Mind Control and the Seeking Soul

(Caution: The following is decidedly theological in nature.  Sensitive readers may wish to avoid these contents.  Or not.  It’s up to you.  If you don’t mind thinking.)

Mind control is serious business.  From advertising, to politics, to religion, mind control is everywhere.  If you don’t believe me, flip on the television.  Commercial after commercial after commercial touts products that may or may not be new and improved and may or may not really be better than the competition.  One of my favorite commercials lately has been for one of the “As Seen On TV” type products which they make look like a boldly revolutionary invention.  People rave about how their backs and legs are so much improved, and their lives are ever so much better because of …a cushion.  That’s right, it’s a cushion.  Oh, sure it has some kind of gel gunk in it to mold properly to your posterior, but in the end (pun may have been intended), it’s a cushion.

Political parties are experts at mind control.  We just came off a banner year for political rhetoric and negative campaigning from all sides.  The conservatives are convinced that the liberals are in league with the devil himself, and the liberals paint their opponents with a sultry shade of Devil-May-Care Crimson, and spray them with Essence of Brimstone for added effect.  If you ever try to think for yourself, though, you get a headache, because trying to sort through the half-truths and distortions takes a Herculean effort, the constitution of Gibraltar, and the steely resolve of a bride-to-be at the annual wedding gown clearance.

The worst place to find mind control, and the place where it probably causes the most mental anguish and emotional pain is in the realm of religion.  Well, at least for those who are religious.  In order to make sure you stay faithful, you must adhere not only to the teachings of your sacred texts, you must also toe the party line with regard to your interpretation of that text, and how it applies to you.  If you should take a step back and try to get a wider view of the overall scheme of things, consider that your positions may be subject to multiple interpretations, and that there is a possibility of misinterpretation, you are immediately marked as a troublemaker, a rascal, a scalawag and a rapscallion.  We cannot be wrong, because our method of interpretation and understanding is infallible.  We defend our method with more intensity and fervor than we defend our faith.  Unless of course, our faith is in our method and not our Deity.  Never mind that the other guys down the street from whom your group split off 60 years ago use the same set of rules to achieve a diametrically opposed view.  We are right, because if we are wrong, that would admit that our Method came from fallible humans, and we know it descended from Heaven complete and perfect with our indisputably correct opinion pre-packaged.  See, it has the Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval right on the label.

Here are some rules for mind control.  See if your religious leaders follow any of them.  If they don’t, you are either in a really agreeable sort of faith, or your leaders are so good at what they do that you don’t even recognize how much of your own free will has been compromised.

1.  Never allow the people to cool off.  Keep them stirred up and up in arms over some heresy or another.  Minds occupied with righteous indignation are less likely to wander into doubt and reflection.

2.  Never admit a fault or wrong.  We are the only ones to have achieved all truth, and to question the authority of one of the priestly caste is to question God himself.

3.  Never concede that there may be some good in your enemy.  Anyone who isn’t in lock- step with us is obviously against all that is Holy.

4.  Never leave room for alternatives.  Even though scriptures may say that different people will have different views over certain things, there is only one view, and it is ours.  Nobody else can have one, and certainly not this one.

5.  Never accept blame.  There are problems that arise among factions all the time.  Our side is always in the right, and all of those rebellious hordes are the ones to stir up trouble.

6.  Concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong.  We cannot be wrong, so only those others are responsible for any rifts that occur, and it is because they have wandered away from the path of righteousness.

7.  If you repeat anything frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.  It is not necessary for you to think for yourselves, because our predecessors have done all the hard work for us.  Commit the traditional evidence to memory, and never investigate the answers for yourselves.  It will only cause you to question your faith and we will be forced to excommunicate you.

Do they sound familiar?  Yes?  Here’s the kicker: this list was adapted, the bold portions practically verbatim, from the OSS psychological profile of none other than Adolf Hitler.  Hitler lived by these rules.  He controlled people with them.  It worked.  At least for a while.

Now, I have just danced as close to Godwin’s Law as one might without crossing over.  I have called no one a Nazi, nor have I called anyone Hitler.  I have only noticed that the tactics of despots and pharisaical religious demagogues are strikingly similar.

