Why we believe as we do. (and the Jello Dome model)
You can not "Choose" to believe in a thing.
It would be absurd for a Baptist to say "Today I think I will believe in Zeus". And then stop being a Baptist and really believe in Zeus. They would simply be a Baptist saying they believe in Zeus, going through the motions but not genuinely believing. You can not change your beliefs by choice. It irritates me every time I see Christians Accusing others of "Choosing" not to believe in their particular brand and variant of God.
Belief is caused by mental conditioning and the environment we experience every day. This conditioning causes a channeling of a person's thought processes towards a particular conclusion or world view.
The strength of a belief or faith depends on many things, such as the duration of the conditioning stimulus, the intensity, the degree of compliance or conflict of any new stimuli with existing conditioning. If the new stimulus is strong enough or persistent enough it can cause people to change their world view.
Let me explain how IMHO belief works. Most people can visualise this explanation and start to recognise their own conditioning and environmental stimuli. This explains how all religions, all delusion, all perception and all beliefs work.
Visualize your sub-conscience as a huge Jello Dome.
When you are born, this dome is smooth, it has no beliefs, no bias, no marks or impressions on it's surface from life's experiences.... a clean smooth Jello dome.
As you experience the world through your senses, small impressions are made on the surface of the Jello.
Imagine it like hot water being flicked, sprayed, dripped, poured etc, on the surface from thousands of different directions, velocities and distances. The hot water melts a little bit of Jello and leaves a track where the melted Jello ran down the side of the dome.
Life is full of millions of different stimuli, experiences and circumstances. This equates to splashes of hot water coming in from all different directions and heights and angles.
Imagine if you hear the same song over and over, This is like identical splashes of hot water coming in repeatedly from the same direction. After a time this would leave a deeper track than songs that you only hear once. This is how you learn a song, repetition. It's how you learn a skill or the words to a play. The more you interact with that stimulus, the deeper the tracks in your mind and the easier that skill becomes.
Habits can be explained in the same way. If you do the same thing at the same time each day, in the same way, it becomes habit. This is like a slow steady drip of hot water on our Jello dome model. After a while the track left by the drip is quite deep and it is difficult to make alternative tracks. The water will tend to flow down the path of the existing melted track. Your behavior will become more predictable, tending to following previously learned behavior. This is when a habit is hard to break. It's difficult to recondition your mind or to get the water to follow a different path.
A Traumatic event can radically change our behaviour very quickly. This equates to the intensity of the water. Extremely hot water would represent a very intense experience. It would melt deeper into the Jello and leave a deeper impression on our Jello sub-conscience. It could be an event of great magnitude, which could be represented by a large volume of hot water leaving a deep and wide track in our dome. These experiences could be strong enough.... or the tracks could be deep enough to alter or erase previously learned behavior/conditioning/beliefs etc.
Religion uses all of these principles to various degrees.
The same stimulus delivered in a consistent way at regular intervals. Hymns, Prayers, the Sunday service. constant repetition of learned behaviour. religious ritual is designed to do exactly this. Even to just getting you to say "Amen" or "praise the Lord" after a given stimulus is a small part of the conditioning. Religious ritual and ceremony is simple conditioning by repetition over a period of many years.
You just have to read Christian Testimonies. There are millions of people who have latched on to various belief systems in the wake of a traumatic experience. If you want to relate this to our Jello Model, It's like the Trauma has liquefied and softened a large part of our Jello dome. The slightest stimulus from any direction will result in deep tracks in the extra soft susceptible Jello surface, often completely erasing all previous conditioning.
Skillful charismatic preachers will often try to give the victims/congregation a very intense religious experience. People leaving these churches after an intense conditioning session will exhibit signs of induced euphoria and mild hysteria.
Jehovah's Witnesses..... The WTS tend to use continuous conditioning. This is similar to the continuous conditioning you would get in a monastery, convent or doing missionary work. JW's Live, breath, eat, sleep, fart and shit WTS doctrine all day long. The WTS have another trick too. Jehovah's Witnesses are strongly discouraged from talking to non-Jehovah's Witnesses unless they are "Witnessing". If a JW is "disfellowshipped" (kicked out), they are ostracised. You are not allowed to communicate with the reject at all. They are not to debate other religions. They are under strict guidelines of who they can communicate with and under what circumstances. In our Jello Model, this relates to excluding other stimuli. To block off random splashes that may contaminate the carefully prepared conditioning tracks laid down by the WTS.
Other cults do this to an extreme degree and cut of all experiences other that the message being conveyed by the cult leadership. This results in gross deformation in our Jello dome. All stimulus will follow the deep tracks laid down by the intense conditioning from one single direction. In these extreme cases of fundamentalism, everything, all experiences are perceived and explained in terms of the single set of conditioning tracks. There are no other possible explanations because there are no other tracks in their Jello model.
Everyone is subject to the conditioning we get from our experiences and our environment. I am familiar many different religions, none of them has left a deep set of tracks in my subconsciousness. I come from a scientific background, so my conditioning is towards a scientific explanation. Stimuli/experiences/splashes of hot water will tend to follow the tracks towards a scientific explanation because that's the most natural place for those splashes to run towards in my Jello model subconsciousness.
A Fundamentalist Christian will have deeply conditioned tracks in the area of religion and supernatural beliefs. So any random experience will tend to be given a supernatural explanation in that persons mind.
If you are conditioned towards supernatural explanations, Supernatural explanations will feel comfortable and more reasonable because that is the easiest path for your subconscious to deal with these experiences.
Exactly the same experiences in someone who is conditioned towards a different religion will feel perfectly comfortable with a very different explanation.
Something that appears to be obvious and self evident to one person will be totally absurd to another person.
As it stands, this model of our subconsciousness gives no one truly objective knowledge or an objective perception of truth. Everything is distorted by our conditioning and our life experiences. The only tool we have to give us a more objective view is "Formalised Logic". It is unbiased, unemotional and unaffected by subjective thinking and personal conditioning. Very few people can set out a 100% Formalised Logical argument for complex issues such as religion because Logic often goes against our preconditioned perceptions. We don't realize we're doing it but what we believe to be logically consistent in a complex issue is almost always biased by the conditioning of our minds towards the tracks in our mind.
If you come up against a brand new issue that you've never come across before, totally unrelated to anything you've experienced before, you will normally be neutral on the subject. The first impression will lay down the smallest of tracks in that Jello sub-conscious brain model and any subsequent information will be slightly biased in the direction of those tracks. Of course a strong piece of evidence can redirect those tracks in another direction. First impressions are often lasting impressions.
Think about the things you believe now, your current world view and see if you can determine why you believe as you do. What was the environment like that caused you to accept those beliefs. If you have changed you world view, ask yourself why. Was it a constant drip drip, an intense event or an event of great magnitude.
The worst crime of all is to believe you are not affected by your conditioning and that your perceptions are 100% objective. Only fools claim they know the absolute truth.