A Question About Brainwashing and Deprogramming

I received an email where someone commented:
I was intrigued by the brainwashed people don’t know they’re brainwashed post several days ago. My wife is rapidly and rabidly falling deeper and deeper into this crap. Are there any books out there that you could recommend related to this issue, both the process of brainwashing as well as the process of deprogramming?
I know people would rather that I use the term "socialization" rather than "brainwashing" but I think this is the best word to shock believers out of their delusion. Any long discussion with them like I participate in every day leads me to this conclusion. For some of them there is quite literally nothing that I can say to change their minds. Deprogramming is the answer, but that's what I'm trying to do every day. I make slow progress if at all. They already know I'm of the devil trying to persuade them off the straight and narrow and that I don't want to believe because I prefer sin.

The things I've read on brainwashing and deprogramming are all dated now and I haven't read anything lately on the topic. Most all of what I read concerned cultists who brainwashed Christian teens and the deprogramming their parents had to force them to undergo to help get them out of it. This kind of deprogramming cannot be done to adults, for they literally grabbed these kids off the streets and subjected them to hours and even days of love from those who knew them as well as reasoning based on the Bible.

Boy, I wish I had the silver bullet for you that would cause her to doubt. She has to be willing to look at the arguments. She has to be willing to consider she could be wrong. Why on earth wouldn't any thinker consider they are wrong? This is the only path to knowledge. Questioning what we think is true.

I have a good friend who says he's scared of reading my book. He knows it could cause him to doubt. And so he won't read it. That's the sad state of affairs we're dealing with here in brainwashed adults.

Maybe there is some recent literature on this subject. If you find some good stuff let me know of it.


If anyone else wants to suggest some resources post them below.



Chuck O'Connor said...

I think it's like addiction.

She has to hit bottom with her belief before she changes her mind.

I had to face a depression brought by a personal crisis which led me to a point of suicide because I thought the crisis was confirmation I wasn't elect. The circumstances seemed to reinforce my five-point-Calvinism before I started examining my faith through the lens of cognitive therapy and realize it wasn't helpful.

I'd suggest the husband do what family members of addicts and alcoholics do and find a therapist who will help him work on himself to detach from the dysfunctional compulsion of his wife.

He won't change her. She has to want to change herself but, a commitment to rationality will lead to deeper reason in those he relates to.

Yesterday I pointed out to my wife that she hasn't cracked her bible since I have made a deeper commitment to reasoned atheism yet, her morality hasn't been negatively affected. She agreed with me and admitted her Christianity doesn't follow presuppositional doctrines of biblical inerrancy and simply likes the mystery believing in god helps her have. She admitted most of what Evangelical Christianity claims to be true can't be supported as such. This conversation would not have happened if I were still a believer and it was conducted with love and respect.

Rich Griese said...

For the guy that was asking for books, here are there.

1) _Combatting Cult Mind control_, i think by steven hassan,

2) The 4 Major Cults... i forget by who,

3) A crisis of conscious, by Raymond franz.

The first two do good ax explaing "the tactics", you and your wife can discuss them, or at least you can become aware of them.

The first is probably the one she will enjoy the most, the testimony of a supernaturalist that attained the highest level in the Jehovah's Witness, that eventually left.


Wanderin' Weeta said...

As I see it, the problem isn't usually a reluctance to change one's mind, but one of fear. The fear of what seems to be the worst of all the sins, doubt. After all, what gets a Christian to heaven isn't good behaviour, or doctrinal correctness, it's belief. And any doubt threatens this.

Restricting information and questioning is just a preventive measure.

feralboy12 said...

See, that's the really brilliant angle that Christianity took--all you really have to do is believe. Yeah, there's rituals, and tithing, and hard stuff, but it still comes down to believe and you will be saved and have a spiritual epiphany. Then a difficult personal situation leads one to open up to belief, one finds comfort, one has an intense emotional reaction and takes it for the spiritual experience that was promised. Which is a powerful thing, and you want to hit that lever again and again...and because belief is the centerpiece of the experience, you're terrified to ever question that belief. And terrified that someone else will break the spell, and make god disappear in a puff of logic.
Basically, these people brainwash themselves, with some helpful nudges. And they have to deprogram themselves, mostly. Not everyone has that ability, but if you can show them all the ways our brains can fool us, and the ways critical thinking can reduce that, perhaps they can begin to understand that any beliefs worth having can survive exposure to the real world.

Jeff Bryson, MAR, IMFT (OH), LPC & ALPS (WV) said...

Everyone has faith in something. Post-positivism assumes that empiricism is not a perfect, last-word matter. Brainwashing occurs in atheist groups, new age groups, etc. Any ideology can be a basis for abuse. As a therapist who specializes in treating ex-cultists, post-cult trauma, I must say that the blog post did not give enough information to give an adequate response. I am also a trained and licensed marriage and family therapist. Brainwashing is behavior, not belief. More information is necessary. There is plenty of information available for those wishing to find help. www.riskross.com and www.icsahome.com are two good websites from which to launch a search.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...


Your assertions have reached a new level absurd. You of all people should know that "brainwashing" isn't exclusive to the religious...in fact I propose that there are more "brainwashed" atheists than a few and as you can see it has nothign to do with religion...There are more than a few that comment on this board regularly.

It all comes down to this, you "think" that non God views are good views...you "believe" that to be true and reject anything that religion says because of your beliefs and requirements what you hail or proclaim to be truth. In essence your non belief is a "brainwashing" to align itself with your world view...that world view is simply anythig that doesn't require a God or spiritual explaination...ie; materialism or naturalism. That's partially why you need deconversion camps materials and books...tell me that's not "brainwashing"?

