Religion is poison; protect children. (1930s era Soviet Russia anti-religion poster.)
Something I'm hearing quite frequently now from atheists is that parents who teach religion to their children are guilty of child abuse. I think the first time I heard it was from Richard Dawkins, and being the influential spokesperson for atheism that he is, what he says often gets much repeated.
My religious upbringing was in a very distinct form of Christian fundamentalism, part of the Pentecostal holiness movement. I think back now on my childhood and weigh whether I think my childhood was one of mental abuse. Certainly my religious upbringing has left an impression on me that continues to this day. But poverty left far more scars than religious indoctrination. My parents were wonderful, loving parents. Not perfect, to be sure, but very caring and concerned that their children grew to be responsible adults.
Perhaps one of the biggest religious impacts was the holidays. Some parents think teaching belief in Santa Claus is good for a child. My parents always taught us that Santa was a fun myth and that mommies and daddies are really Santa for children. To have done otherwise, they thought, would have been lying. I'm not sure I lost anything of value by this theory. I loved Christmas as child. (Come to think of it, I still do!)
Halloween was another holiday my parents frowned upon. It was too pagan, too satanic in their opinion. But once my parents divorced (when I was 11) and were kicked out of our church, this restriction was lifted. I went trick-or-treating for the first time when I was 12. It was fun, mainly because of the candy and fellowship with my friends. We did other things to compensate for trick-or-treating when we were in church, so again I'm not sure this was a wholly negative thing. I grew up in the psychedelic 60s and not the least concern of my parents was that our treats might be laced with drugs. Perhaps that fear was a bigger concern than the pagan aspects of Halloween. Certainly I recall Mom talking about that fear more than Satan.
When I came into puberty of course it was implied that sexual self-pleasure was against God's plan and was wrong. We were never taught that it would lead to blindness, hairy palms, or insanity, but yes, we were taught that God created sex essentially for two reasons: procreation and pleasure between married couples. But I confess that I took the risk of displeasing God on a regular basis - and I'm certain most youths who were taught as my brothers and I were did the same.
Then there is Hell. Yes, I heard about Hell growing. I remember having at least one nightmare about going there. I mostly heard about it at church during revivals. My parents didn't harp on it. Not only that, they also taught us that it isn't wise to assume this or that person is going to Hell or, once dead, that they did go. We were taught that no one can know what might take place between a person and God before death, so how could we possible know about their final destination? As for people who interpreted religious faith differently than we did, Mom had a saying: "They are walking in all the light they see." I suppose that is somewhat condescending, but certainly much above arrogant judging.
But beyond all that, even had my parents been atheists and hadn't raised us to believe in Hell, I don't see how we would have escaped the subject. Lots of people believe in Hell or post mortem punishment. There is a deep seated human desire to see bad punished and good rewarded. It is fairly said to be a part of our culture, implicit in many stories, movies, even our cartoons. I remember watching Satan's Waitin', in which Sylvester the cat used up all his nine lives chasing Tweety and wound up there.
So all in all I don't think my parents abused my brothers and me by raising us as Christians. I think religion as child abuse is a rhetorical device, and a rather poor one in my opinion. My faith had a more positive than negative impact on us overall, I believe.
There is one more thought I have about the matter. Once I got old enough to think for myself, I did begin to have questions about the more negative elements of my faith. Once I started investigating the matter for myself, I naturally began to modify some of the things I had been taught. I found there were lots of different ways to look at things. My upbringing was a template of sorts, not a carved-in-stone way of life. It is the responsibility of all of us to become our own person.
Now in no way am I being unsympathetic to those who have been deeply scarred by their religious experiences. I'm merely telling my story and giving my personal impressions. I think the proper kind of religious faith (or spirituality) can be a blessing. I'm also very much aware that the wrong kind can be a curse. But I also hold a philosophy that we should always try to rise above the negative circumstances in our lives.