Monday, May 2, 2016

Joe Omundson

brainwashing

A number of my friends grew up in secular homes and decided at at early age that they didn’t believe in God. For them atheism was an obvious conclusion and they never once felt conflicted about it. They have very little empathy for anyone who believes in a God; why would an intelligent adult willfully subscribe to such an unlikely set of supernatural beliefs? It legitimately baffles them, and the only reasonable conclusion they can come up with is that the believer is extremely gullible, enjoys deception, or is maybe just plain stupid or delusional.

I know being a believer is more complicated than that, because I believed in God very seriously throughout my childhood and my first adult years, and I was a fairly smart person who wanted to know the truth. What these atheists don’t take into account is the power of brainwashing and the exploitation of common emotional and logical fallacies.

This post is mainly intended for people who already agree with my views on the (in)validity of religion. I'm not trying to change anyone's mind about their faith here.

Growing up Christian is like growing up believing in Santa Claus. Everyone you trust tells you there's a magical man somewhere who you can’t see, and he notices what you do during the day and he feels a certain way about your actions. Your parents convince you it’s true from the time you’re an infant, so it feels like the most natural thing in the world to believe. At this age your parents are loading your brain with all kinds of stories, and it’s impossible to tell the difference between the true ones and the false ones. Kids love stories.

Unlike Santa, though, you are taught that Jesus is God, and has perfect wisdom. God knows everything, is always perfect, is capable of literally anything, and his mysterious actions are beyond questioning. You quickly realize there's a lot more at stake, being in God’s good standing, than in Santa’s -- you’re looking at an eternity of either joyful pleasure, or agonizing torture, after you die. The only way to escape hell is to believe in your heart that Christ is your personal savior (AKA join the church). You are taken to weekly classes where trustworthy adults continually reinforce the truthfulness of Jesus, the Bible, and the church. They tell you that any viewpoint which opposes Christianity - or even differs from it - must come from Satan, the master of hell, himself. They tell little kids that Satan has terrifying demon minions who travel the Earth looking for people to possess and corrupt, and the only way to be safe from them is to be strong in your relationship with Jesus so you can command them to leave. That you have zero ability of your own to be a good person or make positive changes unless you accept Jesus in your heart. That without Jesus, there is only sin, suffering, hatred, and death. And by the way - all of your non-Christian friends and family are going to suffer forever unless they accept Jesus too.

So, which one will you choose? Love, happiness, and peace? Or torment and pain forever? Of course kids will promise to dedicate their lives to Jesus when it's framed this way. When I was 6 years old I called my pastor and told him I wanted to be baptized. At that age I had already decided that my best choice was to symbolize my own death to myself, and to fill my little soul with the life of Jesus instead, so that I would be acceptable and have worth as an individual.

Once kids have been brought to the point where they believe that the most important part of their life is their belief in Jesus, as taught by their church, it becomes easy to control them. There is a whole social structure of expectations based around what you should do and not do, and usually it had less to do with what the Bible says and more to do with church traditions, American values, and whatever is convenient for adults to want their kids to do. Pastors have a huge position of power when they stand in front of their churches, presenting emotionally charged monologues on the way life should be and supporting it with passages from the infallible book of pure truth, which can be picked and chosen at will to support virtually any viewpoint.

Every once in a while someone in the church tells a shocking story about a friend or family member who refuses to accept the truth of the church, or has decided to leave it. Of course, it is couched in great concern and love, asking for prayer for the well being of their eternal soul, but most of the time the true sentiment of the announcement is “I am ashamed to know somebody like this, and I want you all to know about this person’s flawed beliefs.” Everyone knows that if you stop believing in Jesus, you are going to be thought of differently by everyone around you. You are going to be perceived as sick, influenced by evil, and a threat to everything good. Your own family might disown you as a human being, your own community might exclude you forever. So if you have doubts, you better not express them too strongly. If you start to think this whole thing might not be real, you better not let on. It is vitally important for your beliefs and opinions to match with the rest of the group.

Meanwhile, the pastor and at least one of the elders are cheating on their wives and lying about it to maintain an image of holiness. The pastor is hooking up with other men while preaching about Sodom and Gomorrah.

This was my experience growing up in a small Baptist church for the first 11 or so years of my life, and it was definitely crazy, but from what I've heard from ex-Mormon and ex-Jehovah's Witness people I've met, it could have been worse. In my "hot springs craziness in Arizona" post, I told a story of a guy who has lost his faith in Mormonism but continues to go to church for fear of being excommunicated by his family. His wife thinks he is being controlled by Satan. This kind of stuff tears families apart and it happens all the time.

