What makes one person predisposed to abandon his beliefs in one or two hours, and another spout one rationalization after another until you’ve given up? This question should be of interest to anyone who is involved in activism.
First of all, there are certain personal attributes that make a person more receptive to different ideas. Teenagers tend to be most receptive to non-belief, as they are exposed to the absurdity of statist attitudes every day in school (if they go to public school, anyway), but haven’t had the time to see themselves as dependent upon it yet. This brings in the opposite factor that people who have interests in the system (such as their job, or their financial support) will be much more difficult to deconvert. Tenagers also tend to be more open-minded and old enough to start developing their worldview at such an age, which explains why other belief systems court colleges actively.
Another important factor is intellectual flexibility. It is found to be helpful if the individual already experienced the process of deconversion. Someone who has dispensed with religion in his own life will be more likely to be willing to dispense with the State, and vice-versa. Someone who has never experienced deconversion may find the process too dangerous or unsettling.
Whether one talks to a single person or a group also affects the process. The nature of groups is that to reinforce agreement. Because of this, deconverting a person who is firmly planted within a group of friends will be unlikely to succeed. However, a recent study found that if the group has at least on vocal dissenter, an individual is far less likely to stick to the initial groupthink. From this, we must conclude that the person needs to be signaled that he is free to consider alternatives and still be part of the group. When alone, on the other hand, he does not feel that his allegiance to any group is in jeopardy, since no member of the group is there to remind him of the group’s general agreement.
Social factors also contribute to the ease or difficulty of deconversion. In any given society, certain levels of belief and unbelief will prevail, as well as activism on both parts. In our Western societies, both the support and criticism of Christianity is widespread. An average Christian living in such a society will generally have been exposed to criticism and be aware of the general nature of the criticism against his belief. Thus he will have developed rationalizations a long time before you talk to him. For statists, the opposite is true. As no one criticizes statism at the moment, he will not have yet rationalized his belief.
This means that statists are easier to deconvert, while Christians are not; the latter has a core of rationalizations that the former does not, even if both have equally weak arguments. Thus, for the Christian, his lack of evidence is a strength (you must have faith, that’s how God wants it, you gotta believe in something). To the statist, it is a weakness, as he simply expects that such evidence exists, and when none is forthcoming, he is stuck.
On the other hand, Christian belief is weakened by the availability of information in a different way. Serious opposition can create cognitive dissonance in the individual. Talking to your average secular is not likely to create doubt in a Christian’s mind, but talking to a gentle and well-informed atheist might, if the Christian is in the right frame of mind. So the availability of information plays against the Christian’s assumed confidence by showing contradictions within his belief system. Reading the Bible also provides a tremendous amount of conflicting information, as the believer realizes that the Bible conflicts strongly with his own values and knowledge. At that point, he can choose one of two paths: investigate further or cement his faith by pledging allegiance to the Bible he was taught to rever.
I don’t think everyone is deconvertable, even in principle. Famous theologian William Lane Craig has once declared that he would continue to believe in Christianity, even if he went back in time and SAW WITH HIS OWN EYES that “Jesus” did not rise from the dead! A less charitable commentator may argue that Craig is flirting with delusional thinking. Is Craig deconvertable? I rather doubt it, at least if his epistemically radical profession of faith is to be believed.
The final factor is how the information is presented. If we present non-belief to the individual as a morally superior alternative, we have more chance of being heard than by addressing relatively irrelevant arguments. For most people, Christianity is a form of social cohesion and moral cohesion, not a doctrine about God or “Jesus.” Most people couldn’t care less about theology; theology is used to affirm a group identity. It circumscribes the group, but does not justify it. The theology and the citizenship- being born in a given sect and in a given “country”- explain why we subscribe to one sect or “country” over another; it does not explain why people have a religion or support a State at all. People are not atheists and Anarchists because they believe that they gain a moral and social high ground by doing so, not because God is three in one or because our local democracy has given the vote to women.
So when atheists address the contradictory nature of God, or when Anarchists argue that the State is wasting yet more resources, they fail to address the reason why people believe. At best, they are attacking some rationalizations of the believer, which may be counterproductive and certainly a waste of time.
Finally, one cannot drop out without a landing pad. Ignorance of the alternatives can scare a believer into staying in his belief because “there’s nothing else for me anyway.” Non-belief opens the door, but you also have to lower people’s gaze long enough for them to see that there is a floor on the other side too.