Forcing Religion On Your Children

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:

92 thoughts on “Forcing Religion On Your Children

  1. Well said. How can someone expect you to believe something but NOT “behave as if it were true” or NOT teach it to your children??? That just makes no sense – what is the value of a belief if you don’t live it out or it is not worthy of sharing? If someone is able to concede that their belief might be only “true for me” then they are basically admitting that it is not real “truth” at all. My husband and I are committed to teaching our children our beliefs and as they get older, to encourage honest questions, critical thinking, and truth-seeking rather than just offering pat answers and or suggesting that they should just believe it “because I said so” so-to-speak. Great post!


  2. I think homeschoolers get this thrown at them a lot because many of them do cite religion as a reason to homeschool. It’s just usually one of many reasons though.
    There are definitely people who have accused my parents of using homeschooling to ‘indoctrinate’ me and my siblings growing up, but the fact of the matter is we all turned out to have some pretty different views on major things. We were taught to think for ourselves and research matters to find answers. Turns out we sometimes come to different conclusions than our parents!
    Unless a person is completely ok with being told how and what to think, there is no way a parent could truly force their beliefs long past adolescence.


  3. Interesting that the sacrosanct religion of evolution, sustained by non-existent fossil evidence and fantastical assumptions, is never considered to be forced on Christian children in government schools.

    Ephesians 6:4
    And, ye fathers, provoke not your children to wrath: but bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.


  4. Pingback: Reblog: “Forcing Religion on Your Children” « forgiven but not forgotten

  5. Good discussion. Apparently he was addressing me. I was homeschooled in the 90s during a period where there was a heavy movement called Christian Patriarchy. During this time there were key homeschool leaders who taught several key things (1) emotional purity- aka, dating (even without having any sex or wrong physical contact) was damaging your heart and virginity (2) no birth control and have a lot of kids (3) young earth creationism (4) modesty. I actually used to wear a bathing suit that went past my knees and had long sleeves. (5) homeschooling (6) patriarchy, daughters and wives alike must submit to the father, even grown daughters (6) daughters were discouraged from going to college, (7) it is more holy to do things by scratch. (8) Reformation is the most godly period with the victorian age right behind it .

    You can read more about this movement and the damage it did here:

    Here’s a list of survivor blogs, people my age who were homeschooled in the 90s and have grown up to take it all back:

    Christian Patriarchy was not unusual in the 90s. In my homeschool group as a kid of 100 families, the majority had large families, taught young earth creationism, social purity, and patriarchy. The extent that these things were held varied from family to family. Some families allowed their kids to wear dresses, some didn’t. Some where strict that this was the only Christian lifestyle, and anyone who didn’t have large families and homeschooling were sinning, and other families were relaxed about it. Not all people damaged their kids. Some did, some didn’t. My point is that indoctrination happened by the thousands and thousands in the 90s. Maybe there were thousands and thousands who were not indoctrinated. That’s fair enough. But I went to one Bill Gothard conference with what I remember to be 1,000 people alone.

    Do I believe in indoctrination? YES. Here you make an argument based on definition. I am very familiar with this argument. It is much the same argument my kids used today when one said, “No Miss so in so has a greenish car, and the other kid said no she has a turquoise car.” So I said “does everyone know what the color of her car looks like? well, then the word does not matter, the idea is that her car is the color which we know from our eyes. The word is just that, a word.” And seeing as we are bilingual, we use different words to refer to different concepts all the time.

    I’m using indoctrination to describe a concept of brainwashing and mind control. Call my definition of indoctrination Makro if you don’t like the word indoctrinator. No matter what word you use, green, turquoise, indoctrination, Makro exists. You believe in Makro too, I would hope. Is the parents at westboro baptist church Makrofying their kids? Yes, of course. Here’s a link to their latest. There is no way their kids can be that and not have been Makroed Ask anyone who has come out of cult and tell me there wasn’t Markofying involved.

    See, I don’t think teaching your kids your beliefs qualifies as Makrofying. I have a set of beliefs, and I live by them and teach them. But I do believe in teaching kids to also challenge all ideas, and that’s the thing, in cults where this is going on, challenging ideas is not allowed. Instead, they resort to labels. Liberal, feminists, God doesn’t love you, and that’s the true mark of a Markrofying system when the people are not allowed to challenge.


    • Lana,
      The OP was written prior to addressing you at your blog, so I wasn’t addressing you directly when I wrote it. I did, however, invite you to read it because it was relevant to an issue you raised.

      You noted several things taught within some “Christian Patriarchy” movement. Regardless of what was taught, you seem to be missing my point. The issue isn’t the particulars of what is taught. The issue is whether teaching one’s child what one believes to be true is unique to conservative Christian home-schoolers, and it’s clear that it’s certainly not something limited to Christian home-schoolers. Everyone (if they are being rationally consistent), regardless of whether they are Evangelical, atheist, or part of the movement in which you were raised, teach their kids what they believe to be true.

      It seems to me that your real criticism is not against homeschooling or religion, but against particular views you now take to be false. If that’s so, you ought to simply offer arguments against those particular views. I can offer example after example of public-schooled children committing all sorts of atrocities, but is that really an argument against public education? It may be an argument against a particular system of public education, but it doesn’t impugn the concept of public education itself.

      You then go on to suggest that many children are brainwashed or victims of mind-control. Well, if we’re talking about strapping someone down and holding their eyelids open with duct-tape while depriving them of sleep and forcing them to repeat mantras, then, of course, brain-washing exists, but not within homeschool environments. If you’re suggesting that people are brainwashed merely because they’re gullible enough not to examine what they’re taught, then I would respectfully disagree that such a thing constitutes an example of brainwashing at all. People in all walks of life accept ideas without critical examination. Children in public schools are taught darwinian macro-evolution and are expected to actually believe it as if it were fact. Many students uncritically accept such teachings. Are they being brainwashed?

      Finally, you stated that you teach kids to “challenge all ideas”. If all you’re saying is that students ought to be free to ask questions, then, as I noted in the OP, it certainly should be okay for students to do so. However, if it means that students ought to exhibit an a priori skepticism toward anything they are taught, some argument is needed in defense of such a view.


  6. ooops, I can’t edit the errors out of my posts. I didn’t mean to click it so soon. I meant emotional purity, not social purity. And I also meant that ATI conference had 10,000 people, not 1,000 people. See for documents on that homeschool cult. The ATI alumni have formed together to make our case that it was indoctrination at its worse.


  7. A lot of us atheists get angry at all the bad things that happen around the world and direct it at religion. I say this because it seems that much of the atheist presence on the internet is blown up or escalated. For instance, the claim that Christian parents force their religion on their kids might be true. I’m sure every Christian parent has at one point forced their kid to go to church on a Sunday morning or forced their kid to say grace before dinner. Obviously there is nothing wrong with these things and it is similar (and probably less harmful) to a parent watching a special on Nova that venerates Einstein (seriously, he married his cousin). So, technically the claim is correct if one discounts the connotations of the words but it is clear that many atheists do not discount the connotations and use them to fuel their anger.

