In defense of religious ‘brainwashing’
Originally published at the USU SHAFT site.
In the video, several atheists relate their Christian upbringing, which they now not-so-fondly remember as brainwashing. Dawkins has sometimes gone so far as to claim that religious education is a form of child abuse. It can be, but the complaints made by the atheists in the video struck me as petty. There are too many grave injustices in this world for me to care about your being dragged to church every Sunday as a child. (Though Ill admit that my religious upbringing wasnt very strict, and I generally dont regret my experience in Mormonism.)
The main point of the film is that its wrong for religions and religious people to target the youth. But if you believed in a real, literal Hell, youd be obligated to do all you could to ensure that your kids averted it. Just as you wouldnt let your kids drink poison to find out its lethal, you wouldnt expose them to or let them hold poisonous (read atheistic) beliefs that would imperil their salvation. If that requires a degree of so-called brainwashing or indoctrination, then so be it. Were I ever to have kids, I would of course try to teach them to be open-minded, critical thinkers. Id even encourage them to investigate the worlds religious traditions. But thats a luxury I have as someone who doesnt believe in the threat of Hell.
To be sure, I think the degree to which religious parents inculcate religious beliefs in their children is often detrimentalespecially when those beliefs are terror-inducing, like the concept of Hell. But this video misidentifies the problem. The problem isnt the indoctrination so much as its content. It doesnt make sense to ask Christians to stop steeping their children in their respective religious faith or to stop proselytizing. To ask this of a Christian is to ask them to be a hypocrite. Again, if you believe in a real Hell, its imperative that you save people from it. No, the only appropriate response is to challenge the very belief (in this case, Hell) that is motivating the actions.
And another thing: Isnt everything you teach children a form of brainwashing? Kids are evolutionarily primed to be sponges for information. Kids may be born atheists, as the video asserts, but they are not born critical-thinkers. Theyre curious, granted, but theyre nonetheless impressionable. Critical thinking is a skill that requires a fully-developed brain and years of intellectual exercise. Even were you to teach your children skepticism, they would accept those lessons unskeptically.
Whats more, I have a hard time believing that the people interviewed here are not raising their kids to be atheists, just as the religious parents raise their kids to be religious. Why is the latter brainwashing, but the former not? Because Christians host concerts and pizza parties (how nefarious!)? Give me a break. Were not talking about a pedophile luring kids into his van with candy, but sincere religious people concerned about the spiritual well-being of their children.
Im very supportive of the movement for nonbelievers to come out of the proverbial closet, but it seems many new atheists expect religious people to go into one. Id rather everyone have a voice in the public square, the marketplace of ideas. The more debate and discussion, the better. This video, though, trades in the kind of lazy accusations and caricatures of religious people that do little to advance our dialogue.