Freethought Today · Vol. 27 No. 6 August 2010

Published by the Freedom From Religion Foundation, Inc.

The psychological harm of religion: Jonathan von Ofenheim

Her stiff black shoes struck the linoleum again and again, the sound resonating through the empty halls of the school. Her nun’s habit whipped at each abrupt turn, perpetuating the swinging of the chained torture device around her neck. The stern look on her face would instill fear in any passerby.

I half stumbled, half slid trying to keep up with my ear, which was, for some reason, rapidly moving away from me. My ear stretched to its limit in the clutches of the head of the school, ironically one of its two Sisters of Mercy. I was 6. I’m not sure what I did that was so wrong, but it could not have been much as I was a reasonably well-behaved child.

This is just one noteworthy experience that I remember from Catholic school. Whether I was being force-fed bible stories, reciting prayers to imaginary beings or sitting through cannibalistic worship services, I was not happy. Granted, I had little idea of where truth was hiding behind the masses of falsity, but I did know that I did not like all this god business. By fifth grade I had lost all interest in religion.

Religion is easily the most harmful institutional force in human history. I could name many examples of its destructive force. Many people think that in places like the United States, religion causes little or no physical harm. Yes, we do live relatively peacefully here, but religion is just as harmful and damaging psychologically.

The psychological harm of religion begins with children. The easiest way to motivate a child is through fear and bribery. In Christianity, if you sin you go to hell. If you have faith, pray and go to church, you will end up in heaven. It’s essentially the Santa Claus concept, but with one difference: Eventually, the child lets go of Santa, but there’s not always someone to tell him or her that god does not exist. The same is true of fairy tales. A child may believe in unicorns and fairies, but that belief does not last.

Children learn to cope with reality by using imaginary friends and lose the ability for rational thought. The fact is that theists are polluting children’s minds with beliefs that have no basis in truth, which limits creative and scientific thinking.

Jonathan von Ofenheim graduated from Oregon Episcopal School in Portland. “It’s a great school minus the Episcopal aspect,” says Jonathan, who grew up in Williamsburg, Va. He’ll attend Quest University, a secular, liberal arts and sciences college in Squamish, B.C. His academic interests are biology, geology, engineering and mathematics.

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