In several of my bios, I’ve written that I became an atheist activist after I had children and noticed how much Christianity was institutionalized in our country and how much our children are systematically indoctrinated. I’d like to fully explain those two ideas.
Christianity is institutionalized
Simply put, Christianity is a part of our institutions, public and private. The places where Christianity creeps into our government is the most concerning. Christmas is a national holiday. The word God is in our Pledge of Allegiance. People are asked to swear to tell the truth on a Bible and to God. US troops are often forced to pray or attend religious events. Anti-abortion laws are passed into law by Christian law makers who cite God’s will as one of their reasons for the law. And there are many more examples.
But what I’ve found equally frustrating is the expectation that you are a Christian. What church do you go to? Pray for me! Will your child go to a Bible camp this year? These are things that Christians say with no thought at all that you might think differently. And of course, they don’t mind trampling in on your parenting to convey similar messages to your kids: Are you looking forward to Santa coming this year? What kinds of things do you do in your youth group? Well grandpa is in Heaven now. He’s with God. There’s no escaping this expectation that you will believe and practice many common Christian traditions.
Indoctrination is systematic
Institutionalization plays a role in systematizing the indoctrination of our children. Because the expectation is that you are a Christian, people feel as if it’s perfectly fine to talk to your children about God and Heaven and other Christian ideas that I reject like waiting until you’re married to have sex (or the very notion that we must get married) or that same sex relationships are somehow bad.
Most atheists have religious family members, so as soon as your child is born, people are asking you questions about baptism, selecting God-parents, circumcision, etc. And when your children are older, you get questions like: Why aren’t you sending them to church? Who will take charge of their religious education? Don’t you feel like you owe it to them to teach them about God?
Then children get to school where there are Christmas and Easter parties, and they sing religious songs like Silent Night and Away in a Manger. Last year, each of my children’s teachers assured me that they would throw either a religion-free school holiday party or offer a party that showcased diversity. For the diversity party, it had a name Christmas around the World. Hmmm…I think she missed the point. Additionally, even though teachers can no longer lead children in prayer or force them to read from the Bible, they can and do often choose stories with religious themes. There are many books the library at my children’s school that tells stories from the Bible. Moreover, teachers are free to talk about their religion and their experiences at church, and children are often encouraged to do the same. I’ve witnessed other religions being taught as things to study, but not things to be. And religious student groups are encouraged while secular groups face many obstacles including personal threats. The list goes on.
America is not a Christian nation, but it functions as such starting with the assumption that everyone believes in God. And while I am thankful that I don’t live in Saudi Arabia or 100 years ago, there still a lot of progress to be made. And this realization is what brought me into activism.