One of the primary findings of persuasive psychology is that people are tied to their opinions through emotional and/or logical deduction. In other words, people believe that certain concepts are true for emotional and/or logical reasons. Therefore, in order to instill a new belief into an individual, we must remove the existing belief by appealing to people through the exact avenues in which they have derived their beliefs.
Let us consider a hypothetical scenario in which we are entrepreneurs who have just opened a business on the top floor of an old city skyscraper. Everything is set to go, but there's one major problem with which we need to contend. The only business consultant in the entire city refuses to take the elevator to such a high elevation because he has deduced that something tragic could possibly take place at that height.
Since our first impulse is to conclude that the man has a fear of heights, let us first consider that this is in fact the correct scenario. We must now ask ourselves whether this man has a fear of heights for emotional reasons or for logical ones. Barring the presence of a series of tragic events that have taken place while the consultant was in similar structures, it's a fairly safe assumption that the man has a fear based on emotion. This should be nothing new to us because we realize that phobias are typically emotional fears often attributed to isolated events that took place at an impressionable age. The next logical step here is to ask why the consultant is afraid of heights. If he cannot articulate a legitimate reason and relies instead on such explanations as "I just get scared when I look out," we know we have made a safe assumption that the man holds a belief for an emotional reason.
The question now becomes "How do we eliminate this fear?" Should we bring in the experts who built the structure to ensure him that it won't fall? Should we show him the evidence that the building was constructed according to the proper codes? Should we show him the statistics of how unlikely it would be for a tragic event to take place at that height? The answer to all questions presented here is the same. No. Why would such measures fall on deaf ears? The man has an emotional fear of heights, thus we cannot appeal to his senses through pleas of logic. As he's perfectly aware that millions of people go into tall buildings every day and return to the ground unharmed, what good what it do to tell him what he already knows? Instead, we must appeal to his emotion. One such recommendation would be to have the man ascend the building slowly, allow him to look outside on each floor, and let him adjust to his surroundings each time until he feels comfortable progressing up the skyscraper. Such methods are how psychologists often remove unreasonable fears in their patients.
Let us now consider a situation in which the man feels that the building will fall because he believes that old skyscrapers are not as safe as the newer ones. Instead of having an emotional fear, our business consultant has formed what he believes is a logical reason to avoid ascending the building. Do we use the same measure as we did in the previous scenario? Will having him slowly ascend and allowing him to adjust to his surroundings alleviate his fear? No. Why would such measures fall on deaf ears? The man has a logical fear, thus we cannot appeal to his senses through pleas of emotion. We must show him the evidence that the building was constructed according to code. We must bring in the experts who built the structure to ensure him that it won't fall. Such methods are how we appeal to intellect in order to remove unreasonable fears in people.
So, how does this all relate to the subject of debunking Christianity? Religious beliefs, like the beliefs of the consultant, must also be held for emotional or logical reasons. With this in mind, how should we approach the task of deconversion? As before, we must delve into the history of the individual's beliefs to find the place from which they originate. I would be confident that if we undertook this exercise in a large group of people, almost the entire sample would have built their beliefs upon emotional reasons. This is not to say that people can't be Christians for logical reasons. After all, apologists are masterminds at creating logical reasons in the defense of their emotional beliefs; and as they old saying goes, smart people believe dumb things because they're very gifted at coming up with ideas that support their notions. The reason I feel that people build their beliefs upon emotion rather than logic is that the vast majority of people are introduced to the emotional components of Christianity before the logical ones. Such notions as "God is perfect," "Jesus loves you," "Heaven is real," "Hell is a terrible punishment," and "the Bible is sacred" are consistently instilled in children long before they are approached with evidence and data that suggest the fraudulent nature of such claims.
If the conclusion is accurate that religious beliefs are primarily built on emotional reasons, we now know the avenue that we should take to change the incorrect beliefs held by Christians. This discovery, of course, does not destroy the layers of conditioning that one will have to fight through, nor does it remove the individual's propensity to invent absurd justifications to eliminate cognitive dissonance, but it does demonstrate the futility in trying to convince someone that the Gospels are unreliable by utilizing such examples as the disagreement between Matthew and Luke on Jesus' birth in order to reveal its obvious human fallibility. People with emotional ties in this instance will emotionally cling to the Gospels' veracity while their cognitive dissonance is alleviated by apologists' absurd "Quirinius held the office twice" or "Quirinius was a co-governor" explanations.
However, life is rarely as black and white as it can be made in hypothetical scenarios. The people with the most influence over maintaining Christianity are the people with all the answers – the apologists. Upon a large foundation of emotional attachments to the veracity of their religion, they have weaved a tangled web of what they believe are logical defenses for their beliefs. While simply clearing the emotional attachments before destroying the perceived logic in belief may work for common individuals, this tactic will surely not work on those who have come up with clever ways to convince themselves that their beliefs are solid. With a network of logical and emotional bonds to wade through in order to reach the apologist, how does one even begin? For the answer, I believe we should revisit the scenario offered earlier about the business consultant.
Let us now consider a hypothetical situation in which the consultant has a combination of emotional and logical reasons for not wanting to visit us at the top of the skyscraper. Not only has he developed an emotional fear of heights beginning at a young age, he has also convinced himself of the legitimacy of his fear by reinforcing his decision with a network of misinformation built upon logical inaccuracies. Now the man has created a wall of perceived legitimate reasons as to why his emotional fear is a sensible one. Well, how do we handle such a situation?
Since we wish to invoke rational thinking in order to get people to drop their misplaced beliefs, we must decide whether emotion or logic is the biggest opponent of rational thought. This choice should be obvious since emotion is often irrational, and logic is closely related to rationale itself. To put it in a much simpler way, we cannot appeal to logic when emotion is in the way. We must defuse as much irrationality as possible before we can begin to utilize logic in support of our position. We cannot simply usher the man to the top of the building by allowing him to adjust to his surroundings because there will come a time when the logical fears of being on floor three will be outweighed by the emotional fears of being on floor ten. The amount of success in this initial step of tackling emotion will vary from person to person, but through much time and effort, we might be able to force the man to make enough concessions on his emotional beliefs, which will then eliminate a bit of emotional irrationalism, so that we can illustrate how his logical fears of floors three through nine are misplaced. If this much easier step of tackling logic proves fruitful, then we simply rinse, lather, and repeat.
Admittedly, this is much easier said than done when it comes to religion. When some of the constructs of emotional beliefs include "God is perfect," we find that it can be extremely difficult to make chinks in perfect armor. All is not lost, however, because we know that it is possible to intellectually reach people who believe that God is perfect, or else we would not be gathered where we are right now. Where one should ideally begin the task is debatable, but I strongly feel that attributing human authorship to the Bible is the proper avenue to take. This does not invalidate the premise that God is perfect because it makes room for such possibilities as God allowing humans to write their history and God not concerning himself with perfection of everything. These ideas seem harmless enough on the surface, but they begin to provoke questions of bigger impact, such as why God would choose such avenues when they lead to increased doubt and logical ambiguity.
I very often hear skeptics only going after the logical misinformation presented by Christians before giving up in disgust and wondering why they can't appeal to people's intellect. I've even caught myself doing it on more than one occasion because we're often provoked with misinformation. We must remember, however, that it can be nearly impossible to alter a person's stance on an important topic by invoking the use of logic and rational thought when so much of that person's stance is protected by emotional irrationalism.