealing with my abusive past and the fact that I had a mother who only let a man go to save herself, not to save her children. It took MANY years to forgive my mother, and to this day I’ve yet to forgive my father for what he did to our family.

    Only until I met my now husband, did I realize I wasn’t sick, and I was okay. That I COULD be a happy atheist, and there are many happy atheists around the world without needing god to subsidize it. No “praying the atheism away” is going to make me change my mind. I respect my family’s belief in god and I know I can never change it, but all I ask is that they pray for themselves, and not for me. And although I’m still bitter with what I had to go through due to religion, I know that in the end I’m a stronger person because of it. I will now forever stand for what I believe in, even if others disagree.

    Ken Ham

  • dune

    The most traumatic event for me was when I was only 7 or 8 years old. I used to draw pictures of people kissing, half naked girls posing and other ‘nasty’ things. I was a kid, all this was new and exciting to me, I was quite good at drawing and proud of my skills, so I kept them all hidden as something special, my little secret. Once mom found all of them. She put the pile on the floor, browsed through them one by one, commenting on every ‘sinful’ detail, then tore them in little pieces so no one can ever see such a disgrace again. I cried and begged her to stop, but she hit me and yelled that I was a dirty whore, that she feels ashamed of the fact that I’m her daughter and that I will probably turn out to be a psycho maniac when I grow up. She only calmed down when I went to the kitchen, grabbed a knife and tried to stab myself.

    Otherwise my family is a good and caring one, not counting such rare little outbursts. Mom is a non-practicing Catholic, dad is a deist. And it is so true that people become more religious and dogmatic as they age. Mom gets increasingly more worried about my atheism and often brings up discussions about exorcism because she thinks I’m demon-possessed. Once she asked me to baptize my baby son, and when I refused she said jokingly, “Well then I guess I would have to steal him from you and do it myself” and laughed. Well that wasn’t funny at all…

  • I never felt abused, as a child, by my religious (protestant) upbringing. My mother was a good person and I think she felt tortured by religion and felt it was her sinful nature that caused her to have to endure that torture. I think she tried to protect me from that. I didn’t realize this growing up but found out after reading her diaries after she died. So even though I didn’t experience any direct feeling of abuse and on the surface we all seemed happy, religion has caused much unnecessary pain in our family. I think this hidden (self) abuse may be one of the most common and may be the reason why so many people stay in religion in spite of doubting or not really believing at all. I didn’t recognize the fact that I have always hidden my true feelings because I *knew* that my real thoughts about religion were unacceptable to my religious family. It was only after my father also died that I realized I was finally free from religious obligations. It makes me very sad that I didn’t recognize this before so that I might have shared this freedom with them in spite of the fact that they would have rejected it. “Ken Ham”

  • Happycynic

    Religion had a sort of trickle-down effect on my childhood. I was friends with a boy who wasn’t christian from a very young age, so I when I heard that he was going to hell, I knew that the church had it wrong because sending Bud to hell would be morally wrong, and God couldn’t do that. So, I had precedent for putting my own values above the church’s, which served me well, and let me avoid most of the internal issues of a religious upbringing, but I still had to deal with somewhat intolerant parents. It’s not like they were outright bad, but their religious convictions amplified their natural stodginess into an overzealous and domineering policy of trying to control what we were exposed to. Simpsons, Magic the Gathering trading card game, most video games and R-rated movies, these things were right out. And there’s the countless hours wasted in the stuffy church… nowhere close to abuse but man, was it boring!

    Ken Ham

  • Alex

    My parents weren’t always religious, in fact we didn’t start attending church regularly until I was around the age of 9. Even after regular attendance, my parents beliefs were pretty benign. Well we moved to another city and we started going to another church. Their fundamentalism and involvement in the church started to increase. The physical abuse and verbal abuse increased as well. I will admit that I was an angsty teen and their first born, and only ever hearing religious advice, the way they handled it was the only way the knew how at the time.
    But things got really bad after I suffered from a case of psychosis at the age of 18. I wasn’t living with them, so they not only felt, but were also convinced by others, that because of my ‘godless lifestyle’, I had been demonically possessed. They were so convinced that they set out to perform some kind of weird new age Christian exorcism, twice. Well they did nothing but scare the shit out of me and tricked me in my extremely fragile mental state to profess a belief in Christianity. Even after I still wasn’t mentally stable, that took the work of medications and counselling.
    My break in reality brought on a new kind of fundamentalism that I had never seen. In fact, calling them fundamentalists might be too light of a term. Anything that is seen as ‘ungodly’ is thrown out, and rebuked. Doubt is a major sin, and very often they test us to see if we are possessed.
    Obviously my mental state has stabilized since then, but as mine got better, their’s got worse. I blame myself for the fact that my siblings now have been successfully brainwashed into my parents cult-like thinking. I can only hope as they grow older that they can take the time to question the things they’ve been told are infallible truths.
    I could be here all day going on about the abuse my siblings and I have suffered due to my parents strong religious beliefs, but that wouldn’t be a smart way to waste a beautiful Saturday.
    Ken Ham.
    P.S.- Sorry for the shitty grammar. 🙂

  • Casey

    Religion was mostly a non-issue for me growing up. My dad wanted my brother and I to go to Sunday school, but after a couple weeks, we stopped going because they seperated us into different classrooms. That, and I didn’t buy any of what they were selling…

    Ken Ham

  • cbc

    I grew out of Christianity with the prompting of a philosophy professor who challenged us all to scrutinize our beliefs. I also decided I didn’t like being second-class, as a female.

    Ken Ham.

  • Nicole

    I was raised by non-practicing catholics… so about as non-religious a family as you can get without them all being Atheist. They’re only ever in a church when someone gets married, dies, or is baptized.

    We never went to church, god never entered into any sort of discussion of morals or history or anything and we weren’t taught that we were horrible sinners who were going to hell or any of that junk.

    My parents sent me and my siblings to CCD (catholic sunday school) for just long enough to learn the basics and make our first communion, and that was the extent of our religious education. Except for everyone allegedly believing in god, my childhood was fairly secular. half the time I think they’re all just Catholic out of habit.

    Most of my family knows I’m an Atheist, and nobody cares, I’m lucky to have a very accepting family.

    “Ken Ham”

  • beckster

    The worst thing I remember is being forced out of bed the Sunday morning after prom night and having to sit through the church service. I guess I am lucky.

    Ken Ham

  • James

    I grew up in a semi-non practicing Catholic family with both parents being from Catholic families as well. We went to church every Saturday evening when I was little but stopped at some point while I was still in Elementary School. I never did figure out why we stopped, but my sister and I continued to attend weekly religious education classes until Confirmation, however once we reached Junior High School age those classes became more like social groups for hanging out rather than actual classes.

    I lost the faith long before Confirmation, but continued to partake for the sake of my parents. I never felt harmed by the religion, nor did I find it particularly useful or meaningful. It was just something that I had to do because my parents told me so. Once I became aware fo the diversity of faiths and the existence of the very option to NOT hold a faith, I started learning about the Atheist movement and calling myself an Agnostic and eventually, an Atheist. Both my parents know I’m an Atheist, as well as that I partake in activities with my Atheist organization (KU Society of Open-Minded Atheists and Agnostics). It took my mother a long time to get used to my lack of belief in the god she put so much faith in, but she’s come to accept it over time. My dad never talks about religion, but seems to hate religious intolerance, so I’ve always just assumed I have nothing to worry about from him. I just count myself among the lucky whose parents accept them for who they are, and not for what they believe in.

    “Ken Ham”

  • Lady Copper

    My feelings toward my religious upbringing are extremely complicated. I really cannot imagine what it would have been like having a secular family. So many of my relatives for generations have been in professional ministry (missionaries, pastors) and my family was too… On the one hand, I recognize all sorts of things I rather like about it, but there were tons of very bad things, too. I hated the idea of hell, thought I never was afraid of going ther myself – I was more afraid of the Great Tribulation. I just thought it was wrong and horrible that anyone would have to go to Hell. You learn to not think about it, but it’s such a terrible thing to teach anyone.