    I don’t want to separate people into teams of Christians and Atheists or Civilized Atheists and Non-Civilized Atheists because I think it creates competition and politics that are counterproductive. After all, it is very hard to understand the issues and not get angry. I recently watched a documentary about a couple of young adults that grew up in the Westboro Baptist Church. They sacrificed having friends all throughout school to promote their radical beliefs. Then, when they were able to move out of the house, they left their families and even though they rejected their upbringing they said that they still had an irrational hatred towards gays even though they knew they shouldn’t. This kind of indoctrination makes my blood boil but the issue here isn’t religion. The issue is bad parenting and Atheists who direct their anger at the big, easy target of religion are fooling themselves.


    • Hopefully, Christians don’t teach their children to “hate” anyone, homosexuals or otherwise. However, I think much of the anger which comes from secular critics is that they simply don’t agree with the Judeo-Christian world view. For example, if I teach my children that homosexual behavior is a sin, many secular critics would say that I’m teaching them to “hate gays”. Despite their inaccuracy, many secular critics simply feel that anything with which they disagree is bad (or “radical”), and they believe that teaching children these things amounts to brainwashing or some such thing. Those with a Judeo-Christian worldview are then put on the defensive and must, like I did in the OP, respond by noting that the criticism is, upon analysis, without rational ground.

      On another note, some, like yourself and Lana (the previous commentator), offer examples of students who grew up to leave the Judeo-Christian world view they were taught. But it’s unclear why these examples are offered. It certainly doesn’t disprove a Judeo-Christian world view, nor does it prove that it’s bad to teach one’s child what one believes. All it demonstrates is that some kids don’t like their upbringing. But why is that at all relevant? Why are such examples given at all? (I’m not arguing against anything you wrote, but only asking the question as to why anyone bothers to offer these anecdotal examples.)


  8. Very very well said. I’ve heard the ” force argument ” before and it has a slew of holes. I have the right to teach my children to love honor and obey God, and no one on the face of this earth, or aliens from space 🙂 can convince me otherwise. Excellent article indeed!


  9. For those who wish to use the “force argument”, may I point out that any given parent will raise their children in an environment which supports their own beliefs? We all have our strong beliefs and will naturally pass these along simply in the way we live our life.


  10. The best line: “In the end, the critic simply cannot stand that children are taught things to which he is opposed.”

    The world hates Jesus whether consciously or not. (John 7:7) They certainly are not neutral about their most basic beliefs. But then deceitfully we’re told to be neutral about ours. As if neutrality were even a possibility.


  11. Pingback: …And They Will Not Depart From It | A Homeschool Mom

  12. I understand what you’ve written here, and you’ve laid out your premise well using logic to make your point. This is often the best tool when trying to participate in a reasonable argument. I homeschooled for seven years, and I’m back at it again. I’m a Christian, but I didn’t homeschool for “religious” reasons. Most of my friends are atheists, and I’ve heard time and time again the very common view that Evangelicals “force their view” onto their children. Engaging in simple logic with this statement is fine, but this isn’t a statement fueled by logic. It’s a reactionary, emotional statement, and, as Christians, our primary job is not to sit down and oppose “the enemy”. It’s to love. Proving that we are somehow right at the expense of the other is only going to drive a wedge between us and a group a people who already think that we are scared, misanthropic idiots who believe that the earth is 6,000 years old. You obviously know why you homeschool. You obviously know how to use logic. But, why do you think others who disagree with the Judeo-Christian worldview, as you put it, say what they do? Because they have been hurt by it. It’s not persecution.

    All of my atheist frieds have been judged, criticized, shunned, and mistreated by people who call themselves Christians. I have one friend who has had to intervene numerous times into the local homeschool culture to help educate homeschooled children on basic reading and math skills–6th graders who couldn’t even read or do basic addition. These were children from a Christian homeschooling organization. The women were gossipy, unkind, and clannish, fearful that any outside contact with the world would somehow corrupt their children. What my friend was seeing was a ‘culture’. That culture of fear, isolationism, and judgmentalism is what the people I know who talk about “forcing their view” are referring to although they don’t know that. They are just lumping in whatever Christian ‘culture’ they’ve been exposed to (through media or what have you) with the actual practice of the faith which they largely know nothing about.

    When I’ve had honest questions with them about Jesus, loving our neighbors as ourselves, forgiveness, caring for the poor, leaving the 99% to care for 1, the nature of God as Jesus represents him, the personal relationship, the goodness and kindess of God, and the fact that through the sacrifice of Jesus we are now reconciled and God is no longer looking at our sin (because it is finished) but our life and wholeness because he looks at us through the rose-colored glasses of the completed work of Jesus, doors to deeply profound conversations happen. And we all find agreement in the fact that if all the Christians they knew behaved a lot more like the Jesus I talked about and even they’ve heard about, they wouldn’t have a problem with homeschoolers.

    Logic is good because it helps us break things down in our minds and participate in useful arguments, but there is an emotional side to this issue that logic can’t touch. Lana’s comments spoke to that. You can’t argue and use logic with her statements. It’s her story that brings up such a fierce response in others. Our faith is not founded on logic although there are certainly logical elements to it. Many people come to faith through their intellectual process and by practicing logic, but logic is not the foundation. It’s not even founded on dogma or doctrine. It’s founded on relationship. We don’t have a worldview. We have a relationship, and if we are ever going to show the world what Jesus really looks like then it’s time that we start really listening to others with empathy. Not just logic.


    • MJ,
      Thank you for your thoughtful comments. Here are a few things to consider.

      You noted that our job as Christians is not to “oppose ‘the enemy'”. However, rather than being an impropriety, offering a defense of one’s world view in obedience to 1 Peter 3:15 is a Biblical imperative. Rather than taking an offense at theists who attempt to offer a reasoned case for their position, critics (if they’re intellectually honest) should be happy we’re helping to correct their misunderstandings.

      You observed that those who disagree with a Judeo-Christian world view “say what they do” because they have been hurt. But it’s not at all clear why being hurt is a justification for many of the provocative things issued by atheists. I really do empathize with those who feel hurt and now have an emotional axe to grind, however, Christians have no moral duty to receive false accusations without respectfully offering a response.

      You noted how some of your atheist friends render judgements based on their limited experience with religious home-schoolers who were doing a less than adequate job of educating their children. Given such experiences, I can fully understand why they believe as they do about home-schoolers. However, I’ve tried in the past to make a distinction between method and principle, and most critics fail to see this critical distinction. It’s one thing to suggest that person “X” is doing a poor job homeschooling his child in a religious environment (“method”), but it’s quite an irrational leap in logic to form a generalization and conclude that all home-schooling (“principle”) conducted by religious parents is wrong. (Incidentally, the arguments in my OP were really focused on a religious upbringing, not academic home-schooling.)

      You shared that your atheist friends agree that “if all the Christians they knew behaved a lot more like the Jesus … they wouldn’t have a problem with homeschoolers”. But is that a credible claim? Jesus certainly behaved like Jesus, and they still crucified Him. The point being that even when Christians do their best to faithfully live the Christian life, it still does not alter the opinions of critics.

      Finally, you noted that there is an emotional side to this issue which logic cannot touch. In practical terms, I entirely agree. However (and excuse me for using logic here), you’re committing an “is/ought” fallacy. Just because it “is” the case that some people form beliefs based on emotion, it is not the case that they “ought” to do so. The greatest commandment, according to Jesus, was to love God, not only with one’s heart, soul, and strength, but also with one’s “mind”. In Romans 12:2, we are admonished to be transformed by the renewing of our mind. In fact, Jesus repeatedly commands us to “repent”, which actually means to reorient one’s thinking.

