Guest Post: Atheist Karen Garst Selection from Her New Book: How Children are Indoctrinated into Religion

This is a guest atheist post from Karen Garst, and is a selection from her upcoming book which is being released later this in May. In this post Karen explores the issue of how religion is indoctrinated into children. Indoctrination is a major problem that exists today  in that it sets up people for failure, especially when they realize that what they are taught it not true. 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him will believeth in anything. – Hitchens 3:16” 

Christopher Hitchens 

“In the end the Party would announce that two and two made five, and you would have to believe it. It was inevitable that they should make that claim sooner or later: the logic of their position demanded it. Not merely the validity of experience, but the very existence of external reality, was tacitly denied by their philosophy. The heresy of heresies was common sense. And what was terrifying was not that they would kill you for thinking otherwise, but that they might be right. For, after all, how do we know that two and two make four? Or that the force of gravity works? Or that the past is unchangeable? If both the past and the external world exist only in the mind, and if the mind itself is controllable—what then?

George Orwell, 1984 

“When even the brightest mind in our world has been trained up from childhood in a superstition of any kind, it will never be possible for that mind, in its maturity, to examine sincerely, dispassionately, and conscientiously any evidence or any circumstance which shall seem to cast a doubt upon the validity of that superstition. I doubt if I could do it myself.” 

Mark Twain 

Today we have another guest post from Karen Garst. I did Karen’s bio in the first post which also looks at the topic of shame from religion. You can read that in, “Guest Post: Karen Garst’s New Book on Women v Religion, an Atheist’s Perspective. A Look at the Topic of Shame from Religion.” This is another selection from Karen’s book and this looks at the way some Christians engage in indoctrination. This especially comes up with Accelerated Christian Education (ACE) which is used in a lot of home school settings. ACE views things from a literal Biblical perspective and also focuses on developing a curriculum that looks at things from a fundamentalist or conservative evangelical perspective.  Its taken heat for some of its programs on history. ACE leans upon rote recall which is the quick regurgitation of facts.  ACE got its beginnings in Tennessee in 1970 by Donald and Esther Howard. 

Indoctrination is a serious issue and it also interferes with standard education. Indoctrination in many ways sets up people for failure in that it teaches them what to think and in the process it fails to develop a person’s mind. One of the concerns is that it sets people back academically. While I do not write about home schooling that is one of the criticisms I have of it. I fear its deeply substandard and below the academic threshold that you would find at a standard K-12 education setting. Another problem which has to be raised is what happens when a person loses faith? When they discover that what they were taught is not true and when it backfires spectacularly? In many cases there is not a lot of support and people who will understand. The Wondering Eagle hopes that people will pick up Karen’s new book and that it will give people something to contemplate. Topics such as shame and indoctrination deserve further study. Its with that stated that I will turn the rest of the post over to Karen. 


People always ask why there are not more women in the “atheist movement.” One of the main reasons is because more of them are sitting in the pews each Sunday morning. A 2014 Pew Research Center survey found that women are more likely than men to say religion is “very important” in their lives (60% vs. 47%). They are also more likely than men to say they pray every day (64% vs. 47%). When I grew up in a Lutheran church, the women also did most of the unpaid work – they cooked for potluck dinners, cleaned up the kitchen afterwards, folded the bulletins on Saturday morning with their children, taught Sunday School and directed the children’s choir. Whew!

But where women have the most impact is in bringing their children to church. My husband’s mother is a devout Catholic. Her husband never attended church. But she was faithful in bringing her children every week to Sunday school. (My husband usually slipped out the back door.) Because of this, indoctrination into religion comes at a very early age when children’s minds are the most malleable. Alexis Record, a frequent blogger and essayist in my new book – Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom – examines in detail one of the most severe indoctrination methods entitled Accelerated Christian Education. Unfortunately, she got to know the ins and outs of ACE directly as she received 12 years of “education” through this method. Needless to say, colleges didn’t consider it the equivalent of a high school diploma.

One of the ways in which this “education” is effective is the child is surrounded by people who reinforce everything that is taught. As Alexis explains, “The bubble I grew up within was tightly controlled, and most of the influences on my thinking were limited to those that reinforce the conservative Christian worldview.” When a child is young, they tend to believe what their parents tell them and don’t question them or the other adults in their lives. If your whole life is caught up in Sunday services, choir practice, Sunday school and then your entire education is more of the same, it is not surprising that this is your world view. While those raised outside of religion find this a bit hard to understand, Alexis explains it well.

