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Did I Really Have a Choice to Become Anything Other Than What I Became?

indoctrination

Recently, my friend and longtime reader ObstacleChick (OC) left the following comment:

I was one of those “saved” kids who had to bite the bullet and give in to being saved. How could I have chosen otherwise?

There I was, 12 years old, in a home where my grandpa was chairman of deacons at a Southern Baptist church, grandma was Sunday school and women’s missionary union teacher as well as in the choir, my stepdad had recently been baptized as an adult to make my mom happy and because his infant baptism in Lutheran church didn’t count, and within the past year I had been sent to a fundamentalist Christian school where we were daily indoctrinated.

Oh, I had tons of questions and doubts, and there was a lot about salvation and hell that seemed unfair to me. But I felt I had no choice but to do it – go down front and get baptized. My family kept bugging me that I needed to “make a profession of faith”. Most of the other 12-year-olds had been or were scheduled to be baptized. Every church service and every chapel service at school ended in an altar call.

Literally, what choice did 12-year-old ObstacleChick have? I had already been shut down at church for asking hard questions. At school, my grades were tied to giving the correct answers, so there was no room for questions. My entire family accepted that This Was The Way – The Only Way. The only other way was ostracized, punishment, eternal hell.

I regret that I was brought up this way. I suffered from this religion. I am so glad I was able to come out of it before subjecting my children to it. As young adults, they can make their own choices, as they should.

Speaking of her childhood indoctrination and conditioning in a Southern Baptist congregation and devoutly Christian family, OC asks, “What choice did 12-year-old ObstacleChick have?” This, of course, is a rhetorical question. OC didn’t have a choice. Everything in her life was focused on OC making THE decision. People not raised in Southern Baptist and Independent Fundamentalist Baptist (IFB) congregations don’t understand the pressure children and teens face to convert. Virtually every day, young OC was reminded that she wasn’t saved, that she was headed for Hell unless she repented and asked Jesus to save her. Is it a shocker that she finally got saved?

And after she finally sealed the deal with Jesus? More pressure. More pressure to read the Bible, pray, attend church every time the doors were open, and keep all the rules, regulations, and edicts to the letter. And if she didn’t? God’s (and the church’s and her family’s) judgment and chastisement awaited her. Is it any surprise that OC is an unbeliever today?

My life took a similar track as OC’s — with a few differences. Unlike OC, I didn’t have any questions or doubts. I was all in. Whatever my pastor, youth pastor, Sunday school teacher, and visiting preachers said, I believed. I was a perfect target for “God” calling me into the ministry. I was saved at the age of fifteen, and for the next thirty years or so, I was a true-blue believer; God said it, I believe it, and that settles it for me. My life was set in motion the day my far-right parents walked into Scott Memorial Baptist Church in San Diego in the early 60s and got saved. My path was steady and sure until decades later I pondered THE question: what if I am wrong?

Bruce Gerencser, 66, lives in rural Northwest Ohio with his wife of 45 years. He and his wife have six grown children and thirteen grandchildren. Bruce pastored Evangelical churches for twenty-five years in Ohio, Texas, and Michigan. Bruce left the ministry in 2005, and in 2008 he left Christianity. Bruce is now a humanist and an atheist.

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12 Comments

  1. Avatar
    Leonard Ostrander

    Which raises the question, do we have any choices at all? Is free will only an illusion? Neuroscientists and philosophers are leaning in that direction and I’m inclined to agree. I am a robot. The implications are immense. Gotta go now, really. I have no choice. Cheers!

  2. Avatar
    Dave

    My situation was very similar. Much like the brainwashed citizens of a totalitarian regime I was constantly barraged with dogma and threats of eternal punishment if I did not fall in line. Escaping this indoctrination was a long and painful process and scars from this will always remain.

  3. Avatar
    Barbara L. Jackson

    My family was not absolutist. All you have to do is look at other religions which are absolutist like UltraOrthodox Jewish groups like this to see another form of this belief that their way is the only way and all children should be forced to comply with the groups view. Read Unorthodox by Deborah Feldman.