      While we should seek to understand how others feel, we are to be led by truth, not emotions, which all too often fail to correspond to reality (Jeremiah 17:9). I’m not suggesting we should not exercise compassion. Quite the contrary. A compassionate person does not allow others to remain in ignorance and/or deception. A compassionate person seeks to lead others into truth, which we do first by stating the truth, and then, if objections are raised, by further offering a reasoned defense.

      — FG


      • I’m familiar with everything that you are saying–your premises. What you have missed is this–the relational aspect of my comment. I’m aware of the notion of “opposing the enemy”, but people are not our enemies (Eph. 6). I’m aware of the definition of repentance. I don’t want to get into some Scriptural throwdown. We are indeed to be led by the truth, but the truth is a person first. Not just a concept or ideology. It’s the Holy Spirit, and I’ve seen too many people usurp his role by deciding that it’s their job to lead someone to “truth”. The problem is that many of those people don’t have the capacity to be led to certain truths at that time due to tremendous wounds. This is why relationships are so vastly important and relying upon the Holy Spirit for the words to say or NOT to say is vital. I know a lot of people who could use a heavy dose of “truth”. They are alcoholics, ruled by greed, verbally abusive to their spouses, neglectful of their parenting duties, overrun with selfishness and enormous egocentricity. Am I going to tell them that? Am I the person to “set them straight”? Are you? Am I going to point at them and say ‘Repent!’ Is that the compassionate thing to do? Well, I could, I suppose, but that’s the quickest way to get me kicked out of their lives for good.

        Your point about Jesus being crucified for being Jesus, by the way, is interesting, BUT I disagree with you. It wasn’t the atheists who killed him. It was the educated, religious people in power who crucified him. Even Pilate–the pagan atheist–didn’t have a problem with Jesus.

        Also, I’m not saying that if a person is misinformed about a belief, then they should not be corrected. I certainly correct my friends when they and even others have said in my presence that Christianity, for example, is about performing good deeds: “Nope, it’s not. You’re talking about ‘mitzvahs’, and that’s Judaism.” I usually, however, follow it up with: “That’s really interesting that you think that. Can you tell me more?” And we usually have fabulous conversations. I also don’t think that it’s our moral duty to be verbally assaulted, but I usually like to know what’s behind it. More often than not, there’s a false belief (so I try to correct it) along with a bad experience at the hands of the church. This is what I was talking about when I spoke of the ‘culture’ of the church. Trying to separate culture from belief. Once again, the many people I’ve spoken to who have almost repeated verbatim, “Those parents force their views down their children’s throats” are usually talking about the culture of the church or whatever environment, not dogma. So, I totally agree with you when it comes to offering the truth because this is where I will step in and help untangle the mess, helping them see what it is that they are really upset about. More often than not, it’s a religious culture they observe that has little to do with Jesus and true Christianity and a whole lot to do with something oppressive, fear-based, draconian, and clannish. It’s pure emotionalism at work. I recognize that, and it takes a gentle hand to, at the very least, earn the right to be heard. And that, I feel, is something you have missed. We are not entitled people who get to throw around truth. We must earn the right to speak into anyone’s life and that starts with simply being present and listening–honestly listening. Not so that we can perform a hit and run correction and “prophesy the problem”, but so that we might share their burden–even if it’s for 5 minutes at a coffee shop.

        In some ways, I completely agree with you regarding a reasoned defense. I work with a savant. I know all about reasoning. You seem to be an apologist and perhaps a gifted one. I have learned, however, that logic and reason only get you so far when it comes to humanity. Repentance isn’t just about the mind, FG. It’s experiential. It involves the heart, too. It’s a turning that begins in our spirits and moves into our souls which includes the mind and the heart encompassing our personalities. If we were only brains, then there would be no need for poetry, love songs, adventures, sex, films, relationships, or even nature. We would all exist as Commander Data, functioning solely on reason and logic. Life is much easier if everything is black and white. I wish it were sometimes.

        I find your view very interesting, and I find your post very helpful in some ways because it helps me clarify some issues around homeschooling. So, thank you for writing it. Because I spend so much time around secular humanists, I need clear ideas spelled out, well, logically. That’s their language. I know that it took time for you to write such a thoughtful blog post and even response to my comment. So, thanks for taking the time. I don’t think that we agree on a few things, but there’s room for that. That’s what makes the world an interesting and stimulating place to live in.

        Shalom to you and yours, J


      • MJ,
        Thank you again for taking the time to have this dialogue. I appreciate your kind manner.

        Regarding people being “our enemies”: Please note that I never suggested others are our enemy. I was only responding to your comment about opposing “the enemy” when I wrote that Christians are instructed to offer a reasoned defense. I didn’t intend to convey any notion that we should treat others as our enemies, so I apologize if I wasn’t clear.

        Regarding “truth”:
        Though the term is an equivocal one, when I used the term “truth”, I was referring to any proposition (whether spoken or held as a belief) which corresponds with reality. I wasn’t setting forth an either/or dilemma in which one is forced to choose between being led by “concepts” or The Holy Spirit, nor is it at all clear how speaking the truth constitutes a usurpation of the role of the Holy Spirit.

        You noted that “many … people don’t have the capacity to be led to certain truths at that time due to tremendous wounds”.
        Nothing I wrote suggested one should arbitrarily walk up to people and unload a sermon or apologetic on them, nor did I suggest that one should walk up to his alcoholic uncle or wife-beating neighbor and unload judgement on him. The OP is merely a blog post addressing the criticism leveled against those who raise their children in Biblical truth. Also, if a parent were the target of such criticism, there is no impropriety in offering a response. After all, my arguments are not ad hominem. They’re perfectly valid responses against a false accusation. Just because I suggest that one’s statements ought to be true, one should’t take that to mean that one ought to always be in an endless state of speaking, always saying everything that is true, which would be absurd (e.g., “Hello, Mr. Jones. It’s Monday today, The sky is blue. A triangle has three sides. No part is equal to the whole. You’re in sin for beating your wife. And I hate your tie….”, ad infinitum). As the scriptures state, there is a time to speak, and a time to remain silent. I’m not advocating speaking if one should be listening. What I am advocating, however, is that when it is time to speak, one should never abandon his use of reason or fail to speak the truth.

        Regarding Jesus’ crucifixion, you seemed to have missed my point. I didn’t suggest He was killed by atheists. My point was that even His own sinless behavior didn’t convince His critics (be they pagans, Jews, or agnostics). There are plenty of honorable Christians who are vilified by the unbelieving world, and it’s not because those Christians fail to follow Christ. Quite the contrary; it’s because they stand up for Christian truth. Finally, there’s no dilemma wherein we must choose between living a godly life or else offer a reasoned defense of our world view. Christians can and ought to do both.

        Regarding the “right to be heard”:
        Yes, in personal relationships, I quite agree that one should develop the right to be heard. However, it’s unclear why this is relevant to the OP, which, again, is addressing criticisms issued against the practice of raising children in religious truth. It’s not as if I’m encouraging anyone to unload on strangers (incidentally, there is a time and a place for presenting “truth” to a stranger, so the principle of having to “earn a right to be heard” has its exceptions as well).