Your who assumption is flawed as D'Sousa pointed out. What you think is a "free thought" is no more than something bound by your current expectation and need to see life as being uncaused and without higher purpose...

Your notions are ridiculous and don't sound or read any better no matter how many times you write them or repeat them...

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Thank you Dr. Bryson for clearing things up

Chuck O'Connor said...

Dr. Bryson,

Would a theist's continued misunderstanding that atheism is not a world-view despite the accepted standard as such be an indication they have been inculcated to a level of brainwashing?

And, isn't belief a cognitive component of behavior?

One can't have behavior without an organizing concept for behavior therefore belief precedes behavior? Correct?

Glock21 said...

Why do so many of these posts come off like a continued lashing out at critics... anyhoo...

There's nothing wrong with pointing out brainwashing when it is happening. But one fairly obvious consequence of the "brainwashed not knowing that they're brainwashed" is that when you tell them they're brainwashed: they... don't... believe... you...

In some cases, carefully comparing what has led them to believe something to the techniques used by notorious brainwashers for the same effect, can be a very dramatic wake up call. Merely saying "you're brainwashed!" is about as compelling to your average theist as them saying "you're blind!" is to us.

So, no, it's never been about being politically correct, but the very real need to be effective with one's speech and considering your audience at the time. Hence why there is a danger in both realizing, yet not appreciating that brainwashed people do not know that they're brainwashed. Directly confronting them about it must be done effectively, otherwise they may just clam up and get defensive at the accusation since they don't know that they're brainwashed!

A candid talk with the wife about how her indoctrination involves spurious techniques on par with political and other brainwashing can be very important. Bluntly tell her she's brainwashed and oblivious to that fact may just get you in line at a divorce attorney's office.

One need not deny reality in order to have tact.

District Supt. Harvey Burnett said...

Atheism is a worldview. It just doesn have a magistrium or a sacred text but it certainly has a code...any code that defies supernaturalism is the center of atheism.

Secondly you behave in a way consistent with your "beliefs" and you cling to others who identify with you in it.

Until you as the atheist are ready to deal with a grasp the fact that the standards by which you claim that Christians are "brainwashed" are the same standards that when applied to you fit also, why should we care what you think and not laugh at the silly and preposterous notions that are set forth regarding it?

John W. Loftus said...

Glock21, and why is it you think you must repeat yourself so many times on this? Do you think that by repeating yourself it will somehow finally sink in or something? Go ahead. Say it again. But it won't change my mind.

John W. Loftus said...

Glock21 go tell Hitchens not to tell people religion poisons everything. Tell Dawkins he shouldn't tell believers that raisning kids with religious faith is child abuse. Go back in time and tell Nietzsche he shouldn't predict the death of God.

No, let's be polite, respectful, nice. Let's not tell them the truth.

Hey, you probably shouldn't get "The Christian Delusion" then either, for the title says Christians are deluded. In it I also argue that Christians are brainwashed and yet even Christian scholars think the book is worthy of consideration.

Now, how is that possible?

Breckmin said...

I will always allude to the aphorism/rhetorical question that "perhaps a Christian has realized that their brain needed washing?"

I will also note that "brainwashing" is general and doesn't deal with anything specific.

The fact that we provide answers is irrelevant to the "answers" and the reasoning themselves (which is independent of the person making the assertion - as far as whether it is true or not. That is why words such as gobbledygook or even
philosophical gerrymandering are general and don't deal with any specific point, assumption, premise or axiom.
It is like saying "you are just arguing." Addressing polemics themselves is a Red herring to the point that is being made. Question everything.

Breckmin said...

"and yet even Christian scholars think the book is worthy of consideration."

It is because it is important to "answer" your questions and objections John. The more objections and questions...the more that contemporary apologetics grows in answering these questions.

I am very much looking forward to reading "The Christian Delusion."

It is important to see clearly how contemporary systematic theology (which is progressive in application but NOT in variance)answers these questions/objections logically.

Any time you wish to go through these points one by one with someone who knows the God of Abraham is factual because of personal interaction (at one point in history).

I would be willing...Lordwilling.
(since I could be brought home at any time).

Often it is a question of addressing conventional Western philosophy or TOK/logic itself (that has errored) when it comes to alleged fallacies and reasoning.

Logic is discovered..not somehow man-made.

Glock21 said...

I'll refrain from responding on the issue any further as you continue to endlessly keep bringing it up. I must say I don't feel my statements are successfully countered by whipping the tar out of straw men.

I didn't argue one should never be blunt nor did I argue that that such issues theists find offensive should never be raised. Nor am I basing my arguments on any notion of political correctness.

Still seems odd to keep bringing up the subject if you want people who disagree to just shut the hell up about it. But so be it. As much as I enjoy being dismissed as an immature and irrational imbecile over the past week or so, it's really not worth it over a question of tact that seems fairly obvious to some of us.

John W. Loftus said...

Tell us all about tact, Glock21. Yep, you've got it. I don't.

Breckmin said...

"I have a good friend who says he's scared of reading my book. He knows it could cause him to doubt."

I actually wish that every adult Christian could read your book "Why I became an Atheist" WITH commentary (on almost every other line, perhaps)that has the correct answer - WHILE at the same time praying to their Heavenly Father for protection against deception." Matthew 6:13.

The reality is that the question exists independent of my asking it "Did you pray on your knees and on your face before your Holy Creator and Heavenly Father for "protection" as you questioned Christianity.