    Mostly I feel like the bad effects of religion on me were secondhand – I felt the effects most strongly through family members who were tormented by guilt over having “impure thoughts” and who wanted to sell all their belongings to follow God better, etc. It was actually seeing what religous beliefs were doing to people I loved, including so many friends, that led to me eventually doing the research that made me drop religion altogether.

    Dawkins’s comment about teaching religion to kids being child abuse caused a huge amount of fear and anger in Christian circles, with many, many people feeling like if atheists ran things, they would take away all the children from Christian parents. While I now to a certain degree agree with his statement, I wish he had been more careful.

    Ken Ham

  • lauren s

    I grew up in a non religious household. but dealing with other kids at school saying I was hell bound felt awful.

    Ken Ham

  • Dmitri

    I grew up in a small Southern Baptist church. The Devil was always out to get you, and Hell was of course a very real place. It’s hard not to be anxious with all that being drilled into your head on a regular basis. Oh, and the idea that God was always watching… between God, Satan, and Santa Claus, I was probably a bit of a nervous wreck. Fear and guilt were a big part of my childhood. I had fun too, but… there was always that monster lurking in the background.

    “Spare the rod and spoil the child,” was a common expression with my family, and at church. I was never brutally beaten or anything, but the threat of well, violence, was always there. Often, it was just a threat, but occaisionally it was acted on, with a simple spanking, or a mild switching. The scariest threat (which thankfully was only ever a threat) was the belt. But that popping sound of cracking the belt against itself was very frightening.

    I loved science and dinosaurs for as long as I could remember, but as far as questioning… Well, when I did get the courage to question, no one had a satisfactory answer so I did my best to reconcile and comparmentalize.

    Occaisionally, we would visit a Methodist Church, since my mom had grown up going to that some too. And when my aunt married an Episcopalian, we went to that church a very few times. So I knew there were different types of Christianity, but… It seemed like everyone was Christian. At some point I discovered the Jews, but they were people of the Bible too. I had always been told that there were people who didn’t believe (and they were going to Hell) but, for most of my young life it just didn’t seem like they really existed.

    Our religious mode of course made it difficult to talk about sex. I learned mostly from books that my family either left lying out for me to find, or from encyclopedia and other articles that I found on my own. Which I suppose is better than what a lot of kids in Christian homes got. And I was allowed to participate in my public school’s sex ed programs… for what they were worth. They weren’t entirely abstinence only, but… they weren’t a whole lot more. When I got to the point where I knew more about sex than what the school was teaching, it was kinda funny. But… by the time my mom decided she needed to actually have “the talk”, I already knew so much that I told her not to worry about it because I could tell she was very uncomfortable. And her discomfort was making me uncomfortable. I think I was about 15?

    By the time I was 16, I was definitely drifting away from church, mentally. I still went every Sunday because I didn’t feel I really had a choice. By then, I was definitely in the process of awakening sexually and on the the journey of discovering myself to be attacted to men. Which put me in a very difficult place. I had had some moments of questioning the logic (or lack thereof) of Christianity at various points in my life prior to this, but what helped send me over the edge was that I knew there was something immuteable about myself that was in direct opposition to what this group believed. And ultimately, one day (I was nearly 19) the preacher pretty much said that gays (as well as adulterers and a few others) should be executed. And I just couldn’t handle it any more. And thus solidified the beginning of my journey from Baptist to Pagan (which was arguably better, but ultimately just a different sort of crazy), to Atheist/Natural Pantheist. I’m still trying to sort some things out. And my family’s handling of my sexuality hasn’t been the best, as you can imagine. My mom still thinks it’s something I can just change. My grandmother wishes I could just be celibate… They love me, and I love them, but it doesn’t make it hurt any less. Especialy when I think I’ve made progress with them and then they say something that let’s me know they haven’t changed a bit. And the fact that deep down I know they have to believe that I’m going to Hell… *sigh*

    And now that I’ve kinda depressed myself…
    Ken Ham

  • Dmitri

    Oh, and I left out the part where when I was little, my cousin (she’s a little younger than me, and her dad was a preacher for a while) for some reason wanted to nail me to the wall like Jesus was nailed to the cross. If that doesn’t show you how religion can warp a young mind, I don’t know what does.

  • Mariela

    I grew up “Catholic”, but it was very very liberal (thanks to dad). I wonder, though, if I would be different without the nagging thought that god is watching in the back of my brain, and without all of the wasted memory space that is filled with memorized catechism and ridiculous prayers.

    Ken Ham

  • I would echo what most have said so far: that most of of the “abuse” (if it can be called that…I’m a little loathe to give it that label with the paragraph I’m following up with) was psychological and/or emotional abuse. However, my parents are genuinely loving people who did the best they could with what they had. They never would have dreamt of a world outside their church.

    In a much more sinister tale, my best friend was raised in a household where she was submitted to physical and emotional abuse at the hands of her uber-Christian father. It was an enormous family (8 kids) and not enough money to go around (they didn’t “believe” in using contraceptives-I highly doubt this was a joint decision, but I can’t be sure).

    During high school, she would consistently scare the shit out of my with all the horror stories she would tell me about the condition of the home and the atrocities she suffered. Once, she was shoved backwards down a flight of stairs and caught her elbow on a nail hanging out – the deep 3″ cut was never treated, and she had a scar that always made my heart hurt whenever I saw it.

    Thankfully, she was able to escape the household (she was determined, at one point, to call CPS, but getting evidence for neglect is very, very difficult, even WITHOUT the enormous amount of pressure she would have had) and married a loving guy who supported her and had a beautiful little boy.

    She died suddenly this past year without ever hearing an apology from her father (or anyone else for that matter). If that isn’t an example of religious abuse, I don’t know what is.

    KEN HAM!

  • My parent’s weren’t religious. My dad’s family was Jewish and my mom’s family was Catholic. I’ve been to temple one time as a ‘trip’ with my dad and sisters and to church once because a grade-school friend of mine wanted me to try it out. Coming out as Atheist wasn’t a big deal with me, but I still debate my parents over it. I think my informal debating with them over the years might be slowly changing them. It doesn’t bother me if it doesn’t, but my mom has been making more “look what religion did now” kind of comments. I’m lucky that I didn’t have to face the same situations as some of the previous posts. Absolutely horrible stuff… nobody should have to go through that.

    Ken Ham

  • mingfrommongo

    One side of my family was kicked out of England, New Jersey, and Maryland for not toeing the religious line, the other side was lapsed Catholics. Religion wasn’t discussed at all when I was growing up. My parents did at least one thing right. Ken Ham.

  • Danny

    I was raised Southern baptist, and there was certainly a demonization of intellectualism and critical thinking. So I was abused in the sense that I was intellectually sheltered, and that I learned fallacious beliefs about the world.

    “Ken Ham”

  • Rose

    I was raised in a Catholic family. When I was very young, we went to church every Sunday and midnight mass on holidays, but as I grew older, my parents began to get increasingly lax with attendance. However, when I was old enough, they did still send me to catechism, or CCD.

    CCD, for those who do not know, is similar to Sunday school. One goes every week to a church facility, in my case the local Catholic school as it was run by the parish my parents sent me to, and is taught about the doctrine, beliefs, and practices of the Catholic church in preparation to make the sacraments necessary to become an adult in the church.

    I started going at around the age of 6, and I hated it. I hated being taught that I was sinful and that so many things that I and others did was wrong, and I hated the culture of guilt and penance that permeates the Catholic church. Yet it did not play a very major role in my life. I spent more time going to or practicing for dance class.

