by Brady Hardin and Joey Hill
I was brainwashed. Were you?
Images like the snake with hypnotic eyes from the “Jungle Book” cartoon pop in my head when I think of “mind control.” I think also of the Saturday morning cartoons I’d watch because it seemed like every superhero had at least one episode where they were turned bad or brought under some sort of mind control by some scheme of the villain. The mind control I experienced, however, was far more real and lasted a much longer time.
For some background, I was raised in the Southern Baptist church, a Christian denomination, near St. Louis, MO. Ironically, I was located only a few hours from the location where the chilling documentary about children indoctrinated by Fundamentalists Christians, “Jesus Camp” was filmed. My family went to First Baptist Church of Arnold, which was large and what many now call ‘a megachurch.’ For several days a week, they taught us about our faith, including the belief that anyone who didn’t believe in our religion would spend forever in hell. They believed and taught that God would force people to experience a special type punishment where they would live eternally and they would stay conscious just so they could feel the burn of fire forever. After describing hell, they would then ask if we wanted to believe as they did, with serious eternal consequences if we did not.
Evidence to back up these beliefs was never introduced. Instead, the teachers would convince us that it was “good” to believe in God and “bad” not too. Morality according to their standards mattered more than facts. If we insisted on evidence, they would quote Scripture and shame us for wanting evidence. Instead, they said we needed to do the “good” thing, which was having blind faith.
When we replaced the need of evidence with a very defined sense of curated and forced morality at a young age, we created filters in how we experience the world. Our young minds, which were ripe for indoctrination and learned pathways, had a new, dictated morality take root and create its own homebase in our brains, making sure we did, thought, and believed the “good” things that were being taught to us. Our young minds were slowly being indoctrinated, forming mental pathways that church leaders shaped, with no input or original thinking needed on our parts. We no longer needed a Sunday School Teacher with us all week. We had one living in our own heads.
This is very similar to the larger culture wars that we see in current American culture. One side of the culture war is convinced the other is evil, to its core, yet dialogue or interaction is strongly discouraged. The same is the case with Christian culture as well. The ‘Secular” community or “Unsaved” individuals should be avoided, sometimes, depending on the individual status (e.g. homosexual, divorced, etc), openly mocked and judged. Excuses are made by leadership, explaining the shunning, such as: “It’s best not to be tempted or even to avoid the appearance of wrongdoing” as if interacting with other human beings will somehow lead to the destruction of the individual being counseled.
Ultimately, the prevailing outcome of such shunning is fear and loathing of other human beings. People, especially young people are terrified of the ‘other side,’ and lack of knowledge is rampant. But I digress.
Eventually, I went to another church in my area, Rockport Baptist Church, we were convinced that not only did people without our faith go to hell, but we sincerely believed that they deserved it. Even babies. It was a running joke that babies were selfish and morally bankrupt, always wanting more and never content. We believed that if God killed one and took it to hell, he would be justified. In fact, we believe that when people burned it hell, it brought more glory to God.
We believed that since God was infinitely perfect if we sinned even once, we deserved a sentence that would cast us into hell forever. Our 80-something years on Earth got all of us in danger of forever in hell unless we believed the right things. This also included those who never heard the things the church taught. We believed that since humans had a 0.00% failure rate of being perfect, we should feel so shameful for our species without questioning the Creator had a 0.00% success rate.
We unified in a belief that people are evil, and only God is good. I was drawn to studying theology, the study of God and the Bible, when I was a Christian, and we had a term called, “Common Grace.” Common Grace is the idea that since all people are depraved without God, anything good that any human does has to be from God. To think that any human could do anything positive was “immoral” and a sign that we might not actually belong to our faith (aka, we may be in danger of hell). We gave God credit for all good things anyone would do. It was common to believe that cultures without the influence of our faith were debased and animalistic.
Feelings of shame for being a human were viewed as healthy. This encouraged me to throw myself more into the faith. We believed that if we were true Christians, the Holy Spirit, the actual presence of God, was inside of us changing us from the inside out. I wanted to be more like God and less like a human.
Based on these series of teachings, we came to believe that we had the ultimate morals. Any other attempt to please God by doing well by others would be tainted. They didn’t do the same, moral actions that we did in the same exact way, so their beliefs and actions must be tainted in some way. After a while, however, I had to ask if the people at my church supernaturally were any more moral than the rest of the world. I knew some of their secrets, and I knew they weren’t any different than the people I knew from school. I started to learn other secrets from people from my church, and I realized that Christians aren’t better people. They’ve learned to hide their faults, if anything they have learned to hide their faults better than anyone I had ever known to that point.
After some searching, I eventually gave up the indoctrination that I was raised to dedicate myself to. Instead of just blindly believing things that were taught to me, I started to look for evidence, and I realized that the post-faith, non-Christian version of me is still loving, caring, and kind. Post-fath me is a more whole person, and I don’t shame myself for being human.
Every church is keeping its secrets. With just a little digging into the lives of church members, you’ll see hidden affairs, salacious internet history, sexual victimization, spiritual abuse, lies, mishandling of money, and much more. The question is ‘Why keep all of this a secret?” The answer is simple, and it is that if they were to admit weakness or moral faults in their own lives, they can’t convince you, as a person who naturally searches for evidence, that they have the moral standard living in them. Moral superiority is everything to some of these individuals, and I believe the people who hide the bad think they are doing the right thing. I think they have been taught to think that believing in God is “good” and disbelief in God is “bad” so hiding evidence that shows that church people aren’t more morally superior is an act of devotion in their minds.
Many that are caught in their own web of lies or self-deception feel that they are all alone. You see this with people who hold onto to trauma or are depressed, or that are hiding moral faults. They think that they are the only ones going through what they are going through. They may even think that they are one of the only ones having to clean up a moral mess like it was an isolated incident. But the truth is that it’s not an isolated incident. The truth is that every church is keeping its secrets.
Ultimately, if the people I used to learn from gave up their very personal secrets, not only would the world see them for what they are, they would be forced to take a long look at themselves. If they did that, I believe that they’ll see that they are just people and don’t deserve the shame they’ve been taught to live in.
I want more than anything for the immoral, unjust brainwashing and indoctrination to end, and for those who I grew up with to be free from the mind prisons of shame and far. In the meantime, I’m working to clear my mind of its accumulated clutter so I can see reality more clearly.