This is a huge responsibility, and we should take it seriously.
I’ve become increasingly bothered by posts and videos my friends and acquaintances have put up recently in which their children are either repeating the things they’ve been indoctrinated to believe, or are using some very basic logic to reach conclusions based on what they’ve been taught. The parents seem shocked to discover that when they teach their 10 year old about sin and forgiveness, their child learns to internalize sin in a way that is entirely inappropriate for a child of that age.
If you grew up evangelical, as I did, perhaps you remember the entirely made-up notion that children eventually reach an age of accountability, after which time they are fully responsible for the sins they commit. Before that age, God can be counted on not to eternally punish them for stealing their sister’s candy bar, because obviously the punishment wouldn‘t fit the crime. But after the age of accountability, any violation of any part of God’s commands are in such a violation of God’s nature that he will eternally punish them for those violations. The exception (because Bible) is if that child comes up with the correct series of thoughts. Get your beliefs lined up correctly, and you’re forgiven.
The notion that a five-year old is capable of making a decision that impacts the next 5 years of her life would be ridiculous. But in Christianity, those same kids are assumed capable of deciding their eternal destination. It’s no wonder parents are so eager to indoctrinate them. Eternal hellfire is at stake. When we believe radical things, we are capable of radical actions. See Syria, or Afghanistan, or Westboro, or Jesus Camp. Kids will believe what we tell them to believe, and do what we tell them to do.
If we’re lucky, our kids will grow old enough to let us know what they think of what we made them believe. Will they appreciate that we respected them enough to leave their minds well enough alone, so they could sample the choices available to them without bias? Or will they resent us for instilling division and certainty into their minds, forcing them to transform their entire worldview to escape those things? (<---- autobiographical).
David Bazan sums up the tragedy of parental indoctrination in this song:
Richard Dawkins is a jerk, but on this point, he's spot on: