Madison York
Mercury Staff

Digging beyond religious stereotypes leads to mutual understanding

Brainwashed. Indoctrinated. Believing in a higher power to
make myself feel better instead of facing facts. As a Christian, I’ve been
either been accused or heard other Christians accused of all these things. At
the same time, I’ve heard pastors and orators on my own side of the aisle
assert the same about atheists, agnostics or anybody who isn’t Christian.
Opposing ideologies point fingers at each other — if not openly, then
privately. But what does this say about the nature of indoctrination on either
side? Understanding indoctrination in others, then, first means that we must
re-evaluate indoctrination in ourselves.

Indoctrination is the process of teaching someone to accept
a set of beliefs uncritically — with the key term being “uncritically.”
Indoctrination brings unsavory images of force-feeding unquestionable
information, with no room for argument.

To some degree, indoctrination of incontrovertible truths
happens to all of us. We’re taught physical truths — the Earth is spherical.
We’re taught linguistical truths — some words are polite, and some words
aren’t. And we’re taught moral truths — it is, for example, almost universally
accepted that murder is evil. However, we are susceptible to numerous other
indoctrinations as children. Growing up in a religious household or not can
have a strong impact on our personalities and biases. We’re taught to accept
certain things as truth, and others as lies. An example from my own experience
is the belief in a young Earth versus an old Earth. I was raised studying the
principles of Creationism according to the Bible. Now, as I’ve gotten older and
started studying for my physics degree, investigating the objective proof (or
disproof) for my beliefs is an intrinsic part of my life.

One thing to note here is the crucial, potentially dangerous
role of confirmation bias. The most obvious kind of confirmation bias is only
researching facts that confirm our original belief, such as being religious and
reading just theological and scientific evidence that supports your religion.
However, another, subtler kind of confirmation bias is when you have a doubt
about something — or, say, grew up religious, but were pressured not to
question or doubt and so rebelled against the religion — and only research the
facts that support your doubt. And making a habit of confirmation bias isn’t
the only possible pitfall in our mental and intellectual development. Worse, we
can become complacent in our beliefs and fail to question in the first
place. 

Over the last few weeks, I conducted a survey of UTD
students to gauge individual experiences with these ideas.  In all, 85 people responded, and of those,
atheism was the predominant belief system — coming in at 67.1 percent — while
Christianity came next, at 24.7 percent of respondents. When asked whether
someone had ever accused them or someone of their same religion of being
indoctrinated, 28 atheists and 20 Christians responded. Of those, 15 atheists
and 14 Christians said yes.   

Admittedly, this is a relatively small pool of survey respondents.
This last data point, however, merits some discussion. People who are religious
aren’t the only ones being accused of indoctrination — it’s happening to
atheists, too. 

In the same survey, I also asked if respondents often found
themselves investigating factual evidence for their belief system. Out of the
25 atheists that responded, 19 answered yes, and out of the 21 Christians that
responded, 14 answered yes. Again, this is a small statistical pool, but in
both cases, more than half of the respondents from each belief system were
actively searching for evidence for what they believed.

There are several things that can be said for certain.
Whether atheists, Christians or other religions, accusations of indoctrination
are coming from every side — over half of the survey population is actively
questioning and researching their faith. Invalidating people’s belief — or,
again, lack thereof — by claiming they’re indoctrinated isn’t a valid way to
argue because it isn’t always true. People are being critical of their own
beliefs.

Jesus once told a parable about two men who each built their
own house — one on solid rock, and the other on sand. When a storm came, the
house on the rock stood firm, and the house on the sand collapsed. I’ve talked
with people who view faith as blind. And the worst part is that while there are
many who do ask question, I’ve still met people who are blind in their faith.
They show up to church on Sunday, go through the motions of being a Christian
and behave passionately and pedantically when it suits them. They build
mansions on the sand.

As we age, autonomy and freedom of thought become
increasingly important to us as individuals. Questioning assumptions —
particularly things we were told, as children, were unquestionably true — is
healthy for our development as adults. Investigating factual evidence for our
faith (or lack thereof) doesn’t just give us a way to have objective
discussions with people of different beliefs. It also leads us closer to truth.

I extend this challenge to Christians, atheists, agnostics,
Muslims, Hindus and everyone else in between. As you investigate what you
believe, seek the flaws in your knowledge and the architecture of your
ideology. Even better, examine your building process: the logic and fundamental
principles with which you’re approaching your structure of belief. The end of
indoctrination starts with the re-evaluation of reasoning.