Does Religious Instruction Create Atheists?

It’s been said that if you really want to turn someone away from religion, get them to study the Bible. Whether atheist or agnostic, I’ve found that people who have left the religion they were raised in, are often far more knowledgeable about religion than most people who would consider themselves “religious”. This is because they have left behind indoctrinated faith, which isn’t really “knowledge” at all, and replaced it with true objective study of religious beliefs.

Of course, religious instruction does not allow or encourage religious education. The difference is that religious instruction is indoctrination from only a perspective of faith, whereas the second is true academic study that presents opposing views and asks the student to make their own mind up. If your children are in an “RE class”, it is most likely that they are being taught to believe in Christian religious faith from people who come from a local church. If they were being educated about the facts of religion, their teacher could take the class themselves.

The email below came from Billy, who wanted to talk about how religious instruction put him off religion and ultimately turned him to atheism and an appreciation for human values that don’t require religion.

After reading your comments in “My Story” on your web site, about how you felt bad that you upset certain groups with your comments on the way you and daughter had been treated. I just wanted to say, as you may well have found out since writing your story that no matter how much you sanitize your feelings you will always offend somebody when talking religion. You end up sanitizing so much that the point simply disappears. I have always found it amusing how religious people feel they are being persecuted every time somebody disagrees with their religious view or how they teach it, no matter how respectful one is. So I thought I would share my story of religious instruction and how compassionate state schools and teachers were towards me regarding RI and thus my stance regarding my own and other children’s religious indoctrination.

From memory, I have been an Atheist since about the age of seven possibly earlier. This in spite of being made to go to Sunday school, which I stopped after only a few sessions without telling my parents. However I was also made to attend “Religious Instruction” classes in my primary, middle and high school years. For not attending these classes in primary school I would receive a strike of the ruler and / or my mouth filled with soap. I was never sure if this was a school policy or the love of a religious teacher. Needless to say this only happened about three times. In my middle and high school I would received detentions and six strokes of a cane on each “offence”, of which there were many.

I couldn’t but see the irony which constantly reinforces my “non belief”, you know, God and Jesus forgive and God is love. I felt that the Principle got a lot of satisfaction from these encounters to the point that the Christian saying “turn the other cheek” took on a whole new meaning. In my younger years I never knew what an “Atheist” was. I thought everyone believed this God thing and I was somehow different maybe stupid or something. Maybe this “God” didn’t love me and that’s why I didn’t get “His” word. Yet another saying I have heard repeatedly over the years. Whenever I brought the subject up, I was told I was stupid “of course there’s a God. Where do you think we came from”.

Now remember, this was before the internet, personal computers and in an era that forced unwed mothers to give their children away or have a back street abortion in order the save the “family name” from shame. Yet another irony that wasn’t lost on me. “God is love and forgives”. Libraries, especially schools, didn’t seem to carry books on other religious teachings such as the Torah or Qur’an, nor on non god beliefs, well non I could ever find. This despite Britain being somewhat diverse in its ethnic makeup at that time. I made several attempts to read the Christian Bible. The Christian bible because I was born in England, a country that called itself Christian from which I was baptised C of E. But I never felt it explained anything. I never got it! I had an Indian friend who was Hindu. I found that the Hindu belief had better stories and more Gods than the Christian teaching, which made me have some strange thoughts and wonder if there were a whole race of gods out in space and you just needed to choose one.

So here I am, now in my sixties having critically read the Christian Bible, both old and new testaments, the Book of Mormon, about 70% of the Qur’an and a few chapters from many other versions of religious offerings. Also books on Buddhism and philosophies . Books written by biblical scholars both in support and against religious doctrines. Viewing numerous debates on Cosmology, History, Geography, Biology, Physics and several other sciences, as well as viewing numerous articles and papers on these same subjects. All this as well as travelling to many of the places written about in religious works. I suppose it was possible I may have been still looking for that elusive God. A God that I could never find.

Things I did find were truth, knowledge, compassion, understanding and tolerance. These things didn’t come from any religion or a belief in a God. They came from learning about the real world I live in and seeing religious doctrine for what it really is. A closed dark room controlled by others who only allow enough light in for you to see and learn what they want you to see and learn.

Although the way state schools are allowed to introduce religion to its pupils these days has changed, nothing has changed with regard to what is taught and the mixed messages these sessions give to our younger pupils. Indoctrination of children into any system of belief that offers no coarse of rebut or debate. A religious teaching system that ostracises and corrupts rather than teaches real values and truths should never be allowed to enter any real institute of learning or system of government because it does ostracise and corrupt.

Billy White

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