A crucial part of the definition of indoctrination is as follows:
[Indoctrination] 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.
(see Wikipedia page on indoctrination, which references the work of Wilson, 1964.)
If a religious teacher or parent were intent on indoctrinating a child, how could she go about it?
- Start early, before the child can even speak.
- Persistently teach the desired doctrine over a long period of time, preferably years.
- Demonize alternative views and/or insulate the child from them.
- Teach the child that he is not capable of making decisions about beliefs for himself.
- Make the child believe that he owes it to you to uphold your worldview. Make him believe he has a debt to pay. In short, use guilt.
- Discourage doubt by characterizing it as a weakness.
- Immerse the child in a social environment composed only of people with the same beliefs.
- Encourage the child to be naturally skeptical (not cynical).
- Teach the child how to assess claims critically.
- Educate the child in an impartial manner about alternative beliefs.
- Assure the child that his beliefs are his to choose, and that he doesn’t owe it to anyone to believe as they do.
- Encourage the child to mix socially with people from a diverse range of religious and cultural backgrounds.
A child is taken to church to be baptized when she is only a few months old. She is put in the church nursery every week while her parents attend services. In the nursery, religious songs are sung and stories told.
When the child is five or six; she is taken to Sunday School where a teacher talks about stories from the Bible (all suitably censored for children of course). The children are told how much God loves them, and how they need to do what God asks them to do.
At home, the parents reinforce what the child learns in Sunday School. They tell her that she must try not to disappoint God.
They make no effort to introduce her to alternative faiths because they believe those faiths to be false. As the child grows older, she is encouraged to participate in church services (helping out with the music, scripture readings, etc.) and she is signed up to confirmation classes which will require her to demonstrate her knowledge of, and commitment to, the faith.
She is also encouraged to attend youth groups and Bible studies.
A child is not baptized or taken to church during her first few years of life. When she is old enough to grasp the concept of God and religion, her parents tell her about the main religious beliefs in the world. They tell her that she doesn’t have to decide immediately which belief system, if any, to adopt. Instead, she is encouraged to learn more about the available options and their various pros and cons.
Her parents want her to have a good grasp of what science has discovered about the world, and they want her to learn to think critically. So, when the child is old enough, her parents send her to Camp Quest*, which encourages rational and skeptical thought. It’s a one-off event that lasts three or four weeks.
The answer should be rip-roaring obvious: Scenario 1 contains many aspects of indoctrination – long-term reinforcement of one perspective, intolerance of alternatives, suppression of doubt and questioning, insulation of social experience.
Scenario 2 is almost the polar opposite – a focus on good thinking skills rather than a specific set of beliefs, the encouragement of doubt and skepticism, and exposure to a range of ideas and beliefs.
I think it’s clear from the above synopsis that religions are champions of indoctrination. (The fact that so many wars and other violent conflicts have a religious component confirms this: if religions were characterized by tolerance, they would dampen conflict, not stoke it. Right now, religious conflict persists in Nigeria, Iraq, Israel, Palestine, Sudan, Egypt and, sadly, Ireland [rioting between Catholics and Protestants has spring up again in just the last few days]).
Finally, a quick word on Camp Quest, which I included in Scenario 2 deliberately. Not surprisingly, Camp Quest has met with hysterical reactions from some Christians, who see it as indoctrination by the evil, truth-distorting atheists. Yet the aim of Camp Quest is diametrically opposed to indoctrination. Instead, it’s aim is to equip young people with two things (1): a basic knowledge of important scientific discoveries (for which a natural setting is ideally suited) and (2) the cognitive tools that everyone needs in order to properly assess and compare factual and ethical claims. These are the tools we all use every day, for even the most mundane choices (will that moisturizer really make me look five years younger? Which washing machine should I get?).
I suspect that what religious people really fear about Camp Quest is not that it will indoctrinate young people directly into atheism, but that it will get young people thinking. It will get them questioning and probing. And this is a potentially devastating threat to religious belief, which thrives on authority and tradition.
Indoctrination is religion’s best shot at perpetuating itself: it cannot rely on its arguments and evidence alone, because these are too weak. No wonder Christians get upset when they perceive their grip on young people being loosened by organizations like Camp Quest.
Encourage critical thinking in young people to enable them to draw their own conclusions.
Promote respect for others with different viewpoints, values, and beliefs.
Provide a safe and fun environment for personal and social development.
Promote a sense of belonging to a wider community among campers and staff.
Compare the above to the stated purposes of typical Christian summer camps, selected at random from a web search (there are thousands of them):
Pine Cove exists to be used by God to transform the lives of people for His purposes and His glory!
We exist to connect youth and adults to their creator and Redeemer through outdoor based programs.
Above all, we thrive on a love for Jesus Christ that permeates everything we do.
Dickey Lake Bible Camp and Conference Center has been, and is today, a very effective mission reaching people for Jesus Christ.