        You then observed: “logic and reason only get you so far when it comes to humanity. Repentance isn’t just about the mind … It’s experiential. It involves the heart, too.”
        Note that I never said that emotions had no place in one’s life. We’re obviously not Vulcans. I only addressed the term (i.e., “repentance”) in observing that one need not abandon the use of one’s capacity to reason in relating to others merely because they may be led by their emotions. As much as we should empathize with others, their emotions and experiences do not alter reality. And if others choose to be irrational and/or led by their emotions, why should that alter our own commitment to reason and clear thinking?

        Finally, life as it relates to reality actually is black and white. Grey areas only exist in our finite minds. Because we often lack knowledge, we relegate those items about which we are ignorant to the “grey areas”. And though we will always remain ignorant about many things, there’s no reason not to seek truth and understanding, rendering many grey objects black or white. After all, clarity is a good thing.

        Again, you’ve been kind, and I appreciate the conversation.

        Grace and peace to you as well,

        — FG


    • I beg to differ. I am very capable and willing to use logic. I studied philosophy at the university, and so appreciate intellectual conversations. The whole point of my post — and only point — is that indoctrination does exist. Indoctrination doesn’t refer to just teaching kids; its actually brainwashing. And I don’t disagree with FG who says homeschooling is not indoctrination. Of course its not. But indoctrination does exist; my life, but also Westernburo Baptist church are examples.


      • It appears you’re using the term, “brainwashing”, very loosely. Some scientists, from what I understand, dispute whether it’s truly even possible to brainwash a person. Most people think of the brainwashing as the kind of thing done to prisoners during war in order to get them to sign confessions to things they never did. But even such alleged brainwashing is sometimes considered nothing more than a changed behavior in order to avoid torture, and not one in which prisoners actually believe the things to which they are confessing. Furthermore, the fact that you now do not believe much of what you were taught seems to indicate you were not brainwashed at all.

        In any case, it would be helpful if, when using terms like “brainwashing”, the term were accompanied by a precise definition of usage. You’re obviously not suggesting that children are physically tortured into confessing some set of beliefs. Nor is being coerced to go along with some beliefs equivalent to actually holding those things to be true in one’s mind. It appears your definition resembles something more along the lines of ‘the teaching of false beliefs‘. If that’s the case, then it could be said that almost everyone is brainwashed on some occasion or another, since everyone at one time or another is taught to believe some falsehood. If we use the term in this way, then, yes, “brainwashing” exists. However, I think using the term “brainwashing” to indicate false teaching obfuscates the issue due to the equivocal use of the term and the nefarious connotation it conveys. It would probably be better to simply say, “Persons thus-and-so raised their children to hold belief ‘X’, which is a false belief”, and then follow the claim by arguing why ‘X’ is, in fact, false.


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  16. So happy you liked one of my posts!!! Because I see we are kindred spirits. My Waldorf homeschool blog is just a baby, an offshoot of my parenting blog. I created it because I oppose the spiritual aspect of the Waldorf method. I believe it is just another cult-type mask claiming to “jive” with Christian beliefs. I don’t buy it! Looking forward to more from you!


  17. Love this!!! It reminds me of Marvin Olasky’s latest: “The bottom line: “Already Christians are being harassed by fellow American citizens for not wanting to participate in a gay marriage. The time will come, more quickly than you can imagine, when you will be made to care. … Evil peddles tolerance until it is dominant, then seeks to silence good. That’s why Christians fight on this issue. It is not to force themselves on others, but to protect themselves from others being forced on them.””


  18. You often ‘like’ my stuff so maybe I should leave you alone but……………………………….
    I read your post top to bottom even though I was reasonable sure what you were going to say, I told you that so that you would know that I gave you a chance to share your ideas. But that is where the problem lies, you didn’t share your ideas, you shared your beliefs. As we all know beliefs are not up for discussion they are there to be defended.

    “Beliefs get people killed, ideas move the world forward”.

    Ideas are responsible for all the wonderful things that man has created, beliefs have brought the world to the brink of destruction on many an occasion.

    Don’t get me wrong, I too have beliefs but just like a dangerous snake or electricity, I handle them very carefully and I know that they are dangerous. I also know that they can and should change over time. Why? Because I will learn new things, have new experiences, meet new people and read more books and all of those things will change my understanding.

    You probably think that I am challenging your beliefs and that I do not understand. Let me put you straight. I understand. I have a very strong personality and I have a way of putting my views forward that makes them sound very plausible (have you noticed) and when we were home school our boys I was accused of ‘putting words in my children’s mouths”, because they would often repeat things that I said. So I was very aware of the danger of having my children blindly following my ideas or beliefs. So how did I deal with it? I insisted that anything that came out of their mouths had to stand up to scrutiny. It’s simple “If you are going to shoot your mouth off you had better be able to back it up”.

    Having said all that let me say that I/we had a few beliefs that we ‘shoved down our children’s throats’………….. the strong protect the weak, all men and women are created equal, always pay your debts, stuff like that. The reason we insisted on these things was that we knew that they were important and that our sons would be better people if they followed them.

    The most important thing we can teach our children is to question everything. People who blindly accept what they are told get themselves into all kinds of trouble.

    I like ideas because, by definition, they can change. Beliefs, by definition, are set in stone.
    I know that the things that I believe to be true now, will not be the things to be true in ten years time. How do I know that? Because some of the things that I thought were true ten years ago have proven to not be so. I would be a fool if I pedantically said anything because I know that experience has taught me that I will most probably be proved to have been wrong at some time in the future. At this point in time I think that all religions are holding this world of ours back from becoming the wonderful place that it could be, but I could be wrong.

    Only time will tell and in the meantime I’m going to encourage my grandchildren to ask questions and be wary of anyone, including me, who tells them that they have all the answers.

    I’m going to tell them to be particularly wary of anyone who is not able to satisfactorily prove that their ‘beliefs’ can be tested in the real world, and not just hidden behind the word ‘faith’.
    I’m going to tell them that ‘faith’ is a good thing as long as it serves them well in their everyday life and as long as they don’t use it to hide from the truth.

    I’m going to encourage them to get rid of any beliefs that directly leads to harm, to themselves or to anyone else.

    I’m going to do my best to teach them what an ‘open mind’ really means.

    Be well, be happy and don’t forget to be awesome.



    • Terry,

      First, thank you for your comments. Let me state at the outset that I apologize if any of my responses appear harsh, but sometimes the truth comes off that way.

      You claimed that “beliefs get people killed” and “ideas move people forward”. This claim, for which no argument was provided, is strange, because you later noted that you “have beliefs” which you “handle very carefully” because you “know they are dangerous”. My first question is, why do you hold to dangerous things (i.e., “beliefs”) which can, as you claim, “get people killed”? Why wouldn’t you simply abandon ALL of your beliefs, thus ensuring you’re never responsible for the death of others by way of “beliefs”?

      Moreover, if ideas “move the world forward” and are “responsible for all the wonderful things that man has created”, why not encourage children to blindly follow ideas? (Interestingly, the atom bomb resulted from ideas about physics, and these ideas got plenty of people killed, so it doesn’t at all appear true that ideas are always so wonderful.)

      Nothing was offered by way of defining how the terms “idea” and “belief” were used, aside from suggesting that ideas can change “by definition”, and that “beliefs, by definition, are set in stone”. I could find no dictionary which defined those terms in the way that you suggested. What we do find is that people change their beliefs all the time. We also find that ideas like 2+2=4 will never change.

