In which I push atheism on Bored Panda

February 28, 2023 • 9:15 am

How could I resist promulgating religious nonbelief on a site that gets 120 million views per month? I couldn’t, so when Bored Panda wrote me asking me to comment on a story a story from Reddit about religious indoctrination of children, how could I refuse?

The original story describes how a teenage girl’s aunt kept pressuring her to adopt Christianity, even though her parents believed in letting children choose their own religion.  After the pious aunt secretly made an appointment with a priest to get the girl’s younger brother baptized, and apparently went through with it, the girl was incensed and decided to “baptize” her aunt as a witch and the wife of Satan. Here’s that bit of the story:

After my brother told my mother about the incident (which my aunt told him not to do), she confronted my aunt on her next visit. My aunt proudly confessed to having “saved” my brother and a screaming match ensued. As I already mentioned, my parents strongly believe, that everyone should be able to choose their own beliefs and not join a church until one is old enough to make an informed decision.

To summarize my aunt’s words: she could not believe that our mother was wilfully condemning us to hell and that it was no wonder I had become a satanic witch. She HAD TO act because my mother obviously couldn’t be brought to her senses and someone had to save the boy.

In a moment of anger, I went to my room to get one of my pots (I have one pot in the shape of a skull) and filled it with water. While they were still screaming at each other, I poured the water over her. Then I declared her to be now baptized a witch and the lawful wife of Satan. I will be honest, I enjoyed the expressions of shock and then panic on her face. She told me to undo what I did. I refused.

Once she realized, she could not convince me, she stormed out of the house. Now, she told the whole family about it and my grandparents and other relatives have been bombarding my mother with hateful messages. My mother says she understands why I did what I did, but that I need to “undo” it to keep the peace. I am supposed to make a show of “de-baptizing” her and declaring her Christian again.I am just tired of everybody constantly talking about religions and fed up with my aunt and everybody’s endurance of her. If she can just go around and baptize my brother, why can’t I do the same to her?

The girl’s question to Reddit readers:

AITA if I do not comply with my parent’s wishes? [JAC: “AITA” means “am I the asshole”].

So author Adelaide Ross of Bored Panda asked me to act as an “agony aunt” as the Brits call it, sending me to the Reddit story and then asking me to answer four questions:

1) What are some of the issues that come from adults indoctrinating children into their own religions?

2) Are there any appropriate ways to introduce children to religious ideas without pressuring them into believing certain things?

3) Is there anything you would like to say or explain to devout religious adults who feel the need to indoctrinate children into the same belief systems?

a) Is there anything else you’d like to add?

At first I thought I’d give this a pass as Bored Panda is generally a clickbait site, but then I thought, “Wait a minute: the site gets 120 million views per month. How can I pass up this chance to give my views?”

And so I did. You can find them embedded in the Bored Panda article below. Click to read:

Their intro:

Getting baptized is a very special moment in many people’s lives. Some are baptized as babies, while others make the choice to experience this rite of passage later on in life. But for those of us who don’t identify with some form of Christianity, this ritual can be skipped. Unless a relative forces you to go through with it unbeknownst to your parents…

Below, you’ll find a story that one teen shared on Reddit detailing how she got revenge on her aunt who attempted to pressure her and her brother into adopting the same religious beliefs, as well as an interview with Dr. Jerry Coyne.

What surprised me is that they not only gave the entirety of my responses, but also that the whole tenor of the article is that religion isn’t necessarily good for kids at all. They even quote studies in which nonreligious children proved to be more altruistic and less judgmental than kids who were either religious or raised in religious homes. And they quote everything I wrote, sprinkled through the piece. Here’s an excerpt:

Dr. Coyne was kind enough to have a chat with us about some of the issues that can arise when adults feel the need to indoctrinate children into their own religions. “First, it almost always makes the child adopt the religion of the parents, so they don’t get to choose their faith—or lack of faith,” he told Bored Panda. “That could be done only after exposure to the tenets of many faiths and by attaining an age that allows a mature choice.

