One of the things I hear from evangelical non-believers all the time is that Christians indoctrinate their kids.
I would be fine with this if the accusation, as it more often than not does, didn’t include the implications that not only is indoctrination necessary to mold impressionable young minds because older people with critical thinking skills would never buy a religious myth but that it also an evil act that borders on child abuse.
When non-believers, depending on who they are of course, mention indoctrination to me I almost always think they imagine classrooms full of five and six year olds who are consistently threatened with eternal torture unless they blindly believe what they are told. That they imagine angry, prudish, bigoted, and close-minded parents relentlessly bludgeoning their kids with the idea that they are horrible sinners who will die a horrible death unless they admit they aren’t and will never be good enough. And that they imagine parents screaming at their kids to reject everything their schools teach them about science or the devil will have his way with them.
Is that how religious indoctrination works in the minds of religion’s more vocal opponents? Of course it is, if they live inside a cartoon of their own making but in reality, not so much
In fact, indoctrination is common, low threat, and never frowned upon unless it’s religious, specifically Christian.
The definition of indoctrination is “instruction in a body of doctrine or principles; the instillation of a partisan or ideological point of view.” Indoctrination is seen as the act of imparting facts as truth without imparting the ability to critically consider those facts. In this way, we all indoctrinate children.
As parents we provide the basics such as; clothes for wearing, beds for sleeping, toys for playing, and the implementation of rules in our households to ensure, to the greatest extent possible anyway, good order and discipline.
But we also provide knowledge regarding what we believe, what we know about the world from our own personal experiences, and what we believe to be true about politics, philosophy, customs, traditions, and everything else.
For example, I teach my kids that smaller government is better than bigger government, the value of personal responsibility, the value of (although I tend to lean libertarian) conservative ideals, the value and health benefits of exercise and good nutrition, the value of education, that global warming is a myth not backed up by science, that no good and decent person roots for the Dallas Cowboys, that happiness is more important than wealth and status, that creativity and the arts are important, that alcohol leads to all kinds of trouble and should only be consumed infrequently and in moderation, that abortion (this is a belief I held before I was a Christian) is wrong. That guns, regardless of what many people say, are not inherently bad. That hard work and determination, not reliance on government, is how we achieve success.
I could go on and on all day but I think you get the point that we all, in spite of the fact that they might be argued against, have what we believe are truths and we all pass on these truths to our kids. And we do so even when they are too young to fully process them, too young to refute them, too young to see error in them, and too young to form their own rational opinion about whether or not they believe them.
So, naturally, Christian parents do the same thing with Christianity.
We believe Christianity is the truth so we teach our kids. Imparting truth, or what we sincerely believe truth is, should be the goal of any parent. To do otherwise is at best laziness and at worst abuse. Christian parents indoctrinate their children in Christianity because they believe it is true. First Corinthians 2:12-13 says, “Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual.” By passing on truth, parents show their love and respect for their children.
We believe children will benefit from understanding Christianity so we teach it to our kids. If Christianity is true, then learning about it will be beneficial. Receiving training in God, humanity, sin, and salvation becomes absolutely vital.
We believe we are living out their beliefs so we teach them to our kids. Just as the child must be actively engaged in Christianity in order to benefit, us parents must also. This includes ensuring our children understand our faith.
So, how is indoctrination a bad thing?