Childhood experiences are what form you to be the person you are today. Your brain is actually still forming into adulthood until around age 24.
Image by The Library of Congress via FlickrThe struggle of my particular childhood was one of constant fear, guilt and shame for things that I've since come to learn are natural human urges and impulses, particularly the urges associate with puberty. In my experience, none of these were ever really talked about as being a part of my natural course of development. They were sort of lumped together and regarded as simply more temptations from Satan, therefore you can presume that the conflict that ensued inside my psyche was nothing short of a gargantuan ordeal.
More than the more obvious pubescent things to contend with are the many more nuanced and insidious impactors as well. One such impactor would be what I like to refer to as the "imaginary friend."
My imaginary friend was an amalgam of Jesus Christ and his father (the white-bearded one.) Or at least versions of various artist's renditions of the like. He was always expressionless in much the same way characters designed by Disney are, though his mouth didn't really move. He never smiled or showed expressions. Sometimes he would morph into a devilish character. Alway disembodied. I am describing him to you in order to illustrate the detailed recollection I have some 45 years later.
He communicated with me constantly. Mostly about something I was doing, thinking of doing or simply thinking. He judged every word I said or even thought about saying. If I had a thought of nudity for example, or a swear word it would be met with instantaneous disdain or even worse. Sometimes if the sin was grievous enough the face would morph into that of Satan's. Or the face would be replaced with a vague concept of hell with lapping flames and blackness.
The imaginary face, however unfriendly, was placed there through my young and very strong imagination since I was four or five years of age and it didn't change much in it's appearance or function. Though more sins were adding and evolving over time just like I was, a boy of seven has very different types of sins than that of a twelve or thirteen-year-old. Your imaginary friend would more likely point out how you shouldn't steel peanuts from the drug store or not tell a lie.
Then later on the sexual drive of an adolescent comes into play. The result was a constant onslaught of sins or possible sins on an already exhausted and terrified brain. I was more often strong enough to keep from acting on a sinful thought, but less successful at sinning with my thoughts. I was also taught there is in fact no difference in the severity from thinking a sin or acting on it -- a sure recipe for failure ninety-nine percent of the time.
As I said earlier, in the study of a child's development we learn that the human brain is not fully formed until around the age of 24. The fact that this is a relatively new discovery in neurology isn't of much consequence except on a more personal level. If we had known this near the time when I defiantly informed my parents, at age eighteen, that I had found my soul mate and wanted to marry her, some discussion might have been had to persuade me to the contrary, or to at least take a long, deep breath while my brain cooked a little longer. The marriage was a frustrating failure, adding to the shame because as most of us know, divorce is also a sin. One potent enough to guilt me into remaining married far longer than we should have.
What are the effects of longterm exposure and immersion in religion, or more specifically, Christianity?
When you consider the impetus of these early decision to get married, you would not even need forensic science to decipher the cause. It was pure lust coupled with a profound fear of damnation for having performed sexual acts before marriage. Not that a good deal of sex wasn't occurring prior to marriage regardless, but not without a bountiful measure of guilt and repentance to follow each encounter.
Life-plotting, life-altering, life-determining actions all conceived, planned and executed by a partially formed, uninformed brain which was also designed or "hard-wired" if you will, by religion. I scarcely can think of a more ill-fated genesis for a person venturing into the world of free thought or the virtuous quest for free will.
We have seen how difficult it is to deprogram a cult member who has only been involved in it for a couple of years. Imagine how ingrained a young person becomes when exposed to full Christian immersion well into his or her twenties. Through those beginnings I was fortunate enough to have another imaginary friend in my head. Possibly not so imaginary because it was me. And that still and very small voice has managed to be my savior -- my true savior these many years. In fact I know now that had that voice been recognized, been nurtured, allowed to speak, ask questions and be heard, we would be looking at a very different 52-year-old man today.
It is true, we can make this statement about anyone. "If life had gone this way or that way things would have been different."
But the outcome of a human child who has been told that one false move would ensure eternal burning of the skin with a fire that can never be quenched, is a very different thing than a scolding or even a smack. Or when you are told at the same time that if you manage all the RIGHT moves, or at least MOST of the right moves just prior to death or rapture, you can be accepted into heaven where you are invited to sit at the feet of God forever, that's enough to motivate your decision making and your general outlook on the value of everything you live for. When you are raised to be a pilgrim, just passing through, how do you treat your life and the people, plants, animals, sky and all the rest?
Imagine living your life knowing that the world is going to go down in flames and you and those like you are the only ones with the parachutes. How much would you care for the earth? How much would you focus on the time you have here compared to your focus on the world's eminent annihilation from which you are guaranteed a free pass.
Imagine that your parachute was in constant threat of being torn from your back if the world ended at the same split second you conjured an offending thought or committed an act of sin.
One who has not been exposed to this sort of thinking might be skeptical that these images, personalities, voices and scenarios could ever be taken that seriously by anyone. But I can tell you that myself and scores of others who were raised to believe all of these things and events as literal, can attest to their real, enduring and devastating effects to human minds and emotional states -- especially when early childhood immersion takes place.
Complete immersion and indoctrination of Christian mythology in children is nothing short of child abuse. When a mind is still forming, false controlling images change the way the brain is wired. Quite literally.
The result is a brain that interprets every thought, every impulse and every desire through a filter that instantly forms a conclusion about them for you. The way cults are designed are to do the exact same thing. They start by changing the terminology so you identify an object or scenario with a new word. The more you use that identifier, the more your brain only sees that thing within a particular context. Thereby changing the way you think about that thing. It rewires your brain.
When you are immersed in terminology, images and attach to them specific concept and contexts you change the wiring of how you think. Christianity accomplishes this by integrating with a child's imagination until the images and concepts become as real as anything else in the physical world. And because there is a strong emotional connection to those images, the images become all the more powerful.
We have seen how difficult it is to deprogram a cult member who has only been involved in it for a couple of years. Imagine how ingrained a young person becomes when exposed to full Christian immersion well into his or her twenties.
There is no doubt in my mind that I was abused by religion. It effects the way I deal with the world. It effects how I write this article. It will likely have an impact on me until I die, but I can assure you of this: The imaginary "friend" is gone. I don't talk to him and he doesn't talk to me, and I'm really fine with that.