    The first time I experienced any real distress was when I was in middle school, and had to make my confirmation, after which I would be considered an independent adult member of the church. I knew by that point that I did not consider myself a Catholic, and had been starting to explore other religions to try to find one that actually spoke to me. I was mostly getting interested in eastern philosophy and spiritual woo-woo nonsense. I absolutely did not want to get confirmed. I did not want to stand up and lie to so many people, especially my parents, but even more so I was terrified. I had this ridiculous belief that if I were confirmed, that I would be marked as a Catholic forever, that I would never be able to leave the church, and that it would change me in some definite way, like branding cattle. It was not until I actually heard someone say that he had only gone through the motions and had not believed any of it that I realized how ridiculous this was.

    At the time I was distressed and hurt that my parents had pushed me through this my whole life. Later on, I learned that my father had not wanted to send me since the sex abuse scandal broke, and that my mother had been the one who insisted on it. After that I learned that my mother did not believe in the church teachings at all, just a lot of woo-type ideas that would get her laughed out of polite company if she shared them.

    At first I was angry that my parents had sent me there and had done wrong by me. However, when I got older I started to discuss these things with my mother, who confessed to me her beliefs and explained that she was trying to do what she thought best by giving me a religious background and letting me figure it out for myself. The problem was that she never made clear to me that Catholicism was not the only option. I would be very reluctant now to apply the label of abuse.

    That said, Ken Ham

  • Jeremy

    Never ran into any problems with religion growing up; my parents were lapsed Catholics who liked the concept of church but not having to, you know, do stuff.

    My wife’s family, that’s a whole other ball of wax. Her family is extremely religious, and while they don’t bother me too much about my atheism, there are several young children in the family that they’re currently working on indoctrinating, which drives me crazy. My wife and I’ve already decided any child of our will be allow to chose a religion or no religion for themselves. Her family is not happy about the decision.

    Ken Ham

  • Billyup

    My early childhood was one of church every sunday with my paternal grandmother. She played the Organ at the church she had attended for decades. The same church I and my sister and most of my cousins where baptized. I loved going to church not for the religion or the stories or anything but, for the music. I loved watching my grandma play and I loved singing with the congregation(I still have perfect pitch, Thanks Gee-Wizz!). My mother moved my sister and I away from our grandparents when I was about seven and we only went to church with her on easter(she was a catholic my grandma was a Presbyterian i think) and that was only a couple of times before she gave up on that. I remember not understand why there wasn’t any singing. Not understanding why they took the fun out of being christian.
    A couple years later my grandpa died, he was like the best father figure I could have asked for so when he went I felt like their was nothing left. I asked god for some peace I asked god for some answers but I never found either. I didn’t get the feeling that other people had talked about I didn’t get this profound experience that let me know “It’s ok things happen for a reason.” All I saw was confusion and pettiness in my aunts and uncles.
    A few more years in the future a few more years of next to nothing not understand why god never intervened and helped us get food or stay in a house for more then a year or two. I started to just ignore what people said about religion figuring I had been ignored so maybe if I ignored god it might be easier to deal with the crap.
    A few more years again and I’m a teenager. The only things I see from religion it uses people. I was in a hospital(a catholic hospital) for a couple months and while there I was pumped full of psychoactive drugs. None of which really changed my attitudes or behavior. I learned something from those people though. They don’t care what you think or who you are as long as you appear to be a good person. As long as you fake what they want to see you will be fine.
    Years went on I got a little taller a little more aware of what religion really was I denied the existence of a god I witnessed religion ignore what was really wrong with the world over and over again. I saw a somewhat smart kid turn into a moron who quoted the bible every time he talked. I saw people losing their freedom of thought. I saw the infighting the bashing, the hatred, unacceptance, the pushiness, the manipulation of government all first hand ( I live in a smaller city in southern Illinois known for having a church on every corner and a bar on every other corner). I seen how people will ignore the starving and the homeless while building more churches expanding the current ones.

    I guess to sum it up I saw good things in religion at one point in my life and bad things as the 90s came and went. What could be a wholesome experience with family values and joy being the main points turns into what we see now. I saw the love and I saw the greed. Now I wish none of that upon children. It is a harsh lesson to give hope to someone only to so easily take it away by forgetting the main reasons people hold a god in their hearts in the first place. Love.

    Signed, Jesse

    -Ken Ham-

  • Lee

    My mother is a sociopath who was confined to an insane asylum for a few years—it’s where she was living when she had me. Her religion, Fundamentalist Baptist, allowed her to get away with abusing me and my sister, because the parents are viewed as always right and the kids are supposed to always obey, and never talk back or rebel, even if the parent is being cruel.

    Also because of fundamentalism, I had no father in my life because female children were seen as worthless and undesirable.

    Ken Ham

  • Jordan

    I grew up Christian. I dealt with a severe amount of guilt, especially when it came to sex and my sexuality. I am now married to the boy I loved in high school. It took a long time to not be filled with guilt about having sex. Instead of living in that moment (or the moments after 🙂 ) I was dealing with extreme guilt- which isn’t what you should be feeling if you’re practicing safe sex with a long term partner. It was somehow hard-wired into my brain to feel that way. I grew up fearing hell and damnation instead of living with no regrets. We “became” atheist four or five years ago (during college) and have mostly healed from the religious wounds- but that is something I never want to inflict upon my children. Ken Ham.

  • Anne

    Religion was definitely a bad thing for me growing up. I don’t fault my parents, but I fault the whacko friars who got ahold of me when I was 13. I fault the pro-life group who told me babies were being murdered every day by scissors and vacuums, and put me on buses around the state.

    When I left Catholicism at 23, I couldn’t even answer basic questions about myself – what’s my favorite color, favorite food, how do I want to dress, what kind of music do I like. The church, the friars, the groups had such strict mandates that all those questions were always answered for me, along with the bigger ones. To be suddenly faced with finding my own answer to all these questions… I was overwhelmed. And the guilt for leaving, for thinking like this, was horrible.

    It took 3 years as an agnostic to figure myself out. Now I’m slowly going Pagan, but that’s my choice, my way, because I want to. Not because I’m feared into it, forced into it, coerced into it. But part of me will still always have that “I don’t know or not know” mentality. I’m just doing it because I miss having something spiritual in my life, not because I believe it to be true. And the guilt still comes back to get me sometimes, even 3 and a half years later.

    But man, have some of my old pro-life Catholic friends freaked out when they found out I’m now a pro-choice Pagan. Haha, time changes things huh? *grin*

  • Keljopy

    Most of the time religion wasn’t too bad for me, but there were a couple years when I was fairly young (9 or 10) where I asked Jesus into my heart every couple of weeks because I was terrified I did it wrong all the previous times and would go to hell.

    Also it was a bit “intellectually abusive” as I was taught to believe in creationism and thus in college for my anthropology major completely avoided physical anthropology classes which I now realize would have been quite useful to me as a dual biology major (where I learned evolution but didn’t “believe it” I believed the crap said by Ken Ham.)

  • Nathaniel

    Ken Ham.

  • Halley

    Religion wasn’t a huge influence on me intellectually, even though I went to a Nazarene Christian church every sunday from age two to twelve, I just never could bring myself to believe in any of it. It was illogical and therefore false. But religion is the excuse my family uses for the racism, sexism, and homophobia. When I got caught engaging in self injury, I was told I “need some god” and that I was bad for doing it, as opposed to any actual help. As a woman, I am told by my family that I am supposed to find a husband to serve and that I can’t be anything I want because of my gender. Religion is the excuse they use to hate me because I’m a lesbian. The worst thing religion did to me is that it made me feel like I couldn’t own my body. The first time I had quasi-consensual sex, I was 14. Maybe I could have said no, but I don’t think he would have listened or cared. After that, I didn’t even try to say no, because I thought I was already worthless because of it. It took me years to realize that I own my body, losing my virginity did not mean I had to let anyone do what they want to me, I still get to choose. Even though my pastor grandfather tells me on a regular basis that the opposite is true.

    ken ham

  • Heather R

    When I was very young, too young to know better (perhaps 4-5 years old), I pocketed what I thought were “free” note cards from a stand at the store that was between the checkout and the door.

