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Do Fundamentalist Christians Indoctrinate Their Children?

religious indoctrination

Thanks to Arkenaten for prompting me to write this post.

When using the word “indoctrinate” in connection with the manner in which Fundamentalist Christian parents raise their children, objectors say that I am using a word that should only be used when describing cult child training methods. According to the defenders of all things Evangelical, it is Fundamentalist religious cults that indoctrinate children, not God-fearing, Bible-believing, Evangelical Christians. (See Are Evangelicals Fundamentalists?) While I am sure this is the case in many Evangelical homes, only the deliberately blind refuse to see that certain flavors of Evangelical belief are awash in cultic practices, including the indoctrination of children.

In 1 Samuel 1:21-28, Hannah dedicates the child (Samuel) God has given her to the Lord:

And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.  But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever. And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the Lord establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him. And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young. And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli. And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord.For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him: Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.

Using the story of Hannah dedicating Samuel to the Lord as justification, countless Evangelical pastors encourage parents to dedicate their children to the Lord. Score of parents have stood before churches, infants in their arms, and made promises to raise their babies in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. Often, grandparents are asked to do the same, promising that they will be good examples of Christian belief and practice to their grandchildren. As with Roman Catholic parents and the often-meaningless rite of infant baptism, many of these I Promise God Evangelicals quickly forget their vows, going on to raise their children in nominally Christian homes. I became so frustrated by this lack of commitment to vows that I preached sermons from Deuteronomy 23;21:

When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.

and Ecclesiastes 5:4-6:

When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay. Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?

I warned parents that they were provoking God to anger if they stood before the church and made a vow they had no intentions of keeping. Needless to say, requests for baby dedications dropped precipitously.

Having said that, there is a sizable minority within Evangelicalism that takes child dedications vows seriously. These parents do everything they can to indoctrinate their children into the faith once delivered to the saints — Evangelical Christianity. Some Evangelical mothers play Christian music or read the Bible out loud while their Evangelical-to-be baby is still in the womb. Soon after birth, Evangelicals parents make sure that their new babies are present in worship services, desiring for them to become accustomed to the voice of the man of God and the singing of the saints. With two of our children, my wife was in church less than 24 hours after being released from the hospital. At the time, I lauded her commitment to our new child’s spiritual training. Today? I just hand my head in shame.

From the crib through college, many children are indoctrinated in all things Evangelical. Since Evangelicalism is primarily anti-cultural and anti-intellectual — let the Evangelical whining begin — it should come as no surprise that many Evangelical parents withdraw their children from the “world,” choosing to expose them to a religious subculture that I fondly call the Christian Ghetto.

kansas board of education

Many Evangelical parents make sure their children are at church every time the doors are open. In Independent Fundamentalist Baptist churches, it is not uncommon for children to attend four services a week, and that doesn’t include youth rallies, revivals, missions conferences, and special prayer meetings. These same children are often sent to private Christian schools or are home schooled. Using curriculum produced by Fundamentalist publishing houses such as A Beka, Bob Jones, Rod & Staff, Accelerated Christian Education, Alpha Omega Publications, Christian Light Publications, Sonlight Curriculum, or Advanced Training Institute, Christian parents make sure their children are only taught a Fundamentalist Christian worldview. After graduation, these same children are encouraged to attend Christian colleges and universities, further indoctrinating them in the faith handed down by Jesus, the Apostles, and their Christian forefathers.

As I mentioned above, many Evangelical children spend an inordinate amount of time in church. Most Evangelical pastors, Sunday school teachers, and youth directors consider it their duty to raise new generations of Evangelical warriors for God. Children are taught that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. Often, children reach adulthood without ever hearing anything about the errors and contradictions found in the Bible. Bart Ehrman, a New Testament scholar and professor at the University of North Carolina, says that it is not uncommon for Southern Baptist-raised students to be shocked upon hearing that the Bible is not the book their parents and pastors say it is. Faced with cognitive dissonance of the first degree, these students often retire to the house of faith — the safe confine of all who have been lied to about the nature and history of the Biblical text.  Other students face crises of faith, leading them to modify or outright reject Evangelical beliefs — beliefs, I might add that aren’t theirs, but that of their pastors and parents.

