You’ve been brainwashed; or, following after fleshly lusts

Sometimes, from time to time, a fundamentalist or evangelical child grows up to question and reject her parents’ beliefs and values. The funny thing is, this shift in belief is rarely seen as a legitimate rethinking and change of belief. Oh, no! Far from it! After all, how could a child raised on the Truth ™ go on to reject the Truth ™? How could a child raised to know Jesus and the amazing life he brings go on to reject him and his gift? It’s incomprehensible! And so, an explanation must be found.

When I changed my beliefs and left the beliefs my parents raised me on, they had to find such explanations. And they did. The two explanations they used most frequently were that I had been “brainwashed” and that I was following after my “fleshly lusts.”

You’ve Been Brainwashed

When I began changing my beliefs, both politically and religiously, my father concluded that I had been “brainwashed.” Brainwashed by my liberal professors, to be exact.

The irony is, when this was all going on I was extremely afraid that I was being brainwashed. After all, I’d been taught that college students face brainwashing at the hands of their liberal professors and must carefully guard against it. As I found what I was learning was leading me to rethink my beliefs and values, I was very afraid that this is exactly what was happening to me.

At the time I confided this fear in my boyfriend, who is now my husband. Sean walked me mentally through the problem step by step, asking me what constituted “brainwashing” and suggesting that I compare that to what my professors were doing. My professors, I said, were simply giving me information and asking me to think for myself – and they were. Furthermore, they weren’t basing grades on my views or making any sort of requirement that I change them. They weren’t doing anything close to brainwashing. In fact…what they were doing was pretty much the opposite. And so, little by little, I was able to let go of my fear of being brainwashed.

The trouble is, I can’t exactly convince my dad of this. To him I will always be the good conservative godly daughter who went to college and was brainwashed by liberal college professors. The idea that I could have been thinking for myself, and could have honestly thought things through and formed my own opinion? Nope. Nada. I’ve been brainwashed.

Following after Fleshly Lusts

My mom, on the other hand, takes a different tact. She has informed me that I have changed my views because I am “following after my fleshly lusts.” In other words, I’ve changed my views because changing them allowed me to do things I really wanted to do but were condemned by God. For example, I decided that adult daughters should be independent from their fathers’ control because I wanted to be able to date whom I pleased rather than obeying my father and letting him guide my romantic relationships.

To be honest, at one point I was a bit afraid that this might be the case. I was concerned about the fact that I followed my parents’ beliefs until they got hard – i.e. until the started ordering me to do things I didn’t want to do – and that I then changed my views, thus allowing me to do what I wanted to do instead of what they told me to do. In some ways it would be like a teen saying she didn’t believe in premarital sex, and then getting a boyfriend and suddenly saying she didn’t think premarital sex was wrong after all. But if you know anything about me, it’s that I’m introspective. I didn’t change any belief without a great deal of thought, examination, and, yes, argumentation. I argued myself silly supporting my conservative opinions, finding, over time, that they simply didn’t hold up. I didn’t do or decide anything hastily or without reason.

But one aspect of this argument from fleshly lusts is that my mom was and is is convinced that I really truly do know that her beliefs and views are right, I’m just choosing to ignore that so that I can do as I please. I knew adult daughters are under their father’s authority, and that kissing before marriage was wrong, etc., and when I claimed I believed otherwise I was simply lying so that I could, well, do as I pleased, follow my “fleshly lusts,” etc. She’s told me this many times.

The trouble is, there’s no real way to combat this argument. Whatever I say, my mom can go on claiming that I know that she and her beliefs are correct, and that I’m saying otherwise just to gratify my “fleshly lusts.” In the end, I end up feeling kind of stuck, like I’ll never convince her that I have really formed my own opinions and beliefs. Seriously, think for myself? Nope! Fleshly lusts!


When you’re completely sure you’re right, it’s sometimes hard to understand why anyone would hold any other opinion. It’s especially hard to understand why someone raised on the Truth ™ you trust in so implicitly would go on to reject it. And so, you have to find a way to explain it. That person over there left the faith because she was brainwashed. That other person left the faith because he wanted to follow his fleshly lusts. Viola. Explanations.

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