A critical essay that discusses the negative impacts of various types of indoctrination and propaganda. I reflect on my own experiences with the Seventh-day Adventist church and draw parallels with political and religious ideologies, including those surrounding Trump, Russian propaganda, and Zionism.
The bad news: brainwashing, gaslighting, and the technological terror of the modern PR machine has been serving evil human projects.
The good news: The young of every caste, color, and creed hold the cure.
I am still recovering from my poisoned mind after 25 years of SDA/Christian brainwashing. It’s especially difficult since I was employed by them as a brainwasher. But a decade into recovering from the crippled mindset, I am starting to compare the old poison with others I find around me. Religious cult-related mental poisons are surprisingly similar to other kinds I find in the wider world.
An obvious one in my country is the cult of Trump. Perhaps less obvious is what I find in the geopolitical world. Propaganda from Russia (pre- and post-USSR) and the Zionist Israel project have relied heavily on such a similar kind of poisoned thinking. When an institution or global ideology can successfully recruit millions of minds into this cult-like culture of gaslighting, then apply that poison to dehumanizing and “othering” vulnerable victims, branding them as less than human, ‘dirty,’ or ‘enemies of humanity,’ they have gone to the next level. A frightening, Orwellian level.
SDAs also create a mental barrier between their in-group (a.k.a., The Remnant) and everyone else, but the worst fruits of this are projected into an apocalyptic future, and they make themselves the prophesized victims in this future scenario, martyrs for their cause. Putin’s cult and Netanyahu’s cult do this uncloaked, brazenly, in a full-throated justification for genocidal intentions. Truly horrific.
The most horrifying aspect of this is the power they wield to silence criticism. Within the SDA church, it was taboo to initiate any serious criticism of the church. Their ultra-conservative off-shoot ministries are famously critical of mainstream SDAs, but within their commune-like groups, they allow no self-criticism.
Chilling or threatening self-evaluation is an obvious harm to progress, and every institution or society which has embraced a free marketplace of ideas and opinions has quickly shown how much better life can be for its members and citizens. The opposite is true, and unfortunately much more common in human history. Tyrants of all kinds have never flourished when they allow an atmosphere of transparency, accountability, and open debate of their fitness for leadership. Therefore, they tend to kill freedom of speech, and anyone within their grasp who freely speaks.
Russia and Israel are textbook cases of this tyranny over the free exchange of ideas. They perfected mind poisoning and killed the truth about them.
Soviet Russia became infamous for creating a society of mistrust and paranoia within their own citizenry. Neighbor turned in neighbor to horrific lives in detention based on the flimsiest of suspicions of criticism of the government, often done to save themselves by showing their loyalty. The Gulag Archipelago documents this well. Russia’s recent history under Putin, a former KGB agent trained in Russia’s mind poisoning state-terror tactics, demonstrates how that society has a long way to go to heal itself from the damage done during the era of the USSR. See how easily Russian leadership convinces itself to keep to the party narrative about their illegal war on Ukraine.
In our day, the Israeli government has become a version of that paranoid, brutalist Soviet society. Their brand of mental poison is much more potent than Russia’s, brainwashing not just each other, but also their overlords in Europe and the United States into believing the lies they tell their own citizens. All through the West, when governments put themselves on the side of Israel’s Zionist project, it quickly becomes enshrined in their own law that criticism of Israel is equivalent to that powerful modern scarlet letter, Antisemite. See Germany, the UK, and the increasing number of US States which have fallen prey to the power of Zionist lobbyists to pit citizen against citizen in the service of defending the Zionist project in Israel.
So many in every industry all over the Western world have been fired, deplatformed, or blacklisted for simply describing and decrying what their eyes are seeing through the journalism coming out of Gaza. It’s a perfect Orwellian brew of PR, propaganda, and, increasingly, legal codes. You must deny what your lying eyes see. Don’t believe your own mind, believe what you are told think. All too familiar for ex-cult members who finally broke free of that playbook.
