I imagine most of us have complicated histories with religion. Whether it was at one point trying to find the right one, moving away from the one we were born into, or just plain old fashioned crisis of faith, at some point I would think most of us have each had a questioning of our beliefs.
First a little soap box. I feel indoctrinating our children into a belief or religion carries with it problems on a few levels. When we use the word indoctrination, it is never intended to be a positive term. It’s very definition, to accept the teachings and beliefs uncritically, is terrifying. Yet that is how many children are introduced into religion. Whether Christianity, Islam, Judaism, or most others. From the very moment they can repeat full sentences they are speaking scripture and verse.
In doing this at such a young age, we are conveying to them that this is safe and engraining this as a part of who we (and thus they) are. They are left to assume that just like anything that we are, this is good. After all, why would we, their role models, be something that isn’t good?
We go back to that word, uncritically. Much of organized religion is around excusing stuff. Sorry but we all know it’s true. You will receive forgiveness. Or it’s justified because the higher power says so. As part of the indoctrination we believe these very things with our being from, again, the time we are able to recite scripture and verse. In Christianity you are taught that killing is bad, yet we read of examples in the Bible itself where people are killed either in the name of god, through god, or as a lesson of the religion. And in virtually all cases, they are forgiven. And as children we believe from the very first ability to recite these that they are truth and self-evident.
The next issue with indoctrination is that it is often, in most cases actually, passed on. Even for the wayward believers, in hard times (and trust me… raising children is hard times) we go back to what is known and comfortable. Best to be as comfortable as we have control over in hard times after all. And in this comfort many of us pass on the same indoctrination we experienced. So we end up perpetuating the cycle either because we believe it, or because we resort back to it.
This seems to directly contradict growth however. Remain curious. Question everything. Stay uncomfortable. I mean is it even possible to maintain or find belief when you learn to be critical and questioning of everything?
Like most Americans, I too was indoctrinated into religion, Christian Science to be precise. Let me tell you, this was an awkward religion to grow up in, and not necessarily because of what occurred inside of the religion or teachings. First off, Christian Scientists believe in healing through metaphysics. In the teachings, this means that god will heal your sickness, not modern medicine. This belief also extends to the body itself. It is a vessel for the spirit, and anything involved in its operation and health will be cared for by god as it is in his image that the spirit and the body were created.
This meant a few things. We never saw a doctor growing up. We were not vaccinated ever (truly. The CVOID-19 vaccines were the first I’ve ever been administered). And had we become intensely ill (as my mother once did) we would not be treated for it. God would see us through it. Well you know what is super popular at school? Being different! Seemingly every classmate was in the same Sunday School, CCD class (whatever that was. Young me had no idea!), the same church outings. Yet every town we moved to I remember feeling like we were the only Christian Scientists at my school or in our neighborhood. (The school situation was even more uncomfortable than that. We were excused from things like health class or when science class would turn to biology. I believe at the time we were even excused from showering with the gym class, though I had left the religion by the time I got to that grade.)
So being honest here, part of my dislike for the religion did come from feeling ostracized at school because of it. Beyond that though, I feel I went through crisis like most who have low faith (mine from being singled out). I would often ask why things were happening if God was meant to take care of us. Praying for that present I was never given (after all that’s how it was supposed to work, right?).
Years later I discovered I was ultimately grateful in my ostracism. Without that I too may have simply accepted my indoctrination as good and whole, as I felt many of my classmates had. Instead almost from the outset I was left questioning the very identity that was being attempted to define me.
Naive me then figured that if I wasn’t comfortable or happy believing in God, certainly the answer must be the opposite. Reject god, religions, belief. The way of the atheist. This period actually lasted for decades. In fact I considered myself a hard atheist up until very recently. There was and is nothing out there except for us. The more we accept that, the more control we have over our lives and over the things in our lives.
And like most atheists, this belief wasn’t enough for just me. I needed to present it any time the subject of religion was brought up. You know, Christmas time, Easter, someone mentioning that they had gone to church, or even just saying “I pray that…” or saying “God bless you” to a sneeze! Yes that’s right.. the very second I felt threatened by Christianity I was quick to spout off my atheist beliefs. (Not so oddly given my insecurity, I had no similar outbursts with other religions such as Islam, Hindu, or even Judaism).
The funny part looking back on it was that I was equally if not more annoying as a “true” atheist than I ever was as a Christian, and in fact was probably equally annoying as what most would consider the most “annoying” Christians. Ahh insecurity, you fickle fiend you.
Maybe about 10 years ago I had an epiphany; I didn’t have all of the answers. Shocking I know. In fact I felt that if what I did know could fill a single football field, then surely what I didn’t know would take at least an unlimited number of football fields on an unlimited number of planets in an unlimited number of universes to contain. And if this were true, then how can I be absolutely certain on anything? Life choices, religion and belief, right and wrong. Now what I’m talking about isn’t indecision or insecurity. On the contrary, I am talking directly about being curious. The desire to be wrong about something so you can learn the truth about it. Along this path of growth some very funny things happened that I could have never predicted.
The most profound was my introduction to a modern movement of health through metaphysics, and specifically the effect of metaphysics on epigenetic, gene signaling, gut bacteria and its effects not only on our physical health but our mental health and gene signaling as well. Through teachings by those like Dr. Joe Dispense, Dr Steven Gundry, Byron Katie, Jay Shetty and many others, we are now entering an age where we are finding a whole circle around our well beings. From the fitness of heart, mind, body and spirit (you can use whatever you like to define this last one. For me it’s the intangible energy that you both send out and receive from life.) A number of their teachings sounded so familiar that I experienced a genuine a-ha moment on an episode of Lewis Howes School of Greatness when he compared to what was being presented to his own being raised also as a Christian Scientist.
Amid this (re-)discovery of these various links between all areas of our health, I ultimately decided that religion was still not where the answers lie for me at this moment. Well, maybe some, I am curious after all, but in the end I have not returned to Christianity. However, when it is brought up now, most times I smile and just hope that it is bringing them the same peace that I currently have in my own belief. Some times I may even discuss it. Discuss, not debate or deride. If I can gain knowledge out of discussion with someone, surely that is infinitely better shrinking on on my own beliefs while trying to make them feel bad about theirs.
Mostly I just adhere to the structural tenets of nearly every religion. Be kind to everyone. Don’t hold judgment, ever. The secret to life is continual growth and purpose. Make the world a better place, even if it’s just one 10 second interaction with a complete stranger at a time.
As for my view on my own religions indoctrination and upbringing? I touched on it earlier. Sheer gratitude. It made me curious and inquisitive from my earliest memories. It sent me on a cycle that ultimately landed me where I am today. And funny enough, the creator of Christian Science, Mary Baker Eddy, may have actually been on to something with some of it. At the very least there is certainly a much stronger connection between the mind, heart, body and spirit than most have thought there was over the last many hundreds of years, and the way that interacts with the energy around us.