Isolating Kids to Shield Them from “The World” Is Not Only Harmful, but Counter Productive

HA note: The following is reprinted with permission from Sheldon, who blogs at Ramblings of Sheldon. It was originally published on October 28, 2013.

Recently, I published a post titled Can You Sincerely Believe in Something If You Have Never Doubted or Questioned It?, it was a repose to a blog post by Christian blogger Kansas City Bob about the “Idol of Certainty”. I had said that I can’t really see how a belief in anything, politics, etc, but especially religion can be a personal belief, a true and powerful part of someone’s identity if they have never seriously questioned it or doubted it at some point.

Blogger Jack Vance had this to say in response to the post:

Here was my long, rambling response, which really got me thinking about the fundamentalist homeschooling movement and how it makes questioning downright impossible when a young person is in it, due to the constant isolation in order to protect children from “the world”:

Not only question the maturity of it, but the strength of it? How strong can someone’s beliefs be when held up to questioning and opposition if someone has never questioned and tested it?

I think that was kind of a fatal flaw of the current fundamentalist system. Fundies like to blame secular colleges for their kids leaving the faith, as though professors are actively trying to de-convert students (you of all people would know that’s the farthest from the truth), (Sheldon’s note: Jack Vance is a university professor in Mississippi) but it’s not the colleges that are leading to the de conversions, it’s being allowed to experience the outside world for the first time, being exposed to all varieties of people, and realizing that the world doesn’t fit in a nice little fundamentalist box, and that some people aren’t as bad as they were lead to think.Their faith is being confronted with reality, and it has never been questioned by reality before. They’ve never asked the hard questions about their faith, because they haven’t been outside of fundie land, and never been faced with questions before.

I think the forced isolation is not only destructive, but counter productive to the efforts of thew parents to keep their children in the faith. Because their faith has never had to face the hard questions of life before, you end up with young students that know their faith well, and can repeat all the lines and canned arguments, but their faith has never been hardened by being exposed to outsiders, and facing the hard questions that facing reality will bring about.

They have never had to ask “Is this truly what I believe?” because they have never had to make the choice to believe.

Any normal, rational person can see how isolating a child from the outside world is harmfully psychologically, and that kind of closed environment is a fertile breeding ground for abuse (if you can’t see it, just spend about 30 minutes on Homeschoolers Anonymous, if that doesn’t convince you, I don’t know what will).

Fundamentalists isolating their children in order to protect them from”the world” don’t seem to realize that not only will they be creating adults who feel like a foreigner in their own country, and have a hard time coping as adults, but that their efforts in trying to keep their children in the faith well into adulthood (which they think will happen by keeping the out of the corrupting influences of “the world”), are actually counter productive.

Let me explain.

I sincerely believe that in order for a faith to be real, and personal to someone, a major part of their internal identity, they have to at some point question what they believe.

Without questioning, the faith is merely what that person believes due to the fact that it is all they have ever  known in their culture, or just what they have believed due to the fact that is the way they have always seen the world, and they don’t want to change that fact.

To me, genuine faith can not come about without questioning, or doubting at some point, without it, it can’t true representation of who that person is, and what they believe with every fiber of their being. Questioning usually comes about as a result when someone is questioned about their faith, or confronted with new perspectives that they have not encountered before.

Neither of which can happen if someone has never been exposed to the outside world.

When a person raised in such an environment finally has to go out and be in the outside culture, whether that be in the workplace, college, etc, their faith gets shaken even harder than it would have been had they ever been allowed the opportunity to question, because though in some cases, question leads to an abandoning of the faith (like in my case), if someone can sincerely question the faith, and still decide to remain in it, it comes out on the other side as a much stronger faith than before.

Fundamentalists don’t seem to understand this, and they are scared of questioning, they try to limit their children’s exposure to the outside world to keep them from questioning, and it ends up creating a generation of people, who until they are able to walk away from such an environment, don’t even know how to question and explore their beliefs.

It’s a very closed culture where outside ideas are not allowed in, questioning isn’t just discouraged, but up to a point, the very concept of it doesn’t exist. Questioning is only allowed, and can only be comprehended in very limited ways. When taught how to debate, they are only taught how to use certain talking points to back up what they already believe, with consideration ever given to the possibility that what is taught is wrong on some level.

Questioning in such a way is a concept that someone in that culture, especially young people can’t even grasp. Words are redefined, as many different bloggers showed in the Learning the Words project organized by Samantha of Defeating the Dragons.

It’s a deliberate tactic to keep their children in the fold (hopefully for life), and it bears an uncanny resemblance to Newspeak in the book 1984.

Newspeak was a new language designed for the people of the empire of Oceania, whose main goal was to make dissent impossible. Here’s an excerpt from chapter 5 of 1984 where the main character, Winston, a government clerk, is talking to Syme, a clerk responsible for helping to create Newspeak dictionaries:

(Syme is speaking in this conversation):

‘Don’t you see that the whole aim of Newspeak is to narrow the range of thought? In the end we shall make thoughtcrime literally impossible, because there will be no words in which to express it. Every concept that can ever be needed, will be expressed by exactly one word, with its meaning rigidly defined and all its subsidiary meanings rubbed out and forgotten.  

‘By 2050 earlier, probably — all real knowledge of Oldspeak will have disappeared. The whole literature of the past will have been destroyed. Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Byron — they’ll exist only in Newspeak versions, not merely changed into something different, but actually changed into something contradictory of what they used to be. Even the literature of the Party will change. Even the slogans will change. How could you have a slogan like “freedom is slavery” when the concept of freedom has been abolished? The whole climate of thought will be different. In fact there will be no thought, as we understand it now. Orthodoxy means not thinking — not needing to think. Orthodoxy is unconsciousness.’ 