    Once I was told that was stealing, I was overwhelmed with guilt. I prayed for years looking for forgiveness for this minor sin, and never felt it. Even though may mother never did anything to cause this feeling of guilt, I felt that God couldn’t love me because of this, and that I was going to go to hell.

    Beyond that, I grew up in a very conservative Lutheran sect (WELS, for anyone that knows), and we were constantly told that we should not be in contact with other members of our family that belonged to a different sect/synod of Lutheranism because “they were in the wrong.”

    Needless to say, when we decided to switch from the Lutheran church to a even-more conservative non-denominational church, we were told by our old pastor that we could always come back, but we’d have to discuss how we’d “strayed” if we wished to become members again.

    And I firmly blame my mother’s late-found zeal for religion after her divorce for the reason that I grew up socially sheltered and emotionally and sexually repressed.

    Also, hi “Ken Ham”

  • The only religious input I had as a child was from my dad or from complete strangers. My dad explained the concept of “god” to me in the context of the new testament, but since he was a quaker and peace corps activist, the only element of religion or god he brought to the table was forgiveness. He never gave me that “god hates you” stuff but he did make it clear he thought god exists. However, once I was about nine, he started seriously advising me on how to interpret life. One of the general philosophies he passed to me was this: assume that everyone is wrong, especially you.

    The idea was that no one was ever completely right, everyone just had something to say. He still gave me some of the god stuff, and then I started going with him to quaker meeting every once in a blue moon (we did this throughout high school, mainly because a bunch of my friends were there as well). That was where I started to get an idea of how my family and friends seemed to perceive god. Most of them had no patience for the bible, and my dad openly said he only really agreed with Jesus (he only every quoted Jesus anyway). The only thing that I found odd about religion growing up was how vague my parents were about it and how everyone would tread so lightly around it as an issue, when they were all avidly rallying for gay rights at the same time (that’s what VT is like, I guess).

    The only time I was exposed to religion in a way I didn’t like was when my friend’s mother dragged me to sunday school with him if I ever slept over. Their whole mantra was that they weren’t willing to leave me at the house alone, and everyone should be in sunday school anyway. I still never found out how my parents responded to that, and I’m guessing they didn’t really think it was a big deal, but I do remember finding it very unpleasant and that the teacher there was one of the scariest people I have ever known who detailed some of the most frightening things about god and the devil I have ever heard. I was nine years old at the time.

    By the time I was in high school I had gone through several different phases of thinking and arrived at atheism (which I became more open and active in regard to during my senior year). The only thing about religious upbringing that I found unpleasant was the idea of someone watching everything I did. I remember when I was eight, I was always careful to go to the bathroom a certaing way, because I specificaly thought that god was watching from a certain point in the ceiling, and I didn’t want him seeing my cock. Beyond that the only religious elements of life were very detached from religion and were mainly about community and togetherness. I guess it would have helped somewhat if my parents had said something more about religion, but it was a very interesting upbringing to learn about it on my own.

    “Ken Ham.”

  • Ross

    I came from a liberal Episcopalian background, so my religious upbringing was relatively harmless. After a while, I started to question it and realized it wasn’t for me, and my parents eventually came to accept it, though there were a few things they did to appeal to guilt. Specifically, my dad told me that the only thing he wished for his children was that they would recognize that there was a higher power. It was relatively painless overall, especially compared to a lot of the stories I’ve read or heard.

    Actually, They actually reacted more negatively when I told them I was giving up meat than when I gave up religion. They were under the impression that things like chic|Ken Ham| and beef were necessary for a healthy diet.

    See what I did there?

  • Born an atheist

    I just (yesterday!) attempted to order a copy of this book for my small, very religious town’s library! Hopefully the librarian wasnt too offended by the material to see what a useful book this could be, and while I’m confident librarians see past their own beliefs when stocking the shelves, the only book, without exception, on the topic of positive atheism, agnosticism, even humanism in the whole library, is a copy of “the God Dillusion” that I have to look in on from time to time to turn it spine-out. That’s right, someone in my town is so afraid of religious dissent that they keep turning that book around so the title is hidden.
    Religion didn’t “harm” me as a child, unless you think taking away a child’s right to think for herself and trust in her own intellectual instincts is harmful.
    Smart-assery aside, I believe lying to children is wrong.

    “Ken Ham”…..
    And I’ll donate my copy to the library after I’m done reading it 🙂

  • AmyC

    Christianity is the main reason that I never told anyone about the abuse I suffered from the age of ~9-11. I didn’t tell anyone because I was taught to be ashamed of my body, and I was taught that, as a girl, sex is my responsibility. I was taught to watch how I dress and how I act around boys and men so that they won’t get the wrong idea. These teachings led me to believe that the abuse I suffered was my fault–that I did something that made him think that’s what I wanted.

    I suffered from deep depression off and on as a teenager (still do actually), but the only “counselors” I had to talk to were religious. I never said anything about the abuse, but I told them about what I was feeling. I told them about how those teachings made me feel. Their answer was that I needed to get closer with god through prayer (as if I didn’t already spend hours a night praying to god to make it all go away). This just added fuel to the fire. I was depressed because I didn’t have enough “faith,” because I didn’t pray hard enough.

    The other wonderful gem that was offered was that god was allowing me to feel this pain so I would come out as a better person. That sounded horrible to me. I was expected to believe that me all-loving-father-in-heaven would allow me to feel that much pain because it would somehow benefit me. If a child’s parents ever tried to use that excuse to explain abuse, we would be appalled. So now I was left with the idea that a) the abuse was somehow my fault, b) the lasting pain was my fault, and c) god not only allowed it to happen, but he wanted it to happen.

    I gave up on my belief in the power of prayer by the time I was 14, and I stopped going to Sunday school/services at around the same time (I was able to get out of it without fighting my mom by working in the nursery).

    Basically, my abuse had nothing to do with religion, but religion aggravated the pain I suffered by instilling in me the idea that the abuse and the residual pain was somehow my fault.

    Oh yeah, Ken Ham is an asshole.

  • Drew M.

    Catholicism taught me how to hate. That was damage enough.

    Ken Ham.

  • My parents were both raised catholic. My dad was in the army until I was grown & we moved constantly. Often more than twice yearly.
    My mom would immediately get involved with the church at every base or town we lived at. I don’t know how religious she was, actually, but I know the support of the church is what gave her friends and kept her sane.

    I don’t remember thinking much one way or the other about religious doctrine — I’m sure I accepted it but more interesting to me were the crafts, bbqs, picnics and teen stuff the moms (who actually ran the church) held for us kids.
    At mass we’d see our friends and hang around or make plans to visit.

    I remember committing huge sins by eating before communion and that the name they made me take for confirmation was not one I wanted. But I loved to sing wearing a lacy mantilla.

    Realizing religion made no sense was just that, a realization — part of growing up. I’ve never thought twice about being an atheist from about the age 15.

    I did, however, think hard about joining a church while I was raising my son. I would have liked him to have had the BBQs and picnics etc. I could have used some support.

  • My parents were both atheists and tried to shield me from religion as a kid. This happened mostly through telling me that Linus’ scripture recitation in the Charlie Brown Xmas special was nothing more than a poem, barring me from reading the Chronicles of Narnia, and only allowing me to sleep over at friends’ houses on Friday nights. During a summer sleep over, my friend’s family brought me to church with them on a Wednesday night. When I told my parents about this the next day, my mom lost her mind. They sat me down and quizzed me on what I’d heard, what had been said to me, and what I thought of it all.

    Mom and Dad never told me what to believe, though. I wasn’t “raised atheist” – just raised as a clean slate in terms of religion and, when I got older, encouraged to read and question and make my own choices about my beliefs. I went with atheist.

    BTW: Ken Ham.

  • fiddler

    Ken Ham

  • Philip

    With the exception of a few weeks in Sunday School growing up – I don’t even remember the denomination – I was generally kept away from religion until I started attending church by myself in my junior year of high school.

