Given recent comments from Australia’s National Party Leader, Barnaby Joyce[i], the Prime Minister, Scott ‘SmoKo’ Morrison[ii], and my father, about climate change being only possible to deal with by becoming Born Again or through ‘thoughts and prayers’[iii], I felt compelled to look up religious brainwashing. I don’t know about Barnaby and SmoKo but having observed my father’s religious fervour for more than 30 years, I can say that he appears to be brainwashed. Comprehensively brainwashed. So, I took to the internet to see what I could find about how to spot religious brainwashing and there’s plenty there to support this conclusion.
Let’s start with the fact that my Dad is an intelligent man, a civil engineer. I was raised by him and my Mum (who has been mercifully divorced from him since before he was Born Again), to ask questions, to investigate, to work things out for myself. We would go for walks in nearby bush and Dad was always taking the lead to see what was under a rock or to explore around the next corner. My brother and I were encouraged to discuss things with both our parents and to ask about the world around us, a very interesting world since we moved frequently – from our home in Perth to live in the remote Kimberley region of Western Australia, in Thailand, and finally, with Dad, in Cooma, New South Wales.
It was little wonder that when Dad converted and became a Born Again Christian that I had questions. I had been raised, by him, to be logical and inquisitive. Now suddenly, this was unacceptable. I was required to accept everything he said without question. Now that I think about it, it really was ‘everything’ and not just the religious beliefs; he found in religion a justification to declare himself the top of the household with a God-given right to rule it without question.
I continued to try to make sense of his beliefs for several years as they seemed completely unfathomable, being based on a literal reading of the bible, and I was inevitably met with the fact that ‘it was written’ and that was that. I would have to take it on board, be indoctrinated every second weekend on access visits, and ‘find Jesus’. I was in year 8 when it started and by a year or two later I had a nervous rash on my face. It seemed that my beloved Dad’s approval of me rested on my total and unquestioning agreement with his new view of the world. The more he pushed me, the more I argued back. By year 11 he had decided that, according to his church’s doctrine, it would ‘be best’ if he didn’t see me anymore. I wasn’t yet 16 years old. If memory serves, his preacher counselled him to this decision. Dad explicitly told my brother and me that he and his brethren were required to convert all family members or to stop seeing them. Apparently my conversion time was up. And it wasn’t long before my father and his new wife moved and eventually settled where they remain now, close to their place of worship.
Destructive religious groups have an “us vs. them” mentality and therefore limit communication with people outside of their group. This includes friends, family members, and anyone else not wholeheartedly approving of the group or its leader(s). People outside the group are considered bad, evil, or unenlightened. The leaders discourage free-thinking dialogue. They also promote an unhealthy fear of contamination by outsiders.
… told to distinguish between [the] “spiritual” family and [the] “natural” family, and to cut off any family member who expressed concerns about the pastor or the church. The pastor also encouraged group members to move closer to the church.[iv]
I expect a similar recommendation to stop seeing me will soon be given since I still refuse to subscribe to his particular brand of Christianity and he refuses to shift to one of the many denominations of Christianity that do support action on climate change[v].
The problem is that cultists define “unbelievers” as everyone outside of their group. This is because, as Stephen Martin says, they too narrowly define “their own group as the only true believers in Jesus. The fact is, cult members will find that there are many true believers in Jesus ‘out there’ if they will just openly and honestly listen to what they say and see what they do.”…[vi]
I have the greatest of respect for a number of church-going friends who live the practices that Jesus modelled. My father does not model these and will still not consider any other Christian pathways as credible, even if those would bring him closer to his only daughter and, I expect, to his eldest son, not to mention his grandchildren, one of whom is studying Environmental Science at university.
While these groups do not usually intend to coercively control the minds of their followers that is exactly what they do. And whether intentional or not, the Bible repudiates such mental manipulation, instead calling all Christians to exercise healthy critical thinking (Acts 17:11), a renewed mind which refuses to conform to the destructive standards of this world (Romans 12:2), and to examine everything carefully (I Thess 5:21)…[vii]
Now my father is rupturing this family yet again. This is the third time. First, it was repeated infidelity to my Mum and an affair with a married woman which ultimately led to two divorces. Then he cut me out of his life while I was still in high school (cutting of emotional and financial support), causing tension between my brother and me, as well as inflicting the trauma a girl experiences when her father rejects her. There is no doubt that my relationship with men has been warped and conflicted until recent years, largely as a result of the ruptured and conditional relationship my father imposed.
An emerging body of research suggests one more way that dads may shape their daughters’ mental health and relationships in adulthood: scholars have found an intriguing link between the way daughters deal with stress as adults and the kind of relationships they had with their dads during childhood. For example, undergraduate women who did not have good relationships with their fathers had lower than normal cortisol levels. And people with low cortisol levels tend to be overly sensitive and overly reactive when confronted with stress. Indeed, the low cortisol daughters were more likely than the higher cortisol daughters (who had the better relationships with their dads) to describe their relationships with men in stressful terms of rejection, unpredictability or coercion.[viii]
And this week, on the day after Christmas, he posted on my Facebook page (his first ever engagement with me on FB), with religious rhetoric telling me to ‘relax’ about climate change because the answer is for every person on Earth to bring Jesus and God into their lives. He said this knowing from my FB posts and conversations that I am deeply alarmed about climate change and deeply committed to action to mitigate it. Sadly, I had intended to call him that day to wish him a Merry Christmas but I decided against it after that.
