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.
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 RichardDawkins.net 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. ♡