If proof of this mind poison is needed, it’s easy to get during the current iteration of Israel’s forever-war on Palestinians. Simply go onto social media and speak out against Israel’s genocidal actions toward Gaza. Do this enough, eventually some will suggest that you support Hamas terrorists. Some will say you are a terrorist. Some will accuse you of promoting antisemitism. Some will use “what-about-ism” fallacies, pointing out how badly some Muslim theocratic states treat their own citizens, as if the bad behavior of one justifies that of another.
An alternate avenue to this evidence is to train your favorite social media platform’s algorithm to show you pro-Palestine accounts (like, save, repost, etc.) Using a throwaway account can keep this experiment separate from the main account.
Experiencing firsthand the mental changes coming from being on the inside of an exclusivist cultic “Us/Them” group like SDAs, then going outside and becoming one of “Them” has been enlightening. Anyone born into one of these cults but never left can’t really relate. When you are inside the cocoon of the cult, the mental set is all-encompassing, ready-made, and extremely soothing; like Orwell’s Soma drug from 1984, groupthink can be an addictive lifestyle. Outsiders are (in my case with SDAs) “worldly,” “secular,” sinful lost souls, never to be trusted. Poor, lost outsiders do not know how desperately they need what insiders have. They must be convinced of their lostness by a human-divine endeavor called evangelism. If they reject it, they are utterly deluded and can be used by Satan the Deceiver to turn insiders away from faith and join the ranks of the lost.
Those still inside my former Church are motivated to be uninterested by my story of leaving them, because their groupthink supplies a narrative: Satan got me. To engage with me on a deep level of understanding would be dangerous, since Satan can now use me to get them. To preserve their own good reputation with God and Church, they keep us lost souls at a safe distance. They don’t consider this shunning, since it has to do with protecting their own holiness—the currency in their economy of salvation. It’s simply shaking the dust from their sandals as they move on to the next evangelistic endeavor. This is hurtful mind poison, and needlessly divides human from human.
Applied to Trumpists, Russian propagandists, and Zionists, it is the same playbook, but taken to the next level. Outsiders are dehumanized, threatened, subjected to verbal, mental and physical violence, and generally worthy of extermination. This playbook is not modern even though it has been much improved by modern tyrants through the advent of mass communication. It was certainly used all through history whenever there were brutes that needed exploiting or exterminating. Colonizers, caste-system enforcers, civil warriors, maintainers of apartheid states, racists, bigots, and ethnic supremacists all call on the same strategies to gaslight the public and their victims. This is the recipe for poisoning minds, and it is an old evil. It seems to be woven into our DNA. We struggle against instinct when we embrace the moral imperative that all of us are equals and ought to treat each other as such. Hopefully we will someday win that struggle globally. It’s certainly a world worth striving for.
The specific similarity between Trump’s MAGA cult and Israel’s Zionist cult has been a useful deeper dive.
- Trump was not a self-made POTUS. After he enjoyed a lifetime of the fruits of being an absentee landlord and other forms of predatory and corrupt business practices, he became a “useful idiot” to many special interests in his 2016 run at presidential power, guys like Steve Bannon, Steven Miller, his Kushner in-laws, evangelicals gunning for Roe v Wade and beyond, aggrieved white supremacists, Zionists, Putin—quite the basket of deplorables.
- Israel was not a self-made nation. Since the Balfour Declaration kicked the Zionist project into high gear, it has always been many things to many international players. They may benefit from pretending it has only ever been about regaining their sacred homeland, but that is not how the project started. The British Empire was winding down and wanted to maintain a presence in the region. The US, an empire on the rise, wanted the same thing. The long, terrible history of antisemitism and stinging consciences in post-holocaust Europe motivated strong support for it. The brand-new United Nations wanted a smooth transition away from British mandate to independence. Utterly ignored, of course, were the opinions of the very people who had the most to lose by forcing a modern Jewish nation into the middle of a region with a long history of being used as pawns in colonial geopolitical games. No one consulted the Palestinians, because they were not considered equal, or worthy of consideration; this attitude prevails among geopolitical power brokers to the present day.
