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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. ♡


A step towards equality in Washington state

Sometimes I really love living in Washington state. This is one of those times.

Yesterday, Governor Christine Gregoire expressed her support for a legislative bill that would legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state.

I’m so grateful to her for doing this. Why?

  • First, the obvious: arguments against legalizing same-sex marriage are unjust, unfair, and untenable. Often, the only support offered for such arguments arise from personal emotional objections to the issue and/or an individual’s homophobia/bigotry. And, although this shouldn’t need to be said, unfortunately it does: gays and lesbians are not second-class citizens. They deserve equal treatment under the law. Period.
  • Second: she’s taking a big risk here. Sadly enough, politicians who publicly support the legalization of same-sex marriage sometimes face a backlash that can jeopardize their careers.
  • Third: as she explained yesterday, because of her religious beliefs (she’s a practicing Catholic), this decision hasn’t been an easy one for her:

“I have been on my own journey, I’ll admit that,” she said at a news conference announcing her support of a legalization bill that will be introduced next week.

“It has been a battle for me with my religion,” said Gregoire, who is Catholic.

The Democrat previously had supported efforts to expand the state’s current law on domestic partner rights for gay couples, but had not come out in favor of full marriage rights.

She obviously understands that civil rights should not be decided by public opinion (religious or otherwise) and has made it clear that her political position on this particular issue is not determined by either her religious beliefs or her private opinions. I admire her so much for that, and this quote makes me want to hug her:

“I’ve always been uncomfortable with the position I took publicly,” she said. “Then I came to realize, the religions can decide what they want to do, but it’s not OK for the state to discriminate.”

Yes, THIS. A million times this. In one brief quote, she both demonstrated her personal integrity and refuted the completely false claim that, if same-sex marriage were to be legalized, churches and other religious organizations would be required to approve, recognize, or perform these marriages. No: this is an issue of civil marriage rights and does not affect the freedom of religious groups in any way. Religious individuals and groups who oppose the legalization of same-sex marriage are and should be free to express their opposition in a myriad of ways, but their personal objections must not be allowed to impede the process of extending civil rights to all citizens, as Gregoire notes here.

Unfortunately, this bill will face many challenges, and, even if it does pass, there’s a possibility that it will be overturned through our state’s initiative and referendum process (I’m not a fan of initiatives/referendums, to say the least). In 2009, the domestic partnership law was almost overturned in a state-wide referendum (I wrote about it at the time).

Despite the challenges and the uphill battle to come, this is a big step towards equality, and I am extremely grateful to Governor Gregoire for the integrity, courage, and compassion she has shown. She’s awesome. :)


P.S.: this quote from the above-linked Seattle Times article is so very moving. It brought me to tears:

“It’s about damn time,” said 75-year-old John McCluskey of Tacoma, who attended the news conference with his partner of 53 years, Rudy Henry. The couple registered as domestic partners the first year that they could, in 2007.

“At our age, we don’t know how long we’ll be around,” he said. “We’d really like to get married.”

Rowan Williams + the question mark = best friends forever

From the Guardian:

The archbishop of Canterbury [has] described his faith as a ‘silent waiting on the truth, pure sitting and breathing in the presence of the question mark’.

Dear Mark “Holy RabbitVernon and Karen Armstrong,

I regret to inform you that, as of today, you are no longer the co-holders of the award for Best Apophatic Theology Bullshit Artist.

You have both shown yourselves, time and time again, to be worthy of the title; however, Rowan Williams, the archbishop of Canterbury, has recently taken apophatic theology to new and glorious heights, and must be justly rewarded for his achievement.

If you would like to congratulate Archbishop Williams, you can find him on a park bench, sitting next to a large man dressed as a question mark, breathing and waiting for God.

Yours in the unknowable ineffable mysterious question that is God,

Thomas Aquinas


(Originally posted here)

John Haught, Jesuit education, and the real-life consequences of Catholic teachings

When an educational institution prioritizes adherence to a religious ideology over rigorous academic inquiry and intellectual development, students suffer. They are not only deprived of the opportunity to develop and utilize critical thinking skills, they are also, to varying degrees, actively discouraged from doing so. True academic and intellectual growth cannot occur in an educational institution in which a specific ideology and its associated tenets are actively protected from questioning and scrutiny.

These arguments are widely-known and widely-accepted. There’s another important aspect of this issue that is rarely discussed, though, and a recent event made me realize that it’s also worth consideration. Like students, some members of the faculty of religious schools, particularly religious universities, are also deprived of the opportunity to engage in legitimate and rigorous academic inquiry and intellectual growth. However, while I feel a great deal of sympathy and empathy for the students who attend these schools, I feel no such compassion for the faculty, particularly those who actively and vociferously discourage both their students and their colleagues from questioning, critiquing, scrutinizing, or applying their critical thinking skills to the ideology in question.

