Posted in Experiences

How to Make Teens Think Indoctrination is Cool: Charismania 101

As you know if you’ve read my “deconversion story”, I was raised Charismatic Catholic. Hm? You don’t know what that means? Yeah, neither do 99% of Catholics.

For all of their weird cannibalistic rituals (eating and drinking the body/blood of Christ) and Sunday Sitting/Standing/Kneeling Olympics (known as Mass), Catholics are one of the more liberal sects of¬†Christianity. Most everyday Catholics are perfectly fine with equal marriage (now known as just “marriage!”), not going to church every Sunday, and pre-marital sex (just ask any ex-Catholic school girl ūüėČ ).

happy nun

Most are what I used to call Sunday Catholics — they went to church, maybe confessed their sins, and¬†then went right back to living life not thinking about God or the Bible for six days during the week. It’s¬†even a running joke that most only attend church on Christmas and Easter.

Then there’s Charismatic Catholics. Charismatics are basically the Catholic version of evangelical¬†Protestants or Baptists. We would go to church on Sundays like regular Catholics, then have our own¬†prayer services sometime during the week where we would have praise and worship music, speak in¬†tongues, be “slain in the spirit”, etc. Yes, exactly like those worship CD infomercials you see late at night.¬†Funnily enough, even though everyone I knew was Catholic and even went to Catholic school, others¬†thought I was in a cult because it was so different (and intense).

Once or twice a year, we would hold and/or attend “conferences” that were sort of like what mega-churches must look like every Sunday. If you were raised in one of these similar sects, you might know¬†what I’m talking about. I especially encourage life-long atheists or those ex-believers that had a pretty¬†lax religious upbringing to view these with an open mind and understanding. Children and teens are especially susceptible to such manipulative pandering. Maybe you can understand how people can fall¬†for this stuff. I hope you guys watch these clips because my describing it absolutely cannot do them¬†justice. Take a quick look:

Let’s break down how this works. These events were packed with talks from KidsJustLikeYou! who had¬†found Jesus and turned all their problems around. Hip priests who played the guitar or drums. Skits and¬†songs and line dancing. Glow sticks. Spot lights. Beach balls. Clapping to the beat in the sign of the cross. All of this is very attractive to young teens¬†who would otherwise fall asleep during Sunday services.

Some of these events I attended were honestly the best times of my life. I loved the feeling of community, the laughter, the friendship, the songs and the music. I felt close to God and others. But they had a dark side, too.

I’m not sure how some of these other denominations handle guilt and forgiveness, but if you even know¬†a¬†Catholic or ex-Catholic, you know there’s a running joke about Catholic guilt. From what I understand,¬†other denominations have simple crosses in their churches, while Catholic churches often feature¬†various depictions of the crucifixion. Hideous, isn’t it?


Charismatics take the guilt thing to a whole new level.

Remember that documentary, “Jesus Camp”? I honestly could not get through it because it bubbled up¬†such intense feelings for me. Imagine being shown graphic depictions of torture and being told, as a child¬†or teen, that YOU did this to Jesus. Whenever you lie to your parents, or hit your brother, or give in to¬†natural sexual urges, be it with yourself or others, YOU drive the nails into Jesus’ hands and feet.¬†Remember those children sobbing in the movie? Overwhelmed with guilt and self-loathing? My little¬†prayer group would put on these guilt-inducing skits that had teens and grown adults crying in shame¬†and begging an imaginary being for forgiveness.

Kids are told that they are broken and need fixing. They’re told that normal every day issues that almost¬†all teens face are not only dangerous to themselves but hurting the imaginary God that watches them all¬†the time. That only Jesus can save them.

Notice how Jesus doesn’t¬†save this girl? She “saves” herself. I have seen many variations on the theme¬†in the skit above — usually varying “sins” placing chains on a teen, until they can finally get to Jesus.¬†Jesus almost never¬†saves them. They have to come to Jesus themselves, of course. We wouldn’t want¬†them thinking Jesus can actually do anything, now would we?

Check out the 4:30 mark. At the bottom right corner, you can see a young man put his head in his hands during the crux of the skit.¬†This is usually what happens. I have seen grown men and women crying over stuff like this. One of the comments I saw on one of these videos was, “You should show¬†the people afterward”. Then they are usually presented with the opportunity to be prayed over / accept¬†Jesus… yadda, yadda.

Teens are in such a vulnerable state already. Often, they are dragged there by well-meaning parents who are attending the attached adult conferences, or friends who are already heavily involved in the cult. Yes, it was a cult. I can see that now.

As an atheist, of course, all of this seems exceedingly silly. I can recognize now the dopamine rush that¬†felt like a spiritual connection. I get the same highs listening and singing along to other types of music I¬†love. I can see how so much of this is targeted at kids who think singing hymns in church is, like,¬†totally lame. I was one of those kids. I thought my faith was special. I felt like I wasn’t part of a religion –¬†it was a relationship¬†(I know you’ve heard that one before!).


People sometimes accuse internet/Twitter/Facebook/blog atheism of being an echo chamber. You know¬†what? Sometimes it is, and sometimes I’m okay with that. Sometimes I need that. Because, believe it or¬†not, sometimes when I watch these videos or hear this type of music, I can feel the tug at my¬†heartstrings. Maybe it’s nostalgia, maybe it’s a longing to be able to wish all my problems away like these¬†kids are told they can. I’m not sure what it is, but it’s there.

Of course, Christian believers would say this is Jesus calling to me, and I’m rejecting him. But you and I¬†know that I am trying to protect myself from returning to a toxic cult mentality. And I am forever grateful to¬†my internet atheist “community” for keeping me grounded.


