[Also published at A-News Reports, Trolling with Logic, and EndHereditaryReligion.org]
A couple of weekends ago, I got to participate in the Third Annual International Day of Protest Against Hereditary Religion. What is it? Well, for 24 hours, people from across the globe got a chance to talk to, tune in, and listen to speakers from all over. The basic premise of this event was to inform and possibly persuade everyone watching that children have a right to freedom of conscience, and that “respecting that right and giving children that gift” makes for a better community, on a global scale. The intent wasn’t attempting to sway anyone away from religion, quite the contrary. A majority of the presenters agreed that if one religion was to be taught that all should be given equal time. After all, the best way to understand and interact with those of different beliefs is to learn about them. However, the message throughout the event was “a religious right ends where harm to others begins.”
So what exactly is “Hereditary Religion” anyway? David McAfee, author of “Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist“, says it is “a phenomenon that…to me, implies the thought of religion as something similar to heritage; it is passed on from generation to generation via the parents.” Richard Collins explains why it’s both easy to accomplish and dangerous, saying “First and foremost the practice is unethical and is accomplished using mind control techniques. Young children will believe anything adults tell them and the superstitious concepts that are embedded in their immature minds are nearly impossible to dislodge later on. Childhood indoctrination is meant to create a lifelong adherent and it succeeds remarkably.” So he decided to do something about it.
Going back two years, the first event was planned in a Yahoo group (remember those?) with a small staff of volunteers building an idea borne to Mr. Collins. Since the first year, it has grown upward and outward to what occurred over a 24-hour period just a few days ago. With a slew of volunteers offering their free time to either speak on camera about their own personal experiences or offer support in the way of technical prowess. With Eric Shulke getting the word out, between ads and self-promotion over 140,000 people were reached. This was quadrupled from the year before. Also behind the scenes, making sure that everyone was queued up ready for their time slot (as well as making the occasional appearance on-screen) was Jeffrey Witthauer, who did an awesome job of keeping everyone in line…like a virtual stage manager.
Hosted by Ryan Burkhart, founder of Hammer the Gods on Facebook and Lance Sievert, owner of the group Atheism United Headquarters. Following an introduction to the protest, the first guest was announced. Dave Hall, [broadcasting from Canada] also of Hammer the Gods, helped to introduce the event, explain just exactly what it was about and what the viewers could expect to see as the day unfolded. The three also discussed where religious freedom for parents ends and the rights of the child begins.
Joining the conversation next was Sheila Blackadder (Ep. 1 @ 41 min), co-host of both A-News and Trolling with Logic followed by Alex “Big Lundy” Lundberg (Ep. 1 @ 1:14:00) who segued the conversation into the harrowing topic of genital mutilation on infants and young girls. [Just for reference, the PDF that was referenced that’s put out by UNICEF can be found here. I highly recommend that everyone at the very least peruse through it.]
Next, EllenBeth Wachs of Atheists and Humanists of Florida and John Kieffer (Ep. 1 @ 1:46:00) segued the topic of Pope Francis into whether or not the Catholic Church will make any significant changes to policy under his leadership, as well as John’s experience with the Catholic church and how he helped his toddler-aged daughter understand the concept of religion. Adam and Amanda Brown of Atheism Resource and We Are Atheism (Ep. 1 @ 2:46:00) discussed how they grew up and their time with their respective churches, and how they affect people now reaching out and offering resources for others coming out of religion.
The first taste of international indoctrination came in the addition of Faisal Saeed Al Mutar (Ep.1 @ 3:00:00), founder of Global Secular Humanist Movement who recently earned citizenship in the United States. Faisal was born in Iraq and immigrated to the US when those close to him were being killed having been mistaken for him, shortly after he “came out” as a non-believer. Faisal brings part of the dangers of religion into the discussion, for certain. In the States, certainly we see things like our newborn infant boys being circumcised and have somewhat of a moderate concern (as a country, not individually). However, we don’t really get much of a taste of our lives being at risk. It’s one thing to hear that if we travel to a country like Iraq we would have to keep our non-belief to ourselves. It’s another altogether to live with the knowledge that you could be killed on the street simply because you denounced your faith. Faisal can never return to the place of his birth, nor bring attention to his family for fear of repercussion for simply being related to an “out” atheist.
