Atheism / Psychology / religion · September 20, 2006

Religion and Thought Control

I mentioned in my earlier article that one of the side affects of being an Atheist is that I no longer have nightmares of the supernatural. (The supernatural became ridiculous!) But I didn’t say anything about another side affect that I consider to be even more profound.

As an Atheist, I no longer believe in a mental ‘Peeping Tom’.

Jesus, during the Sermon on the Mount, made it extremely clear that you will not only be condemned for what you do, but also for what you are thinking. In Matthew 5:27-28 he said,

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart.”

This is pretty heavy stuff for a true believer. Not only are they supposed to follow God’s will (if they can figure it out from a book full of contradictions) but they are not even allowed to think incorrectly! This is a very effective technique for keeping religious followers true to the faith. If you have grave doubts about your religion then you are sinning and should immediately beg for forgiveness and correct your thoughts.

How is this different from any other mind-control cult?

Mind control, which is sometimes called brainwashing, is a very controversial topic. Religious cults spend a great deal of effort ridiculing the idea of brainwashing as being unscientific. Scientology has worked very hard to deny the existance of mind control.

But scientists studying the effects of hypnosis have shown that suggestible people show demonstrable changes in their perception of the world. Rick Ross has a cult information website that I recommend as a good read. This article is hosted on his website:

Hypnosis, with its long and chequered history in medicine and entertainment, is receiving some new respect from neuroscientists.

Recent brain studies of people who are susceptible to suggestion indicate that when they act on the suggestions, their brains show profound changes in how they process information. The suggestions, researchers report, literally change what people see, hear, feel and believe to be true.

The new experiments, which used brain imaging, found that people who were hypnotised “saw” colours where there were none. Others lost the ability to make simple decisions. Some people looked at common English words and thought that they were gibberish.

“The idea that perceptions can be manipulated by expectations” is fundamental to the study of cognition, said Michael Posner, an emeritus professor of neuroscience at the University of Oregon and expert on attention. “But now we’re really getting at the mechanisms.”

Is hypnosis a form of mind control? Probably not – it’s really too difficult to apply, and it works best when the subject and the hypnotist cooperate. No pastor stands in the pulpit waving a gold watch at his congregation.

But self-hypnosis is very effective. Also called autosuggestion, the subject applies it to him or herself so the chances of success are much higher. Autosuggestion can be a very powerful tool for assisting in accomplishing your goals. From Wikipedia:

Autosuggestion (or the related autogenic training) is a process by which an individual trains the subconscious mind to believe something, or systematically schematizes the person’s own mental associations, usually for a given purpose. This is accomplished through self-hypnosis methods or repetitive, constant self-affirmations, and may be seen as a form of self-induced brainwashing. The acceptance of autosuggestion may be quickened through mental visualization of that which the individual would like to believe. Its success is typically correlated with the consistency of its use and the length of time over which it is used. Autosuggestion can be seen as an aspect of prayer, self-exhorting “pep talks”, meditation, and other similar activities. A trivial example of self-improvement by autosuggestion is the New Year’s resolution, especially if it is followed up by systematic attention to the resolution.

Autosuggestion is most commonly accomplished by presenting (either through caressing or bombarding) one’s mind with repetitive thoughts (negative or positive), until those thoughts become internalized. Practitioners typically hope to transmute thoughts into beliefs, and even into actualities. Visualizing the manifestations of a belief, verbally affirming it, and thinking it using one’s “internal voice”, are typical means of influencing one’s mind via repetitive autosuggestion.

So, during the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has demanded that followers use a form of autosuggestion or self-hypnosis. If you sin in your heart (or think about sin) then you are just as guilty as if you have actually accomplished that sin. In order to prevent that sin, you must change the way you think.

In this same vein, if you doubt, or “lose faith” then you are also moving further away from God, and must correct yourself through some method. These methods may include prayer, mental visualization of yourself accepting God, and constant self-affirmations. Actually, when I was a Christian, my church gave us all monthly prayer calendars that contained a prayer a day and included a daily self-affirmation.

The belief that God can see your thoughts reinforces Jesus’ lesson that you must change your thoughts to prevent yourself from sinning. Prayer, repetitively reinforcing ‘good’ thoughts while discarding ‘sinful’ thoughts, self-affirmations, and autosuggestion are all ways to follow this mandate.

The Church doesn’t need to brainwash you – you are doing it all on your own just to satisfy the thought of a mental peeping tom.