Re-Re-Defining the Word “Indoctrination”

So I’m a member of a few “religious” groups on Facebook. I say “religious” with the quotes and all because they do like talking about religion, and some of the discussions are very interesting, but sometimes I have to wonder what I’m doing on the groups, because some of the members are so jaded towards anyone who chooses a religious lifestyle that it throws me off… wayyyyy off… like… I’m falling over off. And while I do enjoy the discussions that often arise, there are many times where I’m just like “I really don’t get you people.

I just needed a feature image for the post, guys. I'm not trying to say anything about public education...

I just needed a feature image for the post, guys. I’m not trying to say anything about public education…

One good example of this is when anyone says something to the effect of “I’m not going to be like the parents who indoctrinate their children to believe in such and such. That would be wrong.” Whenever something like that is said, it often comes off in very condescending fashion, as if to say “I’m a better parents than those religious lemmings, feeding their kids the party line.” And that drives me nuts. Which is why I want to talk about Indoctrination today.

Usually we associate someone who “indoctrinates” as someone who is a member of a cult, who convinces his/her followers to do some despicable thing in the name of deity or whatever. But more and more I see it thrown around in relation to church (which in some cases I guess I can understand, but I still think it’s generally an unfair assessment) and even to family. And 99 times out of 100, I think that is completely unfair and wrong. Here’s why:

Parents are doing their best to bring their children up right. They’re teaching them how to do right based on their own understanding of the world. If you’re a parent, that’s exactly what you do. They’re trying to help there kids “be good,” if you want to simplify the idea. If you take the definition of indoctrination literally, then that is it, and it means that ALL parents are indoctrinating their kids. Yup. Even me and you. Because we, on some level or another, want our kids to see the world the way we see it. And guess what!? There’s nothing wrong with that!

“Well… yeah… but what about parents who teach people to believe in an afterlife when there’s nothing in science that proves there is an afterlife. That’s teaching them to believe something uncritically. That’s not right.”

I will give you this one though. I do see the irony here... but still. Just stick with me to the end.

I will give you this one though. I do see the irony here… but still. Just stick with me to the end.

When people use that argument, it seems to me that underneath it all, what they’re really saying is “I don’t agree with those views, so I think it must be indoctrination.” And that is the crux of it. it only becomes “Indoctrination” in your mind when you disagree with it. But lets look at it from another perspective.

“When my kids get older, I’m not going to teach them any religion, but I’m going to just let them decide whether they want religion when they get older.”

I hear that a lot in some of the Facebook groups I participate in. Guess what? That’s still pretty much indoctrination by my view.

“Yeah, but forcing them into religion can be harmful.”

I agree that your perspective is probably healthy. But let me say for the sake of argument, that regardless of whether there is or isn’t an afterlife (there’s no point arguing about it. You either believe in one or you don’t) maybe it’s good for some people to have the outlook that someday (even if it isn’t in this life) things will get better. Maybe encouraging your children to believe in something better, maybe you’re helping them to have a more positive outlook that will help them through the hard times. And if it helps, then who cares if it’s irrational? For that matter, is there really harm in “indoctrinating” kids to believe that Santa is real? We all agree that that’s a lie, but many of us tell them that anyway, because believing in magic, even when we know it’s not real, will still make life more magical. And what is wrong with that?

Lets take it from another perspective altogether now. Let’s say you’re going along, telling your kids to be respectful, patient (and letting them decide whether to believe in the supernatural or not), but you constantly condescend to people with religious beliefs. Guess what then? You’re probably indoctrinating your kids to think that it’s okay to mock people who view the world differently from you. You didn’t mean to. But that is the message you sent. And although I haven’t been a parent long, I can already tell you that I’ve realized how much more quickly your kids pick up on your actions then your “indoctrination.” On top of that, maybe they won’t bother to try and find religion, (and I believe most people need it, whether they know it or not) but because they saw their parents cynical views, perhaps they won’t give it a try.

You could list off a million examples. What if you tell your kids they need to control their temper, but then they see you slamming doors or punching walls or shouting or whatever. Bet they’ll pick up on your actions and not your words. And there it happens again.

To bring it back to my original point: In all these examples, I believe parents are all trying to do their best. But nobody is perfect. Some times we’ll teach our kids well. Sometimes people make mistakes and give their kids the wrong idea about life. Sometimes parents words or actions, even when made with the best of intentions, are even harmful for their kids. But that’s why we should all be more forgiving and more understanding. If someone is raising their kids with a different viewpoint than yours, please don’t leap to indoctrination to describe their parenting.

I’ve focused on non-religious people vs. religious for most of this post. But I don’t believe it only applies that way. That is simply the result of the Facebook crowds I run in. I do hope that religious parents will do the same and cut parents who have different religious beliefs (or no religious beliefs) more slack. Life is hard. Sometimes its hard to see a world where religion makes sense. Don’t condescend to parents (or people) who believe differently. It just won’t help anyone.

I don't know what this means.... I'm not even sure what it's doing here... Ignore this image unless you can actually make sense of it. If you can make sense of it... please explain it to me in the comments...

I don’t know what this means…. I’m not even sure what it’s doing here… Ignore this image unless you can actually make sense of it. If you can make sense of it… please explain it to me in the comments…

the words “to indoctrinate” have such a negative connotation these days. Lets save those words for when they are truly appropriate, and let everyone else have a little break before we accuse them of anything besides being a flawed person trying to do their best for their children.


One thought on “Re-Re-Defining the Word “Indoctrination”

  1. Wayne

    I agree that we all “indoctrinate” to some extent. As a parent-the most important thing is how we act, because the kids see right through what we say—-if it is just words—-I love being a Dad but is tough work sometimes when all we want is happy children with good lives who do the right things.


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