Friday, October 26, 2012

The Brainwashing that is Christianity

Brainwashing is a process in which a person persuades a group or individual to conform to the wishes of another. In the interest of transparency, I wish to confess that I have purged the definition of the negative connotations of unethical manipulation. This kind of brainwashing is akin to what we used to call indoctrination. There are many non-Christians who accuse Christians of brainwashing and or being brainwashed. Even the concept of indoctrination is viewed in a very negative light by modern culture. We don’t want anyone telling us how we ought to think. In fact, the very idea that there is a relationship between thinking and ethics is preposterous to mainstream culture. America is a perfect example. When I was a boy growing up, my parents and grandparents taught me to be a patriot. America was the greatest country in the world. Her values were more noble and her care for the citizens was superior. I would have given my last drop of blood to defend my country and protect our freedom. Today, our kids are not reared to think this way. In fact, there seems to be no norm, no standard, no set of values, no target at which to aim for our children. The only target that seems to be handed to them is their own self-interests. The practice of indoctrination indeed has fallen on hard times. However, as many of us are beginning to discover, the failure to practice indoctrination, or brainwashing if you will, brings with it devastating consequences.

The Danger of the Non-Critical Mind

A good analogy for non-critical thinking is weight lifting. Think about what happens when you do not work your muscle groups. That shouldn’t be too hard. After all, many, many westerners have completely given up on the idea of exercising their muscles. Some Christians even consider weight lifting to be a vain endeavor motivated by sheer pride. They fail to consider God’s design of the human muscle. God never designed human muscles to operate in mostly neutral position their whole life. He made them to work. If your job does not work them, then you have to come up with a system that will get them some kind of work. Like their muscles, many westerners have given up on the notion of critical thinking, or exercising their brain. Uncritical thinking has become an alarming problem in modern culture. If you don’t believe me, try engaging someone in a robust conversation about a complex and controversial issue, such as religion, politics, or some social issue, like abortion or homosexuality. You will very quickly discover that most people not only do not know how to present a view, they have no real good reason for why they believe it. In addition, most are sorely deficient when it comes to articulating their view with any real sense of intelligibility. What one witnesses is a conglomeration of incoherent statements that range from baseless speculation to numerous non-sequiturs to ad hominem arguments. People simply do not bother with thinking correctly these days.

The problem gets worse when this intellectual laziness is not checked at the gate of the Christian community. There is no room for laziness in the Christian’s life, let alone his or her mind. The Christian intellect should be the busiest of all intellects. Yet, despite what should be the case in the Christian community, we must admit that even the Christian intellect in is in a desperate condition. We know this because of the steady stream of moral and doctrinal scandal we see taking place within the Christian community. Regrettably, in many cases it goes entirely unchecked and worse, unquestioned. Questioning a practice and having a critical spirit are two entirely different things. I am afraid that leadership has managed to manipulate many Christians into silence and out of the practice of critical thinking by labeling them as critical and negative people. I remember a church where I was a member began a building campaign that was not without some controversy. Leadership thought it a good idea to begin the campaign with every Sunday School class teaching the same lessons for 8 weeks or so. The very first lesson was about grumbling Israelites. The message was clear: if you question the wisdom of using this campaign consultant, you are a grumbling Israelite with a critical spirit. It was appalling. I once had a pastor tell me I was an intellectual bully because I took his argument to its logical conclusion. He quipped that I must think it is my duty to set the whole world straight in regards to the truth. I responded that I wished every pastor and professor in the Christian community felt it their duty to correct the whole world. Because, you see, it is! The Christian must be a critical thinker. It is impossible to discern between truth and error if we do not engage in the art of critical thinking. John called it “testing” the spirits. We scrutinize doctrine, and the values they produce and their fruit of behavior. Sadly, many Christians simply believe everything they hear. Not only do they not know what questions to ask, they don’t care about asking questions. In our postmodern culture, beliefs simply do not matter any longer, except for the belief that beliefs really don’t matter any longer. Of course, that one matters, or does it?

