To indoctrinate is not to educate. To indoctrinate is to fill the mind with doctrine, a doctrine that cannot be questioned. No one is better at indoctrination than religious institutions. They strive to acquire young people, whose brains are open and willing to accept information. They know that once they’ve drilled the dogma into the grey matter of young boys and girls, with repetition, rituals and ceremonies, their chances of retaining them in the flock for life is dramatically increased.
Many parents subject their children to this indoctrination willingly, which is part and parcel of the end result of the parents’ early indoctrination. They don’t stop to question if they should enroll their small child in a religious school, or a Sunday school, or a catechism class. They do it almost on autopilot, as they were programmed to do in their own training.
If you consider the history of Christianity and its spread around the world, you will see the effects of widespread indoctrination. Christians were ruthless about their spread of the faith, with imprisonment, torture or death as the price for resistance. The Crusades, the Inquisitions, the witch-hunts, were all aggressive forms of indoctrination, even if that was not their stated intent. Here’s a direct quote from the Inquisitors Handbook regarding the purpose of the harsh penalties for heretics and other non-believers:
“… for punishment does not take place primarily and per se for the correction and good of the person punished, but for the public good in order that others may become terrified and weaned away from the evils they would commit.”[i]
If you were lucky enough to escape the inquisitors, but watched your neighbors get burned at the stake, you might start thinking Catholicism was a good plan for your family’s immediate future. Your children receive the indoctrination and the faith spreads.
There is scientific evidence that demonstrates how difficult it is for the human brain to accept new information that is contrary to deep-seated beliefs. The first reaction is emotional, similar to the fight or flight response to danger, and this defense mechanism is much quicker than our cognitive reasoning. So while the new information may be factually accurate, backed with evidence and data to support it, we refuse to believe it, sticking instead to our core beliefs. We begin building rationalizations around what we do believe, and dismiss the conflicting information.
This article explains the science behind why we don’t believe the science and I encourage you to read it. It doesn’t deal with religion specifically, but the concepts are the same. Few beliefs can get deeper in the psyche than religious beliefs with their supernatural explanations for the things we don’t understand, their promises of immortality, the Big Brother in the sky watching over us, and of course the rules we must follow under the threat of eternal punishment. Once those beliefs sink in, they are extremely difficult to overcome. I personally spent many years not really believing the teachings any more, but still feeling them, deep down somewhere in the primitive areas of the brain. Even now, as I continue studying the natural world and the sciences, and looking at the religious teachings in a new light, the light of critical thinking, logic and skepticism, I can still feel that light tug of the transcendent.
It’s why I will continue to fight against the indoctrination of children into religion. They will be taught the beliefs as truth, even though they are fables. They will be convinced of the factual existence of a mind-reading god in the sky, without any evidence to support it. Worse though, they will be taught not to question. To accept the teachings as truth without so much as a raised hand. They do not have the developed critical thinking skills to make sense of the contradictions and the illogical premises. As they mature and start to learn about the real world, not the supernatural world, conflicts will be created and confusion will set in. They may solve the conflicts quickly and retire the demons and angels along with Santa and the Tooth Fairy. But they may not.
Let your children learn about religion when the time is right in their education, and let them learn it in a historical context, as part of their cultural learning, not factual learning. I’ve done this with my children and I promise you, you’ll be glad you did. My children are 19 and 16 and they are bright, curious young people. They know about religion because I’ve taught them about it. They know that some people believe in it just like some people believe that 13 is an unlucky number, or that the stars and planetary alignment at the time of their birth impact their personality. They know the history of religion and the premises they believe in. My children have gone to church services with their friends, had Seder dinner at Passover and celebrated Christmas and Hanukah. But they were spared the indoctrination and can look at religion as just another aspect of cultural life like music, art, literature and tradition.
Religion was born during mankind’s youth out of curiosity and ignorance. We’ve grown as a species and are now perhaps young adults. It’s time to leave our toys and children’s books in a trunk in the closet and move forward into the prime of our lives, where our ability to learn and create and innovate will change the world for the better. We need to let religion die a quiet death, but not a slow one. The longer it sticks around poisoning the water supply, the greater the chance we’ll get sick, and while we’ve recovered from all the times it’s made us sick before, we’ve got bigger weapons now than we had during the Crusades, and we’ve already shown we’re not afraid to use them.