Through their actions, these faculty members create a comfortable, insular, and safe little bubble for themselves, one in which both their religious beliefs and their pedagogical/andragogical/scholarly actions are protected from scrutiny. Jesuit educational institutions are a textbook example of this. Jesuits believe that they are called to educate. And, to be fair, their educational institutions often do a wonderful job of educating students on the subjects that pose no threat to Catholicism. My first-hand experience with Jesuit education was at the high school level. The school I attended is a “preparatory school” for a Jesuit university (most Jesuit universities have one or more affiliated “preparatory” high schools). In many ways, this school provided me with an outstanding education, offering academic opportunities unavailable to students at most public high schools. However, the critical thinking skills and intellectual abilities that I developed in certain courses and areas of study were not welcomed in the (mandatory) courses that focused on Church history, doctrine, tenets, or teachings. This was extremely jarring. It forced me to develop of a particular form of cognitive dissonance and it further reinforced what I had been taught from a very early age: Catholicism must never be questioned.

While the actions of these high school teachers is motivated by a desire to indoctrinate children, professors and other educators at Jesuit universities aren’t as concerned with indoctrination. They don’t have to be: their students are adults who have, most likely, attended Catholic schools and/or participated in Catholic religious activities since they were small children. The indoctrination is done. Free from that responsibility, these professors can instead focus on creating and maintaining that insular academic bubble, one in which they can express their opinions and beliefs without facing scrutiny or rigorous academic inquiry. This bubble is an echo chamber, filled with “yes-men” who are fully committed to a religious ideology that is not only their personal belief system, but also their livelihood. And there is no better example of this phenomenon than a professional theologian, for they are the ones who have the most to lose. A theologian’s primary job is to produce faux-sophisticated nonsensical apologetics intended to distract from the actual teachings and practices of the Catholic Church. Their work is so utterly and transparently meaningless that it cannot stand up to even the mildest of scrutiny.

As long as these theologians remain within their echo chambers, they are safe from criticism. Within their protected bubbles, they never have to acknowledge the true harm done by the Catholic Church. They are coddled, surrounded by yes-men who ensure that they will never have to face true academic scrutiny.

But when they step outside of that comfort zone and are confronted with the teachings of the Catholic Church and the real-world consequences of those teachings, all bets are off. The bubble bursts and their “sophisticated theology” is quickly exposed for the obfuscatory nonsense that it is.

Enter Catholic theologian John Haught of Georgetown University (a Jesuit institution). Long story short: recently, at the University of Kentucky, he debated Jerry Coyne on the question of whether or not science and religion are compatible, a debate in which Haught performed poorly. Then, a few days ago, Dr. Robert Rabel, the head of the institution that sponsored the debate, the Gaines Center for the Humanities, informed Jerry that Haught had demanded that the video recording of the debate not be posted online (Jerry had been eager to post the video on his site). Rabel, for whatever reason, decided to give in to Haught’s demand. Further, Rabel refused Jerry’s request for a copy of the video with Haught’s parts edited out, and, together with Haught, proceeded to deny Jerry’s other reasonable requests. Haught’s reason for refusing to release the video? The debate: “failed to meet what [he] consider[s] to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange”. Back to that in a minute.

Yesterday, Jerry posted about Haught’s refusal and Rabel’s enabling of that refusal. This post received a great deal of attention, put Haught and Rabel under scrutiny, and gave both men a crash-course in “Streisand effect“-ology. After engaging in blackmail of a sort, Haught has apparently now agreed to release the video. Anyway, be sure to read Jerry’s two posts (1, 2) on this for a more detailed explanation of the whole mess.

Haught’s claim that the debate wasn’t a “fruitful academic exchange” is very telling. Although I imagine that it’s primarily an attempt to “save face”, it’s also indicative of Haught’s warped notions of academic standards. Haught’s experiences in the echo chamber of Jesuit higher education have led him to conclude that rigorous academic inquiry is acceptable and “fruitful” if and only if it presents no real challenge to his beliefs or to the career that he has built around those beliefs. Remember, theologians have the most to lose.

He wasn’t prepared. He didn’t realize that Jerry was going to confront him with examples of the real-life harm that the Catholic Church causes. Haught was forced to acknowledge the fact that all Catholics must eventually face: whether or not they personally adhere to the most damaging dogmas and practices of the Catholic Church, their support of the institution makes them at least somewhat complicit in the harm that it causes. And Haught has a lot more to answer for than the average Catholic, for he supports and defends the institution much more publicly and vociferously than most of his fellow laypeople. Haught is angry because Jerry provided a clear explanation of the horrible consequences of various Catholic beliefs and actions. In other words, when Haught claims that the debate “failed to meet what [he] consider[s] to be reasonable standards of fruitful academic exchange”, what he’s really saying is that “Coyne dared to question me. He had the gall to question my Church. I didn’t want to be challenged. I shouldn’t have to be challenged. Such scrutiny is unacceptable”.

