Just who is being brainwashed?When I was a teenager I began to tell my grandmother about Jesus Christ. I didn't hammer her with my belief, but as we would talk it would come up naturally in conversation. Her response was to tell me that I take after my great-great-grandmother who was also 'religious' and then, when I pointed out that faith in God was not something that could be passed down through our genes, like eye-colour or height etc, she told me she thought Christians (including me) were actually brain-washed.
For years it hurt me that she thought I was brain-washed. She wasn't an educated lady, but she was streaks ahead of Richard Dawkins in her assumptions that I (and others like me) were simply deluded.
So am I brainwashed? Bearing in mind that those being brainwashed often don't know it, I want to look at the evidence - who is being brainwashed and who is qualified to make judgements?
Brainwashing normally occurs in one of two ways. Firstly it occurs through subliminal messages - where something is repeated so frequently that you begin to believe it.
Okay - so its true - I have heard from about the age of 3 or 4 that there is a God and that this God created our world. However, as an adult the bible tells me not to believe everything I hear. I am not to take everything at face value, but am to ask questions of it and seek out the truth (I'm not sure this is typical brainwashing strategy).
The apostle Paul said 'Test everything. Hold on to what is good' ( 1 Thessalonians 5 : 21). The bible tells me I am not to put my brain in my backpack and go skipping through life blindly ignoring every question that is raised against God, or accepting every statement made in the name of God. Jesus tells me I am to ‘Love the Lord [my] God with all [my] heart and with all [my] soul and with all [my] MIND.’ This is the first and GREATEST commandment! (Matthew 22 : 37 - 38). I am not even to accept everything that a preacher, apologist or teacher says without being careful to check that this is indeed what is right: Jesus said: 'Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep's clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.' Matthew 7 : 15. I am not even supposed to rely on my own judgements and see myself as the fount of all knowledge - setting myself up as judge over what I personally like and don't like, over what I personally agree with or don't agree with. The bible tells me not to 'rely on my own understanding.' (Proverbs 3 : 5).
So, repeating something to me over and over again is not going to be so effective if I am constantly checking it out. However, it strikes me that my grandmother, an atheist constantly believed all subliminal messages put to her that there was no God without ever stopping to question whether this was true or not, without ever checking anything for herself. When I asked her what she believed about the Universe and where it came from she told me that it had always been here. The bible told me that this could not possibly be true. The bible told me that in the beginning God spoke the world into being...
Today science backs this up. Science used to believe that the world was eternal - it had always been here and always would be. Scientists now know that the universe almost certainly had a beginning and that it will almost certainly come to an end, what they don't know is WHY the universe began, and they are still guessing at how. I think I know! The bible says God 'said' let there be... Oh yeah, that's a bit childish isn't it. What, God said the magic words did he? Uh, no...stay with me here! The DNA code in all living things is a language code...God introduced language into the Universe, logic, reason and sense in all that he had made. The bible says God 'spoke' - DNA shows us his language!
I then asked my grandmother where we came from and she told me - with a wink - that we came from monkeys. I asked her if she truly believed that and she said she did. She couldn't explain evolution to me, she had no idea how or why it was supposed to work, but if everyone believed that this is where we came from who was she to argue with them. She refused to check it out, refused to consider any alternatives, refused to think about anything concerning God - but it would be laughable to think that she had been brainwashed...wouldn't it?
The second way that brainwashing works is through reinforcement. Here wanted behaviour is rewarded and unwanted behaviour is punished. Okay lets think about this. If you wanted to brainwash someone into being a Christian it would be mighty difficult, because doing the right thing seems to get you nowhere in this world. A little bit of tax evasion, a little white lie, a little bit of gossip - the odd lustful thought...its what makes the world go around isn't it? How about indulging in the passions of the flesh...that's fun isn't it. Who wants to deny themselves anything? So, how is wanted behaviour being rewarded then? Being a Christian sounds like hard work and certainly doesn't make you the life and soul of the party. This world does not reinforcing the Christian's behaviour, because everyone can see that its the last thing anyone wants! And yet the Christian hangs on - having tested everything they are holding onto what is good (even though at times it seems to make life a lot harder). My grandmother once told me that if I wanted to get ahead in the world I'd have to give up my God malarky.
But is the atheist receiving any subliminal messages based on reward and punishment? Well, possibly yes! Daily they see that those who make it big in this world are those who do not believe in God - the successful celebrity, the rich businessman, the model, the singer, the actor....they don't need God do they? They receive messages from their idols, in their newspapers, on the radio, on TV, in Holywood films, in soap operas, in music, in art, in literature, in philosophy... they receive the same message, again and again, that there is no God. The message is that they don't need God, he's not there, he never was and he never will be, but they never stop to question the truth of the matter because when they look at the Christian, they are bombarded with a different message. The Christian is a mealy mouthed kill joy who is a pain in the neck everywhere he or she goes. They see how Christians are portayed by the media - Christians are never seen as amazing or cool. Here the atheist sees that life without God is good - and life with God is boring and miserable.
Interestingly, the Christian receives the same message. A message that warns that if they continue with his 'delusion' they will be unpopular and unwanted - they will be laughed at, ridiculed and despised. But despite receiving this message, despite realising that they will no doubt suffer for their faith in Jesus Christ, they hang on because they have tested the truth! It does not seem like a classic case of brainwashing to me. I wonder if its the atheist who is brainwashed then? What does the evidence suggest to you?