Archive | March, 2014

The weakness of atheist brainwashing

1 Mar

Are you being brainwashed?

That’s the question I want to ask you at the beginning of this article.

Atheists are quick to accuse Christianity of brainwashing and Christians of being brainwashed. And they aren’t merely suggesting that some Christian sects engage in brainwashing, or that some Christians have been subjected to undue influence through mental and emotional manipulation. If some secularists are to be believed, all organised religion involves brainwashing.

Is this true?

On the basis of over thirty years of experience of many dozens of different churches and many thousands of individual Christians, I very much doubt it.

But rather than make the case that Christians are not brainwashed, which others have surely done very well elsewhere, why don’t we ask ourselves whether there is perhaps a certain element of brainwashing to secularists’ arguments against Christianity?

How does the boot fit when it is on the other foot?

I found a great example this morning. This picture popped up in my Facebook feed:

But is it true?


But is it true?

The photo is a collage contrasting ornate, heavily gilded Catholic churches and cathedrals with a picture of a severely emaciated African boy who is clearly on the brink of death by starvation. Alongside it, the caption: “We simply cannot afford to feed this person”.

The message is clear: according to the creator of the collage, the Catholic church possesses vast wealth, on which it sits, twiddling its thumbs, whilst people in Africa starve to death. Apparently the Catholic church does not care about starving children and is not lifting a finger to help them.

Or does it? A quick visit to Wikipedia found this:

The Catholic Church is the largest non-government provider of education and medical services in the world. In 2010, the Catholic Church’s Pontifical Council for Pastoral Assistance to Health Care Workers said that the Church manages 26% of health care facilities in the world, including hospitals, clinics, orphanages, pharmacies and centres for those with leprosy.

The Church is also actively engaged in international aid and development through organisations such as Catholic Relief Services, Caritas International, Aid to the Church in Need, refugee advocacy groups such as the Jesuit Refugee Service and community aid groups such as the Saint Vincent de Paul Society.

Hardly the work of an organisation more interested in the gold on its spires than in feeding the starving, wouldn’t you say? In fact, here’s a picture of a girl getting water from a borehole that was made possible by British Catholic charity CAFOD (The CAtholic Aid FOunDation – geddit?):

Some secularists can't see this well.


Some objectors to Christian faith
can’t see this well.

If you look at news reporting of any major disaster in developing countries, you will soon find that churches and Christians, including the Catholic church, are quick to respond with lifesaving assistance. Very often it is Christian organisations that respond first to crisis situations and remain long after the TV cameras have moved on to other places, and after politicians have stopped making headline-grabbing promises.

While some may still claim that the Catholic church should still sell its remaining treasures and give the proceeds to the poor, it is not doing nothing, as the picture implies. I understand that some of the church’s critics are legitimately concerned with genuine instances of excess and waste on the part of a minority of Christian people. A great many Christians are concerned about that kind of greed too – indeed, it’s one of the sins from which Jesus came to deliver us.

Yet the reality of the church’s work in this world is a far cry from armchair “preaching” by haters. Do Catholics care? Does one’s faith make a difference to one’s compassion? How many hospitals or feeding stations are owned and operated in this world’s poorest countries by General Motors? General Electric? Time Warner? The communist party? The City of New York?

So what of brainwashing?

The image above was posted on a Facebook page entitled (please excuse the expletive; I’m only quoting) “Holy Shit“. The group’s URL includes the description “Free Thinkers”. At the time of writing, Holy Sh[you know the rest] has 22,000 followers, while the image itself had almost 200 likes and had been shared to people’s Facebook walls over 100 times within 13 hours of publication. Of course this is only one of thousands of such groups which exist to lambast the church for its failures – whether real or perceived.

It’s deeply ironic that such a baseless, blinkered, and frankly libellous accusation should be spoonfed to social media users in the name of free thought.

Nevertheless, that’s where much anti-Christian sentiment is at, at least for the man in the street (or the adolescent on the smartphone): Think of a negative about Christian faith or practice. Don’t ask yourself whether or not it is really true. Turn it into a generalisation. Repeat it wherever and whenever possible. Don’t apologise when contradicted by reality. For bonus points: Now tell yourself that it is Christians are brainwashed. Return to repeating the previous generalisation when the sting of being corrected has faded and you can cling to it comfortably once again.

Militant atheists and other secularists usually pride themselves on being the ones in possession of the facts. Science, evidence, rationality and truth are all supposed to be their forte.

However, when they repeat, with wearying regularity, accusations such as the one in the picture above – many of which can be quickly debunked with a few minutes’ googling – they are being neither scientific (since they do not investigate to see whether the hypothesis is true), nor basing their beliefs on evidence (almost by default, since they refuse to look at anything that might contradict their position), nor rational (since they are seeking to comfort their own distorted views rather than being objective), nor truthful (since they are repeating propositions that are demonstrably false, or at least making out that propositions that are only true in part are true in all cases).

They are, however, spreading untruths in order to foist their prejudices upon others.

And that, by anybody’s definition, is brainwashing.

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