When Indoctrination Fails

My church had the same pastor from the time that I was about thirteen to the time I was about nineteen. Having bigger things than religion and atheism and the afterlife to worry about as a teenager, I didn’t realize it at the time, but this man really passionately believed and taught the opposite of everything I believe. He is the type that refers to atheists as if they are a group only to be fought with and not a group to make amends with; the type that believes that gays have no place in church and that to be transgender is to be mentally ill; the type who shares a lot of Matt Walsh posts on Facebook. You know the type. Unfortunately.

I wish that I had documented what he said as well as I am documenting what my church’s current leaders say in sermons and in bible classes. I remember him always talking about the sin of homosexuality, and I know that he was very into apologetics and creationism. Oftentimes in bible class, he would talk about what to say “if you get into an argument with an atheist” about one thing or another. There was always something to argue about or be political about with him. And atheists were some sort of ideological competitors who must be outsmarted and defeated, never someone to meet, include, or befriend.

One of the only sermons of his that I do clearly remember was when I was quite young; to be honest, I’m not completely sure that it was his sermon or the pastor before him. Either way, the message was this: you should be thankful to whomever introduced you to the good news of Jesus, because it is due to them and their witness to you that you now have been saved and will have eternal life and all that great stuff.

I found this intriguing for multiple reasons. Firstly, what about those who had never been lucky enough to have ever been told about Jesus? Are they just doomed to hell? Children that had been brought up Muslim or Jewish or Hindu don’t get all the great rewards that are supposed to come with Christianity just because that’s not what their parents told them about? That seems less than fair to those who didn’t even get a chance. And it’s an awfully big burden to put on Christians who are responsible for converting the whole entire world and revealing a God who refuses to reveal himself.

To this end, if Christianity is true, then why do we need to be told about it? Many Christians say that God speaks to them or Jesus reveals himself to them or they see God in the everyday and in the ordinary. If this is true, then why would we need to be told about him? Wouldn’t we just know? I read somewhere a quote that if civilization was wiped out and had to start over completely, we would again gather all our knowledge of science, but religion would be lost forever. This is because science is discoverable and religion only survives on being passed down through generations through stories and forced church services and family prayers. It thrives on the indoctrination of children.

I have one baby nephew. He is the son of a pastor. He was baptized at six days old. His room is decorated with Christian art. His bookshelf is filled with Christian picture books. His mother sings him Christian tunes and he’s probably been to church more times in the past six months than most people would go to in years.

With instances such as my nephew, I think of how sad it is that he will be discouraged from thinking critically (I know that not all Christianity discourages critical thinking, but the LCMS into which he is being indoctrinated does). I agree with Dawkins’ idea that there are no Christian children or Muslim children, just as there are no Democrat children or what have you, but it’s hard for me not to see my nephew as a “Christian child.” He will choose for himself when he grows up, even if he has to hide his beliefs, but honestly I don’t have much doubt that he’ll grow up to be just like his parents and grandmother, praising God and singing hymns till he’s blue in the face. It’s in times like these that I have to remind myself that indoctrination doesn’t always work.

Just because someone gets indoctrinated into the Christian faith as a child doesn’t mean that they will remain a Christian in adulthood. Heck, even if someone is indoctrinated throughout their childhood, young adulthood, and during college, and they keep up a Christian facade through all of it, that doesn’t mean that they are a Christian. I serve as my own example of an instance in which indoctrination failed. There is hope for anyone to break free from the chains of religious indoctrination as long as they rely on themselves and use critical thinking and logic, even when the world is telling them not to.

12 Replies to “When Indoctrination Fails”

  1. Your post reminded me of a conversation I had with my 6yr. old nephew. He asked me, “Is Jesus the most important person in the world?” I cringed. I’m an atheist, but my sister and her husband are STRONG believers so what did I say?

    “Lots of people think he’s important, what do you think?”

    “I don’t know, but what do YOU think?” he said. I have to say he’d make a great journalist! He knew I was avoiding the question.

    “I don’t believe he was the most important person, but I think he said important things like, love your enemy.”

    I’m in the same boat as you are in. I worry that religion will discourage their intellectual curiosity, but that conversation gave me hope. My bigger fear, now, is that my sister will teach them to ignore or dismiss my views all together.

    Great post!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. “Just because someone gets indoctrinated into the Christian faith as a child doesn’t mean that they will remain a Christian in adulthood”.

