A common accusation made against Christians by skeptics is that we indoctrinate our children. Not only is the skeptic making this accusation, but also making a judgment that it is morally wrong. So what is indoctrination, do Christians indoctrinate, and can an atheist object on moral grounds?
What is Indoctrination?
To indoctrinate someone, or a group of people, is to teach them to accept a set of beliefs uncritically. By this definition, I’m sure there are parents who indoctrinate their children with Christian beliefs. But notice that this definition doesn’t only apply to Christians, or religious people. This could be said of any teaching.
My parents taught me that Christianity is true. They also taught me to value inquiry and education. If I ever had a doubt, they would offer an answer, or admit they didn’t know. However, I was never told, “Never ask questions! These beliefs cannot be questioned!” A belief that cannot be questioned, or criticized, is probably not a justifiable belief. Let me be clear: I know of no Christian parents who indoctrinate their children. I’m not saying there aren’t some that do, but the norm would seem to be that while Christian parents teach their children that Christianity is true, they don’t punish them for being critical, or having questions. The idea that Christian parents in general indoctrinate their children in this way is absurd. It’s really a “below the belt” accusation that reveals the weakness of the accuser’s position. Rather than have a rational and cordial conversation about the strength and weaknesses of Christian theism, some skeptics have resorted to this ad hominem attack on Christian parents.
A Biblical View of Children
The Bible teaches that all children whether they belong to Christian parents, or not, are made in the image of God. The Bible teaches that God loves all children – so much that He sent His only Son to reconcile them to Himself. The Bible teaches that parents should teach their children God’s word, the Bible. Parents should also love their children unconditionally. My dad once told me, “There’s nothing you can do to make me stop loving you, so stop trying.” On the biblical worldview, children are to be loved by their parents, no matter what decisions they make for themselves. They may ultimately choose to walk away from Christianity. If so, parents should love and treat them no less. A Christian parent who indoctrinates their children is in error. We should welcome questions and critiques. Questions lead to answers, and this leads to a more solid foundation.
A Darwinian View of Children
On the atheistic worldview, children are the by-product of an unguided natural process. They have no more inherent value than any other animal. Ironically, on an atheistic worldview, there is no justification for the existence of objective morals. Morality had an evolutionary advantage, but it is not objectively real or binding, only illusory. So, how can an atheist say that it is morally wrong for Christian parents to indoctrinate their children? I say that it is wrong, but on my worldview there do exist objective morals. The atheist is bound to a worldview in which two things do not exist: (1) the inherent value of children, and (2) objective morals. They cannot object to the immorality of indoctrination, and they cannot self-righteously pretend that their worldview somehow values children over-and-against a Christian-theistic worldview.
As a children’s minister, I don’t take the accusation of indoctrination lightly. I teach my kids to think critically for themselves. Yes, I teach them the tenets of the faith, but I would never suggest that they should accept them uncritically. Kids are naturally inquisitive. They are constantly asking me questions about God, Jesus, and the Bible through a critical lens. I encourage them to do so. I don’t want them to be Christians because mom and dad are. I want them to be Christians because they have examined the evidence, reasoned well, and reached the conclusion that the claims of Christianity are true. If they ultimately walk away from Christianity, I would love them no less.