When I shared his post on our family’s group chat and pointed out that by this logic he should not have had his recent broken arm fixed nor had treatment for cancer. Predictably he did not respond except with more of the same. Logic has nothing to do with it. My brothers have said nothing but I doubt that they think nothing.
“Sacred Science” is the term used by Dr. Robert Lifton to describe totalitarian environments which maintain an aura of sacredness—of unquestionable perfection—around their teaching and practices. Leaders in such environments frown upon critical-thinking, since the teacher is an “expert” on the subject matter and the audience can presumably contribute little to his or her understanding. The leader encourages a spirit of submission and unity—actually uniformity—instead of discernment and occasional disagreement…[ix]
And why would you stick your neck out with a family member who’s so powerful and unrelenting? Who is fully prepared to cut you (and your children), out of his life if you refuse to agree with him? Who admonishes others publically for thinking the ‘wrong way’ about something? Despite how fun he could be when I was a little kid, he has never been a person you feel safe around. His temper[x] may be less obvious now but I can see it in his face and in his body tension and I can hear it in his words. It is ludicrous to suggest that a person of any faith is without anger:
I must admit, I’m disturbed by the ‘we need a day of prayer, not a day of rage’ line. We should be angry; we need to be angry. As a Christian, I’m a reader of angry scriptures, and serve an angry God – a God who rages against the machine. Discovering how to be angry well, how to harness anger constructively, how not to let anger spill over into violence – yes; absolutely. Discovering how not to be angry? No! I don’t think I’m yet anywhere near angry enough.
And in our society, prayer often equates to directing pious platitudes heavenwards, and is often thought to have nothing to do with justice, still less with the structures of our society. So there’s no easy route to conveying in our society what righteous anger means: and saying we need prayer rather than anger will make that worse. (I also think, by the way, that anger against injustice has to include anger against the people who promote injustice. There are all sorts of questions proper about how that anger should be expressed, directed, and kept within bounds – but I’m angry at a whole range of people, including myself.)[xi]
He is not safe because he is so overwhelmingly self-righteous and these days he has God at his side telling you how right he is. Who would be so brazen as to argue with God?
It’s never a discussion or a debate or a review of the science or care for the human impact. Everything and everyone either fits into his doctrine or it does not.
Do you regularly hear derogatory or judgmental terms about outsiders of the church and others that do not agree with your philosophies? You can tell if a group is safe by the way they talk about others. If they are lumping people into stereotypes with labels like “liberals,” “heretics,” or similar they are sending a clear message that those who do not agree with your church are not good enough. They are pushing away outsiders and trying to get others around them to do the same. This will create a tension where others are afraid to speak out against the church.[xii]
The main reason I have stood up to him is that I so highly value truthfulness and fairness[xiii], two of my signature strengths, and he is being neither truthful nor fair. He claims that Christians aren’t angry[xiv] and if I became one I wouldn’t be angry anymore. He asserts his will over every family member and that’s not fair.
The only question that remains for me is, who is driving this fundamentalist Christian refusal to address climate change? Who are the puppet masters who have decided that addressing climate change is off limits for Born Again Christians and Pentecostals? Why are they against the preservation of life? Or more correctly, why are they opposed to limits to profits from wonton environmental plunder?
This isn’t new for my father. More than 20 years ago he made it clear that the environment is there to be used (i.e. plundered), by people as much and as extensively as we wish as per the bible. Conversely, I became connected with my local Uniting Church because they had a speaker, a theologian, advocating for environmental stewardship as the work of Christians. According to my father and his religious zealots though, limitless environmental exploitation is not only acceptable but desirable, not stewardship as other Christians believe, as espoused recently by the Pope, amongst others:
…top Vatican officials hailed Swedish teen Greta Thunberg, recently named TIME Magazine’s “Person of the Year” for her environmental advocacy, as a “great witness” of Church teaching on care for creation and the human person.
[Pope Francis] insisted that her activism brings attention to the Church’s insistence that “attention to the poor and society also coincide with care for the environment, the common home.”
“It’s a coherence with the Church’s teaching,” he said, adding that care of the environment is also a matter of faith.
[Cardinal Peter Turkson, prefect of the Vatican office for Integral Human Development] said a separation is often made between attention to the environment and to the faith “that must at times be overcome,” and pointed to the Old Testament, which recounts how “fidelity to God’s covenant implied care for the weakest members of society and for creation, the environment.”[xv]
There is little left to say when religious brainwashing is so successful as to block out all critical thinking and self-determination. In terms of politics, we must cut the brainwashed from our leadership. In terms of personal lives, well, that is a personal choice. Perhaps one of anger management. Perhaps one of compassion. Perhaps one of separation. Perhaps one of conversation. But conversation is a two way street. When only one side converses, there is no relationship.
I only know that if Earth is God’s creation, why would we allow ourselves to destroy it in the name of that God?
“Ecological conversion,” [Father Bruno Marie Duffé, secretary of Turkson’s department] said, “is a path for thinking and living in harmony with nature, with the world, with the community, with God and with others, and this harmony is the work of a reflection, of the heart, a task that we must do with dialogue.”[xvi]
© Palitja Moore, text and image, 2019
All references sourced 27 December 2019.