It was like an unspoken, unverbalized mantra; an idea that I kept repeating in my brain. I’m not sure when I started—I don’t even remember when I was taught this mental exercise—but it was there by the time I was in the throes of puberty. Wake up in the morning and remind myself to pray: to thank god for the life he had given me, for another day on this earth to serve him. Continually focus my mind on god, especially when those sinful, lustful thoughts would enter my pubescent mind. The same when those pesky, nagging doubts as to the truth of my religion would begin to slip into my mind (I, of course, considered it to be more of “a relationship, not a religion” at the time).
There were tools I could use to help me in this endeavor, some of them actually close to the real definition of the word mantra. Daily bible study, scripture memorization, constant prayer. There were bible verses scattered throughout my childhood home (and in my parents’ current home there still are) in the form of inspirational posters, paintings, or just small plaques. I would often write out verses I found particularly poignant on index cards or post-its and leave them on my desk, taped to my monitor, or pinned to the wall.
“But his delight is in the law of the Lord,
And in His law he meditates day and night.
He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,
Which yields its fruit in its season
And its leaf does not wither;
And in whatever he does, he prospers.”
Psalm 1:1-3 (NASB)
“Be of sober spirit, be on alert. Your adversary, the devil, prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. But resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same experiences of suffering are being accomplished by your brethren who are in the world.”
I Peter 5:8 (NASB)
Music was a big one, “Contemporary Christian Music” especially so. It was playing nearly constantly in our house, and I would often have my own Christian songs playing through headphones on my Walkman (for the under 30 crowd: think Discman but with electromagnetic tape, for the under 20 crowd: it was my generation’s iPod). It was hard to think about sinful things while listening to music that explicitly repeats tenants of Christianity ad nauseam.
“You got a gift and you best start usin’ it
Cause if you don’t, you’re gonna wind up losin’ it
Just like the brother who buried it deep
The task was simple but the price was steep.”
(D. C. Talk – “Time Is Tickin’”)
“He’s more than the laughter or the stars in the heavens
As close a heartbeat or a song on our lips
Someday we’ll trust Him and learn how to see Him“
(Jars of Clay – “Love Song for a Savior”)
I don’t remember, specifically, being taught to do these things, though I know that it started at a very early age. I’ve had quite a bit of opportunity to observe it happening to the generations of children who came after me. It is taught from infancy, through preschool elementary ages. By the time I was a teenager these things all seemed like second nature to me. I had a hard time imagining that someone could live another way. I imagine that this is how it is for many Christians.
Nearly every aspect of Christianity is designed to help strengthen the indoctrination that holds people in their beliefs, even though surrounded by evidence against it. Scripture memorization is encouraged, and taught as soon as Children are able to speak (before they can even read). It is always said that the Christian should be in constant prayer about every aspect of their life; any decision bigger than which brand of milk to buy is supposed to be preceded by prayer (I am sure there are those who spend hours of prayer over even the brand of milk they use). Every concern someone mentions to them is another opportunity to pray. Christians are to be “in the world, but not of the world.” (That isn’t actually scripture, though I imagine many Christians believe it is, it is a very lose paraphrase of various new testament passages that warn against being conformed to the world or loving the world.)
This part of the brainwashing was mostly conscious on my part. I actively partook in these practices willingly. I don’t deny that some aspect of it was habitual after years of indoctrination, but for the most part I did it out of fear.
Not a fear of hell—many assume that to be most Christians’ primary motivation in all they do, but for many it isn’t—I feared failing my god and lord. I feared displeasing him. While I knew, no matter what I did, my god (my father, we were taught to think of him) would always love me, and I was secure in my salvation, I worried constantly about whether I measured up to his standards of living. This is the part of the brainwashing that was unconscious, deeply embedded in my brain from a young age.
It was the desire to please my god that made me do these things, but the mental repetitions were what held me in the sway of this religion for so long. When, at every hint of doubt, I would repeat scripture or focus myself in prayer I was willingly strengthening the brainwashing I had received at a young age. It made it hard to think rationally about the things I was taught in church and at home, and about the things I was learning about the world around me. Those doubts I had were pushed down, over and over, until I could ignore them without much trouble.
As my beliefs faded in my early 20s so did these practices. It was a slow process, but over time I ceased each one. The music was the first: I abandoned CCM in favor of classical music. I found the in-your-face Christianity of the former to be unartistic, and the simple structure of the songs was no longer aesthetically pleasing to me. I held on to hymns, and great choral works like Brahms’ German Requiem, and those became items of culture and not religion to me.
Scripture memorization, bible study, and prayer fell to the wayside as the years went on. I had stopped believing in God years before, but I couldn’t let go of those last few aspects of my indoctrination easily, they were so deeply ingrained in my mind after twenty-plus-years. (It didn’t help that I was still mostly surrounded by people doing these same things.)
Now, I see the practices for what they are. When I was in the midst of it, surrounded by people who also believed in these things, I couldn’t see it. I thought this were just how life was done, a sign of a healthy, well-adjusted person living in a spiritual world. Now I see them as the tools religion uses to maintain it’s strong grip on people’s minds. I see the indoctrination of children as a disgusting thing, warping their minds before they can speak or think clearly. (I feel the need to say this again: When I speak of religion in this way I do not mean that I believe the people teaching religion have any ill-intent in what they teach—they are just as strongly held in it’s grip as their “flocks” are.)
If we allow our minds to be held captive to indoctrination then we will have a hard time learning real truths. It is ironic that Santorum and the Christian right view colleges as “indoctrination mills” when it is really the church that functions as such. College, even the small Christian school I attended, was what allowed me the freedom to think and not feel that I was being judged for it. It allowed me the freedom to explore my beliefs and to begin to see them as they really were.
They are right to be scared of it, education does, indeed, stand against most of what religion stands for. Religion, likewise, stands against proper education. When you believe magic is real then you can’t properly embrace truth. If you can’t properly embrace truth, how can you ever learn anything real?
- The Strength of My Indoctrination (thesecretatheist.wordpress.com)
- Escaping Indoctrination (exchristian.net)
- Critical thinking (exchristian.net)