I have often wondered how I could have ever truly embraced a faith that would make any sane person recoil. The answer lies in the fact that I wasn’t simply taught these lessons, I inherited them. They were my upbringing-repeated tirelessly by those who raised me. To reject them would have been to conjure the temerity to reject my family, my community and my own identity. That is a lot to ask of anyone, but grossly unfair to ask of a child. The well-known verse in Proverbs 22.6 is fairly perceptive of the process to follow. “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray.”

Studies have shown the impact of religious activities on the brain. They actually make people feel more and, as Alexis explains, become “aware of themselves less.” The authors of one study – Miron Zuckerman, Jordan Silberman, and Judith A. Hall – cite a significant negative association of intelligence and religiosity. Their definition of intelligence is as follows: “ability to reason, plan, solve problems, think abstractly, comprehend complex ideas, learn quickly and learn from experience” (p. 13). As is evident in Alexis’ description of ACE, the only important aspect is to believe and repeat what is said.

The ACE method also reinforces all of the misogynistic aspects of Christianity. A woman is expected to follow her father’s, then her husband’s wishes. She is to be subservient. Her job is to manage the household (wash dishes and iron!) while her husband is the wage earner in the family. It also teaches that the “wages of sin are death” invoking the punishment of hell as the result of falling off the true path. If a psychologist were to give an honest opinion on this teaching method, he or she could only conclude that it is child abuse.

When Alexis grew up, she was expected to train her children in the same way, thus the cycle repeats itself. When she was expecting her first child, the pastor told her he was excited that she would “raise him up in service of the Lord.” But Alexis came to doubt the precepts of the religion she was raised in and has become a pretty fervent atheist. She, as many others have done, also paid the price of leaving her church behind – they left her behind as well.

I was uninvited to holiday gatherings, was unfriended on social media, lost baby sitters, experienced strained interactions with once-close family members, and had to change my will since those who had previously been selected to inherit my children in the event of my death had disappeared entirely from our lives without a word.”

Women v. Religion: The Case Against Faith – and for Freedom contains 12 other essays that deal with issues affecting African-American, Hispanics, transgender, ex-Muslim, and ex-Jewish women, as well as others it is available for pre-order on Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It will be available in bookstores in May.

Karen L. Garst, PhD

6 thoughts on “Guest Post: Atheist Karen Garst Selection from Her New Book: How Children are Indoctrinated into Religion

  1. Has anyone ever thought that Christianity exists OUTSIDE of the REFORMED circles? The REFORMERS are the idiots that propagate the INHUMANE abusiveness. Both Catholics and Reformers CREATE atheists. As Trump would say…SAD.

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  2. With all due respect, the modern school system has been indoctrinating children with secular humanism for decades now. Is atheistic “indoctrination” any better?

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  3. Some form of Catechism is how any belief system “reproduces” over generations, whether it’s formal Catechism or osmosis from parents and surrounding culture.

    How does Karen define “Indoctrination” and at what point does this formal or informal Catechism shade into Indoctrination (which I think means FORCING said belief system)? Like many natural systems, there is probably no definite boundary. (Unlike legal systems, which require exact definitions and clear boundaries.)

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    • After reading a couple times, I don’t think what Karen describes is limited to “religion” per se.

      ANY belief system can become a “religion” in the hearts and minds of its followers; in the past century, several political systems have become State Religions in all but name, and others have become Folk Religions. A Cult(TM) does not need to be based on a religious belief; a Political or Philosophical worldview can also suffice. Extremism and Fundamentalism are as much mindsets and personality/behavior as anything else, and can transfer from one TRVTH! to another.

      In various Activisms (and Furry Fandom) I have seen “one-eighty flips” where Absolute Blind Devotion to a subject flips one-eighty into Absolute Blind Hatred, usually because of a chronic burn job by the object of the original Devotion. Same Intensity and Zeal, opposite direction. (Especially during the “cage phase” shortly after conversion/deconversion where all the baggage of the previous belief system comes out.) And I get a muted vibe of that from Karen’s excerpt/guest post.

      The surprising part is Karen’s burn job came from a Lutheran upbringing, whereas such denigration of women is today more associated with Fundagelical or Extreme Reformed church cultures.

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  4. Pingback: Guest Post: Atheist Karen Garst Selection from her New Book: Considering Evolution and How “God” Can Cause Abortion | Wondering Eagle

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