The Significance of Christian Thinking

We live in an era in the Christian community where pastors like Perry Noble can blast Hard-Rock secular music on Easter Sunday and not only does he retain his leadership position, he is praised for being creative. Men are more interested in numbers and Christians seem to be more interested in self-interests and far too busy with self-idolatry to give any energy to the area of the Christian intellect. In fact, we are far too busy with a variety of programs to consider the significance of the intellect in both the Christian individual and the community. Mark Knoll writes, “To put it simply, the evangelical ethos is activistic, populist, pragmatic, and utilitarian. It allows little space for broader or deeper intellectual effort because it is dominated by the urgencies of the moment.”[1] Thinking like a Christian requires discipline. In fact, it requires the highest degree of discipline. Not only must Christians think critically, they must think biblically. They must learn to ask the right questions and seek the right source for the answers to those questions. That source is the text of Scripture.

We give a very large block of our time to things like youth programs, primarily designed to accommodate young idolaters in the church whose families have allowed them to think the world revolves around them and so too should the church and God. Equally, we give tremendous amounts of resources, both money and time, to political causes, deluding ourselves into thinking we should and actually can create a culture with a Christian morality. Moreover, we think we will have actually accomplished something if we can pull it off. The one thing that gets very little time is the Christian mind. Why should it get much attention? We have spent years in the church convincing ourselves that everything matters more than theology or doctrine.

In the introduction to Emily Dickinson’s Poems, we read, “No weight nor mass nor beauty of execution can outweigh one grain or fragment of thought.” We all remember the commercial, “The mind is a beautiful thing to waste.” What is the origin of the human mind? The mind comes to us as a most gracious gift of God. God created human beings with minds. That fact alone should be enough for us to pause and reflect before we simply cast one criticism after another designed to degrade and belittle that which God gave us. Mortimer Adler wrote, “It is man’s glory to be the only intellectual animal on earth. That imposes upon human beings the moral obligation to lead intellectual lives. The slothful are blind to the glory and neglectful of the obligation.” [Intellect: Mind over Matter]

John Frame tells us “The process of learning to apply the Word is somewhat mysterious, just as the workings of the Holy Spirit are always difficult to describe (John 3:8).” (The Doctrine of the Christian Life) The Christian intellect is where we grow in our knowledge of God, His laws, His ways, commandments, mandates, direction. It is where wisdom resides. The presence of sin forces the Christian to recognize the necessity of the intellect. To be more specific, the presence of sin forces the Christian to acknowledge the necessity of a sanctified intellect. Doctrine or theology if you prefer that term is nothing more than divine revelation received and assembled by the human mind. To dispense with doctrine is to dispense with revelation. To dispense with revelation is to dispense with the church and any possibility for a clear and adequate understanding of God. Everything collapses if the Christian intellect collapses. Metaphysics truly becomes whatever the individual projection of it is as determined by that individual. Abraham Kuyper wrote, “Since, however, at sundry times and in divers manners God has spoken unto the fathers, and thus light upon God has arisen in our consciousness, that revelation itself has impelled a scientific investigation, and Christendom would have done violence to the impulse of its consciousness if it had lived without theology.” [Encyclopedia of Sacred Theology]

Paul’s prayer for the Colossian Christians went like this: “For this reason also, since the day we heard of it, we have not ceased to pray for you and to ask that you may be filled with the knowledge of His will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so that you will walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, to please Him in all respects, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; strengthened with all power, according to His glorious might, for the attaining of all steadfastness and patience; joyously giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified us to share in the inheritance of the saints in Light.” [Col. 1:9-12] According to Paul, the prerequisite to walking a life that reflects the values of Christ, of the Christian community is the Christian intellect. It is there that we are to be filled with the knowledge of God’s will. This, of course, requires that we take our sinful minds and wash them, sprinkle them, submerge them in the blood of Christ, the washing of the water of the word. And that, my friend, requires regeneration and that which follows: a sanctified mind wholly devoted and dedicated to the hot pursuit of the knowledge of God’s revelation. Some of Paul’s last words to Timothy were “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God as a workman who does not need to be ashamed, accurately handling the word of truth.” [II Tim. 2:15]


[1] Mark Noll, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (Grand Rapids, MI: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), 12.

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