Sunday, October 04, 2015


Thoreau said that thousands are hacking at the branches of evil to every one person hacking at its roots.  I agree and I want to hack at what I consider a root cause of evil in the world---indoctrination of children.

I was indoctrinated in the Southern Baptist faith and  was 27 when I escaped.  That crazy belief system and culture damaged my intellectual growth, inflicted guilt, stole happiness, wasted time and energy, imposed prejudices and much more.

I recognize that currently, almost everyone is indoctrinated into some belief system and culture.  Every cocoon must hang from some tree and so every one of us comes to consciousness within some culture. Most cultures have crazy components to it. (Catholic: birth control abortion divorce, infallibility of Pope----Mormons golden book, magic underwear etc) A key question is whether you can break free and construct your own value system. Regretably only about 20% of us do so.

I believe we should stop indoctrinating our children.  I think it is possible to teach values without doctrines. Here's apoem I wrote years ago:


What if all the religions of the world were forced somehow to compete on a level playing field? Perhaps a world, weary of religious strife, finally traced the problem to its roots: the indoctrination of children? And what if this were outlawed? Parents could still share values with their children, but not doctrines. Children would reach age 12 or so with their minds more open. And when they demonstrated sufficient mental competence and curiosity, they would be allowed to visit the Religion Warehouse.

The Religion Warehouse

Kids are gathered outside at eight,
Doors are opened at nine.
They are here to sample religions of the world,
All strung out in a line.

Row upon row, every living faith
Represented in spacious booths.
And every booth has people anxious
To share their “eternal truths.”

They have pamphlets and films and all 27
Major “holy books,”
The Bible, the Koran, the Bagavad Gita.
Every kid’s invited to look.

As they wander up and down the aisles,
Believers of every bent
becon children into their booths,
Like barkers at a side show tent.

The Christian section has 200 booths,
Each with a different slant
On God, salvation, Jesus and heaven,
That they wish to implant.

There are nine different versions of Islam,
Six different kinds of Jews,
A host of Buddhist sects,
A hundred types of Hindus.

The New Age section is replete
With people pushing “spiritual” stuff,
Smiley-faced believers in a thousand things,
Like crystals and superstitious fluff.

The American Indians drummed up a crowd
With dancers adorned with feathers.
Truly believing that Shamans can heal,
And Kachinas can change the weather.

Cults took up a whole wall–
Gurus of every stripe,
Dominating tyrants trolling
For the total submission type.

The atheist booth had scrappy folks,
Dead sure in their conclusion
That religion is the opiate of the people,
A dumb and deadly illusion.

Agnostics had a cheerful booth
With banners above and below.
The upper one said, “Keep an open mind;”
The lower said, “Nobody knows.”

The Mormons were talking ‘bout golden books.
The Quakers pushed peace and hope.
The Amish urged us back to the land.
Catholics said obey the Pope.

Back in the corner were Unitarians,
Of all the churches most odd;
The only church that didn’t claim
To have a message from God.

Muslims were a backward lot,
Their religion frozen in time,
Their nations ruled by autocrats,
Their women treated like slime.

Voodoo believers sacrificed chickens;
Spiritualists summoned ghosts.
Urantia folks told of flying saucers;
Tantrics urged sex uppermost.

On and on the religions stretched.
Children came and went until
In a day or a year, their minds were clear,
Or perhaps just had their fill.

Then back to the world, having chosen
Truths” that suited their taste.
Most took bits from several faiths,
With a job of “cut and paste.”

Gone was arrogance and dogmatism.
Their study of religion and history
Lets them tolerate ambiguity,
Embrace the human mystery.

In a few short years, religious wars ceased;
All nations made a truce.
Every civilized person now agrees
Indoctrination is child abuse.

Freedom to choose your religion
Is a universal human right.
Parents stopped laying their “trip” on kids,
And the world sleeps better at night.

 I say to my readers:  If you have escaped your indoctrination---created your own value system--you are a part of life's solution.  Congratulations.  If, on the other hand you believe the doctrines your parents told you---you are likely part of life's problem.



