Conditioning in Religion

Conditioning Will

Religion conditions will by creating a “forced choice” scenario, where a person must choose between accepting religion or some aversive and terrifying stimulus, such as “God’s wrath,” “suffering,” “hell,” or “transmigration.”

It also “stacks the deck” to make the religious option appear more palatable by using testimonies of people who have had “miraculous transformations” or “wonderful inner experiences” or having had some other experience desirable to the pre-convert, to make the choice for joining the religion appear even more positive.

Conditioning Social and Cultural Norms

Social and cultural norms are conditioned by religion when adherents of a particular religion go out into their careers and social roles, and use the religion’s values in dictating policies, rules, or laws.

For example, beliefs about acceptable language and sexuality mold rules for censorship in reading material, music and the media.

Beliefs about acceptable food express as items excluded in a lunch menu for school children, such as eliminating pork, or traditionally serving fish on Fridays.

Conditioning Morality

Religion exhorts strict codes of morality for its adherents, and urges the practice of virtuous behaviors.

This training in right and wrong is internalized as an individual’s personal values, and may come to influence choices throughout his or her life.

Since certain behaviors, attitudes, and motivations have been labeled as “evil,” the individual faces internal discomfort or dissonance, the “pricks of conscience,” whenever his or her natural inclinations to act, speak, feel, or think, in “forbidden” ways, arise when he or she is “tempted” choose “wicked” options.

We may note that until an individual gets in touch with his or her innate sense of truth, conscience is for the most part constructed from the admonitions of parents, peers, educators, employers, authorities, and by religious education.

The inner sense of truth, or Dharma, in contrast, is developed by meditation. Inner truth promotes wisdom and understanding of the laws of nature and consciousness, congruent with the genuine needs of his or her person and organism.

Conditioning Perception

Perception of the external environment by a nervous system that is not compromised by illness, fatigue or intoxication reveals a fairly consistent world.

Belief about one’s abilities and one’s self (self image), and the cognitive labeling of objects as “safe” or “dangerous,” or as “good for you” or “bad for you” come to build distinct attitudes about objects, people, places and situations.

Through this cognitive map of the environment created by belief, people no longer see, hear, or feel what is actually “out there.”

What they see is a construct based on their fears that stem from past experience and “training,” their current attitudinal biases, and their expectations (hopes) or anxieties about what will happen.

Since religion so strongly dictates what to believe about the world and what is good and evil, religion has a powerful impact in molding the perceptions an individual has of his or her world revealed by the senses.

Even more powerfully, religion has a powerful impact on the perception of an individual’s inner world by specifying what “correct” cosmology or world view to believe.

Thus the individual’s inner sky may be painted with “the Trinity, Heaven, and the hosts of angels,” or “the Void, The Primal (Adi) Buddha, the five Meditation (Dhyani) Buddhas, and the realms (lokas) of the sentient beings.

As we will discuss later, religion reifies this perception by having the individual use rituals, prayers, or meditations to interact with these symbols and archetypal forms, and the “beings,” “spirits,” “deities,” “gods,” or “powers” that inhabit its chosen cosmology.

In the Yoga of the Seven Mudras we teach that an individual needs to discover what actually is in his or her inner worlds, and create his or her own map, rather than having it specified by an authority.

Conditioning of Beliefs

We have mentioned the influence that religion has on beliefs shaping social and cultural norms, morality, perception of self (self-image), environment, and cosmology.

Religion shapes beliefs by associating stimuli with strong positive emotions (exultation, ecstasy, joy, blessedness, total serenity) or strong negative emotions (disgust, horror, terror, rage, shame, condemnation, revulsion).

This creates a wide duality between right and wrong, “our religion’s true way” and “their way, which is sinful and in error.”

Note that the items which are held out as “evil” are associated with strong negative emotions and terrifying or disgusting images, and those that are “good” are associated with positive emotions, and images of goodness, virtue, and praiseworthiness.

Conditioning Emotions

Religion captures emotionality by bringing the listener into participatory relationship with the speaker. Religion does not talk in the “I” voice, it is always “you” or “they.”

“You” are addressed directly, and “you” are told about the error of “your” ways, and what supernatural catastrophes await “you” if “you” fail to follow the correct behavior and belief.

Otherwise, the argument continues, “you” will wind up like “them,” whose abject and miserable state is described to you in exquisite and excruciating detail.

Tale after tale of woe and misery and suffering is described to “you” in a sorrowful voice, and after awhile you come to see yourself in these stories, and identify with the pain of your own suffering.

Religion then offers its beliefs, its practices, its powerful spiritual agencies, as your panacea, “your way out” from this suffering.

Note that your attention has been focused on your suffering by this speech. You were not remembering your suffering before, but suddenly, midway into the speech, you are engaged: you are feeling your own depression and misery.

You might have been in a good mood coming into the hall or meeting place, but now you have been sucked into an encounter with your own pain.

Then suddenly, you are offered a miraculous “way out,” and escape from pain. All “you” have to do is “choose” to do what “we” (the saved, the initiated, the twice born) request that “you” do.

This ongoing request for new commitments and “choices” drags you deeper and deeper into involvement with religion.

Eventually, you may be “led” to become a renunciant, a monk or nun, in which case a superior or “Master” will help dictate every decision of your life: what to think, how to believe, and what to do in every situation.

Does this sound like mind control or brainwashing to you? It is.

Spiritual Conditioning

Spiritually, conditioning takes place by selecting one of the twelve domains as the place to focus on your spiritual heart or spirit.

Specific prayers, visualizations, and meditations are used to direct your attention to this level.

Religion describes a “correct” cosmology in which the spirit dwells and “true” path for you to follow.

There are guides and helpful agencies at every level in the Continuum of Consciousness, but religion specifies the only guides you “should” listen to and which spiritual agencies you “should” invoke or emulate.

Conditioning Behavior

The powerful influence that religion has on belief, cultural norms, morality, perception, and emotions, strongly affects behavior.

This is seen both in “pious” or “holy” behavior while in the church or temple congregation or at proscribed ceremonies or rituals, in the prayer or meditation room or altar at home, and in interactions with other people in daily life.

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