Throughout history, whether their cultural god was Zeus, Odin, Krishna, Marduk, Jehovah, Allah, Jesus Christ, or another god, most children had their religious worldviews molded by their culture. Children naturally use their nurturers as role models. When children echoed their tribe’s beliefs, they demonstrated that they are learning the correct values, and they receive praise. In very religious home, the religious indoctrination process usually began long before the child’s mind was capable of reasoning on its own, and by training children not to question the wisdom of authority figures, children learn not to think outside set boundaries. This process can handicap a child’s mental development by not allowing her or him to use their innate potentials for suspicion, skepticism, and rational thought and with persistence, those abilities can be bred out of a child. Once that child’s thoughts and responses become solidified, it takes a darned good reason and a monumental commitment to break free and view the world differently.

During my adolescent years, when I observed highly intelligent people believing in the Christian doctrines, I thought that if I didn’t believe those concepts, I was somehow defective. Now, I realize that people with high intelligence can have many good reasons for their religious beliefs, and it’s got nothing to do with IQ. One reason could have been the indoctrination process mentioned above. If they were not allowed to explore the world and come to their own conclusions, their minds may have been culturally programmed to think the way they do. The phrase “use it or lose it” applies to the entire body, including the neurons and synapses in the brain.

Indoctrination can be carried to extremes by forcing someone to believe something they don’t want to or can’t believe. This is referred to as brainwashing and is defined by Britannica as

“any technique designed to manipulate human thought or action against the desire, will, or knowledge of the individual. By controlling the physical and social environment, an attempt is made to destroy loyalties to any unfavorable groups or individuals, to demonstrate to the individual that his attitudes and patterns of thinking are incorrect and must be changed, and to develop loyalty and unquestioning obedience to the ruling party.”

Anyone can be led down this path. It’s just a matter of giving up their free will, assuming a shared identity with those in their group, and being made to feel uncomfortable thinking or acting differently than the rest of their community. This is a method used by domineering leaders to manipulate others—these are not trusted authority figures—only conmen lurking around waiting for their next prey.

Part of the cultural indoctrination is accomplished outside the home in a religious setting. Churches, temples can reinforce the religion by creating a semi-hypnotic, otherworldly experiences through optimal lighting, stained-glass, mood-altering music, the smell of candles and incense, icons, chanting, or tone of voice. This is an artificial environment designed by some religions to contrast with the real one found just outside the front door. In Christianity, this can be the undesirable, or even evil, secular world.

In the past, proper indoctrination was necessary for to maintain a cohesive group in order to survive physically. In modern times, religious indoctrination seems to be more related to spiritual survival. Each of us only has one life to live here on earth, and it grieves me to see that one chance damaged by the wrong teaching. We usually didn’t have a choice in how we were indoctrinated, but we do have a choice in how to live the rest of our lives.


    • Janis Rae

    • 2 years ago

    Well thought out comments….so agree completely!

    1. Thank you very much, Janis. It’s always helpful to get feedback.

    • Michael Camp

    • 2 years ago

    So true. Evangelical churches don’t say, “This is what we believe, but you need to decide for yourself and follow where the evidence leads. And it’s okay if you don’t come to the same conclusions.” What I also found was that people are programmed to think of religion as a black and white issue. You come to believe what you’re taught is altogether true, and if it’s not, it must be all false. So, you’re indoctrinated into thinking you have to accept everything, hook, line, and sinker. There’s no place to say, I only believe some of the things you teach. Moreover, if someone has a positive spiritual experience in a church, e.g. they feel a loving presence, then they automatically think, well this proves this church teaches the truth, so everything they say must be true. That’s not how it works, though.

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