In my previous post, I discussed briefly how the evangelical focus on conversion experiences can cause problems for post-evangelicals when they try to join other groups. An additional difficulty with this transition is that so much of evangelicalism is based on persuasion. People who grow up in this culture are taught from a young age that a major part of their faith entails persuading others to join it. Often, the ability, or at least attempt, to perform this type of persuasion is used as a litmus test of one’s spiritual health or sincerity. Apart from the psychological effect of being in a group that has a singular goal and polices commitment to that goal, this also causes people in this culture to build their idea of social responsibility and even affection around the need to convert others to their way of thinking.
The harm and frustration this creates is obvious, and is part of the reason evangelicals have developed a reputation for being opportunistic in the wake of tragedies. To the world at large, an evangelical that promotes their faith to those in pain is preying on a vulnerable moment for the sake of their own agenda. To the evangelical, he/she is providing the best support and encouragement they know how, as well as what they see as a solution to literally any problem.
The two definitions of this behavior are not mutually exclusive, and I don’t mean to imply that intentions matter more than the effect of actions. They don’t. However, even for someone like me, who no longer identifies as evangelical, and is vocal about their criticisms of its issues, that habit is still difficult to break. The reflexive tendency to try to “help” people by changing their minds (apart from being self-righteous), is reinforced so much that the reflex remains even after the reasons for it evaporate.
For me, I often still feel that pull to argue or defend the church, even though my actual opinion of it has changed dramatically. I still sometimes feel a twinge of anxiety when I hear criticism about conservative Christianity, even though I’m now a liberal-leaning Christian Humanist. Despite my beliefs being very different than what I was raised with, it’s still work to keep myself from leaping into debates about religion just because they’re happening, and to remind myself that the world won’t end if I don’t change everyone’s mind.
Transitions away from religion, even if it’s to a different form of it, hold more challenges than changing conscious opinions of ideology. Each Religion, sect, and denomination has a culture built around it, and that culture contains habits and modes of relating to others that are often unconscious for both the individual and the group. Changing those things, even becoming aware of them, is a long and arduous process, sometimes longer and harder than the change of faith itself. I’m of the opinion now that it isn’t possible to do this alone, and I was very fortunate during my own time of change to be in the company of people who’d made that journey before.