People always tell me not to look at the comment section of a social media post. I didn’t listen.
We just promoted the new kid’s curriculum Let’s Get Real: Examining the Evidence for God, based on Turek and Geisler’s best seller: I Don’t Have Enough Faith to be an Atheist. I anticipated backlash. I know the drill. You post something about God and the evidence that points to His existence and suddenly every atheist saddles up behind their keyboard to tell you why you’re wrong. What I didn’t expect was to be accused of child abuse.
Is teaching kids about God child-abuse?
This isn’t a new accusation against Christians. In Richard Dawkins’s The God Delusion, he asserts that religious indoctrination is child abuse. However, Nicholas Humphrey, a neuropsychologist from Cambridge University, arguably said it first. In his 1997 lecture, “What Shall We Tell The Children,” he said, “In short, children have a right not to have their minds addled by nonsense. And we as a society have a duty to protect them from it. So we should no more allow parents to teach their children to believe, for example, in the literal truth of the Bible, or that the planets rule their lives, than we should allow parents to knock their teeth out or lock them in a dungeon.”
Here, Humphrey equates protecting children from religious indoctrination with protecting them from getting their teeth knocked out by their parents. Both are child abuse. So those who invade the comment sections and accuse parents of child abuse are only repeating what they’ve been indoctrinated with themselves. Although, I’d bet they don’t see it that way.
Christians indoctrinate their kids, but so do atheists.
Whenever I see accusations of child abuse because we are “indoctrinating our kids”, I think to myself, this guy doesn’t understand the meaning of indoctrination. So, let’s define our terms before we move on. “Indoctrination” has a negative connotation, but it didn’t used to. According to Dr. Lawson Murray, the word indoctrination entered the English language in the 17th century. Back then it meant to “teach doctrine.” Doctrines are a set of beliefs and ideas held by a church, political party, and many other groups. According to this definition, we all hold to specific doctrines – including atheists. Not one person is exempt from indoctrination or from indoctrinating others – including Humphrey, Dawkins, and those invading the comment section of a social media post.
It wasn’t until the 19th century that the definition of indoctrination changed to mean pushing an ideological viewpoint. In fact, indoctrination is often equated to brainwashing. You can find a simple definition of indoctrination from the Oxford dictionary which reads, “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.” Since that is the definition our current culture uses to define indoctrination, we’re going to roll with it as we examine the claim that indoctrinating kids about God and religion is child abuse.
None of us are neutral.
People who accuse Christians of indoctrination often say we should just let the kids figure out whether or not God exists on their own. That’s a nice thought, but they’re forgetting one thing: the world is not neutral. Everyone has a worldview that is filled with doctrines – things they believe about how the world operates. Everything you watch, read, or listen to comes from the creator’s worldview. Before a belief is adopted, it is first filtered through the mind. Everyone knows this, and they are not neutral about the ideologies they push through these mediums.
A Gen Z’er can’t watch TikTok these days without an elementary school teacher bragging about how her first graders are learning to accept her gay marriage. A teacher cannot open her laptop without getting an email from the teachers’ association on “Pride activities” to do during the month of June (raise your hand if you teach in California). A parent can’t send their kids to school without wondering if their child is going to come back with a new name, new pronouns, or come back at all (see California’s AB957).
If these examples aren’t enough to prove my point, I’ll mention Disney, Netflix, public libraries, and the latest Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles movie that made sure to drop a trans flag and an LGBT+ flyer in the background. I don’t think they got the message from the “don’t indoctrinate the kids” crowd.
Richard Dawkins had it right, almost.
In an article by the Daily Mail, Dawkins is reported as saying, “What a child should be taught is that religion exists; that some people believe this and some people believe that.” Wait, that almost sounds like unbiased education – educating a child to examine worldview claims and come to an informed conclusion. Do those who advocate against the religious indoctrination of children provide an honest case for conflicting worldviews? Not quite. As the Daily Mail also reports, “Professor Dawkins said at the festival that children should be taught religion but scorn should be poured on its claims.” Dawkins almost wasn’t hypocritical. Almost.
Why is it okay to indoctrinate kids against religion but not to indoctrinate them with religion?
It’s not only about what you teach but how you teach it.