      You wrote that “the most important thing we can teach our children is to question everything”. There are two ways such a statement can be understood. It might be suggesting that children be free to ask questions for clarification or understanding, in which case, I’ve already noted in the OP that children ought to be free to do just that. However, if it’s suggesting that children “question everything” insofar as they are to behave like epistemic skeptics, I would submit that such a teaching constitutes one of those “dangerous” beliefs which one ought to abandon. For example, if one’s child is standing on the side of the road and a car is about to hit him, would anyone actually want the child to be skeptical when told he is in immediate danger? And if his temporal life is precious enough that he ought to believe when warned of danger, ought he not trust and take heed when warned of dangers where his eternal soul is in concerned?

      You claimed to know that “the things that I believe to be true now, will not be the things to be true in ten years time”. Part of the confusion here is the failure to distinguish between ontology (objective reality) and epistemology (propositions we hold about reality). There is a difference between saying that one’s “beliefs” will change in ten years, and saying that “truth” will change in ten years. Yes, one’s beliefs might change (contradicting an earlier claim in which was written that beliefs are “set in stone”), but “truth” will not (and I’m utilizing a correspondent theory of truth here, just so there’s no confusion).

      You wrote that you will caution your grandchildren to be “wary of anyone who is not able to satisfactorily prove that their ‘beliefs’ can be tested in the real world, and not just hidden behind the word ‘faith’”. It’s not at all clear what is meant by “the real world”, however, I think it’s safe to assume you’re referring to the material, physical world. Unfortunately, this kind of empiricism is logically self-refuting. Why? Because it cannot satisfy its own conditions for truth. In other words, one cannot verify “in the real world” the veracity of the claim that “only those propositions which can be tested in the real world are true”.

      Regarding your children parroting what you say, you wrote that, “I insisted that anything that came out of their mouths had to stand up to scrutiny. It’s simple ‘If you are going to shoot your mouth off you had better be able to back it up'”.
      Yes, I’ve had to tell my children that when it comes to things that others may find too controversial, they had better be able to give some reason or explanation for their claims. I do not, however, expect them to do anything like having to offer proof. Offering reasons for their claims is sufficient.

      With respect to those beliefs or ideas which are “set in stone”, no reason has been offered as to why anyone ought to reject such propositional claims. Why should one question or reject the propositions, “a triangle has three sides” or “loving your neighbor is good”, even where some may affirm their immutability?

      You shared some propositions (e.g., “the strong protect the weak”, etc.) which you claimed to have “shoved down” your children’s throats (whatever that entailed), and you “insisted” on those things because, as you wrote, “[you] knew that they were important and that [your] sons would be better people if they followed them”. This admission clearly supports what I affirmed in the OP, i.e., EVERYONE indoctrinates their children with those things they value or take to be true, and the fact that you “insisted” on those beliefs demonstrates that they were not up for debate, nor were they objects about which your children were asked to be skeptical. This brings me to my final point…

      You opened your comments by sharing your belief that the OP consisted of nothing but “beliefs”. Upon analysis, such a criticism is irrelevant (if not self-stultifying). What is, in fact, relevant is whether or not the OP was true. However, you never addressed the veracity of any of the facts offered in the OP. You also admitted to indoctrinating your children, as predicted by the OP. One can make of that what one will.

      Again, thank you for your comments.




  19. nice try but no cigar.
    You understood every word I wrote and you do your obvious intelligence a discservice by pretending you didn’t.
    I broke my own rules by engaging a ‘believer’ in debate, but I always hope that I will find one who is willing to debate. The hunt continues.
    Regards Terry


    • Terry,

      Of course I understood what you wrote. That’s precisely why I asked questions which demonstrated that the universal claims you issued about “beliefs” and “ideas” were (1) demonstrably false and (2) self-refuting.

      As for breaking your own rules, I don’t think you really did so, because you never actually engaged in a debate. You never offered a single argument in refutation to a single point made in the OP. Were you truly interested in a rational discourse, you would have simply stated something like, “Proposition ‘X’, as affirmed in the OP, is false; and here are the reasons and arguments why that is so”. Instead, you chose offer your opinion that the OP consisted of mere “beliefs”, as if such an empty proclamation (1) actually constituted an argument, and (2) had any relevance to the veracity of the OP.

      Furthermore, you confessed to doing precisely what the OP predicted, i.e., indoctrinating your own children with those beliefs you value or take to be true. And please note that I’m not criticizing you for doing so, because it’s only rational that a parent inculcate his children with those propositions he takes to be true (even if those propositions are themselves irrational). Nevertheless, your admission merely helped to support the OP.

      You then claim that you “always hope” to find a “believer” “who is willing to debate”, and followed with, “the hunt continues”, as if I somehow declined to engage in such a dialogue. Well, I hope everyone reads our brief exchange, because it is pretty obvious which person is offering arguments and which is unwilling to continue in a dialogue. I trust in the intelligence of readers to assess that for themselves.

      Thank you again for commenting.




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  21. Great post. This post resembles many tenets taught in classic Christian apologetics. (I don’t care if that word can’t be plural) R.C. Sproul’s Defending Your Faith is one of my favorites and fits hand in hand with the philosophical posture stated here. Love it.


  22. Thank you for sharing this post! Ravi Zacharias, Christian apologist, has many lectures similar to this. One in particular is titled “Cultural Relativism and the Emasculation of Truth” and another is “Absolute Truth in Relative Terms.” Reason is subverted by Agnosticism; Agnosticism is prevalent in the educational systems today and they pride themselves on the fact that they don’t know. “The Closing of the American Mind” by Alan Bloom opens with this. Copies of these and his other lectures are available at


    • I’ve heard some of Ravi Zacharias’ lectures, and he has some very good teachings. Although, I’ve not read any of his books, because most of his subject-matter overlaps works by other authors which I’ve already read.

      Thank you for your comment.



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  24. Reblogged this on A Dog in the Library and commented:
    Attention Homeschool Parents:

    Ever frustrated by uninformed homeschool critics who lob sound-byte grenades?

    Ever wish you had the key to untangle their twisted rhetoric?

    You’ll find this a superb handbook for engaging the angry cultural cheerleaders in a way that might actually force them to think.


  25. This post has got me thinking on other lines…why is it so important to pass on our belief system to our kids? Good post…


    • That entirely depends upon one’s world view. If there are no such thing as objective imperatives, then you have no obligations concerning your children at all. You can cannibalize them for all that it matters. However, if God instructs us to teach our children the truth rather than deceive them, then we have a duty to fulfill such a command.
      Now, one may ask, “What if my beliefs are not true?” Well, if you don’t take your religious beliefs to be true, then why would you yourself hold to such beliefs? And if you do take them to be true, why would you teach your children contrary to the truth? I realize one may take something to be true and yet be wrong. But after all, one can only be expected to follow the evidence and affirm the inference to the best explanation. As I noted in another post (“Reality: A Multiple-Choice Quiz“), this is how we handle all other issues concerning the raising of our children. Why would we do otherwise on matters regarding ultimate questions about reality?

      Thanks for visiting and for the question.



  26. Thanks for a thoughtful, well-written blog post, and for answering the questions and objections raised in the comments in a kind but straightforward manner.

