Robert C. Priddy

Writings on diverse themes from philosophy, psychology to literature and criticism

  • Robert Priddy


    In this blog I post information and critical views concerning ideologies, belief systems and related scientific materials etc. I am a retired philosophy lecturer and researcher, born 1936.

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Posts Tagged ‘religious indoctrination’

Cognitive processes in religious and other dogmas creates major delusion

Posted by robertpriddy on August 25, 2011

Some overarching ideas are like hydra – the more we entertain them, muse over them, think our way into their meaning and possible consequences – the more they spread and entrench themselves in our minds. In fact, they entrench themselves in the memory circuits of the brain and every time they come to mind they reinforce the neural connections. Many entertain not just a ‘big idea’ but commit themselves unduly to an entire ideology. It is often germane to an ideology that it ‘totalities’ itself as the one and only way to understand whatever it claims to cover. Among such totalistic or ‘exclusive’ ideologies, we find of course totalitarian belief systems, from Nazism, Leninism, Maoism, to an even partially-fundamentalist theology. Their explanations invariably require that other (conflicting) belief systems be negated, denied and preferably ignored.

The countless ganglia of the human brain – as neurological research is now penetrating to a far greater degree than ever – can be dominated by a build-up of connections so as to cause the relative exclusion of whatever is not dwelt on enough to make comparative impressions (i.e. as strong memory connections). This is how major and near-total indoctrination is possible or – in a more expressive term – ‘brainwashing’. What is washed out is anything that contradicts or throws doubt on the dominant ideology.

The more one concentrates on an ideology, the more it tends to take over a person’s mind-set until a way back from the whole of it becomes more and more tortuous and difficult to trace. When people make an exclusive ideology too predominant as a doctrine, they interpret life and the world only on the premises it enshrines, and invariably it rejects without reasonable discussion explains way all or most other competing doctrines in the process, then a cognitive disorder id developed. The person may be or appear quite sane and normal in other respects, but has a seriously distorted perception nonetheless. This can lead to dangerous and anti-social actions too.

Contrariwise, as interest shifts to other concerns and ideas are side-tracked, the neural connections are weakened. There are, however, other causes which can overcome even an obsessional dogma or indoctrination, of course. Major psychological shocks can cause a person to have to rethink it all, or people can be influenced by other, stronger ideologies and not least by education and even specific ‘deprogramming’. People may have other resources (previous education, or other cognitive skills and experiences) to fall back on which, once activated, give them a critical or doubting perspective on their main beliefs. 

Believing in a largely unsupported system of ideas can be taken so far that – in common parlance – the ‘mind flips’ into unrealistic modes. Some become pathologically obsessional, paranoidal, and so on up to megalomania and related conditions. To be mentally deranged is to suffer a malfunction of normal thought operations involving a loss of common sense, reality sense and the use of self-corrective reflection. It occurs in all degrees of seriousness and triviality and probably very few persons indeed are entirely free of it in some form. Yet a large or crucial part of a person’s mental life can develop in such a way that one’s ideas – and even perceptions – become very far removed from common sense and reason.

The more ‘official’ term for mental derangement nowadays is ‘cognitive disorder’. There are numerous kinds of cognitive disorder.

1) Illusory correlation. This is a misjudgement of how likely an event is. To confuse one thing as the cause of another is also an illusory correlation.

2) Memory bias. A number of biases can affect memory (Schacter (1999). These include false memory in recalling one’s past attitudes or behaviour as more similar to one’s present attitudes than is factual.

3) Egocentric bias. This can occur when one wants to hold a positive self-image so as to avoid negative facts about oneself. The conflict of negative and positive facts about oneself is known as ‘cognitive dissonance’, which there can be a strong tendency to avoid.

4) Ignoring relevant information is a cognitive bias, which occurs when one gives undue importance to a minor but salient feature of some problem. One’s judgement is warped through irrelevant information. Examples are found where there is ‘framing effect’. In social theory, a frame means a sets or system of interpretations – often a collection of root assumptions or set of stereotypes which people use to understand and act on events. Framing involves selective influence over how one understands words, phrases in description, labelling, or presentation of a problem. An unduly narrow perception or description of a situation or issue is a case of framing, whether wilful or unconscious, whereby attention is directed away from important facts or aspects of a matter.

