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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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    “Where would I start?” and “what kind of message would catch people’s attention”? Those are thing I am struggling with. It is a painful though satisfying process, but having entered the “I’m mad as hell and am not going to take it any more” stage, I am highly motivated.

    The answer to “Where would I start?” is that I recently launched a project to get a foundation off the ground to raise funds to support research studies in this are. It is currently called “The Ingersoll Foundation for the Study of Cultural Influences on Brain Function“, (named in honor of you-know-who) which I know is quite a mouthful and may need to be shortened somewhat.

    As for “what kind of message would catch people’s attention?” — That is an open question. I continue to massage the language of the site to ensure that, while it makes the concerns clear, it is committed to unbiased, objective, credible inquiry and not an atheistic front group trying to prove a point. Take a look if you like and let me know what you think. Attempts to generate interest has produced negligible results, and I don’t know whether the any-religious implications of the content on the site is putting people off, if it’s unclear, if it’s generating yawns of indifference, if it’s the handiwork of a bunch of nutjobs  — or something else entirely. Seriously — any feedback would be most appreciated.

    The biggest hurdle is getting the attention of professionals in the fields of neurology, neuroscience, psychology and psychiatry, child development and education. I have sent innumerable news releases, emails to everyone in any of those fields that I could identify, not asking them to participate, but just to pass word along to anyone in their networks they thinks might be interested.

    One positive development is that I was fortunate to be able to get the attention of a fairly well-known non-theist author (unfortunately I can’t mention his name without his permission and learning whether he is yet willing to be publicly associated with the Foundation).


    You’ve sure put a lot of work into it.  Nice crisp looking website, congratulations and I wish you the best of luck.

    Though as someone who’s kept up on climate science studies and reports since about 1970, I’ve learned that all the sound, serious, verifiable, easily explainable science in the world, doesn’t do any good when people choose to ignore it.  Which I fear they will to any study on child development – which is way the heck more complex than Earth’s “global heat and moisture distribution engine.”  But I appreciate the effort you are making:

    Why Do We Immerse Children in Ideologies Not Grounded in Fact?

    The minds of children have enormous potential – but they are also vulnerable to assertive influences that are not grounded in reason and verifiable evidence. The Ingersoll Foundation will fund unbiased studies of the potential neurological and mental health effects of the long-term exposure of children to such influences and ideologies and the possibility that such exposure could alter their cognitive and neurological development and integrity, even as they move into adulthood. It will also support discussion of the difficult ethical questions related to the exposure of children to these influences and ideologies before they have developed the capacity to question or even challenge them.

    For generations, adult leaders and parents have, usually with the very best of intentions and based on their own upbringing, passed on to succeeding generations accounts of historical events, principles base on ideology rather than verifiable evidence and means of perceiving reality other than through the lens of evidence-based evaluation.

    The Ingersoll Foundation is a startup organization that will raise funds to support studies of the expression and potential cognitive and neurological effects of exempting certain claims of fact from critical scrutiny and of the possible impairment of one’s critical faculties. This exemption from that same scrutiny of claims of fact that are not supported by objectively verifiable evidence, but instead teaching children that they are true and valid using frequent, long-term and repetitive assertion, may, we suspect, have adverse mental health and neurological consequences.

    The question of whether or not these potential consequences from long-term exposure to ideas and asserted facts exempted from critical evaluation may result in their robust establishment in the brain’s neural connections and pathways is a matter of deep interest and concern, and one we consider worthy of scientific investigation. These questions and concerns, if valid, have both potential ethical, mental health and neurological ramifications for both children, and for those children if they as they retain and accept these ideas and asserted facts into adulthood.

    Our concerns notwithstanding, no research study can be credible if it begins with a bias toward proving a particular result. The same regard for objectivity and reason that raises concerns about the effects of long-term exposure of children to teaching them to embrace assertions of fact that are not supported by evidence also holds for the studies we intent to support.

