Faith or Indoctrination 

Last year the kids and I read a book about Islam and conversions, or lack of, to Christianity. Essentially we learned that mass conversions, or even individual conversions, are a rare thing. The same can be said of all religions. Conversions from one religion to another are rare enough to be notable. I don’t know how other religions work it but in Christianity, if we get a convert from a totally different religion it almost guarantees a speaking tour and a book deal. 

The truth of the matter, though, is that, as Dawkins writes in The God Delusion, if you ask a person their religion you can almost be certain to know their parent’s religion and their grandparent’s, etc, barring some mass forced conversion like the Spanish Inquisition or Muslim Marauders.

I was a Protestant, as my parents before me and theirs before them and way on back for centuries.

How the conversions from Catholicism to Protestantism occurred are stories I will never know because they happened too far back. But even from my non-practicing ancestors, Protestant children sprang forth.

I have five children. And to speak to particularly the first and third, who are seven years apart, is to see a transformation in my personal beliefs.

My 20-year old, Farmer Boy, is a rather hardcore Conservative. He attends a somewhat conservative church and drinks his coffee from a “Louder with Crowder” mug.

My 13-year old, Mr. Great-heart, listens to NPR and spent a sleepless night in worry after Donald Trump was elected president.

Both my children’s political views sprang from, not their own thought, but from my indoctrination. The same is true of their religion. My children are Protestant Christian because I took them to Protestant Christian churches and taught them from the Protestant Bible. They have not reasoned through their faith. It is no more their own than was mine before I actually began to study it all. And, as I said yesterday, my study through the years was as tainted as theirs might some day be.

When my children would mimic faith actions, like prayer and trust in god, I thought Their hearts were responding to god. If I were to post on Facebook something they said or did that “proved” their growth in Christ fellow Protestants would have viewed it that way as well and we would all have a collective contented sigh that my children were “saved.”

But our children are only repeating what we’ve told them because that is the nature of children. If you had more friends that were an opposite religion from yours, say Catholicism or Islam, they would view their children’s mimicry as proof that their children had strong faith.

But we cannot have faith if we know nothing else. It’s like only having eaten Spam your whole life and being told repeatedly by your parents that this is the best possible food.  Then you leave home and are served Filet Mignon. How can you go back to thinking Spam is the best? The more foods you try the more you can judge Spam through a lense that wasn’t given to you by your parents.

And if we only expose our children to other religions or belief systems by trying to show how our own beliefs are superior, that is no different.

And we can say that same thing about our own faith.

Is our faith real or is it all we’ve ever known? And how do we know it’s real if we haven’t approached it from the opposite end of the spectrum, the end where disbelief asks the hard questions not the middle where we simply ask how does my worldview fit with my faith in the god I’ve always known?

Is your faith real or is it the indoctrination of your childhood? And how do you know the difference?

Or, a better question…if you died and your baby was adopted by a Muslim family, what religion do you think your child would be when they grow up?

One Comment Add yours

  1. Lesley says:

    I think the questions you raise here and in your other post are great- I have annoyed people with similar questions too! 🙂
    I actually heard about something yesterday that made some sense of it: a theory of faith development by John Westerhoff. He identifies 4 stages of faith:
    1. Experiential faith- a child is brought up in a particular faith so that is their experience of life and they don’t know any different (I think this is true whether the faith in question is Christianity, Islam, atheism or anything else.)
    2. Affiliative faith- they see themselves as belonging to that faith or faith community and would self-identify as belonging to that faith but have just accepted it rather than having thought it through
    3. Searching faith- asking questions, looking at other viewpoints, seeking to figure it out for themselves rather than just believing what they’ve been taught
    4. Owned faith- when they have resolved what they believe and own their beliefs for themselves, whether that is the faith they were brought up with or a different faith.
    I think a problem for many people can be that they never move beyond the stage of affiliative faith. Maybe because they just don’t think about it, or maybe because, as you say, questions are often discouraged. I think this is sad because if this model is correct, questioning is a necessary part of reaching a mature faith. Also people stuck in the affiliative faith stage may profess to be Christians, for example, but not really live it out as they haven’t owned their beliefs for themselves and this can impact other people’s view of that faith community in a negative way- e.g. thinking Christians are hypocrites.
    Speaking personally, I was brought up going to church and can see that I’ve progressed through all these stages. There have been major periods of questioning, which I think have been really important for growth. Now I own my faith as a Christian but I have very different beliefs from those I was taught growing up on certain issues, e.g. the Holy Spirit, baptism, speaking in tongues. Also, I think part of mature faith is that the questioning continues because there is always more to know.

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