If not..then this should already cause you to consider what system of processing information could have possible misled you.

Doubt is a good thing...when it causes you to pray to the Holy Creator for protection...sincerely.

Question everything. It just might lead you to "doubt" certain monopolies in skepticism.

John W. Loftus said...

BTW: I brought this question up again Glock21 because the email I quoted from came from a professor at a university. You see it does resonate with people. And you fail to actually understand that I was not dealing with any straw men. I'm not so stupid to think you never think one ought not to be tactful. I was asking what you see the difference is between me and Hitchens, Dawkins and Nietzsche with regard to these things.

Think critically next time. Be a bit more respectful and you'll gain my respect.

Breckmin said...

"Think critically next time."

What about allowing Christians who apply critical thinking to your books a place to blog and go through your books with Christian discernment? How about an "outsider test for faith" from Christians explaining your books page by page?

If you are truly interested in the answers raised by questions in your book...why not allow a place on your page where we can provide the answers?

Just a thought (or perhaps request).

Justkem said...

Go ahead. Say it again. But it won't change my mind.

Stay classy, John. Stay classy.

You may just be "brainwashed" into believing in your potential to become teh best public speaker of Time Itself! If only people would be nicer to you when you insulted them.

I've listened to Harris, and I've been inspired by Hitchens. I've read Nietzsche, and enjoyed his work, but I certainly wouldn't want to listen to that maladjusted, lonely jerk in a debate (unless I was sharing the $1,000,000 for somehow managing to bring him back to life.) You, sir, are no Richard Dawkins.

Writing a good book, or even a great book, or even many great books that push the frontiers of philosophy forward into unexplored territory and shape the intellectual discourse of the next century doesn't mean you're good at the art of public speaking. It doesn't even make you a great person. It just means you've earned respect for your work as a writer. It's more than most, but it does not grant you immunity from perfectly valid criticism. If it renders you blind to it, then have fun beating that megalomaniacal drum.

Just don't expect us all to dance in ecstatic joy when you do it, 'k? Thanks.

Glock21 said...

Yes, yes... more insults. How predictable.

Glock21 said: "As much as I enjoy being dismissed as an immature and irrational imbecile over the past week or so..."

Apparently we're both repetitive.

openlyatheist said...

"why not allow a place on your page where we can provide the answers?"

You're on it. You just posted a comment. But no "answer", I see.

It's a free country. Blog accounts are free. Get one of your own.

Chuck O'Connor said...


I don't reject supernaturalism a priori, I just haven't been presented with an argument for it that makes it seem reasonable.

I'll change my mind if someone provides an argument worthy of my doing so.


John W. Loftus said...

justkem, you never specifically said what the difference between Hitchens, Nietzsche and Dawkins when it comes to using the kind of language that shocks Christians. I never said I was a Dawkins, you idiot. And how long do you two plan to beat this drum to death? Move on. It seems to me that's your one note song. Will you be playing this song a month from now? Sheesh. I've moved on. I suppose if Payton Manning has a bad day you'd fire him and tell the world over and over that he should never play football again, right? Find the good in life. I do. I find your lack of respect for me as a person absolutely appalling. No, I read your comments when they first appeared. Do not throw me any bullshit that it was constructive criticism. You personally maligned me.

Tell ya what, for the record if you comment again. Tell us your names. I do. I put my name out there and which town I live. You can say whatever you want and remain anonymous taking pot shots at someone who is attempting to do what you want done in society, rid ourselves of religion. You just don't give a damn that I am in the trenches getting shot at now from both sides. Your kind of atheism is ugly to me.

Give it a rest, both of you. If not, go away and don't come back. You've said what you wanted to say.

John W. Loftus said...

No, I never said I was anything like Manning, either. But I am out in front. You don't like it. Fine. You won't discourage me. You don't know me.

Justkem said...

Something about Einstein's definition of insanity comes to mind here.

Your request that I drop the anonymity of the internet baffles me. What's in a name? My arguments are still mine, and the fact remains that I've been doing the online debate thing under that name for the better part of a decade. It's like telling someone on the CB to stop using their handle... doesn't make a whole lot of sense.

Your definition of "personally maligned" baffles me, considering I haven't once attacked you as a person. You asked for specifics. I gave them. I certainly haven't called you ignorant or "young" or anything along those lines. I've simply put out a different perspective, and one that I suspect plenty of moderates would agree with because I've spent a great deal of time engaging them on these topics. I know from personal experience what worked for me on my deconversion process, and the fact remains that I didn't find accusations that I was blind or incapable of thinking for myself terribly compelling from any camp.

Your mileage may vary. But expecting criticism to simply disappear because you don't agree with it, or trying to squelch it from the bully pulpit just seems like it's a repeated attempt at a long pass. I don't have a problem with you doing it, as long as you develop a great arm and that you keep a firm awareness that you might not complete that pass if you don't have a good opening. I'm interested in seeing you do that, and that's really all I've ever said here.

As far as the whole "ridding the earth of religion" thing goes, I think you misunderstand my specific goal in these debates. Mine is to get the moderates on our side in debunking religious certainty and opening minds to the possibility that their specific beliefs are an accident of geography and time. It seemed to me like a former preacher who was well versed in the methodology of apologetics might be good at that... but I may be wrong.

In any case, I have no idea what I'll be doing a month from now, but I do completely accept that you are certain of your superior understanding of psychology and the human condition. I wish you luck with that, but I don't feel the need to squelch my own perspective simply because you disagree with it.

