Thursday, 15 September 2011

Teaching or brainwashing?

I had the beginnings of an interesting conversation with a good friend the other day. She was sharing her own religious/spiritual beliefs with an acquaintance who then posed the question "Well, if you were raised that way by your parents, aren't you just brainwashed into thinking your religion is right?"

It was an honest, fair and thought-provoking question. It made me pose a question of my own: what then, is the difference between teaching and brainwashing?

It I believe that honesty is important, am I brainwashing my child by trying to instil that value in him? If I believe in creation, evolution, love, fiscal responsibility? If I love music, theatre, carpentry, cooking, travel? If I raise my family with certain gender roles, education ideas, political beliefs? I don't want to live my life without imparting anything to my children, but there is no doubt that during these early years they are so impressionable. I readily admit that I am choosing what I expose them to, in an effort to develop in them what I see as good character, good habits, good values. But is that brainwashing?

I don't think it would be a responsible choice to try and raise my children "neutral." What a boring home environment it would be if I desperately tried to expose them to nothing. But every time I make a choice, I am choosing something for my kids, until they have the ability to make choices for themselves. Of course, that is part of the answer: in all my teaching, teach my children to be able to make their own informed choices. But they are still a long way off from that.

Christians will often quote the Old Testament proverb "Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it." Parents often hold to this truth while watching wayward teens stray onto paths that vary from healthy rebellion to downright destructive. But does this saying then debunk the idea of conversion? How do Christians hope to convert others from the belief systems in which they have been "trained up as a child?" Wouldn't they eventually just find their way back, when they are "old?" Is this a scripture passage that affirms the idea that teaching children in any way is a form of brainwashing?

Some tough, hard thoughts and questions, that's for sure. The only answers I was able to struggle to, so far, have been these:

1. That training a child is important, invaluable even. It is my job as a parent to explore my own belief system, and be confident in having chosen my own path. Then I have a responsibility to teach what I believe to be right to my children.

2. That radical change is always possible. While much of what I teach my children will hopefully stick through the years, if there is something missing for my child, if there is a "truth" which they is integral to him, then when he hears it one day he will be touched by that and changed from the inside out.

So, when it comes to religion, I think the most important summation is this: "I worship God according to the dictates of my own conscience." (Jeff Decker, "I am a Mormon") You can't believe a packaged religion, or continue to follow a religion because your parents belonged to it, or because you were raised in it. If you are looking for an organization to support you in your beliefs, pray that God will lead you to it, and that the mind with which he has blessed you will discern truth.

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