    I don’t know if it counts as “growing out” of religion when you start it at age 15 and finish at 24. But there are many paths to fundamentalism, many reasons for needing what those groups can provide.

    Ken Ham

  • Sorkanaught

    When I was very young, my parents were members of a cult, and persisted in this membership until I was 5 or 6, when they broke from the hierarchy (although not the bizarre religious ideas).

    This break with applied lunacy in favor of purely theoretical lunacy cost my parents many close relationships; long friendships were crumpled up and set on fire in Dogma’s wastebasket.

    My older brother remained a member of this cult, and the arguments with my parents were constant and vicious. This dischord was fueled by two factors, both related to religous belief: the tension brought about by a teenager’s mandated shunning of his legal guardians, and a successful attempt by my brother’s father (my mother’s first husband) to use my parents’ non-membership as a wedge.

    My older brother left home to go to work for the cult hierarchy when I was eight and he was sixteen, the required permission granted by his biological father. I did not see or speak to him, nor did anyone else in my family, for about 12 years.

    I do not remember this, but my mother says I told my friends that he had died.

    He awoke on his own from this nightmare and has returned to our family for many years now. This is not a miracle–there are no such things–but it is fortunate and has healed the worst wounds.

    The scars of this traumatic rent in my family’s continuity and relationships are present for ever, and will always be a cause for guilt, remorse, and sorrow even while we enjoy our newfound union.

    So I would say religion attacked my family, took no prisoners, and was not defeated–just evaded after many years of suffering.

    Ken Ham

  • Mej

    I came out as an atheist to the kids in my third grade class, and they responded by bringing in bibles and asking me to read them. If these kids were grilling me about religion, I can only imagine what their parents told them.

    Ken Ham

  • PJB863

    Raised by lukewarm Catholic parents who became increasingly hostile to the church, religion was just boring – mass was boring, CCD was boring. When I quit attending both at age 13, no one in my family really noticed or cared at that point.

    When I got older, the whole thing just seemed hilarious, looking at it from the outside.

  • Allison

    While I grew up going to church and learning religious doctrine, it wasn’t necessarily a hugely negative thing for me, and it certainly wasn’t so because of my family. I felt a lot of guilt in relation to religion, and an unhealthy amount of responsibility for literally everything that happened around me (if something bad happened, it was because I wasn’t praying hard enough, etc.) but that wasn’t really the fault of my family or the relatively liberal protestant churches we attended; it was more OCD tendencies. Either way, my study of and eventually loss of religion has allowed me to open up and be a much more relaxed human being!

    “Ken Ham”!

  • Asmeone

    Unfortunately this was the case for me as well. I have suffered through most of the tribulations listed already, though thankfully not sexual abuse and severe beatings.

    What was, hands down for me, the worst part of it was being indoctrinated with the idea that I was somehow separate from “The World” that I had to actually live in. Because of that, (and because I was homeschooled and generally unaware of how to act around non-familial people) I had a very difficult time making friends and was generally apathetic towards experiencing the world around me during my school days and the few years after that.

    (My parents, to their enormous credit, have largely abandoned this kind of theology.)

    The worst thing for me, though, is my 13-year-old cousin who has been virtually kidnapped by her parents, who are Christian missionaries to mainland China. I don’t know if she is actually questioning her beleifs, or if she ever will, but it breaks my heart to hear how isolated and unstable her life is: there is no one, outside of her parent’s coworkers, that speak English, and she isn’t fluent enough in Chinese to make friends with local children.

    Their family also has to return to the US for a few weeks every couple of months, so she has also been kicked out of her school for being unable to attend concurrently, so now she is homeschooled. Her general concept of American history and culture seems lacking–not just in that pseudo-history fundy way– she didn’t know what the Oklahoma City Bombing was.

    Worst of all, her parents insist that this is dangerous work, though I don’t know how much of that is persecution complex. Some of my other family members and I have tried to bring up these issues to her parents, but their excuse is, of course, that they’ve prayed about it, so it’s all OK.

    I can’t imagine an active-dudy soldier or a military contractor getting away with bringing minor children into potentially dangerous situations; it really bothers me that missionaries get a free pass because it’s “God’s Work.”

    And, of course, “Ken Ham.”

  • Only recently, after discovering that I no loner felt damaged did I realize the full impact of what I had thought was a fairly innocuous, reasonably liberal but still Calvinistic upbringing. Teaching children that they came broken is damaging. Is it abusive? I dunno if it is now. But in the future, it will certainly be thought so.

    Ken Ham

  • NoE

    My mother (and her family) were and still are very devout in the Lutheran church. My father was convinced that all the ‘god’ stories probably came from visits from extraterrestrials.

    So, since I went to Sunday School and church service every week with Mom, Dad made sure to provide me with lots of science and history books and material about other religions (Jewish, Mormon, Hindu, Buddhist, Greek, Roman, Shinto, etc)

    As a result, I asked some very interesting questions of my Sunday school teachers, the pastors and my maternal grandparents (not very popular at church during those years lol). It made for an interesting childhood. Knowing about all the different religions definitely helped make me atheist, and also aids in understanding other people.

    Ken Ham

  • By all means, Hemant, condemn religious parents for exercising their freedom of religion then turn around and enable it by giving money to the churches that con them into it.

  • Leslie

    Ken Ham!

  • Kandy

    I was raised Catholic and attended an all-girls’ Catholic school. I got an excellent education because it was run by the Sisters, not a parish/priest; they had Ph.D’s and insisted we value ourselves and education; I learned about other religion, and I am still appreciative of their independent nature and encouragement. However, I never really felt moved by that or any religion, and the dogma itself compounded my guilt and emotional pain hiding sexual abuse by my stepfather. I felt at fault and could not face my first confession without agony, and felt like a liar due to my six-year old mind’s sense of accountability and the omission of this “sin” in the confessional. What does a six-year-old have to confess? For me, I thought, terrible things to hide from everyone and no comfort from this “sanctuary.” So I never went to confession again, nor was I confirmed, and I am now disgusted by the church’s policies terrible deeds. I finally realized that not feeling god was ok, and The God Delusion and Julia Sweeney helped me realize he was not even there! I had never considered the possibility. I was the most freeing revelation, and I am a joyful atheist.
    As much as I hate to even write it, Ken Ham.

  • Drew M.

    By all means, Hemant, condemn religious parents for exercising their freedom of religion then turn around and enable it by giving money to the churches that con them into it.

    If someone beats a dead horse in the forest and no one cares, does it really make a sound?

  • Chris

    Growing up Mormon everything I did seemed wrong therefore I grew up with a lot of guilt. Ken Ham

  • fatherdaddy

    While I whole heartedly agree with AmyC, Keljopy has my favorite use of Ken Ham.

  • fatherdaddy

    Oh, the question. No religion for me. Mom was what we now call a New Atheist (that term always confuses me), and grandparents weren’t religious. Dad became a pentacostal, but long after he ever had a chance to afflict me with it.

  • holeydood3

    I feel that I had a pretty awesome childhood compared to a lot of people. My parents aren’t religious, but my dad was raised in a ridiculously strict Catholic family. Church 7 times a week, private Catholic school, and all the other fun stuff. My dad being fairly intelligent, loved to ask questions. This was what caused all of the problems. His father beat him for being curious, one time beating him so hard, my dad was afraid he was going to be killed (he was 5 at the time).

    From there on, he pretty much knew what was what, and made sure he was as big a pain for the nuns at the school as possible. So all in all, it would be considered a case of child abuse, but from this, you get an incredible person who got away, and now has his own family, of whom were all raised with critical thinking skills, instead of being told what was right. Just because they were indoctrinated doesn’t mean there isn’t any hope for rationality later on in their life.

    Ken Ham.

  • Matt Z.

    Ken Ham

  • Meg

    I can’t answer your question because I was raised Atheist…but I’d like to read the book.

    Ken Ham

  • Lana

    Was religion a bad thing for you growing up? If you feel comfortable sharing, how?

