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Child abuse and Catholic indoctrination: on being ‘kindling wood for Hell’

I would not for my life destroy one star of human hope, but I want it so that when a poor woman rocks the cradle and sings a lullaby to the dimpled darling, she will not be compelled to believe that ninety-nine chances in a hundred she is raising kindling wood for hell.

Robert Ingersoll

No one, let alone a small child, is “kindling wood for hell”, yet it is that message that is at the core of Catholic childhood indoctrination.

I’m in complete agreement with the sentiments and assertions expressed in this recent article by Richard Dawkins. I think that teaching small children to believe in a literal Hell and to believe that there’s a very real possibility that they will spend an eternity in this literal Hell is child abuse (relatedly, teaching small children that they are worthless and that their guilt, fear, and anxiety are valuable blessings from God is also child abuse). The Catholic Church hierarchy loathes and abuses children.

To be clear: I certainly do not believe that the vast majority of those who raise their children in the Catholic faith are child abusers. For the most part, they’re just continuing the cycle. Their parents permitted the Church to indoctrinate them, and now they are doing the same to their own children. This mindless continuation of the vicious cycle of indoctrination may never stop, but we can at least try to raise awareness of the fact that the core tenets of Catholic childhood indoctrination are indeed abusive to children.

I rarely write about this topic anymore. Doing so requires me to write in a way that makes me rather uncomfortable. I don’t  like writing about my personal life or personal experiences (I’m a very private person). I’d much rather create a rhetorically-effective, well-reasoned, and thoroughly-supported analysis/argument than discuss my personal experience with any given issue.

But, when it comes to this topic, personal stories can be extremely powerful. I learned this two years ago, when I first wrote and published the essay that I’m reproducing here. Of everything that I’ve written on Catholicism (and I’ve written quite a lot), it has received by far the most attention and responses, both positive and negative. For me, the most important and moving responses came from people who could relate to my experiences and who were relieved to know that they are not alone. That meant the world to me. However, a little over a year ago, I started to feel uncomfortable having something so personal posted online, so I took it down. This week, though, I finally decided to repost it, and I’ll also reproduce it below. I’m still a bit squeamish about it, but, if it helps you to feel less alone, or if it helps you to understand why/how the core tenets of Catholic childhood indoctrination are abusive and often cause life-long emotional damage, then reposting it is absolutely the right thing to do.


A dirty little girl, her head hanging in shame

(This essay was originally published on September 19, 2010. It was reprinted at and excerpted at The Daily Dish)


I cannot remember a time before I knew I was a Catholic. I knew it just as clearly as I knew that I was a girl, or that I had brown eyes. These traits were inherited, fixed, unchangeable. It took me a few years to understand that I hadn’t actually been born Catholic, and many more years after that to realize that Catholicism was optional.

Why did it take me until I was sixteen years old to figure out something so obvious? Simple: Catholic childhood religious indoctrination is chillingly effective. Its most powerful weapons are guilt and the fear of a literal hell. When a child is taught that the simple act of doubting or questioning any of the Church’s teachings is a sin, and that even the tiniest of sins can result in an eternity spent in a literal hell, they quickly learn to suppress those doubts and to feel intense shame, guilt, and fear when they fail to do so.

Think for a second about how cruel that is. To ensure that the Catholic mind virus is passed down through the generations, the Church is willing to crush children’s curiosity and to stifle or completely destroy their ability to think critically.

Then there is the guilt. According to Catholic teaching, humans are born sinners and cannot help but continue to sin throughout their lives. The only way for a Catholic to atone for these sins is to confess them to a priest, do the required penance, and be absolved. As a child, I obsessively recorded in a little notebook anything that I had said or done that could possibly be considered sinful. Then, when the time came for confession, I would recite this list to the priest, my head hanging in shame, my cheeks burning. I’d do my penance and be absolved. For a fleeting, blissful moment, I would feel light and pure and holy. But soon I would sin again, the guilt would return, the little notebook would be filled up with a record of my indiscretions, and I would return to the confessional and repeat the process over and over again.