    Damn right. This reminds me of a church I used to go to which I left fairly recently. One of the guys at our bible study stopped going and later posted on Facebook that he was an agnostic theist. I told one of my church friends who seemed really shocked, but I’m willing to bet he was a closeted agnostic for a while before he left, but was forced to go to church and bible study (his parents hosted it at their house).

    I also wonder how many people at my old church secretly don’t believe in it either… indoctrination or not, people always make their own belief decisions once they get old enough.

    Liked by 2 people

  3. Interesting post! It makes sense that you are speaking of indoctrination when it comes to being done by religious people. But this may always work with anyone or anything. A child may grow up being indoctrinated in agreeing with a certain kind of politics and grow up looking at things completely opposite of that of their parents. So, there are examples and stories of children growing up in nonreligious homes and with atheist parents and becoming a religious parent later in life.

    I enjoyed your piece though. So, it has encouraged me to write about or speak about its issues at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. From what you say about your pastor and his repeated warnings/prompts on how to deal with atheists makes me wonder if down deep he didn’t have some doubts of his own. Sometimes our weakest beliefs are the ones we defend the most adamantly.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I read that for a class last year! 2/3 of it at least. The monks worked to recreate documents of what turned out to be everyday objects and eventually reinvented lights and things like that. Were they religious? (I don’t remember)

      Liked by 1 person

      1. The monks were religious. Specifically, they were Catholic.

        The name of their order was the “Albertian Order of Leibowitz,” named after Isaac Edward Leibowitz, a Jewish electrical engineer who worked for the US military and who, after “The Flame Deluge” (the nuclear war) dedicated his life to the preservation of knowledge by hiding books from people who wanted to destroy them, and memorizing their contents so that, even if destroyed, they wouldn’t be lost forever.

        On another note:

        Regarding the quote you read that said that religion would be lost forever if civilization was destroyed: I don’t see the reasoning in that.

        I am reminded of a quote from Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”:

        “But isn’t it natural to feel that there is a God?”

        “You might as well ask if it’s natural to do up one’s trousers with zippers.”

        Liked by 1 person

  5. That’s the thing about the way that it’s taught, we’re supposed to write out the important notes: “God loves us all” and pay attention as the pastor rambles on about love not meaning this or that, or just as God hated Esau, his love has it’s exceptions. I really wish I had a digital voice recorder so that I could dissect and examine how what they teach can be interpreted.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. The emotion I see in behavior like this (avoiding the atheist at all costs…) is just fear. they are afraid us golden tongued heathens will woo you away from your True Faith. Frankly, if you’re a true believer, you ain’t goin’ nowhere. And if you aren’t, the only one who will woo you away, is you.

      snurgle snurgle snurgle “Hey, babe, we got candy here. We got dancing. We got beer. We got sin.”

      Like

      1. Perhaps my experience differs as I’m in the middle of the countryside, but there was never an active attempt to dress up atheists as the enemy in the churches I used to go to. I guess there were never enough of them in the area being a vocal opponent of the churches. People were pretty much assumed to fit into one of two categories, a religious church-goer, or an indifferent not-church-goer. I’m sure that there are atheists in the area – but they’re just isolated individuals and the church knows better than to bully just one person. That’s why my churches focused on the true enemy – feminism. It was something they could see it’s influence creeping into it’s hallways with each new generation of empowered little girls who weren’t sticking to the churches’ traditional narrative. At any rate, in every form indoctrination fails when the youth are exposed to the truths outside of the church’s control.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Interesting. My church has never had a particular problem with feminism, aside from once when this pastor said that one common denominator of churches that weren’t “truly Christian” is that they allow women in the clergy. “Nothing against women,” he said, “just an observation.”

          Um, okay then.

          Like

          1. You see, atheists aren’t really known for infiltrating a church and corrupting it’s most cherished secondary doctrines (that are of primary importance) the way that feminism challenges the way the churches teach that men and women have different roles. Any Christian can hold to feminism, and that makes them a heretic that can sway any believer away from the true path. As one of my pastors once put it, the most dangerous people in a church aren’t the ones who are going the opposite direction on the freeway, it’s the same ones going in the same direction that are signaling to turn right that you’re tempted to follow – because if you do, you’ll go in every which direction but the right one. Errant believers are far more dangerous non-believers that way.

            Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s