Will you promise to indoctrinate your child?

After reading a recent post at Choice in Dying, it struck me that baptism services are where religious indoctrination shows its ugly face most plainly. I thought I would look up some baptism liturgies to see what promises parents were expected to make with regard to their children’s upbringing. I actually find it quite shocking, especially considering that as a Christian I attended countless baptism services without ever noticing anything wrong (shame on me!).

Here is an example of a Protestant liturgy (the Episcopal liturgy):

When all have been presented the Celebrant asks the parents and godparents

Will you be responsible for seeing that the child you present is brought up in the Christian faith and life?

Parents and Godparents

I will, with God’s help.


Will you by your prayers and witness help this child to grow into the full stature of Christ?

Parents and Godparents

I will, with God’s help.

And here is the Catholic liturgy:

The celebrant speaks to the parents in these or similar words:

You have asked to have your child baptized. In doing so you are accepting the responsibility of training him (her) in the practice of the faith. It will be your duty to bring him (her) up to keep God’s commandments as Christ taught us, by loving God and our neighbor. Do you clearly understand what you are undertaking?

Parents: We do.

Then the celebrant turns to the godparents and addresses them in these or similar words:

Are you ready to help the parents of this child in their duty as Christian parents?

Godparents: We do.

It is astonishing to me that parents who take part in these services don’t balk at promising to impose their own particular religious tradition on their children. What would these parents think of their own parents having made such a commitment, rather than respecting their right to choose?


4 Responses to Will you promise to indoctrinate your child?

  1. NFQ says:

    Right to choose what? If it actually is your religious tradition and you believe it to be important, you’re just promising to teach your children the truth. Probably their own parents did make such a commitment, and they’re glad they did. (Seriously, I asked some of the students at a Bible study group I used to attend what they thought about how, if they had been born in another time or place, they might easily have been raised in another religious tradition. They were pretty unfazed, just happy that they were so lucky as to have been born into a family that believed in the right god and practiced the right traditions.)

    • kpharri says:

      NFQ: I suppose I’m thinking of Dawkin’s argument here. Parents would not consider raising their young children as Republicans, or Keynesians, because they are well aware that such identifications are choices to be made by the individual when she is old enough to do so. Why, then, must parents assume that religion is any different? That it requires no choice at all? It should seem obvious to parents that, based on the huge variety of religious traditions out there, that some people find other traditions more attractive than their own. It seems strange to decide for your child which tradition you want to be more attractive to her.

      In the end, I think this has a lot to do with the conflation of morality with religion. Parents at baptisms think they’re just committing to raise their children in a particular moral setting, not realizing that they’re committing their kids to a whole lot or other junk too.

    • Kuipo says:

      While you’re right that they THINK it’s the truth. The rest of us can clearly see that it’s not based on anything. The concept that they be happy because they are taught something that is false is called ignorance. I don’t think they would see it as a good thing. That’s why, as atheists, we can look at religion and call it a choice. I think a christian would look at a muslim or jew and say that they chose that religion (and that it’s wrong), but the point is still made… they chose something.

      Religion is a choice, even if you believe there is only one “true” choice. It’s still a choice since they all have equal evidence for them (read: none).

  2. atheistdad says:

    This is incredible, and incredibly sad. I actually just posted today on a related topic, regarding parents who feel compelled to make their children go through religious education (an oxymoron) even though both parents and children find little value in it and don’t even believe what is being taught. Childhood indoctrination is repulsive to me now.

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