My wife recently brought to my attention a statement she read online by an opponent of “religion” (who was obviously directing their criticism toward Christians). Because it’s a criticism frequently leveled, I thought it deserved some response.
When faced with the accusation that you “force your religion on your children”, the first thing to do is ask the critic to clearly explain what he means by “forcing or imposing a belief or religion” on others.
FORCING A BELIEF – Could I “force” you to adopt the belief that a triangle has four sides by holding a gun to your head? You might verbally state that a triangle has four sides in order to save your own hide, but would you actually believe it? The fact is, one could not even force himself to adopt such a belief. I could not “force” myself to believe that 2+2=7 no matter how much I tried. Clearly, Christian parents cannot “force” their children to believe anything.
IMPOSING A BELIEF – Critics might nevertheless accuse the parent of “imposing” his belief by insisting that (or behaving as if) his belief or religion is true. The critic’s hidden premise here is that either (A) one cannot have religious knowledge, or (B) one cannot have any knowledge, or (C) that your religious belief is, in fact, false.
Can one have religious knowledge? – Objections to religious knowledge are usually ground in the critic’s theory of knowledge, which usually takes some form of empiricism, i.e., the view that one can only know what one can observe with his senses (“seeing is believing”). Empiricism, however, is logically self-refuting because one cannot observe the veracity of empiricism via sensory experience (i.e., since empiricism fails to satisfy its own conditions for truth, one could never know it). There are other irrational views similar to empiricism (e.g., logical positivism, methodological naturalism, materialism, physicalism, etc.), but space doesn’t allow for a comprehensive discussion. Suffice it to say that if you apply the critic’s criteria of knowledge against his own claims, his position will reduce to an absurdity.
Can one have any knowledge at all? – Some critics hold that one cannot know any truth at all, either because (A) it simply isn’t possible to acquire it (skepticism), or (B) no such thing as objective truth exists (relativism). Both positions suffer the same fate as empiricism. If one can never acquire knowledge, then one could never claim to know skepticism is true. Similarly, if no objective truth exists, then relativism is not objectively true. Since both positions are self-refuting, it’s clear that some propositional beliefs are objectively true, and some propositions can, in fact, be known.
Is Your Belief True? – You have a responsibility to learn what you believe, and why you believe it. Once you’ve done that, go on the offensive and make the critic bear the burden of proving his alternative to your world view. Unless the critic can give a cogent, demonstrative argument against your view and for his own, his claims are nothing more than sound and fury signifying nothing.
“You Think You’re Right!” – Ever heard that one? It’s a supremely absurd criticism. Of course we think we’re right, just like the critic believes he is right. No rational person would ever sincerely affirm a proposition and then declare, “oh, by the way, the content of my belief is false”. The critic may respond by stating that he only takes his belief to be “true for me”. Well, “true for me” turns out to be a sloppy paraphrase for “I believe”. Your response should be, “Yes, I know what you believe, but is it actually true, i.e. does it correspond to objective reality?” Don’t let the critic merely repeat his mantra like a broken record. Press him to explain the truth-status of his claims.
DO CHRISTIAN PARENTS INDOCTRINATE THEIR CHILDREN? – Since the classical meaning of “indoctrinate” means to instruct or teach, what the critic seems to be implying is that the Christian parent has no right to instruct his children in a Christian worldview. The critic might also be accusing Christian parents of teaching their children to uncritically accept anything they’re taught.
The Right To Teach Children – Where do we get our rights? If rights are given by the state, the state could then take away those rights. The reason our Founding Fathers ground inalienable rights in our Creator is to observe that no state had the authority to deprive humans of their intrinsic rights. Suffice it to say that the unbelieving critic will ground rights in the state, and the Christian will ground rights in God. And anyone who believes that big-government bureaucrats actually care more about children than parents probably has no children, or else indicts himself as a delinquent parent. (For a discussion about what happens when the state usurps parental authority, see my later post on “The Village School System”.)
Uncritical Acceptance Of Instruction? – Is the critic implying that the child ought to doubt what he is taught? If he believes so based on either skepticism or relativism, then the critic is clearly wrong, as we noted earlier. Perhaps the critic is simply stating that children ought to be free to ask questions about what they are taught. If that’s all he’s saying, then of course children should be free to ask questions. The fact that one may find an example of a parent dissuading his child from asking questions is hardly demonstrative of a generalization about religious parenting. One can find such examples anywhere, from the most religious to the most secular.
MODERN “TOLERANCE” – Many critics subscribe to a modern definition of tolerance; a relativist view which holds that there is no objective truth, hence, all views are equally valid. Applied to parenting, it means that parents ought to present many world views and allow the child to choose whatever he wants to believe (and for those who raise their child in this manner, see my later post, “Reality: A Multiple-Choice Quiz”). First, we already saw that relativism is self-refuting. Second, those who subscribe to this view of tolerance are hypocritical and only tolerate others who do not challenge their beliefs. Contradict a “tolerant” critic and he will quickly reveal his intolerant stripes. Ultimately, we ought to exercise a classic view of tolerance, which means we respect another’s right to hold and share a different belief, but we need not respect the belief itself, nor must we accept any immoral behavior associated with such beliefs.
WHAT TO THINK OR HOW TO THINK? – Some critics believe children should not be taught what to think, but, instead, should be taught how to think.
How To Think – Certainly children need to be given tools to learn how to think, e.g., laws of logic, philosophy, methods of investigation and research, and so forth. But without teaching children what to think regarding, for example, laws of logic, they’re not going to have the tools for knowing how to think.
What To Think – What about items not directly relating to how to think? Should we not also teach children what to think, e.g., that George Washington was the first president of the USA, or that a triangle has three sides, or the order of the planets? How about the causal principle, i.e., that no event occurs without a cause? Or that a big bang requires a big Banger? Or that objective moral laws logically presuppose an objective Lawgiver? In the end, the critic simply cannot stand that children are taught things to which he, the critic, is opposed. The critic certainly teaches what he believes to be true to his own children or students, but he doesn’t want to extend the same freedom to others. (For a discussion about a child’s opinion on the matter of being taught religious truth, see my later post, “…And They Will Not Depart From It.”)
The Final Word – Critics of Biblical parenting desire to usurp parental authority in hopes of marginalizing Biblical theists, excluding them from political discourse regarding all manner of ethical considerations within the public square. Upon examination, one finds that the critic’s accusations amount to empty slogans which lack substance, rational ground or thoughtful analysis.
For those interested in defending their Christian world view, here is a list of books on Christian apologetics and philosophy. I’ll list the books in order of complexity or depth:
- Love Your God with All Your Mind: The Role of Reason in the Life of the Soul
- Philosophical Foundations for a Christian Worldview
- The Blackwell Companion to Natural Theology