    An absolute requirement for performance of any studies The Foundation funds will, as matters of both dedication to intellectual and scientific integrity as well as policy. Investigators’ objectivity, freedom from bias and commitment to reporting their findings based on evidence, whether their findings support our concerns or refute them will be an absolute prerequisite for for for Foundation support.

    I’ve minimal familiarity with psychology and such, but I’m wondering what kinds of study outlines do you envision?


    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.} …

    I’m afraid I deeply disagree.

    Religion makes some very specific claims about the physical world and claims to have affected and to still be able to affect events that happen within it. To ascribe any legitimacy to religion by labeling it a “non-overlapping magisterium” is to give it a “get out of jail free” card it does not deserve. It is a “magisterium” built on a foundation of dishonesty, fiction, error, willful disregard of the evil its scriptures portray and (my own source of disgust) the ongoing, long-term, inexcusable brainwashing and poisoning of the minds of children.

    “They’re both equally valid human endeavors.” Drink a glass of fresh tap water, then a glass of tap water laced with cyanide and call them “equally valid” means of hydration. The same validity as perception through the lens of reason and perception through the lens of religious faith have.


    What kind of studies do I imagine? Here’s a fragment from one of my posts on r/psychologyresearch that illustrates one possibility:

    Does acceptance of faith involve some kind of suppression of part of their brains’ critical thinking capacity? I don’t know what a psychologist or neuroscientist would call this, so I’ve coined the phrase “cognitive partitioning.” I have no idea whether such a phenomenon occurs, and am not at all claiming that it does. It is at best a hypothesis and at worst mere speculation. But I would be very interested to see research studies performed, probably using fMRI, to see what parts of the brain light up when members of the study population, randomly selected but including subjects ranging from non-theists to non-philosophical “nones” to the the deeply religious are read a randomized series of statements that range from the neutral to the pro-religious to the anti-religious to the nonsensical — and then see whether there are any correlations between their beliefs and attitudes and the brain activity that occurs in response to the test statements. Only studies like the one I have described — or perhaps using some entirely different design — will be able to determine — objectively whether there are any (and this is another on my made-up terms as a neurology dilettante) “crossover effects” resulting from embracing and valuing faith on the one hand and being able to think critically when it comes to other aspects of one’s existence. And even if such effects do exist, are they harmful in any way or utterly benign?

    When I mentioned “cognitive partitioning” you may well have asked, “aren’t you just referring to “cognitive dissonance” by another name. I am not — and I make what I consider an important distinction between the two. When I refer to “cognitive partitioning,” I am talking about the ability to look at some aspects of reality through the lens of reason and objectivity — even just ordinary “common sense”, but at the same time believing, quite comfortably and happily, that another reality exists that one perceives through the lens of “faith” — and experiencing no conscious conflict between the two.

    But “cognitive dissonance”?

    Merriam-Webster.com: Psychological conflict resulting from incongruous beliefs and attitudes held simultaneously.”

    Medical News Today: “The mental conflict that occurs when a person’s behaviors and beliefs do not align. Cognitive dissonance causes feelings of unease and tension, and people attempt to relieve this discomfort in different ways. Examples include “explaining things away” or rejecting new information that conflicts with their existing beliefs.”

    Psychology Today“Cognitive dissonance is a term for the state of discomfort felt when two or more modes of thought contradict each other. The clashing cognitions may include ideas, beliefs, or the knowledge that one has behaved in a certain way.”

    “Cognitive partitioning” (or whatever other term you might choose for accepting both faith and reason) expressed in the concurrent ability to perceive some things objectively and with the requirement of evidence but other things in a way that requires suppression of objectivity — or at least the exemption from critical scrutiny of certain other ideas — rarely, as far as I have seen, involves no “psychological discomfort,” “mental discomfort,” “feelings of unease and tension” and/or a “state of discomfort.” Quite the contrary. But it does involve conflicting means of perceiving reality, and, whether or not it is a potential source of harm, it would at least be very interesting to see research that sheds some light on how “cognitive partitioning” expresses itself neurologically. Does perceiving part of reality for faith somehow “leak” into the critical functioning of the brain? If so does it diminish one’s critical faculties, have no effect on it whatsoever, or perhaps even improve it? Without such studies, we will never know.



