Change Happens

This is from Part 5.75 of 6: Change Happens in the series called Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science over at the HuffingtonPost. Valerie’s still resisting closing this series with part 6 of 6.

This part of the series talks about deconversion. Deconversion for me was a major paradigm shift once my honest questioning of the beliefs of my ancestors led to a tipping point where I realized the entire thing was a human created fiction. Quoting from Valerie:

In 1962, Thomas Kuhn wrote a seminal book entitled The Structure of Scientific Revolutions in which he introduced the term “paradigm shift.” He argued that in science change rarely happens in a steady incremental way. Rather, a generation of scholars operates out of a (tough, resilient) set of assumptions, a paradigm, and new information gets assimilated or explained within the paradigm. But gradually contradictory evidence accumulates until it reaches a tipping point, and what Kuhn called a “paradigm shift” occurs. Previously ignored patterns in the contradictions abruptly becomes clear, and the community toggles to a better paradigm that will guide inquiry until evidence accumulates and these assumptions, too, get revised. Kuhn wrote about the hard sciences, but scholars since have come to realize that a similar process can take place in other scholarly communities and even in individuals.

The article closes with a reflection on individual paradigm shifts and those people continuing to operate in communities that have not shifted with them. I agree with the advice against arguments as being sound advice. Arguing your position easily comes across as attacking someone else’s position.

Just like the born again Christians who feel transformed by faith, those who feel freed from faith want to share their discovery with those they love. Many former Christians grieve the fact that their spouses, children, or dear friends are still embedded in what now appears as an enormous cult. But what are the options? Attempts at conversation often fail, bringing tears and conflict, even shunning or divorce. A couple of elderly scientists are not allowed to see their grandchildren because contact might lead the children astray. A mother laments that a grown daughter won’t let her visit because of the mother’s loss of faith. A college student who has been caught reading “spiritual pornography” isn’t allowed to be with his younger siblings unattended. What is a former believer to do?

One thing we know does not help is arguing. Research shows that after an argument, both sides tend to be even more entrenched in their old positions. By lining up our best arguments, we are more likely to convince ourselves that we are right than to convince anyone else. Perhaps the best advice is to adhere to the formula that has worked well for other hidden and stigmatized minorities: Be out. Be yourself. The more negative the stereotype of nonbelievers, the easier it is to challenge that stereotype simply by being a decent human being. When it comes to explicit conversations about religion, try to arrange time to sit down and really talk through your changes rather than having the differences of opinion come up in bits and scraps. Lay out your own thinking, and then let it be. For those you love, either the paradigm shift will happen or it won’t. It is not in your power to control anyone but yourself.