Is Believing in Hell More Traumatic Than Being Physically Abused?

The Daily Mail, about six years behind the times, is making a big fuss over something Richard Dawkins wrote in The God Delusion back in 2006: That believing (as a child) that Hell is real and that your non-Christian friends and family members will one day burn in it forever may be worse for you, psychologically, than any physical abuse you might suffer.

That was a controversial claim when the book came out; it was discussed at length at the time and many of his fans didn’t agree. At best, they said, he was comparing apples to oranges. At worst, he was trivializing child abuse.

Still, it’s worth discussing how traumatizing the concept of Hell can be to a child.

Instead of doing that, though, the Daily Mail unhelpfully summarized Dawkins’ argument this way:

Raising your children as Roman Catholics is worse than child abuse, according to militant atheist Richard Dawkins.

Wow. That’s not what he said at all. (And the “militant” bit was just unnecessary. It suggests aggression or violence, and neither word applies to Dawkins.)

There’s a difference between raising a child religious in a cultural sense (which I was and which, I suspect, many people are) and raising a child to believe your faith is correct and everyone who doesn’t believe like you do is hell-bound.

While everyone’s situation is different and not all physical abuse can be “dealt with” as cleanly as Dawkins implies, he had a point about religion possibly instilling a debilitating fear into children.

Miranda Celeste Hale, who was raised as a Catholic, agrees with him. She wrote this back in 2010:

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.

None of this is to say that parents who teach their children the beliefs of their Church are abusers. They’re not trying to hurt their children; they believe they are helping them. It’s about the idea itself, not just those who promote it.

On the Richard Dawkins Foundation for Reason and Science’s Facebook page, a prompt was offered to the public: Share “what fears you faced based on religion… and how those fears influenced your life.”

A number of those stories are now republished on Dawkins’ site and are worth reading in full. A couple of them are below. Cue all the trigger warnings:

A woman I used to be very close to was raised in a deeply religious, very harsh, fundamentalist Christian family. Growing up, she was utterly terrified of that one Bible quite that says if you doubt God even for a moment you are doomed to Hell. Of course, tell a brain not to think of pink polar bears, that brain is going to envision pink polar bears. She had an instant of “what if” doubt at a young age and was absolutely traumatized up until she became an adult. She told me when she was a kid she’d lie awake in her room for hours, reading frivolous teen magazines, until exhaustion finally took over and she fell unconscious. This went on for years. This child was abused, without a doubt.

I was forcibly exorcised for being gay at fourteen and told that I am going to hell. eight suicide attempts later and at 40 I am still dealing with the fallout so yes understand completely the little girls fears. hell is a scary place to damage a young mind with.

My older brothers friend committed suicide in high school, I was so so sad for such a long time because I was taught that he was most definitely in hell. It was several years later that I realized it was all nonsense. Why do people teach their children such damaging lies? I will never understand.

Again, none of this implies that child abuse is any less damaging to one’s personal well-being, but it does suggest that we shouldn’t just treat religious beliefs as harmless fairy tales we can just laugh off as we age. In many cases, religion does so much more harm than good.

On a side note, comedian Doug Stanhope, in his typically un-politically-correct way, put the whole debate between psychological abuse and physical abuse in memorable terms (very NSFW language):

With all the horrible, horrible shit that your priest is pumping into your kid’s head, his dick should be the least of your worries, honestly. That’s just a little bit of mouthwash and a few years of therapy’ll get rid of that. That Jesus shit will torture you for a lifetime.


About Hemant Mehta

Hemant Mehta is the editor of Friendly Atheist, appears on the Atheist Voice channel on YouTube, and co-hosts the uniquely-named Friendly Atheist Podcast. You can read much more about him here.

  • http://twitter.com/JJtheTVnewsguy James Jackson

    As a survivor of both severe childhood physical abuse and Christian indoctrination, I can tell you from my own experience it has always been far, far more difficult dealing with the former than the latter. I don’t at all want to diminish the psychological impact Christian fear-teachings can have; I was absolutely terrified of death for most of my life before I renounced my faith, with other extremes I won’t divulge here. Physical abuse, though, invariably comes with a catastrophic emotional toll, and I think it’s unfair to compare the two.

    • CelticWhisper

      Not to diminish the significance of the physical abuse, but as a separate issue, I suspect the severity of the trauma from indoctrination may vary depending on what kind of religious leaders a child is exposed to. A fluffbunny “god is love” hippie christian (think UCC) isn’t going to come even close to the damage done by physical abuse. On the flipside, a “sinners in the hands of an angry god” Catholic or fundie-protestant preacher has a real chance at scaring the living daylights out of a kid to the point of being like Dawkins’ example – the molestation was “yucky” but sleep was lost and blood pressure raised over the prospect of spending one’s entire life walking a morality tightrope made of red tape and strung over a lake of fire and brimstone.

      What happened to you was inexcusable. I only wish to point out that, if we assume that is a known quantity and a fixed point on some kind of sliding scale of wrongdoing, we can still regard the damage of christian doctrine as a separate point that can fall at varying locations along that same scale.

    • Daniel_JM

      I’m not at all denying how you feel James, but I do have to disagree with you implying that it is unfair for people to compare the two for themselves. Abuse can affect different people differently, based on individual factors and the level of abuse, and I don’t think it is fair for you to imply that your experience should hold true for everyone.

      I don’t think its at all unfair for me to say that I certainly suffered more from fearing my friends and family would go to hell (or that I wasn’t really saved) than the physical abuse I suffered (which wasn’t severe, but I think just about anyone would classify as abuse). Also, the physical abuse I suffered was mostly because of the “spare the rod, spoil the child” teaching of the church, so it could even be argued that the reason I was physically abused was because of my parents’ fear of me going to hell.

  • http://www.facebook.com/joyce.willis3 Joyce Willis

    What people don’t realise is that Dawkins’ book sold millions and continues to sell well and influence people erroneously, even thought it has been debunked by many academics, including atheist academics.

    • Steve Bowen

      Citation needed

    • piet puk

      Sorry, what exactly has been debunked?

    • Spamamander

      [citation needed] What, exactly, has been debunked? If you mean this claim about child abuse, that is going to be entirely subjective dependent on the individual, the degree of abuse, and the type of indoctrination. It is a stronger claim than I would make, but in the context of the book I understand where he is coming from, and it is food for thought. There really isn’t anything else in the book to ‘debunk’, since it simply points out for the most part how religious beliefs are similar to other irrational mindsets.

    • Drew M.

      Cite?

