t f p g+ YouTube icon

Are We “Cramming Religion Down Our Children’s Throats”?

Bookmark and Share

September 27, 2010 Tags: Education
Are We “Cramming Religion Down Our Children’s Throats”?

Today's entry was written by Karl Giberson. You can read more about what we believe here.

This piece originally appeared in The Huffington Post.

There is a strange, hyperbolic expression favored by the New Atheists: "cramming religion down the throats of children." The idea, and even the wording, appears with regularity in the anti-religious writings of people like Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennet, and Jerry Coyne. Most recently we saw a lament on Coyne's blog about proselytizing down under, which he labeled "a particularly noxious specimen of religious tomfoolery" that makes him question whether "the U.S. is the worst in cramming religion down the throats of its kids."

This language evokes the harshest of images. What is a secular reader, unfamiliar with how religious children are actually raised, to think? They have never seen a Christmas pageant where dozens of happy children sing cute choruses under the direction of dedicated volunteer staff; they have not seen teenagers gathered in prayerful support around one of their friends whose little brother was just killed in a terrible accident; they have not seen older teens holding bake sales so they can raise enough money to spend two weeks in Haiti helping people in need. Instead, they must picture stern-faced parents dragging kids against their will to indoctrination sessions where they sit on hard wooden chairs until they affirm a set of beliefs in settings reminiscent of A Clockwork Orange. After years of such training, the once-open-minded children mature into narrow-minded adults who carry out the narrow-minded agendas of their parents -- oppose healthcare, gay marriage, stem-cell research, Muslims, and anything else they can think of -- and begin the process of having their own kids, with a new generation of throats down which more toxic ideas will be crammed.

I have been thinking about this charge of "cramming religion down kids throats" this week as the semester gets underway at Eastern Nazarene College on Boston's South Shore, where I have taught since 1984. I have 30 students from various backgrounds in a freshman seminar called Contemporary Questions. Most of them are from conservative Protestant traditions. I suspect that Coyne and Dawkins would nod knowingly to each other that these are indeed kids who had religion crammed down their throats. No doubt they would look with pity on my students, indoctrinated as they are already with religion, and then foolishly enrolling in a Christian college to protect their superstitions from the light of reason. And these poor, benighted students have the additional misfortune to be placed in a class taught by me.

My students don't look like this to me, however. As far as I can tell, they are all religious, to varying degrees, but their religion doesn't look harsh and judgmental as though it were forced on them. None of them seems interested in mounting crusades, bashing sinners, or signing up for witch-hunts. Whatever they had crammed down their throats, like the bland vegetables in their baby food, doesn't seem to have made them unhealthy.

The Contemporary Questions class begins with considerations of what we can know and how we know it. We are reading The Whys of a Philosophical Scrivener by the famous skeptic Martin Gardner, who passed away recently. In their journals my students are reflecting on their beliefs with a new philosophical rigor. One of them wrote: "The only thing I know with clarity is that I want to love all and do whatever I can to make sure that the life I have been given does not go to waste." What a terrible thing to have had crammed down one's throat as a child!

Religious affirmations have become complex in our pluralistic age, and my students seem to get this, even as it challenges their faith. One wrote, "I am currently struggling so much about denying someone else's beliefs because mine are 'truth.'" Another noted, "I seriously struggle with the prospect that had I been raised in Saudi Arabia completely immersed in their belief system, I would be a Muslim."

These students are 18 years old and have been in college for two weeks. A month ago they were living at home with their parents, no doubt sitting on hard wooden chairs with bright lights in their eyes having religion crammed down their throats. And yet already they are wrestling, from a foundation of faith, with the world they will navigate as adults, a world that is more complex than that of their childhood.

Not long ago my daughter, a college junior, had lunch with a childhood friend. The two of them grew up in an affluent, white suburb of Boston. When the check came, my daughter suggested that they leave a generous tip for the middle-aged, obviously blue-collar waitress. After all, she said, they both came from privileged backgrounds and should be generous. An argument ensued. It seems that my daughter's friend had been raised to believe that less privileged people were simply lazy and that there was no reason to subsidize their laziness with generous tips. The affluence that she and her family enjoyed were entirely the result of their own hard work, and anyone who had less than they did was a slacker. This self-serving socioeconomic theory had, it seems, been "crammed down her throat" by her parents, who, by the way, sent her to an affluent white college where just about everyone had the same idea.

Parents put lots of things down the throats of their children -- religion, language, vegetables, ice cream, bacon, tofu, ideas of race, politics, gender and economics. This complex mix is occasionally toxic. But in the complex mixture that produces good citizens, there is no reason to single out religion as problematic. I am quite content to turn the future over to my students.

Dr. Karl Giberson is a physicist, scholar, and author specializing in the creation-evolution debate. He has published hundreds of articles, reviews and essays for Web sites and journals including Salon.com, Books & Culture, and the Huffington Post. Dr. Giberson has written or co-written ten books, including Saving Darwin, The Language of Science & Faith, and The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. He is currently a faculty member at Stonehill College in Easton, Massachusetts, where he serves as the Scholar-in-Residence in science and religion.

View the archived discussion of this post

This article is now closed for new comments. The archived comments are shown below.

Page 11 of 11   « 8 9 10 11
Papalinton - #37842

October 31st 2010

Hi Bennie Yachov

He said, she said, I guess this where our conversation is heading.

But a look over the past century or so of archeology [indeed even the notion of ‘biblical archeology’ is resonating less and less within the archeological community and is clearly being posited deep within Apologetics]  is inexorably exposing the disjunction between purported physical, historical and geographical truths in scripture and what is now generally accepted as fact.