George Orwell was right, orthodoxy is unconsciousness, it’s believing without thinking. That is the goal of this kind of thinking, people who believe without sincerely questioning. They think this will result in children growing up to believe it as a matter of fact for the rest of their lives without questioning it.

The problem is, at some point, a person, has to become an adult, they have to be able to work outside the home, they will end up moving out, and having unbelieving neighbors and co-workers, or maybe just simply people who are Christians, but not as extreme as them. At some point, this exposure to the outside world will become overwhelming to them.

They will be for the first time, forced people who don’t look, act, think like they do, forced to face the reality that exists outside of the narrow confines of the world they grew up in. It automatically either forces them to retreat into a lonely shell, or make them face questions that they never had before, which is a highly emotional process that they don’t quite know how to deal with, because they have never been able to honestly question before.

They don’t know what to believe, or what to think of the world around them, because they have never experienced it before.

Suddenly the canned response they were taught to give in response to challenges to the faith (lovingly called apologetic in the world) seem to be falling short in response to this new internal struggle. They will be forced to re-evaluate everything they have been taught, and decide for themselves what they truly believe.

For some, they will end up coming back to fundamentalism somehow, and more determined to be a “better Christian”, but most will either come back to Christianity in a more moderate form, it give it up all together, the experience will lead to their former fundamentalist beliefs collapsing like a house of cards.

The parents who wanted to try to keep their children in the faith by isolating them don’t realize that that their tactics are back firing on them, creating a generation of former fundamentalist who have given it all up, and who realize just how toxic that belief systemis, people like me and Lana Hobbs, Jonny Scaramanga, and Samantha Field, just to name a few.

In trying to create a army of fundamentalist foot soliders who follow orders, and believe what they are told without objection or question, they have actually created toxic fundamentalism’s worst enemy:

A generation of people willing to tell the truth about fundamentalism.

10 comments

  • Great post; this is something I’ve firmly believed. Dale McGowan gave an excellent talk at the OKC 2013 freethinkers meeting about how important it is for children to question and think through their beliefs, thereby forming a firm logical basis for it.

    I’ve seen this idea lost in many Christian societies because of the discouragement of questioning. Many people believe that questioning the christian ideals from a pastor/parent/leader is not only wrong, but discouraged by the Bible. They point to passages like 1 Timothy 6:20-21 or Colossians 2:8 as warnings against questioning the teachings of the church. The tragedy is that many people who grow up in this environment never do question their beliefs.

    • Sometimes I wonder if part of the resistance to questioning is not only the fear that the child will lose the faith, but since parental power is seen as being granted by god, they see it as a threat to their power, an insult to them to question.

      • My parents certainly thought so. I remember hearing the “Children honor thy father and mother” verse fairly often as a child and teenage. They even tried to use that when I was in college to keep my on a leash, but by that point it had lost any weight it may have had.

  • Reblogged this on The Road.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    The parents who wanted to try to keep their children in the faith by isolating them don’t realize that that their tactics are back firing on them, creating a generation of former fundamentalist who have given it all up, and who realize just how toxic that belief systemis, people like me and Lana Hobbs, Jonny Scaramanga, and Samantha Field, just to name a few.

    Problem with a closed culture like that is that when the tactics start backfiring, the first response is to Double Down and SCREAM LOUDER! Increase Ideological Indoctrination! Destroy the Heathen, Traitors, and Thoughtcriminals so they cannot tempt our Footsoldiers for the Faith/Ideology! More Thought Police! More Newspeak! More Purity of Ideology, Because Ideology Can Never Be Wrong! INGSOC! INGSOC! INGSOC! (Which chants to the same two-syllable rhythm as “JESUS! JESUS! JESUS!” Ever heard of the Moonies’ term “ThoughtStopper”? If you’re ever tempted by doubt or questioning, just repeat the ThoughtStopper mantra of Pure Ideological Orthodoxy until the temptation goes away.)

    Because this is the exact reaction the Soviet Union had during the Brezhnev Era when the cracks really started showing in their system. Double Down, Purity of Ideology, Increase Political Consciousness, build the Berlin Wall, become more aggressive, censor everything coming from the outside.

  • I agree with this. My parents really sheltered me and I ended up the “black sheep” I got out in the real world and had too many questions about my religion because I was raised as a fundamentalist and realized I knew the Bible far too much to be able to view it from a liberal viewpoint. I was taught it was the word of god and once I saw many immoral problems with it, I couldn’t get past my questions. If I didn’t know the bible, it would have been different. My marriage didn’t last because we did the whole courtship thing, saving ourselves only to find out that he was gay. My life is so free and exciting now and everything is like it is new because I was kept away from it. So, sheltering me had the exact opposite of the intended result.

  • Headless Unicorn Guy

    I assume “blogger Jack Vance” is not the classic SF author of the same name?

  • Isolation most certainly does back fire. I too am a recovering fundie turned atheist, though I don’t know if you refer to yourself as an atheist.

  • Jane, A Female Deer

    Fundies cannot be questioned by their children because it upsets their inner world order. They think they own their children, so apparently, they get to own your thoughts, desires, beliefs, and passions, too. I don’t think people intentionally rebel… I think they get out into the world and they don’t have someone thinking for them anymore, so naturally, they start thinking for themselves. And why wouldn’t they? Freedom is delicious.

  • Pingback: What About Socialization — For Parents? « HARO

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