John W. Loftus said...

justkem you are a waste of my time. I have better things to do. Even now you falsely mischaracterized what I said three or four times in your last comment alone. And you did personally malign me. Am I now supposed to waste more time finding the source? Naw. Who cares about a pissing match. I'm interested in the arguments. It's like you're not listening or thinking. And you once again insulted me. Insanity?

Glock21 said...

"Give it a rest, both of you."

I already did. See post from roughly 11:23pm last night. My only comment since was expressing disappointment at the further insults, not about the brainwashing topic.

I'm done on it. No threats required. I can't speak for the "idiot" JustKem, but I'm not interested in discussing the subject anymore. I won't post on any future threads on the subject. I'll even stop complaining about the insults.

If you want me to avoid any and all criticisms of things you do or say here, just let me know. It's your blog, just let me know what the rules are.

John W. Loftus said...

No Glock21, I have always appreciated constructive criticism from friends. Anyone who wishes to engage me respectfully gets my respect and I reciprocate. That is why my blog and books are so popular from people on BOTH sides of the fence. People know this about me. I do it on a regular basis. Where else do you find Christian scholars and atheists debating these issues respectably on the web? This is a unique place and people know it EVEN THOUGH THE TITLE OF MY BLOG IS DEBUNKING CHRISTIANITY (think how offensive that is, okay?). You're welcome to engage me or anyone else. I just don't see why beating the same drum over and over again is productive, which you now say you won't do.

When I first started blogging I had a number of presuppotionalists who beat the same drum on every single argument of mine. It didn't matter what the argument was, they said I had no basis for the logic that I used to make it. I answered them but they weren't convinced. So they kept at it. It's a maddening thing when people don't move on. Thanks for your understanding.


Chuck O'Connor said...


You have a pretty specific goal in mind with your atheism but I don't see a blog link of your own on your profile.

Absent that, I am reminded of Teddy Roosevelt's commentary on critics.

Glock21 said...

I think I'll just avoid criticisms for now until I get a feel for what you find acceptable or not from a 3rd person perspective. That should hopefully avoid any more confusion on my part and any further frustration on yours.

John W. Loftus said...

Gloch21, do as you wish and I wish you well. I have found something interesting on the web and it's this. People on both sides think that if I just understood their position I would accept it. So, they think that if they say it again and articulate it better that will do the trick and I would see the error of my views. I do not think that way at all. I don't think that way about others either. People have a multifaceted number of reasons why they reject something. Calvinists are notorious about this. They say I don't understand their theology with such a passion that it's clear they think that if they explained it better I would accept it. I find such a thing ridiculous, of course. The same thing applies to what you were saying about brainwashing. I do understand what you said, I just reject your conclusion.

You might consider this comment from Richard Carrier, whom I do think you respect since it's apparent you don't respect me (or at least that's my first impression I have of you).

And why don't you tell me your real name? Who are you? Put your name with what you say. JustKem didn't understand me about this. How would you act on the web if you put your name with what you say? Annonymous people can have the complete liberty to blast away at someone like me without any repercussions. I, however, am who I am. It looks bad when I defend my name, but I must. You don't have that same worry.

And tell me this. What other "famous" atheist regularly blogs and responds to people like I do? None that I know of, perhaps Carrier. I comment on currect events, other blog posts, and I make initial posts for further clarification all of the time. I blog about things I'm not an expert on too. No one can be any expert on everything. I do so in the interests of providing a forum for people the engage each other on a wide range of topics, and some of them are better informed about that topic than me. So I get blasted because of this as ignorant. What would you expect me to do? Not provide such a forum at all and only post substantive things I've spend a month studying before I speak?

You have no clue what it's like attempting to provide such a service to the skeptic society. Yes, sometimes I just want to quit.

John W. Loftus said...

Oh, Hemant Mehta and PZ Meyers regularly blog, and some others too. Do you disrespect PZ Meyers for his insulting rhetoric? He regularly does it. Go over and tell him to stop, okay? Why bother with me? Oh, just forget it. Don't bother. I don't care. We'll still disagree.

Chuck O'Connor said...


Opinions are like assholes, everyone's got one. Until these jokers grow some and provide a face to their comments then they are just trolls.

I actually have more respect for a guy like Harvey or Rob R or Brad Haggard than these two. At least those guys "publish" their independent views. These guys remind me of a couple girls criticizing the latest starlets as fat. They are hangers on who don't have your guts or stamina. They are cowards, plain and simple.

Glock21 said...

Chuck... The anonymous internet use is both habit (since I was dialing in to a unix shell with a 2400 baud) and I suppose you could say cowardice, in a sense. I've helped admin some political chat stuff and I just don't find the possible repercussions from the various threats to be worth the risk.

For what it's worth I think I've just made a lousy impression when I got started in the young skeptics thread that was asking for criticism. I like the site, I didn't know the guy running it from Adam until a couple weeks ago. In spite of my best efforts I'm apparently still coming off as critical of hard-hitting rhetoric on this and other websites, venues, etc, where I have no problem with it. In my attempt to defend my opinion I've apparently come off as horrendously disrespectful and as if I have a grudge against the guy running it... I don't.

As my post above indicates. I'm waiving the white flag and forgoing any more criticism here to get a better feel of what's appropriate or not, because obviously my gauges are way off.

Justkem said...

The insanity bit was actually a bit of a wry dig at myself for doing the same thing over and over.  Clearly, I've touched a nerve here.  I can certainly appreciate the feeling of frustration that comes from conversations where a middle ground just doesn't seem to exist, and even empathy for the other perspective is hard to acheive.

"People on both sides think that if I just understood their position I would accept it."

