Roboto Revisited

     Can you believe that Mr. Roboto turned 30 in 2013?  It seems like just yesterday he was a shiny, fresh-off-the-assembly-line threat to American jobs and unfairly imprisoned rock stars.  I wonder how he would feel if he knew his descendants would be much more likely to come out of China than Japan!  (Perhaps “react” would be a more appropriate word, as I don’t know if Robotos can truly feel anything).  Anyway, it’s amazing how history repeats itself (with slight variations), and how the dangers of the past keep reappearing in new guises.
     I have an old vinyl copy of the LP that introduced those pesky Robotos to the world.  It was a rock concept album which, in my opinion, was better than most such efforts; one that addressed not only a concern about the various implications of rapidly advancing technology, but also the inherent threat of media moguls and government officials who decide that they are going to dictate not only what people do, but what they think.
     Those who recognize this danger tend to call it by the name that vocalist/keyboardist Dennis DeYoung gave it: mind control (or, alternately, indoctrination).  But of course, those who sponsor and implement such programs inevitably give them other titles; ones that make the idea sound appealing, enlightening, and liberating to its subjects.  In the story that gave birth to Roboto, the chief antagonist was named Dr. Righteous, and his Nazi-esque organization was entitled The Majority for Musical Morality.  After all, who would ever want to argue with the concepts of righteousness and sound morals?     
     In 1983, DeYoung was responding to accusations by some who claimed that certain rock stars were recording backwards Satanic messages on their records.  It seems that these people – for reasons I can’t explain – had been listening to a song called Snowblind in reverse.  I think it’s safe to say that it would have been more productive for them to listen to another track from the same album called Too Much Time on my Hands, and to hear it in the regular direction.  But instead, such experiments with phonograph records led to attempts to label, and perhaps even to censor, certain kinds of music.
     It’s not my intention to defend absolute freedom of speech.  I’m not opposed to the idea of some forms of expression being censored, and in some cases even criminalized.  My point here is to examine some of the current aims of many (dare I say most) government officials and corporate powers to indoctrinate people in other ways.  The popular parlance of the day involves terms such as sensitivity training and diversity education.  Employers – and in many places, governments – are threatening loss of income, social ostracism, and even incarceration for those people who refuse to submit to current ill-conceived ideas regarding issues of morality.  Even in the capital city of Idaho (a state that is considered to be one of the most "conservative" in America), Ordinance O-36-12 was recently passed; a violation of this law would result in a person being sent to jail for up to 6 months and fined up to $1000 if they discriminated against someone because of sexual orientation or gender identity.  But the mayor and city council were gracious enough to offer an alternative to this sentence:  a $100 fine and the aforementioned "sensitivity training" for the alleged offender (and his or her employees, if applicable).  In other words, the members of a very small governmental entity, all of whom were elected by a similarly small percentage of the city’s populace, have unanimously decided that they are going to try to mandate what people believe about sexual morality, with the threat of jail time for those who think contrary to the council’s wishes… unless of course they alter their beliefs by aligning them with the tenets of a government-sanctioned program.  I find this extremely disturbing, even more so than the idea of censoring rock music.  After all, some rock lyrics actually are destructive, but all perversion is destructive!
     What is perhaps more disconcerting to me is how quickly and easily this ordinance was passed.  I attended the public hearing that preceded the ordinance’s approval, at which citizens were given the chance to speak their minds about the issue.  According to news reports, only twelve people spoke against the ordinance.  And I can testify that some of those people did not do so on any moral or Christian grounds.  This occurred in a city of over 200,000 people, within a metropolitan area containing more than half a million.  There are some "mega-churches" in this area.  But fewer than twelve people showed up to defend what is right, and to speak against forced diversity and sensitivity – that is, indoctrination.
    I recently came across a quote, attributed to Thomas Jefferson, which reads as follows:  “The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.  But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”  While I’m no fan of Thomas Jefferson (sources indicate that he also spoke openly against fundamental Christian doctrines, and he was certainly a rebel), I agree with the concept of these words.  When it comes to crime, the responsibility of government is to punish certain verifiable acts of wrongdoing; acts that actually do another person demonstrable harm.  Obviously, by punishing certain acts, that government may indirectly influence the thinking patterns of the purported criminal.  But it is not the government’s job to directly dictate the personal beliefs of its constituents, nor to require them to respect objectionable lifestyle choices – choices which involve actions which, until recently, were illegal (in fact, Idaho maintains a law forbidding the "infamous crime against nature" on its books).  Such dictation is not really the job of religion, either.  Even spiritual leaders should not take it upon themselves to force a faith or creed upon others; rather, a good preacher gives encouragement, admonition, inspiration, and warning as needed, and then allows the hearers to respond as they will.
     The present cause celebre of homosexuality and its associated behaviors is not the only area in which American governments have decided to engage in moral instruction.  For example, citizens who commit a drug or alcohol-related crime (and I’m not proud to admit that I’m one of those people) are now offered programs to “educate” them, and if the designated instructors deem that the offender has completed his program successfully, jail or prison time may be reduced or even avoided altogether - never mind that participants can simply parrot the desired responses back to the class proctor.  These programs involve not only instruction regarding the physical implications of substance abuse (which could at least be limited to objective, scientific facts), but also mandatory participation in what would best be described as group therapy.  There are aspects of such programs that are tantamount to what would be called confession by any honest religious organization.  I can testify that the consequences of refusing to participate in such programs are grave.