    I’ve noticed that folks keep using the word ‘debate’- I don’t think that word means what some people think it means. 😉

    It seems that most criticisms leveled at parents teaching their children a particular set of beliefs is limited to certain religious sects. There is no outcry against children living a natural and organic life on a llama farm, or observing the traditions of their ethnic roots, or even being pushed toward a ‘family’ career in law enforcement, medicine, sports, or the arts.

    What some call ‘indoctrination’, I call “sharing with my kids the things in life that give me joy and satisfaction”.

    The terms used in many of these ‘debates’ are very telling. When the only arguments against another POV are little more than a list of pejoratives and unflattering comparisons (inevitably Godwin’s law is invoked), there is no “argument”. It’s just being insulting and disagreeable.

    An argument by definition demands reasons and evidence, or at the very least ideas that can be examined and discussed for their veracity.

    “I met this weird religious homeschool family” is not evidence. It’s not even evidence if you met a weird religious homeschool family who didn’t shower and ate nothing but bean sprouts. If so, then here’s MY argument-
    +Children spend a majority of their youth public schools.
    +Jails and mental institutions all across America are filled with graduates of public schools.

    These are unassailable facts. Therefore, public school makes you criminal and/or crazy. Everyone shall hereby commence homeschooling immediately!


    • Good point, Susan. Many people issue opinions in the form of conclusions and believe they’ve offered an argument. And it’s not that their “conclusions” were not predicated on prior (hidden) premises, it’s just that their unstated premises are either patently false, or are themselves a matter of debate. Other persons parrot mantras they’ve heard over and over, and they never bother to give such criticisms any thoughtful analysis prior to leveling them at others.

      Thank you for visiting and for your kind comments.



  27. Hello! As a former homeschool graduate, I have to both agree and disagree with your discussion here. I find that some people opposed to religious child-rearing take it much too far. It seems to me that it would be strange or irresponsible to NOT tell your kids what you believe. I’ve heard some say that parents should say “I believe this; what do you believe?” I’m not sure that this is the best choice, simply because a young child is not likely to have any idea how to figure that out. I think there is nothing wrong with a parent presenting their religious beliefs to the child, although I do think they should make it clear that other people believe other things. Letting the child ask questions, answering as you can, and admitting when you don’t know something are all important to this process, but a parent’s faith should surely be shared with the child.

    That said, there certainly IS such a thing as religious indoctrination and brainwashing of children in the homeschooling community. I endured this treatment from the day I was born until I was 18 and left for college. The repercussions still haunt me. Simply teaching a child religion is not indoctrination/brainwashing. However, aggressively sheltering them from any other possible opinions or worldviews is. Instilling them with a fear of eternal retribution should they dare to question their parents’ beliefs is. Teaching them to be afraid of atheists, people of other religions, and homosexuals is. Giving them no other belief options for fear of losing their family’s love, support, and even their home is indoctrinating. No, this method isn’t tying someone down and forcing them to see brainwashing images for days, but it is probably actually much more effective on a child. A child is impressionable, and there is nothing more frightening to them than the possibility of losing their family’s protection and love, and the love and protection of God as well (although those two things were often considered one and the same.) Besides, why should they question if they have never ever met any peers who weren’t also conservative Christian homeschoolers? Hell, I was scared even of liberal Christians, and was taught to stay far away from them or they would “lead me into temptation.”

    Needless to say, I was completely bewildered when I finally went out into the real world. All the people that had been painted as monsters by my family were nicer than I was. I was consumed by guilt over every single thing I did because I’d never been given a chance to develop my own sense of moral judgment. I’d been sheltered from so many things that I just assumed everything was wrong. I was in a perfect position to be emotionally abused by my family when I finally started questioning some of their beliefs, because I felt that I deserved it. After all, I was more-or-less owned by them. And, in the end, they kicked me out of their home in one last effort to force me to comply with their wishes.

    Now I’m certainly not saying most Christian or homeschooling parents approach religious teaching like this. Anyone who claimed that would be drastically wrong. However, it is naive to claim that it doesn’t happen. Brainwashing doesn’t have to come in the form of Clockwork Orange-type procedures. It can come in the form of extreme over-sheltering and implicit threats of a withdraw of protection and love to keep the victim entrenched in an ideology that they might otherwise abandon. I certainly wasn’t an isolated case either. I have two other former friends (from different families) who were never even allowed to leave their home, and were told to wait until they married. They are both in their mid-late 20’s now and have never left home. One is marrying an older man and the other is still waiting. You might say “well, no one is FORCING them to stay.” You are right, they could leave. But first, they have absolutely no knowledge of any other better way to live since they’ve never been allowed to see the rest of the world or understand what’s really out there. Secondly, leaving would mean abandoning everything they’ve ever known, losing their home, losing their family, and being completely alone in a world that has always been painted to them as full of dangers and horrors. Not everyone has that sort of courage. The truth is, for those of us raised with religious indoctrination, there is no good choice. We must either abandon our sense of self and independence, or we must abandon our families, homes, and everything we knew for the first 18 years of life. I chose the latter, (and so did another friend of mine, who was thrown out of his home and forced to live in his car for weeks). But I cannot blame those that chose the former. I just grieve for the lost potential that I see there.

    I am sharing my experience here, because I want to warn well-meaning religious parents of the possible pitfalls of religious parenting. My family was not evil and they loved me. They still love me. They simply thought that the best way to show that love was to never give me the chance to stray outside of the “right” way. These good intentions led to horrific results for me and quite a few other children that I knew growing up. Wanting to end on a positive, useful note, though, I will explain what my experience has taught me about the RIGHT way to teach a child about religion.

    1) I will tell my kids what I believe.
    2) I will let them ask questions and I will answer all of them as best as I can
    3) If I don’t have a good answer, I will be honest that I don’t know, instead of shaming them for asking a dangerous question.
    4) I will tell them that other people have other beliefs and I will NOT treat those other people like dangerous “others”
    5) I WILL let my children socialize with people of different ideologies. If that makes them ask more questions, all the better. I will just have to try to find more answers.
    6) Once the child is old enough to start forming their own opinions, I will tell them that they will NEVER lose my love and support if their beliefs do not match mine.
    7) If my child disagrees with me on something, I will not constantly try to bring it up and fight about it. I will not repeatedly reiterate my views. I will trust that they know what I believe by that point.
    8) I will never, ever, ever make my treatment of my child conditional on their religious beliefs.

    If you read all of this, I thank you very much! I hope that nothing I have said here could be construed as offensive to religious parents. I simply want to bring awareness to the realities that I and other victims of religious brainwashing have to live. All the best!


    • Thank you for your thoughtful comments. To address some of your points:

      With respect to those parents who expose their children to other world views and then expect a child to determine his own beliefs, please see my other post, “Reality: A Multiple-Choice Quiz“.

      You noted that “there certainly IS such a thing as religious indoctrination and brainwashing”. As I noted in the OP, everyone indoctrinates his child with those propositions he takes actually to be true, and that’s to be expected if one is to be rationally consistent. However, with respect to brainwashing, you seem to be using the term in a way which could be applied to any child-rearing that involves parents who withhold love (or other necessities) for manipulative reasons. Obviously, that would be an improper way to raise a child (for that matter, it’s an improper way to treat anyone), so I agree with your assessment regarding the impropriety of such a child-rearing method. But that’s not equivalent to brainwashing, because even such manipulation cannot force a person to actually believe a proposition which he takes to be false. Many, many people feign belief for the purpose of appeasing others, all the while holding to ideas which are contrary to their facade. Moreover, no matter how many (good or bad) reasons one is given to adopt a belief, one must, in the end, make a volitional choice to adopt the belief (either acquiescing to the evidence or ignoring it). This act of agency is precisely why an actual belief does not constitute an example of “brainwashing”. No amount of manipulation, threats, or tempting promises can force me to adopt the belief that 2+2 equal 13.

