My last post, “The Number One Sign Your Kids Are Just Borrowing Your Faith,” went a bit crazy online! To date, it has been read by over 47,000 people and has been shared over 10,000 times. I’m thrilled that it resonated with so many people, and I hope it will encourage a love for questions in the spiritual lives of more families.
One (presumably atheist) commenter on the post, however, thought my encouragement of deeper faith discussions means I think kids need to be more “indoctrinated.” The accusation that Christians are all indoctrinating or brainwashing their kids is so common today that I want to address it here and give you a basis from which to confidently respond when you encounter it yourself.
For context, here is an excerpt from the comment (this is verbatim from the original; please excuse the grammar and typos):
“The younger generations know things the older ones are either ignorant of, or in denial of, and are thus turning away from religion at a fast pace. That has nothing to do with not enough indoctrination, or it being real enough to the kid because they were just borrowing their parents religion. . .that making your own choice, and starting to think is inevitable. Too bad that higher analytical skills has to be so tied to ditching religion. Stinks huh.”
There are several illogical points here, but for purposes of this post, let’s stick with the accusation of indoctrination. First, consider the definition:
Indoctrination: Teaching someone to fully accept the ideas, opinions, and beliefs of a particular group and to not consider other ideas, opinions and beliefs.
Based on that definition, I would say some Christian parents indoctrinate their kids. I’ve known parents who want to keep their kids as sheltered as possible from the world in order to protect their beliefs and minimize the influence from secular society. They tend to parent by fear (“look at all these terrible things that will happen if you believe something other than we do”). There is no doubt some Christian parents approach their kids’ spiritual development in this way.
But I’m sure you can quickly see this is not strictly a problem of certain Christian parents, or of parents with other religious beliefs. Atheists are just as at risk of indoctrinating their own kids, if they are teaching them to fully accept their “ideas, opinions and beliefs and to not consider other ideas, opinions and beliefs.” Just as there can be Christians who “indoctrinate” their kids, there can be atheists who do as well.
The bottom line: indoctrination is a problem with how you teach someone something. It is not inherently related to any particular belief system, though religion is one type of belief system where indoctrination is possible.
Case closed? Not completely, because there is something much deeper going on here, whether those making the accusations realize it or not.
“Considering other ideas, opinions and beliefs” does NOT mean we must accept those other beliefs in order to not “indoctrinate” our kids. This, however, is what the world would have us believe. Many people today think the only absolute truth is that there is no absolute truth and that we should accept all ideas, opinions and beliefs. Most people accusing Christians of indoctrination really aren’t saying anything about how we’re teaching our kids (how would they know what’s going on inside every Christian parent’s home?). What they’re really saying is that it’s wrong to teach absolute truth.
I would bet the farm that if Christians were all teaching their kids that they believe something that may or may not be true – a big “who knows?” – there would be no claims of indoctrination flying around.
So let’s get the conversation straight and call it what it is. It’s ridiculous to suggest that every Christian parent is forbidding the discussion of other ideas in their home. If the accusation, however, is really that Christians teach their kids there is an absolute truth, that’s a wholly different conversation than one about indoctrination. That’s a conversation about the nature of truth.
How should Christians respond about the nature of truth? I’ll tackle that in my next post!
For Application at Home: Get Your Kids Thinking
Check out the comments on debate.org under the question, “Is Teaching Children Religion Brainwashing?” If you have older kids, the comments from secularists can provide a great opportunity to encourage critical thinking skills. Read each of the selected comments below with your kids and ask them to evaluate what is being said.
“Religion is a unique type of ideology. Religion is a particular type of ideology that does not allow for compromise. Within Christianity God does not ‘maybe’ exist. It is a very absolutist stance that does not allow for much compromise; thus, yes religion is different from other ‘opinions’ parents may impose.”
Key talking points: This is a classic appeal to “relativism,” the concept that points of view can have no absolute truth or validity. The person who wrote this comment assumes we all can see that an “absolutist stance that does not allow for much compromise” must be wrong. Yet he is claiming an absolute stance that does not allow for compromise himself! He is claiming an alternate absolute truth: that truth is relative and “compromise” (i.e., openness to all views) is mandatory. This irony is clearly lost on him.
“Religion is the opiate of the masses. It is the purposeful suspension of critical thinking.”
Key talking points: Certainly there are some Christian parents who are effectively encouraging their kids to accept a “blind faith.” But again, there are all kinds of parents – Christian or not – who encourage their kids to blindly accept their own views. Critical thinking is a skill. It’s not a feature of a particular worldview.
As always, I love to hear your thoughts. Have you heard the claims that Christians indoctrinate their kids? Do you agree that some do?