Jan Goldfield said...

How right you are. And so very lucky or wise or both you are to have escaped the prison you were forced into. I was lucky as well and figured things out early on. We live as outcasts because we do not believe in the killing, judgmental, strangling religions that have hold of their followers today. And I don't name any particular one because they all do. We have escaped. We can only hope that others do.

Mark said...

Great poem that contains a lot of truth. I like what a guy named Bill once said before his enlightenment.
"They should get my brand while there is yet time." A few tried to get me switched to their brand. Funny how people stop looking when they find a first solution.

Don said...

It is a joy and a comfort to read words written by someone of like mind. I always enjoy your writings. This one mirrors my thoughts. Keep doing what you do. You do it well.

cigarhippie said...

Insprirational, a great undertaking indeed. Imagine.......

Mark said...

Great poem that contains a lot of truth. I like what a guy named Bill once said before his enlightenment.
"They should get my brand while there is yet time." A few tried to get me switched to their brand. Funny how people stop looking when they find a first solution.

Terri Reed said...

Very thoughtful insight, I agree about being indoctrinated at an early age and holding fast to those values without any personal enlightenment. Just an additional comment . . . . I think the Oregon college shooter was rejected and dismissed and kicked-out too much, it wore on him, and he therefore tried to come up with a "Scapegoat" to vent his anger about being rejected/dismissed/kicked-out and decided "organized religion" was the problem in life, not him. His Scapegoat could have been any number of things/people/groups to result in his "justification" for violence. Tricks of the human mind are pretty awful.

Kimbopolo said...

Agree completely with your sentiment.

But, when you think about, childhood is the perfect age to introduce these myths - believing any of that stuff requires child-like thinking.

Ed Helvey - Location Independent Traveler said...

Very insightful, Randy. I relate to your indoctrination - I was brought up in the American Baptist Church (northeast) and later when I lived in Annapolis, MD, as a 30 something adult, I joined a Southern Baptist congregation. I even felt I had a "calling" to the the ministry of the American Baptist Church. Thankfully, I found my real calling in the recording industry at 18 and a 50 year career. But, more than just the indoctrination of the religions - is the indoctrination of our educational system, our government, our military and even many of our major corporations and, especially a lot of the multi-level/network marketing corporations. We are bombarded and indoctrinated from the moment we are able to begin expressing ourselves intellectually. I'd even go as far as calling it mind control and dumbing down the masses. Too strong? Maybe. Maybe not. Thankfully, while I'm still plagued by some of the guilt and repression of my youthful indoctrination, I believe I've finally overcome much, if not most of it. But, it took a lot of years to undue it. Thanks for being a "thinker." We need more thinkers and less lemmings.

Carol Maurer said...

This is a great blog today. I have a great many Facebook friends who have arrived at their own viewpoint in this same fashion -- former Pentecostals, former Mormons, "recovering" Catholics. I believe there are more than 20% of us, more all the time!

I would love to copy this blog off and post it on Facebook, giving you and your blog site full credit of course. May I?

Randy said...

Carol: Of course--be my guest. And I hope you are correct about there being more than 20% who escape their indoctrination. We atheist, agnostics and freethinkers now have enough clout to make our opinions felt in the national political arena. I believe the Republican focus on defunding Planned Parenthood is doomed to failure and may backfire on them in the general election.
Ed---Terry--Thanks for your insights and for mentioning the Oregon shooting---proving that there are anti-religion fanatics also. May the "Lord" deliver me from that extreme.

Kevin said...

Imagine all the people living life in peace.

Jim and Gayle said...

As Voltaire more or less said, "If God didn't exist we would have to invent him." At our very core man looks for connections. It is our way to make sense of the world around us. That is why and where we created gods. As science unravels our mysteries we have less of a need for god as an explanation.

That said, while the number of non-believers may be growing I don't really expect any significant change in my lifetime. In the end, I don't care what everyone else believes as long as it doesn't negatively effect my quality of life. Sadly, our own homegrown religious fanaticism seems to be growing perhaps it is their response to their growing irrelevance.

