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Indoctrination and Brainwashing

Over the weekend, I was having a conversation with a Christian over twitter. Nothing beats twitter for intellectual conversations in which you have to simplify your points down to 140 characters. The Christian in question told me that he considers himself to be a reasonably intelligent person. Toward the end of the conversation he asked me why so many people believe in God. My answer was simple, indoctrination and brainwashing.

First, let me say that indoctrination isn’t always a bad thing and that not all the things we are indoctrinated into believing are necessarily wrong. But we should try to think about the things we believe and why we believe them. If we realize that we might have been indoctrinated into believing something, we should try to think about it and see if there are actual reasons to believe that thing.

How do we know if we have been indoctrinated into believing in something? Well, we can start by asking ourselves what convinced us that something was the case. Did we always believe that that something was the case? If so, we might have been indoctrinated to believe that. So we should re-examine it in the light of actual evidence.

Brainwashing is a little more difficult and most people object to the term right from the start. For the purpose of this blog, I am just going to talk about one particular way in which many people are brainwashed into god-belief. There are of course many different methods both subtle and extreme. In my opinion, while Scientology uses more extreme methods, generic god-belief (Abrahamic religions) tend to use more subtle methods.

The main method that I want to talk about today is what I call complete immersion. We can’t hide from the idea of god-belief. Almost as soon as we are born whether our parents are believers or not, there is no where to hide from the idea that god is real. Nearly every street corner in America has a church on it. God is plastered on our money, in our pledge, and symbolically worn around the necks of many in society.

So let’s say that someone wasn’t indoctrinated into religion at near birth. They still live in a society totally immersed in religion. Religious recruiters are always lurking and looking for the right moment when someone is in an emotional state to take advantage of the situation and push the god-belief.

Sometimes, they don’t even wait for you to be in an emotional state. Repetition alone sometimes does the trick. In advertising, they say that people are more likely to buy if a message is repeated at least three times. How many times do religious people try to sell you God within your lifetime? Even if you are already religious, I bet religious people try to proselytize to you more than three times.

A good experiment would be to see how long it takes before god-belief is pushed on you more than three times. How many church signs to you pass a day promoting god-belief? How many people do you pass wearing crucifixes? How many bumper stickers do you see with a religious message a day? I bet you’ll get past three god-belief promotions in an hour. That’s brainwashing!

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  • http://www.laughinginpurgatory.com/ Andrew Hall

    I have a 9 year old son and one of my common refrains is “How do you know what you know?”

    Hopefully he’ll carry that question throughout life.

  • http://shaunphilly.wordpress.com ShaunPhilly

    So, is your claim that the existence of religious signs, bumper stickers, and crucifixes constitutes pushing? I ask only because many theists claim that my wearing an atheist T-shirt, atheist billboards, etc are pushing atheism down their throat, which I see as ridiculous.

    I draw a distinction between adding a voice to the public conversation (which can be ignored) and someone actually confronting someone, in any aggressive way, with a challenge to believe what they are selling. Knocking on doors, blasting church sermons out of their church-front (this happens near where I live), or witnessing on the subway (this happened to me last week; he didn’t know what to say when I said I was an atheist). These are pushing. And some atheist campaigns push as well (this is not necessarily bad).

    I just want to make sure the distinction in understood, because I never feel pushed by a passive sign, even if I am annoyed by it. That annoyance is not the fault of the sign, as I am responsible for how I react to stimuli. And to some extent, I push myself in the presence of religious signs and such, and I recognize the difference between being oushed and pushing myself.

  • http://www.dangeroustalk.net Staks

    Generally no, but in the greater context yes. The greater context in this case is the complete immersion. The fact that we are immersed in religion already, those normally passive expression of religiosity have become a reinforced push.

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