Although I left Catholicism fifteen years ago, on occasion I still catch myself wondering what I need to do in order to rid myself of the guilt, shame, and feeling of dirtiness that, in one form or another, is almost always my companion. I sometimes find myself feeling frustrated: why, I wonder, can’t someone just tell me what penance to do? I obviously no longer think in terms of sin or feel the need to go to the confessional, but the desire for absolution remains, like an itch that cannot be scratched.

Who can deny that this is a form of child abuse? The mere act of writing this is making my hands shake and my stomach churn with anxiety. Fifteen years ago, I made the choice to leave Catholicism, something that, among the family and community I grew up in, just isn’t done. This choice was, without a doubt, the best and most liberating choice that I have ever made. However, I do not have a choice when it comes to the ever-present guilt, shame, and anxiety that resulted from my childhood religious indoctrination, and which, to varying degrees of intensity, will always be with me.

The Catholic Church loathes children. Loathes them. To the Church, children are Catholics first and humans second, and the lifelong trauma caused by childhood indoctrination is mere collateral damage in the Church’s battle against the outside world. As is so often the case, the Church unashamedly places their own interests above all other concerns, including the welfare (physical, emotional, and mental) of children. And an organization that despises and preys upon its weakest and most vulnerable members (who haven’t even chosen to be members) is undoubtably a force of great evil in the world.


Thank you so much for reading. ♡

  1. Dear Miranda, a brief but sincere thank you for so eloquently articulating my exact thoughts!

    December 30, 2012
  2. Stuart A Milc #

    Very good post Miranda – thanks for sharing. I’ve been out a lot longer than you and honestly, I don’t remember how it felt when I was a kid. I think I was lucky in that, even though I was raised in a Catholic home, my parents planted the seed of doubt in my mind at a very early age. My Mom always used to snicker about the whole idea of confession / atonement. In her eyes some sins were too trivial to fuss about and some too ghastly to forgive. It is a dreadful business though – what’s drilled into kids’ heads by the Catholic church. Your experience clearly shows it’s harmful.

    Your story just brought back an old memory for me. I remember that when I was very young, I used to make stuff up for confession. I either couldn’t remember any “real sins” or, more likely, I just had a boring childhood. Either way, I was always convinced that I had to go in with at least a half-dozen good ones for the priest…

    December 30, 2012
  3. Miranda, Brave One… I want to offer much strength and gentleness to you. While I too have given up Catholicism, I do not think that I had the same experience of indoctrination as you (though it does happen in the Catholic church in one way or another). It is a mostly peaceful parting, but I am ever so grateful to hear your voice and will continue to look to it for new insight. Light and love to you in the new year! ~marissa

    December 30, 2012
  4. Miranda

    I’ve never been religious, nobody forced me to be so and neither did anyone force me to not believe, I did all that on my own without any coercion. I have to thank my parents for that, the more I read stories like this the more I still have a long way to go before that thanks is going to be enough

    How DARE these people do this.

    I know full well that I will never be able to grasp what it is like to be religious and certainly never fully understand what you and people like Steve Zara went through and are still stuck with now – but the thing is you DID leave it, you got out.

    Better still, instead of continuing the cycle passed down by generations you broke it, you then went on to inspire others to do so. Instead of teaching despair and misery, you have taught others to know better and that is something you should never stop being proud of

    Happy New Year to you and all the best for 2013

    *Raises Tea in salute*


    December 30, 2012
  5. Thank you for sharing.

    December 31, 2012
  6. Ajay Appaden #

    Miranda, I must say, I could connect to just about everything you wrote and more from the memories that came crashing back ( not all good ones,unfortunately). I’ve gone through the emotional torment of Catholicism and religion in general because I studied in a Christian protestant evangelical college.
    Crazy stuff indeed, but it was a learning experience, one that I could have done without owing to that unbearable itch that resurfaces every now and then.
    Religious people don’t understand how bad it is because they consider that pain with everything else as a blessing.
    I’m not going to rant here, I just wanted to say, extremely well put, and from an ex-catholic to another I can relate to it all. But we’ve all got our amazing lives to lead helping others break free.

