Otherwise, how can their totally illogical belief system and barbaric behavior be explained? But the notion of “brainwashing” that is bandied about is the stuff of science fiction and Hollywood movies such as the Manchurian Candidate.
The human person arrives in this world with his brains already washed in the sense of being what John Lock called tabula rasa, clean slate—ready for experience to imprint its script on it. John Lock was only partly correct.
The brain also arrives with numerous predispositions already in place. It is a combination of life’s influences and a person’s own decisions that determine which of these dispositions develop and which ones fail. It is through this process that a unique human being is formed.
Many animals come with already in-place programs that automatically run much of their lives.
Birds’ migration, mating courtship and thousands of other complex behaviors are instances of this type of specific programming. A catchword for this type of behavior is “instinct.”
As a general rule, the higher the organism the less is its rigid pre-programs and the greater its latitude to exercise choices.
Making choices depends on what there is to choose from and to what extent a given choice appeals to the person. And the human newborn enters the arena of life without the means of being other than a passive recipient of “things” already chosen for him.
It is like the old joke by Henry Ford who reportedly told his customers that they could have the choice of color for their car as long as it is black. Things are almost as bleak for the new arrival. He didn’t have a say in choosing his parents, his socio-economic condition, his environment of birth and much more. All are already in place and he is to start in life from the context of his birth.
The development of a new-born in any family is importantly influenced by many factors, among them how hands-on the parents are; how religious they are, how severely they micromanage him in an attempt to make him not only a good person but also a person better-one than they themselves.
Parents tend to live vicariously through their children by programming them, the best they can, so that the children become or achieve much of what they themselves had failed to become or to accomplish. This attitude covers all areas of life such as giving the child the education they didn’t have, helping him with fame and fortune, nurturing him to become a topnotch athlete and so forth.
It is a fact that early influences play a cardinal role in shaping the person.
For this reason, for instance, the overwhelming majority of Muslims have born into Muslim families, Catholics into Catholic families, Hindus into Hindu families and so on. It is also a fact that the degree of religiosity ranges from mild to strong, with most people falling somewhere between the two extremes.
Interestingly, two siblings raised by the same set of parents under the same influences may end up at the opposite extremes in their religious views and practices.
It is here that the human dynamic of freedom of choice comes into play and steers one to one extreme and the other to the other extreme. Occasional extreme deviations notwithstanding, the great majority of siblings of a given family end up with various degrees of that family’s overall religious and other values.
The same general principle of subscribing to a set of common values exists in all human groupings, in some cases with a broad flexibility and inclusiveness while in others with rigidity and exclusivity.