Being on my "all things atheist" kick, I have been feeling rather enraged about my own childhood indoctrination and being scared of hell. I'm having a bit of cognitive dissonance because I can't bring myself to be angry at my parents, since I understand that they were also victims.
I have been reading a number of blog entries and statements made by atheists, asserting that teaching children about hell is a form of child abuse. I absolutely agree with this! However, being a scientifically minded psychologist who values the empirical process, I must ask myself. How do I know that teaching children about hell traumatizes them? How can I prove that this causes harm? The human part of me says, "it is self evident that telling a child that either he/she or possibly any of his or her friends will burn forever in a horrific torture chamber obviously would cause some psychological harm?"
Yes, it is self evident to me. It is self evident to atheists and agnostics of all types. However, I think it is well worth proving it. I believe in empiricism. I believe in evidence based work. I believe in being willing to provide evidence rather than stating that an issue is self-evident. I think this might be my new mission as a psychologist. Strangely, I could find nothing in the psychological literature on this issue. I believe that psychologists in America have been either ignorant, afraid, or have so clearly compartmentalized the issue that they have remained silent.
I remember teaching Sunday School during my teen years and we used flannel-graphs. To any readers fortunate enough to have not been victimized by childhood indoctrination, a flannel graph involved taking a tripod board, covering it with a flannel blanket, and using velcro-like figures to tell a story (usually a bible story.) There are cute flannel graph sets that can be purchased for ridiculous amounts of money. I cannot verify it, but I vividly remember having a "Jericho" story set to teach children about the walls of Jericho falling down. There were large walls that were removed and placed by cute piles of rubble to depict "god's triumph over the city." These were children's story kits...about genocide.
My husband and I lay in bed last night musing over flannel-graphs and how hilarious it would be to have uncensored flannel graphs depicting the real stories of the Old Testament. Flannel-graphs of people being thrown into hell. Flannel-graphs of bears devouring children for calling the prophet "baldie."
New life mission. Artistic parody renderings on flannel graph, or empirical research on childhood trauma caused by sunday school? What a tough decision.