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Sometimes I find myself simply astonished by the lows to which some Christians will stoop. Every time I think I’ve found the new lowest-low, one of them shows up with a shovel and a pick to prove me wrong yet again.

Thankfully, I am a skeptic at heart, which means that I am always willing to amend my position when presented with conflicting but clear evidence.

Today we look at a blog post called “The horror of atheist indoctrination”, which I’m donotlinking to here because frankly I do not like the idea of rewarding someone who wrote something so obviously manipulative and mean-spirited. In it, the writer in question declares that atheist parents “indoctrinate” their kids just like Christians do, making those kids far less likely to become Christians later–which of course means those kids are at risk of Hell.

If you are an atheist parent, like Wally was, are you similarly indoctrinating your kids into disbelief? If so, are you OK with that? Think the horror of Hell isn’t bad enough? Imagine how your kids are going to feel when they find out it was the teaching of the people who were charged with caring for them, loving them, and looking out for them that got them there. Further imagine how they will feel when they learn you won’t be with them to share in their suffering… …that you’ve moved on without them.

It’s really sickening stuff, and honestly I never thought I’d see a Christian go there. But here we are. There really is no low too low. Now atheists who have kids are being psychologically manipulated and terrorized into considering Christianity so that their kids won’t get “indoctrinated” into atheism and thus miss out on Heaven, which would all be their parents’ fault.

Let’s talk about why this post is so evil and wrong-headed.

First: It does not offer any convincing support for Christianity’s claims.

Nowhere in this post does the author actually offer any good, compelling reason to believe in Christianity. He just tries to panic and scare parents into protecting their kids from a totally non-credible threat that he is making. If he wants atheist parents to fear Hell along with him, then he needs to actually give them a good reason to fear it. If a Hindu person were making exactly the same threats about the Hindu version of Hell, and advising parents not to “indoctrinate” their kids into not believing in Hinduism because later on those kids would be stuck in that Hell even while their parents live it up in the Hindu party van in Heaven, then American parents–who live in a country that is almost entirely dominated by a different religion with a different conceptualization of Hell–would quite rightly think that person was acting like an asshat. Parents regularly hear attempts to panic them about topics as varied as vaccination to schooling to clothing choices to the dangers of drugs, and if those attempts aren’t accompanied by evidence that the threat being made is credible, then they’re not going to buy into it unless they are primed to be gullible and accept those threats without question.

You know, like the author of this piece does.

It’s like he vaguely understands that atheist parents just don’t fear the same things he fears, but he just can’t figure out why, so he’s pulling out all the stops to make them as frightened as he is.

If I didn’t know exactly how toxic and nasty his brand of Christianity is, then I’d be quite puzzled about why, when one of that tribe senses that someone’s not responding to anything else, the threats of Hell come out. But I do, and so I am not. Remember: love can’t exist where there are threats, and neither can free will. Unverified, non-credible threats–especially of violence, especially of torture, especially of horrors that threaten people’s beloved children–get dragged out purely to terrorize, not to persuade.

We should be wondering why this blogger is seeking to terrorize rather than to persuade. We should be wondering why he thinks his most effective tool is fearmongering and not love or evidence. We should be wondering why terror is what he himself thinks is the most compelling reason to do what he says.

Second: It uses different definitions of the word “indoctrination” here and does so regarding atheist parenting in a way that most atheist parents would consider completely alien to their childrearing philosophy.

Christians pull this particular logical fallacy constantly. The fallacy is called equivocation and that link goes to a post our friend Neil wrote about it over at Godless in Dixie in which he discusses why it’s such a manipulative thing to do. If you can’t read the link right now, the important thing to remember is that in Christianity, these sorts of redefinitions are actually considered a good thing. They’re done constantly. If you’re not in the tribe, then you really can’t take for granted at any point that a Christian’s use of common English words actually matches your expectation of those words’ meanings. They’ll redefine those words smack in mid-sentence, from one use of the word to the next–and “indoctrination” is a prime example of this habit. Sometimes it’s done without that Christian even being aware that a subtle shift in meaning has occurred between their two uses of a word, but sometimes it is done quite on purpose–as I suspect it is here.

