Hey guys, so this is just a thought of mine that I have, just want to share and see what other people think. But it is somewhat of a question too, so here it goes.

Often, I hear attacks on Christianity and just religion in general claiming that we are “brainwashed.” Not the kind of brainwashing you see in extreme cults, but a more subtle form, that starts with repeatedly being taught the faith since an early age. Now, I used to have a hard time responding to this, but then I came up with what seems to be a fairly valid response.

We are all “brainwashed.” If we’re talking about brainwashing in the subtle sense, then we all are. We are all brought up with values and beliefs, taught to us from childhood. These beliefs come from family, the media, religion, friends, etc. It doesn’t matter if you’re atheist or Christian. Even those adults who grow up and become atheist, while proudly proclaiming that they have broke away from all the brainwashing, still are “brainwashed” in a sense, because they are accepting a new belief, a belief that may have been told to them by others. And even if you classify atheism as a lack of belief, they still likely hold political and moral beliefs that are influenced by what others tell them, and likely may have still retained non-religious beliefs from their parents.

This is not an attack on atheism however. I am simply making the claim that everyone is brainwashed, Catholic, Jew, Nazi, atheist, whatever, we are all influenced and conditioned to think in certain ways. And brainwashed is a bad word, it carries bad connotations, I am just using the word that many people use when they attack religion.

I think being “brainwashed” isn’t a bad thing. I think what matters is that we wash our brains with truth and virtue, and that’s why it’s important to have discussions and ponder about God, philosophy, morals, etc, because in doing that, we grow closer to the truth. What do you guys think? Is this sort of reasoning in line with the teachings of our Church?

Hmmm…I wouldn’t call it brainwashing

I think we are all influenced, cultured, trained, so on. There may be instances of people that are coerced to stay on a certain path. But I couldn’t say in general that because someone is religions that the person is also brainwashed.

Amen brother.


The big difference is that the Catholic Church teaches Truth.

We have Catholic Truth; the political ideologies and the atheists do not teach any Truth.

The Catholic Church and its Magisterium are the greatest gift to mankind.

The idea behind brainwashing is that previously held ideas or understandings are “washed” from the mind by psychological techniques, and something else put in.

This was used to great effect not only by national states and political movements, but by cults in the late 1900s.

But brainwashing doesn’t happen to everybody.


I get what you are saying although I think that GEddie really nails it on what brainwashing truly is. I agree, I think atheists and agnostics “condition” their children every bit as much as religious folk. When atheists accuse the religious of indoctrinating their children with their ideals while not looking at how they themselves raise their children they are being hypocritical. Honestly, I can’t imagine Chris Hitchens giving his children (if he had them) faith options and religious values as they were growing up. People just raise their kids according to their beliefs. I think it is only natural.

And here lies the most powerful evidence of brainwashing: You heard a decent argument opposed to your position which for some time you had trouble responding to, yet you would not even consider it. You invested yourself in contriving a rebuttal to convince yourself it was wrong.

In fairness to you, I see it in these forums all the time. “A protestant said such-and-such, so how do I respond?” They are convinced that they are correct beforehand. If a strong argument is presented to them and they cannot address it, they figure it is just a problem of sharing notes with others rather than a weakness of their position.

Don’t get me wrong, logic stands or falls on its own merits regardless of anyone’s intentions, and a stubborn Christian who does the above can still ultimately learn from their opposition, though it is rare. But to me, this phenomenon of being immune to persuasion is evidence of brainwashing. The immunity comes not from the strength of their position but an a priori assumption that their worldview is accurate.

the term brainwashing sounds like something out of a Cold War thriller.

The word I like to use is the word “schema” which came from a British psychotherapist developing his theory of learning. The summary I use in class is as follow:

A schema is a cognitive framework or concept that helps organize and interpret information. Schemas can be useful because they allow us to take shortcuts in interpreting the vast amount of information that is available in our environment. However, these mental frameworks also cause us to exclude pertinent information to instead focus only on things that confirm our pre-existing beliefs and ideas. Schemas can contribute to stereotypes and make it difficult to retain new information that does not conform to our established ideas about the world.

If you think of a schema as a worldview: individual, families, communities, governments, businesses, and just about any organization has a schema.

Or, something seems “off” but they aren’t sure what. People can make reasonable-sounding arguments for all kinds of things that are unreasonable. And it’s only after we leave that conversation that we go, “Wait a minute. That was weird, but I can’t put my finger on why.” That happens all the time for things that have nothing to do with religion.

I love when someone starts in with the “I’m just brainwashed” nonsense. Those that think we are all just fed a story as children that we adhere to for the remainder of our lives, have no answer for someone like me. I was raised without any religious background or identity. I spent almost 40 years of my life as an atheist, and used most of that time trying to convince others about how right I was. Then, without searching for it, the Holy Spirit found me. Unlike Paul, I didn’t have a horse to fall off, but my experience was very profound.

I was gifted humility for the first time. I recognized all I did not know. I thought I had all the answers as an atheist. I had nothing. I went through the RCIA process with an open heart and an open mind. I found there to be a truth that I had never considered before. Here is what my atheist friends accuse me of now: someone in the church “filled my head with fairy tales.” The church never sought me, I sought my own answers in the church. The problem atheists have is that they believe themselves to be open minded and free to decide truth for themselves. They have closed avenues to the truth through their own ignorance. I feel confident in saying that because it so accurately describes the person I was before my baptism, confirmation, and receiving of the Eucharist at the Easter Vigil 2014.

I will be honest, but looking back, I didn’t come up with this idea when I was faithful in response to atheism. I suppose when I was composing my original post, my story came out wrong; I did not want to drag this post into a long monologue.

I time I first presented this argument was a time in my life when I was agnostic. It came out of a philosophical dialogue I was having with my other atheistic/agnostic friends; we were discussing religion from an outsiders point of view. I remember one friend said that all the devoutly religious people in our class were just brainwashed. Always being the one who likes to think outside of the box, I stopped and thought about it, and spoke up, suggesting that maybe we are all brainwashed if brainwashing was to be defined in the way he was suggesting.

Ultimately, I agree with what many people are saying here, that everyone, no matter the faith, is conditioned from a young age with ways to view the world. Brainwashing is a word that blows everything way out of proportion, and I believe that is is absurd to use a word like that to describe conditioning, but yet, many people sadly do this.

If I had written that, I would rewrite it. However, at the moment it is difficult for me to articulate what exactly the problem is. From the point of view of tone, it seems both relentless and weak. I would prefer to graciously acknowledge that a person who actually lacks belief is possibly avoiding an error.

It is definitely not a bad thing, or it is not necessarily a bad thing?

I would rewrite that, but I cannot find the edit button unfortunately.

Could you please elaborate on your second statement? I am not sure I understand


After making a post you only have a 15 minute window in which you can edit it. After that only the moderators can edit it.

Brainwashing ? ? ?

Whatever happened to the concept that human nature per se has a rational intellect and freedom to choose.

Like everything else in human life, those attributes are limited, and vulnerable.


It is not “decent” and it is not even an “argument”. It is just calling someone ignorant for holding a position without even trying to refute the position. Militant atheists have no clue what the religion is about and just go saying “if you do not agree with me you are not intelligent”, instead of making real arguments. This is the real brainwashing here.

Catholics are “brainwashed” towards the truth. If someone come saying me that 2+2=5 I will not take him seriously, no matter how compelling his mathematical proof might looks. This does not make me brainwashed, it just makes me honest.

To the OP: Trying to respond is giving to the militant atheists’ claim more credit than it deserves. Just expose the fallacy and demand them to be more serious about the discussion.

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