“One day the principal enters John’s school classroom to single John out. John is terrified. To his surprise, the principal says “You’re a very bright boy, John Grimes,” and “Keep up the good work.
That moment gave him, from that time on, if not a weapon at least a shield; he apprehended totally, without belief or understanding, that he had in himself a power that other people lacked; that he could use this to save himself, to raise himself; and that, perhaps, with this power he might one day win that love which he so longed for. This was not, in John, a faith subject to death or alteration, nor yet a hope subject to destruction; it was his identity, and part, therefore, of that wickedness for which his father beat him and to which he clung in order to withstand his father. His father’s arm, rising and falling, might make him cry, and that voice might cause him to tremble; yet his father could never be entirely the victor, for John cherished something that his father could not reach. It was his hatred and his intelligence that he cherished, the one feeding the other. He lived for the day when his father would be dying and he, John, would curse him on his deathbed. And this was why, though he had been born in the faith and had been surrounded all his life by the saints and by their prayers and their rejoicing, and though the tabernacle in which they worshipped was more completely real to him than the several precarious homes in which he and his family had lived, John’s heart was hardened against the Lord. His father was God’s minister, the ambassador of the King of Heaven, and John could not bow before the throne of grace without first kneeling to his father. On his refusal to do this had his life depended, and John’s secret heart had flourished in its wickedness until the day his sin first overtook him. (20-21)
“Go Tell it on the Mountain,” by James Baldwin
I enjoyed reading James Baldwin’s masterpiece, “Go Tell it on the Mountain” in my senior year of high school, and while I was blown away by the elevated intensity of the novel, I was engulfed by a sense of astonishment that such a novel could exist that described so closely my own schizophrenic reality within the relationship towards Christianity and my family. It wasn’t as if Baldwin walked in my shoes step for step, but it was close enough to give me shivers.
Like John Grimes, my relationship with Christianity was a bit schizophrenic. On the one hand, I loved the comfort that was present in the idea that there was a guiding hand in the universe that would tilt all things towards justice, love and truth. God was the backstop and the King of the Universe in my mind that I projected outwards onto my world. Jesus, the angels and the saints occupied my mind and primed me to be obedient and honest (not that I always was), and there existed for me an “order” with God at the zenith that assured me that whatever happened to us (or rather me) would work out in the end. I didn’t know how it would end or how I would get there, but lived on that hope, and it at times comforted me.
On the other hand, the older it became more apparent that God seemed to favor – or at least allow – all kinds of evil in the world to such an extent, that beings were daily being blasted into nonexistence for the good of American “Freedom” in the Vietnam War, never mind the massive scale of hunger and poverty in the world. Now I didn’t experience war or starvation, but I could relate to it through the poverty I grew up in and what I read and saw through the media – which drew a fine point on the endless suffering that was terrifying to me. The preachers at my church claimed that we were in the Last Days, and that Jesus was set to return in any day. I would gaze upon the statuette of a crucified Jesus behind the pulpit and wonder how it all related to the sea of black, disappointed faces around me. Sometimes I imagined the whole affair was a ruse, or a trick. Who here could ever verify what was said in the Bible was true? This was all a bit too much for an eleven-year old to ponder. I went into fear of what those thoughts implied. I would settle back into the religious haze and forget I ever asked.
I do not know when I was indoctrinated to accept the belief that “God” existed and that Jesus was His Only Begotten Son. It must have happened before my Catholic confirmation at six. It certainly happened during my first years I attended St. Vincent De Paul. n fact, I loved going to Catholic school and attending Mass every morning before school started. The incense, the Latin, the stained glass of images from the Bible. It was intoxicating. And I believed. I believed, and while I didn’t realize it, my whole being was suffused and pervaded with this belief, to such an extent that I can still feel its pull, tugging me ever so slightly, calling me to stand before the tabernacle of the Holy. It’s like seeing the last vestiges of a dream dissolving around you as you awaken into the physical world around you. There is a brief yearning to remain in the dream a little longer, or at least for the dream to replace the world the dreamer knows she is falling towards. The dream always ends for us, and we are dragged kicking and screaming, into the inferior world that remains.
Ultimately, it was good that a downturn in my family’s finances prevented me to continue my Catholic education beyond the third grade, although at the time it seemed like an irreversible disaster. The public school I was forced to attend was dirty, dull and inferior in every way to the crisp cleanliness of the hallways and the dark mystery of the church that I enjoyed at St. Vincent’s. With each day away from my beloved school slowly cooled the religious fire that had begun to burn within me. And even though I would continue to be forced to attend other churches throughout my childhood and teenage years, I never really recovered my faith. It was, thankfully, destined to slowly dissipate forever.
The question I am going to ask is controversial and maybe crude. But does the teaching of religious values beneficial to a child? Are such teachings a form of child abuse?
