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Blackberry's avatar

Controversial question: Would a child "indoctrinated" to atheism instead of a religion be any different (details)?

Asked by Blackberry (31067points) February 10th, 2012

How would this compare to:
1.) Religion.
2.) Open ended and letting the child discover.
3.) Atheism.

Obviously, it’s not that simple, but I’m simplifying it for the question. I’m actually also curious as to how one would indoctrinate a kid to atheism, as I wouldn’t know what to indoctrinate them on.

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56 Answers

King_Pariah's avatar

I don’t believe that atheism or religion in itself will make a child any different. Ultimately, I think it’s the parents. Are they overzealous, arrogant about their beliefs? I think that’s what it really boils down to when it comes to nurturing the child.

FutureMemory's avatar

I’m not sure I understand the question as it’s currently written. Can you elaborate please, BB?

It sounds like it has a lot of potential.

MollyMcGuire's avatar

Yes. I think children should grow up with a belief system and be exposed to many different ideas and philosophies. They should be prepared to make those decisions individually when they are grown.

augustlan's avatar

Rather than indoctrinate kids (in anything), we should be teaching them to be curious and thoughtful, open to learning. Parents, in my opinion, should not pretend to know something that is unknowable, or that their way is the only way, whatever the subject. As an atheist, I don’t believe there is a god, but I can’t be certain of that, so I didn’t raise my kids to be atheists. Instead, we talked about all sorts of different beliefs, and how they differ from each other. I was careful to say, “some people believe this, some people believe that, and one day, you’ll decide what you believe”. As it turns out, though, all three of them actually are atheists.

Jeruba's avatar

I’d give almost exactly the same answer as @augustlan.

I also taught them not to mess with other people’s beliefs. This first came up in the context of Santa Claus, but it carried over to other things.

auhsojsa's avatar

It would be 100% different. Religion is based off a belief reality. Versus say an atheist who is longing for maybe some more along the lines of scientific method and factual reality. So I imagine that the child would be more inclined to testable things in life and more skeptical practices that require physical measurements. Of course I’ve attached science assuming “Atheism” was a movement dependent upon physical evidence.

flutherother's avatar

I think ‘indoctrinating to atheism’ is almost a contradiction in terms. Atheism is the absence of a belief in gods. Indoctrinating children to disbelieve in gods would mean telling them what they mustn’t believe in. I can’t see how that is ever going to work.

cazzie's avatar

I agree with @flutherother. Our natural state is not ‘god fearing’. Indoctrination comes from

From Wiki: Indoctrination is the process of inculcating ideas, attitudes, cognitive strategies or a professional methodology (see doctrine).[1] It is often distinguished from education by the fact that the indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.

I want my kid to question EVERYTHING. I think he is going to be a hell of a scientist one day. He knows that his parents are atheists, but he is also being ‘educated’ about religion(s) in school. When my dad died, he asked a lot of questions. I think he believes people go somewhere else when they die. He has been talked to about that by other people. Recently, a friend’s mother died who had been very sick. When I told him the news, his immediate response was, ‘Oh, that is sad news. She is in a better place now.’ I thought it was a lovely thing for a 7 year old to say, and shared that with my friend, who is a Christian.

Being ‘indoctrinated’ is to be taught that what is told to them is not to be questioned. I don’t think religious sectors have a monopoly on this, but they do seem to be the most obvious. I don’t think that Hitchens or Dawkins came to their conclusions as atheists without questioning everything, and I think that is all they strive for, is that people question and think for themselves. RIP, Hitch. We loved you and are going to miss you. (His autobiography is brilliant, by the way.)

JilltheTooth's avatar

Another agreement with @flutherother on definition. You can indoctrinate your child to be anti-theist, which is a proactive state, but not an atheist which is basically a null state.

mattbrowne's avatar

“An indoctrinated person is expected not to question or critically examine the doctrine they have learned.”

So, no, such a child or adult would be equally close minded.

The majority of atheists seem to be indoctrinated into the belief that organized religion is bad. I’ve met very few who were willing to question or critically examine this doctrine. They usually offered anecdotal evidence of evolution-denying homophobic churches. Ergo organized religion is bad.

