My post last week on speaking about religion with kids in neutral terms has definitely ruffled some feathers. The comment thread features some folks who believe quite strongly that religion should be treated like the enemy — and that atheist parents are misleading their kids by speaking objectively about the subject. Interestingly (or maybe not), it’s a perspective I encounter far more often in people who have not yet had children. In a post today by fellow Patheos blogger Kaveh Mousav (the pseudonym used by an ex-Muslim atheist living in Iran — brave chap!), Kaveh argues that he plans to teach his children (when he has them) that religion is nonsense, period. And others have chimed in that indoctrinating kids into atheism is A-Okay as long as it doesn’t involve abuse.
Now, there’s no doubt that there are some striking differences between religious and non-religious indoctrination. With non-religious indoctrination, kids are never threatened with hell, for instance, or made to worry that an all-powerful being is judging their every move. (Thank God for that.) But there are plenty of negative consequences nonetheless. More and more, for example, as atheism goes mainstream, we run the risk of creating a generation of anti-religious zealots — children who grow up with no understanding of why anyone would hang on to religious beliefs, no empathy for those who do, and no ability to explore those beliefs for themselves.
For the purposes of my book, Relax, It’s Just God, which comes out in February (yes, you just witnessed shameless self-promotion), I define indoctrination as the halfway mark between simple suggestion and full-on brainwashing. You can be reasonably sure you are indoctrinating your kids if you teach them: [Read more...]