Sunday, October 30, 2011

Damon Fowler's adventures with indoctrination

Here's an interesting guest post at MU SASHA, the University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists, & Agnostics group.

What makes it particularly interesting is that it was written by Damon Fowler, the kid who caused such an uproar in Louisiana last May when he objected to sectarian prayers at his high school graduation ceremony.

An excerpt:
I stood in front of a large man in a suit; someone I’d known my whole life (as far as I could remember). With my mom standing next to me, he asked the question, “Would you like to accept Jesus as your lord and savior?” Not wanting to disappoint either, I said “yes”. I was about 4 years old. I didn’t understand what I was agreeing to and it certainly wasn’t an option to say “no”. This is one of my earliest memories as a child growing up in the small town of Bastrop, Louisiana, and the initiation of my indoctrination into the Christian faith.

When you’re indoctrinated, you’re taught to act and think a certain way. This usually occurs during the developmental years of a child’s life, attacking their brain when it’s like a sponge. It’s absorbing the world around it, learning how it works and how to be a part of it. Children look to authority figures (usually parents) for these examples, and when the parent is telling them that there is a force that controls the universe, that loves you, but will burn you in hellfire for eternity if you’re bad, the child believes. All of these older people telling me the same thing can’t be wrong, right?

Indoctrination has been compared to brainwashing many times, which I see as a faulty comparison. Brainwashing is the act of breaking down someone’s mind and removing preexisting beliefs so that they can become molded to anything you want. Indoctrination has no need to break down the mind. The mind is there and ready to be molded. All you need is a set of hands.

My family attended an Assembly of God church for my entire conscious life. All five brothers and sisters were forced to go twice every Sunday and once on Wednesday night. I never thought anything of it, because that was something that I grew with. My world was small, as a lot of people’s are as children. I knew nothing beyond Bastrop.

The few churches I attended could definitely be considered cults. There is no disputing that. All of the people within the church body were weak-minded, and you had a single authoritarian figure telling everyone what they should and shouldn’t like, what is sin, what they should allow their children to do. If the pastor called Harry Potter evil, Harry Potter is out of your house. It was obvious when observing my parents that they accepted anything their pastor had to say with no questions, as they had 3-4 different pastors, all with slight variations in opinions which mirrored onto my parents.

Growing up, I never knew of any other ways of thinking. I only knew about Christianity until I was nearly a teen. Then learned about all of the “wrong” religions, but I knew nothing more than their names and that they were wrong. Any outside beliefs were scorned or not even brought up. I didn’t even know what to call a person who didn’t believe in a god until I was around 15 years old and came across something on the internet.

All of my friends, family, teachers, authority figures were at least a theist. This forced me to think that Christianity was right. The majority of Bastrop was quite judgmental, anti-gay, and hypocritical. They did not exemplify what they expected of others. When indoctrinated, you not only inherit the belief itself, but since everyone does certain things, you consider those things to be norm. Yes, I used to be like them. I defended the Bible with weak evidence without even reading it, I was a homophobe, I was hypocritical, and I judged people. It was only in my early to mid teens that I actually considered that maybe it wasn’t the right way to do things. It took years to break those habits, and I feel I still have years of work ahead to erase many other things that were hardwired into my brain when I was younger.

There's more, and it's all good. He had, and still has, it much tougher than I did. My own experience was very easy, even though I, too, grew up not knowing any other atheists. And yet, Damon had the courage to stand up for what was right. I really admire that.

Just breaking free of this indoctrination must have been difficult enough. It doesn't sound like there were many people in his small Louisiana town who even accomplished that much. I didn't have to break free of anything. My religious indoctrination was far less intense, and it just never took. As far as I can remember, I was always amazed that other people actually believed that stuff.

Maybe that's why I so admire people who can break free of their early conditioning, people who start to think for themselves and - unlike most people who attempt that - actually decide that what they've been taught is wrong.

And then to take an unpopular stand to uphold the separation of church and state? Very impressive! I hope things go very well for Damon Fowler.

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