Friday, June 30, 2017

Separating Brainwashing From Evangelizing Children

I came across an awesome article by soon-to-be-deacon Joe Heschmeyer the other day, where he addressed the following question: "Is teaching children religion brainwashing?" Apparently, as he mentioned in his essay, 86% of respondents to this question on thought the answer was "yes". How profoundly sad. Religion, once seen as a virtue (and still seen as one by the Church, see CCC 1807) by virtually all people in the Western world, is now seen as a vice, and has even been called "child abuse" by certain proponents of the new atheism; of which I would argue is a new religion in itself... but I digress.

The entire article is an excellent read, and I urge everyone to read it before continuing. Here's a good sampling from Heschmeyer's essay:
As Christians, we’re called to proclaim the Gospel to the entire world (Matthew 28:19-20), but in a special way, to teach the next generation about the faith. The Shema Yisrael, the core of Jewish morning and evening prayer, comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-7: 
"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. And these words which I command you this day shall be upon your heart; and you shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise." 
So you can’t be a faithful Christian (or Jew) and not teach the faith to your children. But it’s more than that. Christianity isn’t just your dad sitting around musing about what the afterlife might or might not be like. The God of the Universe entered history in the Person of Jesus Christ, and He taught, died, and rose from the dead. And Christians don’t just believe in this as as an abstract idea, but have a personal relationship with this same God. So it’s not just speculation on the Christian parents’ part: it’s rationally trusting the expert, the one Person qualified to tell us these things. It’s also sharing the most meaningful relationship you have with your loved ones. 
And finally, not teaching your kids still teaches them something. If you really believed Christianity was the most important truth in the world, if you really believed it was the surest way to knowing God and to happiness in this life and eternity in Heaven, you wouldn’t hesitate to share it with the people you loved most (especially those entrusted to your care for formation: your children).
That same selection from Deuteronomy is something that I often see included in my recitation of Compline (Night Prayer) at the end of each day. It's a beautiful thing to reflect on, and whenever I read it, I think about my own kids. Heschmeyer brings up a great point; why would you hesitate to share the faith that comes from Truth Himself with your own children? This essay is a great answer to the question that was posed on, but I'd like to add a couple of points to my own, piggybacking off of what Heschmeyer has written.
Jesus Falling Under the Cross
First, I want to go in a slightly different direction before coming back to specifically teaching my kids "the surest way to knowing God". Whenever I see this question posed, "Is teaching religion to children brainwashing?", the first thing that comes to mind is "what does this person mean by brainwashing?" This is why it's important to define terms in any discussion such as this. And if anyone ever tells you that the definition should be obvious, and the terms don't need defining, you can be assured that you're dealing with an ideologue who has no intention of respectful dialogue on the given subject.

Are we dealing with the actual definition, or the modern day connotation that this word "brainwashing" has amassed in recent years? Well let's see what brainwashing actually means. Merriam-Webster's definition goes like this:
1:  a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to give up basic political, social, or                religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas
2:  persuasion by propaganda or salesmanship
The Oxford Dictionary presents the word in much the same way (albeit with some silly example sentences):
1. Pressurize (someone) into adopting radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible means.
Even Urban Dictionary, shockingly enough has a pretty decent explanation of the word, quoted in part here:
Unlike simple indoctrination into many religions or philosophies, brainwashing goes beyond education to include reasons and/or phobias why questioning or turning away from it is wrong and people who do not agree are deceived, evil, or just wrong. Some religious and other groups cross the line; many do not. 
These definitions are accurate, and fit in with the original meaning of the word when it hit the scene in the 1950s: forced coercion. But nowadays, as can be seen by the results of the poll, brainwashing simply means educating your children in any philosophy or religion... but typically religion. Even the more innocuous "indoctrination" has gotten a bad rap in recent years; the dictionary (and true) definition of the word obscured by a popularized connotation made by certain groups of people.

Heschmeyer makes clear in his essay how it's obvious that educating and indoctrinating one's child in a certain religion (especially Catholicism for our purposes) is not forcible in anyway, nor does anyone give anything up. And that's for the simple reason that children have no specific attitudes or beliefs to give up yet! From his essay, expanding on a quote from St. John Paul II in his encyclical Fides et Ratio:
“From birth, therefore, [human beings] are immersed in traditions which give them not only a language and a cultural formation but also a range of truths in which they believe almost instinctively.” If you had a child and decided not to teach them how to speak (so that they could choose a language on their own as adults) you would be an awful parent. Likewise, if you avoided teaching your child right and wrong. And it would hardly be an excuse for you to say that other people speak different languages, or have different conceptions of right and wrong. So why should we approach the question of religion any differently? This is particularly true since a full explanation of right and wrong ends up needing some sort of reference to God.
Now let's look at this from a different avenue. Say you have a baby, and you have to feed that baby. If anyone has ever fed a 12 month old child, they will know that these kids usually don't like to eat what you're about to give them. They would much rather have something sweet. It only gets worse as they grow up, as those same children at the age of three constantly yell "CAKE!" at every meal. Not that I, uh, know that from experience...

St. John Paul II
In any case, if I allowed my child to eat sweets at every meal, and only sweets since this what my child desired, I would be failing in my duty as a parent. I would be remiss in not telling my child that he needs to eat something healthy, something to help his body grow. This is why I am the one that chooses what he will eat while he is still young, and hopefully by doing so I will instill good habits in my child so that when he is totally free to make his own decisions about eating, he'll pick the baby carrots over the chocolate cake with whipped cream.

It's basically the same with religion. If I am not a materialist (that is, I believe that there are physical and metaphysical realities) and I believe that God has revealed Himself through the Christian faith, and I believe that my spiritual well-being is just as or even more important than my physical well-being, then to allow my child to choose his own religion is tantamount to child abuse. If I believe in something with absolute conviction, why would I willingly allow my child to get into harm's way? If I know that arsenic will kill my child, would I ever give him the chance to drink it? Of course not! If I know that baptism will save my child's life and will allow him to begin the road to salvation, would I withhold it from him? Of course not!

This is why I cannot comprehend the moral relativistic culture that has firmly entrenched itself in America. People I know watch a lot of those ridiculous reality TV shows, such as Sister Wives. The husband on the show has gone on record stating that he wants his kids to find "their own way", even though he firmly believes in the truths of Mormonism. He doesn't tell the kids when they're wrong, he doesn't correct them... he simply let's them be and lets them make their own choices even though he knows in his heart they are on a destructive path. People like this truly disgust me, and I feel sorry for them and their whishy-washiness.

So if someone were to ever tell me that I've brainwashed my children by baptizing them and raising them in the Catholic faith, I'll respectfully tell them to start allowing their children to choose their food, and to cease pushing their morality on their children by telling them what's right and wrong. I'll tell them they should let their 5 year old play in the street and swim in the creek with no supervision. It's their choice, right? Let them figure it out themselves. When it comes to religion, people get uncomfortable. It's absolutely ridiculous how people react, but when we peel back the layers and analyze things, we see that in asking for Christians and other people of faith to stop instructing their children, those same people have to look in the mirror and accept that by their logic, they cannot impose their own morals on them. If I believe my faith is true, then not setting my kids up for success is the worst thing I could do as a parent. And to let them experiment with something I know is wrong (like another religion) would show that my own convictions are weak to begin with. One day our children will have to make their own decisions, but that doesn't mean parents can't try to get them on the right track. It applies to healthy lifestyles, both physical and metaphysical.

No comments:

Post a Comment