Yesterday I read this very moving story, by the intelligent and courageous Lala Stone entitled, “How I Went from Being a Southern Baptist Preacher’s Daughter to an Open Atheist.”
It’s a heartbreaking story that I hope atheists and Christians will both read, for the same reason in different directions. Through the telling of stories we deepen our understanding, empathy and compassion. Ms. Stone’s story is her own and while many people, myself included, trace similar themes in our own stories, hers are unique to her.
In my case I did not have the fear of hell as the major factor in my faith and loss of faith. Nor was I sexually assaulted. I had different experiences of God’s absence and different forms of indoctrination that troubled me and trouble me still. She writes:
I hope atheists will read this story, not so much to revel in another one saved from the pit of religion, but more to deepen their understanding of how indoctrination works and how deeply it is rooted inside of people. Especially for those who didn’t have a conservative or fundamentalist upbringing, I hope you can understand better how deeply entangled the whole thing is with life, death, family and everything else.
The word indoctrinated has a sinister connotation. Pew Research Center found in 2012 that 78 percent of Americans are Christian. Surely they can’t all be brainwashing their children? However, a major component of religion is faith, believing in something without proof. The definition of indoctrinate is “accepting beliefs uncritically.” I’d say the two go hand in hand. I now identify as an atheist, but I still don’t feel completely free of my indoctrination.
I hope Christians will read this story and also deepen their understanding of how people lose their faith. As annoying as it is for Christians to hear Richard Dawkins refer to indoctrination as child abuse, can you read this story and for a minute see his point. You may not end up agreeing with him. I don’t think I would choose to articulate it that way either, but certainly some forms of indoctrination seem to border on child abuse, like this organization that is converting little children in public parks and pools. Doesn’t this seem perverse?
I got an email yesterday from a man whose story of losing his faith has similar themes. Then another one this morning from a young woman. Contrary to what you frequently hear from misguided apologists, many former Christians wanted to keep believing. They are not “rejecting the truth in unrighteousness.” Quite the opposite. The are rejecting faith in righteousness.