Most Evangelicals begin adult life with a borrowed system of belief, into which they have been indoctrinated their entire lives. Taught to believe and not think, these young adults are thrown out into a world that has no regard for their beliefs. Unable to defend their beliefs and moral pronouncements, these fully grown Evangelicals either lose their faith or once again retreat to the safety of their houses of worship, places where questions and doubts are washed away with a magic potion of faith and obedience.

Evangelicalism is inherently revivalistic, focusing on the salvation of sinners — those who have not repented of their sins and expressed faith in Jesus Christ. Evangelicals of all stripes believe that children come into the world as sinners, alienated from God and in need of eternal salvation. Most, if not all, Evangelical sects say that children aren’t accountable for their sin until they understand the difference between right and wrong. (Calvinists would beg to differ, I’m sure.) This standard, of course, is established by the Biblical interpretations of pastors and parents, and varies from church to church and family to family. Most Evangelical pastors and parents would agree that it is best for children to be saved (born again) at an early age. As a result, it is not uncommon to hear of Evangelical children being saved at ages as young as four or five. Both my wife and I were saved the first time at age five, and like many Evangelical children, we later rededicated our lives to the Lord as teenagers. I have had parents tell me that their three year old toddlers had asked Jesus into their heart. These toddlers, as most Evangelical children are, were taught that disobeying their parents was sin. If these toddlers understood what it meant to obey and disobey parents this meant that they were sinners and were now in danger of dying and going to hell. No Evangelical parents want their child to go to hell, so with sincere intentions these parents encourage (goad?) their progeny to pray to Jesus for the forgiveness of sins. Viola! Their children are miraculously forgiven of their sins and booked for a room in God’s mansion in the sky — a room Jesus is now preparing just for them.

Many Evangelical churches spend a significant amount of money and time on programs that are meant to thoroughly indoctrinate children in the teachings of the Bible. Countless church workers warn their little charges of the dangers of sin, the need of salvation, the wonders of heaven, and the horrors of hell. These methods result in numerous children and teenagers getting saved. Once saved, these born-again children are encouraged to dedicate their lives in service of the Lord. Children are encouraged to serve the Lord full time as pastors, evangelists, missionaries, Christian school teachers, and pastors’ wives. More than a few Evangelicals pastors of my youth told me that the becoming a pastor was the most important job in the world, greater than even becoming the president of the United States.

westboro baptist children

Is it any shock, then, based on what I have written, that critics of Evangelicalism such as myself say that many Evangelical churches, pastors, and parents use cult-like indoctrination to ensure that their children continue to worship the family/cultural God? Evangelical children are not taught to reason and think (for the most part). Faith trumps reason, beliefs trump facts. Years ago, I tried to show a colleague and best friend of mine several of the errors that are found in the King James Bible. He believed that the King James Bible was the inerrant Word of God. I had, but a few weeks previous, similar beliefs, but I had recently found out that the KJV translation did indeed have errors and contradictions. I thought, at the time, that my good friend surely would want to know this, but I quickly found out that no matter what I showed him, he had no intentions of changing his beliefs. With a faith-filled voice, my friend told me, I don’t care if you can show me errors in the King James. By faith, I am going to believe that the KJV is the perfect Word of God.

So it is in many Evangelical churches and homes. Atheists often wrongly think that Evangelicals will turn from their beliefs if they are confronted with the true nature of the Bible. They are astonished when Evangelicals reject evidence and facts and appeal to faith. These atheists fail to understand that no amount of evidence or argumentation can penetrate a worldview built upon a foundation of Fundamentalist Biblical belief. Properly indoctrinated Evangelicals will rebuff attempts to lead them away from their beliefs. Is this not exactly what their parents and pastors warned them would happen? False teachers lurk in the shadows, ready and willing to lead you away from your Biblical beliefs, countless Evangelical pastors warn. Doubt and questions are tools of Satan used to lead you astray! Flee from anyone who causes you to doubt your faith! Unshaken will their faith remain until something causes them to at least consider that one or more of their beliefs might be wrong.