- Trump always lies. A notorious liar, he has perfected the use of every form of dishonesty, projection, and gaslighting in his self-promoting propaganda– he is consistent with it, repetitious, loud, and shameless, which appeals to key low-information/high-testosterone voting blocs;
- Zionists rely on lies. Zionists also perfected gaslighting, projection, and shameless dis- and mis-information peddling as they fight a propaganda war (look up Hasbara). Both Trump and Zionists excel in turning common sense on its head and constructing an upside-down alternate universe of facts.
- Trump benefits from his cult. Trump’s MAGA cultists almost worship him like a god on earth, to the bitter consternation of observers and victims of their hateful policies and incitement of violence. Their January 6, 2021, attempted coup at the Capitol was only one of many documented crimes of violence committed by his faithful cult members. Likely, he will die a convicted felon, forever counted as a patriot-martyr to his cult faithful.
- Zionism benefits from its cult. Israel’s Zionists have widespread international support, and their countless Geneva Convention and human rights violations are sadly crimes without punishment. But their government goes further than damaging Palestinian bodies; they wage a constant PR war against the commonsense definitions of key playbook terms such as “antisemitism,” causing otherwise intelligent humans to go along with their new definition of it: Anything that puts Israel in a bad light (See US House bill H888). Israel’s pernicious and continuous use of state terror is buried under the mantra Israel has the right to defend itself. “Terrorism” has been redefined by Zionists to mean “any wish to end the occupation—whether expressed peacefully or through struggle” (“Gaza in crisis: Reflections on Israel”, 2013, Noam Chomsky and Ilan Pappe.)
- Trumpism is an evil project. Trump is using his influence over Congress, the Courts, and State politics to attempt to recreate this country into his own fascist banana republic, and his MAGA goons drool over the prospect, including right-wing news and social media outlets he has poisoned, while mainstream media behaves as if this is just another election horse-race and not the ignominious end of The World’s Oldest DemocracyTM.
- Zionism is an evil project. Israel uses its influence over the hearts and minds of those still hurting for the many victims of the WWII Holocaust as a cloak for their colonialist imperialist genocidal intentions toward Palestine and the wider region, which they aren’t really hiding that much anymore, since two or three generations have passed and the major power brokers controlling Israel’s lifelines of support consistently ignore the big picture, and allow Zionists to remote control their foreign policies to benefit Israel.
The biggest difference between the two is found in the attitude of a clear majority of American citizens toward Trump and Israel:
- Trumpism has failed. Except for a permanently poisoned fraction of voters, officials, and their media toadies, most of Trump’s fellow Americans see right through him now. Most of us despise him for what he’s done to our public institutions and the divisiveness we are suffering because of him and his cult.
- Zionism remains ascendant. Israel continues to hold most Americans in its thrall thanks to a wide range of victims of its incredibly sophisticated PR playbook. They’ve snared many Jewish Americans who fall victim to the Zionist mind poison, and their many similarly poisoned allies spread the cult mindset far and wide. Israel also leverages the gullibility of millions of Bible-believing evangelicals, who factor Israel into fulfillments of their Church’s prophecies. Thanks to almost limitless cashflow, the fossil fuel lobby and Israel’s own powerful lobby have tentacles buried deep into virtually every level of government. Open discussion and criticism of Israel’s policies in the public sphere is becoming increasingly chilled by the stripping of Americans’ 1st Amendment rights on that topic. TikTok, taking the place of the now-Musk-crippled Twitter, is one of the few platforms where firsthand evidence of Israel’s actions can be freely observed. Not coincidentally, AIPAC-supported Congress members are working to widen the ban on the platform in this country.
Of course, young people (and all generations of curious minds) flock to see anything banned or taboo to judge for themselves if it is so deserved, and so future generations remain our best hope for future justice both domestically and in troubled regions like Palestine. Young Muslims are the tip of the spear of this struggle to bring progress and enlightenment to the governments of which they find themselves citizens, and the religions into which they were born. In league with young Jews, young Christians, young Hindus, young Buddhists, young Sikhs, young atheists, and young agnostics, they are communicating their frustrations and hopes to each other using their own modern anti-poison playbook: social media.