Christians are indoctrinated into their religion as children because their parents, church teachers, and authority figures basically present this information to them as a done deal that must be accepted without question. That’s what indoctrination actually means: to press upon someone information that may or may not be correct and to do so in a way that doesn’t allow for serious questions or challenges. And in Christianity, that is how children are “taught up the way they should go.” The (somewhat incorrect) idea is that the harder and more strenuously a child is indoctrinated, the less likely that child is to later question that indoctrination. That’s one reason that religious-homeschooling materials rely on rote memorization and fill-in-the-blanks worksheet completion the way they do. Kids are taught what to think, not how to think–or why it’s so important to think. They are taught to obey without question and to comply without hesitation. Ignorance is celebrated and considered superior to understanding, what with understanding’s risk of leading people astray from religious indoctrination. So this form of brainwashing is actually lauded and praised, and I don’t think Christians can actually conceive of someone teaching children any other way.

Because these Christians think everybody operates like they do, they assume that atheist parents “indoctrinate” their children just like they do into non-belief. Part of the problem is that most Christians don’t actually understand that atheism is not actually a belief but rather a conclusion, and the problem isn’t helped at all by the proliferation lately of Christians who claim they were once atheist but don’t actually understand in the very least what atheism means and are therefore using a definition of the word that most atheists wouldn’t agree is valid. This redefinition of atheism is itself another attempt at manipulation–this one called a straw man, wherein Christians create a false meaning for atheism and then attack that and demolish it rather than the real meaning, since the real meaning would be all but impossible to demolish.

I’ll disclaimer here that I’m not an atheist or an atheist parent, but I’ve got lots of friends who are–including Neil, incidentally, whose blog talks about his parenting philosophy often and at great length, and another friend of mine, Dale McGowan, who wrote an awesome book about mixed-faith marriages and has written in the past about parenting as well. It’s not hard to find parenting materials, websites, and support groups geared toward parenting from a place of non-belief. I’ve read enough of them and know enough atheist parents to know that if there’s one thing that atheist parents prize more than anything else, it’s the development of critical thinking skills in their children.

Atheists don’t want kids who are just indoctrinated to accept unquestioningly dogmatic statements of faith or in this case non-belief. They want kids who can apply rationality and logic to life’s situations and who can reason their way out of problems and dilemmas. They want kids who will make decisions based on informed, educated solid ground rather than–as this blogger prefers–blind panic, compulsion, and knee-jerk terror. So when these self-proclaimed “ex-atheists” talk about how they were “heavily indoctrinated” into atheism, I really wonder what that looks like. And I’m not at all surprised to hear that the same people who think of atheism as something that even can be “indoctrinated” so lacked critical thinking skills that they fell into religion as adults.

And you know what? A lot of Christian parents want their kids to grow up knowing how to think as well. They recoil from the idea of “indoctrinating” their kids into anything, even into their beloved religion. What I’m describing also could apply to people of any faith. Sanity prevails in pockets everywhere and is becoming more and more common as time goes on. Some religious parents who are like that end up raising atheist children–and they don’t try to terrorize anybody into coming back to the fold. They accept that those critical thinking skills will lead their kids to places that their parents might not always want, but that’s the risk they take by giving children those skills. They prize intelligence, compassion, and rationality above the child’s forced arrival at a predetermined headspace. They would be simply aghast at the idea of strong-arming and manipulating children into anything, including Christianity. They trust that if their religion is compelling, then their kids will be drawn to it. And indeed sometimes they are.

So the use of the word “indoctrination” here doesn’t make a lot of sense. What atheist parents do and what they prize is diametrically opposed to indoctrination’s goals and tactics. It is hugely dishonest that this blogger even uses the same word to describe both parenting techniques.

