Religious Instruction is Religious Indoctrination

religious instruction classes are indoctrination

religious instruction classes are indoctrinationI am often faced with confusion, shocked looks or mocking retorts when I say to people that the religious instruction classes that kids in New Zealand primary schools are a form of indoctrination. To me, it seems incredibly obvious! Sure, the bible “teachers” (rarely actual teachers) are there to instil a few morals into the kids as part of the process but their first lesson and primary reason for being there, is to convince children of the existence of a Christian god and that the bible is the word of god. If that is not indoctrination in their beliefs, what is?

Like all words, there are different definitions for “indoctrination” but here are a few definitions that I think make it pretty clear…

  1. To teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.
  2. To often repeat an idea or belief to someone in order to persuade them to accept it.
  3. Teaching someone to accept a set of beliefs without questioning them.
  4. Teaching a set of beliefs from a position of authority without the ability to question or criticise.

If you’re still not convinced, imagine for a moment that instead of religion, the bible teachers were actually politicians. Politicians do visit schools from time to time to talk to the kids about what they do, but they don’t get access to the kids every week to tell them who they should vote for and that their political party was the only one that the kids should listen to. How would you feel if that bible class was replaced with a party political lesson on what politics to agree with? Watch this video, it explains it perfectly…

The thing I find really odd about talking with people about these kinds of classes is that no matter how much information that I provide them with that shows the classes are there to indoctrinate, discriminate against non-Christian children or have been the subject of complaints to the Human Rights Tribunal, they would rather pretend that everything is ok.  Given that there are a multitude of reasons why bible classes are inappropriate in secular state schools, why do parents not make more of a fuss?

I believe that there’s a few different reasons;

Parents are also indoctrinated to some degree

This will no doubt create the same mocking dismissal as some other things I’ve said, but I think there is strong evidence for this. Firstly, most parents actually have very little understanding of what religious instruction is. For instance, most don’t know that the schools is actually closed while the classes take place and are not aware that the Ministry of Education doesn’t approve the classes. So their positive view of them is based on some vague memories of colouring in and getting stickers from when they were at primary school 20 or 30 (or more) years earlier.

Second, they assume that Christian beliefs are inherently good beliefs. Some are… but obviously not all if you don’t rely on the bible to define your morality. Unless you like the idea of a public stoning for women who aren’t virgins when they marry, gay people automatically going to hell or telling your kids that they are born sinners. Bible classes may not teach children these things but they are still Christian beliefs, however much practising Christians try to cherry pick the parts of the bible they like and ignore the parts they don’t.

Kids should have a choice

I won’t beat around the bush with this one (I rarely do). What a load of absolute rubbish! Do you give your kids a choice of what they eat for dinner? Would you like M&M’s or Broccoli, Angelica? Would you like to sing songs, draw pictures and play games while you learn about Jesus or do some more Maths? If you genuinely want your kids to have a choice, how is a weekly lesson in how to become a Christian a choice? What other options are schools offering the kids? Where are the visits by Atheists, Muslim Imams, Buddhist Priests, Jehovas Witnesses or Scientolgists with clipboards?

Why on earth would you leave the choice of your child’s religion up to the school’s board of trustees? Are you insane? Seriously…

You shouldn’t need religion to teach right from wrong, acceptance and understanding, you lack empathy if that’s the case and to rely on an invisible being in the sky to dictate your actions through life is psychotic. We should be encouraging our children to become critical thinkers not brainwashed sheep.
C.F. – Facebook

But learning about religion is important!

If you think that kids are learning about religion in bible classes, then you don’t understand what is going on. They are not being taught how to think as they are in their normal classes. They are being taught what to think… and even that from a sanitised, “Disneyland” version of the bible. They are not being taught any factual history of Christianity. In bible classes, they won’t hear about how religion (in general) has been at the forefront of preventing every major step forward in human development from slavery, to education, to women’s rights and especially recently, gay rights.

If you want your kids to learn about religion, teach them ABOUT religion, don’t indoctrinate them IN a religion. Is there really any doubt that religious instruction classes are indoctrination when the people providing them say things like this? (Source)

river valley baptist church

“We value children and believe that the earlier seeds are sown into the hearts and minds of these precious ones, the better.

Our hearts desire is that all people will come to know Jesus as their Saviour so several of our fellowship teach children in school about God using the Churches Education Commission material.

The children of Kaukapakapa School and Parakai School are the fortunate¬†recipients of this teaching.”

Rational Ignorance – Change is hard

There are a number of different reasons that parents don’t take action and they all revolve around how they may feel by making “a fuss” and affecting change. It may affect their standing in the community, it may affect their kids. Parents are genuinely afraid of retaliation by other kids, other parents and school staff. You might think that is an over-reaction but in my experience and the experience of parents at other schools, who have complained, it is very real and does happen.

Parents want to get on with the school, and with the teachers, and the most important thing is the kids education, right? Well… only if you ignore the law and your principles. If it is wrong in principle to teach state school children a religious faith from a biased point of view because the religious people teaching it want them to think the same things they do… if that is wrong in principle, isn’t it wrong in practice?

