Saturday, March 14, 2015

Dobson’s Indoctrination Machine

The method’s and organization of James Dobson and his group “Focus on the Family,” appear to be one of the most effective ways of indoctrinating large segments of society known. This isn’t limited to Dobson’s organization; if you learn how to recognize his tactics you may be able to recognize the same tactics in many other competing organizations; the main point is that they do more to indoctrinate their followers than they do to educate them an teach them to do their own fact checking. Essentially what these organizations do is to teach people what to think without teaching them how to think and how to fact check and figure things out on their own. Dan Gilgoff did an excellent job reporting on some aspects of Dobson’s organization in his book “The Jesus Machine: James Dobson, Focus on the Family, and Evangelical America are Winning the Culture War;” however he missed some of the most important aspects. Some of the most important aspects involve the advice he gives on child rearing and this was covered better by other authors like Alice Miller author of “For Your Own Good” and Philip Greven author of “Spare the Child.”

Reasonable people can even understand how he indoctrinates his followers by reading Dobson’s own books including “The Strong Willed Child.” The most important aspect of how Dobson has been so successful at controlling his organization involves the way they teach little children, mainly with threats of punishment, to blindly obey their leaders without question from an early age before they learn how to think for themselves. In contrast many other modern educators of children try to find other ways to discipline them and teach them to sort through the details. One good example of these educators is Barbara Coloroso author of “Kids Are Worth It.”

Dobson opens up his book “The Strong Willed Child” by talking about an incident where his dog disobeyed him and he attempted to “reason” with him by using a belt to intimidate the little dog into submission. He expresses surprise when the dog gets upset and growls and even tries to bite him after he swats the dog with a belt. He winds up winning but admits that it is only because he “outweighed him two hundred to twelve.” This is the same way essentially that he recommends that parents teach their children to obey. He seems to think that child rearing is a constant battle for control to convince the child to submit to the will of the parent. The following quote from his book indicates his attitude towards children, “They come into the world smoking a cigar and yelling about the temperature in the delivery room and the incompetence of the nursing staff and the way the doctors are running things. Long before their children are born, mothers of strong-willed children know there is something different going on inside, because their babies have been trying to carve their initials on the walls.” He recommends that parents obtain obedience by using escalating violence that starts at a very young age and it often leads to children that never develop critical thinking skills and when they grow up they often wind up blindly believing whatever their leaders teach them to. This starts with light slaps that adults may not think are very painful but to a baby they can be quite painful.

In contrast other educators, like Benjamin Spock and Barbara Coloroso, are more inclined to recommend spending more time talking and listening to children to help them learn to sort through details. This takes time, patience and repetition but it works much better in the long run and the use of escalating violence also takes as much time if not more in the long run but it is much more likely to lead to escalating violence and cult activity where children are very insecure and do whatever it takes to get along with the crowd. This is the type of mentality that has led to many wars and it has enabled many politicians to control the masses and convince them to vote in favor of policies that are against the best interests of the majority so that the ruling class can receive the benefits.

When confronted by the claims of many more modern and scientific child rearing experts Dobson cites on one occasion the claims of Dr. John Valusek in the following excerpt:

Consider the views of Dr. John Valusek, a psychologist with whom I appeared on the Phil Donahue television show: 

“The way to stop violence in Americas is to stop spanking children,” argues psychologist John Valusek. In a speech to the Utah Association for Mental health some weeks ago, Valusek declared that parental spanking promotes the thesis that violence against others is acceptable.
“Spanking is the first half-inch on the yardstick of violence,” said Valusek. “It is followed by hitting and ultimately by rape, murder, and assassination, the modeling behavior that occurs at home sets the stage: ‘I will resort to violence when I don’t know what else to do.’”
To Dr. Valusek and his permissive colleagues I can only say '"Poppycock!"' How ridiculous to blame America's obsession with violence on the disciplinary efforts of loving parents! This conclusion is especially foolish in view of the bloody fare offered to our children on TV each day. The average 16-year-old has watched 18,000 murders during his formative years, including a daily bombardment of knifings, shootings, hangings, decapitations, and general dismemberment. Thus, it does seem strange that the psychological wizards of our day search elsewhere for the cause of brutality-and eventually point the finger of blame at the parents who are diligently training our future responsible citizens. Yet this is the kind of "press" that has been given in recent years to parents who believe in spanking their disobedient child.


