Change makes us humans a little nervous. Some change is welcome, of course: the coming of spring (except for allergies), a raise at your job (except those daunting new responsibilities), a new engagement or birth of a child (even as part of us mourns the freedoms we once had). But in general, we humans are pattern-making machines, and we take comfort in being able to predict and be familiar with what will go on in our world. We like to know what’s ahead.
We complain when people change their beliefs on issues. It is often used as a “gotcha!” moment when politicians point out to each other how they have pivoted from former stances. “Oh, but you used to say this! And now you say this! What now, huh? GOTCHA!!”
It’s one thing to do this for purely political reasons (*MitchMcConnellSupremeCourtjustices *coughcoughcough*), but we often seem to expect people to stay static in their beliefs. Or if they do change, they need to change to what we believe.
I’ve been thinking about change recently in the context of religious belief systems. I would describe myself as fully deconstructed from the evangelical Christianity I grew up in, meaning I examined, questioned, and took apart the beliefs and assumptions I held in the faith of my youth. It means that I am accustomed to a lot of change in the religious realm. This has not always been a comfortable journey, as a long stroll through the archives of my blog would evidence!
The religion I grew up in valued certainty, absolutes, black-and-white stances on issues. We believed we held the answers for all of life’s questions, obtained through our interpretation of our holy book. We never had to settle for not knowing. We had the answers for everyone else too, if only they would listen to us and our holy book.
Changing your mind is not super welcome in such a tradition, unless you are changing your mind strictly towards the pre-approved things of the church (conversion, baptism, submission to church beliefs and practices).
But if we are honest with ourselves, it is not only fundamentalists who resist change and think they have a corner on the knowledge and truth market.
Many ex-fundamentalists and ex-evangelicals swing the opposite direction: they are now entirely certain that Christianity as a whole is wrong and that there is no God. Wanting to move away as much as possible from fundamentalism, they simply become fundamentalist from the other direction. I can understand the impulse to pendulum so sharply, and I think I understand why people might come to such sure conclusions. But I personally think it is most realistic to be an agnostic about things. Regarding God, for instance, I might believe and hope that there is a God as I conceive of God, while leaving open the possibility I am wrong.
My mom might be the only one who asks me this question out loud: “What DO you believe?” I feel like I need to clarify the question: “Do you mean yesterday, today, or tomorrow?” Perhaps it’s the curse of Enneagram 9’s, able to see all perspectives, which makes it difficult to claim one as their own.
I think the real reason I am writing this post today is because I have been struggling to finish the last chapter of my book: a chapter entitled “Still Christian?” It’s not that it’s not written – it is. But I keep wanting to revisit it as if it were the final word on not only my book, but my choices for the rest of my life. It’s as if I need to explain not only what my answer is, but why exactly I chose it and make sure that these reasons remain consistent for… the rest of my foreseeable future?
I’m not afraid of changing my own mind in private. I’m afraid of changing my mind too much in public.
I’m afraid of saying something that upsets people – people I want on “my side” in some form or fashion.
Ah, “my side,” that good old adversarial approach to life. We want to know who is friend, and who is foe. Whose beliefs match ours, and whose don’t. Who we can trust, and who we can’t.
I’m guilty of this as much as anyone else. It’s so easy to draw lines in the sand and call someone who believes different than us the enemy. To hold so strongly to our beliefs that we can’t fathom how any decent or intelligent person could come to different conclusions than we did.
But this not only creates pride, arrogance, and division, it creates an inability for us to course-correct if it turns out we were…wrong. We clench so tightly to our ideas that the ideas themselves become our identity and idols, not our true Selves.
Perhaps I can create a little bit of space to say here: this is a space where we are all entitled to change our minds. There is no need to hold your permanent beliefs in this space. There is no pride in being 100% positive about something. I admire people who examine all the evidence available to them, who say “my best guess about this at this time is __,” and who are willing to change their minds if the evidence calls for it. And who do it all without shame or guilt, and stand up to those who call them weak or indecisive.
Perhaps I can become one of them, and perhaps you can too.