Mental Conditioning: How Religions Prevent Children from Leaving

batman jesus

Children not behaving in church? Maybe you’re worshiping the wrong god. Give Batman Jesus a try!

After growing up in organized religion, I left that bubble and learned the world is not as I thought it was. Certain fundamental assumptions I’d been raised with did not match what I observed, and in retrospect they seemed to serve the purpose of suppressing inconvenient truths. So I’d like to explain some ways that organized Christian sects condition the minds of their children to resist any information that conflicts with their chosen doctrine.

First, many of them pretend doubt is morally wrong, which is ridiculous. Why would it be a moral issue to not know information, or to be unsure if the information you have is correct? Uncertainty is, in a way, the source of all technological progress. You wouldn’t have modern life without people who doubted and questioned unsatisfactory explanations, and who responded to those very natural thoughts by obtaining evidence and finding the truth.

Of course, since religion teaches falsehood, anyone trained to think in a logical way about doubt and evidence would be less likely to remain faithful. So instead they make certainty into a moral issue, promote confirmation bias, and condemn anyone who doesn’t fully buy into it. Being taught from infancy to fear and disregard thoughts of doubt makes a child more receptive to indoctrination, and cripples their ability to think rationally (at least about religion). Fortunately this tactic doesn’t work on everyone; some of us are inherently more skeptical.

Children are also taught that their bodies and minds don’t belong to them. God is often presented as a legalistic father figure who listens to every thought you have and watches everything you do. This idea bothered me a lot when I was young, and whenever a “sinful thought” popped into my mind I’d be afraid that punishment would follow. It didn’t help that my fears were reinforced if I got injured or sick and questioned why it happened to me.

God must be punishing you. Don’t know what you did wrong? Well, god does.

If so, he never seemed interested in letting me know what it was, leaving me to speculate how exactly I could avoid future suffering. Since I was attributing the suffering to the wrong cause, my conclusions were doomed from the beginning.

The concept of sin is probably the most effective and damaging psychological trap laid by Christianity. As I’ve mentioned in several previous articles, people who grow up accepting the idea that humans are inherently evil often end up with an attitude of helplessness toward their own desires and actions. Tell people they can’t stop doing wrong things, and if they believe you they’ll keep doing wrong things. Then they keep returning to the religion because of a fear of hell.

I can think of few ideas more evil than original sin combined with an eternal hell. Both are considered by many Christians to be essential to the religion, in some cases so essential that people who hold alternative views are labeled “false Christians”, even if they believe in Jesus. Taken together, these ideas produce the philosophy that every single human, for no reason except that they exist, deserves to suffer unimaginable and unending torment. It is astounding that anyone can believe this is good and just.

Hell is one of the most manipulative and abhorrent ideas found in any religion. Not only is it entirely unnecessary (an omnipotent god would have plenty of other options), but the fear instilled in children through the doctrine of eternal hell can cripple rational thought. I rejected original sin and hell years before I finally left Christianity, but I’m still occasionally struck with the familiar old fear of hell, until I remind myself that it’s a fantasy invented by demented religious people to enslave and control their followers. I’m sure there are many Christians who would leave the religion, except that in doing so they would have to confront the idea of an eternity in hell.

Most Christians will try to skirt around hell and focus on the “relationship with god” aspect, but if they refuse to let go of eternal torment it still hangs like a malevolent cloud over everything else they say. We can barely comprehend the basic concept of infinity; to imagine suffering the worst agony possible for an infinite time is overwhelming. It is not easy to dismiss, and that makes it a powerful psychological fence to keep children’s thoughts away from other belief systems. This should be obvious given the popularity of Pascal’s Illogical Wager.

The way Christianity uses the idea of sin is basically psychological abuse. The abuser maintains control by undermining the self-image of their victim, convincing them that they can’t trust their own judgment, blaming them for their own suffering, and refusing to take responsibility for any wrongdoing. If the victim would just submit to the authority of the abuser, their problems would go away. All their suffering, the abuser says, is caused by the victim through their disrespect or rebellion.

This is the essence of Christianity. Humankind is so evil that everyone deserves to suffer for eternity, and no matter what you do it’s still your own fault if you go to hell. Since hell is unnecessary and excessive whether you subscribe to original sin or not, it’s simply abuse inflicted by an abuser who blames his victims for the suffering he causes. All you have to do is imagine a human parent treating their child like the Christian god supposedly treats humans, and you can easily see how evil he is.

Unless you’re a small child being terrified with stories of hell. Get to them early enough and they’ll be too afraid of the looming specter of eternal torment to consider the possibility that maybe it’s all made up. The worst part is that the parents, in most cases, honestly think they’re doing what’s best for their baby heathens.

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5 responses to “Mental Conditioning: How Religions Prevent Children from Leaving

    • “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” – Matthew 25:44-46

      “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” – 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9

      “Though you already know all this, I want to remind you that the Lord at one time delivered his people out of Egypt, but later destroyed those who did not believe. And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their proper dwelling—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day. In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” – Jude 1:5-7

      I don’t take advice about truth from liars. I didn’t even call hell “punishment” in this article, but the bible sure does, so you lied about a claim I didn’t make. How pointlessly dishonest of you.

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      • Hi Mason. You are right, it does use the word punishment. But how else does one explain the repercussions of your actions to primitive people? The heavens and the earth will be destroyed by “eternal” fire, and the result of this will be that it will be irreversible, forever, it does not mean it will last forever. You didn’t have to say it was punishment, this is inferred. Calling me a liar and dishonest simply reveals your ignorance about all things spiritual and unless you change your thinking you will experience this hell (regardless of what you think it may or may nor be) for yourself. Thanks for responding.

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    • I will not experience it, because after I die the being that is me will no longer exist. My nervous system is what experiences things, and it will shut down and decay after I die, and will no longer be capable of experiencing anything. Even if I have a soul, putting it into a new body would result in a being that is no longer me, because memories and personality and everything that makes me who I am is dependent on my physical brain. Changing my physical brain will change me, because my brain is me.

      And since nobody has demonstrated a way in which a person can continue existing without their body, let alone experience anything without a nervous system, your religion’s threats of hell amount to no more than a disingenuous scare tactic for the purpose of manipulating psychologically vulnerable individuals into accepting your lies.

      To borrow an analogy from another of my articles, “Christians foretelling doom for me because I no longer believe is like someone insisting that any second now I’m going to be impaled by an invisible unicorn. “Any second! Well, just wait and see. Someday you’ll get a hole punched through your chest and you’ll wish you believed me.” I continue to live a normal life with no impalement and no reason to think there’s a vengeful invisible unicorn stalking me.”

      If you ever have evidence, rather than unsubstantiated claims and threats about things you cannot possibly know anything about, then you might have a point. As it stands, all you did here is make a claim about hell that contradicts the very book that establishes the concept, and then spewed a jumble of fallacious confusion when called out for your false statement. You said “You didn’t have to say it was punishment, this is inferred.” What? I did not characterize hell as punishment in this article, I merely described the concept as it exists in the Christianity I was raised with and called it unjustified abuse, not punishment. The bible, on the other hand, clearly calls it punishment, which means your initial response was irrelevant to my article and contradicted your own scriptures. Your attempt to save face by claiming I implied that hell is punishment would merely indicate that I properly represented the bible’s description of hell as punishment, thereby defeating your own point.

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