Imitation and Approval

When I was 12 years old I went to Bible Camp.  It was my first time going to camp, going away for a week without having any parents, grandparents, aunts or uncles.  Luckily my second cousin went so I would know someone and that was probably the only reason I wasn’t too scared to go.  I am not sure why my mom chose to send me to a bible camp, but as a Christian I am sure she hoped that I was receive some good education about religion, the bible, etc.  When I was there I was eager to impress the counselors and leaders.  They had a bible verse a day and a contest at the end to give a free camp hat to anyone who could memorize all the verses.  I was the only who could do it.  I used to have a good memory.  Maybe I still do, I just can’t remember.  At camp they also talked a lot about prayer and how praying could help you get the things you wanted in life, as long as you were good and you really believed.  For me the idea of prayer was exciting because I thought maybe it could work to stop my dad’s drinking.  So I opened my heart and let Jesus Christ in.  The counselors were so happy.  All of them congratulated me.  They were so kind and so pleased with my decision.  After camp was over, I was so excited I had made the decision because I knew it was going to make others in my life so happy.  My mother, my grandmother, aunts and uncles.  And on top of that I was told that if I was good and really believed that my prayers would be answered.  I had many tangible reasons to be very happy about it all.  It had very little to do with heaven or hell, or some events on alternate planes of existence, but the way it made others in my life happy, and the way it might help my dad to stop drinking was very exciting.  Of course none of my praying made any difference to my dad drinking and in the end the excitement of my decision to let Jesus into my heart faded and it became clear how the entire belief system had any relevance to life if one of the things they touted the most didn’t work.  I believed as much as a 12 year old could.  But the fact that prayer doesn’t work is not really the subject on my mind, but rather that as I reflect I see how much of a child I really was.  I completely didn’t understand the complexities of the religion or the Bible.  I was clearly caught up more in the joy that the adults in my life felt by my decision rather than really grasping the importance of what a religion means to someone’s life.

Dhyan_forkandknife

It takes very little time with an infant/toddler to see how much they want to imitate others.  And while I am sure there is an evolutionary aspect to this, because obviously if we have survived as long as we have, it makes sense to copy our parents, but what is also clear is our reaction to that imitation.  Because when he successfully uses a fork, or successfully gets up on a chair by himself, climbs the stairs etc, there is much applause.  There is much excitement and happiness.  All in the house are happy and pleased at this ability to accomplish these tasks that move them closer and closer to adulthood.  Every child can’t wait to do things older people can do. They can’t wait to grow up.  As children we are always looking for the approval of our adults.  We may rebel when we don’t get it, but initially, we want to be noticed by those we look up to.  As children we are somewhat helpless and getting adults to like you and notice you, is a way to make sure that they take care of you, teach you, spend time with you.  If you can impress an adult then this is a bonding experience.  Something we all seek.

dhyan_laptopFor all my dad’s faults he was fairly adamant about choosing a religion as being a choice to make as an adult.  That children didn’t have the capacity to understand the decision and thus did not want my mother to influence as children.  This was not something my mother or Mennonite grandmother could really help doing, but it was certainly tempered compared to many other children and I am quite thankful for my dad in that, because it’s clear to me that he was right.  Even at the age of 12 I could not understand a religious belief system.  From my mother I may not have adopted her belief system, but I learned about her charity, her kindness, her compassion, her perseverance, and the fact that she is someone who likes to ask questions and research the answers.  As I watch my child grow I can see that it’s less important what I believe, but rather how I act.  These are the things that will shape him.  Brainwashing him into a certain set of beliefs seems pointless over my actions being moral.  My child was born an atheist and if he decides that he wants to pursue a belief system as a guide to live his life then it will be his own choice, not because I’ve prescribed a doctrine for him to follow.

With the idea of God being “our Father”, I sometimes wonder if God isn’t the ultimate helicopter parent.  A way for people to still constantly seek approval from a parent-like figure.  It seems somewhat unnatural to me now to maintain such an attitude into adulthood.  As children it makes sense to have this attitude, but as adults we are supposed to no longer be seeking approval and be the role models for our young.  I guess as social animals it’s easy for such hierarchies to remain.  The only problem is, if there is no God then all we’re really doing is trying to make a non-existent entity happy and a lot of difficult to interpret texts written by men on what God actually wants to be made happy.  That seems like a wholly unhealthy way to live life.