I highly recommend this woman's blog for thoughtful commentary on religion.

Great poem as usual Randy.


Dan Arnold said...

I was raised in an evangelical, Bible believing home. My father even worked to help start churches. His father was an evangelist who raised money for the church all around the country because he was considered a very dynamic preacher. However, my father always insisted we think and question rather than blindly accept. He had been a debater in college and enjoyed hearing us argue, not just go along with an 'official' position.

Tho' I was forced to attend church at least twice a week, plus Sunday school, I was fortunate that the church was associated with a college and there were many well educated people around and their kids were generally intelligent. I ended up actually enjoying the discussions and Bible study because the stories and ideas made me think. It was good preparation for college and later law school. I quickly realized most of the believers didn't really know what they were talking about or how the Bible was assembled. I ended up doing a lot of independent study and realized the idea of this anthropomorphic God made no sense; that the stories in Genesis were myths.

Certainly in some ways the influence of the Church was not healthy and led to some false assumptions I was burdened with. But overall I think it was healthy for me and may have been important for getting me interested in ideas.

Randy said...

Dan: Interesting point and I agree. If more real information about the bible were known many more people would see it for what it is: a vast collection of myths, distorted histories, non sensible speculations. cruelties, bad ethics, contradictions (look up 1 chronicles 21:1 and compare it with 2 Samuel 24:1) and ridiculous metaphysics. Just a little instruction in the 4 major sources of the penateuch--J-E-D and P would enlighten believers. To read the 5000 yr old story of Utnapishtim would explain to any rational person the origin of the flood story.
In summary. I have my seminary training to thank for liberating me and making me bull----proof.

Anonymous said...

Religion is what separates humans from the apes. You can call it indoctrination if you want but it trains children in developing their insight and imagination. Today were are deluged with fictional entertainment that replaces most of the need for religion. Religion is like the SiFi of developing cultures. An imaginary God stretches the mind beyond the confines of ordinary reality and leads to invention and discovery.

Randy said...

Thank you anonymous for a different take on the subject. I can see that religious myths can be like SiFi in developing countries, stretching the mind beyond the confines of ordinary reality---FOR GOOD AND ILL. Recently I posted about a present day missionary in Brazil who said that his tribe was enveloped in a cloud of fear based on their notions of spirits good and evil that they must be ever mindful to propitiate. Albert Schweitzer said that weekly a canoe would arrive carrying a victim driven insane by the terrrors of their dark myths. I would like to see a study of the good and bad effects of myths on primitive tribes. I don't presume to know the answer---or whether our modern myths are relatively more benign. I strongly suspect that people nowdays who question and abandon their childhood indoctrination
are more nearly self actualized than those who don't.

G said...

I had a very similar conversation with my daughter who has become a staunch Christian believing that if you do not believe in Jesus Christ as your savior that you would most certainly go to hell.
I asked her if that meant those that never heard of Jesus Christ would go to hell based on their isolation? She could not answer. I asked about Hindu's or Buddhist who also have their own belief system and never had a chance to hear the word of Christ, would they too go to hell? She could not answer.
Then I introduced a scenario much like your post, what if every person got to hear a spokesperson for every religion on earth. Wouldn't the person listening be swayed by the marketing and selling ability of the spokesperson as opposed to the merits of the religion?
If the Christian spokesperson just sucked at selling his views and the person chose another religion that didn't believe in Christ due to a better salesman, should that person go to hell?
After all, most religions is nothing more than a service/product trying to gain a market share of the population. You gain market share and thus profitability based on how well you sell what you have to offer.

Jan Goldfield and Donna Morse said...

Don't forget the power and control of the few good salesmen. They will build followings that will allow them a great financial gain and total power over their buyers. Not a bad living for a religion peddler.

Al Christensen said...

