“Brainwash.” Is there a more ugly and off-putting word? These days, information is not only accessible but it is expected to be consumed and used. It is, literally, right at our fingertips. That information empowers us to be increasingly independent and it has become an unwritten rule that modern westerners are to be well-informed individuals, holding distinct opinions and a distinct identity. To be brainwashed is to be otherwise.
The mistake we all make is that brainwashing only happens to specific groups of people (like religious or political groups). However, it is not whether or not we are being brainwashed, the question is who or what is doing the brainwashing?
Personally, I think the term “brainwash” gets a bad rap. Brainwashing isn’t so bad if you take it literally (or semi-literally)— a washing of the brain. It is strictly hygienic. We wash our bodies on regular basis, so why not wash our brains more regularly?
In reality, our brains are constantly being washed -whether we know it or not. We need to ask ourselves, are we washing them or are they being washed by someone else? What kind of water are our brains being washed with?
As humans, we’ve spent thousands/millions of years slowly adapting to our surroundings and now our surroundings have been changing so rapidly we cannot adapt fast enough. At first Capitalism was all based on need. With the help of Edward Bernays, need was slowly supplemented by desire in order to further expand and grow the hungry economic system. Over time, as the economic system and society flourished with growth, unlimited growth became the objective. *
If we buy for our desires as well as our needs, more things will be purchased and the economy will grow. Over the last century -during this progression- along came catalogs (advertisements), then radio (and radio ads), then magazines (and ads), and TV shows (and more ads). Entertainment was paired with advertisement in fairly obvious manners. As these patterns intensified, the lines between advertising and entertainment slowly blurred. A nearly imperceptible culture of consumerism began to emerge and we began to lose perception of what was needed and what was desired; both became reason enough for consumption.
Movies, tv shows, music, books, articles, apps, social media…all of these things are pouring over us like warm bathing waters. Our brains are washed with ideas from consumer culture and our screens have become faucets through which society sends its flowing ideas. We fill our eyes and ears like bathtubs with water that tells us what we need: what we need to survive, what we need to desire, who we need to be, how we need to define ourselves and where we need to go. These flowing waters are pouring over us, washing our brains.
I don’t know about you but I don’t get into the shower with just anyone. I like to wash myself. Most people are quite selective of who they want to wash their bodies. Shouldn’t we be just as selective of who (and what) we let wash our minds and hearts?
Who we befriend and spend time with, as well as everything we choose to input and ingest: images, sounds and experiences- every time, our brains are being washed. And some of these things do a better job of scrubbing dirt and washing our brains than others. What are the things you actually want your brain to be washed with?
In the end, culture is always the water around us, washing us. Part of being a Christian is becoming aware of those waters. Another part is creating an alternative culture -a culture modeled after Christ- that shows glimpses of God’s kingdom here on earth. Perhaps I am unable to redeem the word “brainwash” from the depths of its negative connotations. But washing ourselves -our minds, our hearts- is something we are called to do. Isn’t that what immersing ourselves in scripture is, isn’t that what immersing ourselves in faith dialogue, prayer, worship, praise, fellowship, confession and liturgy is?
Every time we choose to input and ingest information, images, sounds and experiences our brains are being washed. Simply put, it is not a matter of whether or not you are being brainwashed but it’s a matter of who (or what) is doing the brainwashing (and with what). Are you brainwashing yourself or is someone else? What kind of water is your brain being washed with?