Daughter of an atheist - was I indoctrinated into atheism?

Indoctrination is an interesting topic for me because I was raised by an agnostic mother with little interest in religion and an atheist dad who was passionately and vocally against religion. It's been aggressively suggested to me by people who know this fact about my childhood that I am a product of indoctrination as much as any crying Jesus Camp kid. So I decided to really give this notion a bit of thought.

I'm not going to go into indoctrination versus influence and how the difference between the two can be debated and proves that the very subject of indoctrination is comprised of a lot of gray areas. It's my opinion that a clear distinction between the two is that while parents can't help but influence their children as all close relationships influence us whether we are aware of it or not, indoctrination is a purposefully imposed expectation of compliance with that influence.

I don't believe indoctrination is specific to religion. I think religious indoctrination is simply one of many forms of a specific parental style. I've met kids who seemed to be indoctrinated into a kind of military lifestyle and future expectation, children of certain professions who are both raised in an environment of and expected to follow in those same professions, etc. I think religious indoctrination is viewed as a bit more severe simply because of the total permeation of religious teachings on every aspect of a person's life, down to thoughts and opinions.

Someone indoctrinated into a field of work, police work for instance, seems far less unsettling than someone indoctrinated into, say, the Westboro crowd. I suspect this is because the daughter of a cop whose grandfather was also a cop may have been born and raised to be a cop - but there is no singular belief structure among cops which indicates that this person has the same opinions, hatreds, fears, and loyalties as every other cop. In fact, as far as I can imagine, religious indoctrination has the singular distinction of being the one form of indoctrination that is essentially all encompassing with expectations pertaining not only to actions but also to attitudes, beliefs, opinions, and even to some extent emotions.

So, what about atheist indoctrination? Though perhaps not as dangerous as religious indoctrination because besides the lack of belief in a god/s there aren't any other guidelines for being an atheist, it's still an interesting question because logically there must be cases of kids growing up and being indoctrinated into an atheist atmosphere where expectations of compliance with a familial belief structure exists.

So the question I pose myself is: was I indoctrinated into atheism or did I choose my beliefs with an unavoidable amount of parental influence but ultimately on my own, drawing from my own experiences, knowledge and beliefs?

To explore this, I have to first take a look at my mother and father. My mom was raised a devout Catholic but began to lose her faith in the church when she was around 12. She was eventually excommunicated from the church because of a pregnancy with a non-Catholic out of wedlock at a young age and decided at that point that she had no use for religion. She's not the kind of person to call herself anything, but she's stated when pressed that she is an agnostic. I'm not sure if she isn't sure about there being a god or if she simply doesn't care. Her position, like my dad, is that if you're a good person, you should be OK.

My dad was raised going to church but I never knew what religion he followed. When I asked him, he told me it didn't matter, it was a waste of time. He was fiercely critical of people of any faith and was of the unwavering position that a religious mind is a mentally challenged mind. He was very openly opinionated about what he believed and actively promoted interest in science while actively disparaging theism of any kind. My dad's only question whenever I began dating someone new was if they were religious. If they were, he was disinterested in ever meeting them citing that a conversation with a christian is an exercise in futility.

Obviously my dad's personality and opinions were far stronger than my mom's, but even with his strong opinions, he never kept me from attending churches or researching religions whenever I showed interest. In fact, I spent time weekly at a church for several years of my childhood because of a friendship I had with the daughter of a musical director at a Unitarian congregation. This was never an issue for either of my parents. My dad even participated in a church production of Fiddler on the Roof with my sister and I because he knew we would love to share that experience with him. This leads me to believe that while the influence of my dad's opinions were strong, he had no intention of indoctrinating me with his atheist beliefs.

Another reason why I don't feel I am a product of indoctrination is that I have a sister who grew up in the same atmosphere as I did and she is Christian. Perhaps this is a weak point to bring up considering it's not terribly logical to assume that two separate personalities would react consistently to the same social atmosphere, but I feel that it's something worth mentioning if it is to be accepted that indoctrination is something which happens purposefully.

There was no rejection of my sister by anyone in our family when she let us know that she had begun to follow and truly believed in the Christian religion. My dad didn't love her less or lecture her or tell her he was disappointed in her. Perhaps this seems contradictory considering his low opinion of Christians which he expressed freely in front of us as kids, but I feel like it's more proof that my upbringing was not focused on any expectation of thought. My dad had his beliefs but his beliefs were in no way exclusionary. He had respect for our beliefs and though he would not hold back to argue with us when his beliefs and ours clashed, his love and acceptance was in no way conditional. To reject or judge a family member because of belief would have been entirely counterintuitive to what my parents had told us our whole lives - that it was up to us to do what we had to in order to be happy and it was their job to help in any way they could.

So no - I don't believe I was indoctrinated. My opinions of theists and religion differed greatly from my dad's and at times were irreconcilably different. I questioned my father's beliefs my whole life because he was so vocal about them and I feel that his influence didn't demand an acceptance of atheism, it inspired me to consider god and religion as concepts which were powerful and important and worth checking out. I'm confident that it was through my own experiences and thought processes that I decided that though powerful and important, religion and god were not holy and that holiness itself was a human construct - an archaic survival mechanism.