Haught’s warped view of what constitutes “fruitful academic exchange” is the direct result of the Jesuit echo chamber in which he and so many other educators reside. The Jesuit motto is Ad maiorem Dei gloriam, “all for the greater glory of God”. And it’s more than just a maxim, for when academic inquiry and Catholicism come into conflict, Catholicism wins every time. In the Jesuit world, God trumps all. Over the past few weeks, Haught has learned the hard way that when he ventures too far outside of his protective bubble, he will be confronted with the dangerous beliefs and actions of the Catholic Church, the institution that he has dedicated his life to promoting and defending. Many of the Church’s actions aren’t pretty, and, until Haught is willing to acknowledge that, he shouldn’t be surprised or angered when he gets thoroughly trounced in a debate.

No one does visual rhetoric quite like the Seventh-day Adventists!

I got some hilarious mail yesterday. Behold the insanity that is Seventh-day Adventist eschatology!:

(Seriously, go read that link. Seventh-day Adventist eschatology is mind-bogglingly insane. It’s quite fascinating, really.)

I get these “Prophecy Seminar” pamphlets about once a year and they always bring me many laughs. I’m also rather intrigued by their use of visual rhetoric. The horribly tacky graphics are obviously intended to evoke an emotional response in the viewer. What’s odd is how quickly they vacillate between images that are intended to frighten and images that are intended to seem friendly and welcoming. The idea here is something along the lines of: “We’re all doomed in every possible way!  The end is nigh! However, if you join our church, you’ll get to live with Jesus on the New Earth instead of being annihilated alongside Satan. Eternal life sounds awesome, doesn’t it? You’d rather hang out with Jesus than Satan, right? Alrighty then!” Silly, to say the least. And, although I can’t imagine doing anything other than laughing at it, the tactic must work on some people.

In other words: many religions prey on the vulnerable and fearful, but only the Seventh-day Adventists do it in such a bizarre and amusing fashion.

& Oh, speaking of their rhetorical style: their “Prophecy Seminar” pamphlets never mention Seventh-day Adventism. Ever. I wonder why? (I don’t mean that in a sarcastic way: I really am curious about it.)

Anyway, let’s take a look inside. First we have keynote speaker Richard Halversen and his winged lion friend. Nothing spectacularly interesting here, I know, but check out Halversen’s bio. That is some seriously horrible writing. Painfully awkward, confusing, and choppy. It makes me twitchy. Must fight impulse to deface hilarious pamphlet with red pen…


Next, we come to Jesus, who would like to tell you all about how awesome Armageddon is going to be. He’s really stoked about New Earth, and he hopes that you’ll come to one or more of these Jesus-Endorsed seminar sessions:


Finally, it’s time for the pièce de résistance of this pamphlet. It’s quite possibly the least subtle and nuanced piece of visual rhetoric that has ever existed in all of eternity:

And, as if the “Scary Signs that the end is Nigh!!” and the “These guys are probably the Antichrist. Be afraid!” visuals weren’t insane/funny enough, we have the additional lolziness of little kids who are apparently SUPER STOKED about all of this, and just can’t wait to go to the Prophecy Seminar, get a free Bible, and talk about the Lake of Fire and home foreclosures. Thumbs-up, kids. Thumbs-up!

Thanks for the insane lolz, Seventh-day Adventists! Thumbs-up!

Yay! I’ve been published in a textbook

Yay! I’ve been published in a textbook. (Sorry about the tiny picture- I can’t find a larger one.) The book is called Opposing Viewpoints: Church and State (publisher’s page, Amazon page, and WorldCat entry), and is part of Greenhaven Press‘s Opposing Viewpoints series, which are used in high school and college courses.

I haven’t yet seen a copy of the book itself, but I found its table of contents (.pdf) this morning, and seeing this made me smile:

(The article was originally published in 2009 as “School voucher programs are both ineffective and dangerous“)

A few months ago, I made a note in my to-do list app reminding me to check and see if the book had been published, but that reminder wasn’t scheduled until next week, so it was a nice surprise to find a check from the publisher waiting in my mailbox when I got home last night.

Although I’ve written quite a few articles/reviews/interviews/etc. for various publications (both print and online) over the past ten years or so, this is the first time that my writing has been part of a book, and I’m pretty excited about that. :)

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