What to do When Your Beliefs Change

Portrait o St. John Henry Newman in his vestments as Cardinal.

If H. G. Wells’ First and Last Things is an inspiration to figure out your personal beliefs, then St. John Henry Newman’s Apologia Pro Via Sua should be a comfort when your beliefs must change.

We’ve all had a faith crisis at least once in our lives. The awful moment when we must venture outside of what we believe is true is one of those growth moments which comes to all human beings. Going through it, however, can be heartbreaking.

Particularly if what you believe now differs from what you used to believe. Even if your basic assumptions stay the same.

Sensitive then as I have ever been of the imputations which have been so freely cast upon me, I have never felt much impatience under them, as considering them to be a portion of the penalty which I naturally and justly incorrect by my change of religion, even though they were to continue as long as I lived.

St. John Henry Newman

What Changing your Beliefs DOES NOT Mean

1. Changing your beliefs does not mean that you are a liar or “inauthentic”, whatever the Twitter mob may say.

If your beliefs were genuine before you discovered they were wrong, that isn’t a lie. It’s a misunderstanding. If you admit you were wrong and that you believe differently now, that still isn’t a lie. That is honesty beyond what most people will admit.

But it’s an admission which is necessary when what you believed doesn’t match with your experience or reality.

Newman didn’t shy away from this in his Apologia. In fact, he outrightly admits his discomfort with laying bare his own thoughts for the sake of acquitting himself of being a liar.

2. It does not make you any less than what you were—in fact, it may make you more.

This is particularly true of the fundamentally religious—of any religion. It also is true of the ideologically political. Declare that you are anything different, and the reactions can range from rage to hurt, as if you are deliberately choosing to believe a certain way to be hurtful.

However, if you’ll notice. Those same people who were hurt that you genuinely had a change of beliefs are not so hurt when one of their own is shown to be less than he appears to be. If anything, the ranks close.

But look at Newman. Here was a man who started out as an Evangelical and ended up as a Catholic saint. Some institutions he founded still stand—and are thriving.

Changing his beliefs may have isolated him from friends and family alike, but he ended up with something greater than his life as a tutor in Oxford could have ever afforded him.

If that doesn’t encourage you to explore and expand your mind, I don’t know what will.

What to do

1. Be honest

If there is one thing H. G. Wells and John Newman have in common, is it their sincere attempt to be honest with their readers. This is, in fact, one of the common threads which runs through all confessional literature: it’s an attempt for the writers to not only be honest with themselves but to be honest with whoever reads their work afterwards.

While Margery Kempe and Catherine of Siena may have had different intentions for their books, it was still to present their truth as they experienced it.

Dishonesty does no one any favors here.

With Newman’s Apologia, there is an additional element of honesty: he provides names and dates for not only the people who influenced his thinking, but for the people with whom he kept company. This is unlike any of the other pieces of confessional literature discussed this month.  

So, when you are in doubt of your beliefs, be honest. Be open. Don’t be afraid to call out the people who influence your thinking and why you now disagree with them. Still be courteous and kind, but be honest.

2. Be brave

If you haven’t read the entire story of St. John Henry Newman, then I highly suggest you do. What he did required a lot of bravery—more bravery than a lot of us have today. And he was brave.

Coming out as a Roman Catholic in England was brave. As brave as someone in the LGBTQIA+ community coming out in an American Evangelical household in the 90s and early 00s. Or a conservative in a progressive community coming out in the 2010s. Anytime someone comes out as the exact opposite of what their peers expect them to be requires a certain amount of bravery.

For Newman, it meant losing everything. Status, livelihood, credibility, family, friends, associates, and more besides. At one point, even the Catholic Church he’d turned to very nearly rejected him as well for his opinions.

He stood firm.

How many times, especially in the past three years, have we seen people get “mobbed” on social media? Or shadow-banned? Too many to count.

All for one difference of opinion, arguable. It may still be a wrong opinion, but it’s an opinion and everyone is entitled to their own.

Whenever men are able to act at all, there is the chance of extreme and intemperate action; and therefore, when there is exercise of mind, there is the chance of wayward or mistaken exercise.

St. John Henry Newman

Leaving behind what you were taught as a child can be painful. And isolating.

Newman knew that all too well. However, it’s not any of his contemporaries will still remember. It’s him. His contemporaries may still be discussed in some small corner of intellectual endeavor, but a far broader audience knows Newman.

And certainly, none of them had the Prince of Wales speak so proudly of them as Prince Charles did at Newman’s canonization in 2019.

Like, St. Patrick, St. John Newman is the one, out of all his critics, who is still widely read and studied.

Encouraging, isn’t it?

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