Brainwashed Shock Troops

Michael Farris, founder of the Home School Legal Defense Association and probably the most visible Christian homeschool leader, is fond of calling his generation the Moses Generation and my generation the Joshua Generation. Christian homeschooling parents, he says, removed their children from the perils of Egypt (aka the public school system) and educated them in the wilderness (aka homeschooling them) in order to send them forth to conquer Canaan (aka take America back for Christ). This really is the entire point of Christian homeschooling (as opposed to homeschooling done by those who may or may not happen to be Christian but do not have religious motivations for homeschooling). This is also why Farris’s daughter started NCFCA—to train Christian homeschool youth in argumentation and debate in an effort to prepare them for their assault on “the world.” In that light, I recently saw an interesting comment left on a Homeschoolers Anonymous post:

The idea that someone thinks that they can find really bright young people, teach them exceptional skills of debate and argument, and then unleash them upon the world as adults while still controlling their thoughts and attitudes is nothing short of insane. Young people have been growing up into adults who reject the authoritarian views imposed upon them for literally centuries. Why does this group of fundamental Christians – who often behave abusively to that self-same group of bright young people – think that they are exempt from the questioning and breaking away process that all young adults do as they grown into independence?

Because they believe they have completely brainwashed their young people into absolute loyalty to The Party as part of their training/indoctrination. Like the Uruk-Hai coming from the spawning pits below Isengard, they were raised and indoctrinated to be living weapons and nothing more.

Why do they think they are exempt from their best and brightest living weapons breaking away? Divine Right, of course.

My father spoke at my graduation. It was a homeschool graduation held at a local church, of course, and each father presented his son or daughter and gave a short speech. I was preparing to begin university the following fall. In his speech, my father said that many people had questioned his wisdom in sending me off to a secular university, asking whether I was ready for that. His response, he said, was that the real question was not whether I was ready to attend that university, but rather whether that university was ready for me. His confidence in my performance disappeared over the following years as I did indeed become “corrupted” by my time at university, and halfway through college my father launched into a tirade against me in which he brought up his remarks at my graduation and told me, his voice full of emotion, that those who had warned him against sending me off to a secular university had been right, and that he wished he could go back and undo that.

What happened?

Put simply, the commenter quoted above is right. It is completely unreasonable for Christian homeschool parents to think that they can train up ideological clones whom they can train in debate and argument and then unleash upon the world without at least some of them going rogue or asking questions they shouldn’t. If these parents limit their children’s interaction with the world outside of their religious communities and avoid teaching their children critical thinking skills, creating ideological clones is simpler. But if you’re going to train them in argumentation and debate and then send them out into the world to wage ideological war on your foes, well, that’s more complicated. My parents equipped me with the very tools that ultimately led me to think my way out of their mindset, and meeting and getting to know people in “the world” meant that I realized the portrayal of “the world” my parents had given me growing up was wrong and extremely backwards. The system my parents constructed around me, in other words, was built with an internal weakness.

Why, then, did my parents have so much confidence? The commenter quoted above does have a point when referring to divine right—my parents believed that they were right, that their ideology was sound and true and demonstrably so. They therefore assumed that if they equipped me with Truth, that would be enough. That I might grow up to disagree with them on what is true and what is not wasn’t really a concern, because they believed that the truth of their beliefs was completely obvious to anyone with eyes. When they would talk about people who “left the faith,” they would always attribute it to some sin—the person just wanted to have premarital sex, or to be able to be selfish and not care about others, or what have you. In their conception, it was never a disagreement about fact that led people once saved astray, but rather fleshly desires—because the truth of their beliefs, they were certain, was manifestly obvious to anyone and everyone.

There was something else, too, something more related to Christian homeschooling. My parents believed they had hit upon the perfect formula for raising children who would never fall astray. They believed this because this is what they were told by the books, magazines, and speakers of the Christian homeschool world. And they had done everything on the list from keeping me from friends who might be bad influences to teaching me with curriculum that approached each issue from a Christian perspective. This, quite simply, is what I consider the number one reason my father said what he did at my graduation. He was convinced that he had produced a culture warrior, following the proper formula and all of the proper advice, and that I was, in a sense, infallible—that I couldn’t possible go wrong.

But what was I, really? I was chock full of apologetics arguments and conservative talking points, but utterly without lived experience or any real understanding of the arguments against the ideas my parents had taught me. After all, I’d never really interacted with people with different ideas or beliefs and my parents provided me only with straw man versions of opposing arguments in order to then knock them down. I’d grown up in an echo chamber and was happy contributing to that echo chamber, but I had no experience stepping outside of it. I wasn’t a culture warrior. I was a teenage girl who thought she knew anything and wanted very much to please her parents. a

About Libby Anne

Libby Anne grew up in a large evangelical homeschool family highly involved in the Christian Right. College turned her world upside down, and she is today an atheist, a feminist, and a progressive. She blogs about leaving religion, her experience with the Christian Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements, the detrimental effects of the "purity culture," the contradictions of conservative politics, and the importance of feminism.

