On the Indoctrination of Children

June 23, 2014 | 9 comments

Most of my friends are atheists and agnostics. Many of them are of a variety quite different from the “new atheists,” in that they are content in their disbelief, not feeling a need to berate those of us who believe in God. But I do have several friends who are antagonistic to religious belief.

One topic that comes up regularly in conversations with them is raising children. My atheist friends often tell me that they teach their children to think for themselves. Christians, in their opinion, are indoctrinating their children by teaching them the Faith. Even when I was an atheist, this double-standard seemed obvious to me.

Indoctrination or Education?

Indoctrination, in the classic religious understanding of the word, means to pass on doctrine in an authoritative way. The difference between education and the modern understanding of indoctrination is that the indoctrinated are not encouraged to critically examine the things they have been taught.

I was indoctrinated in the Catholic Faith through the Rite of Christian Initiation for Adults (RCIA) in my late twenties. My instructors did not refer to it as indoctrination though, probably due to the negative connotations the word invokes in the minds of modern people. However, I was encouraged to ask questions and think critically about what I was being taught.

Every parent educates their children. It’s one of the primary functions of parents. Part of that education includes teaching them the difference between right and wrong, truth and falsehood.

There may be a fair number of Christian parents who raise their children without encouraging them to think critically about their beliefs. But I’m also sure that many atheist parents poison the well when they talk to their children about God.

In a sense, one can rightfully respond to the charge of indoctrination by turning the argument back on the atheist. If a child is raised in a household where religious belief is mocked and ridiculed, the likelihood of the child approaching the topic with an open mind is significantly reduced, if not eliminated altogether.

A Different End Game

I’m certainly no expert when it comes to parenting, but my limited experience has been successful so far. I attribute this to the fact that my wife and I did encourage our daughter to think critically about the things we were teaching her. We encouraged her to ask questions and we did our best to provide the answers. She’s now a college student and as strong in her faith as we had hoped.

Granted, we approached the topic with a bias, but what parent doesn’t? Like atheist parents, our belief in what is true is important to us. But unlike atheist parents, the end game is more than knowledge or the commendable hope that our children grow up to be good people. It’s about the fate of their eternal souls.

Proverbs 27:17 says “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” This is more than just an awesome sounding metaphor. When ideas are exchanged, one can benefit by becoming more alert in their thinking.

This is the reason my wife and I always welcomed inquiry from our daughter. Not only has it sharpened her knowledge of the Faith, it has sharpened our own.

Merely having an open mind is nothing. The object of opening the mind, as of opening the mouth, is to shut it again on something solid. –G.K. Chesterton

Jon Sorensen earned his bachelor’s degree in 3D Animation and Visual Communications in 2004 from Platt College, Ontario. Before coming to Catholic Answers, he worked in the automotive industry producing television commercials and corporate video. He has also produced motion graphics for several feature-...

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Comments by Catholic.com Members

#1  Dain Bramaged - Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

As a friend of mine likes to say, "choose your indoctrination", meaning if you do not accept indoctrination with Christian values, you will be "indoctrinated" with secular values on all the most important moral issues simply by living in the world, watching TV and movies, reading the paper, getting on the internet, etc.

So it is kind of like when the atheist says "you don't have any proof for your beliefs". That may be true, but what they're leaving out is they don't have any proof either. I know they usually say they don't need any, since we are the ones making the truth claims. But I guess my point is it's not a matter of only our side making claims without proof, or "indoctrinating" - BOTH sides are doing it. The atheists though are either not fully aware that they do it too or perhaps are glossing over that important fact.

June 23, 2014 at 4:52 pm PST
#2  Eric McCabe - Rosemount, Minnesota

Personally, the Protestant indoctrination that was at times charitable, while at other times jammed down my heart's throat (so to speak) closed my mind and hardened my heart in many ways, especially towards others not of the same faith as mine.

When a child or adolescent is told that God has revealed himself alone in His written Word and that that written Word is alone the only source of morals, it is so sincerely believable for a young and vulnerable individual to accept it so blindly. Furthermore, when a child develops reason and questions Protestant doctrine, more times than not they are authoritatively and not charitably, to go to God's written Word to find their answer. However, when you bring up a part of Scripture to a Protestant that you question, you will get their interpretation of it. As a former Lutheran, I would read the NT a lot. However, every time I would come across James 2 I just could not rest easy on my skepticism regarding "faith alone."

