I’ve been trying to find a good way to approach this topic for several months, writing and trashing several drafts before finally settling on this one. Much of my delay has been due to the recent and widespread criticism of the Duggar scandals. I didn’t wish to be perceived as just another wolf pouncing on them when they were down. What troubles me is bigger than the Duggars. Much bigger. It’s a philosophy that I’ve seen growing among ultra-conservative fundamentalist Christians for over 20 years. It doesn’t even have a collective name, but in many ways, it’s like a cult.
So what is it? Simply put, it’s brainwashing. Christian fundamentalists are isolating themselves from all external influence, and by making themselves subject to church elders and mentors rather than only to God, they are allowing themselves to become reformed into puppets of men.
Depending upon the model (war psychologist Robert Lifton is a good source), brainwashing has a few common steps:
– The process is performed in isolation so that no external reference points of knowledge are available.
– There must be an initial breakdown of self identity. This is accomplished by assaulting the individual’s identity, as well as his sense of freedom and choice, and casting doubt and guilt upon him simply for being who he is.
– This leads to a breaking point, a point of betrayal – both of self and of anyone else who holds the beliefs of the former self, such as friends and family who are unbelievers.
– Then there is the introduction of leniency or grace for embracing the new belief.
– Finally, reformation commences with the individual confessing and renouncing ‘sins’ of the former belief that still persist, and being shunned or punished for those that are not renounced.
How This Relates
This Christian movement that’s been made popular by the Duggars’ TV show and subsequent scandals shows many of these same steps. Through home schooling, disassociating with anyone who isn’t a Christian (or their own church members in some cases) – apart from ‘ministry’ interactions, and private Christian colleges or CollegePlus, these Christians have become isolated from childhood through young adulthood in such a lifestyle that everything that they are taught and to which they are exposed comes through the strict filter of church elders.
That provides the stage for the brainwashing to begin. Then through reeducation that is logically skewed and often flawed, the identities of these Christians are attacked. They are taught that they cannot trust themselves or anything that comes from outside the church system, and they are bombarded to the point of breaking (often, a mistaken salvation experience). Once they repent and accept this new ‘enlightenment,’ they are systematically reprogrammed with a new belief system, complete with ‘Biblical’ safety checks and accountability brothers and sisters for those times when the new self fails.
I’ve noted that Calvinism is often a part of this doctrine because it fits into the system perfectly. Calvinism teaches election doctrine, which simply means the individual is elected to salvation rather than choosing the path of salvation, and only these elected individuals can gain enlightenment. This in turn presents the fact that those who are not elected are both unenlightened and irreparably condemned. Thus, a line of isolation forms between ‘us’ and ‘them.’ You won’t understand. You can’t understand because you are not one of the elect. – That statement in various forms has been used repeatedly by electionists both on me and on a number of my Christian friends who do not subscribe to election doctrine. Once that point is reached, these ‘elected’ individuals just turn off everything ‘they’ say because it’s ‘pointless to argue with fools.’ Everything I’ve said here I’ve personally witnessed in groups I’ve been involved in or associated with. At one point, a young man literally brushed the dust off his feet and walked away from a group of sound Christian men, convinced they were demonic simply because they disagreed with him. That’s the end result of this brainwashing – to have an individual so convinced that anything apart from some man’s doctrine is Satanic and threatening to them that they willingly break connections with anything and anyone who doesn’t think the same way.
The Dangers And Fallacies
Brainwashing isn’t a prison that’s forced upon an individual. It’s a prison that is presented to him as if it were a shield from ‘them.’ It results in an individual who willingly lives in this isolation for fear or disgust of the external. So what keeps him in this cage? Knowledge, or rather the lack of it. If a man is in a cell and the only knowledge of life and things outside is given to him by his jailor, he will soon view his jailor as a sort of prophet, some great and enlightened individual through which God speaks. This jailor can take many forms – a pope, a reformist, a doctrine, a creed, etc. But whatever it is, the individual will be convinced that it’s the path to enlightenment and that everything else is heresy.
This presents the logical fallacies of appealing to corruptible authority and ad hominem in denial of the external. Simply put, these individuals will deny true knowledge, whether it be from their own minds or from someone/something on the outside. ‘I can’t trust my own inclinations about this. I need to talk to the brothers and sisters about it,’ or ‘I don’t care what you have to say or how much sense you think it makes. You’re not one of us, so you’re wrong.’
Another danger is the fact that limited knowledge in the individual can be exploited by others, such as elders as was the case with the Duggars and their church. I’ve been trained in secular philosophy, and it’s astounding how often I see Christian leaders, teachers, and authors use a philosophical concept from another, often secular, philosopher as if it were their own ‘enlightenment.’ But think about it – how would their subjects ever know? They’ve been raised in church. They’ve been educated in home or church approved schools that have completely removed courses in standard philosophy and science or else replaced them with ‘Christian-friendly’ versions. They listen to church approved music and worship choruses that pounds these ideas into their heads over and over and over and over and over and over and over and over and… (You get the idea). They only hang out with church friends. They have church approved jobs. They’ve been raised, trained, and educated in a bubble, never being allowed exposure to secular or independent ideas, completely oblivious to the fact that a certain life-changing concept came from some agnostic a couple millennia ago rather than from their pastor or favorite Christian author. Furthermore, those individuals who do challenge the system and seek external knowledge are labeled and shunned as ‘corrupted.’ And so these naïve individuals will become convinced that their elders are some Great Hope that can answer any of life’s questions in a morally acceptable and God-fearing way. That’s when we have Christian girls who wear their hair in long curls because that’s what God likes. We have Christian boys who take advantage of girls because women are not spiritually fit to make sound decisions. We have Christian couples with a dozen or more children because God told us to multiply.
I have often been criticized by Christians for my secular education. I’ve been called corrupted, I’ve been called a destroyer, I’ve even been called a false prophet. Once, in my youth, I would have agreed. But I reached a point of enlightenment the day when I realized this: I answer only to God, and God is Truth. If that Truth is so weak that it would crumble in the presence of secular knowledge and education, it wouldn’t be Truth. Though man’s doctrine is often very delicate, God’s Principles are not so weak that they need to be protected in a bubble. I know. I’ve walked through the fire of both Hell and the World, and my faith still stands. The only thing that has changed is that I can now see the stranglehold that some churches have on their members by using very secular, even cult-like tactics. With that in mind, I’ll leave my readers with a few questions for thought:
Do you feel like you bear the weight of a thousand iron-clad rules, even if you feel those rules are ‘for your own good’?
Do you feel that your personal walk with God and your enlightenment must be proof checked, interpreted, or filtered by another Christian?
Do you feel that your personal walk with God is more like living out someone else’s ideas and opinions?
Do you feel that you are incapable of making Biblical, morally sound decisions without the approval of the church?
Do you feel that your belief system is centered around a certain author, teacher, or pastor? Do you find yourself referencing and quoting the same person frequently?
Do you feel that external people or knowledge threaten the stability of your belief system?
As a final statement, I don’t wish to sound as if all of the churches or other Christians are bad or are out to brainwash us. Some are, most aren’t. Maybe my perception is skewed because I live in the heart of Arkansas’ Duggar Bubble… I mean the Bubble Belt… I mean… (You get the picture). But if you related to any or all of the questions above, please carefully consider the nature of your belief system, and please feel free to reach out to me or someone else for answers. If such a belief system is right and I’m wrong, there will be no harm in taking a closer look at it.