A good example can be observed here

when the NSDAP (Nazi party) and the Catholic Church are seen as equally evil organizations. That’s the indoctrination I’m talking about. Now, I’m a huge critic of the Vatican, but such comparisons are absurd.

cazzie's avatar

@mattbrowne How about if I don’t make generalisations about Christians and you don’t make generalisations about atheists?

mattbrowne's avatar

@cazzie – I didn’t. I was talking about a majority. Which leaves up to 49% who are different.

cazzie's avatar

*I’ll put it down to problems with a second language. I know that can be challenging.

lynfromnm's avatar

Blackberry, I think your question answers the question. You wouldn’t know what to indoctrinate the child on, you say. Exactly. As an atheist it is not my intent nor my wish to impose my beliefs – or the lack thereof – on anyone else, including my children.

The right to make choices is sacred to me. That is what distinguishes humans from all other life forms. I would certainly never deprive my children of that.

digitalimpression's avatar

There’s no need to indoctrinate children into atheism. They need only go to public school for that.

cazzie's avatar

@digitalimpression you should qualify that by saying, ‘in the US.’

cazzie's avatar

Or did I completely misunderstand what you meant? Where religion isn’t taught in schools, I thought you meant.

digitalimpression's avatar

@cazzie Fair enough. “in the US”. But I’m willing to bet that it is in quite a few other countries as well. Kids are taught a lot of “material” that is sketchy at best. Then they move on to college where the majority of professors are atheists or agnostics.

@Blackberry It takes absolutely zero effort to “indoctrinate a kid into atheism”. The whole concept is comical.

“Hey son, sit down, I need to teach you how to believe in nothing but your fellow man and non-christian scientists.”

So to answer the original question.. “Would they be any different?”:
Absolutely and irrevocably yes they would be different.

I know from experience that a Christian household isn’t just about teaching, and indoctrinating a belief in something… it goes beyond that to a value system based on the Bible. Eliminating this value system will have clear results.

Someone will be thinking “but atheistic households teach values too”. And to that I can only say that it really isn’t the same. Atheists don’t get together and examine their value system, learn how to better apply and live that value system, and encourage and support others who are doing the same. Do they? Please correct me if I’m wrong. To me, teaching such a value system with no foundation is like building a house on the sand. It may look nice, but it has no roots.

cazzie's avatar

@digitalimpression I will correct you, and you are wrong. Just because your high horse has a name, doesn’t mean you get to sit so high over the rest of us.

digitalimpression's avatar

Could you please qualify your answer with….. well… anything at all?
(rather than just make a comment on my riding skills.. which, by the way, are lacking.. I don’t ride much anymore).

There is no “sitting high” over anyone. Please explain.

cazzie's avatar

You, without knowing anything about other people, only that they do not profess to be in any club that meets regularly to discuss a book, are making judgements about them.

Doesn’t the book you profess to believe in say something about ‘Judge not’?

To claim that anyone, other than Christians (or Muslims would also fall into this category by your comment) have some special moral compass that makes them morally superior to everyone else is insulting and laughable and simply not true.

digitalimpression's avatar

@cazzie I’m afraid you’re assuming too much. I am only providing my perspective. What’s yours?

cazzie's avatar

I am trying to be less of a hypocrite, and you?

digitalimpression's avatar

@cazzie Um… ok, we’re done here. hahahaa.. for some reason you absolutely hate me already. Let’s just leave it at “unbridled” hatred and not make it any worse.

auntydeb's avatar

You get a lot of Richard Dawkins’s.

King_Pariah's avatar

There is no such thing as a standard Christian household. There is such a thing as an open minded Christian, and with so many denominations and so many interpretations of the bible how can you say that a Christian household will have a different set of values than an atheist? And let us not forget that there are different types/levels of atheism. Religion, lack of religion, it has pretty much naught to do with it. It’s how the parents “nurture” their child.

digitalimpression's avatar

@King_Pariah I was only describing my Christian household. I didn’t grow up with anyone else. I don’t know how to make that any more clear.

What are these “levels of atheism”? I’d like to know what that means.

“Nurture” is just another way of saying the same thing. Introducing this new word into the conversation doesn’t really change anything.. unless you could provide a little more explanation.

Rarebear's avatar

As a religious Jewish atheist, we’re “indoctrinating” my daughter to both religion tradition and atheism.

Blackberry's avatar

All good points. I think my question is pretty much answered: since there are levels of beliefs and levels of raising children, I don’t think the actual beliefs matter in the end, as there are “normal” people of every belief system there is.

