Friday, June 16, 2017

Religion and indoctrination

I think it is a mistake to think of what churches do as some kind of forcible indoctrination. I've  never seen anything wrong with a parent presenting as true what the parent believes about religion, or politics, or any other controversial issue. Prior to adolescence, children will believe what their parents tell them. Then, guess what? They reach adolescence. They hang out with people outside their religious cocoon. They even go to college. The beliefs they learned as children will act as a template which they will test against what they are experiencing in peer relationships and from their teachers. 
Now some people teach religions in ways that make children afraid of questioning.  But that is not universal in religious education, and it was not my experience. 


Starhopper said...

I was raised in a large, traditional Catholic family (6 children). We said grace before every meal, had a crucifix in the hallway and a Madonna and Child image in the family room (and a picture of President Kennedy in the kitchen). We went to Mass every Sunday and Holy Day as a family, and went to CCD (Catholic for "Sunday School") every week and for two solid weeks at the beginning of each summer vacation. There was a family Bible in the living room, alongside a gigantic, profusely illustrated book named "Our Catholic Faith".

The results of all that "indoctrination"? I and one brother remain Catholic. Another brother is a militant atheist. One sister is a fervent Evangelical Protestant. Another sister is a non-practicing Catholic. And another brother is a "none" (probably never even thinks about such things).

So much for indoctrination!

Eric Sotnak said...

" was not my experience."

Maybe, but maybe not. I think it is probably true that a great many of people who have, in fact, been indoctrinated will deny that they have been indoctrinated, if asked.

I am confident it is possible to come up with a number of different accounts of indoctrination (some stronger and some weaker than others) by varying what one takes to be the necessary and sufficient conditions. I am also confident that there will be easier and harder cases of judgment in deciding whether or not a particular case should count as an instance of indoctrination. Just as an example, consider a young Earth creationist who has been told about evolution and old Earth geology, but where such accounts are deficient in accuracy. Such a person will probably say, "I wasn't indoctrinated; I've studied evolution and after critical examination rejected it on the basis of solid reasoning." I think it is likely that by some accounts of what counts as indoctrination this statement would turn out to be true, while by others it would turn out to be false.

It may also turn out to be reasonable to hold that indoctrination comes in degrees -- one might be more or less indoctrinated. It might even turn out that there is such a broad continuum that nearly everyone (or possibly even absolutely everyone) will turn out by such a graduated standard to be indoctrinated to some degree. So perhaps we should all not be too hasty to assert with confidence that surely we are not indoctrinated. There is a clear parallel here with cognitive biases -- we are all subject to them, and the spectre of irony looms over us if we assert that we are wholly unbiased.

Starhopper said...

The problem here is one with terminology. What's wrong with "upbringing" or "character development" - heck, even just "education"?

Brainwashing and indoctrination are loaded, agenda-driven terms. I had a Catholic upbringing. I was educated in the specifics of the faith. I was raised to act rightly and to approve of others' right actions, as well as to "avoid the near occasion of sin" and to disapprove of (or even to hate, if appropriate) wrongdoing. My parents provided me with examples of hard work, discipline, and good character, and gave me opportunities to grow those traits within myself.

How about using language like that?

John B. Moore said...

One important difference is whether you're punished for not accepting the teachings. Parents can certainly "present" their beliefs as true for their children, but suppose the children decide to believe differently? Is the parent going to throw the kid out of the house for that? This is what I hear about in many churches and religious families.

David Duffy said...

"This is what I hear"

There you go.

John B. Moore said...

For example: "Life pro tip: don't tell your parents till you move out." (Reddit discussion)

If you guys ever wondered what it's like to actually be an atheist, you could browse some of these boards on Reddit.

Starhopper said...

The real question everyone is tiptoeing around here is "What rights do parents have in bringing up their children?"

Is it OK to raise your offspring in such a way that their adult views will (hopefully) mirror your own? For millennia, this was called "civilizing the next generation". Now it's accused of being brainwashing or indoctrination. Yet without active parental involvement in raising youth to be responsible, caring, honest, hardworking, fair, decent, contributing members of society, then we all might as well just be raised by wolves. (That was my own mother's most biting criticism of me when I disappointed her. "What's wrong with you? Were you raised by wolves?" I was also regularly threatened with being "sold to the Gypsies", but let's not go there just now.)

If a parent sincerely believes (as I do) that the development good character is made more probable by the instilling of a deep religious faith, then there ought not be any objection to raising a child to be a believer.

As C.S. Lewis famously said, the opposite of good religion is not no religion, it's bad religion.

oozzielionel said...

"Indoctrination" is what people who believe differently do. "Education" is what people who believe similarly do. Pejorative words are not helpful to the discussion.

Victor Reppert said...

It would be of interest to generate a scale of 1 to 10 on the extent to which it matters to a person, atheist or believer, that others believe as they do. I don't think you can make the case that atheists care less about the beliefs of others than believers. At least not these days. It does matter to atheists whether others reject religious beliefs. And what matters a lot concerning the beliefs of others in general matters also to the beliefs of our children.

oozzielionel said...

There are several factors to rate on your scale:
1) How much does it matter to you that your children adopt your values and beliefs?
2) How much do you want to shield your children from contrary values and beliefs?
3) To what extent do you want to influence children other than yours?
4) To what extent do you want society to reflect your values and beliefs?
5) What harm do you calculate when society's values and beliefs differ from yours?
6) To what extent do you believe that your values and beliefs reflect what is true and right?

Starhopper said...

Good points all, Oozzie. But your last one is all that really counts. If you believe your values are true and right, then of course you're going to at the very least hope that others share them. Number five follows from the last point. The more you believe that actual harm will result from holding contrary values, then you're not only going to hope others agree with you, you're likely to take steps to see that they do.

When it comes to one's children, things get considerably more complicated. It's natural for a parent to wish to pass along to their offspring not only their genes, but also their ideals, values, and beliefs. As an example, it explains why military service tends to run in families. I imagine that the fact I spent some years in uniform was influenced by my hearing my father's reminiscences about WWII. Without them, I might never have chosen to go that route.

And one's beliefs about God are potentially the most important thing about a person. He'd have to be crazy to not want to pass them on to his children.

David Brightly said...

I for one am not willing to put in the hard work needed to distinguish indoctrination from education. It's a bit like trying to fix the fuzzy line between 'hate speech' and 'non-hate speech'. Better, in my view, to isolate specific incitements within the former on which general agreement might be secured, even at the cost of missing other, hopefully rarer, instances. Besides, as Oozzie says, 'indoctrination', which can be seen as just 'passing on the teaching', has acquired a pejorative sense with which to beat others. We educate, you indoctrinate. 'Brainwashing' is different again, carrying the sense that belief is coerced, perhaps by putting the subject into extreme psychological states.