5) Assymetric insight: This illusion “is a cognitive bias that involves the fact that people perceive their knowledge of others to surpass other people’s knowledge of them. The source for this bias seems to stem from the fact that observed behaviors of others are more revealing than one’s own similar behaviors. Relatedly, people seem to believe that they know themselves better than their peers know themselves and that their social group knows and understands other social groups better than that social group knows them.” (Wikipedia – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Illusion_of_asymmetric_insight)

6) Self-serving bias: A self-serving bias occurs when people attribute their successes to internal or personal factors but attribute their failures to situational factors beyond their control. The self-serving bias can be seen in the common human tendency to take credit for success but to deny responsibility for failure. “It may also manifest itself as a tendency for people to evaluate ambiguous information in a way beneficial to their interests.” (Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-serving_bias)
See also http://www.robertpriddy.com/P/14disorder.html

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Faith Schools – divisive indoctrination

Posted by robertpriddy on December 16, 2010

Induction into a religious faith at a tender age is indoctrination. While physical abuse of children is now at last forbidden in the most civilized countries, mental abuse is still allowed, and this includes inculcating defenseless children with superstitious folklore and false conceptions.

It should be a human right not to be subjected to an environment where environmental pressures and ‘group effect’ acts to make any child accept a religion. Richard Dawkins has led the way in courageously speaking out to this effect (see here). Bringing up children under a system of education which contain non educative elements (i.e. proselytizing) is contrary to education, which means the learning of real facts about the real world and imbibing the human values (not divine commandments) upon which civilized society and international agreements rest. Faith schools differ from secular schools in that they are really belief-inducing schools. The increasing isolation and unwillingness of “faith” communities to integrate is a threat to future social harmony and world peace, where terrorism is the new kind of war.

All religions are actually ideologies, and their core beliefs are unsupported by any substantive facts or science. They differ as to values and consequently in many parts of the world they are at loggerheads and often in direct violent conflict with one another. To contribute to this disruption, this battle of the sects, however much one talks of peace and goodness, is a blind policy. Socially divisive ‘brainwashing’ – of whatever type and however mild – is unacceptable and to endorse it through an educational system should be made illegal. Divisiveness arises from the pretense that this or that faith has superior access to ‘the truth’, and often that truth will include claims about the unity of mankind… yet which only leads to hypocrisy in action. The consequences are already exploding on the streets of Europe and the USA, not to mention in the developing world where divisions are extreme.

Education deserving the name should develop the autonomy of people, enlightening them as to how to make their own choices in a reasonable way and with knowledge of possible consequences. Obscurantist scriptures should be banned from schools, which would mean the exclusion of large parts of most scriptural sources.

Often, faith schools are popular with parents because they impose more discipline on pupils than secular schools, not least because of the absolutism of the moral codes enshrined in their religions (the Ten Commandments for example). Though often effective, this is absolutely not the best way to achieve integration of pupils into harmonious working groups and communities. Understanding, communication and help in socialization (through special needs assistance and counseling) is the way to go instead. But selection of pupils on religious and other (often bogus) criteria excludes the problem children and avoids the social problems that such schools should bear and face up to, rather than avoiding them. Since their chief aim is religious indoctrination, however, they manipulate so as to avoid those who will be ‘difficult’ and especially potentially critical children and parents.

One commentator (protogodzilla) wrote in the Daily Telegraph

“I attended an RC school in London in the ‘fifties. We were indoctrinated into believing protestants were the spawn of the devil. When I mentioned to the priest that we were all Christians I was caned. We were brain washed into believing that our religion was the most important matter of our lives. I abandoned my religion on the day I left school – there was too much hatred in it for my taste. As a recipe for division, mankind has never devised a better stick than religion to destroy itself. Muslims hold to their brand of bigotry as savagely as the RCs of my youth. If there is a God would He/She be happy with this state of affairs? Faith schools segregate rather than integrate and should be outlawed to encourage social cohesion.”

On such a background one can understand the horrendous events that have terrorized Northern Ireland, and – mutatis mutandis – which are yet worse in the Middle East, Africa and the Indian subcontinent.

Posted in Atheism, Belief, Catholicism, Disinformation, Environment, Ideology, Religion, religious faith, Understanding | Tagged: , , | Leave a Comment »