  4. Avatar
    MJ Lisbeth

    Most people follow the faith in which they were raised as children.

    Because almost all children depend on their families, communities and schools for their security and sustenance, they have little or no choice about whether or what they will believe. I grew up Roman Catholic because of my milieu; if I had been in another country–or even a different neighborhood–I might’ve been a Muslim, Orthodox Jew or some other variety of Christian besides Roman Catholic.

  5. Avatar
    Brocken

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L4zwC32nKFY There is something that I have been thinking about. When it comes to the subject of whether or not people have any choice about being anything other than what they became, I’ve noticed that at least two of the current or former pastors of either the Baptist church in Elmendorf or Grace Community Church in San Antonio did not grow up in Independent Fundamental Baptist Churches. From Pat Horner’s testimony starting around 5:20 in the video he stated that he grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. It was not a very devout or spiritual Roman Catholic home. Pa Horner claimed that when he was growing up there was no Bible in his house. Supposedly both Pat Horner and his wife were nominal Roman Catholics https://jesus4evers.blogspot.com/2018/10/testimony-of-tim-conway.html In Tim Conway’s testimony he claims that he grew up in a Catholic household but that they rarely went to church. Tim Conway also states that he was using cocaine and crystal meth so much that he was incapable of doing his job properly. It was only through the intervention of some co-worker giving him some tracts and the book ” The Gospel according to Jesus” by John Macarthur, that Tim Conway got “saved” and he became a pastor.. At least that is the story that Tim Conway tells. I wonder what you make of their “testimony”. Also, were there other people affiliated with those two churches in Texas who were former Roman Catholics?

    • Avatar
      John S.

      Brocken interestingly I grew up in a Pentecostal church (Assembly of God), left religion in adult life until I read about Zen Buddhism, and then went all in on meditation, incense, etc. Eventually I felt “called” to become Catholic, which was something I tried and tried to run away from for many years due to what I thought would be my family’s (and friend’s) reaction. I have been a practicing Catholic since Easter 2018. Thankfully my family for the most part was ok too.
      We call this phenomenon “Crossing the Tiber”. While many evangelicals are former Catholics, there is a small underground of former evangelicals who convert to Catholicism.
      I say this in total understanding of the horrible history of the church, and I do not expect anyone to mince their words on this. I wish I could explain why I feel the way I do. I have tried a few times to abandon Catholicism but I keep feeling the desire to remain. This gives me compassion for those who are also trying to breakthrough to realize their “true selves”. I can only hope the Catholic Church fully reckons with its past to become better in the future.
      All this said, Bruce and everyone on this page have been extremely respectful of me. And reading Bruce’s posts have made me more mindful (there’s the Buddhism again 🙂) of my own attitude about my chosen religion, and also introspective about my own childhood religious experiences. I can’t say I was abused, I had a good experience in the AOG in Royal Rangers, but the pressure applied to children to do an altar call (you might die tonight we would be told) and even worse to “speak in tongues” to me was not appropriate. For those not familiar, this is basically speaking in an unintelligible language in a very fast tempo. The pressure to do this is why I ultimately left this religion.

        • Avatar
          John S.

          Thank you, Brocken for sharing this. I read awhile back that a couple of Royal Ranger leaders had been recently convicted of sexually abusing boys in the program in the 1980’s.
          Thankfully I never experienced that myself (the leaders I remember were very good mentors and role models), but I have no doubt it happened in other situations that have yet to reported.

  6. Avatar
    Yulya Sevelova

    In my case, I grew up in Los Angeles and in a place that huge,I never encountered a real , born- again Christian. Not until I was forced to move up to Northern California,did I even know what one was. Possibly,there were Christians who were in incognito mode, but once up North, they were everywhere. So I wasn’t raised with anything religious,as indoctrination goes. Just as well. Bars, nightclubs,and alcohol could be called the maternal part of the family ” religion.”🍺🍻🍷🍹

    • Avatar
      Sage

      According to Tee, “Instead, those Christians who made early decisions for Christ under what they considered pressure, should use the time to explore Jesus, his teachings, etc., WITHOUT involving unbelievers. Unbelievers won’t tell you the truth nor will they help you find it.”

