Is teaching kids religion brainwashing?


(Danny Doyle ) #1

One of my colleagues said today referring to the Papal visit here in Ireland this coming weekend “they have all been brainwashed since their youth”

This got me thinking how I would respond to this question if it was posed at me, to my shame I wouldn’t know what way to approach this.

I would love to hear some insights regarding this.


(SeanO) #2

@Dannyd Here are two other threads addressing this question. The short answer is that all of our beliefs are formed within community and culture. It is not brainwashing to teach children a particular worldview - we all have a worldview - even atheism is a worldview. So this argument is a bit circular. More details in the threads.

Do you have any additional questions? The Lord grant you wisdom in interacting with your friends.


Jordan Peterson P6 - Be a Merciful Proxy of the World to Your Kids
(Jimmy Sellers) #3

I will assume that your friend looks at brainwashing as negative i.e. blindly following a cult figure with no room for questions or even doubts. If that is what he mean then I would agree we need to stay away from that type of organization or system or the like.
If he means from their youth that these folks are products of their upbring then I would agree but we are all products of our upbringing and unless I missed something Catholics are encouraged to think and are not held to blindly following Rome.


(Jamie Hobbs) #4

I was once asked this question. It’s not a comfortable question to engage. Quite simply, I asked the skeptic what would be an appropriate thing to teach children, and he gave me a list of things like science, math, ethics (save this one!), reading, and history so that we can learn from our mistakes. He gave a small rant on the historical mistakes of religions here, but I left that alone at the time. I asked “so what you’re proposing is education?”, he said Yes. I then asked “why is this not also brainwashing?” And his response, which was instant and conditioned was, “Because this is real, religion is not.”

Which brings us to the point. The stance was clearly agenda-driven and he had his response ready before the question was even asked, showing that instead of searching for truth, he was defining truth in his own terms. I would eventually go back to the ethics thing, and ask on what basis something was considered ethical, but that devolved into a political mini-rant as well with society being the arbiter of truth. I wish I could say my eloquence showed him the light and he flipped worldviews right there. Alas, that was not the case, and I’m not sure I was eloquent at all. I just hope he at least considered what I said at some point as we parted.

The only reason I regale you with my tale is to show that you aren’t alone on this one, and others have struggled with it too. Sean has given some good resources, and I especially recommend the thread about children’s agency. Good stuff in there.


(Warner Joseph Miller) #5

Hey there, Danny!! Sorry that I’m so late in seeing this. When reading your post, a simple (hopefully, not over-simplistic) question came to mind: is brainwashing, brainwashing if the content is good?

We teach our children etiquette corresponding to the cultural and/or social mores of the part of the world in which they live. We teach “right behavior” and “wrong behavior”, i.e. don’t hit, don’t steal, be kind, say ‘thank you’ and ‘yes, please’, etc. Even though these are ideas that we “force” on our children, because they are agreed upon by most of society, they are considered good things and therefore not brainwashing. This leads me to surmise that brainwashing is only brainwashing when people disagree with the ideas. Simplistic? Maybe. True? I think so. What do you think?


(Danny Doyle ) #6

Hey Warner!

That’s a great way to look at that, I never thought of it like that. It’s so true it is only ever said when someone disagrees.

I also had another question posed to me and I didn’t really know what to say, well it was more like a statement. The statement was “the rest of the bible is just fairytales”.

I had a great chat with a colleague of mine about God, we spoke about creation and sin and the historical evidence of the new testament. He agreed with me on some points, but he then said that statement, he didn’t elaborate on it but you can only assume that he meant story’s like Jonah and the whale and story’s like that.

How would you best respond to a statement like that?


(Jennifer Judson) #7

To your original question I think I would respond that from the very beginning of man parents have shared with their children their values and beliefs–their worldview. This seems universally true. Not equipping our offspring with the cultural knowledge to go forth in their own lives would be neglect, even abuse.

So when one holds the belief of the questioner, in this case about Catholicism, how much of it is influenced by bias? How much by personal experience? Catholicism has a long, deeply entrenched influence in Irish culture. This person’s feelings may be the product of deep hurts inflicted by the church or church representative or compassion for others who may have deep hurts based on their religion. I have friends here in the U.S. who attended Catholic schools back in the 60’s. The tales they tell of being whacked mercilessly by nuns shocked me, it was a “believe or else” system and most are no longer practicing faith of any kind. Not to mention the horrific scandals of sexual abuse. There are certainly those who have been hurt deeply. (Note: I’m not picking on the Catholic Church, but it is the example in the question).