I was also wondering if you could even indoctrinate a kid into atheism, but that would probably just be anti-theism.

@FutureMemory I was inquiring about how different beliefs would affect children raised under them, but I don’t think that matters as much as I thought it did.

digitalimpression's avatar

@Rarebear Isn’t that a .. conflict of interest? Why would you do such a thing?

King_Pariah's avatar


For starters, there’s implicit and explicit atheism, there’s atheistic existentialism and nihilism, there is gnostic and agnostic atheism, there is also such thing as atheistic Judaism and Christianity. There is even more than what I listed. As for the household thing, it seemed like you were saying that based on your experience it has to be that way for all households and families.

digitalimpression's avatar

@King_Pariah Umm… atheistic Christianity? I need a translator for this guy. Anyone?

King_Pariah's avatar

Culturally Christian, still uses religious language, just no belief in a personal god.

digitalimpression's avatar

“how can you say that a Christian household will have a different set of values than an atheist?
I didn’t. I said they could potentially be very similar… except on the points listed.

“Culturally Christian, still uses religious language, just no belief in a personal god.”
Do you know anyone like this? Does anyone?

Anyway.. I’ve forgotten why it matters that there are different types of atheism and Christianity in relation to this question.

King_Pariah's avatar

Atheist christians? I know a few. Met them in the military, culturally christian, still use religious language, they just don’t believe in the big guy

Albert Einstein was similar (except of course Jewish).

King_Pariah's avatar

And why does it matter? You asked. I provided.

digitalimpression's avatar

@King_Pariah By not believing in “the big guy” they are, by definition, not Christian. It doesn’t make any sense.

Albert was agnostic at best.

King_Pariah's avatar

They still read the bible, they still pray, they just don’t believe in him. Albert Einstein, he’s debateable as to what exactly he was. But it is known that he held to the Jewish culture, just didn’t believe in a personal god.

digitalimpression's avatar

@King_Pariah To whom are they praying? Can anyone else confirm that this is a real thing..? Anyone can read the bible and mumble to themselves.. that doesn’t make them a Christian.. not even by the loosest definition of the word.

King_Pariah's avatar

Ah, humans and their desperate attempts to find logic in everything. So cute.

digitalimpression's avatar

@King_Pariah It’s maddening trying to talk to you. You make up something that doesn’t even exist and then I’m foolish enough to try and point out it doesn’t. xD

Have a great night kp.

King_Pariah's avatar

It does exist. Sweet dreams DI.

King_Pariah's avatar

Google Christian Atheism, should be plenty.

King_Pariah's avatar

To all: My definition was fairly skewed of Christian Atheism. :) It’s more along the lines of Atheists who follow the teachings and morals of Christ.

Rarebear's avatar

@digitalimpression “Why would I do such a thing?” I’m not sure I understand your question. I do it because I’m an atheist Jew.

digitalimpression's avatar

@Rarebear Wait.. are you an atheist Jew? Or a religious , atheist Jew as you stated earlier. To me there is a massive difference.

If you are one of those who follow Christ’s teachings but doesn’t believe in Him .. I’m curious what your motivation for doing so is.

Circular reasoning doesn’t really help us out here…

King_Pariah's avatar

Maybe if you bothered to look it up instead of blowing me off… :)

digitalimpression's avatar

@King_Pariah Just because it has a wiki page doesn’t mean it’s a real thing.

The whole idea is akin to saying that you are in the NBA because you play basketball. It simply isn’t true. So yes.. I could tell everyone that I’m an honest politician, a talkative mime, or a Christian atheist.. but none of them would be accurate within the bounds of .. things like…... actual definitions of words…

Now I’ll step aside and let you have the last word cuz you already wasted a great deal of my time. Have a good one bud.

King_Pariah's avatar

There is so much more than just the Wiki search result on the first page, and the second, and the third… I believe even BBC has an article of a variant of Christian Atheism. I never said look at the first result. I said Google it.

Rarebear's avatar

Answer to question #1: Religious Jewish atheist.
Answer to question #2. No, and n/a.

augustlan's avatar

@digitalimpression “Atheists don’t get together and examine their value system, learn how to better apply and live that value system, and encourage and support others who are doing the same. Do they?”