I’m not here to suggest it’s okay for Christians to indoctrinate anyone. In fact, there is a critical piece of information that makes indoctrination brainwashing. Let’s revisit the definition so we’re on the same page. Indoctrination is “The process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.”
That means we have a responsibility to teach our children and students not only what to believe, but why we believe it. If you only tell your students what to believe but do not teach them how to examine the evidence, scrutinize worldviews (including Christianity), and ask questions, then you are, in essence, indoctrinating them.
To educate rather than indoctrinate, these three components must be an essential part of your teaching technique:
Three Essentials for Education over Indoctrination
1. Question: Every teacher knows that asking questions is one of the best ways to learn. In fact, further examination of the New Testament gospels show Jesus used questions to teach His disciples and the crowds. When Jesus was alone with His disciples, they had the opportunity to ask questions about His teachings, and Jesus took them to deeper depths of knowledge. To indoctrinate means the student is to accept the belief and ideology without question. But God does not require us to accept Christianity without question. If He did, why would Jesus ask so many questions to get people to think, inquire, critique, and examine His words and the world around them?
2. Analyze: To analyze means to carefully understand something, often by breaking it down into smaller easier-to-understand pieces. The Bereans were commended for this in Acts 17 by Luke the historian when he wrote, “Now the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” (Acts 17:10-11). A responsible teacher who passes knowledge to another does not expect them to accept what they believe without question. In fact, if any Christian teacher does not expect to be questioned, they shouldn’t be teaching. That’s my personal rule and I’m sticking to it. When we teach students to analyze the information like the Bereans to see whether or not it’s true, we teach our students how to think, not what to think. In other words, we educate, we don’t indoctrinate.
3. Evaluate: To evaluate means to assess the value of something: How good is it? Is it useful? Does it reflect beauty? Is it likely true? The apostle Paul wrote that we are to be careful not to be taken captive by “hollow and deceptive philosophy” (Col 2:8). How do we prevent that? By evaluating opposing worldviews and ideas to see which one best answers the worldview questions. Because they all have to. One of my favorite ways to teach my own kids is to watch secular movies with them and identify the worldview behind each one. We evaluate what is being promoted and why. There is always a problem and the problem has a solution, but does it work? Teaching our students to evaluate opposing worldviews keeps us on the side of educating them rather than indoctrinating them.
Secular Neutrality is a Myth
Just like everyone has a worldview, everyone has a belief about God. They either believe He exists or they don’t. They’re either with Jesus or they’re against Him. And everyone is coming from a worldview that is embedded into everything they write, post, sing, or film. And embedded throughout each of these mediums are doctrines – what they believe about how the world operates. They aren’t neutral about it.
So, is teaching your kids about God child abuse?
It’s no more a myth than when an atheist teaches them God doesn’t exist. The real question is, if you believe you have the truth, why not teach your students to question, analyze, and evaluate all worldviews and give them the tools to make an informed decision?
For More on this Important Topic check out: Train Your Brain
If you want your kids to learn how to think, sign them up for our new course Train Your Brain. Class begins October 1st. And if you’re an adult who needs to learn how to think, take the self-paced course to learn more. If you’re a teacher who wants to teach your students how to think, purchase the hard copy curriculum here.
Resources Related to this Topic
Counter Culture Christian: Is the Bible True? by Frank Turek (Mp3), (Mp4), and (DVD)
Your Most Important Thinking Skill by Dr. Frank Turek DVD, (mp4) download
How Philosophy Can Help Your Theology by Richard Howe (DVD Set, Mp3, and Mp4)
When Reason Isn’t the Reason for Unbelief by Dr. Frank Turek DVD and Mp4
Can All Religions Be True? mp3 by Frank Turek
Tactics: A Game Plan for Discussing Your Christian Convictions by Greg Koukl (Book)
Stealing From God by Dr. Frank Turek (Book, 10-Part DVD Set, STUDENT Study Guide, TEACHER Study Guide)
Shanda Fulbright is a credentialed teacher and has a certificate in Christian Apologetics from Biola University, a certificate from the CrossExamined Instructor’s Academy as well as several certificates from Online Christian Courses. She hosts Her Faith Inspires podcast where she takes cultural issues and aligns them to biblical truth. You can read her blogs and find out more about her at shandafulbright.com.