Practices

Do Christian Parents Indoctrinate Their Children?

Do Christian parents indoctrinate their children?

In his book The God Delusion, atheist Richard Dawkins claims it’s child abuse to indoctrinate children into religion. In a typically inflammatory style, he also said that teaching children to accept religious beliefs is a more devastating and crippling form of child abuse than sexual abuse.

Is he right?

Non- Christian views.

The standpoint of most non-Christian (Western World) parents is that it’s okay to raise children outside of a religious tradition, and when this happens, it doesn’t preclude children from being part of a faith community if that’s what they want to do.

A secular father said, “I definitely don’t want religion forced on my children. If they decide to follow a religion, they should do this later on in life.” An agnostic mother said, “Children need open minds. They need to have different perspectives, be exposed to different religions, and come to conclusions on their own.” And a couple who consider themselves spiritual said, “Faith is a very personal choice born out of free will. We don’t want our children to think that only one religion is right.”

The dominant or prevalent views of society inform the perspectives of non-Christian parents.

Christian views.

Christian parents believe God’s given them an explicit command to diligently and faithfully raise their children “in the training and instruction of the Lord” Ephesians 6:4. Their emphasis is on families keeping “the way of the Lord by doing what is right and just” (Genesis 18:19) and on helping children take hold of His Word and keep His commands (Deuteronomy 6:7-9, Proverbs 4:3-4).

Christians believe that teaching children the fundamentals of their faith is actually in their children's best interest. Click To Tweet

Christians also believe that teaching children the fundamentals of their faith is actually in their children’s best interest (Proverbs 16:20, Proverbs 4:10-12). The goal of Christian parenting is thus to develop another generation of believers who will place their trust in God and live for Him (Deuteronomy 4:9, Deuteronomy 11:19-20, Psalm 78:4-7, Joel 1:3).

God’s Word essentially informs the perspectives of Christian parents.

Definition of indoctrination.

In the early 17th Century, when indoctrination entered the English language, it simply meant to “teach doctrine.” In the 19th Century, indoctrination meant to instil a sectarian or ideological point of view. More recently, indoctrination can mean forcing partisan ideas or opinions on someone who isn’t allowed to question them.

Reality check.

So do Christian parents indoctrinate their children? According to the 17th and 19th Century definitions of indoctrinating, they definitely do. But it’s not child abuse!

What about non-Christian parents? If every parent has an ideological point of view, which they do, then every non-Christian parent also indoctrinates their children.

A middle-of-the-road parenting approach is a pipe dream. All mothers and fathers have biased perspectives. There’s no impartiality – we all have worldviews. Every parent teaches what they know and models what they accept as true. Every parental interaction is a moral enterprise shaping a child’s faith development. Everything we say, or don’t say, is ultimately a form of indoctrination.

Every parental interaction is a moral enterprise shaping a child's faith development. Click To Tweet

Even if it were possible for parents to be philosophically and ethically non-aligned, someone or something would influence their children’s understanding and beliefs. A child’s faith development can never be independently organic. Short of denying children all human contact, the religious, educational, social and political stimuli in their environments will make them think and act one way or another.

According to neuroscientific research, the bottom line is that children have no control over how or why they desire what they desire. Free will and free choice are an illusion. There are no neutral values – no neutral views. Preferences and beliefs are constantly downloaded into our children. You may not like this, but every child’s faith development is informed, in large part, by how they’re indoctrinated.

Application.

A home can’t exist without principles that permit family members to relate and work together for common goals. So Christian parents should enthusiastically teach a Christian worldview and invite their children to love and live wholeheartedly for Jesus.

What’s crucial is how parents do this. Christian parents must find ways to dialogue about faith without closing lines of inquiry or obstructing critical reflection. When parents instruct their children, they must do so in a way that encourages them to ask questions, analyze, and evaluate what they’re learning (Acts 17:11).

Christian parents must find ways to dialogue about faith without closing lines of inquiry or obstructing critical reflection. Click To Tweet

Brainwashing is unbiblical and antithetical to Christianity. The irreligious assertion that Christians don’t teach their children to question the merits of the Christian faith is blatantly untrue. God instructs Christians to “test everything; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21 ESV), “not believe every spirit, but test the spirits” (1 John 4:1), and “to be on your guard so that you may not be carried away by the error of the lawless” 2 Peter 3:17-18.

A child’s faith formation should never be coercive. It’s always wrong for parents to force, dictate, or pressure their children into a relationship with Jesus. Learning doctrine should be a fair-minded process. When parents disciple children in the way of Christ, they should do it gently with bucket loads of grace.

For or against Jesus.

Finally, we must recognize that if Christian parents don’t indoctrinate their children to take a stand for Christ, the world will indoctrinate their children to oppose Christ! Don’t be deceived by the practices and beliefs that are prevalent in society. Atheists, agnostics, skeptics, freethinkers, humanists and other pagans saddle children’s minds with nonsense, cripple their reasoning with bad ideas, enculturate them with fallacies and misconceptions, limit their future, and pervert what’s good and right and true.

The net result – there’s no such thing as a non-religious child. They’re either with Jesus or against Him (Matthew 12:30).

So “with the Lord’s authority I say this: Live no longer as the Gentiles do, for they are hopelessly confused” Ephesians 4:17 (NLT). Rather, impress the Scriptures on your children (Deuteronomy 6:7). Invite them to repent from their sin and be saved. Tell them about the abundant life we have in Christ (John 10:10). Train them to live God’s way. Equip them to evaluate the Bible’s teachings for themselves. And take every opportunity every day to “direct your children onto the right path” so that “when they are older, they will not leave it” Proverbs 22:6 (NLT).

To do otherwise is spiritual neglect!

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Do Christian Parents Indoctrinate Their Children?

© Scripture Union, 2022

2 Corinthians 4:5

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