16 thoughts on “How to Make Teens Think Indoctrination is Cool: Charismania 101

  1. I understand exactly what you mean. I couldn’t even finish watching the “Aftermath” video. It just brought up too many emotions, emotions that don’t mean anything to me any more. I was a part of a street evangelism team that did skits to music very similar to that and it all still holds a lot of sway over me.

    These cults prey on the emotional fragility of young people. They did it to me, they did it to you and they do it millions of young people every day. It makes me sick now. Stay strong, keep your community close, and remember, you are NOT alone!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for your comment. Sometimes I really so feel like other people don’t understand and I feel silly for feeling that pull. I’m glad you made it out and that we can support each other!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It’s not silly at all! It’s like the pull to an abusive ex, or the allure of drugs as an addict, or the pull of negative emotions to someone with depression. You know its not good for you, but it is (or at least was) SO comforting…

        Liked by 1 person

    2. sadly, so true…and even when we knew when we were manipulating people…we were comforted by “but Its the most worthy cause” …..the end justifying the means.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You have no idea how great it is to read things like this and know that I am not alone. From the outside looking in, I wonder HOW did I STAY so long?? How did I really believe all this? And I did . . . wholeheartedly. They got me when I was a teenager – at a youth group outreach – and kept me for 20 years before I finally woke up from it.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. It does all seem so baffling now, doesn’t it? I definitely get it. I’m glad you were able to relate, although I wouldn’t wish it on anyone. Thanks for reading!


  3. This was very difficult for me to watch. I was “saved” at a Steubenville conference in 1997. I was an awkward, lonely, vulnerable 15 yr old just looking for love and friends and a purpose to my life. I was absolutely drawn in by everything shown in that video, and was convinced that I was “feeling God.” My mom says I was never the same after that. I spiraled into a severe depression, eating disorder, self-harm behaviors, alcohol abuse, all the way up to being completely addicted to street drugs. It would not be fair to say that religion caused any of those problems, there were obviously other factors at play. But I spent 18 years in psychological hell, trying to make sense of a religion that absolutely baffled and mentally tortured me, and trying to be a “good Christian.” In November of last year I finally walked away from the church and realized that I’m an atheist and that its ok. I have been clean, sober, happy and healthy ever since making that decision. Thank you so much for writing and posting this, it gave me an odd and unexpected sense of closure.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wow, thank you so much for sharing that. Besides this being a cathartic experience for me, I definitely wrote this hoping others who shared my experiences could relate. These types of events completely target youth like us who were lost and lonely. I am so so happy to hear you made it out with your sanity ūüôā A HUGE congrats on staying sober and escaping the cult. Thank you for reading!


  4. An important issue which I haven’t seen addressed is that many if not most go to church as a way of interfacing with others. Companionship is important to most of us and these folks just want to be part of a group. Many also do volunteer work to help others of lesser means. So there is some good in this. Although non-believers, my late Grandparents did volunteer work for a church.

    Not long ago I watched, on cable, a special on Atheism and the problem was addressed, by the congregation, changing to a club where the folks could still get together but leaving the religion out. Life is complex and unless this issue is addressed head on, not much will change.

    Another interesting part of the program was the interview of some non-believing ministers who hid their identity from the congregation.


    1. This is a very different issue than what my post was about, but I will say this – this has been addressed. There are several different types of non-religious meet-ups such as Sunday Assembly or Oasis. The problem is that many atheists are often very reluctant to attend anything that remotely resembles church or have any kind of meeting at all. While I personally think this is a great idea, you will hear things like, “I don’t go to a club for non-golfers or non-chess players, so why would I attend a club for non-believers?” I also think that the ability to find others with common interests online contributes to this.

      I would disagree that many people attend church *only* for community. It is definitely a big part of it, and many believers turned non-believers may stay in the community for that reason, but people attend groups like this to have common interests. The underlying common interest would be belief in God and practicing those rituals. The difference is, often when people come out as atheist, they are actually shunned by the community. The believers think the non-believers are going to hell, and often think they are horrible people just for not believing even if they were friends before. It’s really a shame.

      Same thing goes for the clergy. I encourage you to look into the clergy project. These new atheists now have no skills, no friends, no community if they come out. No wonder they stay hidden!

      All of what I’m saying comes from a point of view in the United States, by the way, where atheists are very much looked down on. I can see how in the UK or other areas where atheism is no big deal that it could work like the situation with your grandparents.


  5. The online atheist community is an echo chamber – I even feel myself repeating the same things over and over and over. But I need to. I can’t imagine what it feels like for an ex-religious person, because for me, a lifelong atheist, it’s hard enough sometimes.

    Another excellent post, Nancy. Thank you.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Great post. I wont watch the videos if you don’t mind – I have seen a few before and I am afraid I might just bite my laptop.
    I am convinced that if the child-indoctrination cycle is broken religion will go one way, and quite quickly – right down the crapper.

    Maybe deconvertees ought to swamp fundie sites and explain a few things to them?

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I don’t mind at all, as I intended for people to sort of skim through them as a reference. If you already know what they’re referring to, no need ūüėČ

      I think a lot of atheists, including myself, while wanting to save people from the cruelty that is indoctrination, also don’t want to proselytize for atheism. So that’s a tough call. But there are lots of others who would probably love this idea!


      1. I believe asking pertinent questions of believers helps. While such an approach is unlikely to have a believer jump up and throw away their cross, there are always ‘lurkers’ who read but prefer not to comment.
        Unfortunately I often cannot contain myself and tend to ask too </em. pertinent questions and eventually get chucked in the Spam Can. *sigh* ūüôā

        Liked by 1 person

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