Psychology - The Religious Mind and the Search for the Cause of Deconversion Personality

As many of you are already aware, I am a psychology major. I am also [of late] considering a double major with History, but that is beside the point for this particular discussion.


First, although many people accept Psychology as a genuine science [as "hard" as the tradition ones: biology, chemistry, physics], the fact that colleges and universities still label i as "social science" [i.e. "soft science"] or "humanities" [ which would lump this critical science in with non-sciences such as the fine arts, philosophy, and .... insultingly to me... theology], it becomes quite clear that many people still don't understand that psychology is a science that uses the scientific method and is as much [or more] unmerciful on pseudoscience as the other sciences. Perhaps the budding field of Evolutionary Psychology will open people's minds.


As a psychology major, planning to become a psychologist [when I transfer I will insist upon the BS degree instead of the BA degree] I possess a skeptical, logical [most of the time - I'm human and not perfect], and scientific mind. So, I approach most questions [and I ask a TON of them, as any good scientist should - even an amateur such as myself] with a temporary suspension of "solutions" until they prove themselves worthy and valid for the question.


I lost my belief in christianity 4 years ago, but I only "declared" myself atheist about 1 year and a couple months ago. [I say "declare" because I was most definitely an atheist at least a year or two before I realized it in May 2009, but it wasn't in my conscious awareness, when it was I "declared" myself atheist to myself, my closest friends, and my family]. Obviouly since my time as a conscious freethinker has been so short, I still have much to learn. But enough of my rambling, I will now get to the point... sorry about the delay.


The point of this discussion is that a particular, extremely important, question has been bugging me for some time...


"Why do some individuals deconvert to atheism/ agnosticism... while others do not?"


Surely that question is of great interest to us as atheists and worthy of scientific investigation.

It is also, quite obviously, a question to be covered by the field of psychology!


This question may seem to have an obvious answer on the surface... but to me... the answers sometimes given to it by atheists seem false and more like wishful thinking than anything else.

These "wishful thinking" answers probably include such statements as: "we're smarter than them" "they are incapalbe of rationality" or "we have a higher education level."


I'm not so sure about those ideas... and highly skeptical of them. Granted... these answers apply to a number or religious people, but also... [embarrassingly] to some atheists as well. The answer must be more complex than that then. *musing*


It seems that intelligence does not have an impact on religiousity. Granted, this conclusion of mine comes from personal observation, but still. My brother took an IQ test as a child as well and his score was higher than mine [how much higher, I don't know] but I know it was higher because he was placed in a "Superior Cognitive" class in grade school, while I was not. [Superior Cognitive is part of the ELO program in my school district for highly intelligent children. You can only get into superior cognitive if your IQ is of a certain level]. So, my brother is also highly intelligent. Yet, he is almost a zealot in his religiousity, participating actively and regularly in his church, highly critical of the church members that don't attend on a regular basis, spends quite a bit of time playing hymns on our family piano, and zealously and aggressively defending his god from any criticism or attack from atheists [usually I'm the atheist that he sees as doing that]. So, higher intelligence doesn't appear to be the answer.


Granted, my brother is still rather young to deconvert. I deconverted at 16, he's 18.... but still... he seems to me to resist any questioning of his god by himself or others. [I have identified that a key part to deconversion appears to be the will to question your religion and your god].


Also, rationality [skepticism esp.] seems to not be a complete answer either. I have watched an extremely religious family member watch ghost hunting shows with me on the Travel Channel. He and I both don't believe the claims of hauntings made by the individuals on the shows. In fact he was as critical or more so than I was. So, he WAS skeptical in some instances, such as alien abduction, crop circles, the bermuda triangle, the loc ness monster, ghosts, etc. Yet, when it came to God, he applied absolutely NO skepticism at all. I still wonder why that is. I am sure he has the capacity. Is skepticism something that people can choose when and where to apply? Is it something that they can banish on a drop of a hat?


Also, education doesn't seem to have an impact either. Plenty of religious individuals have recieved bacchelors, masters, even doctoral degrees from accredited higher education institutions.


So... what is it that makes some people deconvert and others stick to their religious guns?


I suggest it [possibly] has to do with personality traits?


I have created a hypothetical personality [details not ironed out yet] that I have called "deconversion personality." An individual possessing this hypothetical personality would be more likely to abandon their faith of upbringing.


What I haven't worked out is what comprises a person with deconversion personality and what makes them different from religious people?


I do know that their is significant evidence that people with Authoritarian Personality - a personality documented, studied and observed by psychologists already -  [believing that authority should be obeyed at all times] tend to be more likely to be religious....


But I would like to know your thoughts and suggestions.  What do you think makes a person more likely to deconvert? What makes a person more likely to be religious? How could we set up an experiment to test this?


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