    As a person who has worked with Dr Marlene Winell, I view religious indoctrination as a form of child abuse and religious indoctrination is abusive to anyone of any age. Personally, I think it screws with the mind and does psychological damage. Even Dr. Valerie Tarico, who I’ve also worked with, agrees with this too. So you could get some good information on the psychological aspect from either one of them.


    CC:   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.} …


    Daniel:   I’m afraid I deeply disagree.

    Religion makes some very specific claims about the physical world and claims to have affected and to still be able to affect events that happen within it.

    To ascribe any legitimacy to religion by labeling it a “non-overlapping magisterium” is to give it a “get out of jail free” card it does not deserve.

    That may be, but religion has been at the heart of the human experience since humanity’s earliest days.  It’s our tool for grappling with all that surrounds us and our challenging lives and our fears and dreams and hopes.  Look at what’s happened in American this past half century, I don’t think its going anywhere.  It’s shame there couldn’t have been some sort of Earth Centrist reality based philosophical structure, something to provide an alternative to the Evangelical Siren Songs. Que sera sera.

    As for non-overlapping magisterium, don’t mistake my argument with Gould’s.

    I’m talking about the most fundamental divide that I don’t think most have ever faced or considered.

    That is the difference between Physical Reality and our Human Mindscape – “consciousness” if you like.  Our mind, the product of our brain’s incomprehensible processes.

    Science is a set of rules and procedures for enabling humans to behave objectively, with the express intent of filtering out personal human emotions and self-deception, and honestly learning about Earth and Universal processes.  It’s bowing to the reality that we petty self-serving humans need each other to keep ourselves honest.


    Thank you. I have Dr. Winell’s contact info but was only able to find and address for Dr. Tarico on an image of her business card, and I am not at all certain it is current. There is no messaging function here, but you can find my address on this Ingersoll Foundation page. I would be much obliged if you could send it to me (assuming you know it).


    I see no excuse for the vile excesses of religion to be exempted from the objective reality of the physical world, and the fables and evil embodied in religion are in no way necessary for living a rich, rewarding life of decency, kindness, generosity, love and compassion. Evolution, which I believe made those things positive survival traits and our experiences as members of the human community desiring to live with one another in peace and cooperation are all that are needed to provide us with the same benefits, and I suspect more, that what you suggest religion has to offer — without the baggage of utter bulls**t it carries with it. I, at least, find my life to be so much richer living a life based on reason, compassion, love and wonder at the sublime beauty of reality than I ever did while under the delusional spell of religion in my youth.

    EDIT: And why should the “human mindscape” be separate from physical reality rather than an integral part of it. Do you consider it something that consists of something other than the complex circuitry of the brain — which is a physical as you can get. The fact that we may be far from understanding how those synapses and neural connections produce many of the phenomena that we call “the mind” doesn’t make it part of another “magisterium” or flavor of reality. It just means science hasn’t gotten there yet. The fact that the mind is a spiderweb of neurons that we don’t yet fully understand makes it no less magnificent or real. It just means we don’t yet fully understand it. There is no more reason to put lipstick on the pig of our void of knowledge by dressing it up as different “magisterium” than there was to let lack of scientific knowledge dress alchemy up as legitimate science in it’s heyday. There is no shame is saying “we don’t know yet.” Resorting to woo-woo explanations just because something is not yet understood is an abdication of reason and a shows a weak commitment to the pursuit of knowledge through scientific inquiry. The voids in out current knowledge of things should not allow us to be tempted into woo-woo land. They represent the vast opportunities for discovery that exist that should exert a magnetic pull in the direction of science rather than causing us to cook up something like a “human mindscape” as “the product of our brain’s incomprehensible processes.” Incomprehensible now, perhaps, but that in no way makes it something outside the realm of physical reality. It is a beacon of scientific opportunity!



