I've seen posts on this board and elsewhere saying that we can choose what we believe, that we became non-believers by choice, an act of will like choosing a shirt. I think belief is more complicated than that.
Beliefs are not under our direct, conscious control. They are more like emergent properties that result from our interpretation of all our inputs - our mental model of reality. Certainly you can influence your beliefs by acting as a gatekeeper for what information you receive. For example, you can choose never to read a particular holy text, and you will vastly reduce your chances of adopting the related beliefs.
Lots of people, including the fundamentalists I grew up around, say that you are capable of simply changing your beliefs, and that's why the notion of eternal punishment or reward based on our beliefs alone makes sense to them (the doctrine of sola fide). I see it differently. Can you, for example, simply choose to believe that I am in hovering in front of you pouring pancake syrup in your hair? You may well be able to imagine what that might be like, but I doubt you could just choose to *sincerely* believe it, unless you have issues distinguishing fantasy from reality. You can't will it to happen by "trying harder."
It seems to me that just about the only way beliefs will change is if some external catalyst (new input) comes your way that can't be explained in the context of your mental model, rendering your current beliefs inadequate. I didn't really want to stop believing in the god of my youth, but at some point I became incapable of believing that particular image of god. I could no longer wedge it neatly into my mental model of reality.
What do you think?
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