I often hear the sentiment that people with strong opinions can never change. Why even bother voicing your position, we’re all just stuck in our ways, they’ll be like this the rest of their lives. This is not true. People change their minds all the time, often based on logic alone. I am living proof, and so are many of you. Sometimes when people argue the most vigorously to defend their beliefs, they are actually in the final stages of coming out; the stage of trying harder to make the unworkable work. Most of the time, dramatic changes to your worldview, like de-conversion or change of political affiliation, do not happen all at once. This can be a slow (and painful) process that often takes years. Even this isn’t always the case however; sometimes it’s just a single argument or event that does it for people. More frequently however, there’s a process of denial, trying harder to defend the belief system, and then progressively toning down your position to something more “moderate” or “progressive.”
I never imagined in a thousand years that I would leave Christianity. It was my entire life, career, community, passion: it was everything. I was one of its staunchest adherents and promoters, and my indoctrination was nearly total. But there were always parts of the religious system that didn’t work for me. It took many years for me to change, but I now recognize how many people and arguments along the way facilitated my process, particularly at the end. When I was finally ready to transition and come out, I became aware of all the holes in my belief system that had been present for a long time. I had tried so hard to make these problems go away with religious solutions that never really worked. When I finally found the courage to speak about my change years later, to my shock I discovered that dozens of friends from my former churches and bible schools had also left religion; people I never would have expected. The reason I didn’t hear about it was that when people leave, they’re often afraid to talk about it because of how it might influence their family and community relationships. I know I was. Usually the people who are most vocal are the ones who are still religious, but that doesn’t mean that highly committed people don’t leave all the time. They do, even ministers and bible scholars!
Indoctrination has the shape of a spider web that surrounds the adherent: it’s a total worldview where the entire system is a web of tightly interconnected ideas. All it takes to break this web is to penetrate it enough in a single area and the entire web collapses. Sometimes the web is weakened in one area over time, or small holes get poked through until the web breaks, even though the adherent may never desire such a drastic or painful life change, not in their worst nightmare. We fight to maintain the web of indoctrination at all costs because a challenge to a worldview that contains all our beliefs for functioning in the world feels like a threat to our survival. When the protective, isolating web comes crashing down, we feel open, exposed, and unsure how to function without it.
When I was finally ready to change, I knew who to turn to and where to find the resources to educate myself about living in secular society and reconstructing a healthier worldview. This is why our conversations are so important, even (or especially) when it seems that people are stuck in their ways. You never know: sometimes the person you would least expect is in the thick of the struggle. While we have to accept that we can’t change anyone, that doesn’t mean we should believe that any one person can’t change. We hope for and believe the best for each person. We don’t try to force change on anyone, or threaten anyone: that would be like religious evangelism. What we can do is have compassion and point to a better way, realizing that our words and actions really do matter.