    • C Peterson

      I believe you’re refering to the Bible here, not to Dawkins’s book.

    • JustSayin

      If Dawkins is correct, shouldn’t parents be jailed for teaching kids such things?

      After all, parents can be jailed for physical abuse.

      And long term, thats the idea isn’t it? Put Christians away,
      You gotta start somewhere, why not with abuse? Everybody hates abusers.

      • piet puk

        Troll.

      • Ibis3

        The law is still getting over treating children as the property of their parents. Physical abuse or neglect is much easier for a judge or jury to see, so that’s where we begin.

      • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

        Or, people could, you know, stop doing it. Much of what we now consider physical abuse used to be considered, if not normal, then at least “private family business.” Most people simply aren’t raised with the kind of physical punishment they used to be anymore. People could do the same with the practice of threatening children with infinite suffering to keep them obedient.

        • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

          That argument might not work with conservative Christians. Many of them actually do think they have the right to beat their children, some even to the point of bruising, without it being considered abuse. That’s part of why there’s such paranoia in that community about “parental rights.” They don’t think the government should be able to tell them not to treat their children that way when the Bible says it’s the correct way to discipline.

      • Nox

        No. The point is to challenge people to consider a standard behavior, realize it is greatly harmful with no benefits and be inspired not to participate in it.

        Some might find this counterintuitive, but people can choose to modify their behavior for reasons other than fear of punishment.

        The long term idea isn’t to put christians in jail. You only think that because the bible and various bible fan fiction told you to expect it. And the long history of christians violently purging their neighbors may be coloring your perceptions of religious strife as well.

        When we put christians away, there will be no great purge, no grand inquisitor, no mass book burnings, no racks or pokers. We’re not going to torture you into renouncing your faith as was done to so many jews, pagans and dissidents when christians decided to ‘put them away’.

        We are simply going to point out where you’re lying (for example, me pointing out right now that you were lying in that comment you just posted here). And we will continue to point out your lies, and christians obligingly will continue to provide an endless stream of obvious bullsh*t on behalf of Jesus.

        The doctrines of christianity will be further stripped of their credibility by the words and actions of christians (and by the lies the religion is based on being exposed to more people). And the process will be helped along by atheists. And someday, christian doctrine will be so universally seen as the unjustified, impossible, immoral thing it truly is.

        And when parents or preachers threaten children with eternal suffering in a lake of fire, those threats will be met with the shrug and the lack of belief they deserve.

        That is the long term idea.

        • 3lemenope

          The point is to challenge people to consider a standard behavior, realize it is greatly harmful with no benefits and be inspired not to participate in it.

          Then the rhetoric is not matched with the task and hinders its accomplishment.

          Much merriment is available (and often had at the expense of) the rhetorical assertion that abortion is murder. For if abortion is murder, one ought to reason, why do people who assert that recoil from the notion of a women having an abortion be treated as we might treat a murderer? This indicates a rhetorical overreach in attempting to make an equivalency between abortion and murder.

          Then the anti-abortion rights person who asserted that abortion is murder must backpedal into a defense rather like yours. He or she doesn’t mean murder in a legal sense, only a moral one. It is *like* murder, a species of act akin to murder, but distinct from it in relevant details which is why we, they argue, ought not put mothers who have abortions on death row for contract murder but find warrant in a less extreme array of policy options. We need not make murderers out of women, we merely must socially disapprove of the practice of abortion, through eliminating access, and this splits the difference between the rhetoric and how that rhetoric diverges from reality even if reality were in every way as they conceive it of being. The phrase “abortion is murder” thus does a huge disservice to the anti-abortion side of the argument, because it tries to make rhetoric instead of fact or practice do the moral heavy lifting, and so is vulnerable to the objection that the equivalencies it proposes are simply false, unsupportable by either argument or evidence.

          This same vulnerability is what “JustSayin” is making use of in his or her critique. Now, I don’t care (and it couldn’t matter less) whether the critique is motivated by religious sentiment. Its force does not depend on its source. What matters is whether the rhetoric being employed, inculcating the doctrine of hell being made equivalent with child abuse, reaches far past what what is indicated by fact or practice, and whether that overreach leads to obvious deficiencies when the equivalence is evaluated. If they are equivalent, it is reasonable to ask, why *don’t* we advocate treating those who teach hell similarly to those who strike their children with fists or control them through deprivation or other physical means?

          I think since it is really rather easy to discover many reasons why it isn’t a swell notion to punish people for what they choose to teach their children which have no analogue in the case of a physical abuse, the answer to the larger question is already dispositionally known, just as the answer to whether women seeking abortions are really contract killers is known to those blithely conflating the two for the purposes of rhetoric. The answer is that there are obviously fundamental differences between physical abuse and the inculcation of a thought, idea, value, or system of thought, fundamental enough to compel looking askance of any rhetoric that seeks to elide those differences, to do moral work in place of facts and practice (which themselves militate against the conclusion the rhetoric seems to impel).

          If the long term idea is to get hell as a doctrine to a place where it is fit only to be laughed out of the room, then that work must be done not on grounds of pure rhetoric, but rather upon the much more difficult but ultimately stronger and more stable ground of specific enumeration, of without resorting to analogy or metaphor, what about the practice is harmful, and what about that putative harm is suasive to convince people in abandoning it and refusing to respect its validity. This has the additional salutary effect of sucking the air out of the counter-rhetoric; instead of having to engage in lengthy defenses of why we would treat two species of abuse differently, we could simply acknowledge that one is something different from abuse, and treat it as its own type of bad thing.

          • Pseudonym

            Much merriment is available (and often had at the expense of) the rhetorical assertion that abortion is murder. For if abortion is murder, one ought to reason, why do people who assert that recoil from the notion of a women having an abortion be treated as we might treat a murderer?

            Based on how things play out when it gets violent, I don’t believe that this is true. Or at least, it’s not true for the most part.

            Now I do realise that violent attacks on health care providers which perform abortions are rare, and almost unknown outside the United States. Having said that, none of those lone nutters who have committed these crimes has, to my knowledge, ever intentionally attacked a patient. The violence, such that it is, is always against the staff.

            Yes, I’m sure that some of those who harass patients probably do use the word “murderer” against said patients. But it seems to me that that the real target of the “murder” accusation is the health care provider who actually performs the procedure and their staff.

            Not that this is any less insulting, of course. I’m sure that it’s partly based in the notion that women are fragile and helpless and just need to be taken care of, and abortion providers are taking advantage of these poor women.

