Training Humans: Better Living Through Religious Indoctrination

Today’s title riffs on the seventh installment of William Saletan’s Slate series on the memory researcher, Dr. Elizabeth Loftus.  In several places in the article, one could simply replace words or phrases and the result would be an accurate description of the ways in which religious cultural inputs create imaginary worlds for believers of most spiritual traditions and religious faiths.

With this in mind, I have decided to quote those excerpts, and wherever you see a bracket (“[…..]”), I have replaced Saletan’s or Loftus’ words or phrases with my own; in other places I have deleted sentences.  I will also change the names so no one gets the false impression (or memory, as the case may be) that Dr. Loftus is engaged in any such work.

Let’s see what happens when fact becomes fiction:

In 1998, when [Prophet Saratan] published her first behavior-therapy [guidebook based on revelations given to her by Ur-God], she stopped short of editing memories. The [guidebook, “The Sacred Writings of Ur”], was designed to exploit the self-fulfilling power of imagination, not to alter recollections. [Prophet Saratan] and her [disciples] described memory modification as an unfortunate risk of the [indoctrination]. It might happen, they wrote, but [this is how new spiritual and religious traditions get started.]

A few years after [Prophet Saratan] published [“The Sacred Writings of Ur”], she began a new line of research, investigating whether false memories could affect behavior. The behavior had to be simple, measurable, influenced by memory, and testable in the lab. One obvious candidate was eating. Food aversions were common and powerful. You could plant a memory of a bad experience with a certain food [and thus create a taboo or sin]. Then you could test whether this memory affected the subject’s eating behavior.

In February 2005, [Prophet Saratan and her disciples] published the [ritual] egg study, concluding that “humans can be trained to avoid food [and consider them taboo; eating such foods is sinful and will result in spiritual harm].”

In the [ritual] food experiments, all the threads of [Prophet Saratan’s] career came together. Instead of training a rat, she was training people. Instead of using a reward, she was using the techniques she had learned from [previous priests and prophets]. And instead of planting bad memories, she was planting [sacred or religious] ones. She was a real-life memory [priestess and had founded a new faith.]

In February 2005, [Prophet Saratan and her disciples] published the [ritual] egg study, concluding that “humans can be trained to avoid food.” Four months later, they published the ice-cream [taboo revelation] under the title, “False Beliefs About [Taboo] Foods Can Have [Spiritual] Consequences.” The diet-improvement rationale, originally an afterthought, was now central. The bottom line, they wrote, was that “we can, through suggestion, manipulate nutritional selection and possibly even improve [spiritual] health.”

[In later sacred books and teachings, Prophet Saratan] was proposing permanent deception [without disclosing this to believers]. [Outside of religion, those] who misled people in experiments were ethically obliged to tell them the truth when the experiments were over. [But because she was founding a new faith through revelations, Prophet Saratan never] abandoned her original idea to plant a memory of being told by your grandmother that you were her favorite grandchild. [Spiritual or religious] memory modification, as she envisioned it, would be left uncorrected [because it was revealed truth].

If memory therapy [and religious indoctrination] could change eating habits, why not [other thoughts, beliefs, and practices]? With [seed or tithe] money from the [newly founded Temple of Ur, Prophet Saratan and her disciples] moved on to [other thoughts, beliefs, and practices], using the same method[s]. In a report on their [implantation, suggestion, and indoctrination methods], [Prophet Saratan and her disciples] called their work “a first step in exploring the idea of using memory implantation techniques for the purposes of reducing or eliminating an unwanted behavior” [and founding a new religious faith].

Building on a biological and neural substrate that naturally generates spiritual and supernatural ways of thinking, cultural patterning can cause people to believe in just about anything.

This presumably accounts for the fact that if you tell me three things: (1) when a person was born; (2) where a person was born; and (3) the spiritual or religious beliefs of that person’s parents, I can tell you with better than 95 percent accuracy what the spiritual or religious beliefs of that person were or are.

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