Incorporating ethical and moral codes into our societies has proven adaptive to the human species, and thus they are vital to our survival. Religions supply ready-made codes for adherents, which believers subsequently remix and personalize to guide their moral decisions. Similarly, atheists create their own moral code, but without the distractions of religious creeds. As an atheist, my religion is humanism, though calling humanism a religion might be offensive to both humanists and religionists.
I must reject myths created by humans when they are harmful to our species. My beliefs flow from what is best for most human beings, as decided by most human beings and not any single one or small group of us. That makes me anti-war, anti-tyranny, anti-fascist, anti-greed, and anti-censorship, among other things. To me there is such a thing as evil, and its opposite is called good. That makes me pro-kindness, pro-bodily-autonomy, pro-freedom, and pro-peace, among other things. Above all, I’m pro-species, and pro-Earth, and anti-killing-the-world’s-future-because-a-mythical-post-death-paradise-is-mine-too-mindset. I’m all for the saving the only homeland we have, planet Earth, and saving the species that is threatening it and ourselves.
In my moral code, counting one place on earth as worth more than the rest is just as evil as counting one tribe, ethnicity, or culture superior to all of them. Although I do not go out of my way to offend my family and friends who disagree with this, I am convinced that there is no such thing as sacred places. That’s because in a real sense, all places are equally sacred. Some would argue that if every place is sacred, then no place is sacred. I would not argue with that. It’s all the same to me.
No human tribe is righteous, none are sacred. The whole is sacred. Life is sacred. Creating mythical boundary lines between parts of what should be protected as a sacred whole is the root of many evils. Among them are White supremacy, misogyny, racism, apartheid policy, gender and sexual orientation bigotry, patriarchy, caste, and slavery.
Zionism’s founding myth is that Jews deserve a homeland. The ancient religion of Judaism has been weaponized to empower that myth. The history of Zionism’s founding myth has proven to be evil, because it cannot do anything except create wars and divide human against human, mainly because the location for the Jewish homeland was poorly chosen.
Why did they choose to carve up Palestine into a Zionist homeland? A key aspect of Zionist mythology is that Palestine belongs to Jews because they are indigenous to that place. This powerful myth leverages the terminology of commonly liberal and progressive causes as they often choose to side with indigenous peoples in land struggles. This helps explain why many popular celebrities have recently fallen out of favor with left-leaning supporters of freedom for Palestinians; indigeneity often trumps all other concerns for many who desire to support the most morally correct causes.
Deciding who is indigenous to a place can be complicated, but in Israel’s case it is not. It’s simple to boil down the reason Zionist Jews claim Palestine as their homeland: invisible voices told them so.
The story of Abraham, father of the big three monotheistic religions, is the story of an immigrant from what we know as Iraq (to him, it was Ur in ancient Mesopotamia—the land between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers). His narrative is that God’s voice granted him a new homeland, what we know as Palestine (then known as Canaan). He claimed God gave it to him and his descendants forever. He died without seeing that goal realized. But Moses, another big name for all three Peoples of the Book, heard voices too. His voices set his Hebrew people free from slavery (a moral good) but then set them above what their voices branded as the wicked Canaanites (a moral evil). The Hebrews’ invisible-God-voices pushed them past apartheid coexistence with the indigenous tribes into religiously motivated genocide.
This is the narrative of Moses and subsequent judge-leaders of the Hebrews, who rebranded themselves as Israelites after another Jewish hero, Jacob (renamed by a voice to Israel). The books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles establish the narrative of Israel as a divine-voice mandated kingdom. (If this reminds students of Western Civilization of “the Divine Right of Kings,” we’re on the same page). Multiple diasporas followed, with celebrated reinstatements, then Hellenization, Roman conquest, and many more well-documented chapters in their long history. The point is that if you wind that history back far enough, it gets you to a man named Abraham (originally Abram, and you can guess how his name got changed) whose guiding voices made him emigrate to Palestine and promise it to his descendants as their homeland, without considering the plight of its actual indigenous peoples because, as the long history of settler colonialism goes, they didn’t matter.
It really shouldn’t matter in this point in human progress whether your evil project of genocidal settler colonialism is otherwise known as part of your people’s sacred history. Is your history somehow more sacred than the indigenous whose land you occupy? Could it be that we need to strike at the root of the problem, and stop calling things sacred? Elevating them beyond the reach of common sense discussion by declaring them critical to Denominational Security?