My answer is doubtlessly controversial. Yes, as in the case of the boy in Baldwin’s novel, within the dynamic of the Grimes family, the character’s consciousness becomes totally involved with opposing the brutality of his father, a violent man of God who was the true embodiment of the essence of the biblical God, handing out brutality and judgment to all that displeased him, a black demon set to destroy everything it can touch
disguised in holy garments, always praying to the White God to “wash the sins away” to be, “whiter than snow.” And here is the child who patiently waits for the day when he finally outlasts and defeats his father and takes his place! And so, father and son set to destroy the other, playing out in an eternal cycle of conflict and death, the father destroying the will of the child. The Holy Spirit of destruction, conflict and hate pervades the planet, and it always has it begun at home.
As an adult, I have long since questioned the acceptance of Christianity by the indigenous Americans, the Black and Latino minorities of what I can only call the “God of the White Slave Masters.” What turn in the mind could a slave worship his master’s God? There was no doubt within me that the God in the black churches I attended as a youth was White. But my fellow black church goers couldn’t see it, or thought that it was of any consequence. This really seemed odd to me that I should have been trapped within the nauseous self-awareness of such a bizarrely ironic set-up that nobody else could see, and it made me feel that I was the one who was wrong. So this question that always has haunted me – why has Christianity been so accepted among my race? As Baldwin once said, our entrance into America was a bill of sale. We were treated like mules by the Whites and given their God to worship. But, as Baldwin also pointed out, “they knew we weren’t mules.” They treated us as mules because they could, and they also knew that God never not punish them. That’s why we were treated as mules and brainwashed us with their gospels, so that blacks in America would never be completely free from their suffering because we would accept our suffering as the way to Heaven and nothing would ever really change. How fucked up is that?
It could only be, as Baldwin rightly once pointed out, blacks were in search of a sacred and secret revenge within the cosmic overthrow of the Master, without realizing the destruction such a vengeful yearning would wreak upon our children that lives inside the desperate heart of the Black Protestantism. I am drawing a parallel to this passage in Exodus where God instructs Moses to create two slabs of rock to replaced the stone tablets Moses had earlier destroyed in a ft of anger. After Moses completes his task, he goes up to the mountain where the Lord appears in front of him as a cloud (?!) and boasts:
“The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.”
This sin is the transmission of religious beliefs from the parent to child that is to be punished. I felt this in the black churches that I grew up in, and if I had remained in the Catholic Church like my uncle, maybe I wouldn’t have seen the disconnect as clearly or at all. My uncle was a staunch Christian throughout his life, only questioning his faith before succumbing to cancer before it took his life. At the end of your life, does the entire constellation of the stories about God and Jesus really satisfy one before they enter the point of no return? They didn’t satisfy me as a child when thoughts of death were foreign to me.
To go back to my original point – child abuse does happen when we indoctrinate our children with religious beliefs. Do you remember how betrayed you felt when you found out that there was no Santa Claus? Don’t you see it’s the same thing? When people pass on their religious ideas to their children, they are in fact, mentally abusing them. I didn’t have an idea of God when I was born, it was given to me first by my family. I was urged to receive the Holy Spirit and I prayed fervently to receive it, but such a blessing never came to light upon me. I became disappointed and suspicious about this God who seemed to reject my pleas for being “saved.” Rather than thinking that I was unworthy to receive this gift, I began to read things outside the Bible, such as Mircea Eliade’s classic books on mythology in the quiet refuge of the Toledo Public Library. I began to see the story of Jesus in the bible was constructed as a myth, like other folk tales that resided in other religions around the world. And I marveled at how completely the Christian myth had brainwashed the religious inclinations of the American Blacks in America (that is, those still believing in their faith). I’ve talked to a few blacks on forums about this and their response is that they will pray for me – that I will find the Lord, as they see me as a “test of their faith,” or a stumbling block. I cannot reach them because they can’t hear me.
Indoctrinating, or to put it in plain English, brainwashing a child into believing tales of metaphysics is harmful.Teaching children that there is an invisible man in the sky who sits in judgment of the world is a form of mental abuse that causes mental illness. It is the willful teaching of delusion, because there is no “God,” just a story about “God” that only exists in the consciousness of human beings and in the pages that are written by human beings. It is one thing for whites to believe in God and Jesus and the infallibility of the bible, it is of course, their creation that assisted them in taking over the world and becoming the wealthiest country by inflicting upon people of color slavery, war, cultural brainwashing and economic domination. The Christian Jesus seems to have been quite a talisman of oppression against people of color.
That’s why I call for the end of Christian theology, simply because the Christians have refused to practice what they preach and in doing so, has created much more evil in the world. How ironic to imagine a world without Christians as one that is less evil.
 Exodus 34:7. NIV. Further down in this chapter, Moses is also instructed to perform some very bizarre things to placate Yahweh, including the injunctions against offering blood sacrifices “along with anything containing yeast,” and to “not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.”