Change is Possible
There’s this funny idea that I’ve heard, usually spoken in a cynical tone, that people can’t or don’t ever change.
This is patently ridiculous as people make important life changes every day. I recently hit the reset button on my life after it was revealed to me that certain religious beliefs I held onto for years were, in fact, totally false. My world view shifted almost 180 degrees to what it used to be. I would have sworn that I would never have given up those beliefs and would never be argued out of them. Yet I changed. And so can anyone else.
In fact, isn’t it true that many of today’s atheists and skeptics were at one time, strong believers in a faith of one kind or another?
Making the Change
In the arena of critical thinking and skepticism, the favorite opponents seem to be religious fundamentalists. When trying to “talk some sense” into these fundamentalists, some skeptics fail to make any immediate or visible change and so feel they have failed in their efforts, and conclude that people can’t or don’t even want to change.
What they fail to realize, and in fact the real reason that those fundamentalists don’t change their tune is that the actual reason for their beliefs has not been isolated.
Generally speaking, unless you are dealing with a truly insane person, you can find some rational reason behind anyone’s belief in just about anything. You might talk to 100 different Christians and in isolating why they believe that God is good and Jesus is their personal Savior, you are going to probably find 100 different reasons. Every person is unique and they each have their own experiences and viewpoints and reasons for believing what they believe.
If you isolate what that reason is and then argue against it with rationality and intelligence, and don’t make the person feel like a moron in the process, you have a very good chance of changing their minds. Similarly, you will often find in any person’s belief system, some part of it which the person has doubts or reservations about. In other words, chinks in their armor.
The number one thing you can do wrong when you are trying to change the hearts and minds of others is to make them feel stupid, wrong or bad for believing what they believe. Human nature is such that, when faced with direct or indirect opposition like this, it will fight back by holding on to those beliefs even harder.
This is not just in the realm of religious belief. Any belief has its foundation in some decision the person made to accept that belief and consider it true for them. They are perfectly capable of changing that belief at any time. But not if they don’t have some compelling reason for them to do so.
Maybe you think the particular reasons people have for believing things are silly, illogical or irrational. Well even if they are, telling them that is not going to score you any brownie points. The last time someone told you that being a skeptic was illogical or silly, did that cause you to doubt what you were thinking or doing?
Tolerance Pays Off
Generally speaking, people are not morons and they feel they have good reasons for believing what they believe. Even if they are morons, they still probably have some reason behind their thinking.
Get to those underlying reasons, or doubts or uncertainties, and then argue against them with intelligence and tolerance. Don’t make a person feel stupid or wrong. And also realize that it’s not going to happen overnight. Very rarely does anyone “see the light” all in one go. If you want to have more than one round in the match, you must make sure that you end every conversation with good feelings, patience and even compassion on both sides.
In the short time I’ve been involved with the skeptical movement, I’ve seen mistakes made on this over and over again. I hope we can change this and as a result, perhaps win over more people to a more rational and reasoned approach to life.