“The responsible thing to do, and in a way the brave thing to do, is to teach children to think critically.”
Question from Jeff:
I got the following message from a kind, caring, ignorant xian:
“If you have children or grandchildren , work with children at church , or you have neighborhood children whose parents you know , please take note of the information below and pass it along to others. Schools are distributing this
Book to children through the Scholastic Book Club.
“The name of the book is Conversations with God.. James Dobson talked about this book twice this week. It is devastating. Parents , churches and Christian schools need to be aware of it. Please pass this information on to
Church/e-mail addresses , Parents , Grandparents , Aunts , Uncles , Cousins , friends.
“Please pay special attention not only to what your kids watch on TV , in movie theaters , on the Internet , and the music they listen to , but also be alert regarding the books they read.
“Two particular books are , Conversations with God and Conversations with God for Teens , written by Neale D. Walsch. They sound harmless enough by their titles alone. The books have been on the New York Times best sellers list for a number of weeks , and they make truth of the statement , “Don’t judge a book by its cover or title.”
“The author purports to answer various questions asked by kids using the “voice of God”. However , the “answers” that he gives are not Bible-based and go against the very infallible word of God. For instance (and I paraphrase) ,
When a girl asks the question “Why am I a lesbian?” His answer is that she was ‘born that way’ because of genetics (just as you were born right-handed , with brown eyes , etc.). Then he tells her to go out and “celebrate” her differences.
“Another girl poses the question “I am living with my boyfriend. My parents say that I should marry him because I am living in sin. Should I marry him?”
“His reply is , “Who are you sinning against? Not me , because you have done nothing wrong.”
“Another question asks about God’s forgiveness of sin. His reply “I do not forgive anyone because there is nothing to forgive. There is no such thing as right or wrong and that is what I have been trying to tell everyone , do not judge people. People have chosen to judge one another and this is wrong , because the rule is “‘judge not lest ye be judged.”
“Not only are these books the false doctrine of the devil , but in some instances quote (in error) the Word of God.
“And the list goes on. These books (and others like it) are being sold to schoolchildren through (The Scholastic Book Club) , and we need to be aware of what is being fed to our children.
“The children of our nation are under attack. So I pray that you be sober and vigilant about teaching your children the Word of God , and guarding their exposure to worldly mediums , because our adversary , the devil , roams about as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour (1 Peter 5:8). We know that lions usually hunt for the slowest , weakest and YOUNGEST of its prey.
Pass this on to every Believer you know.. And , if you are in doubt , check out the books yourself.”
It seems to me that these folks have a clear purpose to indoctrinate children into their way of thinking. Is there any counter to this kind of vile filth? These outmoded ideas (faiths) seem to want to keep women in their place, keep minorities on the ragged edge of society, and perpetuate their particular brand of bigotry far into the future by foisting it upon the young. Is there any way to stop this kind of thing? Is there something I could get involved in to help?
Not having read the book, I wonder whether the passages from it are directly quoted or misleadingly paraphrased. (“There is no such thing as right and wrong” is not something I’ve heard from a Christian before.) If the latter is the case, one response might be to write the author and publisher and let them know of a dishonest campaign against the book, in which case they can take their own measures.
This message will only be acted upon by people who already agree with the sentiments of the boy crying wolf, and in all likelihood already try to shield the children in their care from anything which conflicts with their accepted dogma. Therefore whether it reaches its targets won’t make a lot of difference to people’s lives by itself.
It is of course a symptom of larger problem, the widespread childhood indoctrination you talk about. Especially in these days of rising secularism, the religious often latch onto the most effective way of propagating their religions: instill them in those without much capacity to question them.
We all share the responsibility of teaching the children around us, and preparing them for life. Counter-indoctrination (of which Conversations with God sounds like a good example) isn’t the answer to those who abuse this responsibility for their own religious (or political, or social) ends. Firstly it’s little better than the zealots’ practices, and secondly why would you produce people who share your position only superficially and can’t properly explain why?
The responsible thing to do, and in a way the brave thing to do, is to teach children to think critically. Not to reject anything that’s said to them, mind you, but to consider things before they accept them. It’s brave because if they take it on board, it means they’ll question you as well as others, and you’ll have to defend your own positions. If you think yours are more defensible than those which you oppose, it’s something you need to do.
How to teach children to think critically is a different pickle for everyone. I don’t know what your background is or what access you have to children, and whose children they are. It could be something as simple as recommending that they read certain books, or as unobtrusive as discussing everyday problems around them, or as straightforward as sending them to Camp Quest.
Let us know if there’s anything you work out you can do to help kids think for themselves. Anybody else is welcome to comment with suggestions, too. You might inspire each other.
What do I do, personally? I write for a site where those who are nursing their first real doubts about religion OR atheism often come to sort things out. I try to nurture independent thought as soon as it emerges.