Arguably, that's human nature.  We all  tacitly endorse our own unique interpretations of Life, The Universe, and Everything precisely because we find the arguments convincing, and feel that they stand up to the highest level of scrutiny.  Otherwise, we wouldn't think of them as carefully arrived at conclusions.

"How would you act on the web if you put your name with what you say? Annonymous people can have the complete liberty to blast away at someone like me without any repercussions."

True enough, but our stage is smaller.  Our friends know us already, and other than appeasing people who prefer names instead of handles, there doesn't really seem to be much of an incentive to change that.  I have quite a few net friends who know me only as Kem, and they respect me for the same reasons that my "RL" friends do.  The risk of attracting the personal ire of the plentitude of emotionally unstable (and fanatically brainwashed, emphatically NOT respectable) types that tend to take attacks against their deepest personal convictions rather personally simply doesn't justify the very slight benefit to be had by signing my name where it really isn't required. 

"I, however, am who I am. It looks bad when I defend my name, but I must. You don't have that same worry."

I have the same take me as I am approach.  But my worry is purely for pragmatic reasons.  It's a scary world out there, and I have no reason to expose myself to unnecessary risks. 

"Who cares about a pissing match."

Not me.  I care about ideas.  I care about people, and the impact that those ideas have on them.  I care about living in a world where my Muslim neighbor can send their kids to play with my Christian neighbor's kids without worrying whether or not an exchange of beliefs will result in an eternity of suffering for the kids who make the "wrong" choice.  

The rest is details.

I suspect you have pretty much the same goals, and I'm genuinely sorry that you feel my perspective is a waste of time.  In the end, though, it's the result of the culture wars that matter.  I'm all for any and every strike against religious intollerance that you bring home.

Justkem said...


Maybe at some point, but for now my blog has gathered a fair amount of digital dust. Most of my writing on religion was actually done as a Baha'i in a forum on the Delphi discussion boards that was fairly notorious for not pulling punches. I got along there for so long because I was very certain that their arguments really didn't apply to my brand of faith, and I remember how extremely painful (and then amazingly liberating) it was to come to the realization that moderates weren't immune; but I'm not sure I would have stuck around for so long to learn it if I didn't feel that my quest for spiritual truth was respected as an honest one--a web of my own weaving that I had to constantly test for strengths and weaknesses at every turn.

My two cents, for what they're worth.

My feelings about religion as it applied to me personally certainly changed in profound ways during my six-month deconversion, but my core beliefs about the nature of religion in society haven't really shifted all that much.

Hendy said...

Wow... what a read through all the comments. Here are some thoughts:

Re. Supt. Harvey
I only mention you since your post describes a common tactic; namely, since one 'side' is accusing another 'side' of bring brainwashed, the first accusing side must be equally likely to have been brainwashed. I think to even have these discussions (here, and in the first two posts about brainwashing), everyone posting needs a commonly accepted definition of brainwashing.

It's a ridiculously easy attack to simply claim that we all believe for no reason other than by being programmed, whether that programming came from inside (self-indoctrination) or without (herd indoctrination).

My feeble attempt at this is broken down simply into looking at why we believe what we believe. To expand on this:

1) There will (as far as I can figure) always be both atheists and theists alike who believe only because they've been told or taught at a particularly impressionable time or sought a particular worldview/belief system/framework during emotional weakness.

2) There will (as far as I can figure) always be atheists and theists who hold their belief because of a critical pursuit of knowledge in forms of philosophy, science, morality, etc.

The true test of 'brainwashed' or not for me comes down to this:

What evidence, if provided, would cause you abandon your belief?

Feel free to criticize, suggest an alternative question, etc. as to what might be a better test. Brainwashing seems to have a distinctive quality about it such that the one brainwashed can't even begin to conceive of the idea that they might be wrong.

Thus far in my 'quest' for truth, I have found numerous atheists who can present clear, distinctive, quantifiable forms of evidence which would cause them to believe in god if it occurred. I have asked numerous close Christian friends this question and heard no one, yet, provide an answer. Perhaps they took it as rhetorical and we just moved on, but at least one for sure simply said, 'Nothing.'

This is a primary reason why I would say, even thought many theists perhaps are not 'brainwashed' and reached their beliefs rationally, that religions as a whole are far more favorable to a 'brainwashed' central ideology than atheism. Why? Because atheism rests with a scientific approach: I will consider this true (or at least as true as I require for practical use) so long as it is backed by evidence. Religions, as far as I can tell, will never withdraw a theological portion of dogma in favor of emerging evidence. The tenants of Christianity will not change. Say they found Mary's tomb; will the Catholic Church withdraw the doctrine of Mary being born immaculately (without original sin) or having been assumed, body and soul, into heaven? I think not. The Church has only retracted claims that do not impact their theological foundations, such as the validity of the flood and Genesis. Whether I think evolution does shatter their theological claims is another matter. See my post HERE for why.

I think this is fair. I'm open to not calling this the 'brainwashing' test question... perhaps it's more of a test of reasonableness? Just a thought I wanted to offer as I've been thinking about this.

I think a common definition will help everyone proceed on a 'fair' playing field and maybe reduce the tendency toward insult on both sides?

John W. Loftus said...

Thanks Hendy for getting us back on track. That's what we wish to discuss here.

Hendy said...

Re. the comments themselves
One thing I have been reflecting on is the nature of how one decides between theism and atheism. As some of you know, I have been on a 'doubt-inspired-quest' for about 2 months.

