Indoctrinating kids

Dale McGowan is brilliant. He holds a lot of different disciplines in his head and can present them in a way that anyone can get it. I get his podcast via Spreaker, but here’s an Apple link. What if your child becomes religious?

It takes a few minutes to go over all the possible variations of what a kid could do and he likes telling his own stories, which are interesting, but then he really gets in to the data. There’s this thing about how little children accept most of what their parents tell them, but as they grow they start to develop their own world view. A good parent will help them with that to prepare them for adulthood. Religion is the opposite. He addresses the difference between teaching kids to think for themselves and indoctrinating them into atheism.

I don’t have kids, but I have religious kids visit my house, so I’ve thought about this a lot. It’s a tough subject to breach because the parents could decide that since you are asking then you’re planning to tell their kids God doesn’t exist, and they just won’t visit anymore.

Teach kids card tricks. Once they realize that what seems supernatural is actually just tricks, they may learn to recognize deception elsewhere.

Matt Dillahunty has a story of a guy who saw him doing magic tricks and the guy asked him if he was doing “real” magic. He very calmly explained that there are only tricks. He told him to think about what he was seeing then he did his levitation trick. The guy thought Matt was really levitating. Then he showed him how the trick was done. It helped the guy a lot.

I came from a Pentecostal background and my mom is still in the church, so this one has been a little tough for me. Mom used to like to take my oldest kid (then 5 or 6) to church for Sunday School and we allowed that. Sunday School was harmless enough, but it was followed immediately by a second service which adults and children attended together. Everyone thinks their kids are great, but my kids really are a lot smarter than other people’s kids I interact with. They pick up on things most kids miss. And one day my son came home crying because his mother and I were going to be tortured in Hell because we didn’t go to church. That was the last time he went. I’m sure he probably heard it in the second sermon which most kids sleep through and understood what the pastor was saying. It’s not something he would have normally picked up in Sunday School, even at that church, at that age.

We always tried to be open with our kids and let them make up their own minds. But we were consciously aware that there were slimy individuals out there who would swoop in and whisper in their ears the moment our backs were turned (and that has literally happened). So we never told them “how it is”, but we did tell them “how it seems to be” and tried to give them the tools to think it through themselves. We said they could go to church if they wanted (once they got older), but we didn’t believe that stuff. Then, later, once it appeared we might have a kid who was LGBT, we refined that rule to “You can go to any church you want…which doesn’t discriminate against gays.” Thought we were being sly there. That pretty much eliminated all of them. One of them did go to church with a friend every now and then, but that was just to be with her friend.

And poof! 4 happy little atheist kids (well, they WERE little once) who made up their own minds what to believe because we taught them how to think for themselves instead of what to think.


And poof! 4 happy atheist young adults (maybe not so young anymore) who made up their own minds what to believe because we taught them how to think for themselves instead of what to think.
Something to be proud of Dad!

Congrats, job well done.




On the topic of indoctrinating young people:

Can I ask you to take a few minutes and read this and give me your thoughts?

With some tiny changes so as not to reveal identities, this is verbatim a thing that I witnessed, happening with people I know very very well, connected to a very intense situation in which I COULD NOT say or do anything about it.

And it has literally haunted me…in fact, just glancing it over again has made me literally sick to my stomach.


It is pretty crappy, but quite in line with evangelical mores. I hope that Chiaki recovered ok.


As far as I know, “Chiaki” did decide to come to school in the US and has been living with them the past year.

I don’t know if there has been any emotional impact or not. The fact is, kids grow up hearing Christian dogma from parents every day, and it never really stinks in that, Oh, does this mean my Grandpa went to hell? Or The Silverbergs are really nice people but they don’t believe in Jesus… Hmm…

Many people hear Christian messages all their lives and never really PONDER them. So it makes NO impact.


But. … this kid is super quiet. If she is a deep thinker, those thoughts are marinating somewhere.


Here is my inner reaction:

This is HORRIFIC boundary-crossing, manipulative, emotionally abusive and cruel, and a betrayal to the brother & sister-in-law (the kid’s parents). You are literally teaching the kid that her mom & culture worships DEMONS.

Yes. There is that.

Tho from the abusers perspective, they were taking responsibility to help the girl retain her immortal soul.



Tho from the abusers perspective, they were taking responsibility to help the girl retain her immortal soul.
Well, yeah ... I realize that.

To be clear, I know the couple very very well.

They have NO intent to harm the girl. They genuinely want her to be “saved” from hell. … a fear I used to have, too, but was never able to “proselytize.”

So yes, they mean well. But my point is the reaction from the outside.