            • 3lemenope

              Quite so. That’s precisely why putting the question is relevatory. In every jurisdiction in the US, if a person pays some other person to kill a third person, that payer is guilty of murder. In some jurisdictions, it is considered an aggravating factor, in others a separate crime (i.e. “contract murder”). Anti-abortion activists say that “abortion is murder” on the grounds that a fetus is a human being that is intentionally being killed by the procedure. And as you point out, the rhetoric is usually aimed at the provider of the abortion rather than the procurer.

              Hence, there is an exploitable gap in the rhetoric, because it is just as serious (if not more serious) a crime to pay someone else to kill someone as it is to kill someone in person. The rhetoric they direct towards the practice of abortion has the collateral effect of making women who seek abortion into contract murderers, insofar as they must seek out a person to carry out the abortion on their behalf.

              Activists on the crazed end of the scale are willing to say, and occasionally do, terrible things to providers of abortion but refuse to seriously countenance the consequences of their position as it regards the procurers of the same service, even though under the law if the rhetoric were accurate they would be equally culpable. Your psychological point in the last paragraph is indeed probably why they don’t think it through this far, esp. given how patronizing anti-abortion rhetoric tends to be towards women in general. But the point is when they are forced to think it through that far, they tend to back away quickly from the consequences of the rhetoric, and retreat to safer metaphorical territory, their rhetoric having been revealed as something they don’t literally believe.

              • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

                An even scarier possibility is that many of them do think women who have abortions should be jailed for murder, but they realize that such rhetoric would hurt their cause. If the Christian Reconstructionists ever get that theocracy they dream about, I have no doubt that women would find themselves facing prison or execution. They’ve said so themselves:

                http://reason.com/archives/1998/11/01/invitation-to-a-stoning

        • 3lemenope

          On an entirely different note, what’s with the insistence upon calling lies things that are not lies?

          Not every incorrect statement is a lie, indeed, probably most false statements are not lies. Lying implies an intent to deceive, by intentionally constructing a false statement so that it appears true and is intended by the author of the statement for the audience to believe it.

          JustSayin does two things in the last two sentences of his post (it’s unclear which one predominates); he visits the intentions of his interlocutors, and makes a general prediction about a future in line with those assumed intentions. JustSayin could be (and I’d hazard almost certainly is) wrong about both those elements. That is, JustSayin is probably mistaken about the intentions of atheists towards Christians, and probably mistaken about what would transpire if the assumption of that intention were actually true.

          The only thing that could make either of these statements lies is if JustSayin has access to future information or if JustSayin has access to the intentions that reside dispersed among atheists, or even access to any given atheist’s intentions. Without a time machine or telepathy, neither of these conditions obtain. Lurking underneath this accusation of lying, rather, seems to be that we desire to be taken by our interlocutors as being upfront, artless, and straightforwardly honest about our intentions even when the parameters of the discourse do not compel such a conclusion from any participant! We can *say* we don’t want to round up Christians in camps, but what assurance does a Christian have that we are being forthright with our intentions, *especially* when the rhetoric we employ against them seeks to put them in the same category as those who we *do* happily lock away.

          This is the very vulnerability of the rhetoric being employed; once used, it causes the interlocutor to reasonably doubt the intentions of those employing it. If you lump someone in with child abusers, you shouldn’t be shocked when they *don’t* believe, for the sake of discourse, that you don’t want to lock them up with abusers. What could possibly motivate them to take that leap?

          • coyotenose

            Mistakes get called lies too often, yes. However, “Justsayin” is making up a goal and applying it to strangers based on no evidence or history at all. He is effectively claiming to be psychic. That is lying.

            Further, in his(?) case, there is a documented history of such behavior. He’s already squandered any reason to give him the benefit of the doubt, even given that, working from his post, the most charitable we could be about him is that he’s delusionally narcissistic about his level of knowledge, which in practice IS lying.

            • 3lemenope

              I’m sorry, but that is simply not what he did. He took a piece of rhetoric seriously, and then drew a conclusion based on the logic that has produced similar rhetoric in the past. When you seek equivalence with criminality for a group’s teaching its own doctrines–its very ideas–simply because it sounds punchy and not because it has any actual correspondence with the criminal behavior being compared to, there is no residual good-will that you can fall back on to demand from an interlocutor from that group. They have a right to take your rhetoric where it leads and confront you with the results.

              And so what if he’s done it before. So, he’s a big meanie. So what? If there isn’t a lie in sight, and a bunch of people are screaming “liar! liar!”, it makes me or any other onlooker perplexed at best. If there is no lie and everyone screams liar, that is merely otherizing, mere tribal behavior. It could make a person think there is more to their critique than there is if responses to it are on that level, and doesn’t reflect well on the heightened pretenses of a community which claims to venerate reason.

      • phantomreader42

        JustLyin, isn’t that imaginary god of yours supposed to have some sort of problem with bearing false witness?

      • coyotenose

        Poor, poor stupid crying liar. Flagged, dimwit.

    • RobertoTheChi

      Citation please.

    • coyotenose

      No it has not. Please try to get your information from sources that exist.

      And did you seriously write this? “Under atheism, nothing matters, and all acts are permissible.” Jesus Christ that’s ignorant.

  • Drew M.

    Personal anecdote: Thanks to Catechism, I’m still afraid of the dark and cannot sleep in a completely darkened room. I’m 41.

    • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

      I’d like to know more about that. Is there something specific about the dark as relates to the Catechism?

      • Drew M.

        I am always way too brief.

        It was the fault of the teachers rather than the Catechism. There was constant drilling about how Satan lurked around every corner and we were a hair’s breadth from being damned to hell. So that already had me on constant edge.

        What really fucked me up was this, which is *not* normal RCC Catechism material:

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Three_Days_of_Darkness

        One of the teachers had a sick fascination with it and would bring it up way too often.

      • Drew M.

        Here’s a better link.

        http://www.3daysofdarkness.com/

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/ Kevin_Of_Bangor

      That is fucked up because I cannot sleep in a room unless it is completely dark.

  • jose

    I was raised Catholic too and I disagree with him. I hope you update your post with my testimony for the sake of fairness :D

    I attended a Catholic school from age 4 to 16. We knew everything about hell and nobody cared. In fact it was mostly our parents who ocassionally would go to the school to complain about the drawings we made – people suffering in purgatory and being tortured in hell and drowning in the Flood. But it didn’t have any emotional impact on us that I know of, certainly not in me.

    On the other hand, we were all wary of one certain “brother” who was known to have fondled a kid every once in a while. Rumors, rumors. One kid from another class was taken out of school purportedly because of that, none of us wanted to be in his place.

    In any event, it’s going to be different for different people. It’s not the same if your nation is mostly cultural catholic rather than strictly anglican or whatever. It’s not very useful, I think, to make sweeping generalizations, because then you risk not taking people’s problems seriously just because you weren’t personally affected. It wouldn’t be nice of me to dismiss their childhood problems with hell as trivial, would it?

  • Jean Inpa

    The nuns told my 6-year-old brother that his uncle(a Catholic) was going to hell for marrying a Protestant, And that this little boy would go to hell too just for attending the wedding! My brother had nightmares for years.

    • JustSayin

      The nun said the little boy would go to hell just for attending the wedding?
      I think you are lying about the nun.

      • Ania Advice

        It used to be Catholic doctrine that even attending a protestant mass or church of another religion might be worthy of excommunication and thus hell. When I was a young girl, a protestant church wanted to hire me (as in actual pay) to be a cantor at one of their masses. My parents had to consult with their priest to see if that was ok, because that was the doctrine they were raised in. In the end it was decided not to risk it,

      • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

        Maybe. Or maybe the 6-year-old garbled the message a little. Or maybe it happened just like that and we’re giving the nun too much credit, because doesn’t that objection boil down to saying, “I don’t know her, but I’m skeptical that she would do something that nonsensical and awful at once”?

        I notice that you don’t seem skeptical that a nun told a young child that his uncle would be tortured forever by her loving god because the uncle married a woman who worships that god the wrong way. I’m not particularly skeptical of that part, either. It wouldn’t shock me to find out that it wasn’t true, but it fits with my experience.

      • Nox

        How is telling children they are going to hell unlikely behavior for a nun? That is most of what they do

      • Randomfactor

        I think that would be perfectly in character for some nuns I encountered.

      • http://www.facebook.com/gtpooh Gwenny Todd

        Nuns told me I don’t have a soul because I’m illegitimate. Nuns are some of the nastiest, most sadistic people in the world. They will lie without batting an eye lash.

        • Randomfactor

          Fortunately, they’re quite literally a dying breed. There aren’t a quarter as many nuns as there were in the 60′s, when adjusted for population gains. For the record, I met some really cool nuns. But a few bad ones seem to have given the other 2% a bad name.

          • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

            every “cool” nun i have ever met (and i have an M.
            div) left the church. every single one.

      • Jean Inpa

        This was in the early 1940s in Philadelphia. My Catholic father was very angry, took my brother out of Catholic school. Brother then went to public school and to the Episcopal church with my mother. Father joined the Episcopal church too. Father always was afraid of dying and facing hell. Intellectually he thought it was poppycock, but emotionally he was worried.

      • coyotenose

        Your opinion is no doubt based on your extensive experience that personal accounts of being shamed and terrified by nuns always turn out to be false. Or else you just want it to not be true, the same way you keep giving money to pedophiles because doing otherwise would make you have to think too hard.

        Oh, “Just saying” is a passive-aggressive phrase used by cowards. Just sayin’.

  • http://criticallyskeptic-dckitty.blogspot.com Katherine Lorraine

    I can’t compare the two outright cause I was lucky enough as a child to have no events of physical abuse (I got a few little thumps on the top of the head for smarting off at my parents, but nothing serious.) I did have a lot of emotional abuse by a father who thought the slightest feminine characteristic needed to be responded to with ‘man up.’ (And as a 29-year old trans-woman, I’m terrified of talking to a therapist to try to work out my options regarding transition because of that treatment.)
    The notion of Hell and the Rapture (we were pre-millenialist) was terrifying to me as a kid, it still scares me even as an atheist to think of the Rapture. I remember waking up in the middle of the night hearing no sounds throughout the house and tiptoeing over to see if my family is still around because I felt (due to my trans-ness and my pansexuality) that I would have been left behind.

    • http://www.facebook.com/don.gwinn Don Gwinn

      “(And as a 29-year old trans-woman, I’m terrified of talking to a therapist to try to work out my options regarding transition because of that treatment.)”

      I hope you find a way through that. Good luck. You read like you know more or less what you want to do and just aren’t quite there yet. No shame in waiting until you’re ready.

    • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

      *headbonks*

      I’m gonna second Don’s hope that you find a way through all that.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chriswarr78 Chris Warren

      Fortunately, you’re not the one who’s been left behind. Here’s to better days, and an awesome 2013!

  • Will roma

    Hermant, the Daily Mail is right, in that video interview you posted a couple of days back, Dawkins confirmed that he believed that bringing up your child catholic is worse than child abuse.

    • Quintin van Zuijlen

      And when the audience was asked whether raising your child to believe in hell was worse than physically abusing them, they were split about three-ways between, yes, no and uncertain. Just letting you know.

      • will roma

        I am not surprised at all given that Dawkins is usually going to draw crowds that are as extreme and ignorant as he is. The key comes near the end, where the journalist asks Dawkins if he is abusing his daughter because he is bringing her up in the Muslim faith. Dawkins bows his head and very quietly says “no”. There is nothing logical or rational in the conclusions Dawkins comes to, he says what he says to get publicity and get people riled up, he is no different than those crazy creationists.

        • Daniel_JM

          Please stop lying. Maybe you should actually read what Dawkins wrote instead of making stuff up. It really annoys me that people are attributing blanket statements to Dawkins he never made. He never said all religious indoctrination was just as bad as all sexual or physical abuse, he said that for some people emotional abuse motivated from religion could be more damaging then some other forms of abuse, and he specifically qualifies himself by saying that certainly isn’t always the case. What we have here is yet another example of many people lying about what Dawkins said because it is easier to attack straw men.

          • phantomreader42

            But Daniel, will is incapable of reading for comprehension, and for him to even try would threaten the cocoon of lies he has built around himself to avoid any and all contact with reality. Will cannot survive the slightest exposure to the truth. He’d rather die than know what he’s talking about or stop lying for even an instant.

        • Quintin van Zuijlen

          Make of it what you will, but what I’m most interested in, is where you stand. Does Dawkins have a point here at all? Is teaching children about hell and original sin and all of that child abuse to begin with? If so, how bad is it? Compared to physical abuse? Compared to sexual abuse? Compared to other forms of psychological abuse? Is it always equally bad? Do some people cope better with the religious stuff than the rest, if they’ve been hit with more? I think the many testimonials given suggest that it is, most definitely, a form of child abuse, which varies in severity from case to case. For some it’s the worst thing they’ve ever been through, and they’ve had much to endure, for others, it’s been the least of their concerns. These are the things that matter, and if Dawkins has to dramatize the issue a bit to get people to realize, then I think he’s justified in doing so, though he’s also responsible for the criticism he gets for it.