In short, if an atheist parent were to actually do anything to a child that could be called “indoctrination” in the sense of the word that Christians mean it, it’d be just as wrong as what those Christian parents do.

As an afterthought on this subject, in the comments the Christian who inspired the post actually admits that what he’s doing is redefining words to suit himself:

And I’m going to use a different word than “indoctrinate” since apparently that is evil LOL. I’m going to use the word “immerse.”

But there’s no indication whatsoever that he either thinks indoctrination is “evil,” nor that his new word–“immerse”–is going to look any different in practice than the previous one did. I find that beyond dishonest and I admit I’m downright shocked that a Christian would act this way–LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL LOL. But then again, we’re dealing with people who think that brainwashing children is a fine and laudable thing to do. LOL! Isn’t that just the biggest hoot ever? HAHA Evil indoctrination! OH but not really LOL! HOOHAHA! Let’s find another word that maybe doesn’t carry quite the same connotations but keep doing the same shit that both words represent! L-O-FUCKING-L! Yeah, it’s all so hilare.

Is this sort of blatant, transparent dishonesty really what Jesus would have done? I ask not because I think he existed or is in some supernatural realm looking at people here on Earth, but because Christians at least ostensibly care what their imaginary friend thinks, and I have trouble imagining an omnibenevolent and righteous entity who’d condone this sort of behavior. Then again, I think an omnibenevolent and righteous god would have provided good reasons for believing in him and would never have created a cosmology based on blind faith and eternal punishment for noncompliance, so there we are, I reckon.

Third: The blogger’s conclusions are ludicrously nonsensical.

According to the comments on the original piece, apparently its author’s blogging buddy–the guy who inspired the initial post itself–was insulting Christianity and Christians by using demeaning terms for them and being a bit of a jackass about religion, which he and the original blogger blame for turning the kids against Christianity by making it so mock-worthy.

Seattle Pride Weekend 2009.
Seattle Pride Weekend 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Here, as with the blithe redefinitions of words in mid-sentence, I think this blogger and his friend are judging atheists by their own examples. The same Christians who don’t understand what atheism is are the ones who think that people can be inoculated against true ideas by simply mocking those ideas. If an idea is true, then it really doesn’t matter how often someone mocks it; the truth comes out, and a genuinely inquisitive person who sets out to find out what is actually credible and what isn’t will find it. This Christian god must be terribly weak if a little mockery and sardonic poking from an atheist is enough to turn someone off of his truth forever. Oh hey, maybe they just need to pray more.

The reason I think that Christians have nothing to fear from some atheist parents making fun of their religion is the same reason that real science has nothing to fear from Creationists babbling about how dragons really existed and asking museum volunteers “were you there?” every three seconds. If they really had the truth, that kind of behavior wouldn’t stop their kids from embracing it if their kids were taught to value the truth rather than obedience, compliance, and blind, ignorant faith. Indeed as a result of kids being taught to value reality over fantasy, real science and rationality are winning very slowly. All we have to do is be patient, hang in there, keep refuting those who spout ignorance, and offer children the tools they need to figure this stuff out.

And I know this is shocking, but they will. They really will figure this stuff out. They’re pretty damned smart.

4. I don’t think this guy or his friend are thinking through–at all–what they’re really saying about their god.

Of course, this is such a common failing it should probably get its own internet law. His god is such a ratbastard, such a cruel and heartless sumbitch, that he’d torture (or allow to be tortured, same diff) sentient beings for even one second in an eternal, punitive, inescapable, vindictive place of pain and horror. This ancient despot rules by terror and demands blind compliance. He separates children from their mothers and fathers so he can hurt them. He tortures a parent’s children and doesn’t even care if that parent knows it’s happening. And then he takes the lucky winners up to Heaven, where they will party knowing that their families are being tortured forever. But they won’t be able to do anything about it.

