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Your thoughts on the indoctrination (particularly religious) of children

Forums Forums Politics and Social Issues Your thoughts on the indoctrination (particularly religious) of children

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    This subject is something of a bee in my bonnet, but I’m wondering what others think. I checked for other threads on the topic but they were all rather dated.

    Consider these facts:

    • Huge numbers of children are exposed on a daily or weekly basis to religious teaching (aka indoctrination) on a weekly or even daily basis in Sunday schools, religious education/”faith formation” classes and in madrassas.
    • Our brains store information by formation of synapses (connections) between brain neurons and in networks among those neurons.
    • The retention of information is strengthened by reinforcement of various kinds — repetition, presentation by respected or (feared) adult authority figures who usually themselves believe what they are saying and appear sincere, exposure to ritual, peer pressure and fear of being perceived as “different” and so forth. This strengthening is manifested in the brain by increases in the number of synapses associated with the associated bit of stored information. And the brains of pre-adolescent children have about twice the level of “neuroplasticity” (the capacity to form new synaptic connections) than they will have starting in adolescence when a process call “pruning” begins. Reinforcement also occurs by the thickening of the glial sheaths (layers special of special cells that wrap around the axons (the cable-like extensions than extend from the main cell body and lead to terminals that connect with the dendrites on the bodies of other neurons to form synapses. With reinforcement throughout they years of childhood, the connections that store the information presented during the process of indoctrination become so robust that it becomes incredibly difficult to dislodge and resistant to challenge such that it is often carried into adulthood, and these children, now adults are likely, with the best of intentions, to enroll their own offspring in some form of religious education program.
    • Unless there is some form of intervention, children do not develop the capacity to challenge claims of fact until late childhood or early adolescence — even if they had some level of the capacity to do so, under the “spell” of a sincere adult religion teacher presenting utter nonsense as absolute truth and urging them to effectively shut down part of their critical faculties to regard this nonsense-based means of perceiving reality (aka “faith”) as valid and virtuous. Are we crippling the minds of children by doing so, and possibly even damaging their critical faculties so permanently that they carry this damage forward into adulthood. Issues of damage aside, how can it be ethical to brainwash children in this way — to manipulate their minds to believe certain things without also telling them “don’t believe everything you are told,” and “it’s OK to question things that don’t make sense.” Imagine what would happen in a religious education class if a child had the temerity to ask for evidence for what he or she was being taught? I shudder to think about it!

    End of rant. But these are the things that stick in my craw. We can talk to each other all we like as adults, but until we can find a way to address the viral infection of defenseless children with nonsense, and make it clear how unethical the practice is, this curse is going to remain with us.

    Curious to hear your reactions!



    I was subject to what you describe when I was a child.  I don’t know how my life would have been different, had it been otherwise.  But I bet it would have been very different.

    Anyway, fwiw, in my old age, I seem to have overcome the worst of that early indoctrination.


    Tim, we are two of the lucky ones. I was a devoted, “born again” Evangelical Protestant until around the age of about 18 when, after reading the Bible, cover-to-cover perhaps one too many times, I saw it for what it was. I left it behind — and it was liberating.

    But every day, or at least weekly, the capacity of children’s minds (I don’t know how many — millions, at least, and perhaps billions) to question the things they are taught is being stunted by religious indoctrination. It is all well and good to experience our own relief at having been able to escape. There is nothing wrong with that. But there is a “virus” that is rampant throughout the human race, more insidious that the virus that causes the COVID-19 illness, because one of its symptoms is that generation after generation of adults — even intelligent, well- meaning adults — “infect” children with it, for the most part doing so because they believe it is the right thing to do for them.

    I think it is incredibly important that, in addition to thinking of ourselves, we devote much more attention to what is happening to these children and begin thinking of practical things we can do to protect them. I have a few half-baked ideas, but I certainly don’t have the answer. The main thing, though is that we start asking ourselves, “What can we do for the children”?


    I was not indoctrinated, so I only skimmed. I think we can promote secular education


    Why not indoctrinate children with science and religion and let those two fight it out.  (I know, I know, science would lose).