Some parents consider that their kids are immune to religious indoctrination because they are raised in a non-religious or non-Christian household. But… if brands like MacDonald’s can have them recognising the “golden arches” from the back seat of a car 250m away and The Warehouse adverts can have them singing “where everyone gets a bargain” every time they see a red building, what do you think 160+ hours of religious indoctrination does over an 8 year period?

Don’t be fooled

There is no doubt whatsoever, that RI classes are religious indoctrination. That is the whole point of them. You won’t find that word on any of the promotional material or websites you look at. There will be phrases, such as “helping children find God’s love” or “leading them on the path to Jesus” or some such euphemism in place of “recruiting kids for the church”.






  1. I have always believed that children should learn about religions (the plural is important) in school. It is an important aspect of developing an understanding of the people in our society. other societies and history. However, the religious indoctrination that I have found in New Zealand primary schools and the assumption that all students should join in Christian prayers at high school. shocks me. He are a multicultural society and it is about time schools caught on to that.

  2. Hi Howard, thanks for your comment. Actually learning about religions is a great topic and could be fascinating for kids.

    Yes, it saddens me that parents, teachers, school administration and boards of trustees (and indeed, the Ministry of Education) can continue to pretend that there is nothing wrong, when children are missing out on class time and having to leave the classroom to avoid religious indoctrination. I think it’s something that one day, we will look back on and shake our heads in wonder that it was ever allowed to happen.

  3. Christianity does NOT indoctrinate kids neither does it recruit kids otherwise it would offer kids in schools rides to Sabbath schools or Sunday schools or church where churches provide vehicles for people who find it hard to get to church. It does not indoctrinate as it allows children to question God, the Bible or Christianity. No kid is forced and no obligations are expected of children in fact children are very much free to withdraw from these classes if they so wish. Christians do not cherry pick the Bible so how can atheists sit there and say Christians don’t teach stoning, if only atheists knew the Bible concerning stoning is a historical account of the Jewish covenant called the Torah so knowing that, the Torah is not applicable to Christianity in that regards. Atheists go on and on about progress and education so why does 15% of atheists cherry pick what should and should not be taught, this including Te Reo Maori and the treaty of Waitangi. 85% of atheist don’t care what their children are taught, at least they have the decency to allow their children to decide for themselves. Be truthful and honest the rest of yous, Bible in schools do not indoctrinate, just how many kids do you see taking interest in wanting to go to church, almost none and neither is it a expectation. I think a small percentage of atheist attacking Bibles in schools are very much Christian haters just as the accusation yous make of Christians being gay haters, a lot of hypocrisy. 95% of my family are not religious but all our kids in this modern day and age are free to learn whatever they like, that’s what education is meant to be. On the flip side if you ram it down your kids throats not to listen to religious people you are then indoctrinating your children and that’s your right.

    • Hi Terry,

      I’ll respond to your comments on indoctrination first, as I think you’ve misinterpreted a few things.

      1. Christianity is a thing, not a person, so it can’t indoctrinate.
      2. Christian faith is what children are being indoctrinated with, by Christians.
      3. Obviously, bible classes are about recruiting children. It’s called “evangelism” and I have quotes from CEC staff and volunteers who make it clear that they want to bring children into their religious faith.
      4. Being able to question what is taught does not mean that there is no indoctrination taking place.
      5. Parents are forced to state their religious views in order to withdraw children from the classes. See the “your stories” section on this website for how that works out for many of them.

      Not wanting to get into a debate on scripture, as I really don’t value it at all but Christians often say that Jesus offered a “new covenant”, meaning that the old testament no longer counts. This contradicts religious instruction classes where they teach many old testament verses, starting with the creation myth. Note that they also seem to cling to the 10 commandments.

      Your 15% and 85% statistics seem to have been made up? Please provide a source if you want them to be taken seriously.

      The only reason I spoke to my (then 5 year old) daughter about religion at all, is that children in her class were being indoctrinated into Christian beliefs and were scaring her with stories about God being an invisible friend that is always with her. Fortunately, they hadn’t learnt enough to tell her about the perverse beliefs of original sin and hell yet. I actually believe that children do need to be educated about religion. Giving them knowledge is the best way to avoid being indoctrinated into faith.

    • Hi Ruben,

      Thanks for the link. I’ll respond to each of the points in that article.

      They believe Christianity is the truth
      Christians believing it is the truth doesn’t change that it is indoctrination. Most people would believe that their religious views are “the truth” but they don’t attempt to push them onto other people’s children. I actually consider religious indoctrination to be a form of child abuse. I’ve told my own children to learn about religious views objectively and to learn to think for themselves.

      They believe children will benefit from understanding Christianity
      Yes, all the other religions think children will benefit from their religion too. We do not need anyone’s religion to teach good values.

      They believe they are living out their beliefs
      And they are. But this doesn’t make them true or that their actions have no detrimental impact on others. All the quotes from biblical scripture hold no weight with people who are not Christian.

      A Question: Should non-Christians be able to send their children to a school without religious interference from Christians?

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