But let us now consider the value of honest doubt, earnest investigation, and careful consideration of one’s faith and core beliefs.  Since I am unabashedly Christian, that is my point of reference.  I read the Bible.  I at least try to be a fair student of Church history, both primitive and more recent, especially with regard to my Stone-Campbell heritage.  After all, if we don’t know where we came from, we don’t know why we believe what we do.  Ideas had to originate somewhere.

As I consider a Biblical expression of doubt that is in no-wise singularly or eternally condemned, I think of the Apostle Thomas, and his incredulity regarding the resurrection of Christ.  He said that he would not believe unless he placed his hands in the nail-scars and wounds of his risen Teacher.  Jesus did not condemn him for it, and that pertained to the central theme of the Gospel, not some peripheral practice, the acceptance or denial of which has been elevated to the level of Gospel or maybe even higher.  The noble members of the synagogue at Berea were praised for their willingness to search the scriptures daily to confirm the teachings that had been provided to them.  Believers in some groups are encouraged to search the scriptures, but apparently only if the results of the investigation lead only to the reinforcement of accepted doctrine, or more likely, dogma.  Timothy was charged to give diligence to “rightly dividing” scripture.  But for some, the scriptures are so fractured and reassembled as proof texts to prove points of practice or distinction that the “rightly dividing” or “correctly handling” part has often been lost in the shuffle.  Contextual fidelity is secondary to drawing to a royal flush.

The extreme vehemence displayed by the most strident defenders of this sectarian orthodoxy is puzzling.  If humility is to be practiced by true followers of Jesus, then I have seen precious little from some quarters.  They are quick to condemn and slow to think, unless it is thinking about how to pronounce a stronger condemnation.  They parse words, injecting them with unintended meanings to trip their quarry.  Sometimes, I wonder if this inability to view an issue with objectivity is due to the fact that their phylacteries are too tight.

To people of faith, especially those for whom a genuine, personal faith is important and precious, review and reflection keep us questioning, searching for answers.  If those answers do not meet the test of the particular church’s confession, whether official or unofficial, either official or unofficial discipline likely awaits.  I know.  I have been preached “at” twice in one day.

But I have decided that I must be true to my faith and the evidence that I find, not the hackneyed, disjunct examples that anyone with a Bible and concordance can disprove with relative ease and efficiency.  I have a mind.  I can use it.  That, along with honest doubt, a seeking heart, and the will to exercise them is dangerous indeed to those who are comfortably ensconced in their traditions.

A wise friend once said, “Don’t rock the boat. Turn it over.”  In doing that, there are four possible outcomes:  1) You can climb back into the same boat you were in, and you have gained (and hopefully lost) nothing.  2) You can climb into another boat, but you better make sure it’s taking you in the right direction.  3)  There is always the danger that you may ultimately lose your faith and drown.  4) Or, you may have to swim against the current to get you back to cleaner, clearer water upstream.  Traditions and dogmas pollute the doctrines that we claim to revere.  If we could ever be honest and shed the embellishments that cheapen the faith with temporal distractions, making religion more entertainment than edification, or constrict the faith by hedging it in with an abundance of inferred regulations, then we may be able to truly experience  the grace we so long to enjoy.

If faith is inherited, unexamined, lackadaisical, or half-hearted or if faith is in a system rather than a Savior, these are all dangerously hollow and ultimately unsatisfying.  If you can’t kick the tires without the wheels falling off, keep looking.  The Israelites wandered in the wilderness for forty years before they entered the Promised Land.  Our seeker’s journey will not be in vain if it leads us to greater understanding and deeper, more genuine faith that we can live with as well as live in; a faith we can experience and demonstrate by subjugating the self for the good of others, by living and becoming love.  Then we will become truer reflections of God’s image, because God is love.  And in a very real sense, that’s what working out one’s salvation is all about.

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One Response to Mind Control and the Seeking Soul

  1. Darrell Ray says:

    Edited to correctly reflect the Bereans’ identity as members of the Jewish synagogue, and not yet converts. Also, edited to clarify that Thomas was neither eternally condemned, nor singled out for rebuke beyond any other of the remaining eleven. Such rebuke in Mark 16:14 was likely to have been instructive and corrective, along the lines of comments like “you of little faith,” delivered on other occasions. Had his doubt truly disqualified him, his action of the 8th day after the resurrection would have precluded his inclusion as part of the eleven in the events of Mark 16:14, which was apparently only shortly before the ascension on the 40th day.

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