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23 thoughts on “Imitation and Approval

  1. You made me remember my childhood so much. I was born in a family of really conservative catholics. It was always us and “them” the other religions.

    I was in an all girls catholic school run by nuns. And we had all this bible contests to. The first question always was “How many books are in the bible?” I never won thought, lol.
    I remember my family always bashing people from other religions as if they were less than us. And i remember being 5 or 6 and believing it too. I would never go play with the neighbors that were not “approved” at first because i wasn’t allowed to, but then i started to believe it too. That i just shouldn’t, that we were not the same. I’m ashamed of having felt like that now, even if i was just a kid, i don’t think it was fair that i was forced into all those ideas that actually ended up doing more harm than good.

    Of course i grew up and found out that all this “holy” relatives that were so fast to judge everyone else, actually had secret lives themselves: cheating, addictions, alcohol, really unhappy families…

    I think they just use God as a status, as if he were a brand of nice clothes they can just wear and brag about.

    I’m not raising my kid with any beliefs either, if she finds one that fulfills her when she grows up that’s great, whatever it is. But religion has to be found not taught.

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    1. Thank you for sharing Lula. It is amazing how much we simply take what our parents say as truth when we are young. And why not. We need to listen to older people to survive. We want them to be happy, and not upset with us, and so we mimic them without even understanding why. And it is likely that they are simply a product of what they were told as well.

      And yes many times that righteous front is merely a facade. While I don’t have any particular evidence to support this, I do feel it is wholly unhealthy to constantly persecute yourself anytime you have a thought that is not in-line with what religious authority is. You constantly feel guilty, and constantly feel you are a bad person, and I think very often time you simply become the person you believe you are simply because you decided you want to try a drug, or have sex with someone before marriage, or whatever. If we simply accepted that it is natural to make mistakes, want to test your limits, have sexual desires after puberty I think we would be a lot healthier. And then instead you just have a whole bunch of adults spouting the same religious rules in a “do as I say, but don’t do as I do” which never works.

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  2. I can really relate to this post. Prayer was something I too tried and let go of. It soon becomes an obvious waste of time.

    I had a stepdad who drank. Took me a long time to let go of the hate/disgust I had with that man. But letting that go released me in a sense.

    Raising kids, yes we applaud the behaviors we want to see, we encourage every little positive accomplishment. I like how you tied that in with religion. It is part of the brainwashing scheme with religion. With kids it is parenting. 🙂

    Like lula avila, I knew kids who were restricted from playing with me. lol. Because I wasn’t the right “type” To this day i don’t know which religious brand I didn’t stack up to, nor do I care.

    I agree much with your conclusion Swarn, I think people retain some sense of “wanting to please the father figure” thing. And that it somehow plays into the hands of wolves in the clothing of men, who just happen to peddle religion.

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    1. Thanks for your comments Shell. I agree with you. I do not think that many parents are intentionally trying to brainwash their children. A lot of religious people are good and simply feeling like they are passing on something that brings them spiritual fulfillment. So even if the religious institution as a whole predates on the “Get’em while they’re young mentality” I think for many of the people they are just doing what they believe to be a right and good thing, or simply see that as a normal part of parenting, because it’s what their parents also did to them. The consequences however can be terribly detrimental as you know. But ultimately whether given religion or not by a parent, it is ultimately whether that parent does good things and how kind they are that will make that person a good person or bad person, not the beliefs themselves.

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  3. A way for people to still constantly seek approval from a parent-like figure.

    I’d say this is a huge artery in the whole heart of belief. Very well said.

    I started to lose my religion at age nine, 1.5hrs after my First Holy Communion. We’d been told Jesus was our wing-man, and we were holy warriors there to work good. With this fore in my mind, I set out shortly after the ceremony to befriend a grumpy kangaroo and cheer him up. It was the right thing to do, I was confident in my actions, and I had Jesus by my side. What could possibly go wrong. The kangaroo wasn’t buying what i was selling. I was set upon like I was a doll, and he worked me with such fierce determination that I really had to admire the thing as he tore me open from shoulder to leg. In the park medical clinic a while later I came to the realisation that the adults in my life, and the nuns at my school, weren’t telling the exact truth.