Maybe he’ll make them forget about their loved ones, erasing the very memory of that love and who knows, maybe everything else that makes his pets human. Maybe he’ll just magically wipe away their tears so they become as soulless, heartless, and uncaring as he is. He’ll throw away the people he doesn’t care about and do nothing to help them as they suffer, just like toxic Christians do now. Heck, maybe he’ll even enjoy knowing they’re screaming in pain while his favored pets gorge themselves and walk streets of gold.

All humans can do to avoid that fate is appease this petulant, tyrannical, incompetent god as hard as they can and hope they did enough. And of course they are totally responsible for the fates of everyone they hold dear.

Exactly what about this DISGUSTING, GROTESQUE scenario inspires love and worship? Because gang, I’m not seeing it. The god they describe is pure evil. If this being existed, he would be the worst enemy of humankind that ever was. There’s no reason to think he exists, but we can all feel very fortunate that he does not–and one of the biggest reasons we have for feeling that way is that our children are safe from his evil grasp. That’s one reason that I keep my eyes open for credible reasons for his existence; if something like the Bible’s god turned out to be real, then we would need to know as soon as possible to mount some kind of defense against it.

And I do not believe for one second that if a loving parent discovered an entity like that threatening his or her children for any reason, that parent would simper and kowtow and offer up praise and worship to that entity, wholeheartedly follow and love that entity, and consider that entity a loving parent like themselves. I certainly would not. It’s obscene to think about someone acting that way–obscene on a level that simply stuns the imagination. I’d worship a person stalking and threatening to assault my child before I’d give one prayer of praise to a god who threatened to torture that child forever. But the Christians chirping purely malevolent evil like this don’t even consider what they sound like to people who aren’t in the bubble alongside them.

In conclusion, this guy’s blog post–and the post that inspired it–are nothing but simple fearmongering, a sort of Pascal’s Wager done two generations deep that is meant to terrorize parents into second-guessing their conclusions that there’s no reason to believe in Christianity. But he isn’t aiming for atheist parents. Like every other piece of apologetics, it is not meant to actually convert those who aren’t Christian but to keep Christians’ butts in pews and scare them out of reconsidering anything. It is simply not compelling in any way, but it is definitely manipulative.

I want to mention this too. Many of us ex-Christians suffer from a great deal of resentment regarding our own indoctrinations as children. It can take many years to crawl out of that kind of thinking and false education and learn those critical thinking skills that other kids get taught as a matter of course. I know I, for one, got indoctrinated very heavily when I was a kid, and it took till my 30s to learn how to have healthy relationships, set boundaries, and learn how to tell what was true and what wasn’t. I wouldn’t wish those struggles on my worst enemy. What this blogger is describing in that first blockquote I gave you at the beginning here is actually how a lot of us feel about our Christian indoctrination. And we don’t have to wait till we die to know how we got done wrong, unlike his fearmongering, pandering scenario where nobody knows if his terror campaign is true until after death. We know how that indoctrination worked out for us in this life.

Fallacious, nonsensical, dishonest, ludicrous manipulation attempts like this one are yet another reason I am glad to be out of Christianity, and yet another reason I know the religion isn’t true or good.

If this guy or his friend had any credible reason to believe in their malevolent religion, they’d have offered it up already and wouldn’t need to waste time trying to scare people. Indeed, the comments are a sideshow of them both dancing around the burden of proof, trying to shift it to the non-believers who keep politely asking them to provide even a shred of it, and contorting themselves to avoid admitting they don’t really have any. I’m glad that it sounds like some of their kids escaped their “immersion”–er, sorry, indoctrination, LOL.

If there really were a Heaven, I cannot even imagine wanting to go there if it meant people like these two guys were there. Their god is quite welcome to people who, not content with trying to terrorize others in general, now try to terrorize those people on behalf of their own children.

Hey, those means ain’t gonna justify themselves.

[H/t: Sirius Bizinus]

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ROLL TO DISBELIEVE "Captain Cassidy" is Cassidy McGillicuddy, a Gen Xer and ex-Pentecostal. (The title is metaphorical.) She writes about the intersection of psychology, belief, popular culture, science,...