“More importantly, it indoctrinates the child into accepting religious superstition, as well as thinking that faith alone is a good reason to accept truths about the world—truths that actually can be found only through empirical observation,” Dr. Coyne went on to explain. “Finally, it deludes children into thinking that their faith is the correct faith, when in reality we have no idea whether any faith is correct, or even if there is a god to worship.”

. . . Dr. Coyne urges moms and dads to allow their children to form their own beliefs over time, rather than pressuring them to follow a specific path from childhood. “Let the child grow up and make their own choice of what to believe, or to believe nothing at all about gods,” he says. “Although Richard Dawkins has characterized [religious indoctrination] as ‘child abuse’, I wouldn’t go quite that far. But it is indoctrination and propagandizing that is simply wrong.” If you’d like to learn more about Dr. Coyne and check out his books, be sure to visit his website Why Evolution Is True right here.

The article ends by quoting some responses that came after Bored Panda asked readers to react. Note that they quote a pro-atheist article:

We would love to hear your thoughts on this topic in the comments below, pandas. How do you feel about the actions of this aunt? Do you think she got what she deserved? Feel free to share down below, and then if you’re interested in reading another Bored Panda article discussing why some people from religious families decided to become atheist, you can find that story right here.

The witch-baptizing girl herself (“Vibing_Jellybean OP”), also responded. I was chuffed to see that nearly all the published responses were on the girl’s side. Here’s one exchange (“NTA” means “not the asshole”. Oy, kids and their abbreviations!)”

Frankly, I’m surprised that this site (or at least this piece) takes the girl’s side and emphasizes the downside of forcing kids to adopt a faith, as well as of having faith oneself. Yes, it’s a clickbait site, but why not put some secularism in it?  I’m happy to find that kids see through this proselytizing.

40 thoughts on “In which I push atheism on Bored Panda

  1. [ the subject of the story, emphasis mine (hopefully correct)]:

    “As I already mentioned, my parents strongly believe, that everyone should be able to choose their own beliefs and not join a church until one is old enough to make an informed decision.”

    That is worth repeating – children need to grow, and mature. This meshes with the post from the other day.

  2. The whole baptism thing is weird. Often comical, really. My wife grew up Catholic although by adulthood was a non-believer. Unknown to us, her mom baptized our son when he was a baby. She must have told my wife later. Kind of irritating, but ultimately an un-harmful act of a believer causing no more real harm than a Mormon binding a dead ancestor to the temple. It would be offensive if it wasn’t so ridiculous.

    I wonder if any of them thought about making a “de-baptism” agreement… “I’ll de-satanize you if you de-christianize my brother”.

    1. Mormons don’t just baptize their own ancestors. I found out that some woman in Idaho had worked her own ancestry back as far as she could go (baptizing everybody along the way), but when she hit a dead end, worked her way forward along all possible paths, eventually hitting my (deceased) bible-thumping grandmother. My Grandma is going to be so disappointed when she wakes up in Mormon heaven.

      1. My very catholic mother baptized my son in her kitchen sink while baby-sitting him one evening. She told me about it, and I did not get angry; it just made me sad that she was so delusional.

  3. It looks like the family is coming to some sort of resolution. I have to commend the young woman for leaving things as they are and not trying to antagonize her Aunt.

    A few typos: I think you meant the first word of the header to be “In” and not “I”, and the study quoted showed non-religious children, not religious children to be more altruistic and less judgemental.

    “One study of nearly 1,200 children between the ages of 5 and 12 found that religious beliefs can actually negatively influence a child’s altruism.”

    1. There’s still an error in this sentence (I highlighted it):
      “They even quote studies in which nonreligious children proved to be more altruistic and less judgmental than kids who were either nonreligious or raised in religious homes.”

  4. I’d say that everyone involved over-reacted waaaay too much. Anger over the aunt’s actions is justified, but not worth a shouting match. Everyone has some ass-hole-ery in this case, imo.
    But my question is: what about the priest? Isn’t it a violation of their ethics to baptize a child without the parents’ permission (or permission of the closest living relative)?