  • Norm Donnan

    Youre parents did what they thought best for you.Im sure humanist parents have done the same for their children only to have them hear about Christianity from a Christian perspective and “see the light”.To raise your children to believe something as much as you do is fraught with risk because a some point they unpack everything you have put in their suitcase of life and repack it with what they see as important and truth.You will be frustrated if you dont let them work it out for themselves.Even so,we are allways called to be their parents first and friend second so I for one wont stand by and say nothing when l see my sons making poor choices but lm under no illusions that they will do as l say.

    • die Geisthander

      What is the argument you are trying to make, then? Is your argument that parents should be parents and that parenting _requires_ that kind of pig-headed, manipulative adherence to an ideal?

      Because “I’m sure they meant well” isn’t really a defense, to my thinking. Result over intention and all that.

    • Nate Frein

      Intent isn’t magic.

      The parents who prayed over their child while she died of treatable diabetes were doing “what they thought best”. That doesn’t make what they did right, or good.

      Before you decide it’s your children making the poor choices simply because they go against your ideologies, perhaps some introspection is in order?

    • Baby_Raptor

      My grandparents did not do what they thought was best for me. They did what they thought was best to eventually get me married off, because they wanted a boy. And, no, I’m not assuming this. They said as much, multiple times.

      No, I wasn’t home schooled. But my grandparents were *very* fundie.

      Not everyone has the best intentions. And you, good sir, are in no position to decide what constitutes “poor choices” for your kids. They are their own people; you don’t get to decide what beliefs are best for them. The fact that you would presume to shows that you have no respect for them.

      • Nate Frein

        Good point. It feels like the people in this movement aren’t particularly interested in children, but in an army of clones to go off and glorify their parentsGOD.

    • Gordon Duffy

      Christianity works best if you are exposed to it before the age of reason.

    • Sophie

      The best parents are the ones that trust their children to make the decisions that are right for their lives. And that support their child without any judgement if it turns out that the decision wasn’t the right one. Parents that try to control their children or make them live by the parents ideals will find that their children don’t want much to do with them.

      • KarenH

        As a parent who has raised a child to adulthood–a child-now-adult in whom I am quite proud in the best sense, the entire POINT of being a parent is to raise them to know what’s best for themselves and make those choices, even in the face of my disagreement.

        I feel I’ve been mostly successful. Has my son ever made mistakes? Well, sure. So have I. But he’s learned from them, much as I hope that I learn from mine.

      • Sophie

        My dad was the kind of parent I described. He always supported my desicions even if he didn’t agree with them. And he never said ‘I told you so’ when my desicions didn’t work out, plus he always acknowledged that he was wrong if my choice turned out to be the right one. That’s why we still have a great relationship and I still value his advice even if I don’t always take it. So yes, to me being a great parent is teaching your children how to make the right choices for THEM, not programming them to be clones of yourself.

    • Linnea

      Sure, “humanist” parents (haha, that includes me now) make mistakes too when it comes to teaching kids about approaching life from a particular perspective.

      However, I suspect that humanist parents are more likely than their fundagelical homeschooling counterparts to teach tolerance and appreciation of differences, and curiosity about how the world really works. Those (real world) kids will be better prepared to think about new ideas and belief systems in a holistic and critical manner, and less likely to be threatened by or completely sucked into a different ideology the first time they encounter one.

      I also don’t believe every parent does what he or she thinks is best for their child. I don’t even believe they necessarily do the best they can. I think my parents did the best they *chose* to do, with horrific results. An extremely isolated homeschool kid has no way to escape or get help from the outside. Once I became an adult, I got away as quickly as I could and left behind them and all of their indoctrination. No doubt they lament my “poor choices” to leave the Christian faith (I don’t know since we have no contact, but I’m sure they blame me), but I consider myself first and foremost a survivor.

    • Composer 99


      Was it your intent to tie together the notion of your sons “making poor choices” and the notion of “rais[ing] your children to believe something as much as you do” (which is what Baby_Raptor and Nate Frein have read into your comment)?

      If so, I must disagree. During the period while children remain unable to make legal decisions, parents/caregivers have a duty, in my view, to look out for their best interests, not to impose upon them personal beliefs.

      If you feel your sons are making poor choices as relates to acting in their interests, then you may feel justified in intervening. But suggesting intervention because you feel they are making poor choices with respect to personal beliefs seems unjustifiable.

      • Nate Frein

        “rais[ing] your children to believe something as much as you do” (which is what Baby_Raptor and Nate Frein have read into your comment)?

        Not exactly. What I take issue with in his comment is his assertion that Libby Ann’s parents “did what they thought was best for her”.

        I have two problems with this statement. First, the way he uses it as a panacea. “Well, they only wanted the best, so even if they were abusive and neglectful in raising you, it’s okay”. This is simply wrong. You are not acting morally if you refuse to adapt your morality to reality. The reality is that many parents create abusive environments, and the fact that they “only mean the best” for their children doesn’t fix it.

