Conversions, on the other hand, create long-lasting effects. “Conversions” are the result of a change of belief, a belief that can be about anything. The following discussion relates only to religious conversions.
Religious conversions come in two flavours; those induced by some external influence (a speaker at a mass meeting, or in a church, for instance) and those self-induced (the ones that seem to arrive “out-of-the-blue”). The first kind happen relatively often; the second, rarely. The prerequisite for either kind to occur is a prepared mind (one that is usually quite stressed—see the next section for more about this).
Externally-induced conversions cause the converted to accept the theology of an existing religion. The environment, beliefs and purpose-for-living, often remembered from past exposures to the religion and usually already present as minor memory constructs within the mind, are accepted in their entirety. People undergoing induced conversions (whether from external or internal sources) are likely to explore and cement this happening by reading, talking to like-minded others, and thinking about what has happened. Mentally, they are realigning existing constructs, seeking and strengthening those that point toward the newly adopted purpose, and turning suddenly seen associations into connections, all the time reinforcing the new construct’s position and significance within their revised mind-set. Eventually, if the conversion experience has been particularly powerful, many formerly small and unconnected constructs become realigned and joined to make one large Construct. And, as noted in the previous section, this new Construct may come to dominate much of such individual’s thinking, and control much of their behaviour.
Externally induced conversions differ from reformations only in scale. Periodic refreshing is often needed if the adopted purpose is not to fade over time. This reinforcement is typically obtained by attending religious institutions or gatherings. Secular conversions occur, of course (to communism, for example) and these are commonly systematically reinforced by political boosts given in meetings. Terrorists, religious or otherwise, are often products of induced conversions; they, too, are given periodic indoctrination and training aimed at maintaining their level of commitment.
Self-induced religious conversions are also usually to an existing religion. Very rarely, they occur in the mind of individuals who do not convert to an existing religion but become the harbingers of a new one. It is this kind of event we must examine (although, as we will find, the causal mechanism in both situations is very similar).
Self-induced conversions are almost always the result of a “revelation.”
- Much of what is being written here about religious conversions applies equally well to any kind of conversion (e.g., to fascism or communism).
- The work of Sunday school teachers and missionaries illustrates this point. Each describes the background, the stories, the key features of their religion, and explains the significance of their rituals to their listeners. They are painting a picture that attempts to convey the reality and relevance of a religious environment to those who lack such an environment.
Once some of these details have been absorbed, once a store of religious information exists to draw from, the pupil may be ready to take the next step. Neophytes are encouraged to value the attainment of some goal that the leader has in mind. The leader’s zeal, obvious conviction, passion, and very presence as someone to emulate, all aid this process. What happens next depends upon how these ideas are perceived by the recipient. Often, in children, nothing visible occurs; the listener absorbs the speaker’s intention, but does not feel impelled to do anything more. On occasion, in adults, when mental conditions (i.e., constructs created by past experiences and learnings) are receptive, something very dramatic happens: the listener experiences a “conversion.”