Friday, March 13, 2009

Religious Indoctrination: Brainwashing, or just a rinse and set?

Indoctrination that forces people to abandon their beliefs in favor of another set of beliefs. Usually associated with military and political interrogation and religious conversion, brainwashing attempts, through prolonged stress, to break down an individual's physical and mental defenses. Brainwashing techniques range from vocal persuasion and threats to punishment, physical deprivation, mind-altering drugs, and severe physical torture.
The American Heritage®

noun: a forcible indoctrination to induce someone to giveup basic political, social, or religious beliefs and attitudes and to accept contrasting regimented ideas
Merriam-Webster's Medical Dictionary

So, is indoctrinating a child to a "belief" brainwashing? Strictly speaking a person would need to hold a perspective, a view, a belief that is in opposition to the indoctrinator's preferred belief. To that extent, a child who holds no preconceived notion, no perspective, and no view and is indoctrinated into the parent's belief system might not be strictly considered a victim of brainwashing.

However, if we take the position that NOT having a belief in the supernatural / God/gods is by default atheism at birth, then the argument might be made that the parents are indeed indoctrinating, inducing, forcing abandonment of lack of belief (aka atheism) for a preferred supernatural religious belief.

Some might take issue with the word forcing. But force comes in a variety of forms. It doesn't have to mean physical force. Among the definitions of force is administration of power by one who holds authority over one who has no power; to exercise persuasive power, to convince.

But beyond that, what is more forceful, more intimidating, than to tell a child that failure to believe like the parents do will result in an eternity of pain and anguish in a hideously fearful place, and separation from the parents after death? Talk about force and coercion!

I'd proffer that unless a child is presented with the alternatives to the parents’ preferred religious belief; provided with a variety of options including the option of no belief ... and have it presented dispassionately without prejudice, threat, fear or undue influence, then indeed parental indoctrination of a child into their preferred belief system IS brainwashing.

It is every much brainwashing as a Palestinian child being indoctrinated by his parents to hate and want to kill Jews. Whether it is a mindset of good or evil is in the eye of the believer; it doesn't change the fact that it is inducing a belief, a view, that otherwise might not have been the child's own given the various options.

When, as a child, my eldest son asked me if there was a god my answer was "A lot of people think so, some people don't." When he asked if I believed in God I told him "I don't but your Mom does." When he asked if he believes in God my reply was "You'll have to decide for yourself when you are older." He was satisfied with that. No threat, no dogma, no force or indoctrination of a malleable mind ill-equipped to reason, weigh, and assess.

Some how theists just aren't comfortable allowing their child the "free will" to investigate and decide without coercsion. It's the parents’ will or else. If that’s not brainwashing I don’t know what is.


OJ said...

Did your son end up being an atheist?

The Jesus Camp image that you placed at the top of this blog post reminded me of a story that a Jewish friend told me once. He decided to go to a Christian bible camp in order to objectively witness what all the fuss was about. Upon returning from the camp, he told me what he had concluded. "It's genius," he told me. "Evil genius." As a camper, you wake up early and proceed to play games and sports all day. There is no mention of religion at all. Then, once it's really late at night and everyone is exhausted, the religion begins. People are too tired to think straight, too tired to fight the indoctrination. One of your definitions of brainwashing mentions stress and physical deprivation. This is how the camps work.

DromedaryHump said...


They have brainwashing down to a science!! The North Koreans during the Korean War would have envied them.

Insideous scum bags.

DromedaryHump said...

Oh, OJ...sorry..

Yes, neither of my sons bought into the God fable. Their brains remain free.

Thank Dog!!!

Tracey said...

Even though my parents are both allegedly theists (I think if Mom was honest, she's not buying into the crap, either), they gave my brother and me freedom to decide for ourselves. My brother is a rabid theist, and I'm a laid-back atheist. I gave my kids religious freedom. My son is a militant atheist, and my daughter and husband are both agnostic. I figure if they sit on that fence long enough, they'll get splinters in their ass, but I don't try to influence their opinion at all. It does baffle me that so many xtian parents don't want their kids exposed to any belief but their own, and yet they're convinced that their belief is the TRUE belief. If it's the truth, what's the problem? The truth always comes out in the wash, doesn't it?

DromedaryHump said...


I think there are alot of "Xtian Light" , like my wife, and tons of Jews, who don't actually believe in supernaturalism. But much of it is so culturally ingrained they just suppress it and roll on. But like Dawkns said... anyone who lives their life as though god/gods don't exist are de facto atheists. They just have a problem admitting it.

