"Peter didn't know what the Hell he was talking about. He had no idea what the mountain-top experience really represented...Moses & Elijah represented encouragement and a reminder to be attentive to faithfulness, because dark days are coming..."
[Creed Card Talk]
Children have inquisitive minds. They ask “why” all the time because they want to learn, they want to understand. Adults assume the responsibility of being answer givers.
“ . . . Those twelve stones, which they had taken out of the Jordan, Joshua set up in Gilgal, saying to the Israelites, “When your children ask their parents in time to come, ‘What do these stones mean?’ then you shall let your children know, ‘Israel crossed over the Jordan here on dry ground.’ For the Lord your God dried up the waters of the Jordan for you until you crossed over, as the Lord your God did to the Red Sea, which he dried up for us until we crossed over, so that all the peoples of the earth may know that the hand of the Lord is mighty, and so that you may fear the Lord your God forever.” (Joshua 4:19b-24)
In the above example the people of Israel are memorializing God’s salvation and provision: bringing them out of the bondage of Egypt, through the Red (Reed) Sea, across the Jordan River. Though many trials would still to come, they had made it that far by the grace of God. And there was much rejoicing. They set up this monument as a physical, tangible, visible reminder of how what their shared experience shaped and defined their identity as a community, while serving as an educational tool for generations to come.
In order for a people, a community, a way of life to continue, for children to have their questions answered, there needs to be more than “religion education” [education about religion(s)]; instead “religious education” is needed. These are very different though the names are only separated by two letters.
RELIGION education is found in many public schools: the obligatory unit or course in “world religions” or “world mythologies” present in many progressive English/Language Arts and Social Studies curriculums. They are non-religious, non-sectarian, non- proselytizing lessons on what various people in various places believe and practice. You are not required to believe or practice those things in order to pass the class: just check the appropriate multiple-choice boxes and fill-in-the-correct-blanks to show that you can intelligently differentiate between The Five Fold Path, the Five Pillars of Islam, and the five books of The Torah without looking like an uncultured philistine at a dinner party, and so you can dominate while playing Jeopardy on an old school NES. There is no “indoctrination” of the students: there is no expectation or requirement for the students to receive the doctrine inside of themselves and accept them as true.
In RELIGIOUS education, members of a community are consciously and purposely “indoctrinating” those under them with the beliefs and practices which define that community. The student not only learns about the beliefs and practices, they are encouraged to actually believe them and authentically practice them: in order to be a part of the community, the student must believe and practice as the community does. (Think: “Sunday School,” “Hebrew School,” CCD, grandma’s not letting you go out to play on Sat morning until she’s imparted her spiritual wisdom for 45mins)
Some people view religious education as indoctrination, and indoctrination as a curse word, a pejorative: that indoctrinating children, or any people, is an oppressive system which robbing individuals of their freedom to think and make up their own minds. Some argue that all people should be given all the options and told to figure it out for themselves, especially children.
Putting aside the obvious issues (e.g. bastardized, non-religious, non- invested summarizes of religions in no way convey their true essence; how capable children are of “making up their own minds” about the existence of God, or picking a religion, with no guidance; etc.), there is nothing inherent in religious education which prevents “free thinking;” Furthermore, religious education, like all ideologies, is about preserving a heritage.
Religious education is the process by which a community says, “this is our shared identity within a community of belief and practice.” To say that this is “wrong” or “evil” is misguided. If a pastor, priest, rabbi, or imam indoctrinates her/his followers to consistently find ways to care for the people in their lives how stupid does the person sound who rails against such “evil indoctrination.”?
[How dare you fill those people’s heads with thoughts of caring for humanity?! Let them (somehow) decide for themselves without any oppressive input from themselves, and against their own (often) selfish and self-centered inclinations to only do good for those who benefit them! Stupid clergy on a power trip! ]
Yeah, shut that fount up.
Indoctrination is not the problem. The problem is never indoctrination. We need indoctrination to identify beliefs and practices of the groups we claim membership. The problem is what we indoctrinate others with: it is the content, not the capacity, which is the problem.
What are the meaning of the stones, the monuments you place in the life of those who come behind you? What are you indoctrinating your physical and spiritual children with? Biblical love and understanding or human intolerance and hate? Easy answers to tough questions or critical thinking which leads to tougher questions?
Perhaps we should spend less time complaining about how other people raise their children, or practice their beliefs, and spend more time examining the stone foundations we place our own children’s feet on.
But what do we know: we made this game, and you probably think we’re going to Hell.