          • phantomreader42

            If you want to know where will stands, he stands in support of child abuse in all its forms. He celebrates both terrorizing children and raping them. He has admitted it openly, without any shame or remorse.

        • coyotenose

          Your lying and quote mining is not an argument for anything except your being a lying quote miner.

  • Ibis3

    Dawkins has a penchant for playing Oppression Olympics and we ought not to indulge him. Physical abuse and psychological abuse are both bad and have the possibility of causing severe trauma. The effect depends not only on the severity of the abuse, but the temperament of the victim. Neither form of abuse ought to be tolerated in a civilised society, period.

    • Steven

      This refelcts bad not only on Dawkins himself, but on people who lack critically thinking skills and follow him blindly to the point of putting an “Ask Ricard” Link to their blog. There are many logical atheist thinkers out there and you can tell how illogical an atheist is by how much he like Dawkins.

      • http://twitter.com/bryancj82 Bryan Johnson

        If you’re referring to the “Ask Richard” section on this blog, that’s a totally different Richard. Just FYI.

        • Randomfactor

          Like he cares about accuracy. Facts get in Steven’s way.

      • jlbriggs

        “Ask Richard” has nothing to do with Richard Dawkins.
        Ironic mistake in a post berating a lack of critical thinking skills.

        At the same time you condemn blindly following Dawkins you do the exact same thing in reverse by your judgement of people who like him.

      • kraken17

        Ouch man, not even the right Richard. Nice try though.

      • coyotenose

        You already tried that last line here this past week and got chewed on for it. Try again.

    • DrewHardies

      He’s doing the opposite of Oppression Olympics here. He’s saying that — as an abuse victim — his experience was less bad than that of other people.

      • Ibis3

        He’s rating people’s level of trauma as an outsider, without regard to their own perspectives and circumstances. If he wants to make comparisons he should only be speaking about his own experiences, not making blanket statements. Instead, he’s comparing what he went through to what others went through and declaring a “winner”.

        Another child could have been severely traumatised rather than merely “embarrassed” by the type of sexual assault Dawkins describes, while at the same time another child might just find the whole hell idea absurd and funny no matter how much indoctrination was tried, still another might have lifelong trauma from once hearing from a teacher about how bad people (like Mommy or Daddy who doesn’t believe in God) go to hell. It’s just counterproductive to make such comparisons when the result is inevitably to disrespect the harm that other people have endured.

    • Pseudonym

      I was thinking that. I realise it’s gauche to bring up Elevatorgate, but it’s hard to read this without that context.

  • Ania Advice

    (TW) I read up some more on Dawkins comments with regard to the concept of Hell being worse than child abuse. He has published some stories from people writing about their sexual abuse who felt more upset at the idea that friends of theirs were going to hell and found that those issues caused more nightmares than their abuse did.

    As someone who is studying psychology and also has some experience with this myself, most of these stories read as classic transference. Not able to deal with the magnitude what is actually happening to them, these children focus on a more hypothetical, imaginary terror: Hell and their friends burning there.

    Moreover, in these situations, hell is often used as a threat if they tell and don’t continue to be good little silent partners in their abuse.

    Children have a hard time processing abuse, especially when committed by a loved one. The person they are told is supposed to be looking out for their well-being, the trusted adult, is the one inflicting pain on them. Then taught about the concept of a loving god who tortures those who displease him, children apply their own experience to the situation. Is it the concept of hell so damaging at that point or is it the impact that their own experience has had on the concept?

    Mr. Dawkins is brilliant on points of Biology. Like many biologists, I guess that Dawkins has commented on the fact that scientists who are not biologists should refrain from commenting on things like evolution. It is my recommendation who is a scientist, but to my knowledge not a psychiatrist or psychologist should refrain from commenting on matters he does not have a background in and attempting to present himself as the expert he isn’t in these matters.

    • Will roma

      Theres also the faulty assumption that all people that are brought up Catholic have the image of hell and punishment that he is using

      • Nox

        It is the official version of hell and punishment that the catholic church has taught as the only right one for a couple thousand years.

        Obviously many people who call themselves catholic don’t believe the official doctrines their church tells them to, or even really know what all those doctrines are. But the tendency of christians to not know anything about christianity is a meaningless objection to bring against criticisms of christian doctrine.

        • Pseudonym

          Minor nit: Not quite a couple of thousand years. Best as we can tell, it was a minority position until around the time of Constantine.

    • Ania Advice

      xD Actually inspired a more thorough rant about my objections here http://www.aniasworkinprogress.com/2012/12/rant-being-biologist-is-great-but-it.html

    • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

      Dawkins was also speaking from his experience of having been molested (fondled, I believe) by a teacher. He didn’t feel that it was comparable to the emotional and mental anguish of the people who were telling him their experiences of being taught to believe in a literal hell.

      • Pseudonym

        Well, if Dawkins can play Unlicensed Armchair Psychologist with kids, we can play the same game with him.

        That story explains a lot.

        • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

          I don’t have any basis of comparison, but it seems to me that everyone’s experience is different, and a lot depends on the child’s temperament, the surrounding culture, and the severity of the indoctrination or abuse.

          I have no doubt that for some children, a creepy teacher putting a hand down their shorts is less traumatic than being told that their friends and loved ones are going to suffer an eternity of fiery torment. Neither is good, but it’s possible that the latter might do more damage.

  • C Peterson

    Is this really where we want or need to play some sort of comparison game? Childhood physical abuse produces long term psychological damage. Childhood religious indoctrination produces long term psychological damage. How can anybody say which is worse, except on an individual level? The point is, both are bad, and neither should be tolerated.

    While this story focuses on Catholics, I think many or most of them don’t feel Hell hanging over them quite the way many Evangelicals and fundamentalists do. Catholics, at least, tend to be a little more sophisticated than fundamentalists.

    • will roma

      The difference here is that all physical abuse produces psychological damage and not all religious upbringing produces psychological damage. Unless you are a militant atheist who is as biased as Dawkins himself, and you know what actual psychological damage is, you will realize this difference.

      • http://www.flickr.com/groups/invisiblepinkunicorn Anna

        Actually, there are also many victims of physical abuse who deny ever having been abused. They may have been beaten with implements in the name of Jesus, but they were taught that they “deserved” it and will say it didn’t harm them or cause any psychological damage.