    Do you know of all the recent studies on this topic that have come out in recent years, and are beginning to get traction?





    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.

    No offence but why send your kids to parochial school if you don’t want them “indoctrinated”?

    And you say two of them became atheists anyway so it doesn’t really seem like the end of a child’s potential critical thinking skills.


    • This reply was modified 3 months ago by thatoneguy.
    • This reply was modified 3 months ago by thatoneguy.

    My kids went to parochial school because my wife is a Roman Catholic and part of the deal when we were married was that they would be raised as Catholics. When I was told that at the time, it didn’t translate into “which means they will attend a Catholic Parish school.” I was definitely not happy about that, but if you knew my wife, you would understand that there would be no arguing the point. She is a force of nature.

    Kids are all different. Most, I suspect, are pliable and compliant and susceptible to the influences of adult authority figures. My daughters were defiant hellions from preschool onward and terrors in their teenage years. One of them, though I never said a word to them about my attitudes toward religion, told me that one of the things that made the difference for her was instilling in her a love of science — and a love of science breeds a respect for fact over fiction. It may be one of the factors that ultimately turned me away from religion. My father, now 90 and a retired MD, but still a Biblical literalist and creationist, instilled a similar love of science in in me in the hope that I would follow in his footsteps.

    I am not saying that all kids have the same vulnerability to the fictions and brainwashing of religion. But religious indoctrination is in incredibly powerful. Up until the age of 18 I was a believer — born again and all that goes with it. Toward the end I fought to believe, even when I began to question the things I read in my nightly personal study of the Bible.

    So, no, not everyone is completely vulnerable — yet a great many are. Simply witness how many adults doggedly carry the faith and dogma they learns and children into adulthood — and then pass it on to their offspring — like a virus. Those who escape are a small minority. It is those who do not I am interested in learning more about. What happens to them neurologically and psychologically in childhood, what part of that to they carry with them into adulthood, and what impact, if any, does what was beaten into them as children have on them as adults? We can speculate all we want, but only rigorous research will give us the answers.


    @drhansenjr I can give you Marlene’s Journey Free website, which you may already have: https://journeyfree.org/ I highly recommend her for this subject and you can tell her I recommended her. She has done extensive work on this subject. This is her old website: http://marlenewinell.net/ Beyond that, I can’t give you anything personal.

    Valerie Tarico’s email address, which you can find here on CFI is vt@valerietarico.com Emailing her, I have found, is the easiest way to contact her. She responds, at least to me, within the day I send her an email. Again, you can tell her I recommended her for the topic you are researching.

    This is all public information and not personal info, which I can’t give. Marlene is a little harder to get a hold of, because she’s a busy woman, but doable. If you let her know what you’re researching and that you are interested in Religious Trauma Syndrome, she will more than likely get back with you, because she wants to get the info out there.


    Thank you @mriana. That is actually the email address I pulled off the image of her business card but was hesitant to mention here in the event she did not want it publicized.

    I actually had a very productive and pleasant video call with Darrel Ray, also of JourneyFree some time ago, but his suggestion was that we work under the umbrella of that organization rather than independently, which I was not comfortable with. I will contact Dr. Winell and Tarico, and hopefully that communication will be more productive.


    Just I side note: I want to be sure that you understand that I am not being deliberately negative or hostile in my responses to your messages. Obviously we have some differences of opinion, and mine are admittedly rather strong, but please do not read any hostility into the things I have to say. If I occasionally get worked up into a lather about something, it will be about ideas and will not be personal. Frankly, I have found our exchange very interesting and intellectually stimulating, and very refreshing in comparison to most other conversations in which I have recently been able to engage . While I will continue to be very frank in my comments, please do not take them personally, and be as open as you like with yours. I hope we will be able to continue our current conversation and engage openly in others that come along.

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