Internet Goosing the Antithesis

Wednesday, January 18, 2006

The "core" model of belief part 2

2. Core beliefs - Something, somehow, caused the individual to become a True Believer. Either the individual was brainwashed at a young age, or was already a spiritual seeker, felt a hole in his life, or was in profound emotional shock, and some evangelist or religious propaganda reached him before anything else. So instead of becoming a scrapbooker, a Buddhist, a Greenie, a charity worker, a computer programmer, a patriot, a communist, or a compulsive toothpick maker, the wheel stopped at "Christian". Bummer.

Whether they were hammered in by brainwashing or presented as emotional crutch, there are almost always one or many "core beliefs" which sustain the person's belief system (in some very rare cases there may be no such beliefs, which makes the task considerably easier). These core beliefs are always personal in nature (although they may involve exterior concepts). For example :

"I'm afraid of going to Hell."
"I don't want to be a bad person."
"I don't want to live in a universe where there's no ultimate justice."

I classify these beliefs in five categories : moral appeals (beliefs about religion/atheism and morality), evidential appeals (questions related to order and nature, and doubting science), purpose-based appeals (beliefs related to purpose, meaning, hope, comfort, and the feeling that something is missing in one's life), afterlife appeals (fearing death, desiring Heaven and fearing Hell), and psychological appeals (the believer just can't deal with reality - can also suffer mild insanity).

Also included in this part are powerful emotional experiences that derive from this emotional commitment. Belief is self-reinforcing, in that once a person accepts that some magical effect exists, he is likely to experience it and thus reinforce his own belief.

What these core beliefs do is shift your worldview, which is to say, shift the way you see the world. I know this because people who exit cults or religions sometimes experience a violent shift back into rational thought (wait... if there's no god, what's holding up the Earth ? what's keeping me from murdering people ? etc), but most of the time the shift is gradual, a sort of shedding.

Some people, because of their intellectual limitations or emotional limitations, can end up stuck in the middle of the process, and live the rest of their lives as, say, a Freezoner, or a Christian evolutionist - rejecting the structure while keeping the dogma. These strange chimeras should be left alone like the freaks that they are, and conserved in amber when they die for the amazement of future generations.

3. Religious filler - This is the styrofoam filler that cushions the person's emotional fragility from reality. It is composed of theology, arguments, denials and rationalizations that are acquired when the believer listens to religious content, goes to church, is tested, or tries to resolve the problems within his belief system (cognitive dissonance).

All of these things compose the meat of religion and debate about religion, but in terms of evangelism they are absolutely unimportant. You must ignore and file away anything of that nature when evangelizing. Rather, our goal is to bypass these rationalizations entirely and get to the core beliefs, in order to address those directly. For one thing, to go through the gamut of rationalizations would only take us to the core beliefs, but taking hours and hours more. So there is a question of sheer efficiency here.

Note that this is very different from a debate. In a debate, arguments are presented in order to make a logical case. Debates are meant to prove the coherency of one's position to oneself and others, but they serve only a peripherial evangelistic purpose.

4. The will - Where the person's will is located at a given moment determines speech. The goal in evangelism is to first direct the person's will to the core beliefs, and to consider counter-appeals. To do this requires trust. You can't effectively approach anyone impersonally and hope that the other person will listen to you, unless there is a strong emotional need already present.

Of course, no model can be useful without some practical experience. If you are interested in evangelism, I would recommend first to read ex-Christian testimonies. And always remember that, unlike Christian evangelists, you want to help people express their own values, free them from belief. So don't be ashamed of it. Don't preach or lie. Leave yourself open to believers so they know they can rely on you. Use your own life as an example. Anyone who can earn people's trust and follow these simple principles will be successful.

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At 1/18/2006 12:40 PM, Blogger Obscure declaimed...

"These strange chimeras should be left alone like the freaks that they are, and conserved in amber when they die for the amazement of future generations."

Got a good chuckle out of that one.

Thanks for these two posts especially, Franc. They've been helpful.



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