      • phantomreader42

        Whenever someone babbles about “militant atheists”, I know that every word out of their mouth is a worthless load of shit. If you consider Dawkins “militant” for objecting to psychological abuse of children, but can’t bring yourself to use the same term for say, the catholic cult who regularly abuse children both physically AND psychologically, then you obviously have no idea what words mean, so no words you say can ever have any meaning. Will roma, all your posts here just show that you are not capable of meaningful comprehension or communication. You don’t even speak English, you just spew words that have no connection to reality.

        Let’s recap the definitions, as used by the brain-dead lunatics making meaningless grunting noises that only superficially sound like English:
        Militant atheist: any atheist that says any word you find inconvenient.
        Militant muslim: a muslim who actually murders people in the name of his imaginary god, or at the very least threatens to do so.
        Militant christian: an impossibility, NO christian will EVER be described as “militant” by these lunatics, not even if they slaughter billions. Any christian who would meet the muslim level of “militancy” is redefined as not-a-real-christian.

        Anyone who uses the word “militant” in this way has removed all meaning from the word.

        • coyotenose

          And don’t forget, anyone who calls Dawkins “strident” or “militant”: someone who hasn’t actually read or listened to Dawkins, but is convinced they know something because they saw a quote mine somewhere and is talking out of their ass.

      • C Peterson

        The difference here is that all physical abuse produces psychological damage and not all religious upbringing produces psychological damage.

        I disagree. Both cause damage in all cases. The damage may be relatively small, or it may be huge. But it’s always present. Religious upbringing may not always strictly cause psychological damage, but it always causes intellectual damage (which physical abuse may not).

        Atheism is a simple lack of belief in something. There’s no such thing as “militant atheism”; the term makes no logical sense. Perhaps you are referring to those who are militantly anti-religion or anti-theist? In any case, however, you don’t need to be either to recognize that it is impossible to bring up a child with religious beliefs and not do damage in the process.

        • jim

          The whole intellectual damage argument is bogus, in academia there is no correlation between being a theist and being intellectually handicapped. Some of the greatest minds of our time and our past are theists and in order to show that all theists are intellectually damaged, you must find a correlation between atheism and superior intellectual accomplishment.

          I agree that Dawkins canbe regarded as a militant atheist, and I would define that as someone who lets emotion and anger get in the way of rational discourse, and Dawkins fits this description perfectly.

          • phantomreader42

            Jim, what would a christian have to do to be considered “militant” by your definition? Has ANY christian EVER been described as “militant” for behavior equivalent to what you’re complaining about from Dawkins? Why is there such an extreme double standard here?

          • C Peterson

            My personal experience (in the scientific community) is that every theist I know is decidedly crippled intellectually. That doesn’t mean they can’t do some very good work in a narrow area, but they are, in fact, broken. I think that very, very few of our greatest minds now, or in the last few hundred years, were theists- although many didn’t or don’t admit to their true beliefs. If you are very intelligent, you can’t really be a theist, because a rational mind must reject that belief system.

            Again, there is no such thing as a militant atheist. Dawkins is certainly anti-theist, but I’ve never observed his emotional dislike of religion and theism get in the way of his discourse. His arguments are always sound ones.

      • Pseudonym

        I am not an atheist. Leaving aside the “militant atheist” canard, I really don’t think you understood what Dawkins said.

        Now it’s true that the statement “Childhood religious indoctrination produces long term psychological damage” is full of weasel words at best (what constitutes “indoctrination”, exactly?) or overstating it by a wide margin at worst. However, this is a blog comment, and in context it’s clear that we’re talking about something quite specific, and probably contrary to your experience and mine.

        It took me a long time to understand what older (ex-)Catholics and ex-fundamentalists were talking about with the “fear of hell” thing. I’d been a Christian all my life, and it was so far from my experience that I figured it must be exaggerated.

        Dawkins has always been very careful with the way he words his initial arguments. The argument about belief in a literal Hell where your friends may end up is a case in point. As another example, his argument that religious labelling can be a form of child abuse referred to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, where “Catholic” and “Protestant” were used as gang labels.

        However, that’s only true of the initial arguments. Unfortunately, Dawkins has a habit of drawing a general conclusion from some pretty specific cases (as here), or possibly quote mining himself.

        So I don’t blame you for getting confused. Dawkins confuses things too. But critical thinking requires applying the principle of charity, and for that, you do need to go back to the first time that Dawkins made the argument. Otherwise, you have no hope of understanding him.

        • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

          i love how you religious people like to tell us ‘you just can’t understand.’ it’s pathetic. see also; occam.

          • Pseudonym

            I think you meant this reply to be to will roma. I was talking to that person too.

  • JenniferT

    It may be a quiet news day, and it may be the Daily Mail, but even at that, I’m amazed they’re resorting to libel.

  • jlbriggs

    “Again, none of this implies that child abuse is any less damaging to
    one’s personal well-being, but it does suggest that we shouldn’t just
    treat religious beliefs as harmless fairy tales we can just laugh off as
    we age.”

    This is the crux of it, and this is the part of the issue that should be the focus.

    It is angering to see so many skeptics (the whole group that has jumped on the “we’re the good atheists, not like that horrible Dawkins fellah” bandwagon) brush this off as absurd, as trivializing child abuse, as offensive to the religious, and most importantly, as not being a real issue.

    People who are seemingly intelligent, reasonable, well known skeptics, atheists, and scientists. It has really been disgusting watching them all fawn over each other while rushing to condemn Dawkins more strongly than each other, while taking the standard accommodationist tact that religion is just fine and we need to be nice about it.

    I am happy and grateful for your take on this.

    • will roma

      No one is saying that religion is fine, but there are ways to communicate this without sounding like a complete idiot. In my opinion, spanking a child is also wrong, but it is not as bad as sexually abusing that child. To claim the former is a huge mistake. Sexually abuse of a child is such an unspeakable crime that no one will come to the valid conclusions that you have stipulated, on the contrary, it will emphasize that the main spokesman for atheism is an extremist that is no different than the fundamentalist extremists that he denounces.

      • phantomreader42

        Will, if you really think “Sexually abuse of a child is such an unspeakable crime”, then why do you screech that Dawkins is a “militant” “extremist” for suggesting there are worse crimes, but can’t bring yourself to use the same terminology to describe those who ACTUALLY COMMIT THIS UNSPEAKABLE CRIME?!!!!!

        Oh, yeah, because when you use words, they don’t actually mean anything. You don’t actually know what you’re saying, you just spew meaningless nonsense.