        Second, I really don’t think anyone who pops out as many children as Libby Ann’s parents did particularly cares about any individual child. Children seem to become an abstract concept…”how many sproglings can I pop out and bring up in myGod’s name?”

        EDIT: I’m not speaking for how Baby_Raptor took the comment, merely clarifying my problems with it.

      • Composer 99

        Thanks for the clarification and my apologies for the misinterpretation.

    • Gail

      The “what they thought was best” trope is often a lame excuse. I find myself saying it about my parents a lot, and then I think about it and stop making excuses for them. It’s basically the same thing as “they don’t know any better.” Of course my mother “thought it was best” to teach us that being gay is wrong. I often excused her behavior by pointing to her very religious upbringing. Then I realized that she’s an adult with exposure to the real world who should know better. Of course my mother “thought it was best” to spank us with a paddle (that’s what her parents did, after all). Then I realized that she was an adult who could have taken the time to wake up, reconsider how corporal punishment affected her children, and make better decisions as a parent.

      • The_L1985

        To me, “they had good intentions” is an explanation, but not an excuse. OK, so that’s why they did what they did. But that doesn’t keep you from having been hurt, and it doesn’t make you wrong to protest the harmful things that they did.

        It just means that if the parents had been reached in time, they might have done things in a different, not-harmful way in the first place.

      • Christine

        And knowing the explanation can be useful, because it can tell you if there’s hope for the situation.

      • The_L1985

        Exactly. If a person doesn’t have good intentions, then it doesn’t matter whether they know something is causing harm or not–in fact, knowing something is hurting others may cause some people to want to do it more.

        But if you really have someone’s best intentions at heart, then “Stop, you’re hurting zir” should be the only thing needed to get them saying, “OK, what should I be doing instead?”

      • Christine

        I agree with the sentiment in your second paragraph. But if someone says that I am hurting my daughter by not spanking her, and therefore I should start doing so, I frankly don’t feel particularly required to be overly open to listening to them. Or if someone says that vaccinating her hurts yes, she cries and it’s distressing, and there’s a chance of GBS, so technically it’s true. It doesn’t mean that I actually need to change what I’m doing.

        The problem is that good reasons to not change what you’re doing get abused to cover bad reasons to not change what you’re doing. I’m going to let you in on a little secret – I haven’t actually read every single study that relates to the effectiveness of vaccines, nor have I read every single study into side effects. I can’t offer perfect citations to counter every anti-vaxxer argument. I’m willing to trust the experts to back up my very rudimentary research. I like to think that I’m picking the right experts, but (hopefully only in small things) I may not always do so.
        And this isn’t intended to be an excuse either. I’m just trying to point out that the situation is more complex than we want it to be, and that some of the reasons for this are good reasons. It’s useful to have a grasp of the complexity of a situation to be able to look for solutions. (And yes, I’m willing to leave that in there despite knowing that it comes across as a dig at conservatives.)

      • gimpi1

        It may be a dig, but it’s a fair dig. Oversimplification seems to be a fault of much of the modern conservative movement. So is a refusal to except any expertise that doesn’t agree with one’s preconceptions.

      • Christine

        The fact that modern conservatives oversimplify was the given. The dig was me saying that that makes finding solutions impossible.

      • gimpi1

        Quite right, Christine. Sometimes all you can do is the best you can do, and there is no perfect solution to be found, or no way to reliably find it. Demanding perfection can stop you from accomplishing something very good.

        We can’t obtain perfection. We can make things better. And vaccines are a perfect example of that.

      • smrnda

        People also have an obligation to see if their actions really cause more good than harm. If I have great intentions and I decide to do something, I should really follow up to make sure that I got good results. Even people with good intentions can act on incorrect information, and you should try to make sure you’re not wrong.

        This involves a bit of research at times, but what doesn’t?

      • Norm Donnan

        The trouble with this is your own children will at some stage in life will get to judge your parenting skills.When they unfairly and ignorantly tell you how you let them down you will have some idea where your mother was coming from.

      • Sophie

        If your children are telling you that you let them down, then maybe you should examine your parenting behaviour to see if they have have genuine grievance. Rather than just say they are being unfair and ignorant.

        My dad is a great parent, and my older brother and I have a fantastic relationship with him even now at 35 and 29 years old. And part of that is that he is willing to admit that he made mistakes and he apologises for them. He never fobs us off with the ‘did his best’ trope.

      • die Geisthander

        How can it be ignorant? They were there for every step of it. If the parenting did not let them down, they would have a good life and be happy. If they are uhappy or have a bad life and can trace the origins of at least one of those things to the way they were brought up based on their firsthand experience, they’re actually quite the OPPOSITE of ignorant.

        And if we’re going to talk about “fair”, it’s not “fair” for you to assert that you get to evaluate your own performance as a parent without taking into account the input of the people on the receiving end of that parenting.

        My parents have accepted responsibility and apologized for the difficulties in my childhood and have on multiple occasions expressed a wish that things had gone differently as it might have led to me being a less unhappy child; and this after I’ve become a very happy adult!

