As a faithful Christian woman, I am often confronted by non-Christians with the idea that a child’s ‘indoctrination’ into his or her parents’ religion is child abuse, reasoned by the idea that geography (where you were born and/or raised) and chance (who your parents are) are the only thing determining a child’s “god”. First, I’d like to clear up any misconceptions about what ‘indoctrination’ is before I move on to the similarities in child-rearing between believers and non-believers. I’ll wrap things up by explaining why one’s belief in God is not a geographical, cultural or environmental mandate but rather something with which we are inherently born (even though many of us deny it).
Just the word alone – ‘indoctrination’ – has a secretive and shady sounding nature to it. We always think of manipulation of the mind when we hear the word used, especially in religion. If one were to Google the definition, the very first result that comes up tells us that it means, “teaching someone to believe a set of beliefs without questioning them.” There is also the common misconception that Christians are taught the concept of “blind faith,” but this could not be further from the truth; however, this false notion is often used to justify that we are ‘indoctrinating’ our children into believing in God. We are actually told over and over in the Bible to have faith BECAUSE (and only after) we have seen, to “Prove all things; hold fast that which is good.” – 1 Thessalonians 5:21. Testing for truth is a very common theme throughout the entire Bible.
Speaking of common themes, it is a common desire for parents of any faith or lack thereof to raise their children up to believe or not believe the same as they do. It is only human nature to run our households and raise our children the way we see fit, with the hopes that our children grow up to believe or not believe what we as parents believe or don’t believe. So, if “indoctrination of a child into their parents’ religion is child abuse,” then ‘indoctrination’ of a child into their parents’ lack of belief is also child abuse. But, again, it’s not indoctrination (in EITHER case) if it’s taught to be questioned. If one is not willing to allow their child to hear about God – or other religions or beliefs (or lack thereof) – that is indoctrination because it’s purposely not giving them anything to question! Whereas Bible-believing Christians know that God gave us free will and allows us to question ALL things and make our OWN decisions, including letting our children make THEIR own decisions. This is not to say that a Christian parent whose child grows up and turns away from God is not heartbroken, because it is devastating – a pain like no other imaginable and the kind of pain that nobody without God could ever understand.
Now let’s question the idea that geography and chance are the only things determining a child’s god. Yes, different geographical locations have different customs and beliefs that most would hold fast to until death. From birth, children are ‘indoctrinated’ into believing certain things based on their parents’ beliefs that were passed down from one generation to the next. So yes, most belief systems are, to an extent, geographically, culturally and environmentally influenced. However, there is an exception to this – a god who knows no boundaries or borders, who doesn’t care about customs or heritage – except this isn’t just “a god,” it is God with a capital “G.”
The idea of geography and chance as the only determining factors in someone’s belief system is illogical at best. Evidence of this can be found in the fact that God (as opposed to any and all other ‘gods’) has been found, at some point, in virtually every culture, every geographic location and every type of household environment, including in that of atheist parents. And in some cases, children have brought the Gospel to their atheist parents who later accepted Christ!
No, the belief in God is not a social construct, but a spiritual one. One that lives in our hearts and cannot be exterminated no matter how far removed we are from Him and His word in the physical realm. He has always been there, is there now, and will always be in the future. It’s why you won’t find true believers arguing with non-believers on atheist websites but will find non-believers relentlessly pursuing answers from believers on Christian-themed sites – it’s because non-believers have not found the truth yet. Subconsciously, they are not satisfied with the answers that atheism gives them because the answers are incomplete at best, outright lies at worst and in reality. And ironically, they are following the very command from God that I quoted earlier by continuing their line of questioning.
The truth is, there are countless ways to come to Christ, and all of those ways are spiritual; none are confined to one’s locale or heritage. One’s belief in God may, in some cases, begin as a result of social construct, but that person will never truly come to Christ based solely on their environment. Although you might hear a believer credit their parents for raising them up right with God’s word, you will never hear a believer say that they believe in God simply based on the fact that somebody they know and trust believes in God, or because it’s how they were raised, or because belief in God was popular in their culture when they were younger. Ironically, I’ve actually been told by an atheist that, “Oh, you know us millennials – we don’t believe in God.” This young lady had NO actual reason on which to base her lack of belief! She said it in a manner that implied that millennials were somehow smarter than their previous generations, but clearly showed her own lack of intelligent reasoning with her statement that she did not expound upon.
Now, if a Christian were to tell another older Christian, “Oh, you know us millennials – we all believe in God”, but they could not answer WHY all millennials believe in God, the older Christian would be very concerned that the younger wasn’t really a Christian. You see, Christians ALWAYS have reasons why they believe in God. And as Christians, we expect that other Christians CAN and WILL be a witness for Him. If we’re doing what Christians should do, we would have a conversation with that millennial to get to the bottom of it, because we don’t want somebody to miss out on eternal salvation simply because they didn’t know about it. And, truth be told, it doesn’t make us sound very credible as Christians if we can’t even defend our stance. That said, I’ve never heard of an atheist confronting another atheist who doesn’t have any reason to be atheist other than because, “Oh, you know us millennials – we don’t believe in God.”
I digress, back to the many ways people come to accept Christ. Some come to Christ when they are at the lowest point in their lives. They call out to God, begging Him for help, begging for His mercy. And that, my friends, is why God allows (versus makes) bad things to happen to “good” people, because some of us are never going to accept Him otherwise.
Some people call out to God on their deathbed, after spending their whole lives denying Him and refusing to even entertain the idea that He might be real. They suddenly know somehow that Jesus is real, and that they’ve been given a final second chance.
Some grow up with atheist parents and still have an innate sense about God that they can’t help but explore. They discover what they believe is the Truth and sometimes even share God’s word with their parents, who in turn accept Christ!
Tribal members in far-away lands that have seemingly no concept of God – as demonstrated by cannibalism and human sacrifice with no remorse – come to Christ after hearing about Him the very first time from a missionary.
Others grow up in church with Bible-believing parents but reject what they were taught, and go off on a mission to prove that God does not exist, only to have all of the evidence point them to archaeological, scientific and historical proof of accounts that were detailed in the Holy Bible, to the point that they can no longer deny Christ. Some of these people have been famous, respected atheists and scientists who end up being the biggest defenders of God’s word, and just as famous and respected as Christians, by Christians, as they were as atheists, by atheists.
Some simply believe in God because they’ve seen His hand in everything, and it’s never a question in their minds that this beautiful world that we live in and the detail and complexity of even the smallest of life forms cannot be accidental or unintended but can only be the work of a Creator with a plan.
Others spend their whole lives believing in God, even accepting Christ, but never actually developing a relationship with Him until much later in life after a spiritual encounter with their Creator (that’s actually my own story).
And yes, there are those who come to Christ because they are afraid of eternal damnation in hell. But as you can see in my previous examples, for many Christians, fear of the reality of spending an eternity in hell is not the driving force in their acceptance of Christ (although I’m certain it would not be pleasant). Some even get there simply by being grateful for Christ’s sacrifice for us.
You see, our belief in God is determined in a vast variety of ways, some of us even before we knew about heaven and hell. And for the record, most of us don’t view hell as a punishment, but rather Heaven as a reward. So yes, there are many ways to come to truly come to Christ, but none of those ways include a direct result of God being a social construct.