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    1. I hope it’s okay that I laughed at this. Not that you being mangled was funny, but the story in itself is a fairly unique one you’d have to admit in terms of situations you’d walk into thinking Jesus was going to protect you. lol And I agree, maybe God can’t always protect us from the demon-possessed, knife-wielding psychopath, but a kangaroo should be pretty small potatoes for Jesus. Perhaps the kangaroo had a demon in his pouch! lol

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        1. Great story. I would say that was similar to my experience. When prayer didn’t stop my dad from drinking, I didn’t become an atheist by any means at that point, I don’t even know that I became angry. I probably blamed myself first, like I must not be a good person, but my intellectual side took over and I thought to myself that the adults who are teaching me all this stuff might not have figured out this whole God thing out correctly. lol

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          1. Interesting how it happens, isn’t it? A crack appears, and you think, “This isn’t right…” The curious explore further, the apathetic shrug, and the one’s with fundamentalist parents are told not to look there.

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    2. Oh wow. They really set you up for a good knocking down. At that point it could have gone either way. You could have bought the “maybe you just had to try a little harder at believing crap” or you could realise something wasn’t quite right with this picture. I’m glad you came out of that with a new bullshit detector. 🙂

      “Interesting how it happens, isn’t it? A crack appears, and you think, “This isn’t right…” The curious explore further, the apathetic shrug, and the one’s with fundamentalist parents are told not to look there.” This. Is. Brilliant.

      …and far too true.

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  4. A great perspective Swarn from a child up to parent! Oh my, my, my! The plethora of subjects I’d love to address here, BUT… I will try my best to narrow my one topic comment. 😉

    Whether we humans like it or not we are ALL dependent upon one another. Starting with mother, a bit later (possibly?) with a father/step-father, siblings, grandparents and other extended family; then outward to neighborhood community — for social learning, education, laws & order, et al — and HOPEFULLY well out beyond our 10-100 mile radius/sphere of influence. Then, perhaps in our 50’s or 60’s we all begin to ‘return’ to those childish needs because our body and minds deteriorate. I hope for everyone that when you return to days and nights of diapers and elderly falls… that you have younger quicker compassionate loved ones surrounding you, making your final years pleasant and happiest until the Reaper comes knocking.

    How we love and how we are loved in return is really all that matters. It makes very good sense to make as many lovers/Soul Mates as possible throughout one’s life as well as meta-physical life. I’m not very sure at all whether any of that requires a intangible “god” or not… but it certainly requires others. MANY others! 🙂

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    1. I don’t disagree with you, but I guess one thought I had while writing this was that ultimately what is unsatisfying about God is that unlike loving a parent or loving a child, there really is no return. I mean people will say that God gives you this or gives you that, but you can’t see God smile, you can’t feel God patting you on the back, you can’t have a meaningful conversation back and forth, you can’t actually feel yourself getting closer to God in an intimate and personal way. I mean you can imagine these things happening, but it is definitely not like a bond that we experience with each other, and thus I don’t find the really strong appeal, other than being afraid of the consequences of not being in a relationship with God. I mean to a certain extent I feel the same way about pets. I am not a big pet person, largely because that interaction with the pet is not like a human-human interaction and is filled with much less depth. For my child it’s completely worth wiping his ass and cleaning up his feces because of the way in which he gives back to me in a more and more complex way all the time. For a dog or cat, it just doesn’t feel like there is any equality in the relationship. lol

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      1. I completely get what you’re saying about two-way relationships… our human imaginations and our ability to imagine “future time-travel” (forethought) is ONE trait that separates us from other animal species — however, a strong arguement can be made for the high-intelligence of dolphins and whales cognitive and language abilities! — as well as our ability to create/build and even drastically move & modify some Earth processes and ecosystems. As you imply, there is no direct empirical evidence that a Supreme Being exists; it’s all theory and extremely subjective to each person’s imagination isn’t it… as evidenced by some 33,000 Protestant denominations and perhaps 10-20,000 more other sects of other world religions.

        On a new note but quite revelant to your topic, this past holiday weekend I had the chance to watch a most thrilling, intriguing, fascinating, yet eventually cold and gripping film called “Her” with Joaquin Phoenix and Scarlett Johansson’s voice as the Operating System (OS) or AI. You MUST watch it Swarn! It compliments your post here from the perspective of organic human physical, mental, emotional love versus artificial love. The question I kept asking throughout the movie was… Do we humans love artificially? Is that love pseudo artificial?

        Relationships with animals I personally find to be a very nice change: simple, very unconditional, and their simplicity is thoroughly entertaining — traits I think many humans can and should mimick more often. 😉

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        1. I heard about that movie. I will have to check it out.