Joining next, of Leaving Your Religion, James Mulholland (Ep. 1 @ 3:51:00) discussed his part working with recruiting children to religion, and the institution’s push to recruit as many young people as they can. Jim’s book, Leaving your Religion is available on Amazon. There was also mention of a couple outside resources for people coming out of religion including a book by David McAfee called Mom, Dad, I’m an Atheist.
Opening the second episode, everyone finally got a chance to see and hear Jeffrey Witthauer of the Atheist Agenda (Ep. 2 @ 13:00) as he came out from behind the scenes to talk about what it was like to grow up in a pretty evangelically religious upbringing in the southern part of the US. We also hear about how removing religion forced him to rethink his path in life. Joining the board next was Reace Niles (Ep. 2 @ 1:00:00) of “Know God, No Peace. No God, Know Peace” and the Mind of an Atheist podcast. Discussion included Reace’s upbringing with religion, as well as the harms of faith healing, circumcision, and even the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment.
Former president of the National Atheist Party (SPoA) and comic book artist, Troy Boyle entered the panel (Ep. 2 @ 1:55:00) and discussed his upbringing in a Southern Baptist exposure, child labour, and the plausibility of a lawsuit against religion. Sheila Blackadder was brought back in to discuss what is known as “abstinence-only education” and the issues tied in with it and the potential decline of religion’s hold.
Linda Falkner (Ep. 2 @ 3:22:55) owner of Cheer Counseling and author of Dangerous Wishcraft. Linda offered her experience in mental health counseling and her upbringing in a Jewish home. Although herself more culturally Jewish than practicing, she was informative about some of the myths, history and facts about Judaism. As a mental health professional she also deals with the emotional trauma that often happens with children as they learn about religion and specifically the dark side of believing in a deity.
The next speaker was possibly the most impacting. Rebecca Kimbel (Ep. 2 @ 5:16:30) was very candid as she described being handed off to her first husband by her parents at a very young age to essentially just give birth every year while living in a very strict cult-like chapter of the Mormon faith. She explains her time living in a polygamist family, sharing a husband with other women and then her struggle to escape safely with her children. She also describes her new life, with a husband she dearly loved and what she’s been doing since she gained her freedom.
Elizabeth Williams, briefly the VP of Administration for the NAP was our next guest and briefly explained that although she was raised atheist there were several things about religion that she would like to see changed.
The next on the panel was Travis Jones (Ep. 2 @ 7:05:00), also of “Know God, No Peace. No God, Know Peace.” Travis grew up as a Jehovah’s Witness and describes what it was like as a child. Joining Travis was our second international guest, Alvin Cloyd Dakis (Ep. 3 @ 7:29:00) of the Philippines who was raised Roman Catholic. Alvin is also the President of the Humanist Alliance Philippines, International (HAPI) as well as President and CEO of the Philippine Society of Sexual & Reproductive Health Nurses, Inc. Alvin has a really prolific resume and has been extremely active, not just online, but in his home country over the last ten (10) years. During his time on the protest he discusses not just being an atheist but being an out bisexual as well.
The third episode opens with Rachel Johnson joining the panel. Rachel has the Pink Atheist podcast, she blogs as The Godless Vagina, and also writes for The Celestial Teapot. [Note: Although these are links to the actual sites, you can also find them all on Facebook and Twitter.] Rachel explains that, having being introduced to religion later than some she attributes her atheism now to the fact that she questioned everything as it was introduced to her. Lee Lemon (Ep. 3 @ 18:30) was the next to join the panel. Lee has a YouTube channel where she posts videos on a variety of topics, including atheism, the Pentecostal faith and Korean culture (she eats a lot of interesting things, like dog stew and pig uterus). She also co-admins on Religion Poisons Everything. For the panel, Lee discusses what it was like for her in Guam and her journey to South Korea, where she’s lived for the last couple of years.
The next panel consisted of Secular Woman president Kim Rippere, and fellow contributors M.A. Melby, and Vyckie Garrison. The ladies were discussing homschooling and how religion can interact and effect how children learn, as well as where to draw the line between allowing religious freedom and restricting the freedom of parents to teach their own children. Miranda Celeste Hale, freelance writer and co-admin of A Manual for Creating Atheists (Ep. 3 @ 1:57:30) joined and discussed her experiences within the Catholic Church. Whether or not a religious upbringing (or indoctrination) could be considered child abuse was also discussed.
