During my deconversion process I have continually added books on deconversion and atheism to my library and read through as many as possible and continue to do so. As someone who went through this journey it compels me to read and learn how others escaped such severe indoctrination in their belief systems and in my case fundamental Christianity. Based on everything I have read and my personal experience it seems there does come a final awakening moment when you realize that your belief is gone, and you no longer believe in a deity. I’m not talking about non-belief on the surface but deep down inside of you.
There were times I “thought” I had reached the point of non-belief but there was still a small sliver inside of me that hated leaving religion and I kept tucked away. There does come a final breaking point when you finally break that last chain and know you are free from the indoctrination. I am convinced that last remaining “chain link” to break is fear. In my opinion fear is what keeps people bound to religion. Fear of rejection from peers, fear of persecution and fear of death and hell. In some parts of the world this fear is justified as it can result in the loss of your life. It outrages me that humankind continues to allow this type of persecution to exist. That is why I believe if you can come out as an agnostic or atheist then you should do so but that is not why I am writing this today. I am writing this blog today to address my objection to the methods of how many of our youth are pushed in to religion and indoctrination of beliefs based on fear.
My deconversion happened over the “death of a thousand cuts” as I have heard many others say. While I was a Christian and father one of the main purposes of my life was to raise my kids as Christians, that’s just what a “good Christian father does”. As a Christian father it was my duty to be the spiritual leader and get my children in to church and not just church but youth group and Christian camps and activities. I would like to say before I go any further there are some good people involved around these activities. There are many who truly are doing what they think is right and have a passion to help foster a positive environment for the youth to participate in. I now know that these people would have been good people without religion and I don’t want to discredit their motives, but I believe they are misled for many reasons.
I made sure my son always went to the youth groups on Wednesday nights. One of the groups he was a part of “Awana’s” which is a boy scout type group in Christian churches and especially in Baptist churches. The mission of Awana’s is to bring in as many youths as possible and have them invite their friends and ultimately try to convert them. Awana’s is not a year-round event but seasonal event for a couple of months each year. A lot of time the curriculum is purchased from a “Baptist approved” or denominational approved Christian bookstore or resource. Usually there is some type of event at the end of the Awana’s season with a youth play or awards ceremony and a report on how many were converted during the Awana’s program.
Well one night my son came home from Awana’s and told me “Dad I got saved tonight!”. I was excited to hear this and know my son came to belief in Jesus on his own. It was what a good Christian father should want to hear right? Well I wasn’t ready for my internal reaction to follow. I asked him to tell me what happened and more about his decision to get saved. As he went on to recount the events of the evening, he told me the main pastor of the church came in to visit with them and give them a message. It was the final night of the Awana’s season and historically at this church this is where the buildup concluded with a big final push was given for converts. It was a big deal the pastor came to talk to them personally, they were excited to get the “special message” from the pastor.
My son went on to explain that the pastor told them about the rapture and how all the believers would be taken up in the sky with Jesus but those left behind would be lost forever. He continued to tell me the preacher told them about hell and how unbelievers would go there and be tortured burn forever. My son then told me he knew he didn’t want to go to hell and he chose to believe that very night. It kind of felt like a jab in my side when in my mind I realized my son made a choice to believe out of fear. Even as a Christian I could see very plainly that he was manipulated by fear to make the decision.
Some Christian responses I have heard when this topic is brought up boil down to “it’s better to be scared in to heaven then left to burn in hell” mentality. But I wonder how these same believers would feel if their child went to an event with a friend and was exposed to another religion and belief system and received the same “turn or burn” conversion message? Would they be happy with their child’s decision to believe another religion out of fear or only their religion? I think the honest answer is no they would be outraged.
My child was not the only one to make the decision out of fear there were many others. Of course, there are other reasons some may have chose to believe such as wanting to be a part of the group and “everyone of my friends believe and I don’t want to be different”. There are also “emotional conversions” where the music builds to an emotional crescendo and then an alter call is given during that moment or right afterwards. (I can speak to the music part because I was a guitarist for youth group and Sunday morning services.) Part of the music planning is the coordination of songs to align with the altar call and prayer time. There are certain songs and tones that elicit emotional responses and many times this is when believers “feel the spirit in the worship service”. Many of the “emotional conversions” lead to “backsliding” not long afterwards and then followed up with future “re-dedications” it seems.
Ultimately to wrap up this blog and get back on point, looking back and after talking to my son again about the experience (he is 17 now) the decision was solely based on “not wanting to burn in hell or be left behind”. It is my assertion that this is immoral and a deceptive way to start the indoctrination of young believers and it happens very often. The church has a history of these type of practices all the way from the crusades to the Catholic church accepting payments to get loved ones out of purgatory and in to heaven. It’s not as obvious now but it still exists. This was one of the “thousand cuts” that led to my deconversion and another reason why I choose to speak out now as a non-believer. This is an immoral practice and is clearly mental abuse as many people will suffer from this indoctrinated fear of hell for many years afterwards, I know I did and so did my son for a long time till we talked through the lack of evidence for hell. This was just one of the “thousand cuts” on my deconversion journey. I will leave you with a quick resource recommendation. If you still suffer from fear of hell I would recommend watching “Realizing Hell does not exist” by 43Alley on Youtube.