    In some ways, it was a bad thing. I mean, I don’t consider myself abused or anything, but I definitely wish I hadn’t been taught that anything sexual was evil and wrong. I wish I could go back in time and tell young me that I am not flawed and inherently sinful. Beyond that, mormons are very, very anti-alcohol. I remember being told (quite seriously) that it doesn’t matter how infrequently someone drinks — if they absolutely have to have a sip of beer once a year, say on New Years Eve, they are an alcoholic. This ended up causing a lot of issues in my marriage when my husband and I went inactive and he started drinking the occasional beer after work. It took a surprising amount of time before I recognized where my irrational fear of alcohol came from.

    Or maybe, like me, it wasn’t such a horrible thing. It was just something you grew out of later in life. Was that the case for you?

    The thing about this is, I recognize my experience with mormonism is not necessarily the norm. For instance, my entire family knows I’m not only jack-mormon, I’m actually atheist — yet they still call me, hang out with me, and remain friends with me. This is unusual for mormons. Second, I completely recognize the potential for emotional and physical abuse in the LDS religion. I honestly believe a large part of why I left relatively unscathed had to do with the fact that my mom put me in therapy really young, for completely unrelated reasons — but it ended up giving me the tools to deal with some of the programming. It makes me sad to see my sisters still ensconced in the religion, spending their time and money and voting as directed by their bishop. And to see my nieces being raised in that anti-feminist environment just breaks my heart. It’s somehow worse realizing that out of 3 girls, only one of us was able to shrug off that negative programming.

    Ken Ham, btw.

  • I’ve had a long and varied journey, as regards religion. I’m still traveling my path, and it will lead me where I need to be.

    On the off chance I could win, Ken Ham.

  • Dmanier

    Religion in my home was not abusive, but then my parents were Unitarian Universalists, so we were encouraged to find our own paths. All of my grandparents were devout Methodists, yet they also believed that each person needed to find their own path and that God would judge a person by their actions far more than any empty words that came from their mouths. They made it clear when I started asking at age 12 that they were not upset that I didn’t believe in God. That it was my choice and I was a good girl and God knew that and that was all that really mattered.
    The only abuse I have suffered from religion has been the holier-than-thou bullying that occured when we moved to the South and the kids from more fundamentalist Christian Denominations found out I wasn’t a Christian. Then I would get the hellfire and brimstone sermons they had heard at church parroted back at me. It was hurtful and frustrating as a kid to be told by my peers that my parents (whom I adored) and my brother and I were all horrible sinners and going to go to hell. But, I got older and was finally able to tell them that if that’s where my family would be, then that’s where I wanted to be, and it would be all the sweeter because they (the bullies) wouldn’t be there to ruin the party 😉
    Ken Ham

  • Ross

    I grew up Southern Baptist in a very small town. I remember lots of jokes at the expense of other Christians, mainly Methodists. To me, Christian was Christian, and I didn’t understand the difference. I just thought that different churches were simply organized differently.

    My father was a deacon, wanted to be a preacher for a portion of his life and is an ordained minister, but also majored in philosophy, so I had an interesting interpretation of the bible. I remember on each car ride home after church every Sunday was filled with him making fun of the preacher and how everything he said was wrong. My church took a very literal meaning of the bible, while my father was actually aware of the history of the bible and explained it as man’s interpretation, never the “word of god,” as well as gave the historical context of what was happening at the time.

    Even though my father is very religious and spiritual, I never really believed, but wanted to so badly to fit in with my family and friends. I liken it to Santa Claus; I don’t remember ever believing in Santa Claus. In the 2nd grade I remember thinking, “wait a second, one guy goes all over the world in one night… yea right.” But I never expressed my doubt for fear of not receiving presents. At the same time, I wanted to fit in with the community, so I tried so hard to believe in god. I prayed every night of my life until high school. I rationalized it for the longest time by saying that if there isn’t a god, praying for 5 mins every night did me no harm, but if there was a god, not praying would do me harm. So I prayed.

    I remember when my sister was baptized, everyone was so proud of her. She was 13 and I was 10. My dad, my mom, all of our church friends just lit up. When I asked her and my parents how she made the decision, they responded that she just knew she wanted Jesus in her heart. I waited forever for me to come to that realization and was dumbfounded when it never came.

    When I was going through a difficult time in college, I remember having a conversation with my roommate about why things were the way they were; his response was god has a plan and just to pray and everything will work out. That was the time I realized I was Atheist; instead of comforting me in my time of need, he wrote off my feelings and said basically “I don’t feel like having this conversation with you, stop having an emotional breakdown and believe that god will get you through it.” It was such a cop-out that I had never really realized that god never got me through anything, not my parents’ divorce, not my severe depression and suicidal thoughts in high school, nothing. And that was the same general answer everyone had ever given me when I needed help. I stopped pretending to be Christian after that.

    While Christianity never directly caused any problem in my life, having the false belief that god would find a way made me feel completely helpless. That nothing I did would matter because there was already a plan for me. Looking back on it now, without Christianity, I think I could have brought myself out of this depression a lot sooner.

    And “Ken Ham” 🙂

  • Lindsey A. S.

    Religion was never part of my life growing up. Even to this day, I have no idea exactly what religious beliefs my parents hold (some liberal form of christianity that doesn’t seem to require a whole lot of piety). So I found the devoutness of my very religious mormon friends very confusing growing up, especially the thing about not drinking caffiene: they won’t drink coffee, yet coke is one of the most popular beverages in Utah, which makes absolutely no sense seeing as how it has just as much caffiene as coffee. Anyway, “Ken Ham”.

  • Le Frog

    I did not enjoy being dragged to Sunday School as a child every Sunday (to a nondenominationl church) but it was not that extreme and I did not have bad experiences from it.

    My mom was raised Pentacostal Holiness and she told some colorful stories about that experience. The preachers in that church love to preach about hellfire and suffering – even for babies (if they weren’t baptized or some such nonsense). Mom thought all that was so awful and ridiculous she left that church denomination as a young adult. For which I am grateful, so I was spared being raised in such a ‘hellfire’ loving cult of nuts.

    Ken Ham!!

  • Silent Bob

    In defence of Richard Dawkins 🙂

    @ Hemant

    In The God Delusion, Richard Dawkins talks about how indoctrinating children with a faith and labeling them with a religion before they’re old enough to even understand it (“a Catholic child”) should be considered “mental child abuse.” That’s arguable — I was raised in a religious faith and I don’t think my parents “abused” me in any sort of way.

    @ Lady Copper

    Dawkins’s comment about teaching religion to kids being child abuse caused a huge amount of fear and anger in Christian circles…

    Guys! I’m surprised at you!

    I’ve heard the “child abuse” canard a thousand times from religious apologists trying to ridicule Dawkins, but I didn’t think I’d find it repeated here.

    Here are the facts:

    In The God Delusion Dawkins did write, “I am persuaded that the phrase child abuse is no exaggeration”, but he was specifically referring to the practice of teaching children that their friends and family of a different faith would burn in Hell for all eternity. And he gave (anecdotal) evidence of the trauma that could cause to a child.

    In the same book, he also objected to labelling children (too young to know what theology is) with the religion of their parents, but only on the grounds that it’s inaccurate. He also advocated teaching children “how to think, not what to think”.

    But he has

    … NEVER said that labelling a child with a religion constitutes “child abuse”

    … NEVER said that “teaching religion to kids”* is “child abuse”

    … NEVER even claimed that “indoctrinating children with a faith” amounts to “child abuse”

    … and I’m sure he WOULD never say any of those things.

    So please can we stop perpetuating this particular piece of pernicious disinformation?

    * In fact he advocates “teaching religion to kids” – with the caveats, of course, that you teach more than one, and that you don’t pretend that any one has a greater claim to truth than any other 😉

  • Andrew S.

    Really glad that there is now a book regarding all these instances of child abuse.