Shayrah Akers, owner and creator of Secular View, campaign manager for Daniel Moran for State Representative and board member for We are Atheism (Ep. 3 @ 2:46:30) was the next guest. She discussed her deeply religious upbringing and her involvement with the Billy Graham crusades, going from one extreme of religion to helping atheists as they leave their faith. Robert Robinson (Ep. 3 @ 3:45:38) of World Cult Watch was added to the panel next. Robert talked about his time as a Scientologist and, previously as a Lutheran. Of all of the speakers throughout the protest, Robert was one of the only that still holds on to some of his belief. Calling himself a “spiritual humanist”, he firmly beliefs in equality for everyone, and protection against oppression of women and children.
Lhebade Fela Gbado (Ep. 3 @ 5:06:00), who also has a YouTube channel, was the next international guest, broadcasting from Nigeria. Fela was of the Christian faith until about 9 years ago when he became an atheist. He discussed the history of religion in his country, as well as what it was like to live within that faith. Things like shelter, food, clothing and medicines were brought in and traded for a dedication to the Christian faith. He also talked about the presence and influence of Muslims within the country, presently and in recent history.
Next, representing A-News and Godless Revival, and the VP of We are Atheism, Lee Moore (Ep. 3 5:52:30) joined the conversation. He discussed his growing up in the south, standing just outside of the faith watching it from the sidelines. Lee also gave his views on the question of indoctrination of children into religion and whether it’s child abuse. “Forcing children at an early age to adopt a religious belief that has a rule book that lets you get away with being shitty to one another is criminal. Your rights stop when you inflict your beliefs, inflict your ways on someone else. Teaching a child to be a human being is easy, you don’t need religion to do it.”
Entering the panel from Wales, an advocate using the name Crispy Sea (of the YouTube channel of the same name) to discuss his anonymity (Ep. 3 6:56:00), what it was like for him growing up in religion and how it’s been for him and his family without the faith. He also talked about the school system in Wales and differences in comparison to the rest of the UK with respect to the use of “religious observance”. The necessity of children believing in the fantasy sort of magic that comes with “birthday wish” or even Santa Clause was compared to the supernatural associated with an all-knowing deity. Ending the third installment of this protest, enter Mike “A-Team” Autry (Ep. 3 @ 7:21:00) who actually took the protest into the final episode for this years protest. Mike offered another look into a southern Baptist upbringing and why he considers himself an anti-theist rather than just an atheist.
Episode 4 opens with the panel joined by Christopher Loren, author of Unspirituality: Permission to be Human. Chris talked about his upbringing in a strict religious home and why he feels that children should be allowed to learn information based on facts, rather than spirituality or faith. The symbolism, breaching of religion of politics and effects on children who are indoctrinated were all discussed as well.
Joey Kirkman, co-author of Bedtime Bible Stories – Explicit and co-founder of Bully the Bullies (Ep. 4 @ 43:44) was next, and explained his current projects and his experiences growing up. He also shared his views on the Drawing Muhammad campaign, an explicit label on the bible, the Reason Rally, and why you should be angry at indoctrination.
Finishing the protest on the final panel (Ep. 4 @ 1:41:35) we heard from the protest founder, Richard Collins and Jeffrey Witthauer, who took a break from his position in the “green room” to finish out the broadcast. Richard offered a great “Thanks” to everyone who worked in the background, some of whom were working for the entire 24 hour broadcast (including Ryan Burkhart and Jeffrey Witthauer), others offered what time they had. Richard also discussed his future plans for the protest and “taking it to the streets” to make a bigger impact. To round out the discussion, he also discussed what “Hereditary Religion” means to him, and why he wants to see it abolished, as well as what people can do now that the protest is over (you can also find more about that on the website).
Even if the reader missed the protest at the time of broadcast, these episodes will remain on the YouTube channel. Currently, the episodes are being edited (for time only, not content) into shorter 1-2 hour episodes for easier ingestion. As soon as they are ready, this article will be edited to link to them individually.
” ‘Culture’ is used as an excuse of all sorts of things (in South Africa, often as a simple vote-getter). But it’s only when you get to choose what your “culture” is – and not have it forced upon you – that it becomes remotely respectable. And even then, it should never be an explanation or justification for doing or believing something. As I tell students, appeals to culture, tradition and the like get the causality entirely backwards: things could become cultural norms because they are good norms; but the fact that something is a cultural norm has no bearing on whether it’s a good or respectable one or not.” ~ Jacques Rousseau