If you have ever wondered why some atheists are bitterly angry against anything that represents religion, it’s probably because they had a childhood similar to what I am describing here. It’s the analogue to the 11 year old who loudly announces that they don’t believe in Santa Claus -- they’re not still tricked by that illusion like a dumb kid! Nobody appreciates realizing they were tricked. Amplify that angst 100 times and you’ll approach the feeling of leaving Christian brainwashing. It’s so much more than setting aside a fictional-but-harmless kid’s story, it’s the realization that a major part of your identity and your core beliefs about yourself are founded in lies that were meant to keep you subservient and obedient, to make sure you believe that you can’t do anything good on your own apart from God’s influence. To keep you listening to the pastor's social control messages and giving up 10% of your salary and voting a certain way and enforcing your religious beliefs on your community. And everyone you trusted was smiling and feeding you this shit for every meal, saying if you didn't eat it (and love it) you'd die.

Some people start off feeling angry at their parents for raising them in the church, but eventually learn to hate Christianity, itself, when they realize their parents were brainwashed too. There’s not really one individual who can be blamed for the way kids are coerced into joining religious groups. It’s a system-sized problem. Christianity (like other religions) is, in a sense, a living entity, an idea which seeks to keep itself from dissolving into entropy and chaos. It is self-organizing, self-promoting, self-growing, and it does so by influencing human brains to carry out its bidding. A religion is the sum total of the thought patterns of all its believers, which interact as a hive mind to form a wider system of intelligence. This is the truth an atheist recognizes; we are far from being “anti-Jesus” or “pro-Satan” (who are seen as merely fictional characters). What’s real is the impact this system of human thought has on the lives of many millions of people around the world, who are raised to perceive the world in delusional ways, who are robbed of their own sense of agency and worth from a young age, who are cast into isolation if they dare to express an opinion contrary to the group.

Joe Omundson

About Joe Omundson -

Joe Omundson is working to piece together a cohesive philosophy of lifestyle, spirituality, society, and the natural world.

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4 comments

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May 2, 2016 at 2:14 PM delete

I think that the deciding moment came (for me) when our pastor came to our door and I said "Dad's not here". He announced that he was here to see me! Translated to "Save me"! Now first, understand that my mom had passed away and soon after a gold digger became my step mom. She managed to isolate my dad from all us siblings and got me shipped off to military school. I learned all kinds of useful things there. I even called home the first night and said "Dad, there are drugs here!"

Fast forward, the reverand was calling to save my soul. I told him to get out. I had asked him where he was when the whole community knew our house was in turmoil and that I as a 13 year old, and the whole family could have used some help years before. Nope. Now my dad was wondering where I went wrong and maybe God could save me. The reverend should have come calling on my parents not me, and years earlier. Praise the lord.

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Emie Kay
AUTHOR
May 2, 2016 at 4:10 PM delete

I appreciate your thoughts so much. Though I am not an atheist, I am thoroughly disconnecting myself from the religion of Christianity and religion in general actually. I am searching for the things that are true to me. The brainwashing is real. The fear of being rejected and labeled and targeted to be "saved from deception" is real. I'm living it. The pressure, the manipulation, the emails and texts all in the name of love . . . truly a crazy journey and it takes a brave soul to disentangle from it. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

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Joe Omundson
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May 18, 2016 at 10:58 AM delete

Thanks, Emie. I know how much courage it takes to express publicly that you are leaving your faith. You are brave and I always admire your refusal to neglect your own intuition.

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Joe Omundson
AUTHOR
May 18, 2016 at 11:07 AM delete

Hey Tom, wow, thanks for the story.
It is absolutely incredible that a work of fiction takes priority over the life of a child. "Honor your father and mother" is more important than being neglected, devalued, discarded. Some nerve your pastor had. Makes me mad just reading it.

The typical Christian response will be: "but Tom, humans are flawed, including Christians, and your pastor just made a mistake. God on the other hand will never let you down."

In my opinion that doesn't excuse the systemic problem of abuse-filled rationalizations made by church leaders. If Christians are automatically filled with the Holy Spirit, then we ought to see the Fruit of the Spirit overflowing in their lives. To ignore your trauma and then side with your dad to tell you that YOU are the problem is monstrous.

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