      Welllllll, I have some bad news for Tee. This is exactly what I did. I took a great amount of time to explore much about God/Jesus/Bible and it still let me to realizing that none of it is true. I didn’t read any of the books that Bruce recommends and in fact never found his website until long after I had left christian belief. Tee talks about prayer, as if that solves all things, but I can assure you I spent many hours in prayer on a regular basis.

      Which means in my case, “god’s word” and his followers, who all offered advice in both written and oral form, all led me to realize that none of it is true, and in fact, the only thing that made me believe was the way I was groomed as a child to just accept christianity as real. And fear certainly played a role – fear of hell and a fear of how I could live if there was in fact no god.

      I almost made it out earlier in my life, back when I was in college. But that too was thwarted since I went to a christian college, still surrounded by the same indoctrination that simply built on my childhood grooming. Ultimately I decided that there are things I could not explain, and that the bible didn’t adequately explain (or in cases life creation or worldwide floods just seemed to be wrong, but were perhaps the explanations used by god so early humans could comprehend). But, since I knew that belief in god was based on faith, (which the bible mentions several times throughout the text) I decided there was a god, and moved on in faith. This set me on the path of an unshakeable belief, because there was no logic to it. Faith does not require logic and in fact ignores logic.

      Ultimately, a few years down the road, I came to realize that there were many problems. I had faith, I had prayer, I had regular study of the bible, I was committed to church, worked in various roles, and made my life about getting closer to god. But what I read in the bible and heard through other sources seemed to constantly clash with reality. The bible makes promises or god makes promises, or both, and then those don’t happen. But it wasn’t gods will/timing/plan. Soon the whole house of cards came crashing down, because the more I studied, the more I found reality did not match what I read. And I realized as I delved deeper that bible had serious contradictions which required to you decide which part you would accept.

      Thankfully, I am now free from the chains and darkness of christianity.

    • Avatar
      ObstacleChick

      Well, Mr Tee, you should have asked me directly. I did all the things you mentioned. I did talk with family members (please note that my Grandma spent hours each day in “study time” with her Bible, Concordance, prayer, and copious resources from the Baptist Sunday School Board as well as other evangelical resources – she was a lay woman who studied like a scholar, with prayer and calling on the Holy Spirit for guidance), BJU and PCC trained pastors and teachers at school, as well as youth and music pastors at church. I read the Bible and prayed. In college, I went to a different church, First Baptist Church of Nashville, a prestigious SBC church with many members employed by the Baptist Sunday School Board. I talked with the College minister there. I talked with the minister assigned to my university’s Baptist Student Union, and our chapter was the leading BSU in Middle Tennessee located at the state’s most prestigious university located a stone’s throw from the Baptist Sunday School Board. So Mr Tee, don’t make it seem like I didn’t do it right – I prayed and prayed and begged for literally YEARS for guidance.

      So while I had no choice but to go along with evangelicalism, I tried really hard to do as I was told, and it didn’t work.

      So Mr Tee, as Will Smith said to Chris Rock, get my pseudonym out of your mouth. If you can’t be bothered to listen to my story and ask questions about what you don’t understand, do not make assumptions about my journey and try to twist my life into your object lesson to meet your own needs. I am an agnostic atheist not because I did everything wrong, but because I tried to do everything right and it didn’t work. But I guess you’ll still somehow blame me for it.

      I still stand by my assertion that I had no choice as a child. Had I been born into a fundamentalist Jewish, or fundamentalist Muslim, or fundamentalist Hindu, or insert any fundamentalist religion or ideology and the situation would have been the same. Binary Fundamentalism doesn’t line up with how the spectrum that the real world is.

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