05 Jan

An earlier version of this post appeared at De-Conversion a couple of months ago. It grew out of a response to a post by Babs.


“Thinking outside the box” is a current buzz phrase in North America. Common Wisdom has it that people who succeed in business are those who can think beyond their usual boundaries and imagine possibilities that their peers don’t conceive. Thinking “inside the box,” in contrast, is considered stale and uninventive, a sure recipe for fiscal disaster. In this post, I want to consider the notions of thinking inside the box, outside the box, and finally, about the box itself.

I first learned to think outside the box about ten years ago, when I taught an undergraduate course in Human Relations, which typically covered such issues as racial, ethnic and gender discrimination. I was an evangelical Christian at the time, snuggled cozily inside my spiritual and intellectual box. I was comfortable with my worldview and, until that point, had experienced little difficulty in fitting new ideas into my old box without changing much about the box itself. My mission in the Human Relations course, as a graduate assistant I had little choice but to accept it, was to teach undergraduate teacher education students to think outside their boxes. This entailed, of course, that I could learn to think that way myself. Fortunately, my faculty supervisor and fellow graduate students taught me how to think outside of my conservative, evangelical Christian box.

An example of the kind of thinking I mean is this: the most difficult Human Relations concept for me to grasp was the notion of “white privilege.” It took me months to understand how, as a white person in American society, I enjoyed many hidden privileges. For example, when I walk down the street, people don’t cross the street and walk on the other side as they sometimes do when they see a black or Hispanic man coming their way. The implicit trust extended toward me, simply because of my skin color, was something I took for granted. I assumed such trust was granted to everyone who walked down the street, but that was not true. Once I grasped this concept, and other related ones, everything I had ever learned about human social intercourse took on new meanings. I finally was able to a) think outside of my old conceptual box, and b) build a new and better box for myself.

In hindsight, I now realize that this initial experience in thinking outside the box was a significant step in my de-conversion. As I learned to consider and understand race and gender issues in new ways, I had to re-define my theology. I had to build a new theological box so that I could add the new content to it and dispose of some of the old junk that couldn’t merge with the new stuff. As time went by, the new box became comfortable and I settled into it until it became my regular box.

Over the past few years, as I viewed the world from within my box, I gradually became aware that it was getting tight and stuffy in there, with little room for new materials. When I hit the crisis period of my de-conversion, I climbed outside of my box and, instead of merely thinking outside of it, began examining the box itself. After several weeks of looking at that box and its contents, I discovered that I could no longer carry around many of its contents, primarily those related to Christianity. Upon further consideration, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with the idea that it is time for me to set aside all religious boxes, for none of them will ever fit me well again.

–the chaplain


Posted by on January 5, 2008 in deconversion, rationalism


8 responses to “Boxes

  1. Babs

    January 5, 2008 at 5:15 pm

    Bravo! I think we have so many different boxes that we tend to stay stuck in. We need to routinely get the heck out of them and look at the boxes for what they really are. I think we’d find a lot of them aren’t necessary anymore.

    Loved this post and I’m thrilled you found your way out of your particular box.

  2. PhillyChief

    January 6, 2008 at 1:11 am

    Personally, I’d rather enjoy it if people crossed the street to avoid me. Hell, I’ll settle for them not stopping in the middle of the aisle with their cart at the store to chit chat to someone or contemplate their navels. Oh better yet, they could get out of my way when I’m driving. Yes, that would be the best.

    Well boxes are something you don’t have to feel guilty about getting too big to wear anymore. Welcome to outside the box. You’ll like it out here. Clearly it’s not your first time playing outside, but it’s good to hear you’re here to stay.

  3. athinkingman

    January 6, 2008 at 6:04 am

    I am encouraged by this post and can identify with it. Like you, I am enjoying the challenge of rebuilding and of gaining a different understanding in a post deconversion period.

    Apart from my own boxes and blind-spots, I often wonder what our cultural blind-spots are that other societies in hundreds of years time will be amazed that we accepted as normal. I remember years ago teaching a course on the Colosseum and being shocked that to the Romans, there were good cultural justifications for the carnage that took place and which we now find do culturally unacceptable.

    Although I am becoming increasingly strong in (and proud of) my humanisitic liberalism, I dread to think how future generations may view some aspects of the views and behaviour of my society that I and others accept as “given”.

  4. The Exterminator

    January 6, 2008 at 2:50 pm

    Chappy, this excellent post makes me think of that old Malvina Reynolds song (sung at one time by Peter, Paul, and Mary). If you don’t know the words, here they are:

    1. Little boxes on the hillside,
    Little boxes made of ticky-tacky,
    Little boxes, little boxes,
    Little boxes, all the same.
    There’s a green one and a pink one
    And a blue one and a yellow one
    And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
    And they all look just the same.

    2. And the people in the houses
    All go to the university,
    And they all get put in boxes,
    Little boxes, all the same.
    And there’s doctors and there’s lawyers
    And business executives,
    And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
    And they all look just the same.

    3. And they all play on the golf-course,
    And drink their Martini dry,
    And they all have pretty children,
    And the children go to school.
    And the children go to summer camp
    And then to the university,
    And they all get put in boxes
    And they all come out the same.

    4. And the boys go into business,
    And marry, and raise a family,
    And they all get put in boxes,
    Little boxes, all the same.
    There’s a green one and a pink one
    And a blue one and a yellow one
    And they’re all made out of ticky-tacky
    And they all look just the same.

  5. the chaplain

    January 6, 2008 at 5:51 pm

    Babs – Thanks for the initial inspiration.

    Phillychief – Yes, sometimes there would be advantages to being the sort of person others seek to avoid.

    Thinking Man – Your question about cultural blind-spots is a good one. We in the West don’t need to look too far back in our own history to see what some of our own blind-spots have been. We need to keep working to uncover some of the current ones. Rationalism provides far better tools for this than religion.

    Exterminator – That is a great song.


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