My column in yesterday’s Greenville News.  A little background:  I am always fascinated by the popular assertion that those who are religious invariably ‘shove religion down the throats of their kids.’  While some probably do, I would assert that everyone has that potential.  An environmentalist can shove environmentalism and a social liberal can shove progressivism and the list goes on.  But more important, as you’ll read, what good parents do is teach the things they consider valuable, healthy, promising, hopeful.  Things for the good of their children and that the parent believes will make their futures brighter.  I hope you find it interesting, and share it widely!|newswell|text|Opinion|s

My children have grown up in the church.  Doubtless, in part because of their exposure to Christianity, they are Christian.  However, they’re teenagers all four, so sometimes it’s hard to tell what they believe. Sometimes, their mother and I wonder if they weren’t secretly raised by wolves. (But that’s another discussion for another day.)  Nevertheless, they have been immersed and bathed in Christian scriptures, Christian worship, Christian doctrine and Christian culture from infancy.

They’re so thoroughly Christian that they actually have the capacity to laugh about their beliefs and the people who share them.  (My sons have quoted GK Chesterton, who said ‘It is a test of a good religion whether you can joke about it.’) Not only so, they routinely ask us hard questions about what we all believe and why we should.  I have always encouraged this behavior. I believe it improves, rather than degrades, belief.

Nevertheless, many people consider what my wife and I have done to our children to be indoctrination. They say, to use a popular phrase, that people like us are ‘cramming religion down the throats of our children.’  What those folks believe is that a child should not be forced to embrace a particular set of beliefs or values.

Obviously, a kind of negative indoctrination can happen in families and can be quite dangerous. Indoctrination by bad parents can lead children to accept abuse as normal, to confuse poor thinking with good thinking or drug use with normal coping skills.

But ‘indoctrination’ can also mean ‘to fully instruct in fundamentals or rudiments.’  As such, let me suggest that every good, loving parent indoctrinates his or her children in what that parent considers important.  And while it’s very post-modern and tolerant to say, ‘I don’t tell my children what to believe; I want them to grow up and decide for themselves,’ it really isn’t the way humans raise their young.

For example, if our children ask us, ‘what about cheating on my wife, dad, is that OK?’  We don’t expect parents saying ‘well, son, that’s up to you. I’m not going to cram my morals down your throat.  Decide for yourself.’  Or if they say, ‘mom, I’m thinking about being a corporate cheat and embezzling money for a career.  How about it?’  Mom doesn’t say, ‘honey, that’s entirely up to you.  I’m not here to judge your beliefs and I’ll support you whatever you do.’

What about the environment?  Modern urban parents would faint dead away at the suggestion they should say to their kids,  ‘Pollute or not, my darlings; I can’t force you to accept my values!’  Anymore than they would suggest that their children choose a diet of their preference, to include thrice daily milk-shakes and nachos.  Nor would they say, ‘well, my little ones, seat-belts are something your mother and I believe in, but we aren’t going to judge you if, as adults, you decide they aren’t for you.’

And how about intolerance?  ‘Kids, if people are different and you want to hate them for it, it’s your call.  I’m not going to cram my beliefs (doctrines, that is) down your throats.  I respect you too much for that.’

In fact, every parent who loves a child will teach them, even to some extent indoctrinate them, in the things that parent deems relevant and important; and especially those things which prolong life and give meaning.  Whether it has to do with personal health, social interactions or moral values, it isn’t just people of faith who teach the kids what to believe.

The Lenten season is upon us.  In our house, we teach the kids that the single most important events in history were the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.   My wife and I believe that those events changed the world, transformed human hearts, and that they have both explanatory power and positive effects on the lives of believers and the world at large.  And we believe that those events, so long ago, have consequences in both time and eternity.

But the fact that we teach those things does not mean we are ‘cramming religion’ down the kids throats.  It means we’re doing our best to teach them what we consider true, good and valuable.

And that’s no different from anyone else, religious or not.




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