        If your child is unhappy but you insist that it’s nothing to do with you and when your child tells you it’s because of things you did and you just flail about how it’s not the case, you are being even worse. You had all the power over them growing up and forgetting that fact is unacceptable.

      • John Alexander Harman

        Sorry, Norm, but my judgment of my father’s parenting skills is extremely positive, and does absolutely nothing to invalidate his judgment that his father was a rotten, abusive bastard of a parent, and an excellent example of how not to raise children. Perhaps your own children will also do well by rejecting everything you think you know about parenting and doing the opposite, and your grandchildren will love and thank them for it while sharing their contempt for you. Or perhaps you’re not really as lousy a parent yourself as your reflexive defense of bad parents from their children’s criticism suggests that you are; hard to tell just from a few blog comments.

      • Norm Donnan

        Well John you seem to have come to some very definitive conclusions about me from a “few blog comments”.Your father made a choice in life,he saw a poor example of parenting and rather than play the victim card he chose to be better than that,well done,my mother did the same being raised by an alcoholic. You obviously dont yet have children,but when you do, only then will have the comprehension of why you as the parent make decisions that you think will be the best for them in the long run that they even as young adults still dont get.And hey,we all make mistakes,thats life,move on.

      • John Alexander Harman

        No, I’ve come to some provisional impressions of you based on a few blog comments, as the last sentence of my previous comment would have made clear to someone with better reading comprehension than you are displaying here. The impression you are creating is that you have one or more grown children who resent you for some of the choices you made as a parent, and that you are unwilling to consider that their reasons for doing so might have some merit.

        You keep using that word “when” to imply that things are inevitable when they actually aren’t; substituting “if” would make your comments both more accurate and less arrogant. IF, not when, I have children, they may or may not “unfairly and ignorantly tell me how I let them down;” not all children actually do that to their parents. I, for example, never have, because I don’t feel that they did “let me down.” Other people may fairly and knowledgeably tell their parents how they let them down, as my father did with my grandfather, as Libby Anne apparently tried to do with her father, and as the attitude you have expressed here toward grown children’s criticism of their parents leads me to suspect your own offspring have attempted to do with you. Unfortunately, their valid points had little luck in penetrating their parents’ walls of self-righteous, willful ignorance.

        It’s one thing for adolescent or pre-adolescent children not to understand things their parents do for their long-term benefit — people at that age generally don’t have as much ability to weigh long-term costs and benefits as adults do. But if you have children in their late twenties or thirties who are telling you that you failed them as a parent, they’re almost certainly right. They may be wrong about how you failed them, but if so, the very fact that their adult reasoning led them to a wrong conclusion about something that fundamental to their own lives represents a failure on your part to teach them how to think clearly.

      • Norm Donnan

        Oh dear John,your angst betrays your youth.If you have children,I wish you all the best.I myself am a highly successful father,not because of their achievements in life but because when they leave,they hug me and tell me they love me.Their life is up to them.

      • John Alexander Harman

        Angst? What angst? Your reading comprehension continues to fail. As for my youth, at 38 there’s not all that much of it left. (That, and the time lost and potential life-paths closed off by my unwise choice of a marriage partner, actually are cause for a certain amount of angst, but I wasn’t expressing it in my previous comments.) Anyway, if your relationship with your children is as you say, these statements of your make even less sense:

        “Your own children will at some stage in life will [sic] get to judge your parenting skills. When they unfairly and ignorantly tell you how you let them down you will have some idea where your mother was coming from.”

        “You obviously dont [sic] yet have children, but when you do, only then will [you] have the comprehension of why you as the parent make decisions that you think will be the best for them in the long run that they even as young adults still dont [sic] get.”

        If your presumptions about what must inevitably happen in the live of other people about whom you know very little aren’t even based on your own lived experience, where the heck are you getting them from?

        Also, you don’t seem to understand humanism. Humanist parents don’t generally raise their children “to believe something as much as they do.” They raise their children to believe nothing without sufficient evidence, and teach them how to weigh evidence and adjust their beliefs no more and no less than the evidence requires. If I have children, the most important things they will learn from me will not be specific beliefs or specific facts, but the habits of thought and methods of analysis that enable people to make their mental models of the world as accurate as they can possibly be. They will also learn about religions, both from the religious perspective and from the external perspective that highlights the fallacies and errors of the religious perspective. If as adults they decide to reject reason and “believe” in something without evidence because it feels good to believe it, I will be somewhat disappointed, but, as you say, their lives are up to them.

      • Norm Donnan

        Where do I get my presumptions from ?Other peoples life experiences,my life experiences,learned and taught wisdom,being open minded just to name a few.The humanism you expound will fail miserably.This isnt parenting,its a cop out if indeed implemented as you at this stage think you will .Its all theoretical.What you will find out if indeed you do find yourself in the privileged position of parenthood,is the sinking feeling of outside influence of them.Only then will you begin to understand how biased you really are as you do stress your need to be “open” minded,and a “freethinker”,and use YOUR “reason”. I really do hope you have the blessed experience of children.Not so that you find out that Im right in what I say but that you have the opportunity to grow into the full person you can be that is very difficult for anyone to achieve or understand without the gift of a child.Then reading comprehension wont be quite as important to you in life as it is right now.