    January 1, 2013
  7. Sorry to hear about your negative experience as a young Catholic. Were you member of some extreme group or community?

    Religion in N.America is practiced business like, boring, “dry” as opposed to my experience while growing up Catholic in south Europe.

    The way we practiced it includes lots of celebrations, festivals, processions… It is a very rich, positive, colorful way of practicing religion. It promotes preservation of tradition and inclusion of all people in a wonderful way one can never forget.
    The Church is a part of the national fabric, our guide and beacon of hope during difficult times.

    If you were exposed to that way of practicing religion would you think differently?

    January 2, 2013
  8. Miranda. First of all thank you for your courage. You or one of your commenters wrote:

    This indoctrination can damage or even destroy a child’s curiosity and critical thinking skills. Many of us who experienced such indoctrination are left with lifelong scars of one form or another.

    As a Psychotherapist working in New York City (the original “sin” city) I can tell you this is profoundly and sadly true. Many who end up in front of me in my office are plagued with this alienation from the Self . You comment that reason is not enough to combat these deeply rooted feelings of guilt. This is too true. I would like to offer my humble opinion that there is hope for those who have been brainwashed, indoctrinated and alienated from their own true nature. There is a self; a beautiful and free self that was fed these lies. That Self exists in each of us – previous to the abuses perpetrated upon us. Your anger and your indignation is righteous. In honor or that beautiful self let your NO ring from the mountain tops. It will be heard.

