I was amused to see that in the comments section of my previous postings on same-sex mirage, someone wrote that where my biography says I have five home-educated children, what they understood this to mean is that I have five “home-indoctrinated children.” I may be wrong, but I figure this wasn’t a term of endearment!
The word indoctrination has two meanings. Originally, the word meant nothing more than to teach or to instruct a person in a particular subject. So if someone a couple of hundred years ago had said that they were indoctrinated in Platonic philosophy, all it would have meant was that they were taught Platonic philosophy.
Somewhere along the line though, the word came to mean something else. These days if a person were to tell you that they were indoctrinated in Platonic philosophy, your reaction might be to pity them and commiserate them on the miserable fate that befell them, unless of course you happened to be a Platonic philosopher in which case you would presumably congratulate them on their good fortune. For these days the generally accepted definition of the word indoctrination is one with an entirely negative connotation, the meaning being to teach a person or a group of people to accept a set of beliefs uncritically. In other words, you tell them such and such and give them no other option but to accept it.
Now it just so happens that the only people in the world who are totally and utterly incapable of indoctrinating others are all atheists and secularists. Indeed the mark of these enlightened ones is that they are totally neutral and could not, even if they wanted to, indoctrinate their children into their beliefs. At least that’s what they would like us to believe.
Sir Richard Dawkins has been at it again (okay he’s not a Sir just yet, but I like to think that the anti-Christian British establishment can’t make the poor fellow wait much longer before receiving his knighthood for furthering the cause of humanism in Britain). Speaking recently at the Chipping Norton Literary Festival, he spoke out – as he has done many times before – against religious indoctrination saying, “What a child should be taught is that religion exists; that some people believe this and some people believe that. What a child should never be taught is that you are a Catholic or Muslim child, therefore that is what you believe. That’s child abuse.” 1
What of his claims of indoctrination, in the modern sense of the word that is? Well indoctrination can perhaps be divided into two parts. The first is what you might call unhealthy indoctrination, and the second is what you might call inescapable indoctrination.
With regard to unhealthy indoctrination, I agree with him entirely. There is a certain type of mindset that says, “this is what you are to believe,” and then sets about sheltering the child from all the other competing worldviews as if they don’t exist. This is a folly that exists within all types of beliefs, and it often leads to a child growing up without the slightest idea of why they believe a thing to be true, and therefore incapable of defending it when challenged in later life. More on this at the end.
What of the second variety – inescapable indoctrination. Sir Richard would of course have us believe that he is not guilty of the first variety of indoctrinating his children, and I have little reason to doubt him. I cannot imagine that he kept his children entirely sheltered from the realities of other worldviews, such that they were in for a big shock when they reached adulthood.
The problem is that Sir Richard also seems to want us to believe that he is not guilty – no, not even capable – of what I am calling inescapable indoctrination. I call it this because it is quite simply impossible for an adult not to impart their worldview upon their children. Sir Richard would have us believe that unlike those religious types out there, he is the archetypal, moderate, I-would-never-dream-of-forcing-anything-down-my-children’s-throats sort of guy. Now I don’t know what went on in the Dawkins household any more than the commentator mentioned above knows what goes on in my home, but I must say I become somewhat incredulous at the thought that Sir Richard, author of The Selfish Gene, The God Delusion and leading opponent of YHWH, could ever have been entirely neutral in his children’s upbringing.
Did he sit around the living room with them and say, “Now children, this month I’m going to do some readings from the Qur’an and the Hadith, because I think it’s really important that you learn what the Muslim’s believe so you can make your own minds up whether you want to follow Islam. Then next month we’ll start on the Bhagavad Gita as I really want you to weigh up in your minds whether Hinduism might be the thing for you.”
“What about the Bible, dad?” asks a little Dawkins. “Will you be doing that?”
“Yes, of course we’ll be going through the Bible after that.”
“But we heard that you hate the Bible and think that anyone who believes it is an idiot.”
“Look children, my role is not to force my beliefs upon you. I’m not here to ram my views down your poor, poor innocent and unsuspecting throats. I’m here to be entirely neutral and just to give you all the facts so that you can make up your own minds. If one of you decides to become a Muslim cleric, that’s great, as long as it’s your decision and not influenced in any way by my beliefs. If one of you decides to become a follower of Zoroaster or perhaps a Zen Buddhist, as long as you have made that decision for yourselves, without any indoctrination from me, I’ll consider my job has been well done.”
Sir Richard is welcome to correct me if I’m wrong, but somehow I don’t think that anything like that ever happened in his household. Rather, I suspect that Christianity and all other religions were probably treated with much the same contempt as he treats them in his books, his talks and his interviews.
Now I do think it’s entirely possible that he could have discussed certain aspects of other worldviews in his conversations with his children. His comment above, where he says that “a child should be taught that some people believe this and some people believe that,” strongly suggests that he did indeed do this. But is it possible for him to have done this from an entirely neutral standpoint, by simply presenting the facts and allowing his children to make up their minds without any bias on his part? Not a chance! Again, he is welcome to get in touch and correct me, but I have this nagging suspicion that he probably taught them about evolution as if it were fact.
Why would he have done this? Simply because that’s what he believes to be the truth. And since he believes it to be the truth, how on earth could he fail to teach this to his children? The problem with his thinking is contained within that phrase, “What a child should be taught is that religion exists.” He sees religion as a curious museum piece; something that people believe in even though it’s patently false. It’s therefore fine to tell your children of the existence of this oddity, but because evolution and Godlessness are undeniable facts, the only worldview one that anyone has the right to present to their offspring as the truth, is Godless evolution. All else is child abuse.
Sir Richard has a deep-seated inability to understand the concept that other people do not share his worldview, and do not believe in the “fact” of Godless evolutionism. He therefore cannot grasp that such parents will not and cannot teach their children that their own worldview just exists, as if it were just a “curious museum piece.” They must “inescapably indoctrinate” their children into their worldview, just as he must have “inescapably indoctrinated” his children into his worldview.
However, coming back to the unhealthy indoctrination mentioned earlier, here is the question that Sir Richard really needs to answer. In the Western world, which worldview is the one above all others that children are taught in schools and the media to accept uncritically, such that when they are questioned on it by those with differing beliefs, it turns out they are entirely unable to defend what they have been told and have absolutely no idea why they believe it? I think he knows the answer to that.