Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Play-doh Brains

Our brains are physically formed in childhood by our input and environment. Like play-doh dented and squeezed with each new experience, our thoughts literally change the material structure of our brains. As neuron connections develop and brain maps form, our perception of the world and the mental software of our culture are installed. 

Lenin was (almost) right when he said, "Give me a child for the first 5 years of his life and he will be mine forever." Ideas reinforced in the early years gradually become self-sustaining. We accept what agrees and reject what doesn't.

As we age and plasticity naturally declines, the Confirmation Bias holds even more sway, and we navigate towards people who think like we do, and ignore or explain away views that are not comfortable to us, ie. information that does not match our beliefs. (No wonder the children of immigrants have a much easier time adapting to their new culture than do their parents. Old habits die hard.)

TFI (and other cults) use brain plasticity to their advantage, inculcating doctrine into their little ones through manipulation of their environment, making sure they have constant feeding of Family publications through devotions, school time, and evening "story time." The kids' "normal" becomes the insular world of the cult.

This same process works on adults as long as their environment is controlled, which is exactly what happens when a new disciple joins the cult. Told they must relearn all their values to "become a new creature in Christ" they submit to hours of reading and memorization of the Bible and Family literature, effectively rewiring their brains. With enough repetition, they actually "unlearn" former ideas. This is possible only because of the brain's plasticity.

The happy news is that the brain plasticity that allows for such manipulation can also be used to our advantage. According to Dr. Michael Merzenich, PhD, "Everything that you can see happen in a young brain can happen in an older brain." It just takes focused concentration. 

Plasticity is competitive, so if we want to undo past learning, we need to focus on building new mental pathways. The memories are still there, but become grown over as new pathways form and gradually rewire our brains. (See It's Only Jesus.)

Just learning one new thing that requires disciplined study and focus is so invigorating for the brain that not only are new connections built that facilitate that new knowledge, but the whole brain is sharpened. This applies to not just mental learning, such as studying a new language, but to physical learning as well, such as learning a new dance or sport.

While there's life - and a determination to learn - there's hope.

Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Donating to The Family International

Maybe you've recently re-connected with an old school buddy on facebook. You remember something about that friend being a Jesus Freak, lost touch for many years, but now images of Mother Theresa dance before your eyes when you learn about the work she is doing in an impoverished developing country. When presented with the "opportunity" to give to support her work, you think, "Why not?"

Admittedly, The Family International has cleaned up its act. Looking at their benign website, we see they are a Christian group "committed to sharing the message of God's love with others."

As a member, I gave heavily. (See Tithing and Financial Fleecing.) Even after leaving, I saw no harm in giving to an old friend who worked with orphans in a developing country. But as the mist gradually cleared from my head, I found I could no longer support her. 

Why not?

No matter what any TFI member may tell you, a basic tenet of the group is proselytizing. And not just the "Jesus loves you" somewhat harmless (although possibly annoying) doctrine of mainstream Christians, but their own brand of bizarre beliefs. I know that any donations given to anyone in that group, although overtly used to "help the needy," also come along with the given that those "needy" will be fed a "spiritual meal" of the TFI version of Christianity.  

These include such choice concepts as:

  • Praying to a plethora of departed saints and "spirit helpers" and receiving from them "prophecies" for daily guidance and help.
  • Imaging you are having sex with Jesus during sex or while masturbating. It's okay if you're a guy - just pretend you're a woman and then it's not spiritual "Sodomy." Don't forget to say "love words" to Jesus while you do it.
  • Using the secret weapon - given only to TFI members (after all, they are the elite Christians of today) - of the "keys of the kingdom." Unlike mainstream Christians who pray "in Jesus' name," TFI members can claim the "keys of the kingdom" to magically release special powers from God.
  • The most important TFI doctrine is "The Law of Love." This all-encompassing rule that "whatever is done in love is lawful in God's eyes" gave license to all manner of abuse - psychological, physical, and most especially, sexual. 
OK, you think, maybe they do have some weird doctrines, but look at the work they are doing for the disadvantaged! Maybe they are doing some good. But what if those people want to join - that is one of the goals, right? "Make disciples of all nations" - another TFI foundational belief. If they join, they will gradually be indoctrinated into all that weirdness and more - a complete rewiring of their sense of normalcy. (See The Stanford Prison Study and More on the Stanford Prison Study.)

Knowing that today's TFI members, in order to retain their group membership, must proselytize is what put the brakes on my giving. I cannot, in good conscience, support a group of perhaps well-intentioned, but definitely delusional, members. The good image they present is only the polished top layer hiding the harmful doctrines within.