Stephen Kahn

How young to indoctrinate?

In Hard to tell, Uncategorized on June 1, 2012 at 3:33 am

The Trinity Lutheran Church is clearly an evangelical Christian church – that is, one of their main purposes and motivations is to get other people to join their church. Their style and approach in doing so fooled me for a bit – it seems so low-key and inclusive compared to other evangelicals.

However, despite their good nature and tolerance (compared to other evangelicals I have encountered), from time to time they still manage to rub me the wrong way. One of the behaviors that irritate me about religious believers is how they indoctrinate children into their belief system when the children are at a very young age. I am not sure what is a better method though. When my daughter was young, I did not say much about religion. When she was in kindergarten, George, a naughty boy who lived next door told her, “Santa Claus is not real.”

My daughter related this to me when she came home from kindergarten. Going Socratic, I asked her, “What do you think?”

“I don’t think he is real. Why did you let me believe in him?”

I said, “I thought it better to let you figure it out for yourself.”

After that, I didn’t have to say much about religion. However, she soon became an atheist, perhaps from being raised by atheists. Also, one of her baby sitters began to teach her about Jesus without asking us, which irritated me quite a bit, but it had no effect.

My daughter’s partner was raised as a Methodist. When she and my daughter became an “item” in college, my daughter converted her to atheism in fairly short order. As far as I can tell, their scheme for our granddaughter (now 8 years old) is to start taking her to various churches when she is a little older and let her decide which one she prefers. My daughter said to me, “I hope she decides not to become a religious believer, but it will be up to her.”

One of the last times I was at Trinity Lutheran Church, after a wood splitting session, the Pastor was teaching a religion class about Jesus and the Resurrection to a group of small children, probably about 3-5 years old. They were acting out (it was near Easter) a little play about Jesus rising from the dead. The Pastor came over to us (the wood splitters) after the children finished chuckling.

“I have to share a story with you,” he said with a grin. It seems that a little girl (about four or five) was playing the role of Jesus. I guess she got to pretend to be crucified on the Cross. As she was lying in the tomb, waiting to rise from the dead, the little girl began to call out, “I have to go pee pee!”

The Pastor and everyone in the group (except me) found the story amazingly charming and entertaining. I kept as amused an expression on my face as I could, but in fact I found the episode unpleasant and distasteful. I have said nothing to Craig or any of the other Christian wood splitters, but the next week I took a trip to the mainland to drop in on a meeting of “atheists, humanists, freethinkers” and the like. I felt a great relief to be around a group of people whose attitudes and thinking was much closer to mine. We watched a movie about abortion, called “Lake of Fire.” The movie and discussion was interesting and well done. (The movie was not “anti-abortion” or “pro-choice.” It was a documentary about the issue and portrayed many points of view and many incidents, including a scene of a baby being aborted and portrayed incidents involving people who had assassinated abortion providers.

  1. This post reminds me of a Facebook “status” I wrote not too long ago, after seeing someone else’s status that said, “Raised in a Christian household. Indoctrination unsuccessful.”

    I wrote, “EVERY parent teaches their children about their values & beliefs. But if you are a Christian parent, they call it ‘indoctrination’. 😦 ”

    A friend with a psychology degree commented, “It’s ALWAYS indoctrination to your personal beliefs system. But this is not a bad thing and anyone who thinks it is needs to learn more than the negative connotation of words they want to shame people with.”

    My ultra-liberal brother & sister-in-law “indoctrinated” their daughter in their beliefs just as strongly as any Christian family would “indoctrinate” their children.

  2. Karen, thank you for your comment. It is indeed a tricky issue. Most people adopt whatever values and beliefs their parents taught them (whether called “indoctrination” or not). Some people rebel strongly against whatever they were taught, and often move to an opposite extreme.

    I am an empiricist. The world seems to exist. It seems to obey rules we call scientific laws. If I start my chain saw (which I will do one of these days once I get better again), and stick my hand under it, it will be chopped to bits. It is not a matter of opinion or belief; it’s just the way things are. On the other hand, anyone can believe in any God they want, as it’s just a matter of opinion, and anyone’s opinion is a good (or awful) as anyone else’s.

    Which leaves us with the age old questions. Where did we come from? Why are we here? What is our purpose? Where do we go after we die?

    Answers: 1. We don’t know, but probably we are an accident. 2. There is no reason. 3. We invent our own purposes. 4. After we die, we cease to exist, just as we did not exist before we were born. While I don’t look forward to dying, any form of eternal existence, no matter how pleasant, would eventually be Hell. So I am accepting of the fact I will some day no longer exist any more. I would prefer to die in my sleep than after a long painful illness (though that would be unpleasant for my mate to discover in the morning), but the certainty is that someday we all cease to exist.

  3. It’s a complicated issue, to be sure. Personally, I like what I see Elissa doing with her kids, which is what I would call a “question-based framework.” She considers herself to be culturally Jewish, but isn’t sure she believes in God. She wants her kids to have the sense of community, so they are going to Hebrew school and participating in Jewish cultural traditions, but she is making it clear to them that they are free to feel however they feel about things, and to ask questions. However, Judaism is traditionally a querying religion, whereas Christianity is not, so much.

  4. Hi David. That reminds me a bit of my childhood, when my parents sent me to synagogue for a bit, I suspect for cultural reasons. However, I am not sure what “Jewish” means. Is it a religion? An ethnic group? A cultural group? In any case, while Jews have certainly been persecuted, calling themselves “The chosen people,” was sort of asking for it.

    One day at Trinity Church, the church secretary (a very sweet woman who probably did know that I am Jewish) was speaking about how wonderful the Jews are, how intelligent they are, how much they have contributed to civilization, etc. As Christians for centuries persecuted Jews, I am sure she is striving to express how “reformed” and lacking in anti-Semitism the Lutherans now are. As gently as I could, I said, “Kay, I am Jewish. I appreciate your thoughts. However, to say of any group how wonderful they are is in a way as prejudiced as saying bad things about them. We are all individuals, and each group has admirable and unpleasant individuals.” She was thrown into some fluster and confusion, but I am sure she realized I understood she meant well.

  5. For myself, I can say that growing going to church taught me that I had a heavenly father who created me, loves me, and listens to my prayers. As a child I got a message of love and acceptance at church that I never heard at home. I am very grateful for that experience. I appreciate your perspective.

    • Waxing, I am appreciative of your tolerance of my cynical, sour, atheistic gloomy perspective. As I’ve written, I have excellent Christian neighbors and friends, and they are very tolerant of my way of looking at things. If I continue to mend, and feel well enough, I will be heading out to an atheist/free thinker fourth of July picnic in Seattle, so I can be around people who are “sort of” my own kind.

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