Religious indoctrination and using children as weapons

It may not be obvious from my writing, but I am a very sanguine person. There are a lot of things that make me annoyed, or upset, and depressed, but there aren’t many that enrage me. Leave it to religious people to find just the right button to push to pull that off.

I don’t object to religious parents teaching their religious beliefs to their children. I don’t agree that they should have a right to, but it seems that I’m in the minority on that point. But unarguably it crosses the line when they abuse that privilege to indoctrinate their children with lies and bigotry. Even worse is when they deliberately stunt the intellectual growth of their children by allowing them only the most restricted and unbalanced education, and refuse to give them the tools they need to properly think and reason for themselves.

But even worse than that is when they deliberately give their children a poor education that does not prepare them to properly deal with the real world… then push them to go out and challenge it.

And they do, without a doubt. Over at Canadian Atheist, a grade 8 student from Alberta (or at least, someone who claimed to be a grade 8 student from Alberta) left a comment on a post about the MLQ v Saguenay ruling. He asked:

If any Atheist wants to tell me why prayer offends you, it would be great to know. Because I have a very hard time understanding why something like prayer offends you if you don’t believe that prayer doesn’t have an effect either way.

Basically, he believes that the reason atheists wanted to stop prayer in government meetings was because prayer “offends” atheists.

You’re probably asking yourself: “How can a 13 year-old (presumably) seriously believe something that stupid?” But the answer to that is already obvious. That’s what he was raised to believe. That’s what he was taught by his parents, his priests, his teachers (he mentions that he goes to a “faith-based school”, incidentally). And of course he was never taught how to use his mind and think about whether or not the things he believes make any real sense. Given all that, it’s hardly surprising that he would believe that stupid notion so seriously that he would actually seek out an atheist blog and seriously ask them the question (assuming it is asked seriously).

And of course, that’s just par for the course. Any out atheist who has engaged with people long enough will have plenty of stories of being approached by kids who have such unimaginably stupid and bigoted notions about atheist as: that we’re “angry”, and that we have some kind of “agenda” focused on persecuting Christians. Which weird because we’re actually all secretly Christians, who just choose to ignore the guilt we feel for sinning. Also, we’re all secretly paedophiles, and we eat babies, natch.

It’s all obviously ridiculous, which leads to the question of why parents and religious leaders do it? Why do they fill kids’ heads with such obviously absurd bullshit and then deny them proper instruction on how to reason about what they believe, then encourage them to go out and face off against atheists?

There are some pat answers to these questions. The most obvious is that they’re delusional. They seriously believe that they’ve given these kids really good, robust educations, and that if they go out and engage the wider world, their faith won’t be shaken. That kind of delusional arrogance is certainly possible, and it’s probable that there are people like that. But I have a hard time believing that all… or even a majority… of believers are that out of touch with reality.

Because the numbers are pretty hard to ignore. We can see in the demographics that nonbelief is triumphing dramatically when it comes to people switching away from religion. They keep throwing deluded, poorly-informed children at us, and we keep teaching those kids – once they’re old enough – giving them access to good information, and teaching them how to think and reason for themselves – which ultimately has the effect of making most of them upset at the way they were betrayed by their religious upbringing. We don’t have a 100% success rate, of course, but we do damn well.

So it must be true that at least some, if not most, religious leaders realize that the “education” – the indoctrination – they’re sending kids out into the world with is not effective when challenged by reality. So why do they keep doing it? Why do they keep using this obviously losing strategy?

The answer is: Because it’s not entirely a losing strategy.

The key to understanding this is to realize: It’s not about the kids. It’s not about what’s best for them. Not in the least. In fact, the kids don’t really matter at all.

Never mind what religious people say. (Which is really a good rule of thumb.) Oh, sure, they’re full of lip service for family and children. They love to name their groups “family” this and “family” that, and “concerned parents” this, and “for the children” that. They are vocal about how much they care for their children. But of course, any atheist knows how hollow all this noise is. We all know how quickly the children stop mattering when the good name of the religion is in danger. Just ask the Duggar kids.

Think about it. What kind of parent gives their kid obviously flawed and incomplete instruction in swimming – instruction that has been shown time and again to fail miserably when put into practice – then encourages them to go dive in the deep end. Not a good parent, that’s for damn sure; not one that actually cares about the well-being of the kid.

Even if you want to argue that it’s a case of arrogant delusion, you still have to admit we’re talking about a peculiarly incompetent and uncaring parent if they can’t even be bothered to check to see if the kid is properly prepared.

But, as I said, it’s not about the kids.

To the religious leaders, the kids are just the ammunition they use to fight their “culture war”. In fact, don’t take my word for it. Listen to how religious leaders themselves talk about children. They talk about them like they’re foot soldiers – or pawns – in a “war”.

They know the kids aren’t properly educated, and they know quite well that the kids they throw at us are poorly equipped to handle the reality and reason we are going to reveal to them. But it doesn’t matter to the religious leadership. Kids are a cheap, expendable, and renewable resource. And it takes us a lot more time and effort to properly educate them and help them shake off their early indoctrination than it takes them to churn them out.

It doesn’t really matter to them all that much that most of those kids who encounter reality will grow out of their half-assed indoctrination. It’s like they’re tossing kids overboard to see who sinks and who swims. Those that are swallowed up by the ocean of reason are just shrugged off and forgotten, while those that bubble back up to rejoin the faith are celebrated. You must certainly have noticed how easily religious parents are willing to turn their backs on their children when they start doubting their religious upbringing.

This strategy doesn’t seem to be a winning strategy, even if you take into account that religious leaders don’t really care about the welfare of the kids. But that’s because it’s not intended to be. It is a strategy of harassment and delay to hold back the inevitable.

The real goal is just to delay the inevitable demise of the faith. Even though they’re losing kids by the bushel to reason the moment those kids are old enough to think for themselves, they still manage to hold on to a few. And those few tend to come through it with stronger faith. It’s the best they can do, at this point – just hold on desperately until something comes along to reinvigorate the faith. One candidate for that is, of course, the fulfilment of Biblical prophecy (at least as they understand it) – which many of them do believe will happen in their lifetimes. But another option is a massive catastrophe that upsets the social order so much that we fall back on religion. Sick as it sounds, there are people who pray for that to happen.

But the other goal is simply to harass and annoy the nonreligious world as much as possible. It’s a little like giving a class of kids a terrible, incomplete, half-assed driving lesson – that they know doesn’t produce good drivers – then encouraging those kids to go out and drive on the busiest streets in the city. Obviously that’s not going to work out well for the kids, but we’ve already established they don’t care about them. But of course, it’s also going to wreak havoc for everyone else.

And that’s their goal.

It’s not a winning strategy. It’s a quixotic strategy of delay and harassment. They hold out hope that something will change to stop the decline of their faith – hopefully the prophecies coming true, but they’ll be happen with a massive catastrophe if that’s what it takes to make more people turn to religion. In the meantime, the wave after wave of clueless, deluded, uninformed, and poorly-educated kids they keep throwing at the secular world keeps us occupied with trying to help the kids, and gives them a small but steady stream of hardened believers.

It’s not a winning strategy, but it is an effective strategy. That is, if you don’t give a squat about what’s good for the kids… which they don’t.

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Religious indoctrination and using children as weapons by Indi in the Wired is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

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