Rarely will arguments with atheists produce such doubts. This is why I don’t try to argue anyone out of his or her faith. I encourage Evangelicals to read, and then ask questions —LOTS of questions. I encourage them to ask their pastors questions, noting their responses. If their pastors sidestep questions, appealing to faith or quote a number of Bible verses, it is safe to assume said pastors are trying to hide something or are ignorant themselves. Sometimes, events will happen in their lives that cause Evangelicals to doubt the love, justice, and fairness of God. These doubts often provide a springboard for discussions concerning suffering and God’s culpability in the things that afflict humans and animals alike. Knowing that many Evangelicals have intellects that have been smothered by dogma, rote learning, and proof texting, those of us who want to help people break free of Fundamentalist bondage must be willing to be longsuffering, patient, and kind, knowing that the path out of Evangelicalism is often fraught with false starts, trepidation, and much intellectual and emotional anguish. To quote the Rolling Stones, time is on my (our) side, yes it is. We know the Evangelical God is a fiction, and that heaven and hell are mythical places used as a carrot and stick by preachers to ensure the fidelity of parishioners to the one true faith. I am willing to wait patiently as truth does its perfect works in the minds of those who sincerely believe in the existence of the Evangelical God and the infallibility of the Christian Bible

As I look back over my own life, I am left to conclude that it was impossible for me to grow up to me anything but an Evangelical preacher. My mind was so saturated from the religious indoctrination of my parents, pastors, Sunday school teachers, youth leaders, and college professors that my fate was sealed. Sadly I was almost 50 years old before I finally figured out that my life was constructed on a false foundation and an elaborate framework of lies. It pains me to admit this, but in doing so I sincerely hope I can help others steer clear of Evangelicalism and its intellect-numbing worldview.


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    Believers who resist admitting that they have participated in the Crusade to destroy children’s lives do so because the utter horror of the truth is not bearable all at once, the sensations of cognitive disonance overwhelm the senses and welcome further denial. My childhood was washed in the blood of the man, Jesus. He has a lot, a huge shitload of blood and I was washed in it. Can you see it? For fuck sake, can you see the child drenched in Jesus’ blood?
    Indoctrination is a gentle way to suggest that all choice was removed. Indoctrination is a friendly way of dressing up what is in reality a form of rape. Rape your child for Jesus. The Crusade against children still goes on in earnest. God Hates…. is a true sign held high by those with the Westboro or Anderson virus. God hates fags, shuttles, children, everything and his followers crush all resistance as they enjoy tax-free status to harm.
    These are twilight zone realities to folks who have not been exposed. They furl their brows and say, Really??? It can’t be that bad.
    If only we had a way to spend one complete day with Steven Anderson and see him at work on his family at home, really see him do God’s work. I assure you that that all who witnessed that would come away at a run, would flee. Most people have no idea what goes on in God’s name.

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      Which is why it must be brought to light, and better this is done by people like yourself rather than me who grew up in a very laissez faire religious environment.

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      J.D. Matthews

      Brian, you and I need to get together over some beers someday. I bet we could bleach the tavern walls white with the tales from our fundamentalist childhoods!

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        Yes, indeed… And to get a rise we might break into Sunday School songs among the tavern regulars… Should make for a twist on the word, witness!

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    I recall a relative’s coercion on her children to accept Jesus, even at a very young age. It was an interesting insight into the mind control that occurs. I suspect they understood it, but there is no way I’d even suggest it was something that was their own idea or of their own volition. Until the children relented the pressure was quite constant. This along with the insane and inane push for homeschooling. I’m truly glad fundamentalism is on the wane, these tactics are an obvious (though somewhat desperate) to propagate the lunacy into the next generation. They are smart kids though, I suspect they’ll figure it out for themselves at some point.

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    J.D. Matthews

    I was one of those children that was in the pew the Sunday after my birth. For the longest time, the only songs I knew were church hymns. My mother still to this day brags to people that she had me memorize 50 to 100 Bible verses by the time I was 2 years old. I could quote the Bible before I could read. (Nowadays, she laments that I used to be such a good 3 year old, running around the house singing praises to Jesus. How could I reject him now?)

