I 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…
- To teach (a person or group) to accept a set of beliefs uncritically.
- To often repeat an idea or belief to someone in order to persuade them to accept it.
- Teaching someone to accept a set of beliefs without questioning them.
- 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.
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”.