A popular criticism of Christianity among New Atheist-types is to lament the “indoctrination of children,” where “indoctrination” is taken to be roughly synonymous with “brainwashing.” The argument goes something like this: 1. Teaching children to believe in God is indoctrination. 2. Indoctrination is wrong. 3. Therefore, teaching children to believe in God is wrong.
However, one should be able to see the problem when confronted with a parody argument. 1. Teaching children to look both ways before they cross the street is indoctrination. 2. Indoctrination is wrong. 3. Therefore, teaching children to look both ways before they cross the street is wrong. Now if we want to avoid the conclusion, we must reject one of the premises. Where do the arguments go wrong?
It seems to me that we must pin down precisely what is meant by “indoctrination.” It seems to be used in an equivocal sense, where in (1) it means “teaching” and in (2) it means “indoctrination.” But if this is the case, the conclusion clearly does not follow.
So perhaps it is the case that the interlocutor intends a univocal sense. Well, there are two options here. First, he could mean “teaching.” If that is the case, however, (2) seems obviously false (if not flatly self-incriminating). The second option is that he could mean “brainwashing.” But then it’s not immediately clear that (1) applies to Christians on an inherent basis. That is, it seems perfectly possible to teach children to believe in God and love God without brainwashing. So then it seems without serious qualification and explanation, the argument just doesn’t get off the ground.
On a positive note, the Christian may reply that she teaches her children to believe in and love God because it is a) true, and b) beneficial for the child. So the entire case of “indoctrinating children” depends on these two conditions. Unless or until the skeptic can show these two conditions do not obtain, no one has any reason to condemn teaching children about God.