    I wholly agreed with the concept when Dawkins brought it up in the God Delusion. And over the years hearing the reports of children who were condemned to die because their parents refused to seek medical treatment for them was also appalling, disgusting, and saddening.

    Hopefully this will bring more attention to the subject and raise the consciousness of everybody on this matter. “Ken Ham”

  • Kristena

    My parents were never really religious, but I went to church and bible camp and grew up Christian basically because my mom thought it would make me a good kid. I memorized bible verses, made bracelets and bookmarks, and I figured that everyone was that way for a while. Lucky for me, I grew out of it, and finally officially realized I was an Atheist. I’m really worried for my cousins though; when I was at my Aunt and Uncles and my younger cousin told me she was praying for people in Egypt because they didn’t believe in God and were going to Hell… Awkward “Ken Ham”

  • Chris P K

    In attempting to produce this comment, I realized that I have no idea what religion my parents were when I was growing up. I don’t know what my mother was simply because it changed often (she would describe herself as spiritual, and is quite a bit of a conspiracy theorist), while the only things I know about my dad are that he is well read about religion (being the first person from whom I heard of Salman Rushdie, for example, and having a rather nice library including such interesting items as a Masonic sourcebook, a really old bible, some Hawking, and a whole bunch of law books.)
    In any case, my family has a history of religious belief, while holding rather strong disdain for religious institutions, so I avoided most religiously based problems growing up (though my parents did put me through the BSA program, as an attempt at getting me more interested in the outdoors and more social, so I did pick up a few neuroses from that, I guess).

    Anyways, up until about a year ago, I had fortunately never even heard of “Ken Ham”

  • Grifter

    I was raised Catholic. As the son of a woman in rural Vt who who…(gasp) worked, of course I was evil.

    I never really got along with the priests. Too inquisitive, and too willing to say “But why do we know that’s true?”

    Almost all religions abuse children…but as a society we ignore that. Look at circumcision, which they’re still trying to make up reasons why it’s not mutilation. We can’t say to a person “OMG, you just had someone chop off a piece of your kid’s junk for no reason!”, because then we’re the weird ones. And that’s one of the more ‘mundane’ things! There’s still female circumcision, the current pope (or as I like to call him, Emperor Palpatine)’s position that children who speak up about abuse should be excommunicated, there’s a million other ways that religion hurts kids. I’m totally adding the magic phrase to the bottom of this, but either way I’m getting this book (though, if I have to pay money, it’ll be awhile), because it’s a subject I’m pretty passionate about. Ken Ham.

  • Mr Z

    If you teach young children the joys of sharing and showing compassion to less fortunate humans their experiences with religiots will show them very early in life, as it did for me, that religious people are nothing like they claim to be and religion is false. Far from being harmful, being in an evangelical church put me on the path to anti-theism before I had graduated high school.

  • Brian C Posey

    When you don’t want your ham to be juicy or tasty but just full of shit reach for …

    Ken Ham.

  • barb

    Being in the faith itself was not so bad (hyper fundamentalist church), but when I went away to (christian) college, I met catholics, whom I’d been taught were going to hell, who were much better at practicing what jesus taught than I and my fellow fundamentalists were. So it was abusive to learn as a 17 year old that what I’d known as fact was bigotry disguised as obeying god. Losing my faith was a trauma that still haunts me, thirty years later.

  • Anne

    Oh I missed it when I commented yesterday. Ken Ham. 😛

  • Jill

    From earliest childhood, I don’t remember ever taking the concept of a god seriously. I thought of bible stories as being just as fictional as the Greek & Roman myths. My mother & grandparents took me to church & Sunday school, but never really tried to convert me. I wasn’t militant–I just didn’t believe. My mother and stepfather are deeply religious, but do not subscribe to the notion that anyone who believes differently will go to a Hell. As my mother says, “Why would anyone want to believe in a god who would do that to people?”

    Oddly, no one in my family has tried to talk me out of my atheism. Some have expressed a sadness that I don’t get to experience the “comfort” that belief in a deity can give, but that’s as far as it goes. I realize how lucky I was to be given the gift of thinking for myself. Ken Ham, please. 🙂

  • I do remember a fair amount of sheer terror at the thought of hell, but otherwise it could have been worse. I suspect, if I had grown up with my father post-divorce vs my mother, it would have been worse.

    My mother > Ken Ham.

  • JP

    I grew up in the Bible belt were Christianity is infused into most aspects of life. At some point, when I was very young, one of my Sunday school teachers spoke to us about how important it was that we really believe in our hearts that Jesus died for our sins and was resurrected. I really took this to heart and before I knew it I was an atheist.

    After that I always felt like an outsider. I think I missed out on a lot because I felt like I wasn’t really a part of things. I shied away from athletics because it always seemed like, somehow, faith was a part of it. All of my teachers were religious and most didn’t mind talking about it in class especially at Brentwood, the private school that I attended through the eighth grade where there was plenty of prayer, so I felt an aversion to a lot of academic pursuits as well.

    So, yeah, religion hurt me.
    #$%@ Ken Ham

  • Danielle

    Religion was a bad thing for me as a child, but I was not raised in a religious household. As a young atheist, I was often taunted and threatened with hell. There was even one incident in the fifth grade during which my classmates threw sand and yelled at me. It made it difficult for me to make friends, and often ended friendships with people who found out. I’d say it was a bad thing…

    Ken Ham

  • Barefoot Bree

    Even though I was the daughter of a Methodist minister, I have to say that religion wasn’t harmful to me; rather, it was merely something I outgrew. My dad was the kind, intelligent, non-judgmental sort who still believes in “one God, many faces” or thereabouts; that all (or at least most) religions contain at least a kernal of truth, and that everyone must find their own path to God.

    It didn’t take much for that ecumenicalism to slide into disbelief in all of it for me. If all of them are right, then none of them are. Throwing ancient mythologies and modern non-theistic philosophies into my mind’s mix was just the final straw.

    But no, I didn’t have any horrible experiences either as a believer or afterward as a non-believer. I did feel rather lonely until just a dozen years ago, when I began finding atheist communities on the internet, but it was never all that big a deal to me.

    “Ken Ham”

  • Steph

    I was raised in the Pentecostal church.

    My parents were divorced, and my mom wanted control over my dad’s life- so she spent many hours warning me of what would happen if I didn’t get him back to church. Her church, that is.

    I was told that I would have to sit on a cloud in Heaven, leaning over the side and watching him burn in Hell, while he begged me to save him, and I’d be unable to do anything. That’s the very simplified version. I wasted many hours of the time I had with my dad each week trying to convince him to come to church, and causing tension between me and him. I spent many nights lying in bed, unable to stop seeing my daddy, my favorite person in the world, looking up at me with tears in his eyes and pain on his face, begging me to help him. I was a seven year old child who was terrified of losing her daddy and watching him suffer eternally.

    If that isn’t emotional and mental abuse, nothing is.

    Also, Ken Ham.

  • Elisha

    As a kid religion wasn’t necessarily good or bad for me; mostly it was confusing.

    My family are general Protestants – since we rarely went to church when I was growing up denomination was never an issue. I was given a children’s Bible at some point in my childhood which I read repeatedly, not out of real belief but because I would read pretty much everything I could get my hands on. I went to Sunday school for one weekend when I was very young. The next week I got sick and after that my mom just never bothered sending me back. Outside of holidays, weddings and funerals religion never seemed to come up too much in my house. Growing up in a small town, though, Christianity was still a dominant force. I remember my 4th grade teacher talking to us about Genesis and everyone being confused when one kid in the class, whose families were Jehovah’s Witnesses, didn’t come to school on the days of holiday parties. Religion in school just seemed normal, though – outside of that one student everyone I grew up with was from a Christian background.

