Dr. Karen Garst, author of Women Beyond Belief (2016) is the editor of a new book, Women v. Religion. This is an excerpt that gives one woman’s perspective from inside Christianity.
People always ask why there are not more women in the “atheist movement.” One of the main reasons is because more of them are sitting in the pews each Sunday morning. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that women are more likely than men to say religion is “very important” in their lives (60% vs. 47%). They are also more likely than men to say they pray every day (64% vs. 47%). When I grew up in a Lutheran church, the women also did most of the unpaid work—they cooked for potluck dinners, cleaned up the kitchen afterwards, folded the bulletins on Saturday morning with their children, taught Sunday School and directed the children’s choir. Whew!
But where women have the most impact is in bringing their children to church. My husband’s mother is a devout Catholic. Her husband never attended church. But she was faithful in bringing her children every week to Sunday school. (My husband usually slipped out the back door.) Because of this, indoctrination into religion comes at a very early age when children’s minds are the most malleable. Alexis Record, a frequent blogger and essayist in my new book Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith—and for Freedom, examines in detail one of the most severe indoctrination methods entitled Accelerated Christian Education. Unfortunately, she got to know the ins and outs of ACE directly as she received 12 years of “education” through this method. Needless to say, colleges didn’t consider it the equivalent of a high school diploma.
One of the ways in which this “education” is effective is the child is surrounded by people who reinforce everything that is taught. As Alexis explains, “The bubble I grew up within was tightly controlled, and most of the influences on my thinking were limited to those that reinforce the conservative Christian worldview.” When a child is young, they tend to believe what their parents tell them and don’t question them or the other adults in their lives. If your whole life is caught up in Sunday services, choir practice, Sunday school and then your entire education is more of the same, it is not surprising that this is your world view. While those raised outside of religion find this a bit hard to understand, Alexis explains it well.
I have often wondered how I could have ever truly embraced a faith that would make any sane person recoil. The answer lies in the fact that I wasn’t simply taught these lessons, I inherited them. They were my upbringing—repeated tirelessly by those who raised me. To reject them would have been to conjure the temerity to reject my family, my community and my own identity. That is a lot to ask of anyone, but grossly unfair to ask of a child. The well-known verse in Proverbs 22:6 is fairly perceptive of the process to follow. “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.”
The ACE method also reinforces all of the misogynistic aspects of Christianity. A woman is expected to follow her father’s, then her husband’s wishes. She is to be subservient. Her job is to manage the household (wash dishes and iron!) while her husband is the wage earner in the family. It also teaches that the “wages of sin are death” invoking the punishment of hell as the result of falling off the true path. If a psychologist were to give an honest opinion on this teaching method, he or she could only conclude that it is child abuse.
When Alexis grew up, she was expected to train her children in the same way, thus the cycle repeats itself. When she was expecting her first child, the pastor told her he was excited that she would “raise him up in service of the Lord.” But Alexis came to doubt the precepts of the religion she was raised in and has become a pretty fervent atheist. She, as many others have done, also paid the price of leaving her church behind—they left her behind as well.
I was uninvited to holiday gatherings, was unfriended on social media, lost baby sitters, experienced strained interactions with once-close family members, and had to change my will since those who had previously been selected to inherit my children in the event of my death had disappeared entirely from our lives without a word.
Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith—and for Freedom contains thirteen essays that deal with the severe impact of religion on the lives of women including African-American, Hispanics, transgender, ex-Muslim, and ex-Jewish women, as well as others. It is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble and will be available in bookstores in May.