    The big question is “how?”  I can just imagine going into the parish school that three of my four children attended and proposing a secular rather than religious educational approach. I am sure I would have been shown out of the school by someone with a firm grasp on my arm (fortunately who of those three kids, my daughters, ended up atheists, with no encouragement from me).

    We really need to think about specific, practical solutions. I am involved with a startup foundation that will, hopefully, fund studies to look at the effects of long-term indoctrination on children, but that’s the best I’ve been able to come up with so far, and it hasn’t been easy going. Identifying and getting professionals who might be interested and willing to participate has been a huge challenge.

    These are the minds of kids we’re talking about. I can think of few things more important. Again, we need to start thinking practical and specific.


    IMHO science if far better because if kids had been taught more science or it was not ignored in favour of religion, then we wouldn’t be seeing a pandemic out of control in the U.S. It’s out of control due to religious indoctrination and ignoring science.


    I completely agree — but please take a look at my response to @thatoneguy two posts before yours. Opinions are fine — I certainly have mine — but what do we do, in practical terms, about the situation? In the parochial schools my children attended years ago, they were taught both science and religion, and the science teacher, whom I met a number of times was no slouch. But suggesting that children be allowed to challenge the validity of religious teaching, including that accepting to faith is a virtue would have likely have earned me the “bums rush” out of the school and could easily have gotten my kids expelled."My Mind is Precious" Flier


    Since Intellectual abuse is, for most people, the lowest rung on the ‘abuse’ ladder, you’re not going to get nearly enough traction to move forward.

    • Sexual abuse is practically the ultimate sin: You will get help fighting it at the drop of a hat.
    • Physical abuse it frowned upon: No one will deny it, but you won’t get as much support as you would if you were tackling sexual abuse.
    • Mental abuse is shrugged away in many cases: No visible wounds = didn’t happen, to most people who haven’t experienced it, so support is hard to get.
    • Intellectual abuse isn’t even a ‘thing’: No one has heard of it and is sounds like a made up form of abuse.

    It is directly attacking the support of religion and sounds like a crime of almost no consequence, so finding support will be impossible (I was going to say “next to impossible”, but in practice, it will be “impossible.”)

    Another hurdle to convincing adults that they don’t think properly (and we need to make sure the next generation doesn’t have the same problem) is that you are using an insult to garner support. Few are open to that level of honesty in advertising.

    I agree 100% that it is real and it is at the root of practically all of the decline we see in our society, but you won’t convince people in these times of rampant lunacy.


    Obviously there are huge obstacles. But the crippling of children’s minds — a practice that affects billions and has for millenia? That will continue to do so? We are not talking about sporadic incidents of abuse. We are talking about an institutionalized practice that begins in childhood and persists into adulthood –and that may well affect adults’ grasp of reality.

    I cannot sit idly by, shrug my shoulders, say, “boo-hoo, too hard,” and just leave it be. Passivity and defeatism solve nothing, and never will. People willing to tackle this issue may be few and hard to find, but they have to be out there. My approach is to promote research to investigate the issue and publish the results. There may be other approaches as well. But what I do not understand why the fact that f***ing with the precious minds of billions of children on a daily basis doesn’t anger people more, as it does me.


    Oh, believe me, I hate it as much as you.

    But I live in a very conservative minded small town (I am the token atheist buried in a few thousand very religious folks) and I know there’s no chance at all that anything will ever prevent my neighbors from indoctrinating their kids into their flavor of Christianity.

    Religion has existed for thousands of years and although it’s an anchor around the ankle of progress and human rights, we can survive with it for a few more years.

    The decline of religion is as inevitable as it is slow, so as much as you and I want to see it end now, we should turn our energies towards that which is possible rather than doing the equivalent of raging against the setting sun.




    Oh the virtual gremlins must be feeling especially pissy today.  Lets try that one more time.


