Thursday, 21 May 2009

Brainwashed, Rinsed and Hung Out To Dry

Thanks for all the response to my previous post on brainwashing, particularly to those who left a comment. I was sent pointers to more resources which I have been reading and there is so much to cover and clarify.


I still hold to the original premise and conclusion – that I am was not brainwashed and it is not really possible. Hold on though what about cults, re-education and psychological torture? Time to cover them.

For the sake of this blog entry, we will go through 3 areas – brainwashing, mind control and influence of ideas.

1. Brainwashing

Serious brainwashing such as that carried out in warfare. This was largely carried out to subdue prisoners and not change minds. I largely covered this in the previous blog post so want to spend more time on mind control as that is what people often mean by brainwashing and is that practised most by religious cults.

2. Mind Control

Cults are real and do try to control people. Once famous work investigating this is Thought Reform and the Psychology of Totalism: A Study of "Brainwashing" in China by Robert Jay Lifton. He describes 8 methods used to change the minds of individuals without their knowledge. They are listed on the page linked to above and I think you will be surprised as I was as to how general they are and applicable to many groups in your local neighbourhood secular and religious! So have they happened to me?

Milieu Control – control of information. Not at all – I have always had access to a wide range of material. Remember this techniques were often used in prisons.

Mystical Manipulation – sorry no mystical experiences to report!

Demand for Purity – This is to be expected of any group and ideology. Sticking to the founding commonality of worldview that lead to the founding of the group. The summary on Wikipedia perhaps misses the emphasis but from experience in the Church this is largely a personal matter between the individual a God other than gross public scandal.

Confession – Only widely practised by a the Roman Catholic Church which prides itself on it confidentiality and takes it beyond legal obligations.

Sacred Science – Christian’s debate all aspects of theology all the time.

Loading the Language  - Every group secular or religious has terminology. Christianity does to. Here’s the difference – Christianity is constantly (or should be!) explaining itself to the outside world. There are no secret layers of knowledge.

Doctrine over person – This one is hard to address from the context of the short summary and the generality. Admittedly Christianity does usually put doctrine above subjective personal experience but so does any ideology. For example, would a communist give up their views based on a generous action of a rich capitalist? Probably not.

Dispensing of existence – This summary is a little muddled due to brevity so I will address the murder and exclusivity points. There are the cult-like practises who just want to kill outsiders – they are few, on the extreme fringe and thankfully unsuccessful. This has definitely not happened to me. Christianity does has a exclusivity claim, Jesus said ‘no one comes to the father except through me’. However the outside world is embraced, dwelt in and often the benefit of charitable works.

3. Influence

Every part of our culture influences our thinking from advertising, cinema, poetry and music. If people gather in a collective group with shared philosophy and values then the influence is likely to be enhanced. This is why doctors, atheists, psychologists etc all have conferences, journals and study groups. This why people solve crosswords, Sudoku and so on. It interests them and improves their mind.

As discussed above, brainwashing and mind control are techniques only used by extreme groups, are largely ineffective and require huge resources and effort. Physical imprisonment helps too. But remember it wears off rather quickly. In court cases round the world, brain washing and mind control have been no defence and quite rightly. Individuals are still responsible for their actions.

To go off on a tangent, I am currently re-reading the Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. At the time of starting the book, Lee is an atheist and a well known legal investigative journalist. He decides to investigate Christianity, chooses experts in various fields (archaeology, medicine etc) to interview and interview them. Points to note are that it was an independent investigation, he was part of no group guiding him, he consulted a range of individuals and thought it through for himself to see where the evidence led. Not to spoil it for you but by the end of the book he is a Christian. It a is well written and accessible volume.

So in conclusion, if professional level of independent research reaches same conclusion (namely that Christianity is true) and that case can be clearly and easily communicated - why go to the intensive and ineffective effort of brainwashing or mind control? There is a strong rational case with an array of every kind of evidence.

Back to the original charge. Throwing the ‘brainwashed’ accusation at the average Christian has no evidence and is not credible. If what you mean is ‘I still don’t understand why you hold that view or have that influence in your life’, then please go ahead and do so.

After all, I don’t want to control what you say, think and do.

Thanks to Kevin Dooley for the Creative Commons photo.

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