Christian Education or Indoctrination?
The focus of my last post, I weep for the children who are victimized by their spiritual leaders, was about various ways that churches manipulate, and sometimes even abuse, children. The second of my two examples, the Nigerian Witch Hunts, was a clearcut case in which thousands of children are being horrifically abused by not only their pastors, but also their parents, who themselves have been browbeaten into believing that their children are witches.
The first example I cited, the one to which I devoted the bulk of that post, was the story of the confirmation service of a seven-year old girl into an evangelical Christian church. As I observed the ceremony, a comment by the officiating pastor made me ponder the moral implications of what the girl may have been taught in preparation for the ceremony, which includes the following “promise”:
Having asked God for forgiveness, I will trust him to keep me good. Because Jesus is my Savior from sin, I will be his loving and obedient child and will try to help others to follow him. I promise not to use intoxicating drink, harmful drugs or tobacco. I promise to pray, to read my Bible and, by His help, to lead a life that is clean in thought, word and deed.
The person who presides over the ceremony typically reads the promise to the congregation. After this, the child being confirmed is asked, publicly, if he or she is willing to keep that promise. Not surprisingly, the answer is always, “yes.”
This promise is the first of two that children reared in my denomination are expected to make. The children who keep this promise are then encouraged to take an adult vow at some point between the ages of fourteen and seventeen following further required doctrinal instruction.
I think the reason for calling the young people’s pledge a promise rather than a vow, pledge or covenant is that children develop a sense of fairness rather early in life. A corollary to their sense of fair play is that they take promises very seriously. Thus, the term taps into that value in a way that none of the others do. Of all the terms I cited, promise is the one that is the most concrete for children. It effectively gives children an appropriate sense of the solemnity of the occasion and the seriousness with which they must take their beliefs. This promise is deliberately and effectively designed to fulfill the purposes for which it is intended: to initiate children into a community of believers and to reinforce some of the primary tenets of that body’s belief system. It is indisputably one small component of an intricate program of indoctrination.
Few churches call what they do indoctrination. Christian Education is the terminology most frequently employed these days. This phrase may indicate that denominational leaders don’t recognize that education and indoctrination are two distinct processes and that they are engaged in the latter rather than the former. Or it may indicate that denominational leaders are aware of the distinctions but want to use the less inflammatory term to mask the insidious process that actually occurs with their consent and according to their wills.
Another possibility is that some Christian leaders would be bold enough to call what they do indoctrination and would state that they do not view that as a negative thing. They would possibly argue that indoctrination is a necessary process by which believers must be insulated from the corrupting influences of the world. The corollary to that (which they would not utter aloud) is that indoctrination insulates the church from the deleterious effects of apostasy. Rather than provide believers with the tools required to formulate beliefs independently, theistic religions must keep them in a state of perpetual childlikeness and dependence. To educate rather than indoctrinate would lead inevitably to the demise of theistic religion, as it would enable people to set aside the shackles of superstition, think independently of their leaders and eventually divest themselves of those leaders. In short, education in the stead of indoctrination would be the death knell of religion. That is why indoctrination is religion’s chosen methodology of instruction and that is why the process begins with a sect’s youngest, most vulnerable, members.
- the chaplain