What a coincidence! This suddenly came onto the radio as I was preparing a talk on 'Mind Games, Religion and Social Control' on the indoctrination of religion. My brain suddenly switched on to the lyrics that I had never really listened to before though I knew the number well from ten years ago.

A Great song and great words by  Jamaican Reggae band - Inner Circle

"If you are over 20 you are sure to know it!"

View and Listen online see link

'Games People Play'

words by Joe South

Oh the games people play now
Ev'ry night and ev'ry day now
Never meaning what they say, yeah
Never saying what they mean.
First you while away your hours
In your ivory towers
Soon you'll be covered up with flowers
In the back of a black limousine.

People walking up to ya
Singing glory hallelujah
Then they try to sock it to ya,
In the name of the Lord

And they teach you how to meditate
Read up your horoscope and change your faith
And furthermore to hell with hate
Come on and give me some more, and more, and more.

First your're giving up your sanity
Turn your back on humanity, yeah
And you don't give a damn, a damn, a damn, as damn, a damn.


Na na na Na na na Na na

Na na na Na na na Na na
Talkin'bout you and me, yeah
And the games people play.


If you have broadband you can listen to the original on


Mind Games, Religion  and Social Control              

 (2800 words print off)


Some 95% + of the world' population still believe in the supernatural, gods and religion - as essential and good They sustain the prejudices of the major religions that still even today cause suffering and death on every continent, by for instance opposing the funding of WHO  health and population programmes that give advice and facilities for contraception, condom use and abortion - at UN level and on the ground. Religion causes or exacerbates sectarian conflict and prevents negotiated solutions, and justifies the oppression of women women fundamentalist beliefs and promotes irrationality and unreason in the modern world..


I will start with a personal example of 'mind games' in public discussion - Many times when I have voiced my ideas people have said  "oh, that's only YOUR opinion" - who else's opinion would I express? Is opinion of no value?

Like other Common fallacies it is used to divert  discussion when people disagree with what you are saying, have not met ideas before, or have no answer and want to keep to their own comfort zone.[1]


Much of what I want to say may seem pretty obvious? - but this is my particular perspective - as an atheist  secular-humanist - with long term  interests  in politics and religion, in health issues and education - on which I recognise a context, purpose and the effects of these mechanisms, that I do not hear elsewhere.


I can only assume that this is the result of having had a childhood in which I missed many of the usual conditioning processes of  this society.


But why do I think this this subject is important from an atheist point of view?


The consideration of religion, from an atheist point of view, since its first publicly recorded awakenings by the ancient philosophers has been by philosophers. Inevitably, over the centuries  it was only small groups of  male intellectuals,   who had the wealth, education and status that protected them from the worst of the censorship and punishment that other religious dissenters would have suffered, atheism was for most of the last 2000 years systematically suppressed. These schololarly groups  popped up from time to time over history, to discuss theology and philosophy safe in the knowledge that as long as they didn't rouse the workers to rebellion  they would be tolerated.


I say this not to underestimate  the important role of philosophy as the basis of rationality and science, but to regret that  for many people, it is STILL the ONLY valid way to consider religion and sometimes to confuse. And atheism  is still thought of as natually within a philosophical context and as scientific discourse -but I believe that it will be through the study of  the much newer studies of sociology, anthropology,  psychology and  neuro-science  -  that an understanding of why people, individuals and societies, continue to  believe in gods and the superstructures of the religions that have been built upon them - will be found -  It will I believe explain why they persist despite modern intelligence, education, and  the hindsight of history and current affairs.


And it is psychological techniques, the mind games and how they are used to inculcate irrational  'belief'  that I propose to concentrate on  here. You will realise as I go through this that there are some other big issues that could and I think should be  considered in the same light - but I can only refer to them in passing .


Education & how it has has been subverted from producing questioning analytical thought to didactic teaching for other purposes.- false knowledge & disinformation is rife.

The  inculcation of Stereotypes & Prejudices through the media, publishing, commerce and industry.

And Political propaganda  much of which goes apparently unnoticed by many people.


Social Control

Social control depends on authority - vested in an individual, elite group or wider democratic institutions and all societies are authoritarian to a greater or lesser extent. All societies  use fear, coercion and suppression in one form or another. 


physical and psychological

By force - military, economic, the law and penal system and superstition, and the undermining of  people's confidence and self-confidence, through  poverty, low pay & low status.  Keeping people one step from the gutter and lacking self-confidence - is a good way to keep them in line & I think this explains the paradox of the US religious secular/state that has a massive gap between rich and poor. Something else I think secularists need to understand and discuss.


Modern societies are no less coercive because they are wealthy and educated, or than in the past, or  just more cunning  in the methods they use.