I've been out to coffee to 'come out' about my doubt to several men in my 'Christian community' to discuss my doubts. Two have essentially told me that they have been down a similar path of doubt and that at the end they found no real evidence that was overtly convincing. Instead, they chose to believe simply based on practicality. One, quite my elder, said that he knows several friends who are atheists and he 'does not want the life they have' and when compared to the life he has in this Christian community, it was a no-brainer decision. He said that having no evidence one way or the other, he has 'rolled the dice' in favor of theism.

So, here's a topic. Actually, John, it would be awesome to have a post on this area altogether in my mind:

Is a community in which those involved share a set of common beliefs and a vision as to how to live out those beliefs in the highest manner a core human need or desire?

I ask this, especially in light of the comments, because I would think that in addition to a desire to lead others away from poor intellectual foundations, we would also want to lead them toward something at least partially fulfilling emotionally, morally, and practically as well.

No atheist I've ever encountered wants others to think of atheism as lonely, amoral, evil, unsatisfying emotionally, depressing, deflated of any high goals or values, etc. So, would it be true to say that atheists should hope that they live a life in which atheism is attractive?

If this is the case and the statement about community could be true (that it is a human desire and therefore not isolated to religion), does anyone think that atheist 'communities' would be beneficial? In other words, is seeking self-improvement equally attained alone vs. in a group?

Where is all of this going? I guess here:
1) Someone commented that atheists are perhaps 'brainwashed' because they just join communities that support what they want to believe. My response given the above is that this is perhaps just a human trait and shouldn't be tied to being 'brainwashed.

1a) I propose that the correct process should be to rationally study alternatives to belief in a given area (e.g. supernatural beliefs), make a decision, and then join a community where you can explore, develop, and challenge those beliefs... not the other way around (believing because of community.

2) Regarding the comments... while I'm perhaps too used to the concept of evangelization, I would think that both sides of this discussion should have a vested interest in displaying the 'highest form' of whatever they subscribe to. Whether it's for supernatural reasons or not, the human person is absolutely inclined to weigh the 'goods' they encounter. Given this and given that neither side would want someone to believe a lie, is there anything to be said about living as a model example of your framework/belief/worldview as an example that it has merit?

2a) It seems that the opposite of this is used as why not to believe; namely that religion x had atrocities committed in its name, so it cannot be the supernaturally prescribed ideology that it claims to be.

2b) Given this, it would seem that there is a subtle hinting at the converse alternative: you can live a morally exemplary and satisfying life by believing in no gods and simply following this (paraphrased from EbonMusings): Live as to minimize actual and potential suffering and maximize actual and potential happiness.

Hendy said...

Again, where am I going? While far from wanting to come in here with a metal ruler on knuckles, I just want to point out that regardless of where my 'quest' takes me, I want the belief that is 'most reasonable to believe' (atheism or theism) to present an appealing choice morally and based on fulfillment. In other words, firstly I want to rest on the truth. Secondly, I want a system of beliefs or a method of approaching the world that allows me to be satisfied with my life: one that presents reasons to love fellow humans, raising my family with my wife well, etc. In line with this, I would want those in positions of diplomacy for this belief (namely those with blogs and published books) to represent the belief in ways that take 'the high ground.'

So, a further question: will calling each other 'idiots' help anyone's cause? There are believers and non-believers alike that have done so from my reading on this blog over the past week or so. Christians have ample reasons scripturally not to do this (so as not to 'conceive of murder in the heart'). For atheists, I have heard it is liberating to no longer be chained by religion into thinking opposing believers are going to hell. Yet I don't see supreme tolerance displayed. I see more of an intellectual 'conquest' in some of these postings in which both sides are trying to demonstrate which side has the fewest brain cells.

To conclude (I promise), I have that 'gut feeling' that I will probably not have faith again in the near future. I have fairly strong convictions that a disbelief of things supernatural is a far more reasonable position than the claims of Catholicism or other theistic systems. Given that, know that it is a very 'real' matter to me as to what to do with my family. My wife will want our baby due in August to be baptized. Will I want this? Should I allow it? Given all that I have attempted to learn recently... will I want her to go on believing?

If I apostatize, how could I not want my wife to do the same? To not even wish for this would seem to be wanting her to be ignorant of what I firmly this is true. Being in the midst of much reading and thinking, I know that whatever path I choose will be founded on intellectual reasons rather than 'it's just what I believe' reasons. I want the same for my wife. Apart from the intellectual reasons which I believe support non-religious beliefs, my wife is and will be heavily influenced by my actions. Do I get up on time in the morning so that I get to work on the early side to help her take care of our daughter at night? Do I care for her during her current pregnancy? Do I do my share of the chores or post on DC all day? Do I talk with her and provide emotional support? Do I forgive? Do I lash out at her for objectively inconsequential things? These things will heavily influence her decision to even be open to what I have learned in the first place. Otherwise she is likely to simply close off to the discussion.

I'm 25 years old sitting behind a laptop in my living room. I don't (well, I probably do) pretend to know a ton, and am by no means am I as learned or studied as numerous individuals on this blog. Nevertheless, I do think there's some truth in what I've posted and think believers and non-believers alike should contemplate the message of their actions and what that says to the world. It's up to each individual to open their mind to read the evidence and interpretations by experts as well as to draw their own conclusions, but at least we don't need to hinder open-mindedness by making the conclusions we've drawn unpalatable by meanness or other attacks on our fellows.

Breckmin said...

the most logical thing you can do is pray to the Creator and ask Him "If He Exists? Please lead me to truth and help me to better father and a better husband."

No assumptions needed to pray to the Creator regarding "IF He is factual."

Question everything. You just might find some of the answers.

Gandolf said...

