If You Could Deconvert Someone...

human potential

This post is inspired by an excellent pair of questions asked of me on my Formspring account (update: this account is no longer active). The initial question was as follows:

If you knew someone who you thought you could deconvert (and not fundamental or evangelical about their beliefs - but it gave them comfort of seeing lost friends again), would you do it?
This question makes one assumption that I question - that it is possible for one person to deconvert another. But we can set that aside and answer as if such a thing was possible. My brief answer was that I would choose to deconvert the person if I thought I could, noting that false comfort is still false.

The follow-up question was where things got interesting and will be the focus of this post.

Isn't doing that imposing your own ideals? Losing ones faith can be quite traumatizing, and such beliefs can be very important to some individuals; even if just for the hope of seeing deceased family members again. Why would you want to take that away?

This is a great question and one that deserves some discussion. Again, assume for our purposes that I have the power to deconvert this other person. First, if I exercised this power, wouldn't I be imposing my own ideals? Yes. Absolutely. The primary ideals or values I hold that I would be imposing in such a scenario include:

  • Living in accordance with reality is superior to living in fantasy.
  • Health is preferable to illness (i.e., delusion).
These are value judgments, and they are mine. I make no pretense that these are universal values, and I freely admit that I am biased in the ways suggested by these values. I believe that living one's life connected to reality is healthier than living in a delusional state.

Second, if I deconverted someone and it caused them some sort of emotional pain, how could I justify that? Why would I want to deprive anyone of the hope of seeing deceased family members again (presumably in some sort of afterlife)? I believe that religious delusion prevents a great many people from developing healthy, reality-based coping skills. Hopes of an afterlife may feel reassuring and are certainly explainable as wish fulfillment, but they ultimately amount to false hopes. I'd rather the individual face reality and learn to cope with it effectively than denying it and living in fantasy.

Might the process of deconversion cause some pain? Absolutely, but I would expect it to be of a transient nature. Moreover, I would expect closer contact with reality to be beneficial. The question, of course, is whether the benefits would exceed the costs. I believe they would.