I was raised by the golden book and magic underwear people. I remember that when I was very young I thought the stories they taught me were just more fairytales. Then I realized they were supposed to be real. Okay, I thought, if they said so. After all, they were grownups and knew what was what.

So I went along with the program. But, deep inside, my inner infidel kept asking my outer Mormon, "Do you really believe this stuff?" My outer Mormon would respond, with mixed conviction, "Shut up."

I was a good Mormon, by their standards, but I was miserable. Not because of the life I had to live. (Being a Mormon isn't all that fun but it's not very hard.) It was due to the war I was having with myself. The conflict became more apparent during my two-year missionary service. I'd be in the middle of teaching The Gospel® when I'd become uncomfortable with what I was saying.

Back in college, after my missionary tour, I took a psychology class that covered things like indoctrination and peer influences on how we perceive reality. It was like the story of my life.

So, one day, thinking about the religion I'd been raised in, the conscious self, the proper Mormon, dared think, "Do I really believe this, or is it just because I was raised that way?" Whoosh, the infidel was let out of the cell I'd built for him. He stepped up to the microphone and said, "Not only do you/we not believe Mormonism, you/we don't believe in anything supernatural. We are, and have always been, an atheist at heart. Welcome to the true you."

Randy said...

AAh Al: You have warmed my heart. Thanks for the story. I hope it comforts you as it does me to discover that we atheist/agnostics (I agree with Bill Maer that there is really no difference)are slowly winning. Our 20% of the population are the smart and influential and very soon---perhaps in 20 years more and more people will come out of the closet in the same way that Gays have come out of theirs. They quickly achieved a tipping point and I think we will too. Already I've seen anti-religious billboards and even signs on busses. I am hoping for anti religious radio programs to counter the crap that blankets the country. The quicker we learn that ethics is socially generated and not revealed the quicker we can deal with our biggest threat Islam.---Hope you've discovered Sam Harris and his definitive book THE END OF FAITH and his numerous youtube debates.

Al Christensen said...

Here's an article about the psychology behind religious belief. Even though most of us were raised to believe certain things, certain parts of the belief system appeal to us more than others. It's influenced by our personality types. So, even if we reject our childhood indoctrination, where we go from there—whether to a different religion or to none at all—depends on what we value.

Michael said...


I appreciate your passion on the issue, and enjoyed your poem. Like you, I broke away from religion in my mid-twenties, so I relate to your story. Religious indoctrination is, undoubtedly, exerting power over relatively helpless and defenseless humans who have no ability to consent. Mental rape. And independent thinkers with a heart, like you, are understandably distressed at this.

The question is, what to do about it. Sadly, many well-intended solutions have resulted in worse problems than the ones they were deployed to solve. Horrific historic and foreign examples abound, but even many examples of American laws (Prohibition, draconian marijuana laws, asset forfeiture, etc.) leap to mind.

The challenges I see with outlawing religious indoctrination are, first, that religion is far from the only kind of indoctrination and, second, if society were to apply the rule fairly and thus forbid parents teaching their children anything that could not be objectively proved--a standard of belief nearly no adult lives by even for himself or herself--virtually every parent would be a criminal, resulting in a far worse problem than we already have with the criminal justice system seeming ever more tyrranical and menacing to large portions of the population.

To elaborate: What if instead of a religious parent teaching her child that it’s wrong to work on Sunday, a secular parent taught that there must be a minimum wage law? And what if instead of teaching her daughter that it's wrong to have sex before marriage, she teaches her that it's a fundamental woman’s right to abort a fetus? Each of these positions are not subject to being proved. They are based on controversial values, not facts. And they are claims that can indoctrinate a child.

One might argue that only claims of supernatural truth should be forbidden to teach children, but on what grounds would such a distinction be fair? Many millions have been killed in wars over nonreligious ethnic and tribal and nationalist teachings, and many millions have been imprisoned and abused (violently kidnapped and strip-searched and held captive...or had their prospects for decent employment ruined…for years by armed men...employed by the government) over ideas about the evil of relaxing by using the leaves of certain plants. And I don’t know of any American imprisoned for not acting by religious teachings.

