Thursday, 5 January 2012

And A Child Shall Lead Them

The folks over at GodTube recently released their list of the "most watched and most shared" videos of 2011.  (GodTube is, naturally, a Christian knockoff of YouTube.)

I couldn't help but notice that the top two videos had a very specific element in common; both featured children, doing something or other, from the stage during a church service.  Number one came from an 11 year old (click this if you're curious) and here is number two...

I sincerely hope that I'm not just turning into a cranky atheist here (if so, please forgive me) but, I've got to say, this video really bothers me.  Actually, it's not so much the video, per se, but what it represents in the broader scheme of things.  Let me see if I can explain...

On one level, I totally get why kid centered Christian videos are so popular.  I mean, children are cute, there's no doubt about it.  And lest you think I'm some sort of heartless curmudgeon, let me voluntarily cop to the fact that I've laughed myself silly to videos like "Baby Laughing Hysterically at Ripping Paper" from time to time.  (Full disclosure...I may have just taken a break from blogging to watch it again).

Having said that, what bugs me is the underlying fact that Christians are totally o.k., generally speaking, with the ultra heavy indoctrination of children into religion (if you have any lingering doubts about this, just listen again to the robust applause at the end of the video).  I mean, this kid is clearly mimicking what he has seen and heard from the adults in his life.  I don't think any of us, regardless of our other differences, would even attempt to dispute such a plain and obvious fact.  

So, before I tell you what's getting my goat, let me outline the two primary reasons (I believe) Christians take this (indoctrination oriented) approach to the instruction of children to begin with...

Firstly, Christian parents know full well that most people accept Christ at a young age; statistically speaking.  In the comments section of a previous post, Dave drew my attention to this page, which outlines the "missions strategy" of the popular Awana kids program:

"There is a marvelous window of opportunity in the lifetime of most people to reach them with the Gospel and the Word of God.  And that window is while they are young, moldable, and teachable.  Statistics show across the world that the majority of people who will ever come to Christ do so between the ages of 4 and 14.  With every year after age 14, people become less receptive to spiritual things and less receptive to the Gospel."  (bolding mine)

Enough said on that point, for now, but I'll return to it in a moment.

Secondly, Christians believe that the Bible effectively tells them to raise kids in this manner.  In Proverbs 22:6 it says, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it".  This verse could be applied to any number of parenting issues (some of which I would be totally fine with) but, more often than not, believers simply take it as God's way of directing them to teach their kids Christianity.  Full stop.  

I think there's also a third reason, but it's not one that many church going parents will readily admit to; fear.  According to most evangelicals, people who fail to accept Christ before they die will live on in unspeakable torment for trillions upon trillions upon trillions of years.  It doesn't take a genius to put the pieces together: a) people are radically more likely to accept Christ as children, plus b) anyone who dies without Christ will go to hell, equals c) it is imperative that I convince my kids to accept Christ, before it's too late!

That said, my views on this issue have radically changed since losing my faith.  First off, let me state plainly that I do not intend to indoctrinate my kids into atheism.  In fact, I now think it would be irresponsible of me to do so.  Why?  Well, for precisely the same reasons I have such a problem with the video above (only in the reverse)...namely, children are gullible.  There, I said it.  And you know it's true.  Kids will believe nearly anything adults tell them (especially their parents) so it's morally questionable, at best, to insist that all of our own conclusions are the "correct" ones and that those who disagree are simply "wrong" (even if we think they are).  This last statement will no doubt be somewhat controversial, even among my fellow skeptics, but I stand by it.  As parents, we need to strive for a certain measure of humility.  (Having said that I do plan to teach my kids critical thinking skills.  I would argue that we should all do the same, but that's for another post.)

To make matters worse, the brain of a child works differently than that of an adult.  By way of example, it's now known that the region of the brain which inhibits risky behavior does not fully form until age 25.

For these reasons, among others, some atheists have even suggested that religious indoctrination is a form of mental child abuse.  While I'm not prepared to go this far, personally, I do think they have a very strong point (and not one that most Christians will have pondered before).  Let's re-visit that quote from Awana, changing as few of the words as possible...

"There is a marvelous window of opportunity, for indoctrination, in the lifetime of most people. And that window is while children are still young, impressionable, and gullible.  Statistics show across the world that the majority of people, who will ever accept their parents religious views, do so between the ages of 4 and 14.  With every year after age 14, kids become smarter, and less likely to simply believe whatever adults tell them without question or independent investigation."

Christian, would you be alright with the above statement if Awana (or your church) were to actually word it in this way?  Now take another look at Awana's real phrasing, and ask yourself, what's the difference?

If it's truly imperative to reach kids for Christ, before the age of 14, what does that suggest about the evidence for Christianity?  Is it strong enough to convince any fair minded adult, or isn't it? And, if it's not, than what right does your God have to punish unbelievers eternally?  Were it not for the indoctrination of children, would religions even survive long term?  (Any of them?)

Allow me to close on a more personal note...whatever it is that my own kids come to believe about religion, in the end analysis, I just want them to know that I respect their right to think for themselves.  I'll be here to help them however I can. 

Everyone deserves that much.  Don't you think?


  1. That doesn't surprise me at all. William Lane Craig, despite all his elaborate backwards-rationalizing, attributes his faith primarily to experiencing the holy ghost as a teenager. *Of course* kids are easier to dupe. And by the time they're adults, even if they're generally rational people, they'll have compartmentalized their beliefs and attached great emotional significance to them, making them very difficult to reason with on that matter.

    Oh, and never apologize for being a cranky atheist!

  2. So true. I commented on Craig's conversion here,

  3. Excellent post. I'm glad you've decided not to indoctrinate your kids and I like your statement: "I just want them to know that I respect their right to think for themselves." Everyone should be able to make their own choice and not be forced into a belief system.

  4. Thanks Dave. I enjoyed learning a little more about you, from your Random Thoughts blog, and I look forward to following along.

  5. I would not have wanted to indoctrinate my kids. I agree that it's important for young people to develop critical thinking skills, and the ability to reason for themselves.

    However, on the other hand, I certainly shared my faith with all my kids, took them to church, spoke of the love of God when they were very young.

    Where is the fine line between this, and simple indoctrination? Certainly all children are going to be strongly influenced by their parents one way or the other without us even trying.

    Parenting is a tremendous gift, and responsibility. We don't receive specialized training, and only get to do it one time around with each child. Generally, I think most people are doing the best that they can.


  6. I don't claim to know where the fine line is, but certainly it's a question worth wrestling with. (I'm sure we can both agree on that point.)

    I think, in part, it's the difference between saying, "this is what Mommy and Daddy believe but we want you to look into these things for yourselves"...and, on the flip side, "the Bible is the truth but those who don't believe it are eternally 'lost'.

    Most of my fellow "de-converts" would say that they were not encouraged to think for themselves, as children, and they were certainly never exposed to the other side of any of the arguments (much less encouraged to pursue them independently).

  7. "I decree and declare they will never be broke a day in their life".

    One of the things I despise almost as much as the fundamentalist version of Christianity I was raised under is the new "prosperity" gospel preached by the likes of Joel Osteen. I guess people are starting to wise up to the guilt tripping tactics of fundamentalism, so now we have to lure them in with the promise of riches and health. And if that doesn't work, at least you can be entertained by the cute little kid on stage...

    1. Yeah, as if it could be plausibly argued that Jesus wants us to be rich (give me a break). If anything, he encouraged his followers to sell everything they had and come follow him (but, then again, in Jesus' defense, he did think the apocalypse was imminent after all).