I mean, I have been tempted a few times to inform the brother on FB. But the situation is to triggering & volatile (for me).


oh, bummer

This is a Bart Campolo podcast on the topic. Trouble is, you aren’t the parent. You have no authority to tell anyone in the scenario how to act. You can only say something about what you would if you were the parent. It would be difficult to have anything you say not sound like unsolicited advice. I’ve found that even the most enlightened non-religious people don’t see indoctrinating kids in religion as child abuse. That line of abuse gets starkly crossed when the topic of hell comes up. Here’s another from Dale McGowan, but he has the advantage of preparing his kids for someone doing that.

At this point, I hope the kid continues to be engaged in the non-fundamentalist world and gets more opportunities to ask questions and think for herself.

I will DEFINITELY listen to this, thank you.

Trouble is, you aren’t the parent. You have no authority to tell anyone in the scenario how to act.
100% right. And you want a little taste of why this triggered me so deeply (in fact, is triggering me right now?)

1] “Aunt Rachel” is actually my step son’s biological mother. My stepson is 30 now, but from the time he was about 6-14, our household was in a custodial war with her household…and among the many issues was her Fundamentalist indoctrination of him.

2] I was actually living with “Aunt Rachel and Tom” when I overheard this exchange with “Chiaki” last year.

As you can probably see, the situation is ridiculously complex.


I remember his presentation last summer!! I will watch again:


This happens all the time, especially when people know you don’t believe and don’t go to church. To their credit, they really are trying to “save” your children. However I really don’t think they would accept that excuse from me when they caught me teaching their children to think for themselves. They would be absolutely livid if they found that I was telling their children that their teachings were wrong. How the hell they can think it’s already for them to do is beyond me. I don’t care if they think they’re trying to “save” my children. From my perspective they are trying to save my children from the bogeyman by bringing them into a life of subservience. From my perspective I would be “saving” their children from a lifetime of ignorant obedience, but I don’t cross that line.

Yes, again… I understand from THEIR POV they are “saving” these kids from going to hell. I used to be terrified of people I loved going to hell. So I actually do understand why they do it.

But anti-vaxxers oppose vaccinations because they think that they CAUSE autism and various illnesses. Can we pretend for a moment like this is a vaccination discussion? I want to be able to say how I feel without being reminded that the anti-vaxxers have their hearts in the right place.



I realize my post was long but one reason I pointed out it’s a rural area, the girl barely spoke Engkish, it was her first morning and she was here in the US for an extended period of time is because of her extreme vulnerability.

This is worse than just saying this to kids in your neighborhood. This girl was overwhelmed and kind of a prisoner.

I know what you’re talking about there. The pastor of the Pentecostal church I used to attend often hosted foreign exchange students, who were required to attend services.


The pastor of the Pentecostal church I used to attend often hosted foreign exchange students, who were required to attend services.

Imagine: You are not only young, impressionable, vulnerable and in a completely new environment…you are also living in SOMEONE ELSE’S HOME (not a member of your own family, thousands of miles from your homeland), for months.

You eat and sleep there, you depend on them for transportation and daily survival. You are immersed in this environment MUCH more deeply than the typical American adolescent.

To Evangelicals, of course, that’s perfect because they want to “save” you.

But from outside, it’s psychological and spiritual rape.

I don’t know that I’d use the R word there. It’s a pretty serious word, in my opinion. I use it to describe the “transvaginal ultrasound” that Republicans tried to pass a law to require for any woman seeking an abortion a few years back because, yeah, it was totally their intention to force women seeking abortions to allow themselves to be raped with a piece of medical equipment. But I don’t think we should over-use the most serious words or they start to lose their meaning.



I agree. That’s why the #YouToo movement wound up making me uncomfortable. I don’t ever want to invalidate another person’s trauma, but some events sounded ridiculously minor, and made it seem like maybe women shouldn’t be in the workforce or socializing after all.

I also hate it when people say “Religious indoctrination of children is abusive,” full stop. Some is. Much is not.

Hyperbole doesn’t help.

However, I would use the word rape to describe this sort of indoctrination.

Religious Trauna Syndrome is a real thing. Complex PTSD happens due to religious abuse. And given:

:heavy_check_mark: The young age of the kid (not even 16);

:heavy_check_mark: Her vulnerability (from Japan, a culture where kids are very deferential to adults; living in the US under these peoples’ roof for several months, depending on them, not knowing anyone else in the US and having limited English); and

:heavy_check_mark: The extreme nature of the message (Not, “Most people in the US are Christians, so here is some info about that religion,” but "Where YOU come from, people worship DEMONS… You will burn in hell forever if you don’t believe what WE tell you … and BTW, all OTHER Christians are wrong)…

Yes. It is an unwanted, extreme violation of this child, designed to cause fear and distrust of her own parents and homeland, and an exploitation of the fact that she has no agency in the matter. She is a captive audience. It IS emotional and spiritual rape, inho.