So who will get to decide which values, and their resulting opinions and practices, are to be considered "indoctrinations," and which are to be considered "reasonable"? Protecting children from parents is important, but so is protecting citizens from government.
Who will have the power to determine for whom...which ideas and opinions are verboten? Which are legal to espouse within earshot of one's children, and which not? As a certain villian/hero of ideas of governance once put it succinctly: "Who--whom?"

Again, though, I am entirely in sympathy with your premise that religious education imposed on children is indoctrination. And on a hopeful note, although it isn't happening quite as fast as we might like, the Internet (including blogs like yours...and the videos of Sam Harris and other infidels on Youtube and elsewhere) is doing a fine job of eroding religious belief, and without the danger of government tyranny or the blowback of fierce opposition against government intervention. Once people see the arguments on their computer screens and's hard for growing numbers to not realize where the truth lies. Western young people today (heck, arguably even the Pope) are far less religious than their parents or grandparents. "A little light chases away a lot darkness." Or so it seems to me...

Michael in Oklahoma

Randy said...

Michael: Thanks again for a very insightful essay. Of course you're right---a government imposed agnosticism is impractical---though China has apparantly succeeded in severly curtailing most fanatical religions. The Falun Gong (spelling?) sect was spreading like wildfire when government forbade gatherings of them and seemingly they have retreated to the shadows. Also they keep Islam from its usual mischief. It can be done! Historically, Buddhism nearly disappeared from India, its birthplace--perhaps by force--don't know the facts.
Anyway, What I suggested is a bad idea--I suggested it in jest. But guess what--here's an idea I think is possible---CLASSES IN COMPARATIVE RELIGION--as an elective at the high school level. I think I will get the ball rolling---poetically-- by summarizing all the great religions of the world on my blog. Beginning today with Christianity.

Michael said...

Thank you for your generous-spirited response, Randy: And you're absolutely right: If government at the federal and state levels requires or rewards various other educational topics and standards, surely they can in some way support the practice of classes in comparative religion.

Implicit in your idea, is the understanding that religions--certainly our exclusive religions like Christianity, Islam, Judaism, etc.--depend for their hold on their followers on relative ignorance of other peoples' religions. Not truly encountering other religions helps maintain the illusion that one's own religion is unique, and in some way wholly different and special. Indeed, it keeps people from thinking about the matter a second time, perhaps even a first time.

Certain ancient religions, by contrast, in days when monotheistic gods were far less often conceived of, seem to have been a matter of local, national or geographic loyalty--it being understood in certain of those cultures that each people and land had its own principal god or gods. Thus, when changing lands or peoples, one would naturally be under the "jurisdiction" of a new god. Recall biblical Ruth's pledge to Naomi as they headed from the land of Moab into the land of Israel: "...your people shall be my people, and your god my god."]

On a similar note--of certain ancient pagans being far more open to matter-of-fact awareness and respect of other's religions than our dominant religions and their peoples have managed for the past two millennia--I remember as a very young man being touched and astonished at reading the biblical story of Jonah, in seeing that the sailors on the sinking ship implored everyone to pray to their gods. All gods were seen as worthy of prayer, and people of all religions were accepted. Ironically, and some would say this compassion (as also illustrated by God’s closing lecture to Jonah that he should have been more distressed at the notion of the impending punishment of the people of Nineveh) was part of the intended moral lesson of that biblical book—Jonah the "prophet," was the only one who had an exclusivist view of religion. He believed in One God of Heaven and Earth, and his tradition viewed other religions and gods rather dimly.

Many pagan or polytheistic religions included what to our sensibilities were various horrific practices and values, and some were intolerant in their own ways. So their way was no panacea, either. But for its part, monotheism has brought, along with arguably various benefits, the conviction that there are no other gods--and therefore that worshippers of other gods are foolish, misguided, rejecting of truth and offensive to God, even cursed and not worthy of the same human dignity as worshipper of the "True God."