      • Alex Harman

        Probably not much point replying at this late date, but on the off chance Norm is receiving Disqus e-mails: the “humanism I expound” is the way I, my siblings, and several of my closest friends were raised; it’s not a cop-out and it didn’t fail. The whole point of it is not to try to prevent any “outside influence,” but to build an intellectual framework that can weigh the value of different outside influences, incorporate the ones that are valuable and reject the ones that aren’t. If you get a “sinking feeling” because your children are learning more than the things you try to teach them and coming to conclusions that differ from yours, there’s something deeply wrong with you as a person, not just as a parent.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      Regarding the term “humanist”, don’t forget that Humanism started out as a Christian movement in the late Middle Ages; an attempt to restore balance after a theology that glorified God and the Spiritual to the neglect of the Human and the Physical.

      • Christine

        I’m fairly sure that the OP considers Christian humanists like myself to be just as bad.

  • Baby_Raptor

    That analogy should get that Anon a box of cookies.

  • Mel

    There are no formulas that lead to given outcomes in parenting. You can raise your child diligently in a religion and they leave when they are an adult. You can raise a child to understand that there is no god and the child becomes a member of a religion as an adult. I’ve decided that many of the Christian Fundamental groups ‘homeschooling’ and child-raising methods are seductive simply because they offer a 100% guaranteed outcome: One Fundamental Christian Soldier per child. The problem is that that outcome cannot be guaranteed.

    This system hurts everyone involved. It leaves children badly prepared for life. It takes the parents’ fears and uses them to stuff a mangled theological boot camp form of child-rearing instead of trial-and-error like the rest of us use. Both sides are hurt when the idealistic future view shatters.

    • Julie McGalliard

      That “100% guaranteed outcome” is a problem with all aspects of fundamentalist Christianity — whether you’re “guaranteed” to experience prosperity by following prosperity doctrine, or “guaranteed” to experience a complete certainty of God’s grace by following all the rules and praying, “guaranteed” to have perfectly obedient children if you follow the Pearls. But parents of all types do seem to have trouble sometimes understanding that children are fully autonomous and self-willed individuals.

      • Mel

        Yeah, I think it has been monetized more effectively by fundamentalist Christians than by any other group but the basic issue occurs in all cultures, philosophies and belief systems.

        What I find disturbing is the fact that people are being beaten over the head with the formula. Parents, if you raise your children exactly this way, you will get a perfect fundamental adult. Parents, if your child is not turning out right, you must not have followed the formula perfectly. Children, your parents are training you in the skills you must have to survive in this terrible world. Children, if you choose differently, you dishonor your family in front of everyone.

        This is nothing like my family did when I grew up. My parents raised us Catholic. They were blunt about the fact we almost became Methodist at one point due to a lack of services for people with disabilities. We were expected to attend church as children and teenagers while we lived at home. (We were also supposed to go to family reunions, celebrate birthdays together, watch each other’s sports games, etc.) Once we left home, we were free to choose what we wanted. I’m Catholic, my sister is Universal Unitarianist, and my brother is an agnostic. We’re all close. My folks are ok with where we are at. They taught us to think and to follow our hearts.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        “No one can ‘guarantee’ the actions of another.”
        – Mr Spock

      • Rosa

        it’s a problem not just for people who leave, but for people who stay, because the assertion is that if you don’t get the desired result, there’s something wrong with you or your faith. There’s a kind of terrible brittleness to it, but it hurts people in all directions.

  • BobaFuct

    ” and educated them in the wilderness (aka homeschooling them) in order to send them forth to conquer Canaan”

    I really don’t understand this analogy, and I think it highlights how superficial Christians are when it comes to the bible, particularly the OT. The Israelites’ time in the wilderness was punishment for their disobedience, and the unbelieving generation (including Moses) had to die off completely before they could enter Canaan. If they had been faithful, and Moses hadn’t been such a useless chode, they’d have marched straight from Egypt to the Promised Land without breaking a sweat in the wilderness.

    • BobaFuct

      Just had a thought…does this mean Michael Farris essentially admits that his is a generation of useless chodes that has made the current generation suffer? If so, I have to admit that he seems pretty on-point there…

    • Alice

      Also, if one insists on comparing generations to the Biblical timeline, then the next generation would be the Judges generation where long periods of time go by with no central authority, and during those times, the majority of people do whatever they want instead of following Yahweh. Quite the opposite of what homeschool fundamentalists want. :)

      • Headless Unicorn Guy

        Sounds like a reaction of one generation to the previous generation.
        Go one-eighty in the opposite direction.

    • Headless Unicorn Guy

      ” and educated them in the wilderness (aka homeschooling them) in order to send them forth to conquer Canaan”
      In the original source documents (i.e. the Book of Joshua in the Tanakh), remember what the Chosen People did to the Heathen Canaanites.