        • Will Roma

          Phantom, you are a real idiot, whoever taught you to think logically did something worse than sexually abuse. I never said that Dawkins is militant and extremist BECAUSE he said those things, it is actually the reverse, your causal relationship is fucked up. The people who actually commit those crimes deserve worse adjectives than the ones i mentioned, but we werent talking about those people, so your conclusion is so moronic that you would have been better off getting sexually abused by your father on a daily basis.

          I conceed, you are a great example of Dawkins conclusion, your parents taught you to think logically and now you are a rambling idiot, if only they would have raped you on a daily basis, you would be better off.

          • phantomreader42

            wow, will, i knew you were a worthless lying sack of shit, but I never imagined you’d openly endorse the rape of children! Do the world a favor and die in a fucking fire, you militant extremist sociopathic pedophile.

      • jlbriggs

        Yes, in fact, many people are saying that religion is fine. Many people, many popular and prominent skeptics, are very accommodationist and mock and berate and become very hostile toward those of us who say that no, religious teaching is bad, and can be very harmful.

      • coyotenose

        Anyone who compares Dawkins as an “extremist” to religious extremists has no hope of ever making a point and can be safely dismissed as some combination of dimwitted and lying.

  • Octoberfurst

    To say that teaching a child that hell is real is on par with abusing them is absurd in my book. Physical, emotional and sexual abuse are obviously much worse.
    However, that being said, I think that teaching a child that hell is a real place can be traumatizing. I speak from personal experience. Growing up a fundamentalist I had friends and family members who weren’t “saved.” This caused me a great deal of grief. I remember crying as a child over the idea that my beloved unsaved Uncle was going to go to hell. (FYI he died a nonbeliever.) There were many times as a young man that I had doubts about the faith but quickly pushed them aside for fear of dying in a state of doubt–thereby putting me at risk of hell-fire in the afterlife. The fear of going to hell was a constant one. Was I really a TRUE follower of Christ? That is the question the preacher would ask the congregation. He would quote the Bible verse where Jesus said that not everyone who calls him “Lord” will enter the kingdom. You had to be an “on fire” believer, not a luke-warm one he said. (But he never said what qualified you as an “on fire” believer.)
    Even today I still have moments when I wonder if I will go to Hell when I die. I know it is a foolish thought but decades of indoctrination will do that to you. The whole concept of Hell is an evil one.

    • Daniel_JM

      Well, in my book threatening a child with hell is a form of emotional abuse. Obviously there are degrees of abuse in all those categories, but I suffered some physical abuse growing up and for me the worry that my friends and family were going to be tortured for all eternity was a lot worse than the spankings that got way out of hand.

  • http://twitter.com/IMProbulos I M Probulos

    The religious might otherwise but denying the 12 Unthinkable Horrors of Human Existence can be worse than accepting them as most non-believers do.

    Yes, teaching children that hell is real could be considered child abuse.

    As I would suspect Hemant would agree, non-believers need a better story and a meaningful counter-argument to the believer’s promises of eternal paradise, an omniscient God who loves you unconditionally and listens and answers to your prayers. We need an answer that counters “my God told me to do it.” God told me hell was real.
    As they say, “It’s all about the 12 Horrors.”

  • Amazing Sandwich

    Hell and brimstone teachings are psychological abuse. Kudos to any child rebellious or lazy enough not to be affected, but for those who were sincere believers, believing in hell was hell.

    I continue to be disheartened by the minimization of emotional and psychological abuse. For every atheist who feels it didn’t hurt them (several on this thread–again, good for you; I mean that sincerely. I wouldn’t wish trauma on anyone.), there’s a believer who was thoroughly fucked up by it and is in the process of fucking up the next generation by terrorizing them with these teachings. And there are many more like me who aren’t out traumatizing kids but who’re carrying scars that make us less functional than we could be.

    Dawkins’ mistake was trivializing other forms of abuse, which detracts and obscures from the otherwise accurate assessment of many doctrinal teachings being explicitly intended to terrorize the recipient, i.e. abuse.

  • DrewHardies

    This debate seems like a Christmas gift to quote-mining critics.

    The answer, pretty obviously, should be, “It depends on the specific events. It could go either way.”

    I’ll take Dawkins at his word that his experience was less bad than some people’s experience will the fear-of-hell. That’s sufficient to prove his case that (some) abuse is less bad than (some) indoctrination.

    What’s left to substantively debate? Unless people accuse Dawkins of lying, all that’s left is to seize on the ambiguity of the word ‘abuse’ (which covers a vast spectrum of harms) and attack a point other than the one being made.

  • http://www.facebook.com/gtpooh Gwenny Todd

    I don’t think Hell bothered me, so much, because the nuns told me I didn’t have a soul and that when I died, it would be over for me. And I was okay with that. What bothered me was angels . . . watching me. I was probably about 7 when it occurred to me that if they watched me all the time, they watched me used the toilet and bath. This horrified me. For weeks I had trouble going to the bathroom or bathing. I was totally terrified that I would somehow make the angels laugh or something. Then one day I just decided, oh well.

    And I think that mental adjustment explains a LOT of my life. LOL It’s how I feel about everything thing. Government reading my emails? Oh well. Someone tapping my phone. OH WELL My boyfriend of the late 1990s came home and said that due to his job with the DoD fixing the military satellites for Y2K our house had been bugged for security reasons . . and I said, “if they want to listen to the kids fight and us making love, good for them.” He just stood there with his mouth sort of open, since I’m pretty anti-govt, etc. But I don’t do anything and I don’t care if folks know what I do. You see me pee, angels? GOOD for you.

  • Laurance

    I can’t make a comparison with physical abuse, but I have some strong things to say about religion.

    I never ever believed in god. I come from a family of freethinkers, and god was simply not part of our household. But then when I was 7, my little classmate invited me to come with her to Presbyterian Sunday School. My atheist mother said Yes. Why on earth? Probably wanted me to get along with other children and not stick out and look different perhaps. So off I went to Presbyterian Sunday School.

    But I never came to believe in either god or Jesus. Nor did I get support from my mother:

    “Mommy! Mommy! Jesus died for our sins!”

    “I don’t believe such nonsense! For shame! I’m responsible for what I do, and for the consequences!”

    “Mommy! Mommy! They stoned Stephen to death!”

    “That’s outrageous! What a horrible thing to teach to children!”

