Free Will Hypocrisy
I’ve noticed Christians are really hung up on the concept of free will*. It’s a very useful tool invoked to explain away everything from the Problem of Evil to the need for Jesus to die on the cross to the reason lives aren’t saved and prayers aren’t answered. Christians explain that God gave people free will which he has promised not to violate. He gives us all the freedom to choose between good and evil and thus eternal life and eternal damnation. He is grieved when we don’t choose the “right path,” but he will respect our decision and not intercede in our lives.
Christians really love this idea, and if you talk or debate with one you will surely hear them invoke their beloved God-given gift of “free will” with a twinkle in their eye that betrays their facade of modest humility and lets you know that they’re unbelievably certain of not only their chosen faith, but also of the usefulness of their apologetic “free will” card which will proved a philosophical answer to any of the difficult questions posed by nonbelievers.
Free will is an essential part of God’s salvation plan for the world. We are supposed to come to God freely, of our own volition, and make an informed and personal decision to accept him as our savior. My question is this: if Christians cherish free will so much, and believe that it is central to the process of belief, why do they also practice and praise childhood indoctrination? Doesn’t this seem directly hypocritical?
Research and personal experience both have proven that where a child is born and the religious affiliation of a child’s parents have the largest baring over their religious affiliation. Take a look at this map which shows the distribution of Christian denominations in the US if you don’t believe me. If you happen to be a baby born to Christian parents in a part of the world that is populated primarily by other Christians, you are going to be a Christian.
As a baby I was not baptized because my parents wanted to give me the freedom to choose religion on my own. They felt like baptizing me into the church as an infant violated my free will. My parents believed that the decision to follow Christ or not was ultimately up to me, and one that I would make once I reached the “age of accountability.” The majority of Christians believe in this mysterious “age of accountability,” which is a stage in development a child reaches where they are able to understand right from wrong, and thus are able to make a lifelong dedication to Christ. My family believes this age is about five or six, or whatever age a child reaches where they begin to empathize and understand simple moral concepts like “sharing is good” and “hitting is bad.” They believe that at five years of age a child who can’t even pick out their own clothes is ready to pick out their religion. A child of five is going to choose whatever their parents chose, or whatever they believe will make their parents happy. They are not coming to God based on their own will.
Thus I was born a Christian. I didn’t have any choice over the matter. Like all Christian parents, mine felt that leading me to Christ was their most important duty. They took the words of Proverbs 22:6 to heart, “Train up a child in the way he should go, even when he is old he will not depart from it,” and began my religious instruction when I was just barely learning to talk. I was instructed that I needed to ask Jesus into my heart as my savior because of how much God loved me. It wasn’t a matter of choice, it was a matter of duty. I wasn’t given any other options. They didn’t explain to me that, if I wanted, I could pray to Allah instead, or maybe Buddha. They certainly didn’t tell me that I could chose to not believe in God altogether. They violated my free will by urging me to make a decision that I did not understand the implications of, and without offering me alternatives. It wasn’t even a matter of “Will you decided to accept Jesus as your personal savior?” but rather “Have you accepted Jesus as your personal savior yet?”
Indoctrination violates free will, and that is why many free thinkers (myself excluded) consider it child abuse. It stifles a child’s ability to make a personal and conscious decision to follow any particular faith. Yes, a child might grow into an adult and decide to abandon their religion of their own volition, but it is extremely rare. It turns out that the old proverb is actually true. A child who is taught “the way [read: RELIGION] he should go” will not depart from it, even after they reach maturity. Darwin realized this when he wrote that it is as likely for a child to apostatize from their indoctrinated faith “as for a monkey to throw off its instinctive fear and hatred of a snake.”
Christians love free will, but they fail to see the how often they violate it.
A Clarifying Addendum:
I am in no way saying or suggesting that parents should be careful to keep their children’s free will in tact and unvoilated. I recognize that all parents, regardless of their belief system, will have a great influence over the belief system of their children. This cannot be avoided. I am singling out Christian parents only because their religious belief claims that free will, coming to Christ via an independent personal decision, is a crucial and paramount part of God’s plan for salvation.
*I should take this opportunity to explain that I am skeptical of “free will” and believe that it is likely a cognitive illusion.