As a protestant I confess that my knowledge of Catholic beliefs is very limited. I have heard many times of the belief that the Pope is infallible. There certainly may be nuances that I am not aware of, but if a culture holds that idea to be true, and experiences pain through a particular circumstance in the church where does that leave you? How do you question the infallible? The idea of examining the faith and holding oneself and their church accountable to God becomes very complex.

I think I would seek to find out on what particulars he feels merit the label of brainwashing? If there is underlying pain then recognize that intellectual responses may do little to shed light. The big picture view of faith tends to gloss over the sins of the church, a particular church, or a specific practioner of the faith. So determine if a very close up view on wounds is more fruitful beginning to any discussion.


(Jennifer Judson) #8

Danny,
To the next question: responding to the Bible being fairy tales.

Though there is evidence to substantiate many statements/claims in the Bible, certainly there is not evidence for all. We take a lot on faith.

For myself, there is enough evidence that it makes the rest credible. So IF I come to believe that the Bible is my guide to life and God’s word, then I will get the most out of it if I take by faith what even seems to be incredible and unknowable. Over time, study, and experience and definitely the help of the Holy Spirit my faith has solidified in many ways, including a full belief in the Bible as the word of God. Do I understand ever word? No. Do I think every word should be taken literally? No. Do I think it accurately describes events that seem impossible (e.g. the feeding of the 5000)? Yes. But I probably did not get there overnight.

When people make negative statements about the Bible a good question is to find out just how much of it they’ve read? What to they know about the Bible? What kind of a book is it? Who wrote it? Are they responding to a cultural bias against the Bible and are ignorant? Or, have they really examined it and found it wanting? Do they believe that supernatural things are possible at all? Do they believe in the possibility of a creator? So many places to start a discussion.

Putting myself in their position, I’m sure I hold pretty negative views of the Koran. I’ve never read it. I know little of it’s history. Even so I would dispute it’s veracity and power to guide the life of individuals. I’m not so different from a person suggesting that the Bible stories are fairy tales. I believe if I had an expansive glimpse into the Muslim worldview I would still reject it. Perhaps this person feels the same way about Christianity.

I also think we have to understand that we live in a world where we cannot believe what we read. There is so much opinion on every side being represented as fact. It’s actually pretty incredible under those circumstances that we can believe the Bible to be the inspired word of God.

All this and I haven’t really said much, especially about how I would respond. I guess a lot would depend on my relationship with the person and how much I know about them and certainly how much I’m willing to invest in them personally. (I think we have to ask ourselves the honest questions if we’re going to do the same with someone else.) If I’m willing to invest myself in that person (and hopefully I am), I would invite them on a journey to see what’s really in the Bible and use the experience, if they are willing, to build a trusting and respectful relationship.


(Warner Joseph Miller) #9

Hey there, Danny! Again, my apologies for responding so late. It’s funny…I was at an Ikea in Brooklyn waiting on a long line on the edge of irritation when I first read your follow-up question. The first thing that came to mind in response was: well, what makes something a “fairy tale” to the person? Is it that they simply not believe in something and that qualifies it as a fairy tale? Is it that they’re unable (or in reality, unwilling) to conceive that miracles are possible…is that what makes it a fairy tale? I would challenge them to explain what makes something a fairy tale and put the burden of proof on them. Jesus often challenged the person seeking answers with another question. On many occasions throughout the Scriptures, especially with the Pharisees or other self-righteous types, He’d question the questioner to open them up within their own assumptions. While as apologists or even sincere believers, we desire to answer all the questions and plug up any holes of doubt. However, many times (not all but certainly more than a few) questions are asked not for answers or insight but to lead you down a rabbit trail of answering loaded or disingenuous questions. Try not to feel obliged to answer every question volleyed your way…even if you know the answer. Again, Jesus did this very thing on many occasions. (Mark 10:17-27) Indulge me for a minute:

As is the protocol in a court of law, if I as the prosecution or the one making the initial claim – even by default – am making the pronouncement that the scriptures, ie the Jonah story are true - then the burden of proof lies with the defendant (the questioner in this case). It is on them to prove that what I’m claiming (or what the scriptures are claiming) isn’t true. Their response may be something to the effect of, “it sounds ridiculous” or “I don’t believe it or in the miraculous” or “it doesn’t make sense”, etc. I would proceed to challenge them on their presuppositions and predispositions. If they’ve already entered the conversation with a bent against the existence of the miraculous or something not being true simply because it doesn’t make sense to them, then they’ve already stacked the deck and there’s no “proof” I could give that might convince them otherwise. I would tell them that I think that’s not an assumption they ought to make but it IS their choice to make. Again, don’t always feel pressured to give an answer. While we should always be “ready to give a reason/answer”, sometimes the best “answer” is to question…like Jesus - The Master Apologist - did. Hope that helps, some.