How to Change a Die-in-the-Wool Fundamentalist
An Old Belief Change Pattern in a Biblical Text
“I’ll have none of that crap anymore! It’s all dung!”
L. Michael Hall, Ph.D.
Some people do not merely have beliefs about certain things, they go further — to a higher logical level. They believe in their beliefs. Yet (as Korzybski pointed out) when you hold a second-order abstraction of “conviction of conviction” this typically causes a person to end up thinking-feeling, talking, and acting like a fanatic!
Imagine trying to change the rigid, dogmatic, and legalistically driving belief systems of a Pharisee! A tough order. Fundamentalists (whether in religion, politics, education, etc.) typically do not change very easy.
So when I stumbled on to the story of one Pharisee and how his old fanatical beliefs completely and absolutely changed, I sat up and took note. I came across this one linguistically. A certain phrase in the old text caught my eye. Then, because Dr. Bobby Bodenhamer and I had just finished a text on the basic NLP model for Christian counselors, pastors, and thinkers (Patterns For Renewing the Mind*1), we decided to put this into our work — in spite of the four-letter word that we found in the biblical text (!).
Reason for Confidence
The story begins with Saul of Tarsus (now “Paul”) looking back on how he shifted his beliefs as a true-blue Pharisee, totally fundamentalistic, “right,” and proud of his rightness!
“We are the true circumcision… who put no confidence in the flesh. Though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If any other man thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew born of Hebrews…” (Philippians 3:2-6).
The phrase, “reason for confidence,” first caught my attention. It cued me to the presence of a meta-state. Confidence obviously refers to the primary state. Saul the Pharisee had felt totally confident in his beliefs and lifestyle.
What do you feel confidence about? Access that state of confidence so that you re-experience it fully … and as you do, allow yourself to notice where your mind goes and what it does when you think about your “reasons for confidence.”
In other words, if someone asked you, “Why do you believe that?’ Or, ‘Why do you have confidence in that?” the thoughts and feelings that you would then experience specifies your reasons. Then as you think about those “reasons,” they become your thoughts-and-feelings at a higher logical level. As you answer the question, “And how do you feel about those reasons?” you move up a level.
In this text, Paul uses as his “reasons” for confidence facts about his external situation. His thoughts-emotions went to those things outside of himself at the primary level, namely, his past history as a Pharisee, his Jewish racial status, his parents and heritage in that culture, his religious training, his role as persecutor of Christians, etc. These comprised his “reasons for confidence.” And the more he thought about all these “reasons,” the stronger his confidence grew.
Do the same. Think about your “reasons for confidence” regarding whatever area your state of confidence relates to .. now think about those reasons some more… and now repeat this process … Does it not amplify your confidence?
Now think about something that you know about yourself, and do this thinking with confidence. Think about something that you like, and toward which you can say, “Yes, that describes me!” For instance, you may definitely know yourself as a kind person. You have confidence about that. And you have “reasons for that confidence,” do you not?
As you do, now notice how you represent this durable knowledge. Describe where you put your pictures and sounds, the quality of your visual images and sounds, the kind of words you use, your “confident” tone of voice, etc. We’ll call this your durable self representation. [By the way, you have just meta-stated your “self” and this “knowledge of self” with confidence. How did that feel?
The B.S. Belief Change Pattern
“But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as refuse, in order that I may gain Christ…” (Phil. 3:7-8).
For a thought experiment, think about something that you confidently believe about yourself, but which you wish you didn’t. For instance, “I know that I blow up and say ugly things when I get stressed.” “I know that I cave in and feel self-pity when things don’t go my way.” Pick a confidence you have (you feel confident that you think, feel, or do something that limits you in some way!). Next, notice all the “reasons for confidence” that come to you (memories, statements of others, etc.) In other words, how do you support that belief?
Okay, break state. For the next step, think of something that you know about yourself … kind of… You think of yourself as X, but then again you have doubts, questions, you don’t feel sure… Where do you put that picture or sound? What tone of voice? How do you know you doubt it?
Would you like to blow that old confidence, and all your reasons, out of the water? Would you like it to shatter so much that it no longer operates as a self-fulfilling prophecy inside you? Then try this Pauline B.S. Belief Change Pattern.
1) Access the primary level confidence (PS). What do you have confidence in that limits you? What do you represent this limiting confidence in VAK terms?
2) Access a meta-state of validation of that confidence. Next move your thoughts-feelings to the next higher level up by thinking about all of your “reasons for confidence.” What ideas, concepts, representations of experiences support your belief? How do you confirm and validate these thoughts?
3) Access a discounting state about the “reasons” state. Move to the next higher level as you say to yourself, “All of those reasons amount to nothing! Nothing at all!” Just say it. You don’t have to believe it at this point, just say it congruently and firmly. Say, “It all amount to mental garbage!” See it as garbage… as junk… as “dung.”
This term “dung” in the biblical passage actually uses a pretty coarse representation — one with which we can use to really gross ourselves out. After all, it pictures the meta-level “reasons” and primary state representations, as human waste, “refuse,” or “dung” (as the old King James Version puts it), in other words, shit!*2
So what happens when you outframe your old Ideas and confirmations of those ideas as “refuse?” What happens when you “count it as dung” (to use the biblical phrase)? Go meta and see. From that leverage point, say and see all of the lower level states and representations as human waste. How does that effect that old confidence? Doesn’t it blow it out of the water? Or, to continue to run with this coarse metaphor, doesn’t it just flush it all down the toilet?! Now.