The land of Palestine is not the homeland of Israel. The founder of that religion claimed it upon immigrating there, as if he discovered it. They claim they were given that Promised Land because their god-voices proclaimed them the Chosen People. To make a couple other long stories shorter, Christianity and Islam incorporate that homeland mythology while twisting it into a claim to their holy lands, sacred to each for different (and more recently, incompatible) reasons.
No human deserves a homeland other than the whole Earth which we share. Carving out a piece of Earth and making it your sacred fortress can only bring evil to yourself and everyone around you. Claiming Jerusalem to be the sacred homeland to three incompatible religious doctrines locks those held captive by such terrible errors into permanent war with each other over possession of that place. Claiming that one city or land is sacred, and somehow belongs to you alone, is evil.
Earth and all life are sacred; where you stand is not more valuable and important than where I stand. We all live on sacred ground. There’s no good in claiming ownership of your part and counting all other parts as not your home or less valuable than another’s. The whole planet is our homeland. If you must claim a homeland, claim Earth as a whole. It needs your attention as a whole, not just the part you believe is most important because that’s where you live or where your god-voices come from. Distracting from that and obsessing over some part of it sacred to your myth is evil because while these evil wars rage, the homeland of all humanity is dying.
Claiming that your myth is sacred or righteous, and others are evil is itself a terrible evil. It is evil to defend a false claim to land or rights that you believe are uniquely granted only to you and not all human beings. That is the reason it is wrong to grant any culture a part of Earth as their “homeland”. The entirety of planet Earth is the homeland, and it falls to every culture and ethnic group within humanity to heal it before we permanently kill our species.
Of course, the previous paragraphs will be interpreted by some, especially those who never left those Big Three traditions as horrifically offensive. Some will go on to smear me with the worst labels from their playbook. I’ll become to them an antisemite, terrorist, promoter of hate-speech. That’s the mind poison doing the talking for them, and I don’t hold it against them, if they allow me my freedom of speech. We’ll see how that goes…
There is hope. The younger generations have developed strong antidotes to the mind poisons which have accompanied our species through its troubled history. Hopefully many of us are now making good use of the cure. The most important part of the cure for mind poison is the preservation of our right to freely speak our minds, especially when it comes to bringing down all types of tyrants including religious and political tyrants.
Russians will someday heal their society. Their young and youthfully minded citizens long to someday create a free and open democracy there, and we who agree must help them. The United States will someday heal our society. The fight for equality and freedom from tyranny hasn’t stopped here, but we require the help of freedom lovers everywhere.
The Zionism of Israel has been rejected by Jews worldwide from the time it arose to the present day. They continue the struggle to demonstrate that Zionism and Judaism are different things, that Israel’s state-terror does not represent the faith of Judaism. The struggles of the Palestinians against Israeli settler colonization are well-documented, and currently can be followed in the news and through social media platforms. We should all keep following it, and continue working together to break out of evil mind poisons, dismantling the terrible projects built to serve tyrants and other freedom-killing powers, and creating the world we want to live in.
Works Cited and Further Research Recommendations:
Orwell, G., & Crick, B. (1984). Nineteen Eighty-Four. Clarendon.
Solzhenitsyn, A. I. (1974). The gulag archipelago, 1918-1956: An experiment in literary investigation, parts I-II. Harper & Row.
Wilkerson, I. (2020). Caste: The origins of our discontents. Random House.
Pappé, I., Chomsky, N., & Barat, F. (2013). Chapter 1. In Gaza in crisis: Reflections on Israel’s war against the Palestinians (3rd ed., p. 10). Haymarket Books.
“H.Res. 888 — 118th Congress: Reaffirming the State of Israel’s right to exist.” www.GovTrack.us. 2023. December 3, 2023 <https://www.govtrack.us/congress/bills/118/hres888>
Peck, R. (2021). Exterminate all the brutes: Official Website for the HBO series. HBO. <https://www.hbo.com/exterminate-all-the-brutes>