Sure we do. While atheists don’t necessarily all share the same value system, we all have one. This particular atheist, just in the course of my life, has found many people (atheists and religious people) with value systems very similar to my own. We learn from each other, we most definitely live our value systems, and we certainly encourage and support others who are doing the same. Just because we don’t do it in a special building set aside for such things, doesn’t mean we aren’t doing it. Some atheists (say Secular Humanists, for instance) even do meet up in special buildings just for this purpose.

AdamF's avatar

@digitalimpression It makes some semblance of sense if you accept that religion can have cultural and “belief in the supernatural” components. In Sweden I know many so called “cultural Lutherans” who have their children baptised, and get married in the Lutheran church tradition, pay money to the church for buildings, etc. But they certainly don’t pray and they don’t believe in god or any of the “Christ died for our sins” teachings. They just like to keep their Lutheran heritage, even if they’ve moved on from the mythology. I think that’s fairly common in Europe, and occurs to some extent in Australia in my experience.

Read “Society without God” by Phil Zuckerman, it addresses the Scandinavian version of cultural religion in detail.

Rarebear's avatar

A well known story from the Talmud:

A would be convert went to Rabbi Sammai and said, “I will convert if you can teach me the entire Torah while standing on one leg.” Rabbi Sammai chased him away.

The same acolyte went to Rabbi Hillel and said, “I will convert if you can teach me the entire Torah while standing on one leg.”

Hillel lifted up a leg and said, ”“What is hateful to you, do not to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; all the rest is the commentary. Now go and study.”

FutureMemory's avatar

@digitalimpression It’s maddening trying to talk to you. You make up something that doesn’t even exist and then I’m foolish enough to try and point out it doesn’t. xD


Sinqer's avatar

I wouldn’t consider someone who doesn’t believe true that which a given religion pontificates as true to be of that religion.

If someone told me they were an atheist-christian, I would be forced to ask what all of the christian beliefs they shared just for clarity’s sake. If they said none, I could only conclude they were an atheist that goes to a christian church or engages in whatever christian ceremonies they choose. That doesn’t make them a christian by my account. If it did, then I could celebrate one religious holiday for each religion and be an atheist-(list all religions here). In the end, the atheism is the only portion that would refer to my personal beliefs or considerations of truth.

I am confused about one thing, and I will in a moment do a little research… again… on how these terms are used today. I usually go with agnostic to convey my utter and total lack of beliefs. But herein I see many using atheism to mean the same thing… I am missing something. Could anyone clarify the difference between an atheist and an agnostic.

From my theological studies, gnostics believed one could not know if god existed. Later the term agnostic was used to distinguish that the agnostic admitted they did not know if god existed but made no claim to the extent to which others might be capable of knowing if god exists… hence more of an awareness of ones own lack of beliefs, and their lack of beliefs concerning what others may or may not know or believe (i.e. anti-gnosticism).

Atheism meant the belief that no god or higher power existed; to wit, a belief to the contrary of theism (i.e. anti-theism).

Based on my understanding of the concepts, atheists, gnostics, and theists all share the common holding of beliefs, and agnosticism is pretty much your number 2 option… “son/daughter, learn stuff and then we can share stuff we learned without needing to choose a conclusive belief or establish cult like conviction to any particular possibility.”

Based on this, I would answer your question, yes and no. Clearly the details would make quite a bit of difference. But the spirit of your question leads me to think you are asking if atheism indoctrination produces similar effects (behavior being the most observable) to religious indoctrination, to which I would answer yes by my observations, very much the same (so no to your question, not much difference).

Drawing conclusions about those things that cannot be proven to some minimal standard yields most of what you have today, people with contrary conclusions (be they beliefs, faiths, or whatever) argue, debate, demand representation of their conclusions alongside all the others, sometimes go to war with those of deviant conclusions. It’s the natural effect of diversity, not that I judge that to be bad, but it is an effect.

lynfromnm's avatar

While I am an atheist, I encouraged my kids to explore religious options. We discussed religions a lot in our household. The concept of faith never took hold with my children, and I think that’s because I really had no idea how to introduce that concept to them. They are now in their thirties and are still puzzled by the idea.
All this to say: I did not brainwash my children and very deliberately fought against doing so. At the same time, it was the very ABSENCE of certain precepts that influenced their values and lifestyles.

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