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Faith: a mere product of indoctrination?

Faith: a mere product of indoctrination?
Posted on July 31, 2021  - By Jerusha Joel

In the post-modern world we live in, ideas of the divine or the supernatural have become synonymous with superstition and ignorance. To the world at large, it is almost unthinkable that a rational, intellectually aware person would consciously choose to believe in God. Religion, therefore, is — to most of the scholarly world — the very antithesis of knowledge and advancement.

Given this postmodern outlook with regard to matters of faith, it is certainly no surprise that our universities and workplaces are often saturated with hostility and aversion towards the exclusive truth claims of Christianity. To many, there is nothing more irrational and irreconcilable with a sophisticated academic or professional environment.

I first encountered this antipathy earlier this year as a freshman, when my class was having a discussion on creation vs evolution. After I’d made my stand for the creationist view, my professor implied that it was imperative for students to get rid of the indoctrinations they’d received in their childhood and become someone different to who they were raised to be. Many of my other professors too have often remarked on the need for us to be open-minded and set aside the indoctrinations blinding our minds.

To many, there is nothing more irreconcilable with a sophisticated environment than matters of faith

I know that this particular problem is nothing new to young Christians. But when I was first confronted with this accusation, I was rather indignant. Basically, the moment I stood up for my faith, I would immediately be relegated into a preconceived notion of the religious fanatic, indoctrinated, unexposed to opposing ideas, and unable to think critically for myself. It didn’t matter that the other person knew nothing about me, how I was raised, what I have read, and very little of what I actually believed; to openly profess my faith in God was to condemn myself to being viewed through the lens of a predetermined cliché. 

This got me thinking about how I could respond to this suffocating stereotype imposed upon almost every young Christian.

What is conditioning?

First of all, let us examine what all the fuss is about. Indoctrination is defined as “the process of teaching a person or group to accept a set of beliefs uncritically”. The distinctive element which distinguishes indoctrination from mere teaching is accepting something ‘uncritically’. In other words, teaching that does not encourage one to critically examine the truth of what is taught and consider other ideas and beliefs in juxtaposition to it can be labelled as indoctrination. 

Christian parents who supposedly brainwash their children are accused of withholding information on science, gender, politics, history, culture, psychology etc. and of isolating their children from exposure to other people and their perspectives and worldviews. I think the primary question here would be about whether this is even humanly possible. 

At the age of four or five, most children are sent to public schools where they are taught the same curriculum as everybody else, where they meet and form friendships with children holding different cultural heritages and beliefs, and where they are subjected to all sorts of different ideas. 

We also live in the age of information technology, making it almost impossible to shield children from opinions and perspectives contrary to a parent’s beliefs. The accusation of withholding alternative views from a child is baseless simply because it is not remotely achievable in modern societies.

The accusation of withholding alternative views from a child is baseless simply because it is not remotely achievable in modern societies 

One of my most cherished memories from my childhood is the animated family discussions we would have in the car, at the dinner table, or while taking a walk. My brother and I would be encouraged to pose our questions regarding issues of faith, science and culture, clear any doubts we had, and critically examine the evidence for the Christian faith. Never once were we asked to accept anything blindly. If we were not convicted of it in our minds, we were simply told that what we failed to understand or accept would be revealed to us at the right time. 

While this may not be everyone’s experience, this is the vital difference between teaching and indoctrination; teaching that allows questioning can never become indoctrination, whether it be of a religious or secular nature. In the same way, teaching that does not encourage criticism is indoctrination, whether secular or religious! 

I would say that many red signals which suggest indoctrination (practised ardently by some religions) — such as not being permitted to question teachings and practices, not being allowed to forge relationships with those of different faiths, forcing children to devote extensive time to religious studies, imposing strict sanctions if this legalistic framework is violated etc — are simply not true of most Christian homes.

Ironically, the indoctrination that religious parents are accused of can also transpire in, say, a family of liberal atheists. A young atheist who holds liberal views can also have been indoctrinated into holding them just as easily as a young Christian. She might, for example, have been told all through her childhood that religious beliefs are blind and foolish and, consequently, have an aversion towards them without having truly examined the possibility for God’s existence. 

Invitation to reason

Another important factor to consider is the rich intellectual legacy of the Christian faith. The Bible teaches us to value truth and this commitment to truth is reflected in all aspects of our lives. In fact, in a post-truth world that declares that there is no such thing as truth (said to be nothing more than a perspective that is relative, fluid and ever-changing), the Christian faith is one that dares to make outright claims of absolutism. 

Now, if one believes in the existence of absolute truth, one must also believe that there are definite ways of arriving at or realising those truths. Human reason is a God-given aid and instrument in this pursuit of truth. True Christian teaching never demands blind, unthinking adherence of its followers.

True Christian teaching never demands blind, unthinking adherence of its followers 

As Michael Wakely said in his book Can it be true?, “One of the marvellous qualities of the Christian faith is that it is not a closed and sealed box; it is open to intellectual investigation. Christianity does not require a blind leap in the dark, but urges a faith that examines, studies and reaches sound conclusions, and then invites the cynics, the questioners, the intellectuals and the thinkers to come and do their best.” 

The Bible too tells us to “be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you the reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:15). Thus, we see that the Christian faith does not silence questioning; it only demands to be heard.

Besides this, it is a common fact that all young people go through an identity crisis at some point in their youth, when they question their beliefs, values, roles, purpose, sense of self etc. This is an important period of self-discovery when they break away from the shared identity they have with their parents and construct a new one for themselves. For most youngsters, this period is dominated by rigorous questioning and examination of spiritual beliefs handed down by their families as well. 

A double standard

Universities often claim to set students free from the unfortunate indoctrination they received as young children and expose them to a new world of fresh ideas and perspectives. But as mentioned earlier, teaching that does not encourage questioning — whether religious or secular — becomes nothing more than indoctrination. And it is certainly beyond doubt that most colleges and professors do not encourage students to question or critique the liberal theories and beliefs that are taught to them. 

Have you noticed that lectures on evolution, queer theory and relativism are hardly ever accompanied by exhortations to critically examine them? In fact, what they ask pupils to do is to exchange the absolute beliefs (or ‘regrettable’ indoctrinations) they hold for another set of absolute claims (or ‘liberating’ indoctrinations)! In short, the accusation of indoctrination is often the result of a bias towards liberal, anti-Christian ideas.

On a final note, when faced with the assertion that our faith was simply imposed upon us by our families or communities, it is always good to evaluate ourselves and examine why we believe what we believe. This will not only prepare us to give a reason for the hope that is in us but will also ground us in the faith and help us adhere to our God-given responsibility of honest allegiance to truth.

Jerusha Joel

About Jerusha Joel

Currently pursuing her Bachelors in English literature in Kerala, Jerusha Joel enjoys discussions about philosophy and the socio-cultural issues of our postmodern world. She has a deep interest in apologetics and a passion for defending the gospel of Christ against conflicting ideologies.



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