    I was baptized when I was 6, because the Church of Christ teaches you that you go to Hell for using instruments with hymns, and I had tried to play Amazing Grace on a keyboard. Barely in fucking kindergarten, and I was already afraid of God roasting me alive for infinity for some small, inconsequential “sin”!

    By the time I was 9 or 10, I was already well into leadership roles, especially song leading. I was made to feel extreme guilt for quitting song leading during the time my voice changed, because it was bloody humiliating being up there and having my voice crack. When I was 14, I was not only a full-time song leader, but I was also teaching Sunday School to all the other kids in our small congregation.

    And then, when graduation finally came, I was told that I had no other choice but to go to one of a couple of Christian universities. I had expressed a desire (and could’ve got scholarships for it) to attend the University of Georgia, where I would’ve been better educated and had a better shot at a career. But I was not allowed to do so, because I was not allowed to live away from home at a “state school.” The only choice, if I wanted to move out and experience some of my own freedom, was to go to a Church of Christ university, where I would be robbed of 3 credit hours per semester that had to be given to taking a Bible course, not to mention a great deal of money.

    Yes, indoctrination is a real thing. Hell, let’s call it what it is: fucking BRAINWASHING.

    I get so angry, especially during this time of year, because I’m seeing so many people posting pics of their VBS. Now there’s brainwashing that the Hitler Youth could be proud of! And then I see people posting pics of their 8 year old getting baptized as if it’s the most wonderful thing in the world, with all the likes and praise that come with it. It makes me want to vomit.

    How about we just let kids be KIDS???? If the truth is as powerful as we say it is, they will be convinced of it someday when they are OLD ENOUGH to weigh things out logically and make their own decisions.

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      J.D Matthews, It makes me weep to know, to feel just what you are expressing here. I am so sorry that you had to face that in your life. Thank-you for saying it as it is… When I .think of what is standard operating practice in fundagelical parenting, I cringe.

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      ‘ the Church of Christ teaches you that you go to Hell for using instruments with hymns’
      Wow that is mixed up thinking. I wonder what part of the Bible they use to justify that conclusion?

      I recall that at the time of the reformation, Luther argued that whatever was not prohibited was permissible so used music with hymns, but Zwingli argued that only what was specifically mandated by Scripture was allowed so prohibited music with hymns.

      Subsequent Church History would favour Luther’s interpretation. Which I also would have thought was a more logical interpretation of the Bible.

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        J.D. Matthews

        They take a very strict interpretation of Ephesians 5:19, which says to “sing and make melody in your heart unto the Lord.” Church of Christ prides themselves on their (very flawed) sola scriptura approach, and since no other instruments are mentioned there, then we have no authority to use them, and to do so would be to add to what God wants, and therefore it’s a “strange fire” and unacceptable to him.

        It’s fucktarded reasoning, but it’s what they believe.

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          The blunted heart, narrow and often stupid interpretations of scripture gladly blowharded by dingy Christians, just so confirms my need to flee that flock. My deary aunt used to start crying sometimes when she broke her quiet spinster life and visited our family of six kids. I remember her sending a card after one such visit, quoting “a soft answer turneth away wrath” etc. as if it had something to do with our family squabbling. It is very common for believers to deny human feelings that are uncomfortable for them by quoting some handy verse. It shuts down human feeling and quashes enquiry, praise peaceful Jebus. btw, you do a disservice to those who do not need or deserve it by using the term fucktard. I stopped using the term Baptard because it was offensive to those we used to refer to as retarded. One time I used it was inreference to the summary judgements said by Christians against others… A bunch of baptards, i calledthem but I thenrealized that I had never come a cross a ‘retarded’ person who ever did that and so to suggest it was simply incorrect and very rude. It seems to me that your use is might be misguided inthat way too. May i suggest, fuckturd? It might better serve your purpose…

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          Thanks for that clarification. To me that Ephesians verse has nothing to do with the use or nonuse of Church music.

