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Is the Secular Student Alliance indoctrinating high-school students?

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Disclaimer: I’m an intern for the Secular Student Alliance. This blog article, posted here on the MU SASHA blog, represents my own opinions and does not necessarily reflect the views of the SSA. I receive a stipend for my internship; however I am not being paid nor receiving anything for writing this article on the SASHA blog.

Hello, Dave here.

This morning, Jesse Galef, the Communications Director for the Secular Student Alliance, appeared on CNN in a segment about “Millennials” and their growing doubt about a god’s existence. The interviewer, Carol Costello, made this comment to Jesse:

Well, some Christians might argue that because such groups are in high schools, you’re indoctrinating students in a time when that’s not proper, because they’re not old enough to really handle questions like that.

Let’s break down what she’s saying here: Some Christians (what about Jews? Hindus? Sikhs? Muslims?…) might argue that high school is an improper time (what is the proper time?) to introduce students to critical thinking, because they’re not old enough to handle questions like the existence of gods. (She was contrasting this with college groups at the time).

I think Christians are perfectly welcome to argue that if they want to, but I want them to understand how ironic and hypocritical such an argument would be. It’s ironic because, as a fellow Redditor points out, religions do this more-or-less from birth. In some cases, the indoctrination begins with genital mutilation; in other cases, with deliberate near-drownings. As the bumper-sticker says, “A religion is just a cult with more members.”

I’m sure this baby feels the power of the Holy Spirit right now. Yeah, that is what’s going through his head.

The SSA advocates critical inquiry, the process of asking digging questions using logic, reason, and evidence; Christians (and other religious groups) are actually the ones indoctrinating students. Indoctrinate comes from the Latin word doctrina, -ae (teaching), which even the most passingly-interested etymology fan will recognize as the root of “doctrine.” We expressly advocate asking questions instead of teaching doctrines. What we do is as far a polar opposite of indoctrination as one could possibly argue.

The “old enough” part is really what bothers me, though. Go to YouTube and search for “child preacher” and see how many videos come up. Many of these young people clearly have no idea of the meaning behind their words; they just enjoy the attention of the congregation. Their parents have simply coached them in what to say.

Four-year-olds ask these questions. Is Carol Costello really saying that high-school students aren’t old enough for the answers—that according to logic, reason, evidence, and science, there is probably no god?

Is Costello arguing that students should wait until college to learn about critical thinking? Really?

Does she really believe that teaching someone how to ask questions—how to think critically (and self-critically)—counts as indoctrination?

Here is the video:

Jesse Galef on CNN about Millennials and doubt, with Carol Costello interviewing.

What are your thoughts?

– Dave

Dave Muscato is Vice President of MU SASHA. He is a vegetarian, LGBTQ ally, and human- & animal-welfare activist. A junior at Mizzou studying economics & anthropology and minoring in philosophy & Latin, Dave posts updates to the SASHA blog every Monday, Thursday, and Saturday and twice monthly for the Humanist Community at Harvard. His website is

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About Danielle Muscato

Danielle Muscato is a civil rights activist, writer, and public speaker. She has appeared on or been quoted in Rolling Stone, People, Time, The New York Times, SPIN, Entertainment Weekly, Billboard Magazine, and on MTV News, VH1, NPR, MSNBC, ABC, "The Real Story" with Gretchen Carlson, The O'Reilly Factor, Huffington Post Live, Huffington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Raw Story, CNN, CBS, and Howard Stern Danielle is the former Director of Public Relations for American Atheists. She is also a board member of MU SASHA (University of Missouri Skeptics, Atheists, Secular Humanists & Agnostics). Her website is Follow her on Google+ Follow her on Twitter @daniellemuscato Subscribe to her on YouTube at

5 comments on “Is the Secular Student Alliance indoctrinating high-school students?

  1. Larry
    June 14, 2012

    Dave –

    He did a great job, but I wish he would have been more in-your-face confrontational. While he made superb subtle references to the hypocrisy, most christians (and people of other religions) won’t make the connection. Certainly, I understand the argument for being non-confrontational, and in many ways agree. I further understand he is not trying to convert the ignorant. But, still …

    In any event, it was good of CNN to provide this platform. I sure hope there were a lot of confused youth watching the show. I’m guessing we won’t get this opportunity on FOX, where it is needed most.

    Thanks for the heads up.


  2. rocketkirchner
    June 17, 2012

    I find it fascinating that there is a pic of a baby just baptised and a caption below that seeks to interpet his expereince by stating what could or could not be on his mind . Very pressumptious . I have told my testimony of how Christ came to me to so called well meaning rational atheists for over 38 years and they are quick to verbally jump in and interpret my expereince with santa clause and spaghetti monster analogys . How do they know what is in my head ? i would never seek to interpret anothers expereince . And yet , the new Atheism takes all sorts of libertys juggleing this type of irrational linquistics .

  3. rocketkirchner
    June 17, 2012

    As soon as atheists can come to the table in a civilized way and not seek to interpret another persons deep inner expereinces , then we theists will be glad to have a dialogue on the matter. let us not forget that hypocrisy is not limited to so called relgiuos people .

    • Dave Muscato
      June 20, 2012

      What behaviors or specifics would you consider hypocritical?

    • Larry
      June 20, 2012

      Like Dave, I too will be looking forward to your input on the “hypocrisy” to which you refer.

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This entry was posted on June 14, 2012 by in Author: Dave Muscato, In The News, Web Links & Videos and tagged , , , , .

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