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Have You Been Brainwashed?

By psychman33 --

Having grown up as the youngest son of a Christian minister, first in the Baptist denomination, then into Pentecostal and Non-Denominational Churches (part of the Charismatic movement for the most part), I was heavily indoctrinated in Protestant Christianity from a very young age (since birth really).
From my earliest memories, I was in church every time the doors were opened (mainly because my father usually was the one who opened them). For much of my early childhood, we even had a family bible study every single weeknight. As a result, I have a very strong understanding and knowledge of this religion, and it's sacred writings.

Another effect of this style of upraising is that I have undergone a long, painful, arduous journey escaping what I now think of as the brainwashing that I was subjected to for more than half of my life. To this day, I still have not escaped all of the effects of this time in my life. After all, it was perpetrated at the most developmentally important part of my growth. My natural bend to intellectualism was discouraged and stunted, because it does not fit with the practice of blind faith. My kneejerk sense of morality, which has both negative and positive aspects, does not always correspond with a realistic purview of ethical behavior. Despite my initial liberation from irrational beliefs, I still pay a penalty for the brainwashing I endured in these, and many other different ways. I am progressing daily. But, it seems such an unnecessary struggle should have been avoided.

The steps of Brainwashing:
  1. Assault on identity
  2. Guilt
  3. Self-betrayal
  4. Breaking point
  5. Leniency
  6. Compulsion to confess
  7. Channeling of guilt
  8. Releasing of guilt
  9. Progress and harmony
  10. Final confession and rebirth

Why do I think of this as brainwashing? Let's consider the definition of brainwashing (according to Oxford American Dictionary): make (someone) adopt radically different beliefs by using systematic and often forcible pressure.

1. The first step to brainwashing is to attack the subject's sense of self, or identity. Since a child is developing his/her sense of self within the context of the religious teachings, this step is fulfilled by default, as there is no prior sense of self to overcome.

2. Christianity is built upon the concept of guilt. We sinful creatures must be redeemed from the sinful nature we inherited, that was passed down through the generations from Adam and Eve. So, the second step, which is guilt is obviously fulfilled.

3. Attending church, listening to the songs, the sermon, and just the casual conversation of the congregation, constantly reinforces to the child how guilty everyone including the child him/her self are. This fulfills the step of self betrayal by convincing the child of his/her own lack of intrinsic worth. The child is forced to admit this, at least inside, if not to others. Ultimately, this step is about internalizing the guilt that is hammered down in step 2.

4. This leads to the point where the child wonders what he/she, the wretched sinful creature can possibly do about his/her dismal state. Obviously, there is nothing that he/she as an inherently evil creature can do. This is the point where God and Jesus come in. They are willing to forgive you, and give you a new life, one without the sinful nature that makes you so evil. The child is worn down to the point of relinquishing his/her control of self, the breaking point. I clearly remember spending many sleepless nights at the tender age of 8 crying out to God to save me. I was terrified of going to hell. It was much worse than any horror movie, or any other source of fear that I had felt before or since that time. It is a very powerful motivator to embrace the teachings of Christianity. To this day, I still have a deep fear of going to hell, even though I no longer even believe in such a place.

5. The step of leniency is fulfilled by the grace and mercy that God exhibits by giving the child a chance at salvation, simply by believing that Jesus died as a sacrifice to redeem him/her from his/her wretched sinful nature. He/She can now go to heaven, because she/he believes. Isn't God good to help that child. Isn't He showing leniency to such an unworthy creature.

6-10. To save time and space, I won't belabor the obvious. I think that you get the gist of what I am saying here. For these reasons, I will summarize the rest of the steps in one short paragraph. The child is encouraged to confess his/her sins often, at various times, in various ways. The pain that is associated with the guilt is attributed to the "world" as opposed to the "things of God" or the "Kingdom of Heaven". This encourages the child to avoid the "evil" things of the "world". After the conversion experience, it is the world that is blamed for the evil that may occasionally overtake the child. To remedy this, the child is encouraged to avoid the world. It is by renewing his/her mind in the Word of God that he/she insulates him/her self from the world, and the attendant guilt. This renewing and dedication to the things of God are put forth as providing the peace and harmony that has been denied the child through the aforementioned mechanisms. This, in turn, provides a sense of comfort and a cessation of a sense of responsibility within the child, as long as he/she continues to live in the prescribed way.

Considering that nearly every one of these steps can take place in a single church service, and that many children go through thousands of these services in their lifetimes, one can easily see the erosive power of such a mechanism on a person's will, especially as the personality, will, emotions, virtually every aspect that we think of as representing the very humanness of humanity, is yet to be formed. I have often thought that continuing to teach something that has already been learned ad nauseam must be a form or step of brainwashing. In what other aspect of life is this sort of instruction used, and considered normal?

The alert reader may wonder how the definition's statement of adopting radically different beliefs is fulfilled. Well, I'm glad you asked. Part of what led to my eventual deconversion was my noticing the fact that many of the most important claims made in the Bible are of a supernatural nature. Though I have spoken with a few people who claim direct exposure to what they consider to be supernatural events, I have not witnessed nor heard of any experience or phenomena that could not either be explained using natural means, or reasonably doubted (most often because of humanity's notoriously untrustworthy mechanisms of perception). This has lead me to ask the question, both of myself and others: What in our daily experiences supports the idea of the supernatural phenomena reported in the bible? Is there any reason or evidence that shows that such claims are truly possible/probable. These beliefs that we are expected to hold in Christianity really are radically different from our personal experiences of the natural world. What reason, other than the teaching (brainwashing), and widespread acceptance of such beliefs, do we have to believe these truly incredible claims?

I encourage you to ask yourself these question: Have I been brainwashed? Why do I believe what I believe? If I had been born in another place at another time, how might my beliefs be different? I asked myself these questions as a young adult. The honest answers I gave myself made an amazing liberating change in me, that I really would like to share with others. All I ask is that you take the advice of the inscription over the entryway of the ancient Greek temple at Delphi "Know Yourself". In other words, have the courage to be honest with yourself, the courage to answer these questions forthrightly and honestly.