    Things changed when we moved into a different school district. My parents didn’t like the public elementary school, so in 5th grade they decided to send me to the small local Catholic school. That was my first taste of religion as a major force rather than general background. As one of the few Protestants in the school I was an immediate outcast. Our religion classes were taught by a very strict elderly nun who gave us lessons in what to do if you feel possessed and made a classmate cry by saying that, because of his wavering belief, her father probably would not go to Heaven. Four years of Catholic school probably solidified my identification as an atheist. The more Sister Margaret’s beliefs were drilled into me and the more I saw people blindly following tradition, the more I realized that Christianity didn’t seem that different than the Greek myths I loved reading, and certainly didn’t make more sense than any other modern religion.

    I’ve seen how destructive religious fervor can be, though. One of my best friends went to a very conservative evangelical high school (if you’ve ever seen Saved!, it’s very similar). Most students there attended the church that the school was affiliated there, went to the affiliated grade school, then the academy, and then most went on to the affiliated college. They were so completely isolated in this community of radical religion that once they heard I was an atheist, I became something of a carnival freak. A friend (who, because of his religion, no longer speaks to me) turned to me, as the only outsider he really knew, in college because his girlfriend broke up with him. There was such pressure for them to get married quickly that, at age 19, he felt like his life was over. Today, my best friend is ostracized by the people she went to school with because she’s “living in sin” with her fiance, who she’s been with for six years.

    Even though she’s Catholic, she’s still lucky to have gotten out of that school intact. Most of her classmates have been brainwashed since birth to believe the teachings of people like KEN HAM.

  • Rike D.

    I was raised Catholic and went to catholic grade school. However, we were never made to feel bad about ourselves, and when I questioned the priest about Cain and Abel and where they could have found their wives, he told us not to take the bible too literally! Later, there was a disaster in Italy, when a dam broke and many families died from the flood waters. Again, I asked the priest why god would let so many innocent children die and the answer was that those children might have become sinful adults, so they were saved by drowning. I think that was the beginning of my atheism. Today, if I wasn’t an atheist already, I’d be one in an instant just by hearing the name “Ken Ham”.

  • Rebecca

    I was raised in the Church of Christ, in a very conservative congregation. Actually, my parents didn’t seem too serious about religion (read: they used to be cool) until we moved to a town where my dad became very involved in church politics at a super-conservative congregation. I wouldn’t say my parents ever abused me in any way, but I do feel that I have a lot of anxiety and emotional issues due to being raised in the church.

    After I became an atheist, I actually felt like a good person for the first time in my life. Although I’d always tried to do what I thought was right, I never thought it was good enough. I always thought I was a sinner and was terrified of dying and going to hell. Being raised with guilt and shame will really do a number on you! On top of that, I abandoned a lot of good friends throughout the years because I was afraid that associating with “sinners” would make me one of them. I always feel like I need to apologize to so many people for being a complete jerk in the past.

    Ken Ham!

  • My upbringing was Catholic. Because of that, I was raised to believe I was an inherently sinful being who should never try to have any fun in my life, and who most ESPECIALLY should be ashamed of the fact that I lived in a world where I might have sex one day. Because of that, I have never had a significant emotional relationship with a woman, and I only became sexually active in my mid-30s. You can imaging the problems this causes, but most especially you can imagine the bitterness of knowing now that I wasted the prime years of my life on self-loathing and shame on a set of bullshit beliefs. “Ken Ham”

  • Douglas Kirk

    I came from Catholic Parents. Religious indoctrination wasn’t too bad for me (no physical abuse or anything), although it did instill a great sense of guilt that I had trouble dealing with in my teens and early twenties as I struggled with depression. I know the hardest part of leaving religion was dealing with the sense of real loss and emptiness I felt when I began to realize that the things I had been told were true were not true.

    Easily the worst part of growing up in a religion that stymies critical thought and has no regard for the welfare of its members is manifesting now, in my mid-twenties. I keep learning methods of critical thinking and argumentation, facts about the world and facts about human sexuality that were actively hidden from me as a child; about which learning was discouraged. And in the off chance I had knowledge of them I was made to feel guilty for having that knowledge. That is the hardest and most angering aprt. All the things I could have learned as opposed to what I did.

    At least my parents weren’t that lying bastard,

    Ken Ham

  • jake

    I was Christian before I googled Ken Ham

  • Reading some of these comments makes me realize how lucky I am to have a secular family!

    Ken Ham

  • Aimee

    Religion kind of hurt me, but it wasn’t any adult’s fault. My parents were generically Christian, but we never went to church, and we never really discussed religion. At most, I think I had a could books of children’s bible stories and a cartoon video on the life of Jesus.

    However, when my OCD emerged in late elementary school, my obsessions were all religion based and I tortured myself for years with the thought of what an awful person I was and how I was most assuredly going to hell.

    Luckily I am now (mostly) OCD free and an atheist.


    ken ham

  • Tim

    I attended Catholic school for 12 years, and I also attended many, many Catholic funerals by the time I was 8, which was when a classmate died suddenly. It was announced (probably not the best idea) over the school’s PA system. The entire class burst into tears but myself, who was already used to the feeling of sadness at the loss of a family member or close friend by this time. So I just stared at my desk, waiting for it to be okay.

    Later on, my classmates told me I was going to go to hell for not crying. That was when I stopped caring about religion, the actual atheism would come much later. Because hell is just an excuse for people to be angry.

    Oh yeah, btw –

    Ken Ham

  • Rob Caldwell

    I went to 12 years of catholic school and consider the idea of burning in hell for sins committed to be child abuse. In addition I was called “jew boy” for not believing in jesus by peers, but that might not be what you were getting at. 🙂
    Ken Ham

  • Julien

    For me, my couple years in religion (I joined the Mormon church because of a couple of friends of mine) was largely positive. The reason was the social aspects: so long as you believed (or lied, like I did), there were sports 2 nights a week, volunteering, activities at various folks’ houses… they really took care of their kids.

    The problem is that the lie eventually started to get to me – it went from a game to a wedge between me and my friends, and one that I couldn’t talk about.

    For that reason, I try to support community places for children to meet and play. Long ago religion grabbed that need that we all have for companionship as a super convenient recruiting tool. Community is such a positive thing, and we need more secular (but not atheist) groups where kids can feel welcome.

    BTW: I’m curious how this article is going to affect the search ratings for Ken Ham (that’s my entry), as his name appears here at least 100 times, and Google’s robots should be able to determine that this is actual conversation rather than SEO.

  • Bastian Fromherz

    sundays sucked.
    church+sunday school were super lame

  • Meganj0902

    I can’t speak for anyone else on this forum, but I loved church when I was a child and still do. I was raised Apostolic Pentecostal and still am, and feel completely free and happy. I have three children who I have raised and will continue to raise in church and they also love being in church with absolutely no pressure from their father or I. I think that anything can be harmful to a child and it isn’t very fair to single Christianity out. I know people being raised in hippie clans that the people walked around naked and children were molested, I mean, where is the coverage on that? Furthermore, if God isn’t real, then. Why spend so much time and effort fighting it? Wouldn’t it just burn out for itself? I don’t judge people for what they believe, why do people lump all Christians in the same catagory? Why even call peoplle who don’t. Truely practice Christianity something else? Because they aren’t Christians if they aren’t Christlike. And being Christlike has nothing to do with the outward apperance, but the fruit of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, temperance, faith, meekness, gentleness, goodness…That’s a real Christian.
    I love my children with everything in me and would never compromise their health and happiness, physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually. They have regular check-ups, shots, medications (my son has severe athma and allergies) and are shown more love and care than any other child in America right now.

  • Tori

    Let’s see: I was sexually abused multiple times and my mom never reported it, hell was constantly badgered into us and upon turning 16 I began having panic attacks, and the worst part was my mom wouldn’t take me to a mental health professional. She kept giving me books with prayers to ‘pray away’ my anxiety and depression. At 19 years old it became so bad I wouldn’t leave my apartment. I finally called the hospital and got help. It makes me sick to think back on how much I suffered and so needlessly.

    There is so much more but I have done my best to move past it all. I’m 30 now, well educated, and have my own family. I remind myself that the best I can do is to reflect on what happened with me and not make the same mistakes with my own children.

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