I think there are  two main planks of authoritarianism, political and religious. And they are strongest when they collude. They use similar techniques for similar purposes  Religion is tailor-made for social control.

Church and state  are a partnership made in heaven.


Mind Games


Whatever you call them ‘the passing on of traditional ideas' 'maintaining the culture'  'indoctrination', ‘education’ or ‘therapy’ they are techniques used with the intention of manipulating though and behaviour for better or worse -Whatever the purpose they all use the similar techniques in inculcating ideas and attitudes..


They  are used to produce conformity and compliance to the rules of a given individual, society or  group, as designated by those who make the rules, belief in and fear of god, original sin, fear of death,  unsubstantiated stereotypes and prejudices about  human behaviour, needs and wants, on sexuality,  on the 'nature' of women and their role in society and in the home, about Jews, Blacks, 'the old', aggression and violence as 'natural' in men and boys, and political and class attitudes that many automatically  support as 'traditional and therefore 'right' or 'true' without any evidence. The way this is done from children's earliest years through the  toys and games puzzles and children's books they read, is described in detail in two books by Bob Dixon.[2]


What are these mind games & who uses them ?


They are the manipulative techniques used to influence attitudes, beliefs, prejudices in order to exert influence, power and control.  They all  involve dominant and the submissive relationships*. They are the  inculcation of ideas and attitudes that start before birth on parents, through the family, school, training, work etc. - through the culture,  law,  media & education, commerce, sport and lifestyle They  work at all levels from the individual, the family, the community, society, national and international. And one of the main aims is  OBEDIENCE.


We all use them all the time  - in every day life. They are part of the normal repertoire of  human interaction, in influencing each other for better or worse. Parents & children,  teachers & students,  employers and workers,  buyers and sellers,  men and women.  We use them to gain appreciation, affection, attention, respect, status and to INFLUENCE each other.


In society these mind games are carried on in society by its institutions –

obviously  - through government and  media, but also by industry and

less obviously  - by commerce, 'education', the mass media, religion and sport


In Industry and commerce - such as the multi billions pound industries that make and sell toys, games and publish children's books, that promote stereotypes and influence  the attitudes of children to race, gender, class and political ideas from an early age.* And on to adults .see Bob Dixon's Books and particularly the chapter on The Supernatural. LINK


In Education   which is not neutral and objective, it has been ‘shaped’ by people who have control over who is selected to teach, what they  teach and who they teach - HAS BEEN AND IS  subverted - by church and state that  use them for their own purposes.e.g. for the job market or the selective interpretation of history


In Sport the constant reinforcement of competition vs cooperation as the dominant ethos. Which I believe explains many of the conflicts between education and society because their aims, are often diametrically opposed.


In the extremes of politics and religion where they are called 'indoctrination'


In Mainstream religions - where it is used along with  education to promote or exclude doctrines and attitudes, on belief, women, work, sexuality & punishment etc.

But it is in how the mind control techniques work in alternative therapies  that gives the clue to the importance of these phychological techniques and the link with religious indoctrination.


In therapy they can be called 'behaviour modification' or a 'good bedside manner' And they work through the alleviation of stress and anxiety.


The Physiology


I should try here to explain how the body has its own natural mechanism -mind and body - for coping with illness, and that stress and anxiety can affect the brain,  and block these mechanisms e.g. endorphins and natural steroids and other hormones.


It has been shown that stress and anxiety and the chemicals they produce in the body, weaken the immune system, make people vulnerable to illness and hamper recovery from illness. So anything that reduces it will aid health and well-being.


This explains why to some extent anything including  quack remedies, placebos and alternative therapies a relaxing break sometimes work. So one can begin to see the underlying link between the chemicals produced by the body for health can be hijacked to manipulate  people who are vulnerable, children and vulnerable adults -  to inculcate beliefs such as cults and superstitions including mainstream religious beliefs..


Not an easy subject for anyone unfamiliar with human physiology.[3]


So what are these techniques?


I first really understood the  process as it affects health and well-being, when I realised  the extent to which it was possible for a doctor or nurse, to help a patient to cope with acute life threatening conditions by boosting their absolute confidence  in the care  they were getting - soothing their  fears, that allowed them to relax. - inducing relaxation aids physical and mental well-being and gives the body the best chance of recovery.


I subsequently studied hypnosis and the techniques it uses. -  This lead me to realise  how these same techniques are the same as those used in 'alternative therapies' whatever 'rituals' they use, and explains how they work, in  ways that are no different from those used by doctors and nurses (but without the advantages of evidence-based medicine.)  - Then going a step further I recognised how they are also exactly the same techniques that are used by the religions to indoctrinate people into having faith in  beliefs for which there is no rational basis.


They all use the same range of techniques that in hypnosis are called Induction, Conditioning and Reinforcement.


