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November 3, 2012

Is it all brainwashing ?

Some years ago, when I was trying to figure out the meaning of Outcome Based Education and the multiple strands of complex damage it represented, I came across a professor who was offering a somewhat counter-cultural course of study for people working to become school superintendents. She made the point that the whole discussion of the role of the superintendent needed to start with a right concept of authority.


The schools are trying to engage in social engineering, and that is actually an abuse of their power and an abuse of the children under their authority. They don’t see where their authority comes from (God) or what transcendent purpose it has beyond their political agendas. They don’t distinguish between power (the ability to do stuff) and authority (the right to lead people.) At the same time I have Christian friends who willingly assert that they are brainwashing their children, but think it is “good brainwashing,” since it is based on “Biblical principles.” The school is guilty of bad brainwashing, since they are sending the children down non-Biblical roads, but these Christian parents were willing to agree that all education is brainwashing.

Not at all! Absolutely not!

Our Catholic commitment to natural law means that we always know that creation itself has the same laws as the Bible, only sometimes harder to find. Revelation is, in some ways, a short-cut to the truth, but it is the same truth from the same God. Whatever makes the heart pure while forming the mind according to its true nature is education. The rest is just washing the outside of a cup while the inside is full of stains and mold.

Leading us out of darkness

The idea that it’s all brainwashing, either way, is also part of the parenting discussion. Let me be firm about the central point: brainwashing is a sin. It is the intention and the plan to govern the mind of another person – not to serve it with truth, not to clarify its operation with the laws of logic, but to take it over with superior power. That’s how the demons operate. The brainwasher either does not care about truth or believes or assumes that there is no truth out there to be discovered, or he directly opposes the truth. He states that truth is an outdated idea: there are only worldviews to be imposed in a great war of Imposers (or Imposters). He pretends to educate – which should mean “to lead” (ducere) us “out” (ex) – of darkness. Education is “ex ducere” – leading us out of a dark and limited life and into the light and air; but the brainwasher is himself unable to respond to either light or darkness.

We parents have the authority and the mission, and to a limited and temporary extent, the power, to form our children. The culture wants that formation to be all about tolerance, by which they mean without moral principle since any moral principle is bound to be valued more by some people than by others: the prevailing cultural theory is that the strong teaching of one set of values must mean teaching  children intolerance, not just of other values, but of those who hold other values.

As a matter of fact (alas!) some Christians do want a formation that is intolerant, that can’t even listen to the hearts of those whose ideas are not “Biblical.” By “biblical values,” they mean values taken from the Bible with passages to quote behind them. Somehow they seem not to have noticed either that the Bible is complex and has passages that could be construed to support a variety of positions; nor have most actually looked at non-Christians to see what they hold in common. Nor do they take natural law (which is based on faith in our Creator’s consistency) seriously enough to seek truth outside the Bible.

Let’s begin at the beginning. The authority of parents comes from God, as a gift of his own Authority, his initiative; and this portion of his Authority is necessary to support the gift of human life. We are not deer, whose offspring are born with the necessary instincts for their lives. No, we are persons with a long childhood and a need to be educated about complex and invisible dangers. Parents have a vast responsibility for their children; our authority is equally vast, at least at the outset.

Nevertheless, our authority is not infinite, and the formative power of any family is limited by the nature of the human person. BF Skinner didn’t think there was a human nature; we were the same as pigeons to him and could be conditioned to do whatever the conditioner chose. That’s the school idea, and it’s also the communist ideal: we can shape society – that is, some people can shape society – that is, some people can shape other people – any way they choose.

Keep that last conclusion in mind: “we can shape society” always means “some people can shape other people.” It feeds an imperial instinct.

Developing our personal center of initiative

The truly Christian idea is that even though our children are born into specific families with all kinds of physical and social inheritance, nevertheless, they have a human nature and a personal character that come directly from God. He has placed a center of initiative within them, (we call it a soul or a personal nature) and it has a purpose that is only partly revealed in the Bible. Only partly – because it is fundamentally mysterious, because it is so profound that no words can ever express it. This center of initiative allows us to choose love, to exercise intelligence, to enjoy sights, sounds, tastes, and memories. It is why we have an interior life.

You could, by the way, as well say that the formative power of any family is expanded by the nature of the human person, as say it is limited. Let’s keep our horizons large. Who could ever imagine making a person? Read a little about artificial intelligence, and you will get a taste of the immense effort it takes to put out a cleverly designed creature that still has no personal center, no real initiative. But as families, we get these persons from God, and we have authority over them… for what?

Our purpose is to help them find their true freedom, their loving creator. Our authority takes its character and its purpose from the Author of life. In this way, through our children so full of surprises, God leads us, the parents, every day into new challenges, new realms of life.

All this by way of going back to my first essay about the dignity of the child. Discipline is important; it’s difficult; for most of us, it’s the hardest thing about parenting. The most important thing, however, is to stay centered. Our culture is not going to help us, and the majority of Christian advice is also not going to help because whatever good it has to offer tends to go off-center so quickly, into authority as power, not as a leadership initiative that must decrease as the child increases in maturity.

But (Behold the Underlying Truth): God will help us because that’s the whole point. We come to know His Person as we meet the challenges of new persons in our lives. Parental authority is the right to do what is necessary to help the newest persons on earth learn to rightly exercise their own dignity and begin an abundant (happy) life, an interior life with a window on eternity.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Nancy Gerdes permalink
    November 3, 2012 6:14 pm

    Beautiful ‘

    Sent from my iPhone

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