Those same specialists also say that a spanking teaches your child to hit others, making him a more violent person. Nonsense! If your child has ever bumped his arm against a hot stove, you can bet he'll never deliberately do that again. He does not become a more violent person because the stove burnt him. In fact, he learned a valuable lesson from the pain. Similarly, when he falls out of his high chair or smashes his finger in the door or is bitten by a grumpy dog, he learns about the physical dangers in his world. These bumps and bruises throughout childhood are nature's way of teaching him what to treat with respect. They do not damage his self-esteem. They do not make him vicious. They merely acquaint him with reality. In like manner, an appropriate spanking from a loving parent provides the same service. It tells him there are not only physical dangers to be avoided, but he must steer clear of some social traps as well (selfishness, defiance, dishonesty, unprovoked aggression, etc.) (James Dobson “The Strong Willed Child” p.33-5)

Dobson doesn’t actually address his critics concerns instead he dismisses them with ridicule, scape-goating and other manipulating tactics. His comparison with the child bumping into a stove is kind of silly since the child will know that this is a result of his own clumsiness not someone else’s intentional use of violence. He does have a legitimate point when complaining about the massive amount of violence that children are exposed to in the modern media but this doesn’t justify his recommendations; in fact it should raise more questions about his recommendations. If as Dobson claims that watching “18,000 murders during his formative years, including a daily bombardment of knifings, shootings, hangings, decapitations, and general dismemberment,” contributes to violence wouldn’t that imply that the direct influence of violence from the parent would also contribute to escalating violence later in life; this should be even more true sine the child actually experiences the result instead of watching it on TV.

The truth is that studies, done by more secular researchers that check their facts in multiple ways, seems to indicate that excessive violence on TV probably is a contributing factor to violent behavior but not as big a factor as abuse that is inflicted directly on the child. Abuse inflicted directly on the child tends to desensitize the child to violence and teach him or her that violence is an acceptable way of accomplishing their goals. Furthermore other academic sources are more inclined to check their facts in multiple different ways and many of them have come to the same conclusions. Dobson on the other hand seems to have decided what is true based on his beliefs and then searched for the most effective way to convince others that he is right.

Many more reasonable people may wonder why anyone would listen to someone like Dobson. Most people that wonder that have probably been raised in a different manner and may not understand that those that are raised in authoritarian manners are living with this from the moment they’re born and never knew any other way. If this starts at a young enough age then the child may think that all people are raised like this and it is the proper way and that the parents are right to discipline them. Many of the people that were raised in this manner have come to believe what they’ve been told and they often grow up saying things like, “I’m not against spanking. Having received one at least every other day while growing up myself. (believe me, I deserved them all!!)"

They often become exasperated when they don’t know how to handle the situation since many of them learned subconsciously from the way they were treated as a child and do the same thing; if their parents didn’t set a good example when raising them they may have a hard time coming up with better ideas on their own. Also people like Dobson learn how to shmooze their followers. Dobson has at times talked for extensive periods of time about how he is shocked by child abuse which he claims is different from spanking and other escalating forms of punishment; he also claims that a parent should never spank out of anger. However most violence has a tendency to escalate and many of his followers almost certainly don’t know where to draw the line if there is a line; Dobson doesn’t seem to make it clear as far as I can tell where or if that line exists. I’m also skeptical about whether or not Dobson himself can control his own temper. At times he does seem to tell some light hearted stories but I suspect they may not be quite so light hearted when they happened.