          I do think that predictive abilities are on a sliding scale. While most animals appear more reactive than predictive, I would assume that many animals can predict the future to varying degrees, but perhaps not very far. Of course are ability to think far into the future and to accurately predict are two different things. Perhaps we can simply afford the time to do so, but imagine it’s really more of a by-product of us being able to predict fairly well a few hours in advance and extra leisure time. I could be wrong but I imagine hunter gatherers didn’t try imagining possibilities too far into the future.

          I am not saying I don’t appreciate the love aspect of pets, but they are also work. Vet visits, giving medicine when they are sick, cleaning their poop, their fur, cleaning up after them, feeding them, etc. For me this is simply unappealing in comparison to what I get back. If someone were to take care of all that other stuff and I could just enjoy the cuddling and companionship that would be great. lol Perhaps it’s just that the relationship isn’t dynamic enough. I simply get bored over time and it just feels like a chore. I don’t know…I know I’m weird and my not being a pet person perplexes many a human being. I mean we have 3 cats, I sort of like them because they are moody and sometimes just want to be on their own. Dogs always make me feel bad if I’m not making them a priority. lol

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  5. I have viewed it as my duty to brainwash my children. Until they attain an ability to reason for themselves, much of what they believe will be based purely on my authority as their father. I think it would be irresponsible to withhold my values and beliefs until they have the ability to fully understand.

    I do, however, completely agree with you about pets. When I’m changing a diaper I know that it’s temporary and my children are moving on to bigger and better things. I couldn’t handle following some dog around, picking up it’s poop, and knowing that it will NEVER change.

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    1. But do you see something like prayer as a value. Or even a belief in God as a value. Aren’t things like equality, kindness, humility, curiosity, etc values? I mean indoctrinate them into the idea that there is an invisible supernatural being who controls the universe really a value? And many values babies naturally understand like kindness, and even sharing to a certain degree. They don’t see any race as inherently worse or better. But they do want to please you and they will think that the way to bond is to agree with you about your beliefs, and yet beliefs about Gods or religion are not necessary to teach them to be good people. So why would one religious philosophy be taught as truth over any other?

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      1. Prayer and a belief in God are values in the sense that they are important to me and central to my lifestyle. Will you wait until your son is 16 before you say to him, “By the way, I think you should know there is no god.” If you believe that a belief in god has led many people astray and is detrimental to life and happiness, you will teach him that much earlier, and so you should (even if it’s wrong). I would rather have my children say to me later in life, “You were wrong about this” than “Why didn’t you tell me?”.

        Now, you know me, and you also know that I will teach them to be skeptical and to question everything, so I will not brainwash them in the sense that everything I say cannot be questioned. But in the sense that I have and will teach them things that are far beyond their ability to reason for themselves, absolutely I will brainwash them.

        As for your last question, teaching my children to be “good people” is not what’s most important to me. I want them to know the truth, and to be able to find truth.

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        1. Actually I won’t be telling him directly there is no God. That is not important. I will be teaching him that if you want to find the truth you should search for it. I might teach him how a belief in God can lead people astray, but I also know there are people for whom a belief in God has helped. All children are born not believing in God, thus I have no need to tell him something does not exist that he already has no knowledge of. Now when he learns about the God figure from others I will teach him about the many religions and their histories, and I will tell him that the existence of God is a debatable topic and that I simply believe that if such a being exists there should be evidence for it. I have found no such evidence, and if my son wishes to go an a quest for God than he is free to do so. But I won’t push one particular doctrine or religion for God either as there are many religions to choose from. When you only teach one religion as the truth, that, to me, is an unhealthy form of brainwashing.

          The problem is that your truth is based on faith, and not on evidence, I don’t want to teach my child any thing and call it truth when I have no evidence for it. That doesn’t mean I won’t teach them the value of faith, but I will also teach them the value of changing your mind with evidence is presented against what you have faith in. One does not need to have faith in the same thing entirely. Truth is found through actions, this is why our behavior is most valuable ultimately in helping them find truth. One cannot prove the physical laws of the universe simply through thought, but one must test and experiment and then observe. I can say being kind is a good thing, but unless I am actually kind and unless my son actually sees the benefits of being kind by being kind to others, it’s of little value.

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  6. I really wish you knew God as I do, Swarn Gill, but this essay of yours really was only my outlet for having a connection so that I could thank you for reading and liking my piece about Matt Walsh. Though I am as opposite an atheist as one can find, please know that I love all good discourse, and respect all people who act and speak respectably. I wish you well!

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