Inoculation from Indoctrination

I am a total podcast nerd. If I have a free moment or I am commuting to work- I am listening to either a podcast or an audio book. Today’s podcast was by The Atheist Experience. This is actually a live show that is ran in part  by Matt Dillahunty on a public broadcast channel in Austin, Texas. My work-partner Kyle tipped me off to this particular episode and I found it very thought provoking; Atheist Parenting.


I am a mother to two amazing kids, a two year old and a one year old. The task of parenting is daunting at times, especially when it comes to the subject of religion. My SO and I were both raised in very religious settings, although our religions sat on the opposite ends of the spectrum. It took me twenty-eight years before I finally had enough guts to utter the three most freeing words of my existence: “I don’t believe”. I feel like I have awoken from a deep sleep and my rational side is finally free to think. It’s hard to articulate how freeing this transition has been for me, and even harder to make a Believer understand the ending of my faith. But I get that. I spent nearly three decades committed to the same set of beliefs. When I heard someone spew sacrilege and statements of non-belief, I pitied their souls and condescendingly shook my head. I had the answer to every single challenge one could present-  as far as I was concerned there was nothing to debate. Except for those questions that gnawed at my consciousness, those concepts that seemed so full of holes that they tormented my mind.

The greatest catalyst for my apostasy was in fact, becoming a mother. Seeing how extreme the religious views are from one set of grandparents to the other, and knowing that there would inevitably be attempts at indoctrination and influence, I felt desperate to reconcile my faith. I needed to come to terms with what I believed so that I could confidently lead my children in the right direction. My intentions were earnest. I felt my soul depended on it. In my daughter’s first year of life I even found myself re-engaged in a local church. I was looking for comfort, solace, answers… and all I found was more unrest, more hypocrisy, and more questions. Once the light bulb of rational thinking came on, the fortress of religious based fear and guilt began to crumble. It didn’t take long before I recognized that my initial quest had changed directions completely. Instead of aiming to raise well balanced, non-legalistic, spiritually sound kids I had a new purpose: protect my kids from the damage that is wed to indoctrination.

I touched on this subject before when I listed to the podcast “Get Them While They’re Young“. My work-partner Kyle had even found an atheist parenting blog that I found fascinating. But yet, the questions still loom over my head. How do I protect my kids from religious indoctrination? How do I arm them so they are not damaged by religious zealots – so they are not instilled with fear and guilt? How do I teach them to THINK…. I have come to the opinion that the greatest inoculation to indoctrination is exposure. My goal is to teach my kids about the diverse spectrum of religions- what they each believe and why. But the question still goes unanswered: how does one manage the extend family? Where are the lines, what are the boundaries? Is it possible to hold the line and still enjoy a healthy relationship?

In short, I think the answer is yes- but it’s contingent on two things. One: being respectful of the beliefs that my extended family holds. Two: having grandparents and extended family that are willing to respect our rights as parents. Today’s podcast interviewed Dale McGowan. He is the co-author of Parenting Beyond Belief and Raising Freethinkers. This is some of the only Atheist Parenting literature available. His advice to parents who are raising free thinkings is to expose them, allow them to ask questions, and to not have pre-set expectations.

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He recommended asking the extended family member if they would be willing to sit down together with the child and discuss as a group what they believe. This was an ah-ha moment for me. I don’t know if it is actually realistic, but it seems like a novel idea. My gut wrenching fear at this point is that someone indoctrinate our kids in secret- that someone would use their precious one-on-one time to fill my kids’ heads with the absolutes that they subscribe to. So why not take the bull by the horns and control the situation? Obviously, my two year isn’t ready to engage in a discussion about the Baptism of the Holy Spirit, but at some point she will be mature enough to start learning about the diversity that makes up spirituality in this giant world.

