An image that is indelibly imprinted in my mind from the past year or so vividly illustrates the violence that is present in the religious impulse. A Muslim terrorist in a Saudi Arabia casually walking down the aisle of a shopping mall, nonchalantly gunning down shoppers, but pausing periodically to kneel and pray. I prefer the violence in the religious experience I am familiar with when it has been sublimated into “simple” (cough, cough) manipulation, intimidating and terrorizing into “getting saved.” That is a very violent ritual but admittedly it cannot compare with what we see with today’s Muslim extremists.
Let me focus on the “getting saved” culture that I am familiar with, by experience and by research. I think that “getting saved” can be a meaningful religious ritual that can introduce one into the realm of spirituality. But in my experience I fear that often it only fulfills the “tribal function” of religion, bringing the young person into the tribe and fulfilling a very necessary human need to belong. But too often the value of the experience never goes beyond perfunctory compliance with the letter of the law, just as with many religious traditions.
But in the conservative, fundamentalist Christian denominations the children are often terrorized into “getting saved” with stories of excruciating death-bed conversions…or worse, death-bed failures to be converted and subsequent writhing for eons in the pits of hell. And the social pressure and intimidation is relentless as the young person is pressured into “asking Jesus into his life.” One blogging friend of mine recalled as a teen-ager gaggles of females besetting her and attempting to “gang save me.”! This procedure is intrinsically violent and it is interesting that many parents will subject their young children to this abuse even while the main focus of their faith are offenses like drug and alcohol abuse, sexual misconduct, abortion, and our “Kenyan President leading us down the path to Socialism.” Each of these issues, save the latter, is a legitimate concern. But how can a spiritually discerning adult allow their young children’s spirituality to be warped for the duration of their life while their spiritual fervor is directed on matters that might warrant attention but not as much as the mental, emotional, and spiritual welfare of their own children. This is overt institutional child abuse that is clothed under the rubric of “faith.”
Young children exposed to this terror are developmentally immature and the “neurological plasticity” of their brain means they are extremely susceptible to this kind of pressure and whatever they do to “adapt” to the stress, will likely follow them “en toto” to the end of their life. That often means their faith can never mature so that layers of meaning in the religious symbols can be appreciated. To let go of the subjective experiences of that moment of terror and broaden their worldview regarding spiritual life, would subject them to an adult version of the terror they felt as children. So the maistros who orchestrate this violence are creating a captive audience