What's interesting about my skepticism, is that I moved around a lot thus having to join different churches that were all in the same exact denomination and synod of Lutheranism. And every time I came across James 2, I could not help but to bring it up to my Lutheran pastor at the time for interpretation. Every pastor (five perhaps) had a complete different interpretation of James regarding the part where it says that we "are not justified by faith alone," as Lutherans are the grandfathers of the indoctrination of sola fide, faith alone and hold on to the invented sixteenth "revealed reformed tradition" so strongly.

My point is, Protestant indoctrination is noting but a circular way of reasoning that asks not to be asked about outside God's written Word. This honestly led me to believe that a specific branch of Lutheranism had all the right doctrines, and the Roman Catholics and other Protestants all had it wrong. This closed my mind to even wanting to listen to others' faith and morals which in turn led me to close my heart wanting to love others because this Protestant, reformed tradition of indoctrination was conceived in pride, envy, and lust and has been handed down from generation to generation in the same way it was originated. There is nothing ecumenical about Protestantism, as it breeds contempt for anyone speaking the truth in love. Sad thing is, defenseless children aren't buying into it, they do not have a choice and when their God-given gift of reason starts asking questions, they are told that their reason is corrupted in sin and to shut it off and go to the Bible alone and "you will find solace and comfort on everything." But we all know this does not happen. Maybe they thing it happens, but I know like it I did, they did not FEEL it!

Now that I am Catholic, it's just so beautiful how everything, literally everything makes sense and does not contradict itself, especially in doctrine and Scripture. Honestly, every dogmatic and central teaching, along with the Church's customs, practices, and speculations complements each other in perfect harmony and love, and most importantly, in UNITY through 2000 years! Thanks be to God for opening my mind and heart to humbly lead me home to Rome!

"Little children, let no one deceive you. Everyone who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous." 1 John 3:7

"You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone." James 2:24

June 23, 2014 at 6:11 pm PST
#3  Paul Rodriguez - Hastings, Nebraska

Eric McCabe, welcome home!

June 23, 2014 at 9:20 pm PST
#4  Julian Rodrigues - London, Waltham Forest

I really enjoy your hard-hitting, atheist meme-destroying articles Mr Sorenson. Please keep them up.

June 24, 2014 at 12:25 am PST
#5  Berry Logan - ca, California


June 24, 2014 at 10:41 am PST
#6  Jon Sorensen - El Cajon, California - Catholic Answers Blogger

Thanks, Julian Rodrigues!

June 24, 2014 at 1:33 pm PST
#7  Salonsar War - Shillong, Meghalaya

>> Matthew 18:6 "It is better to have a millstone tied around the neck and be thrown into the depths of the sea than to cause any of these little little ones to stumble."
--That warning is one reason why I am very cautious (and sometimes paranoid) when dealing with and teaching our young, lest I lead them astray either by my words or by my actions. Our children need good role models who will guide them in the ways of the Word and not in the ways of the world.
God Bless

June 26, 2014 at 4:13 am PST
#8  Jonathan Carter - Springfield, Missouri

I agree that it's right and good to teach your kids to be Christians (I mean, I plan to), but I don't know if Jon has quite given atheists their due.

"...But unlike atheist parents, the end game is more than knowledge or the commendable hope that our children grow up to be good people. It’s about the fate of their eternal souls."

True, from a Christian perspective, the stakes are high--eternity is a long, long time, and it ain't just about your individual soul either. But from an atheist's perspective, the stakes are arguably just as high. If you think God is a myth and religion toxic, then the risk that someone might spend their life--their *only* life--in service to that myth is just as significant, just as undesirable as the risk that they might spend eternity in hell. Indeed, if the only future to look forward to is that of your species, rather than your immortal soul, then it's just as urgent that your kids understand the truth (whatever that may be) as it is if there is a God.

I say that as someone convinced and convicted that there is a God, and that God has uniquely revealed himself through the Christian Faith and Church. But we mustn't pretend we're the only folks who care about truth. Life is a high stakes game, no matter how you play your cards.

If we really wish to convince an atheist of the truth of our faith, it behooves us to hold to its teachings, one of which is that all humanity shares a common destiny as the image bearers of God and rulers of the earth. While we may rebuke our brethren, we ought not to dismiss them.

June 27, 2014 at 12:12 pm PST
#9  Manuel Pio - Benin, Edo

The moment i saw this article, it caught my interest... though i attend mass at will, when i am irresistibly inspired to. Yet i have always have a strong desire to train my future kids in The catholic faith!.. My question now is will i ever be able to do this without a catholic wife? cos i am afraid i might end up marrying a non-catholic since i have never dated a catholic girl for once(not intentional).

June 29, 2014 at 1:03 am PST

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