I'm not saying it's impossible - for all I know there is an indoctrinated atheist somewhere out there, but I'm not it.

Views: 20

Comment by Lilla Bertalan on February 3, 2010 at 7:52am
Interesting post. Of course the hardliners may say that naturally, if you were indoctrinated very good, you don't feel indoctrinated at all ;-)

But I had to stop for a bit at this.
"the daughter of a cop whose grandfather was also a cop may have been born and raised to be a cop - but there is no singular belief structure among cops which indicates that this person has the same opinions, hatreds, fears, and loyalties as every other cop"
Whoa, what? Then how come every one of them 1) is loyal to the government, 2) hates people who think differently, 3) fears the uncontrolled individual, 4) wants to live in a world that's best called Orwellian? I mean, this is why they join the police, this is what they live for - and die for, occasionally. I'm not trying to attack/debate here, I'm just saying that your example may be a bit off. Could be that I'm in a different country and all, but are you sure about that example, when you really think about it? Just my 2 cents.
Comment by Pinko Commie on February 3, 2010 at 8:14am
It's interesting that you say that - I specifically used that example because of my personal experience with a close friend who is a cop and the daughter/granddaughter of a cop. Her personality doesn't match your list of traits that you claim 'every one of them' has at all. She's passionate about being a police officer and extremely dedicated to her job, yet she disagrees with the government openly and regularly, has interest in people with different opinions and has shown no hatred toward people who think differently than her (an example being that she's religious and I'm an atheist, yet we're very close), and otherwise has never exhibited 'Orwellian' tendencies.

Perhaps your experiences are different because of the country you're from, but that doesn't mean that your experiences allow for you to make sweeping generalizations about every police officer that exists in the world just like my experiences are in no way proof that every cop in the world is an open minded, respectful person.

Regardless, I strongly believe sweeping generalizations are unreasonable.
Comment by Kirk Holden on February 3, 2010 at 10:30am
The simple answer IMHO comes from Dennett and Diamond - before 13000 years ago every human tried to understand what was going to happen next from direct experience, shared experience and confusion. Everyone was a scientist and no one was religious. We trained our young to avoid and pursue based on simple rules of survival that had proven the test of time.

The most obvious irreligious ideologies that regularly preform indoctrination of the young are Marxists and Objectivists. These two world views have been largely discounted by evolutionary psychology and reasonable observation. So you don't have to be religious to have an ideology or to indoctrinate the young.
Comment by Shasta McNasty on February 3, 2010 at 12:43pm
"But I had to stop for a bit at this.
"the daughter of a cop whose grandfather was also a cop may have been born and raised to be a cop - but there is no singular belief structure among cops which indicates that this person has the same opinions, hatreds, fears, and loyalties as every other cop"
Whoa, what? Then how come every one of them 1) is loyal to the government, 2) hates people who think differently, 3) fears the uncontrolled individual, 4) wants to live in a world that's best called Orwellian? I mean, this is why they join the police, this is what they live for - and die for"-Lilla Bertalan


Hey now. That opinion seems to have more to do with your experiences than anyone else. My dad is a very religious cop and all 3 statements you made are either A.) stereotypes based on a gross misunderstanding or B.) You just made it up off the top of your head. Either way i cant agree with you. Let me break it down
1.) Even being a religious cop my dad never swore loyalty to the government. He also never tried to give me an opinion about the government.
2.) I was always thinking "differently" as a child. My dad always encouraged it. He may disagree with me at times but he doesnt hate me (or anyone else) who think different.
3.) Fears the uncontrolled individual? Of course they do. Uncontrolled individuals are who kill cops. Plenty of reasons for cops to fear them. Youd be scared if you ran the risk of being killed by "uncontrolled individuals" at your place of employment everyday. And just because cops may fear them, doesnt mean it leads cops to treating them differently.
4.) My dad feared the predictions of 1984 and other dystopian literature. Sure he had his own ideas of how he wants to see the future. Everyone does. Should i start picking apart how you want the world to be? He also didnt join the police force just to die for his ideal future.

IMHO its pretty ridiculous that you decided to try and pick apart pinko's point for no reason, its a valid point she made. My dad believes PLENTY of stuff i dont. He also feels very differently about things than me, but he never let his work experiences impact the way he raised me. Not trying to be mean or whatever but your comment is flawed and needed some perspective
Comment by Pinko Commie on February 3, 2010 at 10:04pm
That's why I think it's important to make a distinction between indoctrination and influence. Did your dad influence your interest in math - yes. Is influence the same thing as indoctrination? I personally don't think so.
Comment by Shanika on May 5, 2010 at 11:31am
Very enjoyable post to read. Thanks for sharing. I just had a similar conversation recently with a friend on facebook and someone from the community sent me a link to your post. You hit the nail on the head when you said indoctrination is a purposefully imposed expectation of compliance with that influence.
I agree. And I think that what is imposed is BIASED information! That's what makes it indoctination in my opinion.

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