I’ve been thinking about the term ‘brainwashing,’ as it’s been tossed around so much lately regarding the FLDS women.

What exactly is brainwashing?

According to the American Heritage New Dictionary of Cultural Literacy, Third Edition:
Indoctrination that forces people to abandon their beliefs in favor of another set of beliefs. Usually associated with military and political interrogation and religious conversion, brainwashing attempts, through prolonged stress, to break down an individual’s physical and mental defenses. Brainwashing techniques range from vocal persuasion and threats to punishment, physical deprivation, mind-altering drugs, and severe physical torture.

That sounds pretty intense, doesn’t it? Something that strikes me is the emboldened phrase above. Most of the definitions included this idea, and it makes me wonder if we could call any FLDS women ‘brainwashed’ unless they were converted to FLDS via force. If you grow up with a set of beliefs, calling them your own from a young age, by definition you are not brainwashed (even if your beliefs are wildly bizarre).

But if we take the word and apply it the way it’s been used – FLDS women are obviously ‘brainwashed’ because they (many of them) share a husband, have many children, call Warren Jeffs their prophet, wear old-school dresses, etc – we can end up in all sorts of weird places…

If someone becomes willing to die for their faith, are they brainwashed? We might like to think so when it comes to suicide bombers, but it doesn’t feel the same way when we think of the faithful Christian missionary. If we hold to any tenet of faith against unlikely odds, are we brainwashed? Is brainwashing evidenced by anything that isn’t mainstream? Where do we draw the line? We say they’re brainwashed because they seem to really believe in polygamy, and we all know that’s crazy. Who would choose that of their own volition? But wait… Abraham and Jacob and King David and Solomon all practiced it, and while we don’t know their wives’ feelings about it, what if they looked at us and said, “what is UP with these American women? Why do they insist on limiting their husbands to one wife? Can’t they use the help? Wouldn’t they like to share some of that mothering-responsibility and run an errand alone occasionally? They don’t HAVE to be complaining that ‘all the good ones are taken.’ Who would choose that?”

Are we brainwashed when we really believe that children are a blessing?

Or are we brainwashed when we think they’re expensive burdens, to be enjoyed in moderation (or not at all, if we want to be really responsible)?

Are we brainwashed to believe sex is best delayed until marriage?

Or when we think we need to ‘experience’ things when we’re young and uncommited?

Do you see how dicey this can get? Just because we can’t wrap our minds around something (because it’s so foreign) doesn’t automatically mean those who practice it are under duress. *I* can’t imagine a woman choosing (of her own volition) to put her baby in daycare for something as temporal as a career. I can’t wrap my mind around it. But maybe she feels the same way about me. We can’t both be right, right? Mustn’t one of us be ‘brainwashed’ to feel so strongly about it?

I don’t want to be misunderstood: I don’t think polygamy is a good idea. You know, “the two shall become one?” (I dunno; maybe that’s ‘two-at-a-time’?) But I also don’t think we should be tossing around strong terms (like ‘brainwashing’) just because others’ convictions are so very foreign to us.

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