Does anybody know of any prominent, vocal or outgoing believers who became prominent, vocal or outgoing atheists, then reconverted? I’m asking because I have this hypothesis that once a deconvert has blasphemed and insulted enough, potential cognitive dissonance outweighs commitment to reason
So we’ve got this fellow. Once he wasn’t a Christian, then he was (convert), then he wasn’t again (deconvert). cl’s ‘hypothesis’ is that his hypothetical deconvert’s ‘commitment to reason’ isn’t adequate to bring him back around to cl’s truth, due to what I think can fairly be called ‘unreasonable biases’. Of course, cl is speaking in general terms here, and seemingly from his ‘gut’- a euphemism for opinions gleaned from personal experience as opposed to, say, testable or measurable indicators, or what some folks might call ‘solid evidence’. Or any evidence, really, other than cl’s own biases, which themselves might easily be subject to the same kind of ‘cognitive dissonance’ cl is trying to label others with here. Fair enough. This is usually the kind of thing cl ostensibly echews when aimed in his direction; nevertheless, I’m game. Let’s participate in this little thought experiment, and see where it takes us.
I suppose the first thing to ask is, are original religious conversion experiences generally the result of reasoned contemplation? Here are a few points to consider when asking this question:
1. Most people belong to the religion they were raised to believe in, with some variance depending on the ecumenical tenor of the surrounding culture.
2. Most people ‘convert’ as children or young adults (I’m not sure how valid the term ‘convert’ is here, since for many folks belief is more a case of inheritance than conversion, but since the terminology is part and parcel to cl’s question, we’ll work with, keeping in mind that in many cases it really doesn’t accurately represent the fact of the matter).
3. Most people convert with little to no understanding of the history behind the stories and doctrines of the religion they’ve chosen; or, strangely enough, of the very doctrines they’ve chosen to believe in and adhere to.
4. Most people go through their whole lives worshipping at the altar of their choice without #3 ever having changed very much.
5. Most people convert for emotional reasons, or for reasons that, at best, have very little to do with protracted logical examination and/or discourse.
Indoctrination. Lack of life experience. Ignorance. All of these are general indicators of the conversion experience of most people, most of the time. Naturally there are exceptions, but since we’re talking along with cl about generalities, exceptions can be rightly ignored per this conversation. Moving on…
So, now that we’ve painted a picture of the average religious convert- albeit in somewhat broad strokes, but surely recognizable- I think we’re ready to more closely examine the religious ‘deconverts’ in question. Let’s take a hypothetical Christian named Chris Jebus, and see what makes him a potential deconvert. Let’s see, he believes in a God who promises him everlasting life and happiness if only he continues to believe, while at the same time threatening him with eternal damnation for unbelief. He’s surrounded by family, friends, and indeed by a whole culture who basically believes the same things he does, to varying degrees. He’s accepted into the flock through almost no effort on his own regarding the historical, philosophical or logical veracity of his own faith. And yet, and yet…for some reason, Chris Jebus is having doubts. But what on Earth could he be having doubts about?
At this point, I’m forced to turn to my own deconversion experience, as well as to the anecdotal evidence of those ‘prominent, vocal and outgoing’ atheists cl mentioned. And what do I find? Well, for the most part I find testimonies concerning questions about logical coherence, moral consistency, textual validity, historical accuracy, as well as an overall sense of intellectual discovery where, in the end, Christianity comes up wanting. In short, whereas reason was usually a minor player in the conversion experience, it came to play THE crucial role in the DEconversion experience for the type of people under question. The deconversion almost never seems to come at once, but rather at the end of a ‘crumbling away’ of Christianity’s tenets in the mind of the deconvert. This is the way it was with me, and it’s also the way for most of the folks I’ve read about.
Christians have a saying. When something comes up that seems to go against the grain of their faith, and they just can’t find a way to mentally reconcile things, they’ll tell you “I’ve put that problem on the shelf for now.” Well, when Christians ask me what the crucial factor was in my ‘falling away’, and I’m pressed for time, I simply tell them “You know that shelf’ you guys talk about? Mine fell off the wall.’ It just wouldn’t hold the weight of close inspection, is all.
So, we’re finally to the question of potential reconverts, and cl’s ‘hypothesis’; which really isn’t a hypothesis at all, but only convenient wishful thinking. Are we truly talking about a case of cognitive dissonance outweighing commitment to reason, as cl puts it? Or is it more likely that reason itself supports the original decision to ‘deconvert’ in the first place? Put it this way. It’s easy to make a mistake. It’s usually a little harder to rectify that mistake; in fact, it can be VERY hard if you’ve invested your ego in that mistake, perhaps even spending a long, long time justifying to yourself and others that it really wasn’t a mistake at all. But once you’ve finally climbed over all the obstacles that prevented you from seeing that mistake, or from admitting that it was a mistake after all, why on EARTH would you want to crawl back down into the belly of that mistake again? Is that cognitive dissonance, or just plain good sense?
I’m sure you’ve heard the expression “Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” That’s about the size of things, cl. Deal with it.