Back to your point, though. You’re right: Comparative religion classes—even if presented under the umbrella of history, as the history of religions—would be really good idea for society to encourage and reward.

Anonymous said...

Children are indoctrinated by parents and/or the culture they grow up in. Depending on their psychological/genetic makeup they may resonate most with organized religion, a local street gang, ISIS, Scientology, Advaita Vedanta or the Salvation Army. If they are exceptional or stubbornly curious or got an A in 'Open-Minded Skepticism 101' they may see through the conceptual smog of all belief systems and choose to place their trust in facts. What in fact is going on here? What are we really? Are we just firecracker residue left over from the Big Bang? Are we Infinite Intelligence? Are we individuated units of consciousness incarnating in physical forms over and over for some grand purpose we cannot fathom? Are we the Absolute/Source/Tao/God herself expressing in infinite ways just because it feels good to experience aliveness? Are we just random combinations of quantum particles vibrating to music only we can hear? Where do thoughts come from? Do the core beliefs deep in our subconscious minds get woven into the fabric of our daily circumstances? If there is a Law of Attraction, is there also a Law of Rejection? Who wrote the Laws of the Universe, anyway? Are there other universes? Do they have different physics? Is this all really just a virtual reality? Is this thing on?

Randy said...

Ahhh anonymous---how wise and clever you are: ("firecracker residue"--perfect!) You ask exactly the right questions and encourage us to embrace the mystery. That is exactly my message. I might add that we mythmakers by nature ought to construct our modern myths on top of our best scientific understanding---that's where myths are legitimate if they ever are. (and I think they are)

Patricia Leeb said...

This is certainly a thought-provoking post. I find it interesting to note the general agreement among the comments thus far. Now, I consider myself a person of faith, but unfortunately so much of what you post about wilfull ignorance in religion and amongst faithful is accurate. Division, sectarianism and extremism arise when people desperate for certainty in a whirl of rapidly changing material events and societal attitudes cling to rigid beliefs, however irrational or limiting. Religion without acceptance of science is mere superstition, yet science without spirituality and ethics is all too easily twisted to harmful ends. Islam and Christianity both were once fountains of learning, discovery and moral good. All religions, when examined, carry the same basic message, but are of their age. The message needs to be (and is) renewed periodically in the cycle of divine revelations, but it's only human to fear the end of a comfortable belief system, however limiting it is to spiritual progress, and resist a new messenger bearing a new revelation, even though that revelation is foundationally the same, just renewing and refreshing the eternal message for the current day and age and stage of humanity's development. Because humanity is eternally changing and gaining greater understanding of the material universe, religion must also grow and progress to accommodate (and stretch) humankind's increased sophistication and understanding. As an analogy, one doesn't introduce calculus to third-graders, yet one can't keep teaching basic arithmetic to high-schoolers. The message must fit the age. I believe what we are witnessing with Islam and the many Christian sects are the obsolete responses to a new age.

Randy said...

Thank you Patricia for your thoughtful comment. The world could likely live with your tolerant "spirituality". Indeed, Americas' foremost atheist, Sam Harris espouses a strangely similar version of spirituality at the end of his book, THE END OF FAITH. If I understand your theology it would read something like this: There is a God--creator of the universe--and interested in us personally--to the extent that--he REVEALS himself in various ways to people.
And these revelations scattered across history help humanity cope with our situation,improve ethics etc. My friend Wayne Wirs believes essentially this. I have had a mystical experience (at age 17) and honestly don't know what to make of it. Perhaps it means nothing--just a kind of brain fart or maybe it means something important. Still don't know.
I think the theory that would serve humanity best is to act as if the best guidance available to us is our own deepest intuition---to consider that all the divinity available to us is ourselves in association with our fellow man. Perhaps the Hindu guess is most approximate---that God has ingressed himself into time and matter and is working himself back to God. In this view revelation is nothing more than intuition. Would love to chat with you about this.

Honsell Thompson said...

Great site but the bold font I find difficult to read! Thank you.