I am quite comfortable with my perspective consistent with the growing evidence.


BenYachov - #37853

November 1st 2010



BenYachov - #37854

November 1st 2010

FYI it’s BenYachov.

If you wish to do a word play on my name then might I suggest Son of Yachov, IbnYacob, Son of James, BenJames, BenJimmyetc.

Ben is hebrew for son & that is how I use the word in relation to my name.

Just so you’d know.

Ted Davis - #38003

November 1st 2010


I agree that CAARI (per se) is not directly involved with archaeology in Palestine, but my brother is an expert on the history of archaeology in Palestine; among his many publications about this, see his book “Shifting Sands” from Oxford U Press: http://www.oup.com/us/catalog/general/subject/ReligionTheology/BiblicalStudies/~~/dmlldz11c2EmY2k9OTc4MDE5NTE2NzEwOA==

He has as much ability to read, understand, and read between lines, as any professional archaeologist.  He knows many of the people who work in Palestine, he’s read a lot of their publications, and he’s been to both Israel and Jordan multiple times.  He was also a student of Bill Dever, the leading American expert on archaeology in Palestine.  If your point is that he can’t know what he’s talking about, then you’re going to have to identify yourself more fully before I can even consider such a comment.  I’m afraid your mask of anonymity isn’t going to carry any weight.

As for CAARI itself, the center is a branch of the American School of Oriental Research, which has other branches in places like Jerusalem and Ammon.

Papalinton - #38060

November 2nd 2010

Hi Ted Davis
Is your brother a devout christian as well as an archeological historian?
What is his view of Finklestein and Silberman’s book,  “the Bible Unearthed”?

I note your brother recently gave talks in Australia in August re:
“The Lecture: Recent archaeological work on Cyprus allows a much better understanding of the context of the St Paul’s visit underscoring the cultural accuracy of the Acts account. A clearer picture of first century Cyprus is emerging, as a complex multi-cultural entity looking both east and west. These internal cultural divisions of the province explain the change of Saul, the apostle to the Jews to Paul the apostle to the Gentiles.”   


“The Rise and Fall of Biblical Archaeology: Towards a new Paradigm
The Seminar will trace the history of the Albright/Wright Biblical Archaeology paradigm and suggest a new way forward out of the current maximalist/minimalist impasse.”

This will provide a guide as to the underlying perspective that will frame the information that your brother is offering.  Context is everything as you will appreciate.

Any don’t worry yourself about my “mask of anonymity”.  I don’t profess any knowledge.  I only seek the truth without spin.


Ted Davis - #38127

November 2nd 2010

Papalinton writes, “Context is everything as you will appreciate.

Any don’t worry yourself about my “mask of anonymity”.  I don’t profess any knowledge.  I only seek the truth without spin.”

I’m delighted to learn that we have precisely the same goal, Papalinton, namely, the honest search for “truth without spin,” as you put it.  I often use the very same words myself, esp in political contexts.  I can’t stand people just making up there own truths, such as Glen Beck (who is not a Christian) making up the “truth” that Mr Obama is a Muslim, or Jerry Coyne (who is not a Christian either) making up the “truth” that Mr Obama can’t be a Christian (since Coyne believes Obama is highly intelligent, which in Coyne’s view contradicts being a Christian), and that he must be a closet atheist.  As Daniel Patrick Moynihan used to say, You are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own truth.

We clearly agree about this, which is great.

to be continued.

Ted Davis - #38128

November 2nd 2010

However,  your point that “context is everything” suggests that you really are entitled to your own truth.  Yes, my brother is an evangelical Christian.  But he doesn’t make up his own truth.  Context matters, but it isn’t the whole story.  I reject your dismissal of his expertise in this way

Ted Davis - #38135

November 2nd 2010

This will be my final comment on this thread.  If context really is everything, Papalinton, then it shouldn’t be possible for historians of science with widely divergent ideological perspectives to agree as much as we about some ideologically loaded propositions: for example, the claim that science and religion are and have always been engaged in an ongoing, inevitable “warfare.”  Agnostics such as David Lindberg, Ronald Numbers, and the late Margaret Osler have the same dim view of the “warfare” thesis that Christians like David Livingstone, Dennis Danielson, or Ted Davis have of it.  And, for the same reasons—it’s profoundly simplistic to the point of egregious error.  In short, it’s dead wrong; it fails utterly to describe the historical landscape in a manner faithful to the facts of the real historical situations.  None of us is engaged in making up our own facts, despite deep differences in religious perspectives.  On the other hand, the context in which AD White and John Draper made up their own facts, to fit the warfare scheme they advanced, does help us to explain what they did and why they did it.  So, context matters—but it’s hardly the whole story.

Singing off.

Papalinton - #38170

November 3rd 2010

@ Ted Davis

Thanks Ted.
And I do agree with you   re ‘warfare’ between religion and science.  Silly game.  But I do challenge the notion when physical, natural occurrences around us are attributed to a demonstrably different dimension [that is the metaphysical or the supernatural] as a proof or an explanation for events that occur in this world but for which it is said to be mysterious or unexplainable,  and which cannot be questioned or tested. For my mind, any claimed supernatural act that is said to be the promulgating force of manifested events in the natural world must be open to investigation and challenge. 

For those who wish to lead their personal lives through a religious perspective,  they have my utmost respect.  If however, should these perspectives be offered into the public domain I am behooved to challenge them.

See you on another thread


Page 11 of 11   « 8 9 10 11