Induction is the initial introduction to the ideas by an authority figures - either  safe trusted  figures or  awe-inspiring figures -  parents, doctors or priests in appropriate  settings, home, hospital or church.

(Ideas are best inculcated into trusting subjects - children from birth through childhood, and adults especially when they are vulnerable - during periods of personal distress or illness.)


(In Battle for the Mind, A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing, William Sargant describes his experiences in his early life of religious conversions in the Methodist church and as an army psychiatrist in treating war victims suffering from post traumatic breakdown. In looking for a psychological basis for neurosis, although afraid of the consequences for his career in exposing the origins of religious indoctrination, he recognised and wrote in this book the links between vulnerability to brain-washing and psychological manipulation at times of stress. And he described these same techniques as used in religion). [4]


Conditioning is the process when the implanted ideas are confirmed by what they see, hear and learn in the home, and the community, by family, friends, school & other established groups and institutions, nurseries and playgroups saying prayers with their milk, cubs & brownies, scouts and guides talking 'promises' etc. In this period they learn to recognise signs and symbols that will be used to forever associate or trigger  thoughts of their religion.


Reinforcement is self explanatory - it is the continuing process during which ideas and beliefs are reinforced between 'sessions' of direct teaching, or influence, with therapist, priest, etc. using  a range of techniques called 'associations' and 'triggers' that input regular reminders in every-day life in many ways and engaging all the senses.


'Associations' and 'triggers' and 'distraction' are commonly used:-


In health they are the paraphernalia of doctors, hospitals, medications and treatments, etc.

In alternative therapies they are the rituals and 'explanations' they use.

and they can easily be seen in religious indoctrination.


These 'tricks' gradually build up subconscious habits to provide a  constant stream of reminders that range from:

Always present reminders - dress and dietary codes, the wearing of scarves or turbans, beards, shopping for food, wearing symbols such as crosses and rings.

Daily reminders, prayers, pictures & icons, TFTD - Daily worship in schools -

Weekly or calendar events - Sunday services - saints days, cub and scout promises, to

Annual events such as Harvest Festival, Xmas &  Easter.- all reinforce religion as traditional and ever present.

Life ceremonies 'Christenings', weddings and Funerals.


Which explains why the church is so desperate to make and keep these events and ceremonies religious, and has fought so hard to keep their monopoly..


Constant repetition is important  -  chanting mantras, oaths, well known hymn tunes, prayers, the use of candles, icons, statues, pictures and 'holy' books in the home  that associate religion with church and home. 

Linguistic references and religious metaphores and the references to scriptural stories with which our language is peppered. and of course oaths that invoke god or Jesus. (however subconsciously)


Then there are the regular reinforcements in civic life, prayers, remembrance services - constant daily references such as  'Thought for the Day' and the Daily Prayer on national  radio and services that even if people do not listen, they hear the trailers - even if they do not listen they still trigger associations.


Regular  promotion of religious views making clerics and spokespeople into celebrities and the ususal references to religion in the papers and magazines. (Though the news these days is gradually becoming more of a mixed blessing for the religions  today!)


One bright light for us has been the opening up of the issues and the difficulties for censorship, suppression and misrepresentation, presented by the Internet. This more than anything else, is I think, crucial to the rise of atheist reason and secularism. LINKS


Lastly - this theory also explains various other similar  apparently 'mysterious' phenomena:-  ‘mass hysteria’, thousands of individuals rallying in ecstatic devotion to religious and political leaders, from the Pope to Billy Graham, Hitler or Mao and  to pop stars or musicians; the adoption of fanatical, ideas and cults by otherwise apparently normal individuals; and the more florid religious phenomena -  the seeing of ‘visions’ and perception of ‘miracles’; the ‘speaking in tongues’, 'falling' and snake handling, and success of the religious movements led by ‘charismatic’ evangelists. Sargent particularly noted  the effect of bright lights and rhythmic drumming in inducing trance like religious states.


This for me is why this is an  important secularist issue - because only when people understand these phenomena will they be on the road to reason and the rejection of  irrational beliefs and all that goes with it..


* PS- Only as I re-wrote my notes for this article did  I notice that  the order that the way I naturally wrote those 'pairs' demonstrates which is considered dominant and which submissive.

1 Common fallacies - www.c.s.e.freeuk.com/fallacies.htm

2. www.peace-workshop.freeuk.com/Bob_Dixon.htm

   (Free to read or download) 'Catching Them Young' vol 1&2, and 'Playing them false'

3. 'A Theory of Belief' www.c.s.e.freeuk.com

4.  Review by John Birtchnell (1994) of 'Battle for the Mind, A Physiology of Conversion and Brain-Washing'  by William Sargant



Return to Workshop3