From the email.."They already know I'm of the devil trying to persuade them off the straight and narrow and that I don't want to believe because I prefer sin."

IMO this is what shows it up as being about brainwashing.The fear factor.

Its the superstitious fear factor.The fact people are talked into being fearful of something that there is no proof they actually have need to be fearful of.


1,fear of someone being a devil?
2,fear of god and hell,if led astray by a devil?.

This is how the manipulative tactic of brainwashing works,through use of fear.

And why deprogramming takes hours of love and kindness,patience to explain! and slowly show and assure them why they really have (no good reason) to need be fearful.

This is what sets atheism apart,atheism is not about brainwashing.

What fear is used in Atheism?.Will the almighty "non god" not get you! and not throw you in some hell,if you refuse to be atheist?.

Woooo ..thats real scary stuff hmmm??.

Do atheist bother to scare people, that faithful folks are partners (devils) in crime with some superstitious evil god thats out to lead them astray if possible?.

No non believers use logic and reasoning science and education.Non believers have no need to use fear,and fear is whats needed for it to be brainwashing.

We non believers have absolutely no "superstitious fear factors" we apply to brainwash people into being fearful to dare disagree with us.

Yes,we brainwash our kids into being careful of crossing the road,we make them fearful and say you will get run over.

But in this case its about a proven fact!.Folks do! get run over,so its for good "reason" there needs to be fear.This type of brainwashing has been proved, its for their own safety.This use of fear is not abuse,as it is warrented.The fear is valid,then its not abusive brainwashing.

Religion uses fear to indoctrinate by brainwashing,by imposing ideas of need for fear of "angry gods" and "hell",its inforcement of ideas (that have NOT been proven to be fact).

This use of brainwashing by fear is very different,and is both "unreasonable" and totally unwarrented!.

Faith type brainwashing is very abusive.Its ALL about inforcing ideology's through use of fear.

Its abuse because there is no evidence to suggest the use of the fear is actually warrented.

Hendy said...

@Breckmin: I have prayed prayers in the general form of your composition during this time.

I have not received any conclusive response from the Creator in any of his forms to date. I continue to pray these prayers at various times.

Questioning everything with regard to my former Christianity got me where I currently am. I did not find satisfactory answers to most of my questions once I began asking them.

Justkem said...


"I'm 25 years old sitting behind a laptop in my living room."

There's something about that age, I think. I know I'm not the only one among my friends who started to become very unsatisfied with the vague at exactly that age.

It's a heckuva thing, going through your mental closets and kicking open doors to figure out what you want to keep and what is simply meaningless clutter.

As far as the questions regarding what to do about your wife's stance on religion and your child's religious education, those are extremely tough ones. The UU church might be a good compromise?

A big part of marriage is growing together. Be honest about your journey, and above all, let her know that you respect her right to define her own spiritual path. If you feel like you're not able to do it without damaging the trust and respect you have for each other, you might want to consider offering to sit down with someone she chooses to talk about it. Whether that's a trusted friend, a pastor, or a professional therapist, having someone else to help keep things from getting tense can be a very good thing. I have a friend in his 40's who married his wife when they were both atheists. She found God, he didn't. Their compromise is that they simply don't talk about matters of faith, and it works for them.

--From someone who has been there, wishing you every possible bit of light in the long dark teatime of the soul.

Breckmin said...

"I did not find satisfactory answers to most of my questions once I began asking them."

Can you be specific on what questions these were?

Were these biblical objections like slavery or the command to kill women and children, or were these systematic questions like theodicy or cosmic fairness?

Chuck O'Connor said...


I came out to my wife as an atheist last Sunday. She is at church as I type this. I agree with JustKem's suggestions. Naked honesty with humility and kindness work. My wife sees my struggles have been honest, prayerful and moral and, she sees my ethical questions regarding the christian superstitions will not be resolved by denying the conclusions I've come to. I also received the same advice that Breckamin gives but found that advice is more about a person's unique ethical priorities and is influenced by a strong inability to empathize with anyone who comprehends life differently from them. It is a polemic and should be questioned in regards to how much narcissism drives its worldview. Most christians feel they are correct because they feel their belief is pleasing. It may not be the same for you.

Hendy said...


Anything and everything:

- Why current evidence suggests a 'rewrite' of 'Ask anything in my name and it shall be given to you'.

- Why if God is the source of universal morality he did such a good job of infusing core morals (not killing, raping, molesting children, etc.) and such a horrible job of infusing a unified concept of himself.

- How evolution works with concepts like 'the fall' (see my reference to another post above). Conclusions either being that we should find evidence of a perfect world which changed, or have to admit that God made the world filled with suffering from the start.

- Inconsistencies in the Bible when the writers said things like 'I have undertaken to study all of these things that you may know with certainty the truth of what has been passed on to us' (Luke) or 'the one who is writing this is true that you may know the truth' (John)
--- Where he was from, how many animals he rode into Jerusalem on, when he cleansed the temple, whether he ministered for 1 or 3 years, what day he was killed, what time of day he was killed, who came to the tomb, what was at the tomb, how long before he ascended into heaven, etc.

- Silence in extra-biblical texts about anything supernatural, unless you consider that his disciples were thought to have seen him (Josephus says nothing that implicates a bodily resurrection). No miracles, no virgin birth, no details of his birthplace, no nothing. A man healed people left and right, rose at least 2 from the dead, and was said to have physically risen... and no one except the believers wrote it down?

- Paul's lack of referring to any actual words of Jesus in any of his letters.

- Why my Christian community's 'words, senses from the Lord, prophesies' etc. are all extremely vague and could apply to anyone.