On one occasion he writes about how they punish their children by making them stand in a corner and count to twenty five in a loud voice if they fail to put their napkin in place before taking a bite of food. To avoid being hypocritical they do this themselves as well. He goes on to talk about how his 8 or 9 year old son Ryan learns not to ever forget and finds it quite amusing if he can catch his parents or one of his sisters eating food without putting a napkin in place then he can play gotcha. Other educators tend to frown on tactics like this since it teaches children to use humiliation to accomplish their goals in the same way that spanking teaches them to use escalating violence. This was first written back in the late seventies and Ryan Dobson is an adult now and apparently he has gone through his rebellion stage where he dyed his hair got tattoos and married and divorced. This is apparently not the image the Focus on the Family wants. He has since begun a radio show with his father possibly as a born again Christian that has learned from his mistakes although I have only glanced at the information available so far. The point is that if he was raised right he probably would have gone through troubled stages but I suspect they probably wouldn’t be as troubled.

Daniel Gottlieb Moritz Schreber, one of the most influential writers on child-rearing and discipline in Germany in the mid-nineteenth century, also had similar problems with his children. He used even more extreme methods to indoctrinate children than Dobson did and one of His sons became schizophrenic and another wound up committing suicide. There are many researchers who have concluded that this was a major contributing cause to why people blindly obeyed orders during WWII. Philip Greven provided more information about this in his book Spare the Child. Dobson also writes about one example of how a couple children attempted to “hook” their parents into intervening by fighting when they didn’t really want to fight. The parents didn’t intervene and one of the children asks, "Isn't anybody going to stop us before we get hurt?!" Dobson doesn’t criticize the parents for not stopping them or telling a story that seems implausible instead he criticizes the children and recommends that they allow them to fight it out on their own; outside where it won’t bother the parents. A close look at his writings should appear laughable to most reasonable people if not for the fact that there are millions of people that seem to believe this is a reasonable way to raise their children.

The bottom line is that children that are raised in this manner tend to learn that they’re supposed to obey authority regardless of what that authority tells them to do. On one occasion Dobson even criticized the Marine Corps that sometimes “depend on this form of power to indoctrinate their beleaguered recruits;” however he doesn’t explain how this is different from what he is recommending. This is similar to his argument about how spanking is justified; a typical response might say something like “nothing could be further from the truth,” then he could go on when rebutting any given criticism with a long dialog that doesn’t actually address the issue, but he speaks with conviction so many people that are trained to obey authority believe him. I haven’t reviewed his entire dialog here but couldn’t find any argument that I saw that was worth rebutting; if you’re interested there are links below to more of his excerpts or you can go directly to the source to see if he actually made an argument that I missed.

Once the child grows up obeying authority then the religious leaders that preach to the adult can essentially dictate the truth to them since they will not have the discretionary skills to sort out the flaws in any given argument. Examples of that can be found in many different locations including the Tea Party and the way many people blindly follow their leaders to war or vote against their own economic interests.
Del Tackett, president of the Focus on the Family Institute and former official in the National Security Council under George H. W. Bush, has also helped in the effort to indoctrinate the public using manipulation tactics. He reviewed a copy of “I, Rigoberta Menchu,” the memoir of a woman who claimed to have witnessed widespread torture at the hands of the U.S.-backed Guatemalan military regime, published in 1982, and indicated that it was full of lies and it was an attack on Christianity and Capitalism. Del Tackett clearly had a bias since he worked for the Bush administration which was involved in the atrocities in Central America, yet he was considered an authority figure for members of Focus on the Family so he was probably not held too much if any scrutiny.

