Brainwashing in religion

I’ve been hesitant to touch on this subject, people see the word “brainwashing” and they think of some scary movie scene where the CIA or some other secretive organization has children sitting in a poorly-lit classroom secretly embedding trigger-words in their heads that will later enable them to control that person simply by saying that and make them kill some dictator somewhere. Okay, yeah, that’s a rather extreme form of brain-washing, but I hope that’s not the image you all get in your head when I talk about brainwashing.

So what is brainwashing in terms of religion? Usually, it only happens to those who are what we call the fundamentalists, I say usually because it doesn’t always happen to these people, there are plenty of people who don’t fit the fundamentalist description that I would still say are brainwashed. So let’s get down to what that means: indoctrination into a certain set of beliefs that are rigid and set, and an unwillingness of the person to question or research them. Teaching of the beliefs is usually coupled with some sort of coercion or incentive, such as implementing a fear of hell or making you believe that God’s love will always be there for you.
This is a rather confusing concept to a lot of people because they don’t feel that they haven’t come to these conclusions by any way other than their own will (or maybe whatever God they believe in led them there).
So what methods of coercion does the church use that effectively brainwashed (usually) otherwise intelligent people who are capable of free-thought?

Please note, I’m looking at this through the scope of Christianity since it’s the one I’m most familiar with having been a Christian before coming to be an atheist.

The church and bible teaches us that there is a God that has eternal love for us, and yet hates us at the same time. He loves you, but you don’t deserve it. He wants to help you, but only if you help yourself first. He has a plan for you, but your sinfulness gets in the way. There’s nothing you can do to avoid being sinful because we’re all born that way. Even though a perfect being made us and could potentially have created any variation of human beings, he chose to create them without any hope that they would ever be worthy of his love – he created us this way so that we would need him in order to reach heaven (supposing that it exists for the sake of this argument).
You’re taught not to question, and when there is a gap in knowledge for why your God does horrible things, people say to trust him. God works in mysterious ways. And people listen, because they think they need god to get to heaven. They’ve reached this mentality that without this being in their life, they will be utterly lonely or lacking purpose – which simply isn’t true. Human relationships may be ultimately disappointing most of the time, people are falliable and can’t always be depended upon – so they create a substitute. A ‘best friend’ that watches over you and loved you even though you suck and will let you into heaven if you do what he says.
If that whole entire idea isn’t brainwashing, then I’d just as soon say that that the grass isn’t green.

However, it’s very good at not giving the illusion of brain-washing you because it gives (basic) answers to how life and death work, which is what you were probably looking for in the first place. To question it is sinful, to not believe is the work of the devil – excellent way to keep people from questioning, because that idea fosters a belief that when they do, they will only anger God and won’t feel this supposed love from him anymore, and they want that so much.

But why? Why not enable people to know both sides of the argument, or even encourage it? Why not teach evolution and the big bang theory properly in schools and get rid of the misconceptions about them that many people have (such as this belief that we came from monkeys, which just isn’t how evolution works)? If your side is the ‘right’ one, then the evidence the other side presents should only cause your side’s evidence to look stronger.
The problem this poses for religion is that people are questioning, and the numbers of the non-believers are rising. Because we see evidence for the other side that actually presents proof. Because while it would be nice to go to heaven for an eternity and be reunited with the people I love, I can’t logically accept that it’s real because there’s no evidence that would point to it.

I’ve had this conversation with a religious person before, and the first point they brought up was how did I know science wasn’t brainwashing me? And the answer is simple, that science exists for the sole purpose of finding answers. It encourages you to question it, unlike religion. Science also doesn’t get angry when something is proved wrong, theories are just revised and our understanding of the world grows. You don’t get punished for questioning science – assuming you understand it, first. There’s no large group mentality that if we don’t listen to what science tells us that I might burn in hell. Nothing about science even needs brainwashing as a method to get people to listen, since we have proof that is tangible, testable, and observable.

Does brain-washing mean that a person is unable to break away from their beliefs? No. Does it mean they’re less likely to once it takes root? Yes. Which is the obvious reason why so many people won’t even consider the other side of the argument for where the universe came from and what we’re doing here. Or, they cling to misconceptions about evolution, abiogenesis, the big bang theory, and so on to validate their beliefs – when in reality if they actually understood the processes or had been taught them properly, maybe they wouldn’t be so ready to think that some all-powerful being creating a man out of dirt and then a woman from the man-of-dirt’s rib is more plausible than us evolving over time into the creatures we are now.


About thatcatkatie
I came to this site to discuss my beliefs, and yours too, and hopefully learn some things from my fellow human beings.

10 Responses to Brainwashing in religion

  1. I think it is brain washing as well and that it triggers psychological addiction mechanisms in those that are brainwashed.

    • thatcatkatie says:

      An interesting thought, I hadn’t thought about it in terms of addiction.

      • Well, many of us have some kind of OCD patterns. When our schedule is disrupted it messes things up. Religion keeps the routine going for you, helps to isolate you from the outside world, then teaches you to crave redemption from the church whenever you’re not feeling good about life or yourself. Sooner or later you begin to not function right without a dose of church.

  2. “You’re taught not to question”
    Yeah and then they still say you’re supposed to have faith like a child. Many take that as “shut up and believe it” but what kid ever stops askign questions??

  3. goldheathen says:

    Also, don’t discount the general laziness of people. Easy, comforting “answers” that don’t require too much effort to find or take in, and which actually insulate the follower against the need to find and question will always have an advantage over more complex, harder to understand, and less consoling systems of thought. The vast majority of people don’t want to think too hard, don’t want to work at actual understanding. Religion provides a framework that not only accepts, but actively advocates this intellectual laziness, is it any surprise that it’s been as successful as it has?

    • thatcatkatie says:

      Exactly. I’ve heard this said before as something like this:
      Chemistry can be a hard subject in school. Does that mean it’s just false or that some alternate theory with no proof to back it up would better explain chemical reactions? No. Just because you don’t understand it or don’t try to because you don’t feel like, doesn’t mean your easier theory is right.
      Religion also adapts with people, so that when their idealogies change, so do their faiths. Christianity now looks nothing like it did when it started out. Paganism is dwindling. Roman and Greek Gods are a thing of the past, because they don’t serve a purpose in accurately helping us to understand and function in the world anymore.

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