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.