With this experience, now read again Paul’s words in the previous text about counting all of that “confidence in the flesh” (e.g. in fulfilling the Jewish law) and having earned righteousness) as “counting it as loss” … “counting it as dung.” When you so outframe the lower states in that way — they will begin to deframe, de-construct, and shatter to pieces. They can’t cohere when you so frame them.
|Meta-Meta-State||“It’s all B.S.!” — State of Discounting, Treating as “Dung” or shit the Lower Concepts/States|
|Meta-Level||Reasons for believing in the Old Idea. Explanations, Supporting Evidence for Validating, confirming the Idea.|
|Primary State||The Old Idea C VAK Representations|
Note: In the above figure, each block represents a logical level… The higher level always modulates (controls) the lower level.
The Next Step
4) Build up new, positive, and more useful constructs. Now that we have taken our old “confidences” and outframe them by going meta and framing them with attributions of “loss,” we have now created a space wherein we can create a new structure. We can now fill that space in with new constructs. In Paul’s particular case, he did this:
“…and be found in him, not having my own righteousness, based on law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith, that I may know him and the power of his resurrection…” (Phil. 3:9-11).
Paul replaced his old beliefs in his own righteousness with the belief that God gives the gift of righteousness via his trust in Christ. But before he could shift to that idea and make it a solid part of his thinking, he had to get rid of the old belief. He had to de-construct the idea, “I get my religion the old fashion way; I earn it!” Here we see him doing that by reframing it as a pile of manure! That became the smell of legalism for him. Doesn’t that shed a new smell on that subject? Would that wipe-out the Pharisee in you?
5) Finally, access a state of confidence in your new frame-of-reference. Develop a full representation of confidence along with all of your “reasons for confidence.” Having done that, next move to a higher logic level above those “reasons” and think of them (esteem them) as “of surpassing worth.” What does that do for you? What meta-level state does that induce in you?
Building Neuro-Semantic States
As we “go meta” and move above whatever state of mind and emotion we have accessed at the primary level — we not only access a higher state of consciousness, but we also thereby construct a meta-level semantic state. What mechanism explains this process?
In the context of this biblical example, Paul used the phrase, “reason for confidence.” Now while the sensory-based referents of his “reasons” existed “out there” in the world — the nominalization “reasons” refers to a mental construct, hence a semantic state.
Similarly when you think about your reasons for a belief, a conviction, or an understanding –you thereby access a semantic state, or a belief state. This provides insight into how we use experiences (events, interactions, relationships, conversations, etc.) to build “beliefs.” We represent such as “evidence” and “support” for our ideas. This endows them with “reality” — neuro-semantic reality (it becomes “real” inside our nervous system)!
Paul first represented his “facts” of race, religion, heritage, etc. (primary level of processing). Then he used them as “reasons.” In other words, he treated them as the basis of his self-definition, purpose, spirituality, etc.
This means how we think, conceptually, about the things in our external world — totally determines the furniture, geography, and content of our internal world. “As we think in our heart–so we are.” Thus as we think and reason, and count or discount, as we attribute significance to this or that, or attribute the lack of significance to something else — as we so think, so we populate our inner world of consciousness.
“Reasons” do not exist “out there” in the world. “Reasons” describe our internal “reasoning” in how we use our cognizing, valuing, believing, and processing. It speaks about what we say “counts.” As long as Paul said that all of those “reasons” really counted — he lived, thought, felt, and acted like a Pharisee! He could do none other.
When he changed the way he counted things (attributed meanings), his whole life changed. When he came to say, “Whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ” (Phil. 3:7), he became transformed in a new and wonderful way. When he said, “Indeed I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus the Lord” (3:8), he solidified that new way of attributing meaning.
Notice the two-fold action of his mind: on the negative side he first had to de-construct the old –” I count as loss,” “I count them as dung.” He said, “Baloney!” to it all. He said, “Enough, I now flush it down the toilet!” Then he constructed a bright and gloriously new image (the “surpassing worth” of knowing Christ). What a powerful propulsion system of values that moved him away from Pharisaism. When you treat something as B.S. (to use our expression) and something else as Pure Gold — you propel yourself away from one and toward the other.
Understanding this process, and seeing how Paul utilize it, now enables us to shift our consciousness to re-“count” our attribution of meanings. We can simply stopstart giving the highest and most celebrative meanings to everything we want to energize as an attractor.
Treating anything as B.S. not only deframes those experiences and ideas, it outframes them from a discounting meta-position. This semantic process (e.g. “treating something like dung”) enables us to alter neuro-linguistic reality. Of course, taken to extreme it creates the “Bevis and Butthead” syndrome wherein you can reject, mock, and deframe anything. Again, we have another illustration that the structure of this subjective experience doesn’t represent a “bad” thing — but a skill that we can contextual and then use when appropriate.
1. Patterns For Renewing the Mind: Using NLP for Christian Counseling (1997), by Bob Bodenhamer and Michael Hall, soon to be published by Anglo-American Books, Wales.
2. Our modern sanitized twentieth century consciousness tends to avoid such words as “refuse” and “dung” or “shit.” We label them as four-letters words and avoid them as if they have inherent badness. Yet words only function as symbols of referents. Actually, such words occur in some very surprising places in the Bible. In addition to the Philippians 3:8, we have these: “Behold, I will rebuke your offspring, and spread dung upon your faces, the dung of your offerings…” (Malachi 2:3). And Isaiah’s judgment on Moab involved becoming “trodden down in a dung-pit” “And he will spread out his hands in the midst of it as a swimmer spreads his hands out to swim…” (Isaiah 25:10-12)
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