This particular book may have some flaws, almost all of them do, but there are almost certainly many aspects of it that have been confirmed from reliable sources. Even if that turns out not to be the case there are many other sources that indicates that the US hasn’t been honest about their activities in Central America and a close look will indicate that this isn’t an attack on Christianity since in most cases the people being suppressed in Central America are Christians. In fact some of those that were killed by some of the repressive governments are priests and nuns although most of them may have been in El Salvador, I’m sure that there are many in Guatemala as well. They don’t sort through the details to figure out whether or not these claims are true anymore than they sort through the details to figure out what is good about capitalism or bad about all the other ideologies they op[pose they just encourage their followers to blindly follow their leaders based on who does the most effective job indoctrinating not based on the merits of any given argument.

Gilgoff writes about how the members of the Arlington group meet in secret to decide the agenda for many Christian right groups; this clearly fits the definition of a conspiracy however the most important aspects aren’t secret at all. If not for their ability to indoctrinate large members of people these small groups of people could only discuss their own positions and votes as citizens. What makes this group so important is the fact that they have so many followers that will blindly follow what they’re told by their leaders once the leaders take a position on any given subject and the followers won’t check many if any facts. Gilgoff has indicated that polling has shown that many of these followers tend to vote Republican despite the fact that the Democrats are more likely to stand up for their best economic interests; this is only partly true since the Democratic party has now become almost as corrupt as the Republican party due to bribes thinly disguised as campaign contributions. The fact that so many people have been led to believe their leaders have forced some to vote for what they consider the lesser of two evils to prevent the more extreme from taking office but now the lesser of two evils is almost identical in many cases. The rare exceptions are a minority that are trying to educate themselves and spread educational material to others on a grassroots basis; they receive little if any help from major well financed institutions since they’ve all been corrupted by the multinational corporations or ideologues with an agenda.

One of the more extreme examples is when Richard Cizek, a more moderate reverend decided to stand up to Global Warming and attempt to get the Christian right to take a stand against pollution and protect the environment. He succeeded in getting some leaders from the Christian right to join him including Rick Warren but others opposed him. What it came down to seems to have been that theologians debated the issues without paying much attention to the science behind it and created two different sides who attempted to rally the public for their cause. The most successful was the side that opposed taking a stand on it or worse opposed the environmental cause entirely. This is the same group that claims to be pro-life and the damage to the environment clearly will cause much more death than abortion yet they are opposed to any action except to stop those that want to solve the problem. This is a throwback to the times when the church forced Galileo to recant the only difference is that due to modern technology the human race now has the ability to do much greater harm to each other and life on Earth; in fact if the cult mentality continues to get its way they may wind up putting us farther down a path that could lead to destruction of civilization as we know it if it leads to water wars and escalating environmental destruction.

Once Dobson decides what is true then his followers believe him; he even has an orthodoxy czar, Dianne Passno, that checks to find out what Dobson has said on any given subject and adopts it as the belief for focus on the Family. Her reviews don’t involve fact checking; instead they involve checking the record to find out what Dobson has said and accepting it without review. It is inevitable that at some time or another he has contradicted himself; when this happens there is a strong possibility that they could wind up with some form of doublethink which involves believing two or more contradictory beliefs without any need to correct the mistake. This is routine in cult ideologies.

Other examples include when Ralf Reed took massive donations from Jack Abramoff to rally the faithful against gambling but only against those that competed with Abramoff’s clients. This is a classic example where a religious leader can essentially sell the political power of the faithful against the best interest of the faithful without their understanding. Reed is supposed to be a true believer of God and morality yet there is no way to justify this in a rational manner. One possibility worth considering is the possibility that many of these leaders don’t really believe as strongly as they claim; instead they pretend to solely because they know this is required to convince the followers to obey. If this is the case then many of the most convincing religious leaders may actually be apostates that only pretend to believe in God so they can manipulate the faithful. Apostasy is probably much more common than many religious believers realize; however the apostates may not always have greedy intentions. Some people may be so frustrated with religious believers that can’t think rationally that they pretend to believe to get a point across that they actually believe in. regardless of why they use this tactic the followers are trained to believe their authority figures and they can’t sort out the details. If some of them do learn to sort out the details then they can accept the positive messages based on their merits regardless of the source or the professed beliefs of the source.