     The great irony of all of this is that it is taking place in a nation that has gone to great pains to emphasize that the responsibilities of government are to be kept separate from those of religion.  I have come to believe more and more that this notion itself is fallacious; if a god-less country is established, it is still established with attendant laws that are based on some sort of moral ideology.  And that ideology must therefore become that new nation’s religion.  I would contend that when the United States was formed, secular humanism (informed in part by some Christian principles and Masonic traditions) was its primary religious basis.  The Constitution became its sacred text, and individual liberty became perhaps its most basic underpinning.  Christianity is not, and never was, the religion of America.  I don’t doubt that there has always been a Christian presence in the United States, but Americanism is really a relatively new religion all its own; a sort of hodgepodge of previously-existing belief systems.
     Some might contend that God himself violates the ideal of unfettered thought.  Since John 3:16 states that belief in Jesus is the essential criterion for a person to be saved (and since the verses that follow state that unbelief will result in damnation), is God not trying to indoctrinate people and threatening Hellfire as a means of coercion?  Self-styled freethinkers typically use such arguments to try to refute Christianity, saying that it is only a means to subject society to outdated ethical standards through fear.  I do not deny that there is a fear element, just as there is a fear element to earthly laws:  there are times that each of us has probably obeyed the law only because we did not want to pay a fine or to go to jail, and if these repercussions were not in place we may have acted on our basest instincts.  Despite the dire warnings regarding unbelief, however, the Scriptures still make it clear that each person will be judged according to his or her behavior, and either rewarded or condemned accordingly (Romans 2:6-11; Revelation 22:12).  And there is no contradiction between these two principles, because behaviors are the inevitable results of beliefs.  The faith is the hidden part (the root); the works are the visible part (the fruit).  One doesn’t have to dig up an apple tree and put its roots under a microscope before he can call it an apple tree; he just looks to see if it has apples on it.  So God does not, in fact, use mind control techniques in order to enslave people.  In fact, Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” (Luke 10:27 - emphasis mine).  Paul also encouraged us to “prove all things” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  These are exhortations to think for ourselves using sound reason, not to simply allow others to force-feed us their ideas.
     As I consider the direction in which our world is headed, I’m reminded of John Christopher’s Tripod series of young adult science fiction novels.  Set in a future that resembles a rural, pre-industrialized past, the stories depict the human race as subject to aliens who keep people docile by affixing electronically wired metal caps to their heads.  Through the caps, any thoughts that might lead to questioning the will of the “Masters” are inhibited.  People appear to be content – even happy – on the surface, but in reality they are slaves (and are facing imminent worldwide annihilation, unbeknownst to them).  Only a small contingent of free-minded people remains, living in the mountains and suffering perpetual physical hardship.  But they retain the ability to believe as they will, and they alone know the truth about the world in which they live and of the monsters that rule it.  The fate of the rest of humanity is in their hands. 
     An oft-repeated maxim is that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.  It’s almost hard to believe that despite all of the lessons society has been offered – whether through nonfiction accounts, novels, or even theatrical rock albums – the true free thinkers of every generation must continue the battle against those who would use threats to enslave others’ minds for their own evil ends.  And no battle can be fought successfully without sacrifice.  If today’s Christians are going to make any impact, we are going to have to be willing to give up some things that we might otherwise want.  Jesus gave up his life for the sake of who (and what) he loved.  Would you give up some of your favorite products if you discovered that they are marketed by companies that are proudly flying the flag of the false rainbow?  Would you be willing to risk your job, your club involvement, or your status at an educational institution if the ensconced authorities insisted that you respect their concept of diversity – or else?  What if your church leadership wants to endorse a self-help or “recovery” program that may encourage false notions about what the Bible calls sin?  Will you stand against it, or just let it slide so as to not make waves?*
     As frightening as it is to see things around us degenerating so rapidly, the fact is that no one can make you believe something against your will.  They can only take what you allow them to take; they can only “cap” you if you let them.  Each person has to decide whether or not they are willing to accept the consequences of resisting these real-life, self-styled “Dr. Righteous” overlords (and the Robotos that enforce their will). 
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*    The advent of recovery programs into the church at large is a bit of a mystery to me.  Christianity itself could be called "The Great Recovery Program", so what can be added to it by incorporating a new system with a fancy title?  I also feel that these programs run the risk of creating a misconception:  that certain bad habits (sins) are unique in their addictive nature, and therefore should be dealt with differently than others.  I have not noticed anywhere in Scripture where drunkenness, for example, is treated as a specific disease requiring some solution other than repentance.  To imply that it is so may actually strengthen the hold of the sin on a person, by leading them to believe that the problem is something more than what it is - a sinful action that needs to be abandoned and replaced with acceptable actions.  Moreover, there is the danger of influencing people to define themselves more by who they were than who they are.
     I don't say this to minimize the power of sin, because the Bible describes that power using stronger terms than addiction; it uses the word slavery.  Nor do I believe that no good has come from some of these programs.  I simply mean that, as with denominational divisions, the addition of subtitled echelons within the Church does not improve on Christianity's effectiveness; rather, it potentially decreases it.