    1. I agree with you about the priest, but not about the mother’s and and daughter’s reactions.

      Regarding the mother, don’t mess with my kids is perfectly understandable to me, and note that the mother didn’t start off screaming, it escalated to screaming. Judging by the Aunt’s behavior I can just imagine trying to talk to her about. No way the mother was an asshole here.

      Regarding the daughter, sanctimonious, delusional Aunty had it coming. I would refuse to un-baptize her. Then again, I’ve often been accused of being an asshole.

      1. The whole rigmarole about “unbaptising” the aunt from Satan’s power and matrimonial claim is easily handled. Someone just needs to point out to her that only those without Christ in their Heart need fear the power of the Devil. I’m surprised someone hasn’t already done so. It easily suggests itself even to an atheist and Christians are supposed to be experts in knowing how Jesus gets them out of obligations.

        The rules and regulations of the supernatural can be especially flexible the minute anybody goes off script.

      2. I raised 3 boys, and like the story we just let them choose what they wanted. If we had this crazy aunt who baptized one of them, I would be angry about that crossing of a boundary but my way of letting them choose for themselves would still go on; completely unaffected by this pointless and silly ceremony. That is in fact the case for this family, although they don’t seem to realize it.
        But I would not trust the crazy aunt again.

        1. Same with our family. I too could care less about the silly ceremony in principle, but the Aunt was way out of line.

  5. The story is funny. High entertainment value 🙂

    On a Catholic talk show, a grandfather called in asking if it was all right to take his grandson, without the parents’ permission, and have him baptized. I think the priest said that it was not all right unless it was a near-death situation.

  6. My daughter’s best friend and fellow party animal (they were 7-years old!) used to pick her up for church every other Sunday or so. My daughter would get all gussied up in her “finest” gear: candy cane leggings, bright pink dress, zebra striped hair bow.

    Apparently, the draw was after-service snacks! She always came home with a zip loc bag of cookies and treats and would burst through the door announcing, “Score!” I would ask, “How was church?” and she would hold up her bag of loot and say, “Duh!”

    By Jove, I think she got it!

    1. Similar with my kids. When they were pretty young they would go to church with friends, just to have fun with their friends. Of course the adults worked at training them, but it didn’t work. It did result in the occasional question and interesting conversation though.

    2. Similar with our middle kid, who had a best friend from a devoutly Catholic family. So they would routinely go to mass (just to be together), while we attended “St Mattress of the Springs”, nudge nudge, wink wink. It is my understanding that they did communion on occassion, but that’s fine. I don’t recall if we ever gave permission, but I’m sure I would not see it as a big deal.

  7. Good for you! And good for them for publishing your response.

    Yes. It’s indoctrination and it takes unfair advantage of the power relationship between parents (and close elder relatives) and children. If the child doesn’t relent to the indoctrination, there’s a chance of punishment. Once the failed attempt at indoctrination turns to punishment—no dinner, no allowance, no visits with friends, no leaving your room, and all the rest—it does border on child abuse, and may indeed cross into child abuse. It all depends on how determined the parents are and how headstrong the child is. Tussles are common because children, prior to their indoctrination, tend to see the world as it is. They have a natural inclination to resist claims of magic men in the sky—except for the tooth fairy of course, which brings monetary rewards. 🙂 Parents should encourage children to continue to observe and respond to the world in a rational way.

    “AITA?” You never know what you might learn by visiting Jerry’s web site!

  8. Last line of this story:

    “I’m happy to find that kids see through this proselytizing.”

    From “Changes” by David Bowie

    “And these children that you spit on
    As they try to change their world
    Are immune to your consultation
    They’re quite aware what they’re going through.”