This type of indoctrination is of course not limited to the evangelical religion; there are many other Catholic, Muslim and Jewish religious leaders and also secular leaders that recommend the same tactics. This can lead to several different groups that encourage their followers to blindly follow their leaders without question. This often leads to the belief that people from our group are right but people from other groups are wrong. This doesn’t involve attempts to sort through the details and figure out what is right or not and when this escalates than it could and has led to many wars.

No true democracy can allow this type of indoctrination. If a large percentage of the public is controlled by cult leaders who do their thinking for them then the followers won't be expressing their own free will instead they will just be following the orders of their leaders just like the Germans that supported Hitler.

Dobson isn't a scientific psychologist; instead he is a cult leader that focuses more on how to manipulate people than to understand accurate psychology. Rational secular psychologists are much more inclined to review each others work and address the details instead of deciding what is true then conducting research that is designed to prove they’re right. Others will of course disagree; if you want to find out which side is right it will take some fact checking and sorting through the details. I have little doubt that doing this will lead to the conclusion that Dobson is seriously flawed however finding a better way will take more time.

Researchers and advisors like Barbara Coloroso have done a much better job sorting though the details than Dobson.

For excerpts used for conclusions from Dan Gilgoff’s "The Jesus Machine" click here
for excerpts cited from Dobson’s book “The Strong Willed Child” click here
Philip J. Greven: "Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse" 1991
To read Barbara Coloroso’s comments on dobson click here.

For additional information on Dobson and Focus on the Family see the following sites:

(For more information on Blog see Blog description and table of context for most older posts.)

The following are the original replies when this was first posted on Open Salon.

The only positive thing I can say about Dobson is that advises parents not to punish children who masturbate. I have seen a disproportionate number of fundamentalist families in my child and adolescent practice - their authoritarian parenting problems cause major problems in adolescents. Masturbation is always a biggie in these families. I have often found it helpful to go to Dobson's website and print out his masturbation page.

Focus on the Family, by the way, is a major mover (both in terms of lobbying and donations to charter schools) behind the school privatization movement.

Also "Spare the rod and spoil the child" doesn't come from the Bible. It comes from a satirical poem by Samuel Butler.

Dr Stuart Jeanne Bramhall March 23, 2011 07:14 PM

I’ve never put to much stock in all this scare mongering about masturbation and find it very annoying and distracting. You are right that he doesn’t object to it as much as other pseudo-fundamentalists which is good. That is one of my pet peeves though; I hate it when rational people repeat the phrase “fundamentalist” without pointing the fact that they are actually pseudo-fundamentalists; which is why I wrote about why I’m a fundamentalist and what real fundamentalism is.

You’re also right about the phrase "Spare the rod and spoil the child," not coming from the bible; however there are many similar statements that do come from the bible, mostly from the book of Soloman. Philip Greven has done a good job pointing this out in his book, “Spare the Child,” which I highly recommend.

zacherydtaylor March 25, 2011 09:45 AM

…If matrimony and hanging go
By dest'ny, why not whipping too?
What med'cine else can cure the fits
Of lovers when they lose their wits?
Love is a boy by poets stil'd;
Then spare the rod and spoil the child.
A Persian emp'ror whipp'd his grannam
The sea, his mother VENUS came on;
And hence some rev'rend men approve
Of rosemary in making love.
As skilful coopers hoop their tubs
With Lydian and with Phrygian dubs,
Why may not whipping have as good
A grace, perform'd in time and mood,
With comely movement, and by art,
Raise passion in a lady's heart?
It is an easier way to make
Love by, than that which many take.
Who would not rather suffer whipping,
Than swallow toasts of bits of ribbon?...


zacherydtaylor March 25, 2011 10:03 AM

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