    • Monika Jankun-Kelly

      Didn’t the Israelites exterminate the Canaanites, then claim this was totally a good thing to do because “God said so”? I find the Canaan analogy extremely disturbing and frightening. Most conservatives probably don’t want to actually murder me, but their attitude towards me is still horrid.

  • dj_pomegranate

    I just finished reading The Authoritarians by Robert Altemeyer (and highly recommend it to everyone reading this blog! Seriously, go read it!) One of the quotes that rang true for me was the following, in a passage where he discusses the phenomenon of children leaving right-wing/authoritarian/religious homes. I think it fits nicely with what you’re pointing out here, Libby Anne:

    “…their religious training had made them leave. Their church had told them it was God’s true religion. That’s what made it so right, so much better than all the others. It had the truth, it spoke the truth, it was The Truth. But that emphasis can create in some people a tremendous valuing of truth per se, especially among the highly intelligent youth who have been rewarded all their lives for getting the “right answers.” So if the religion itself begins making less and less sense, it fails by the very criterion that it set up to show its superiority. Similarly, pretending to believe the unbelievable violated the integrity that had brought praise to the amazing apostates as children. Their consciences, thoroughly developed by their upbringing, made it hard for them to bear false witness. So again they were essentially trapped by their religious training. It had worked too well for them to stay in the home religion, given the problems they saw with it.” (The Authoritarians, Pg 187, available online for free, go read it!)

    • gimpi1

      Double the recommendation. The Authoritarians is a valuable read.

    • Ibis3

      I just finished reading it too (over the Canada Day long weekend). Gave it 5 stars.

    • Michael W Busch

      Altemeyer does good work.

    • Joykins

      He also has another book called “Amazing Conversions” on why people with no religion become religious or become atheist after being religious. These people are a very low percentage–about 5%. Most people at most move around within a religion over their lifetime, or just stop becoming observant.

      • dj_pomegranate

        I didn’t know about this book! I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks!

      • gimpi1

        I’ll check it out as well, Joykins. Thanks for the recommendation.

      • The_L1985

        What about people who leave one religion for another? I’m not talking about switching between different forms of Christianity here; I’m talking about people like me, who go to a completely different religion. How common/uncommon are the ones like me?

      • Joykins

        About the same IIRC. It’s been a few years since I read the book.

  • Mira

    Libby Anne, I think also that those who were raised in the Christian school experience can identify with this as well. My parents had very much the same reaction when I deconverted. They had sent us all to “good Christian schools” (no they weren’t) in order to make sure that we were”warriors for Christ”. Sure, in a vacuum we know that this world stuff was silly! Who believes in evolution? Gosh! Then we went out into the real world. Umm…yeah.

  • Scott_In_OH

    I imagine you saw this yesterday, Libby Anne, but just in case.

    Hemant Mehta of “The Friendly Atheist” posted an essay by Rachael Slick, daughter of famous Christian speaker and radio-show host Matt Slick. It is a well-written, touching (and very abridged, I’m sure) account of her deconversion, which illustrates exactly the phenomenon you are describing here. She was well trained in debate and apologetics, but eventually that training led her to see inconsistencies in Christian doctrine, and she couldn’t believe anymore.

    The comments section was bombarded by people trying to tell her she was wrong, but even those were interesting to me. They could be used to generate list of the most common Christian attempts to debunk (or mis-characterize) atheism.

    Here’s the link:

    • dj_pomegranate

      Wow, these comments are incredible. You’re right: most common apologetics attempts to mis-characterize atheism, they’re all there. Some of them even contradict each other! It’s like a logic circus!

      I love (hate) how so many of the apologetics-commenters say things like “I doubt this is the real reason she left…” and “This is a simple misunderstanding of Scripture, too bad she didn’t think harder about it…” It’s like How To Be Dismissive 101: No True Straw Scotsman.

      • Composer 99

        One enterprising Christian attempts constantly in the comments of The Friendly Atheist‘s post to bait his/her interlocutors into what appears to be a bog-standard exercise in second-rate Socratic dialectic.

      • islandbrewer

        Ah yes, that one. That particular poster is absurdly transparent, and runs away when commenters don’t follow the script that’s going through their head.

    • Basketcase

      Off to read… Back later :)

  • Space Blizzard

    Surely if they’re looking to create “living weapons” (great analogy) to go off and retake America- good luck with that btw- their best candidates would be people who came into whatever brand of Christian fundamentalism they’re promoting in adulthood? It’s my experience that people who take on an ideology later in life tend to be the most fanatical and devoted, as opposed to those who had it forced on them in childhood who (at least from what I’ve read) tend to be quite psychologically fragile.

    It’s almost like brainwashing your kids doesn’t tend to end well, who’d have thought?