    1. Excellent result for your profile. Will “Bored Pandas” now become Honorary Cats?
      To the subject :
      1 – the pro-baptizing aunt seems to know, somehow, that the child she baptised without permission was, at the time of baptism, CERTAIN to die un-shriven, before reaching an age when they could receive baptism on their own conscience. That is a worrying level of confidence in an unusually early death. Sufficient grounds for [local equivalent of] Social Work Department to investigate her.
      2- there is an established procedure for dealing with demonic possession. It’s called “exorcism”. Ask your priest to make arrangements. Some exorcisees (?) die during the procedure “to encourage the others”.
      3 – damn-right the baptising priest acted unethically. Lawsuit time! And may the implications spread far and wide! The “adult-only” baptism churches can start writing their “amicus” (is that the term, Ken?) briefs.

    1. 🙂
      And then sit back as the aunt turns herself inside-out trying to undo something that doesn’t even exist. Love it.

  9. There’s a very solid argument that indoctrinating children into certain beliefs — e.g. they are “sinful” from birth; if they do not follow the “correct” beliefs, they will suffer ***eternal*** torture that consists of burning in a fire ***forever*** — is, at minimum, psychological and emotional abuse.

  10. Nice that you got to post to The Bored Panda crowd, and that not one of them defended the faux baptism. That in itself is unusual.

  11. Some years ago, my father sent me a package containing old family photographs and documents such as my late mother’s nursing diploma and exam certificates. Among the papers was my own certificate of baptism, dated a few months after my birth. I’ve been an atheist for as long as I’ve understood the meaning of the word. Should I call the church that carried out the baptism and demand a refund?

  12. Heck, my folks were the same, let me make up my own mind. I didn’t even know my dad was an atheist until my mid 20s when the subject came up and he remarked on it, was never my business.

  13. It seems to me that if parents truly have convictions, they are going to want to impart those convictions, whatever they might be, to their children. This seems to me both inevitable and desirable: if they are atheists they will “indoctrinate” their children as atheists; if Catholics, as Catholics; if Buddhists, as Buddhists; and so on. The idea that one can raise children in a value-neutral zone until they reach the so-called “age of reason” strikes me as quixotic, since the very attempt to do so entails a form of “indoctrination.” Once children do reach the age of reason, they can either accept, reject, or modify how they’ve been raised, but first they must have something to accept, reject, or modify. Just my opinion.

    1. There are people who have done this, and certainly atheists, who don’t take kids to church, can raise their children without proselytizing for atheism. They can explain why they don’t believe, let their kids go with other people to sample churches, or whatever. Sorry, but you’re being in favor of indoctrination here, and it’s simply cruel to make a child believe in stuff that isn’t true because you are a believer.

      In fact, people in this very thread have raised children in a way you say is impossible!

      And you know that children almost NEVER modify the religion they’ve been raised in, except to become atheists.

      1. It may be (well, is) a delusion but if someone truly believes in heaven and hell then it is hard to see how they can refrain from teaching their kids to believe. From their perspective, waiting until the child is old enough to reason it out for themselves would be the same as (or worse than) waiting until they are old enough to figure out for themselves that it’s a bad idea to step out in front of a bus. As atheists we can afford to back off and allow the child to work things out for itself as we are confident that whatever it ends up believing or not believing it is not going to be condemned to eternal damnation. For believers on the other hand the opposite is the case as they believe that neglecting to inculcate religious belief carries a real risk that the child will eventually burn in hell. We will never be able to persuade such people that they are being cruel by indoctrinating the kids without first persuading them that their belief in god itself is delusional.

    2. Imposing atheism or religion on children are cases of treating children like adults, I would argue.

      This weird-at-first concept – that children get hurts when treated like adults – is explained by Leonard Sax – but with no reference to atheism, or even religion if I recall – in this book :

      The Collapse of Parenting
      How We Hurt Our Kids When We Treat Them Like Grow-Ups
      Basic Books, reprinted 2017

      The default condition is not indoctrination into atheism – it is the absence of indoctrination. But that does not mean there are no rules or expectations. One cannot put a finger on a solution, but I think the way to treat these things, and with a light hand, become clear when patience is exercised.