    I never came to believe in these imaginary deities. When I was 9, the Sunday School teacher said to us, “Soon you will be confirmed. The minister will ask you if you believe Jesus is the Son of God, and you will say ‘Yes’.” The next Sunday I said to my Daddy, “Daddy…I don’t want to go to Sunday School any more…” I just couldn’t go along with confirmation. I didn’t believe. And my Daddy said, “You don’t have to!”

    That ended Sunday School.

    But although I’d never come to believe, I’d been infected with the Fear that lies beneath religion. Fear Fear Fear!

    I was terrified that I’d be walking down the street, and a car would pull up alongside me, and the Sunday School teachers would jump out and grab me and drag me back to Sunday School.

    I was terrified that I was Wrong, that in some way I was Existentially Wrong (although I didn’t use such high falutin’ words in those days). I felt Inherently absolutely wrong, not only in that I was doing all the Wrong Things, but that I was, how shall I put it? Originally Wrong.

    I had this feeling of dread that something awful, something I couldn’t describe or see clearly would eventually happen to me.

    As an adult I’ve studied some about cults. Say what? The reactions I was having at age 9 are the kind of reactions people have when they leave a cult. This is cult stuff.

    Yet this was the Presbyterian Church, that nice, vanilla, respectable grey stone church on the corner, not some weird crazy cult that hangs out in some compound somewhere. What did they do? How did they do it? I can’t tell you how they instilled such awful fear. But they sure did.

    It damaged me. Big time. The fear stayed. The haunting sense of Being Wrong. The nameless and indescribable terrors. The sense of impending doom.

    When my daughter was born you can bet your red “A” atheist pin (Dan Barker gave me one) there was No Way I’d let her go to Sunday School and get terrorized. She’s a Fourth Generation freethinker, and she’s been spared the crippling fears that poisoned me most of my life.

    I’m 71 now, and I give thanks to the New Atheist movement for helping me to break the back of this awful fundamental fear. I was in my 60′s before the terrors finally began to lift.

    I see that fear is the foundation of religion. Sometimes I look at Cornerstone TeleVision Network, and I can see that all the praising and singing and carrying on is covering up the Opposite. What terrible things can god do to you if you displease him?

    I don’t know how to compare this with physical abuse. My Sweetheart was horribly physically abused, and it damaged him for life. To compare us, well, he’s far worse off from abuse than I am. But then his abuse was extreme. There are different degrees of abuse.

    I don’t want to minimize the effects of physical child abuse. I also don’t want to minimize the effects of religious abuse and emotional abuse. In addition to religious abuse I’ve experienced emotional abuse, and I find that it’s easy to minimize emotional abuse. What’s wrong? Why are you complaining? You don’t have a black eye or a broken arm. Sticks and stones can break my bones, but words/god indoctrination can never hurt me.

    I don’t know that I would try to make comparisons here.

    • http://www.facebook.com/chriswarr78 Chris Warren

      That was wonderful. I’ve also felt that insidious, creeping sense of BEING WRONG. I’m over it. Maybe we are wrong. I think we can agree that it would immoral to worship the creature in question. As a matter of principle, anyone who would send a sentient creature to suffer eternally deserves a swift kick in the ass.

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/chidy/ chicago dyke

    it is abuse. period. rational sane people agree: telling a child that mythology is real is sadist. hell, evil spirits, whatever… pick your ‘damnation.’

    i even feel this way about santa, but i will let that one go. but hell? “hell no!” it’s just an evil cruelty to inflict on a child.

  • http://somaticstrength.wordpress.com/ Somaticstrength

    I write a lot on my blog about the intersection of conservative Christianity and abuse. When I was a Christian, I used to have spiritual “my life is over” panics believing demons were in my room, believing God was going to send me to hell, etc. I certainly still have the mental “tracks” that play in my head over and over again related to Christian dogma, as much as I do related to the physical/mental/sexual abuse.

    I don’t think there’s a way to compare abuse in a “this is worse than this” kind of way but I do believe that abuse compounds on each other, and my religious upbringing compounded on top of all the other abuse. Do I feel worthless because of the mental abuse or because of being taught that I’m a sinner deserving of hell no matter what I do? Am I repressed because of the sexual abuse or because I’ve been taught that my sexuality is a sin? Probably both, probably all.

    Much of the beliefs of Evangelical conservative Christianity provide a great hiding place for abusers. Forgiveness and reconciliation alone are basically the easiest ways for an abusers to continue abusing, and a victim to be written off if they refuse to forgive or reconcile. That my father and brothers are all Christians means that they will always have a place in my former church and my former religious community that I never will. And I cannot believe in any kind of goodness in a community in which my abusers look no different than any other.

  • Miss_Beara

    I had some fire and brimstone teachers in grade school and high school. My freshman year theology teacher said if you have premarital sex, get a divorce and a few other things that escaped my mind, you are going to hell, period. The threat of eternal damnation never really rattled me but plenty of others things did which I am still trying to get over, 10 years later.

  • http://itsmyworldcanthasnotyours.blogspot.com/ wmdkitty

    Oh, boy. This is like comparing apples to Vogon poetry.

    As a survivor of abuse (though suffered as an adult), I can firmly say that while both abuse and a belief in (and fear of) hell are awful things to inflict on anyone of any age, the abuse leaves a lot more damage in its wake. (And I’d happily take an eternity in hell over going through that again.)

  • http://twitter.com/docslacker MD

    Nuns told me that Satan and his demons prowled under children’s beds, waiting to take the bad ones away. I spent a DECADE terrified to go to sleep. And I wasn’t even that bad of a kid, I mean, how can an 8 year old be “bad”?

  • coyotenose

    Whichever one you’ve subjected to is the worse one. And if it was both, they cannot be separated.

  • WoodyTanaka

    I think that if one reads Dawkins, he does not say that the psychological effect of believing in hell *IS* more traumatic than the psychological effect of being physically abused. He is saying that it *COULD BE*.

    This should be, in my opinion, something that should be indisputable. (And we can no doubt line up anecdotes, for what it’s worth: I knew a man who, when growing up, was hit in the ass with a belt on occasion by his father, but claims he is okay with it, because he thinks his father was just trying to “toughen him up.” But this same guy claims to be terrified of ending up in hell.)

    The obvious counter, which I doubt that Dawkins would contest, is that there are many occasions where the reverse is true: that the religious teachings left no strong affects, and certainly no ones which were stronger than physical abuse.

    I think those who say he is trivializing child abuse are committing an error of believing that everything that could be labelled “child abuse” is as bad as the worse things with that label (and probably considering the “belief in hell” element of the equation as encompassing nothing more than the most lenient or lightest version of whatever that term might mean.)


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