When They Indoctrinate Their Children

When someone you care about very much is training his or her children from birth to be the most closed-off, fundamentalist type of believers, how do you stay calm and butt-out as a relative or close friend? My sister-in-law posted a photo today of a beloved niece after going “doorknocking” (aka door-to-door evangelizing) with my brother. It sounds like sweet together time with her dad, and I’m sure it is fun for both of them… but taking a 3 year old out to evangelize strangers? It makes me sad, but I know I have to mind my manners and not say anything. They’re good parents and they’re doing what they think is best. Even if I think it’s ridiculous and indoctrinating their kids, it’s not really my business, right?

Any suggestions of gifts for young kids to encourage thinking and love for science and other brainy pursuits?

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November 12, 2009  |  Christianity, personal, questions, relationships


  1. That sounds like experiences I had in my youth. You are correct that they are looked upon as mostly innocuous, but I shudder at the thought now.

  2. Good question that I can't answer. My daughter has her kids in a fundie Christian school and doesn't understand (or even want to discuss) why this is upsetting to me. But they ultimately are not my children, so I try not to interfere. I do, however, answer my grandchildren's questions honesty, like "Why don't you believe in God?". As far as I'm concerned, there are no "off-limits" topics. If they're old enough to ask, they'll get an age-appropriate honest response. And sometimes I'm able to ask directed questions that make them think about what they're learning (and regurgitating) from school or elsewhere.

  3. I had a group approach me at Subway some time ago. They were directing a young girl, who couldn’t be more than five, to lead the interaction. She sounded relatively well-rehearsed… as well-rehearsed as you could be at that age. To my credit, I was polite; I simply said, “I won’t waste any more of your time, or mine. I’m an atheist”, and they asked to say a prayer for us (I basically said ‘go right ahead’) and wandered off.

    I have to wonder, though, if they send the young child to forestall an angry reaction. If it were just adults, I’m sure people wouldn’t take kindly to these preachers interrupting their meals… but a kid is flameproof. Even if the diners get mad at the adults, they won’t do anything about it with the kid there…

  4. Come and read the posts at The End of Hereditary Religion and join my facebook group. We are grappling with precisely this kind of issue.


    http://groups.to/theendofhereditaryreligion/ (facebook group)

    Dale McGowan is a great source of advice for secular parents, which is what we are striving for in place of religious hegemony.

  5. Wow, an excellent question. And timely for me, too – I don't know of any good way to think about this, and I'm in a similar situation that is very frustrating. I think it's unethical to indoctrinate children, but I'm also respectful of a parent's right to direct the development of their kids. What to do?

  6. you know, it's hard to argue against this. i mean i'm sure some of my relatives think i'm evil for teaching my daughter how i think the bible and other religions are wrong. and i don't want anyone butting in on the way i'm raising my daughter.

  7. Well it is child abuse. It doesn't really matter that parents intentions are only to help the child and they think their doing the right thing, but you know what they say about good intentions. And obviously some of them are using children as a shield to prevent from strangers just shutting the door, and that I find disgusting.

    As for a gift, telescope is a perfect gift. I cannot imagine anyone not being in awe after looking up to the skies.

  8. You have to stay out of it – everyone has the privilege of raising their children the way they want to. Just answer honestly if she asks you questions as she grows up.

  9. I wonder if door to door evangelizing could potentially be a good thing for kids who are in very religious households since it exposes them to people who disagree with their parents' beliefs. If parents are sheltering their kids from such opinions then door to door evangelizing might be their only access to them.

  10. After growing up in a very conservative christian home I was determined to raise my kids to think. Staples in my house include the books Maybe Yes, Maybe No by Dan Barker, and Bill Nye's Big Blast of Science. We also own quite a few seasons of Myth Busters. Funny enough my boys 4 and 11 love watching them like most kids watch Sponge Bob. I don't think many parents give their kids enough credit to love being engaged in such things.
    My sons are taught to be courteous during prayers when over at the grandparents, but they think it is weird. They are not allowed to go to church, I don't want them to think it is ok or fun (like VBS). I think that is what keeps the cycle going is the indoctrination of children. Believers grow up sheltered in it. Education is Christianity's worst enemy. If people go to college at my parents church it is usually to their christian universities. Once I stepped out of the "box" I couldn't believe how foolish what I was taught (about everything) really was.
    I feel sorry for your niece being programed to believe she is nothing without Jesus, that in no way promotes a healthy self esteem. And the guilt she will feel toward sex (her body in general). Dreams and desires are "selfish" if they come before church, husband and children. It is sick. But she has you. A woman that is happy and healthy (and cool) without Jesus and that will make a big impression on her.

    • I appreciate you sharing what it's like in your family. I hope my nieces will see just how freeing and okay it is to think for yourself–even if it's different than mom and dad.

    • You are teaching your children to be skeptical about matters of faith (since you feel that exposure to church or VBS would be harmful). Conservative Christians teach their children to not be skeptical about matters of faith. Neither really seems to be the same as encouraging free inquiry. "Indoctrination" is a heavy-duty word — but isn't the same thing going on in both cases, whatever you want to call it?

      • I am teaching my children to be skeptical about everything. Christianity just happens to be what this post is about. "Indoctrination" is teaching someone to accept doctrines uncritically. How is teaching your child to Think indoctrinating them? Christians are not teaching their children to be critical thinkers (think court cases against evolution). But my children know what christianity is about, that seems a little one sided. That is what I am talking about in regards to sheltering their children – indoctrinating them.

  11. I would recommend http://www.scientificsonline.com. As someone that grew up without getting to learn about astronomy and science as much as doctrines and bible stories, this website has caught my attention so much. This coming from a girl who came to the conclusion that dinosaurs actually were real when she was oh, 22 or so. I feel like I've learned so much in such a short amount of time since opening my eyes to the possibility that I should be questioning instead of accepting. This site has a ton of great things to open up a child's mind to look deeper for answers.

  12. "It makes me sad, but I know I have to mind my manners and not say anything."

    That sentiment would never stop an evangelical from butting in and lecturing someone raising their children in a secular way.

    As for gifts, I'd say things like brain teasers and puzzles that make you use logic and deduction to solve them – anything that forces you to think.

  13. Not a lot you can do really. You won’t convince fundies to stop indoctrinating their kids by asking nicely, and going around the parents and trying to reach the kids directly is likely to do more harm than good, and a 3 year old won’t understand anyway.

    You’ll have to bite your tongue for now, but if you’re close to your niece the time will come when you can offer her an alternative point of view. Just the knowledge that there are people in her life that don’t believe will go a long way, so many kids don’t have that luxury.

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