(From Chapter 6: What We Should Teach Children)
Sheridan holds that religious indoctrination of minors is a form of child abuse. Randal pulls out a copy of Richard Dawkins’ book A Devil’s Chaplain and quotes from the book in which Dawkins laments the fact that his daughter was being given religious instruction without his knowing about it.
As you may know, Richard Dawkins is a strong proponent against the religious indoctrination of children, as he rightly observes that religious indoctrination is little more than telling children what to think and believe, not teaching them how to think critically so that they will be equipped to evaluate their beliefs for themselves when they enter into the age of reason.
Sheridan sides with Dawkins as to the argument of whether or not indoctrinating children into religion is a kind of abuse or not, and challenges Randal on the front that any reasonable person would see that coaching children to fear hell, among other questionable beliefs, without being given the option to so much as question these spoon fed beliefs in such a way as to insight stress, mental anguish, or even emotional outbursts in the children, should be considered, at a minimum, mental abuse.
Randal responds that it possibly could be, and tries to deflect the denunciation by insisting, “It depends, among other things, on whether the doctrine is true and how it is taught.”
I’m going to pause here just to say that, as an educator of children (elementary through junior high school) I can honestly say that teaching any child a fear based doctrine of any sort is most assuredly child abuse when you neglect to teach them to think for themselves perchance they may have the ability to doubt nonsensical teachings such as those depicted in the shocking 2006 documentary Jesus Camp. Such heavy-handed indoctrination is basically religious brainwashing, and it often leads to radical thinking and behavior in those who have been indoctrinated.
Also, even if the so-called doctrine is true, even one as pernicious as the notion of infinite punishment and torture for finite crimes (or more accurately “crimes” as arbitrarily defined by the religion) it doesn’t necessarily mean that children are ready to be taught it.
We don’t teach children about the intimate details of sexual relationships until they are of a mature age, and I would say the same could probably be said about many religious doctrines, such as the doctrine of Hell (just to cite one example), regardless of whether such doctrines may be true or not.
Besides, let’s be honest, Christians don’t typically say that Hell might be real, so make up your own mind. No! Instead they say that Hell is real, so you better believe this way and act accordingly, or else!
Now, to an adult who doesn’t believe in such things like heaven or hell, all this might seem rather absurd. But to a child who has not mastered critical thinking skills yet, what choice do they have but to put her trust in their parents, their caretakers, and the authority figures in their life?
One of the biggest regrets in my own life, to share a short aside with you, was the time I worked as Christian counselor at a well-known Christian Bible camp where we would often use the tools of emotional blackmail to persuade children to accept Jesus by frightening them with the fear of Hell and, in turn, using their fear of being separated from their loved ones forever (forever!) to compel them to come to Christ.
From the Christian perspective, it was always imperative they accept Jesus right away, because we were in the End Times, after all, and without Jesus tucked neatly away in their hearts their immortal souls would be doomed for all eternity! If they wanted to see their loved ones again (in Heaven), we informed, they must accept Jesus—and they must do it now.
And many of them did accept Jesus. But not because they truly believed in what we were telling them, but because what we were telling them was so goddamn terrifying that they felt they had no other choice but to believe. This is the design of most Bible camps, mind you, to indoctrinate children who haven’t gotten enough of it from their religious parents or their churches.
Looking back now, I view my time as a Bible camp counselor as the shameful act it really is. I partook in a child brainwashing program and I actually rejoiced when I saw the desired outcome of children’s wills being broken and accepting any religious thing I told them. Let me ask you, how sick is that?
So, in the end, after weeks of religious over saturation and mental manipulation, the children had done exactly what we wanted them to do. They had broken down and accepted Jesus. A couple of things need to be said here. First, this isn’t teaching the child how to critically evaluate the concept of Hell for themselves, and actually has the opposite effect by teaching them to fear the very notion of Hell so they don’t question it; and secondly, Hell is a fictional place and until an ounce of evidence for Hell’s existence can be brought to light then I’m afraid the only consideration anyone needs to give it doesn’t even amount to one iota.
Of course, savvy theologians may stop me here to point out that Hell is meant as more of a metaphor for the absence, or separation if you will, of God. If so, then it’s my opinion that this “metaphor” not in tune with the Biblical description of Hell as being a real place of physical suffering and torment, with fire and chains, wailing, and the gnashing of teeth as describe in Holy Scripture. Then again, even if by the slimmest chance the concept of Hell denotes a real spiritual separation with God, there are many more reasons why we shouldn’t be teaching it to small children. Most of all because small children do not fully comprehend esoteric philosophical concepts in the same way as educated adults do, and at the very least, because it’s an unnecessary burden to be forcing a child to have to wrestle with.
As a teacher, I regret instructing the children under my tutelage that Hell was a real thing that they should be concerned about, mainly because it wasn’t really teaching. It was indoctrination. As an educator of children today, looking back on my days as a Christian Indoctrinator of Children (CIC pronounced “Sick”), I realize that I failed to teach them anything of importance, except perhaps an unfortunate life lesson in how to cope with the anxiety of an all too gratuitous summer of Christian Bible camp.
 As someone who has children and as an educator of children and someone who once was extremely religious, I have to agree with Richard Dawkins that strict religious indoctrination of children is a kind of mental abuse. But instead of going on at length about why I think so, I will direct you to an excellent lecture by Seth Andrews, aka The Thinking Atheist, titled “Get Them While They’re Young” where he details the often outrageous and shocking tactics of religious organizations to indoctrinate children.
 Although not all religion is bad, many have innately bad elements, and child indoctrination often leads to a type of religious maltreatment of children and frequently ignores children’s rights. For a candid look at the various kinds of religious abuse done to children in the name of religion, see Janet Heimlich’s book Breaking Their Will: Shedding Light on Religious Child Maltreatment.