There is a real tendency in Christians to grow up in a certain way, let’s call it Environment A, but then discover that the values, systems, expectations, assumptions, and beliefs of A do not apply in another part of society. We can call that Environment B. Most commonly, Environment B tends to be college, but it can just as well be anything else. Environment B might be a change at home (divorce, a sibling “coming out,” death, a book on Biology) while Environment A is usually still intact.
The story I have heard a thousand times is, Christian grows up in the church, moves away (geographically, philosophically, relationally) from the church, and their faith falls apart. What I see so much of the time is that several pieces are in place. First, local churches tend to be a group of individuals who have a common set of assumptions about the world. Their religious tradition worked for them, they have that much in common, and so their community is built around the assumption that that particular religious tradition is universally true. For instance, the belief in a literal 7-day Creation event is a litmus test for fundamentalism, and it is a thread that binds together many such communities. What happens there is, there is little or no room for exploration of other ideas around the interpretation of that passage in scripture, leaving people who “move away” from the church in any way unprepared for what awaits them in their next environment (Environment B). Usually Environment B is college, where they find out that evolution is a scientific fact. They also find out that the many beliefs that branch out from their understanding of scripture, and again have little or no nuance to them, are also absurd. Noah’s Ark could not have happened the way it is described, there are lots of options for interpreting many of the peripheral passages in scripture, and oh by the way, non-Christians are often times very happy and well adjusted people. And, Christians going to college meet gay people who aren’t the evil that their church told them, they are also happy and well adjusted people, and often times even very interesting and fun to be around. There’s that shock, then guilt, then confusion. Was what I was told about this a lie? What else have I been lied to about?
Transition from Environment A to Environment B is a test in a lot of ways, but here I want to discuss the test of belief systems and how much room any given belief system has for nuance. When there is little or no room for nuance in a belief system, a few things are going to happen. One, the move from A to B for someone with a nuance-free understanding of the world is going to have a tough transition. If that individual has never sincerely considered, let alone experienced, the exceptions to the rules they grew up with, they are going to be crushed by the new environment. Smoking weed for the first time, finding out that they aren’t suddenly addicted to heroine or have cancer, that person is going to throw out all the fears they had been taught about that drug (and all the fears they had about the other things, too). That they will be “crushed” here means that they are going to lose their old belief system altogether.
From a political perspective, this looks like someone who has never met a Democrat finding out that they are real, empathetic, educated, and well-intentioned creatures (and certainly the reverse is true). Growing up, the rhetorical assumption comes out as, “How could anyone ever believe that the government is good at anything?” Someone like this may move into the city and find that a massive, complicated, diverse community requires some form of top-down administration and bureaucracy to get anything done, to be equitable, and to provide basic services for a densely populated 10,000 acre area. (You know, a city). Again, the reverse would be someone saying, “How could anyone ever want to privatize X?” That individual might move into the country and find that the federal government does little or nothing for the community, and that individual land owners’ collaboration is what gets nearly everything done. Suddenly the other environment makes the other thing make sense – it’s that nuance, that open-mindedness that is so hard to come by when safely inside of Environment A.