The next part he recommended was a good reminder – focus on teaching my kids how to think, not what to think. In other words, allow my kids to come to terms with the information without pressure to conform to my exact view. This is something I am going to need to remind myself over and over again. And that doesn’t just revolve around matters of religion. This is a goal I need to strive for in many arenas of my life. In my upbringing,I perceived many things to be based on gaining approval, meeting expectations, and earning acceptance. This started with the religious indoctrination I was given and filtered into my parental relationships as well. Seeking approval is something I have been conditioned to do, and it’s something I am intent not to duplicate in my kids. That being said, I want to raise my children to be secure in their love with their parents. Our love and support for them is not conditional. It’s eternal. Whether my daughter chooses to become devoutly religious, whether my son goes into the ministry, I love them and I support them. My job as their mother is to teach them to be objective thinkers, to be skeptics, to ask questions and probe below what meets the eye. My goal is to encourage my children to ask questions. It’s shameful how much religious dogma I was fed in my lifetime that I never once questioned. (If you are ever curious about what is beneath the surface of the childhood Bible stories we all know so well, check out the Skeptic’s Annotated Bible.)

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Obviously I am not the subject matter expert on raising kids religion free. I am less than three years into this journey and haven’t even scratched the surface. This is the life we chose, though. This is the belief- or lack of belief- that we share. If the statistics are right, my blogging on atheism and raising deity-free children will be even less popular than my passion of blogging about equality. According to recent polls, our overly religious society loathes atheists even more than they loath gays. But I don’t write for the shocked reactions of the devout, or for the raised eyebrows of the condescending, but for those who are walking the same path I am traveling. I write because I know that there are moms just like me- parents who are committed to breaking the pattern of religious indoctrination. I write because I hope that by being honest I can provoke at least one other person to stop and think. And most importantly, I write because I am committed to raising my children without fear of eternal hell and damnation- I am committed to dispelling fear through inquiry, I am committed to inoculating them from the oppressive effects indoctrination.


9 thoughts on “Inoculation from Indoctrination

  1. Hi Maria, I want you to know i read the entirety of your blog and I am in 1,000% agreement. The idea to get the kids to learn to think for themselves is spot on. After all, if they’re not thinking for themselves they’re not being themselves either. So you have all my support on this. Ron

  2. Hi Maria,

    I’m not the Internet genius in the family but I tried to write on your blog and it doesn’t look like it made it but I did want you to know what I think, so here is what I tried to post on your blog:

    “Hi Maria, I want you to know i read the entirety of your blog and I am in 1,000% agreement. The idea to get the kids to learn to think for themselves is spot on. After all, if they’re not thinking for themselves they’re not being themselves either. So you have all my support on this. Ron”

    Best, Ron


    1. Hi Grandpa Ron!

      First, thank you so much for taking the time to read my posts. Your support means more to me than you know. I knew without a doubt that you and J would be 100% supportive of this concept and again, that means more to me than I can express. One thing I learned from this podcasts is that the more religious variety in the kids lives, the more opportunity there is to expose them and educate them. It’s shed a positive light on my stress level about the conservative influences and instillation of fear that I want to protect them from. I am excited about them growing to the age that we can have these discussions and teach them to think. And in all honesty- I am so glad that we have the two of you to engage in the discussions.

      Much love – M

  3. Thanks for writing this post. I am a mother to a 19 month old and left my deep evangelical upbringing this past year. My husband and I have yet to “come out” to our parents, which I fear will be catostrophic and I spend a lot of time worrying if I am doing what’s best for our son in raising him to make his own choices. It is hard to find community, so your blog has been very refreshing! It’s nice to know there are other parents like us out there.

    1. Thank you so much for taking the time to read and post. It’s also encouraging to me to know that there are other people dealing with the same challenges. I can identify with the pressure you are under in coming out to your family on your non-belief. Although my time and posts have been limited lately, I hope that you will continue to visit the site. I have much more to share on the topic as soon as time permits 🙂

      Good luck in your journey & keep in touch, Friend.

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