    January 3, 2013
  9. cameron #

    It’s just plain wrong to force ones beliefs on their children. Their young minds are too susceptible, just think of how many kids believe in santa…By 2030 it is predicted that 26.4% of the worlds population will be muslims. Britian and England will have jesus shooed out by 2030. The majority of the world is shifting to muslims- not christianity. Christians hate science and are holding it back, they despise technology because if one of their indoctrinated victims happens to stumble upon new evidence to change their religuos views, full well knowing that their family members will hate them for it- well, that can be hard to do…Taking the psychological route may have worked in the past, sadly humans have become a hollow, empty shell with christians leading the way..The powers that be would never allow power, money and mind control to fall to the wayside by the medical field by allowing them to make such a claim. The only way that could happen is if the social media was looking for a new designer sickness. Depression, ADHD, Aspergers were exacerbated and played up to the point of over medication of designer drug cocktails that have a 37% effectiveness rate of even working- yet suicide is a side effect, WTF!. The media could potentially twist reality to label the indoctrinated as a similar illness worthy of a plethora of new meds. leading to money. Washington state proved to me that that was once was considered illegal, unreligous and socially corrupt can easily be rationalized if it will silence enough of the masses and raise money. Reality is subjective to ones background, environment, media and social construct. What is real to you and cannot be dis-proven differs from what is real to me and you cannot prove I am wrong nor I you. If your reality includes talking snakes and donkeys, magical fruit, man made from dirt and woman from rib, right off the bat fallen into sin because god planted/allowed the satanic filled talking snake to convince a newly created being with an undeveloped mind to eat thus said magical fruit, and that Noah floated an 3 story ark for 40 days, I mean 150 days, I mean one year…and that one single opening provided adequate light and ventilation and that Noahs candle light didn’t spark off all the methane in the air from the animal dung that needed to be packed up above the water level to heaved overboard, then once off the ark, of the 6 breeders Hams clan 100 years later built the tower of babel and god felt threatened and that the nephelim, even after the flood came into which ever woman they chose creating giants, men of reknown in the attempts to make mankind tainted with satanic nephilim genes so that when christ came into the world he would be clean. answer this curious christians, if god flooded innocent babies, babies in the womb, mentally incapable, the elderly and innocent animals in the hopes of eradicating corrupt man, why does the bible say nephilim were still coming down after the flood. How did the flood help anything. God buried the cherubims and flaming swords in the flood so he must have had reasons we don’t know or that we will understand someday..The bible says to fully love jesus to hate your family. what kind of message does that send? Hell will be visible to god and heavens occupants and the bible says it wont affect us and also says god will laugh at those in hell…If lucifer convinced a third of the angels, and angels are so much smarter than man, how can god hold us humans responsible for how his lowly creation acted. Then he goes on to say that he grieved and regretted making us..Hmmm, with his omniscience and being god it shouldn’t have been rocket science to figure out how it end…With 90% or more of his creation in an eternal hell, paying the price for even doubting the things I have mentioned. I could keep going on with a thousand more questions like this but this is a lot to process. I was indoctrinated in a socio-pathic cult and was able to apply the scientific process of logic and reason, casting aside my emotions and living alone in the cognitive world of my own design. Being immersed in the christian box for 34 years and finally viewing it from the outside makes so much more sense. It is so much easier to not believe this nonsense rather than try and rationalize and continue living in fear feeling worthless, guilt ridden, dirty and evil…Please honestly ask yourself this christians do you believe the bible 110% or 99.9999999999999% leaving just a tad room for doubt which is perfectly normal. Or do you just know that god is real and no matter what new evidence and facts present themselves continue to rationalize, twist the new evidence to fit the bible and continue living in fear guilt and denial. If you fall in the category of having no doubt whatsoever no matter what then your brain is un-capable of logic, reason and rationality. You are stuck in your christian box viewing the world with blinders, we on the outside see it so much more clearly. These types have no right telling me that since I don’t fully accept the bible as factual scientific history of the earth that something bad will happen to me when I die…How dare you, would if I told you that when you die you would be punished eternally on the dark side of the moon because that’s what a book says is true, god inspired writings..You are infringing on my basic personal human freedoms by scaring me with threats that you can never know to be true let alone prove. Religion kills and is a social sickness, eradicating religious lunacy and brainwashings may be the best plan of attack….

    January 18, 2013
  10. cameron #

    @uegen Your take on N. American religions being “dry and boring” is much different than a lot of Americans take on it. Pentecostals babble in tongues, jiggle on the ground slain in the spirit, howl like dogs, roar like lions, clap their hand, stomp their feet, act drunk in the spirit,uncontrollably laugh in the spirit handle poisonous snakes, and we even get to drink jesus blood and cannabilisticaly eat his flesh- is that colorful enough for ya! Charasmatics do quite a few of these things. I feel it is mental illness being let out in a socially acceptable way. I was fortunate enough to have my mom shove this fun stuff down my throat and I felt great warmth and acceptance when I personally spoke in tongues(I shut off my thinking part of my brain and went into my dark emotional place I rarely delve). Guess it scared the hell out of me and I just “spoke”. Personally I view your religion in Europe as businesslike, dry and boring. Our cream of the crop religion, the episcopalians are business like yet very colorful and ceremonious, did I mention they also enjoy sipping down jesus’ sweet blood and his broken, mangled, bruised and battered flesh… A google search with the phrase “crazy mainstream north american religions” or something similar might be a good place to start, I think you would find it very eye opening.

    January 18, 2013
  11. I agree completely. It took me a long time to figure out that I was indoctrinated by the Catholic Church. (Early Twenties). Even though I know now this, I still wonder if I am sinning because I am questioning these beliefs. And the worst part, is that every religion does this to children. I wonder if the reason I have so much anxiety is because of religion. Being taught that I have to be perfect to get into Heaven, which is impossible to be in religion. Beating myself mentally over mistakes. I don’t blame my parents, because they didn’t do this knowingly. I think that being brought up in religion is a form of child abuse, but of course no one in religion will ever admit it.

    July 30, 2013

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