    3. It may well be, Gary, that it is impossible for parents entirely to avoid imparting their religious convictions (or lack thereof) to their children. But there are those who make a good-faith effort to endeavor to do so. And I think that those who make such an effort come much closer to accomplishing that end than do those who make no such effort at all.

    4. Consider things that are not directly related to moral values*.

      I want to find out what you mean by ‘indoctrination’.

      Sure. If a parent wants to teach their child about witchcraft and river spirits as if they were true, that is fine. If a parent wants to teach their child chemistry and physics, that is fine too. Which would you consider indoctrination? Both? Neither?

      Of course, the child may be too young to think critically about these ideas. But not all kids are stupid. Some are intelligent and curious. They ask good questions.

      If a parent wants to teach their child that the earth is 6000 years old, that its creatures were created by God, and that Adam and Eve were the first humans, that is fine. If a parent wants to teach their child about evolution, that is fine as well.

      Which do you think qualifies as indoctrination? Both? Neither?

      Is your understanding of ‘indoctrination’ so broad that it includes all cases? I ask because I hear the word used in many senses. On some Catholic radio programs to which I listen, teaching evolution is indoctrination, but teaching creationism is not.

      In all cases, the child might be too young to think analytically about the ideas.

      However, I think this is a question of passing on reliable knowledge. Some parents think it irresponsible to teach their children rubbish precisely because very young children tend to be impressionable.

      That is precisely why some parents take a more responsible approach toward bringing up kids.

      Consider more advanced education. We don’t teach the caloric theory of heat as if it is absolutely true. We do not teach string theory as if it absolutely must be true. We do not even teach general relativity, quantum mechanics, and the standard models of particle physics and cosmology as if they are absolutely true.

      I once happened to overhear a conversation between two children. It went along these lines:

      Child A: If you shoot at Jesus, the bullet will come back and hit you.
      Child B: That’s not true; that’s stupid.
      Child A: No it is not! It’s true. My father said so.
      Child B: Your father’s stupid too.

      A daughter of a friend of mine asked him about how we came to be. My friend told her about biological evolution and tried to give an idea of the time scales involved. A man I know criticized this. When his son asked the same question, he answered ‘God made us in His image’. Then he proceeded to remind the child the story of Genesis. It’s much less complicated, the good man said.

      * I say ‘not directly related’ because some people think that teaching evolution to children can lead to moral decay. Not everyone wants to think that they are descended from primates, never mind thinking of themselves and their mummies and daddies as primates.

      1. In some communities, children and young adults are taught religious dogma and are discouraged from questioning it. They are also discouraged from talking to sceptics. Questioning the dogma can result in ostracization. A US friend of mine grew up in such a community.

        The general attitude in science is the opposite. Scientific inquiry developed, to an extent, because people saw the inherent flaws of dogmatic thinking.

        Again, which approach do you think qualifies as indoctrination? Both? Neither?

  14. I could never be an atheist not because I’m religious, but simply because atheist beliefs are in my opinion BORING, everyone is entitled to their spiritual or non-spiritual beliefs, I’m not arguing that, I just personally find atheist beliefs as dull as styrofoam. No one has all the answers and in spending time with new agers, Christians, atheists I find strangely enough they are very similar in defending their beliefs, it’s as preposterous as saying there is only 1 fingerprint for every human that exists, each fingerprint is unique. I will say this however I’ve never had a new ager or pagan shut me down for questioning things, but I’ve had plenty of religious people and atheists both shut down questions rather quickly. So I have noticed around atheists and religious people keep my questions of life to myself and not bother with a conversation with them, as I find them boring.

    1. Atheists have NONBELIEF: there is no evidence for gods. And that is indeed the case. If you find atheism boring, then you find all evidenced based claims boring.
      But I’m glad to see that you feel superior to everyone!
      I find your rant not only boring, but nonsensical. Bye!

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