          One of the factors that influenced my deconversion was studying theology and coming to see the diverse interpretation of the Bible by different Christian groups. They all claim to be inspired by the Spirit of God, but if they realy were there would be perfect unity.

          So given the prayer of Jesus in John 17 for Christian unity and the clearly diverse interpretations, groups such as the Church of Christ can only salvage their position by claiming they are the one true church.

          Looking now from the outside it is such a clear nonsense I wonder why it took me so many decades to reach that conclusion.

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    I was in church every time the doors were open. Sunday school, morning service, potluck in the fellowship hall, evening services. Bible study at least twice a week.

    I felt morally superior to the kids who didn’t go to church.

    I really don’t know why, the kids my age that I was stuck going to church and other events were not terribly nice people. I never fit in, not at school and not at church.

    Years and years and years and years of my time wasted. Having to get up early on Sunday to go sit in a drafty building with people I did not care about.

    That’s why I don’t worry about the afterlife… I’ve already spent eternity with a bunch of Christians. I didn’t like it.

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    Steven Trafford

    Wow what a wagon full of horse crap you have laid out in this article. With one majestic sweep of your pen you seek to eradicate Christianity? Greater and more intellectually astute men than you have tried and failed. I get it your faith was challenged by something you couldn’t rationalize with your humanistic ideology. Which came first your humanism or your professed atheism?
    You read something that moved you away from God which calls into question your experience with God in the first place. You became so sophisticated that you sum up your years of evangelical preaching to being misguided in your youth? But here you are still preaching but now you are preaching that we should open our minds to nothing. As an atheist your proposition is there is no God and you discovered that because you answered some nagging questions in your mind that the rest of Christendom has refused to answer. How elitist are you! You have bought into a lie and now you want the rest of us who believe in God to abandon Christ because you adopted humanism and atheism. What a piece of work you are…do you really ever read the stuff you are asking the rest of us to.
    Here is a reminder to you about your elitist attitude…1Cor. 1:18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God. 19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. 20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? 21 For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. 22 For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: 23 But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumblingblock, and unto the Greeks foolishness;
    24 But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. 25 Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 26 For ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27 But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28 And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are:
    29 That no flesh should glory in his presence…
    Go back and repent of your folly which started along time ago when you desired to align yourself with the sophistry of this world and esteemed your understanding of the world as the correct position and abandoned the revelation of God.
    Your defection has been with you through the years and it did not break upon you one morning. It took years as you hid among real Christians waiting for the moment to build enough delusion and arrogance to raise your voice against the voice of God. You have built your foundation on sand and you know the eventuality of that conclusion. You never really read Jn 3:3 Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.
    You cannot see the kingdom of God…You don’t get it and the reason that you don’t get it is because YOU MUST BE BORN AGAIN….by the SPIRIT OF GOD!
    There is so much lacking in this article from a true Christians perspective that tells me you never met the God of the Bible and you have never known the anointing of God or seen a life turned around from ruin and destruction into the arms of a loving Savior. You have simply been masquerading as a wolf in sheep’s clothing. As the Apostle John said concerning your kind…
    1Jo 2:19 They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us…that is why you are on the outside manifest to all by your own admission that you have not know the Lord Jesus

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        As usual, Steven Trafford, like all before him, claim a worldview that they refer to as ‘truth’ yet have no evidence whatsoever to support it. In place of evidence they think it suffices to quote bible passages. What use are bible passages to people who don’t accept the bible as any kind of authority?

        Trafford has a slight ability to string words together, though whether he is capable of engaging in genuine debate I rather doubt.

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      Becky Wiren

      Bruce, elitest? Hahahahahaha! Oh wait, you’re serious? Bruce has one of the most down-to-earth blogs I’ve read. If by elitest, you mean “intelligent person who goes by facts” then you are correct. 😉

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      Steven, fuck off asshole… any twit can quote Bible verses: Jesus wept. (I have responded to you with the same sophistication you employed in speaking to Bruce… ponder that…)

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      I’m three years late to the party, but thank you, Steven, for commenting on this blog post in such a way as to leave very little doubt that no omnibenevolent spirit could possibly be living in you.

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