      Now one might suggest that, because a child may have no prior beliefs on religious matters, he would have no reason to reject the beliefs with which he is indoctrinated. This, however, is hardly problematic, unless one begins with the premise that what the parent is teaching is, in fact, false. At such a juncture, the problem no longer has anything to do with the principle of indoctrination, but rather, the problem has to do with the teaching of falsehoods. Now, some children are taught “X” over here and other children are taught “non-X” over there. Because contradictory propositions cannot both be equally true, it’s clear that children (as well as adults) in all walks of life are taught falsehoods every day. Given the ubiquity of false teachings, it’s unlikely to be a correctable situation. After all, preventing children from being taught falsehoods would require that everyone engaged in instructing capitulate to the truth. Given that many people are hostile to the truth or to the very notion that we could even be in possession of “truth”, it’s unlikely that the promotion of falsehoods can ever be eradicated.

      As for those parents who withhold love for manipulative purposes, I frankly have no idea how to deal with such people. I suppose approaching such parents and trying to teach them how to properly relate to their child might help, but I’m not confident that they would receive such instruction. I certainly empathize with anyone who had to suffer under such a parent. One should also take note that this kind of manipulation occurs in other areas of life as well. Some seeking academic degrees or jobs in certain sciences are prevented from advancing (or are actually demoted or reprimanded) if they do not confess to ideologies such as darwinism. Some have had to put on a facade just so they could receive their academic credentials. What’s important to note is that such victims either feigned belief in order to appease higher authorities, or actually adopted those beliefs out of ignorance. Either way, the kind of manipulation about which you shared occurs in areas of life beyond the raising of children.

      You mentioned being taught to fear “atheists, people of other religions, and homosexuals … [and] liberal Christians, and was taught to stay far away from them or they would ‘lead me into temptation.'” You also suggested that this (accompanied by the aforementioned manipulative withholding of love and protection) was a form of brainwashing.
      I don’t know why anyone would teach their child to fear (or hate) such people, though any responsible parent would certainly desire to keep their child from being detrimentally influenced by any person with a false or harmful world view, or who willfully commits or promotes immoral behavior. I’m not suggesting one should prevent his child from ever interacting with such people (otherwise one would have to retreat to a deserted island), but certainly any interaction ought to be done with the child’s safety in mind. Obviously, I can’t tell other parents what precautions to take, because any person who is a potential threat to one’s child must be treated as an individual and evaluated on a case-by-case basis. This is a case where some balance needs to be sought. Certainly one shouldn’t lock one’s child in a closet and prevent all interactions with the secular world, but neither should one carelessly allow his child to be improperly influenced or maltreated. Extremes in either direction should be avoided. However, as I already noted, this is not equivalent to brainwashing, since any belief held by the child would either be (A) a facade to appease the parent, or (B) a volitional choice (even if the child’s reasons for adopting a belief is due to manipulation by the parent).

      You noted that you were “consumed by guilt over every single thing I did because I’d never been given a chance to develop my own sense of moral judgment.”
      It’s not clear what is meant by having one’s “own sense of moral judgement”. Obviously, parents should train their children to eventually learn to identify and assess moral situations on their own. However, such training must necessarily begin with foundational moral principles which could only be ground on theism, since any other ground would reduce to relativism, an amoral theory incapable of obliging anyone to any good behavior at all.

      Incidentally, yours is not the first anecdote from children who were raised with a religious upbringing and who were hurt, often to a degree that they reject the very world view under which they’ve been raised. Because their initial beliefs were appropriated in an atmosphere of abuse, coupled with the fact that they later take those former beliefs to be falsehoods, they conclude that they must have experienced a form of brainwashing. But as I’ver argued in the OP, such experiences, as unfortunate as they are, are not examples of brainwashing, precisely because such children never had formerly-held beliefs which were “washed” away from their mind and replaced with other beliefs against their will. I understand why persons who suffered must feel the way they do, but their personal experiences offer no rational warrant for redefining “brainwashing”.

      Most of the problems grown children have with how they were raised have almost nothing to do with religious principles and everything to do with parenting methods. Parents, regardless of world view, make mistakes. None of us are perfect. Few people understand the difficulties of parenthood until they are faced with the difficulties of raising and nurturing children. Parents, both religious and secular, can be manipulative, impatient, overprotective, overly permissive, indifferent, unaffectionate, or simply have no idea what a healthy parent-child relationship should look like. Everyone should take note that these online discussions occur without the knowledge of the allegedly-abusive parents, who never have the opportunity to offer their side of the story. I’m not suggesting that all of these abused children are not telling the truth, but only noting that there is always two sides of an issue to consider. What one parent takes to be “tough love” may be seen by others as altogether unloving. Still, some children really have had it hard. I have no idea how to remedy that, other than to suggest to adult children who have been wronged that, if they desire a healthy mental and spiritual outlook, they should simply forgive their parents who, after all, are fallible human beings. The parent-child relationship would be better served through reconciliation than through carrying bitterness around all one’s life.

      Finally, I think it’s important, for those children who were raised in an overly protective or strict home, to not go to the extreme in the other direction and become overly permissive and indulgent with their children. It’s equally harmful to children to allow them to believe anything they like or behave any way they like. Neglecting to teach one’s child the truth and failing to discipline one’s child is just as unhealthy as being impatient and overly strict. I realize this requires a balancing act that few if any of us can perform well. I’m guilty of falling off that tightrope myself. But I try really hard to show my children how much I love them, hoping that they will, when they’re grown and gone, forgive me for any stupid errors I may have made. I would encourage you to forgive your parents as well.

      Thank you again for visiting and offering your comment.




      • First of all, thank you for replying to my comment. I agree with you that manipulative parenting is not a purely religious thing. In my case, it was, but obviously it can happen in many different situations. That said, I know no other term to describe the behavior than brainwashing. You are correct, that brainwashing generally indicates a coerced CHANGE in beliefs, meaning that a child cannot strictly be brainwashed because they had no other previous beliefs. However, I disagree with you could never be forced to believe that 2+2=13. That is the point of brainwashing: it conditions a person to actually honestly believe something that they otherwise would reject. It generally requires very extreme tactics. Here is what Concise Encyclopedia has to say (from Merrium-Webster):

        “The techniques of brainwashing usually involve isolation from former associates and sources of information; an exacting regimen calling for absolute obedience and humility; strong social pressures and rewards for cooperation; physical and psychological punishments for noncooperation, including social ostracism and criticism, deprivation of food, sleep, and social contacts, bondage, and torture; and constant reinforcement. Its effects are sometimes reversed through deprogramming, which combines confrontation and intensive psychotherapy.”

