I read yesterday, along with many of you I am sure, the shocking details of the Muslim "cult" which kept children underground for more than 10 years. Some of them have never seen the sun. It’s a terrible story and probably not the last time something like this will happen.
What was interesting to me, however, was how quickly this band of Muslims was labelled a cult. The label "cult" is obviously pejorative and meant to be so, but who decides what is and is not a cult. There are various definitions floating around but even these have been written by the same groups that decide who is and who is not in a cult. The definers are the mainstream religions in any given country. The labelled group will always be in a minority, have customs that are strange or different to the religion they are an off-shoot of and because of their size, are vulnerable to this label. Sometimes groups can shed the label like the Mormons are threatening to do in the US but more often than not it sticks.
My point is that all religions started as cults, including the most vaunted, esteemed cult of them all in the West, mainstream Christianity. These cults then grew big enough to shed the mantle and turn into the definer rather than the defined. To be sure they appear and claim to be tame and harmless, even beneficial to society but this is a ruse which hides the darker practices and beliefs which rarely find external expression now days but continue unabated in their so-called sanctuaries.
I would like to know on the level of psychological torture, what difference there is in keeping kids in underground caves, or terrifying them with tales of eternal torment and torture by demons or even the threat of being "left behind" if they don't love Jesus. It is a brutal, vile, disgusting practice that is perpetrated by the most harmless looking, genial Sunday school teachers and roly poly pastors and followed by milk and cookies. Later there is social pressure by "accountability partners" in the teen years and "friendly" phone calls or visits by "concerned" youth workers when a young person misses church or youth group and then in adult life, the threat of losing one's social circle and being ostracised if one should dare to ask too many questions or reject one or all of the church's teachings. These horrible practices are not just found in remote little cults but in virtually every church in the world.
These practices cannot and will never be abandoned, for the religion (as a self-perpetuating idea in and of itself) "knows" that to fail to do these things will result in its collapse. Richard Dawkins has likened labelling children as a "Christian" child or a "Muslim" child as as absurd as labelling a child a "Capitalist" child or a "Communist" child and worse than that, akin to child abuse. I agree. Children should be left alone until they are 18 but the religious will never do this because they know full well that if they did so, they would be laughed out of court. It’s not for nothing the writer of Proverbs wrote, train a child up in the way he should go, and he will not depart from it. The church sees this as a virtuous practice instead of what it is - the psychological stunting of the child's ability to reason and torture of their vulnerable minds.
Just because something has been going on for a long time and is practiced by a lot of people does not make it right. Religious people who read this, I am sure, will mostly reject it out of hand, I wouldn’t expect otherwise, however those who read this and are religious fence sitters, I beg you to simply leave church and Sunday School off your child’s agenda. I was a victim of this psychological brutality and I eventually managed to break free but I know many people who are tormented and troubled well into their adult lives by the worry they might go to hell if they don’t believe the right thing (which is defined by the group and will inevitably be different from other groups). Similarly I have met a large number of people who are completely unchurched and they are some of the most balanced, well adjusted people I know. To be sure you get unbalanced people who are church and unchurched – but not sending your child to Sunday School and church could save them mental torment and allow their faculties of reason to develop so they can make up their own minds later in life.
(Some denominations may not practice one or more of the things I mentioned, for example the 7 Day Adventists do not believe in hell - they teach annihilation which ironically is true albeit for everyone, not just the unbelievers - but the way they teach it is no less barbaric and they are as huge on social ostracism as for example the Jehovah’s Witnesses)
All religions use psychological techniques, social pressure and threats both eternal and sometimes temporal to build and maintain a believer base, on this basis, they are all cults – all of which are in decline world wide – giving hope that one day a day will dawn when no children are tortured in caves or on a Saturday or Sunday morning and but rather are taught how to reason and then left to make their own discoveries.