As for allowing their children a broader understanding of comparitive religion... nah, its way too threatening.


sunnyskeptic said...

That movie scared the heck out of me. It was terrifying. I had nightmares. (I watch a ton of horror movies, too, but nothing has ever frightened me so much.)

Greydon Square can make you laugh about the movie again if it's scarred you as much as it has me... :)

DromedaryHump said...

I only saw clips of the movie. It was enough. Horrifying.

I like your blog. I just put it on my fav places.

Thanks forthe comment.


mud_rake said...

I viewed this brainwashing adventure a few years ago on NetFlix, then added it [with commentary] to my blog. My point was that these Jesus-freaks turn up at the voting booths all across America. I said:

The scariest aspect of this movement is that they vote. It is their goal, as stated in the film, to change America into a Christian nation through the ballot box. And there are an estimated 80,000,000 evangelical Christians world-wide and here in America 25% of adults consider themselves evangelical; and they vote in high percentages.

They voted in the Bush/Cheney nightmare and then again help to re-elect them. Rob's mom was very proud that she voted twice for this criminal duo and wished that she could have voted a third time. The 'reason' that she gave for this is that "he saved babies!"

Yes, he saved babies. Minus, of course, all of them that died in Iraq or in America of poor or non-existent health care.

It is hard to imagine the stupidity of people like that who BELIEVE that a vote for these villains was a vote to save babies!

But then, their I BELIEVE fairytale brains are bamboozled election after election and the Republicans pull their strings before each election.

The psychology behind it all- the fundamentalist brain- would be worthy of a doctoral dissertation on a grand scale.

DromedaryHump said...

as jesus is alleged to have said: "the poor will always be with us." so too will the stupid and deluded.

The best we can hope for is their eventual obsolesence, which will happen in due time. Until then, the last election dramatically ex[posed their faltering power.

Yes, the bizarre workings of their brains is a wonder to behold.


Angel said...

I watched this movie a few weeks ago and it was definitely horrifying. I think the one scene which was the most chilling was the family out bowling when the little girl(10, maybe?) who walked up to a stranger and started to preach to her. When the girl walked back to her father to see what he would do he gave her a big hug and told her how proud he was of her for following her heart.

I'm sorry but if some little kid walked up to me and started preaching about God I'd not have very good things to say.

#1 How much of God can a 10 year old know or even explain to an adult?
#2 a 10 year old child cannot have been exposed to ANY other outside ideas for them to even decide between if they feel that comfortable walking up to a stranger to evangelize to.

My children are also taught that their father and I have very different beliefs from one another and any literature they wish to read about religion or philosophy- we let them. They'll make up their own minds what they want to believe.

My 9 year old has asked philosophical questions and when we go to the library to find answers he looks at the books and says, "I'm not ready for this." No shit, really?!!

But you've got to hit kids hard with information when they're at a very young age if you want them to believe all that literalist Bible crap. Evangelicals know exactly what they're doing.

I am a theist(gnostic) and I feel that a relationship with God comes with maturity and the capacity to understand what you're doing-- not simply mirroring what your parents do because they want you to.

Dromedary Hump said...

You are rare among theists.
If only they were all endowed with your ability to reason.


Angel said...

Thank you, Hump.

I am thankful EVERY DAY that I was able to overcome all the religious indoctrination I had growing up. It was not easy. I went through some pretty weird stages to get to where I am now, which is to say that I am happy with my outlook on life and death but definitely concerned about the people around me who are brainwashed sheep in human skin.

My own theist beliefs(gnosticism) are heresy according to the Nicene Council's decision. I always have interesting conversations with rabid Catholics. Keeps me on my toes and laughing. And life is definitely worth laughing at, don't you think?

Gnostics have been burned and tortured for centuries because we're anarchists at heart. Too freedom loving for those dogmatic fiends who'd rather have aching knees praying to something that doesn't give a rat's ass about them.

Strangely enough, I feel right at home here on an atheist blog. Too many religious freedoms have been fought and died over for me not to enjoy this while we can. It's always good to read a well written alternative perspective, even though your perspective isn't that far off from a gnostic's, really. Think of us as quirky religious cousins.

I hope you keep up the good work with the blog, Hump. Having the freedom to call idiots for what they are is a privilege and you do it very well. You don't pull punches and your brutal honesty is refreshing.