- Why the archaeological support of Nazareth and Bethlehem of Judea is extremely weak in supporting the likelihood of an active town in either location anywhere near Jesus' birth.

- Yes, the problem of evil. Why if the fall corrupted the earth it couldn't be immediately restored after Jesus' sacrifice.

- In the end... why it has been so difficult to find any scrap of convincing evidence to believe in Jesus as Lord and why so many others do not find this evidence either when Christian believers think it should be so evident.
--- In other words, why I used to believe but now that I am thinking critically, I cannot make myself believe again.
--- In other words, why the Bible is such a beacon of truth but most of the world either doesn't pay it any attention or is supposedly hoodwinked by some text of far lesser value.

I'm sure I could think of more... but there's a start.

jw.hendy [at] gmail.com if you want to discuss outside of this forum since we're kind of derailing it!

Hendy said...

@Chuck: Wow! You said a lot of things there I can relate with. My wife is well aware of my doubts. She just went to Church and I put our daughter down for a nap, actually.

The issue of what is pleasing, most helpful in terms of practicality, etc. is something that interests me immensely. John, again, if you're reading this I would love to hear thoughts you've developed or a synopsis of things you've read regarding what types of environments and thinking benefits humans emotionally, morally, etc. regardless of whether it has proven to be true.

For example: I Just had a conversation with a friend of ours who rents a room from us about a debate I listened to between Hitchens and Alister McGrath. After going back and forth a bit, she simply said, 'I could never not believe. It's just such an unfulfilling life.' I responded, 'From your perspective, I can understand why you think a life without God is less fulfilling.' She responded again that it was, objectively, unfulfilling and unsatisfying. I provided some brief reasons why I both agreed (that it is 'less lofty' perhaps to think of myself as evolved vs. created by God's hand from dirt) and disagreed (that I can nonetheless find satisfaction in the fact that I have one life to live).

Anyway, the point is that you are correct, Chuck. Over and above any of this, I want the truth (more than what feels good). If that means we are evolved primates without souls and with no hope of eternal bliss or torture... so be it! I'm about the truth, regardless of whether or not it will bring me less good feelings in theory or in practice.

It is a common belief that a life without god is lonely, morally vacuous, unfulfilling, and miserable. It is also said that atheists or non-believers are lacking in community support. I find this blog an excellent source of 'virtual community' but can see where the point is. It probably has some truth given the 'herding cats' reference I read frequently. The feeling and community based reasons are some that cause my wife to continue to want to believe. I don't know that I blame her. I was probably happier when I just went on with my praise and worship and thought god was listening to me! This 'quest' has been somewhat miserable thus far... mostly because the conclusive answers one way or the other that I sought are cleverly evasive!

To conclude: thank you for the thoughts, suggestions, and support. I have little/no open-minded support in my community at present. No one is calling me 'evil', but they all have a vested interest in the outcome. Hence it's truly a wonderful thing to find compassionate fellow-journeyers here. In the end, I'm pretty darned happy with how I'm progressing. I've got plenty of books lined up (theist and atheist alike), I've been honest with my Christian men's group, my men's group leader, many extremely educated believers in my community, many peers, and while I have no regular prayer life in place, I do actually pray sometimes, 'Jesus where are you? Help me to know you' and things of this nature.

My thought when I began all of this was that there can be nothing wrong with seeking the truth. If God is the author of all truth, I have no choice but to come back to him. Who can argue with that?

Chuck O'Connor said...

And don't get into all or nothing thinking. I let the couple who led the bible study I attended with my wife know I consider myself an atheist and therefore won't be attending the study because I feel my beliefs are contrary to the group's goals. I then invited them over for Chinese food and a heated game of scrabble with me and my wife. They are still my friends. To me it is immoral to live an unexamined life and the need for obedience called for in religion denies honest curiosity and scrutiny for the sake of certainty. I also conclude from reading history that those claiming absolute moral certainty have motivated terrible crimes against humanity. I consider this provisionally an Historical Argument against Organized Religion as a defense of the morality atheism can inspire. be good to yourself. You can email me anytime at coconnor1017@mac.com. Peace to you.

Hendy said...


Thanks! I will email you. I don't want this to be an all or nothing thing either... well, at least not with relationships. I have a hard time with the idea that I could 'kind of believe in god' and 'kind of not', but I don't know that's how you intended it... I aim at a life lived where practically speaking I either live like a god exists or do not (with respect to prayer, participation in religious communities, etc.).

I also agree with you very much about seeking a moral life, examined life, etc. and am very excited to resolve this current quest (either in favor of continued Catholicism or agnosticism) in that should I come to the conclusion that agnosticism (or atheism) is the most reasonable... I absolutely want to pursue what is true and of value among other traditions. Regardless of whether there is a god, Christian communities as well as other believing traditions have produced some immense good. What is it about them that does so? If prayer is not really causing supernatural 'fixing' of one's behavior/heart/soul... is it simply reflection about problems that provides some sort of answer via the subconscious or 'heart'? What is it to these things that creates tangible improvement? These questions interest me a lot and I agree that to disembark from a faith tradition but ignore anything that could be seen as worthwhile or of value would be to remain ignorant and silly.

Thank you for reaching out. I'll save your email and will definitely keep you posted on my journey!

Null Opus said...

"I'd suggest the husband do what family members of addicts and alcoholics do and find a therapist who will help him work on himself to detach from the dysfunctional compulsion of his wife. "

This is a worthy thought. I think we can only take responsibility for ourselves, striving to live a functional life.