    @drhansenjr      I cannot sit idly by, shrug my shoulders, say, “boo-hoo, too hard,” and just leave it be. Passivity and defeatism solve nothing, and never will. People willing to tackle this issue may be few and hard to find, but they have to be out there. My approach is to promote research to investigate the issue and publish the results. There may be other approaches as well. But what I do not understand why the fact that f***ing with the precious minds of billions of children on a daily basis doesn’t anger people more, as it does me.


    People willing to tackle this issue may be few and hard to find, but they have to be out there.

    Yeah, I used to think that too.  But a couple decades of active seeking has produced nothing, beyond my own intellectual emotional journey, interesting as hell though it may have been.  People are scared and they are smug, and they have jobs to protect – left and right.  Neither is willing to examine their own mistakes and totally resent the suggestion that they should – hell, they can’t even tease out the difference between ‘understanding reasons,’ as opposed to ‘creating justifications’.

    Intellectual honesty is painful, it has incredible rewards, if you can handle it, but in today’s Hollywood driven fantasy society hard work and a little pain are off the table.  So instead we blunder and stumble towards horrors as yet unimaginable, but inevitable considering the trends in the breakdown of our planet’s biosphere’s health along with the increasing breakdown of societal norms in general.  Not to mention the vested interests actively trying to stir up a civil war in the USA.


    And where would you start?

    What kind of message do you think has the power to catch anyone’s attention?



    I do have a suggestion.  Sadly it doesn’t seem to make sense to a lot of people, I wonder if it’ll make any sense to you.

    Missing Key to Stephen Gould’s “Nonoverlapping Magisteria”


    The Missing Key to Stephen Gould’s  “Nonoverlapping Magisteria”


    The increasingly shrill and disconnected from physical reality attacks on science by faith-based organizations and individuals has me thinking about an essay evolutionary biologist and historian of science Stephen J. Gould wrote some twenty years ago in an attempt to address the tension between scientific truths and religious truths. …


    …  Recently it occurred to me that what Stephen Gould was missing was a much more fundamental divide that is crying out for recognition.

    Specifically, the Magisteria of Physical Reality vs the Magisteria of our Human Mindscape.

    In this perspective we acknowledge that Earth and her physical processes and the pageant of evolution are the fundamental timeless touchstones of reality.  Part of Earth’s physical reality is that we humans were created by Earth out of her processes.
    Science shows us that we belong to the mammalian branch of Earth’s animal kingdom. …


    Science was so successful that today most people believe we are the masters of our world and most have fallen into the hubristic trap of believing our ever fertile mindscape is “reality.”  Which brings me back to Gould’s magisterium and his missing key.

    The missing key is appreciating the fundamental “Magisteria of Physical Reality,” and recognizing both science and religion are products of the “Magisteria of Our Mindscape.”

    Science seeks to objectively learn about our physical world, but we should still recognize all our understanding is embedded within and constrained by our mindscape.

    Religion is all about the human mindscape itself, with its wonderful struggles, fears, spiritual undercurrents, needs and stories we create to give our live’s meaning and make it worth living, or at least bearable.

    What’s the point?
    Religions, Science, political beliefs, heaven, hell, even God they are all products of the human mindscape, generations of imaginings built upon previous generations of imaginings, all the way down.

    {That’s not to say they are the same thing, they are not!
    Though I think they’re both equally valid human endeavors,
    but fundamentally qualitatively different.
    Religion deals with the inside of our minds, hearts and souls,
    Science does its best to objectively understand the physical world beyond all that.} …




    In case the above made you curious @drhansenjr here’s some background from earlier days.   These essays could all be improved with a little rewriting, maybe someday …


    citizenschallenge.blogspot _ com/2008/08/there-they-go-again _ html

    citizenschallenge.blogspot _ com/2008/08/what-is-sciences-sin _ html

    citizenschallenge.blogspot _ com/2008/08/god-flowing-into-word _ html

    citizenschallenge.blogspot _ com/2008/08/historic-snafu-in-need-of-revisiting _ html


    (trying to keep the ‘puter gremlin at bay – you know where the dots go, I’m sure)

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