    • ZeldasCrown

      If you (and this is a general you, not specifically you, Space Blizzard) teach a person to think critically, you really shouldn’t be mad when they actually do so. If you want someone who will just parrot your beliefs without deeply examining them, then you really shouldn’t be teaching them how to evaluate information presented to them in an objective manner. However, people who are unable to evaluate their position and can only offer “the bible says so” as evidence of their assertions aren’t going to convince anybody to convert, so I’d imagine they’re pretty well stuck between a rock and a hard place here.

      • Brightie

        Or you know, they should at least come with some historical and archeological excuses why anything the Bible says is worth attention, which is the route some people try to take…

      • ZeldasCrown

        But even that requires some analytic thought. To really make a convincing argument, the bible would have to be studied extensively, as well as historical and archaeological evidence from other (scientifically-verifiable) sources (I feel that the same sort of “editing” that occurs with the information given when training for debate would happen here as well). There’d still be potential there for somebody to say “hey, wait a minute, the claims in this book don’t align with the scientific evidence”. It’s one thing to use critical thinking skills or historical/archaeological evidence within a bubble where many of the facts are skewed or outright falsified, but as soon as that bubble is left, and one has the realization that their position was based upon heavily biased information, the effect is the same, whether we’re talking critical thinking or historical facts.

  • Lunch Meat

    My parents, conservative Christian, raised four kids–my sister, who is either atheist or agnostic, my brother and me, progressive Christians, and my other sister, a conservative Christian. A while back my conservative sister asked me, “How did you get so liberal?” I said, “Well, mom and dad taught me to think critically and carefully, and that if I found arguments or evidence that were convincing, to change my mind and agree with them.” Interestingly, she said, “Hmm. I never got that.” I don’t know if this is because my parents changed between her and me (we’re 9 years apart) or because of something different between our personalities.

    • BobaFuct

      My family turned out similarly…oldest sister remains a committed conservative/fundamentalist (and attached at the hip to my mom), middle sister just recently gave up and is sort of in a weird “Christianity is dumb, but I think psychics are totally real; and I also don’t want to see my Christian family ever again” phase. I’m the youngest, and although I always talked the, I never really believed beyond the idea of “my social group believes this, so clearly that’s right.” I gave up trying on the whole religion thing years ago, but only really started thinking of myself as an atheist in the last couple of years.

      My mom never explicitly asked what she did wrong, but it’s clear she feels like a failure, and one time she even cried “why is god punishing me this way? (not surprisingly, that kinda made me feel like shit…thanks mom!)” And yet she still thinks Jesus is the bees knees…I just don’t get it.

      • Lunch Meat

        Interesting. I wonder if there has been any research on family/sibling dynamics correlating with whether kids leave or stay in the parents’ religion.

        I’m relatively fortunate with my parents, in that although I wish they would have taught us differently (for instance, not sending my brother and me to a private Christian school), they trust us and accept what we believe. My mom worries about whether we’ll stay saved, but then my mom worries about everything so I’m not offended (and I understand worrying about everything as I got it from her).

      • Christine

        Well there is some about following the parents’ life paths in general. Older siblings are more likely to do so than younger ones.

      • Joykins

        I’m the oldest of 4. My mother is a conservative Christian and my father a progressive evangelical who can pass as conservative because he is not a big talker. I am a liberal/progressive Christian (but also quiet), next brother is a conservative Christian, and the next brother and sister probably vaguely believe and aren’t particularly observant. Family is still tight knit and everyone will turn out for church if Grammy wants them to.

      • Ella Warnock

        “My mom never explicitly asked what she did wrong, but it’s clear she
        feels like a failure, and one time she even cried “why is god punishing
        me this way?”

        Yeah, my mom too. Of course, I just wondered why my disbelief was all about her. Seemed pretty narcissistic to me even then.

  • Christine

    Between this post and the discussion of the Generation 2 survey, I’m getting a picture of people who are ignorant enough to not have a clue that they’re ignorant. How did they get this way? It’s not like they were raised in this bubble, so they got taught basic science, a more balanced history, and have been exposed to people who think in more mainstream patterns. How do they forget that this exists, to the point that they don’t realise that they have such a gap? (Also, how do you have such a large community that doesn’t seem to have a statistics or sociology course between them?)

    • Composer 99

      Dunning-Kruger effect all the way.

  • fancystephanie

    One time my dad asked me what they did wrong, why I turned out so “liberal.” I told them, “You taught me how to think critically. You taught me logic. And logic convinced me that you are wrong.”

    • gimpi1

      Sadly, I’m sure he now regards teaching you to think critically as a mistake. Really, if your arguments don’t stand up to the cold light of reason, why would you expect anyone to accept them? Family loyalty?

      • Brightie

        “Faith,” as in “evidence can be cool, but sometimes when it comes down to it you just have to have.” Defined as what… an emotional conviction?

      • gimpi1

        I’m not sure I follow, Brightie. Was your comment meant for me?

      • Brightie

        “Really, if your arguments don’t stand up to the cold light of reason,
        why would you expect anyone to accept them? Family loyalty?” So yes. Perhaps I worded badly, but the intended meaning was that, in my experience, it seems like whatever intellectual or emotional factor is meant by the term “faith” is what people think we ought to hold onto when our arguments begin to look unreasonable.

