We don’t like to think of ourselves as brainwashed, but the more I work with my Quest teenage girls (my version of confirmation class) and my college classes, the more I realize that we are all brainwashed at a very young age. I suppose we could use a nicer term, like “taught” or “molded,” but that just doesn’t quite capture the “stuckness” I see in some of these young people.
For example, no one in my college class of 18-20 year olds had never heard the concept of the feminine Divine or using “She” to describe God. And because they’ve never been exposed to this concept, most just can’t wrap their heads around a different image for the Divine even though the book of Genesis says men and women were created in the image of the Divine. I showed them a bumper sticker that read “Trust in God, She will provide” and one girl said her initial reaction was to wonder what God it referred to. Logic, at this point, doesn’t seem to work too well in introducing new perspectives and understandings, they have been effectively brainwashed to believe that God is male.
Stuckness goes far beyond one’s God-image when it comes to religion. The programming includes who we understand God to be, why Jesus died on the cross, what we think of other religions, Adam and Eve and the fall of humankind, heaven and hell, sin and redemption, Jesus as human and/or divine, the role of women and so much more. The Catholic Church has been known to say, “Give me a child until they are seven and I’ll give you a Catholic for life.” They know how crucial those early formative years are for a person’s identity and way of thinking… it’s almost scary.
So, I believe this leaves us at a place of developing a healthy self-awareness. Why do we believe what we believe? Are there other perspectives to consider? Which concepts lead us in the way of love, compassion, equality, justice, peace and understanding? Which hold us in fear, inequity, sin and judgment? Which path is open and expansive? Which path is closed-minded, constricting and limiting?
Moving forward in a healthy way may mean unlearning things that we were taught by that great authority, the church. It can almost feel like we’re disobeying God to think differently. But the church isn’t always right. It doesn’t have a hot line to God. It is susceptible to error as much as any other human institution. Trust your heart and trust the way of love. Live the expansive path of spiritual growth. Explore new ways and new understandings. These things will lead you to a deeper, more fulfilling relationship with the Divine.