        Now, can you see why I choose to call my experience “brainwashing”? My beliefs were not changed, but they were coercively shaped by many of these techniques. I was isolated from anyone unlike me, and isolated from all other sources of information. Absolute obedience and humility were required, to the point that I did not allow myself to even try to form my own opinions. Strong social pressures kept me in line, and non-cooperation was punished psychologically through criticism and ostracism. Fortunately, I was never punished physically, beyond a few spankings, which I did not consider abuse. Yes, I must bend the definition of brainwashing slightly since a child cannot have preconceived beliefs, but the rest of the description is fitting enough that I have no other term that seems to fit as well. If you still disagree with the term, I think at the least, it will be a fairly minor distinction that we are making.

        As far as teaching children to fear “other” people or sheltering them from meeting or speaking to such people… parents must remember that their children will (hopefully) not be sheltered from such things forever. By all means, teach your children what you believe, but preventing them from ever seeing or understanding anything else will simply cause problems for them when they are older and are forced to confront the real world. After all, most homosexuals (like myself) do not wish to “turn” children gay (in fact, they generally don’t believe that such a thing can be done.) Most people of other religions or non-religions do not wish to convert children. Most people who drink at mealtime do not wish to give children drinks. Most people who smoke cigarettes do not wish to make children smoke. As long as no one is actively trying to subvert your teachings to your child, why should the child be sheltered from people that hold different beliefs? It only feeds fear and animosity towards these “others” (speaking from experience here) that is simply the result of ignorance.

        What I mean by a lack of my own moral compass is this: I was so aggressively sheltered from things that I was unable to understand why things were off-limits anymore. Things that were considered morally unacceptable were not discussed much at all: they were simply removed from me. For this reason, anything that had not been pre-approved by my parents was something to be feared. Looking at it, hearing it, touching it might be a sin. While waiting for my mother in a dentist appointment, I sat and watched Care Bears on the TV in the waiting room. My parents had never told me if Care Bears was okay to watch, so I began to fear that whatever I was watching was part of “demonic popular culture”. Of course, being 7 years old or so, it was hard to look away from the colorful, moving TV screen. I didn’t dare tell my mother afterwards that I had watched something that might have been sinful, so I kept it to myself and for OVER A YEAR I would still periodically beg God to forgive me for watching CARE BEARS. It’s a little funny to me in retrospect, but it’s a solid example of how sheltering can actually damage a child’s ability to make moral decisions, rather than enhancing them. It is also a perfect example of why you should NOT build up so much fear around “sin” so that your child is too afraid and ashamed to talk to you if they think they may have done something wrong.

        Lastly, since you brought it up, I have already forgiven my parents for the mistakes they made when I was a child. I have not, however, forgiven them for the abuse they inflicted on me once I was an adult, nor have I forgiven them for ousting me from the family. You say “simply forgive” as if there is anything simple about it. With all due respect, that idea is laughable. When the two people in the world who are supposed to protect and love you turn on you and demand that you either leave the family or you kill yourself (either your body or your personality) forgiveness is not simple. It is going to be a long, long road. I’m not saying this to elicit sympathy and I do not feel sorry for myself; rather, these experiences have made me much stronger and a better person. But saying “simply forgive, because we all make mistakes,” and “but we haven’t heard their side of the story” is a bit offensively dismissive. I assume that you did not mean to come off that way, and text does not always convey what we mean or the spirit in which we say things. However, I ask that you do not assume that, when I speak up against abusive religious parenting, it is an indication that I have not or am not trying to forgive my parents for their mistakes.

        Again, thank you for reading, and I hope I have not come off as offensive here with my clarifications. Have a good day!


      • Forgive me if I continue to differ on this point, but one could not be forced to actually believe that 2+2=13. Yes, I could be tortured and coerced into confessing such a belief, but the confession would merely be a lie to appease my torturers.

        Now, could someone’s actual belief be changed through deception? Well, yes, but that’s not truly brain-washing. That’s just deception, and it occurs all the time. People are taught falsehoods every day, from things they are taught in school to what they receive from the media. With all the contradictory beliefs out there, we can’t all be right. Some people are clearly being deceived.

        With respect to the encyclopedia description of brainwashing, the methods described therein need to be seriously qualified. For example, a kid who doesn’t get to interact much with others may believe he’s being isolated, while the isolation with regard to brainwashing is referring to something more along the lines of being locked in a cell without windows for weeks on end, coupled with torture and starvation, and so forth. The point being that the terms used to describe the “brainwashing” need further qualification before they can be used to refer to one’s childhood experience. What’s more, isolation, social pressure, torture, etc. may be necessary conditions for what is termed “brainwashing”, but none are sufficient conditions (I’m going to save space and just assume readers understand the distinction between necessary and sufficient conditions).

        You stated that your beliefs were coercively shaped. That’s not equivalent to brainwashing, but it’s a much more accurate way of describing how you were taught, and I think that’s how you ought to present it, because “shaped” connotes something more along the lines of guiding you (coercively or otherwise), while still recognizing your agency.

        I think I already agreed with you that one cannot completely shelter a child from the world without retreating to an island. But I also noted that any interaction must be done with the child’s well-being in mind. A person who holds a different world view (or behaves in ways the parent may deem immoral or harmful) may not want to convert children, but their example may nevertheless be a negative influence. After all, children are perhaps more influenced by what they see than what they are told (which is why hypocrisy will undermine any verbal instruction given to children, who are more likely to follow their parent’s behavior than their parent’s instruction). In any case, what’s important is that parents talk to their children about what they see, so that they can understand it within the context of the worldview with which they are raised.

        Regarding the moral compass issue: I see your point. Honestly, I hear these kinds of testimonies from adult children, and I can only sympathize with you. Yeah, some parents (both religious and secular) just go overboard. I don’t know what more I can do other than acknowledge that it happens and it’s unfortunate. What’s important to note, however, is that what you’re describing is primarily a parenting issue, and not a religious issue.

        Regarding forgiveness:
        First, I didn’t intend to be dismissive, but was only noting the fact that parents do not, in these discussions, have any opportunity to offer a defense. Nor did I intend to suggest that the act of forgiveness was easy. I meant that the solution is easy, and it is. Forgiveness is not primarily for the person who causes the offense. It’s primarily for the offended person’s own well-being. If one doesn’t make the decision and expend the effort to forgive (and I realize that can be quite difficult in relation to any pain one may have been caused), the pain will turn to bitterness and it will make one a miserable person. It’ll be a cancer in the soul that prevents the offended party from having any kind of peace. I’m not suggesting you’re not making any effort to forgive your parents, but only noting that it’s important that one do so.

        Thank you again for your comments.




  28. Pingback: The Gaping Hole | A Homeschool Mom

  29. Pingback: A Homeschool Mom on Forcing Religion on Your Children | Kernels of Wheat

  30. I especially appreciate your statements on the idea of “tolerance”. If a person is a true Christian and takes on God’s view we will “love our neighbors”. As an example, a Hindu family from India lived across from us in KY- they were lovely people. One evening, someone tagged the sidewalk in front of their house with “white power” and anarchist symbols. This hurt us so much, and I went over to scrub it off with some paint remover. I hoped that day that my son would understand what tolerance truly is: the idea that every person is “fearfully and wonderfully made”. A general respect for humankind. However, it is certainly disturbing to me that “tolerance” has been twisted recently to mean that I have to agree that any belief system or way of living is correct.


  31. Pingback: Forcing Religion On Your Children | Reformed Christian Heritage News

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