      • gimpi1

        I understand now, Brightie. Thanks for the follow-up.

      • Theo Darling

        When I informed my parents that I was moving out of their home to go to school, they sure thought they’d failed at parenting (and homeschooling). Unfortunately, when I assured them that I valued my homeschool education* for teaching me how to think for myself, my mother literally spat at me, “We /never/ taught you to think for yourself. Proverbs 3:5-6.”

        To be honest, I’m always a little surprised to hear about other families in this subculture where parents deliberately tried to teach their kids thinking skills.

        *and deeply resent it, for many other reasons, but I let that slide

      • Libby Anne

        Eh, my mother did try to backtrack when I started heading the wrong direction. I think they thought teaching me to think for myself was fine since they had Truth, and I’m not sure if even they knew how to handle it when that didn’t work out!

      • gimpi1

        Theo, I think you have put your finger on another “Christianese” definition for my cross-language dictionary, to wit:

        Think for yourself: Parrot everything we tell you, and automatically reject anything that contradicts it. Rejecting ‘the world,’ science and objective evidence is “thinking for yourself,” questioning the Bible and your parent’s or pastor’s interpretation of it is “rebellion.”

        Hey, that’s two definitions. I’ll have this thing knocked out in no time. Thanks!

    • Phil McD

      I’d be impressed if I weren’t a libertarian/classical liberal whom points and laughs at the left/right false political paradigm on a daily basis. ;)

  • Trollface McGee

    I can’t resist a LotR analogy.
    The Uruk-hai were, as all Orc-people, corrupted to serve the will of Morgoth/Sauron. The corruption was in their blood. No amount of indoctrination or raising them to be good, law-abiding orcs was going to make them settle down, and have nice quiet lives tending the gardens of the Shire.

    Humans are born with brains that give us the power of thought. Nothing short of some rather horrific intentionally inflicted brain damage will be enough to turn a thinking human being into an automaton. This is why Morgoth and Sauron had to engage in wars over dominion of Middle Earth with the men and elves because most would not freely join him (some did, of their own will) as did the men of the East and South (though there might have been some socioeconomic factors at work there). So, the baddies of LotR knew that all their huff and puff and doom would only entice some of the humans. The rest would either be killed or be forced to live in a dystopian dictatorship.

    Incidentally, Orcs were once elves but were mutilated and tortured by Morgoth until they became the evil and corrupted creatures that he wanted – sort of a “spare the rod, spoil the child” philosophy on roids.

  • Happily Homeschooled

    My parents didn’t always attribute some sin to people who left the church. In one particular case, they went the other direction. There were a few occasions where they mentioned to me people they had known well who had left the church. This particular category of people, they told me, were very intelligent. My parents seemed to rationalize it as these people being “too smart”. They had allegedly gotten too caught up in being intellectual and had reasoned themselves out of the church. In retrospect, I should have seen it, but I was too focused on trying to do everything right.

    Years later I ended up in the same camp. Now, of course, it all makes sense to me. But I’m sure they rationalize it as that I was “corrupted” by my even smarter spouse.

    • Brightie

      Faith vs. Reason?

    • Ibis3

      Being “too smart” is considered a sin. The worst* one in fact–pride. Being smart is okay, but once you start turning it to question faith instead of using to justify and rationalize and apologize for it, you’ve crossed the line.

      *in that it’s the one that felled Satan

  • Ellen

    I am a former homeschooling parent who has since changed her beliefs on a lot of topics. I wish I could rewind time and do things differently the second time around. I love reading all the stories from former homeschoolers! I just recently saw this article posted on Facebook and I’m wondering what you think of the things the author advised parents to do in order to keep their kids “on the straight and narrow” as adults. Comments?

    • BobaFuct

      This quote from that site not only makes me nauseous, but I think gets at the heart of why most people here find Christianity troubling:

      “The 20-somethings who are serving, leading, and driving the ministries at our church were kids whose parents made them go to church. They are kids whose parents punished them and held them accountable when they were rebellious.”

      Let’s be clear…in this context “rebellious” doesn’t just mean drugs and crime, it means not accepting your parents beliefs 100%. I think that therein lies what many of us would argue is the problem here…independent thought is not just discouraged, it’s labeled “rebellious” and the kids “lost”…and any tolerance of it represents a failure on the part of the parents and the church.

  • AnotherOne

    Is the end of the post missing? For me the last line I see is “I was a teenage girl who thought she knew anything and wanted very much to please her parents. a” and then it just stops.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    In that light, I recently saw an interesting comment left on a Homeschoolers Anonymous post:
    Two comments, actually.
    The second and third paragraphs are mine, answering someone else’s comment in the first paragraph. I recognized the comment because who else would mix George Orwell (“The Party”) and Peter Jackson’s visualization of J.R.R.Tolkien (“Uruk-hai from the spawning pits”)?