Religions, particularly the theistic ones, place huge emphasis on belief. Those who believe will be saved; those who do not will be doomed. The natural implication of this is the idea that we can control our beliefs. A so-called good person believes, and a so-called bad person does not. However, in my opinion, we cannot choose what we believe. Our beliefs are simply the result of the evidence we have seen. Regardless of what we profess to think, our beliefs, and thus our atheism or our theism, are not a choice.
What is belief? How do we change it? Can we convince ourselves that the moon does not exist? What if we told ourselves this a thousand times? Would it still be present when we look to the sky, or would our minds refuse to acknowledge its existence? In this sense, perhaps we can tell ourselves that God does or does not exist. Perhaps we can fool ourselves into thinking one way or the other. However, we would always know that we had not truly considered the issue. We would know that our “belief” was simply the result of conditioning and will-power. Therefore, we would not truly believe it.
Deep down, a true belief can only be based on our own evidence and reasoning. This evidence may take many forms – it is not restricted to bolts of lightning and flaming bushes. The sense of God speaking within our heart may count as evidence. Whatever we tell ourselves, it is ultimately this evidence, and our interpretation of it, that determines whether we believe or not. We can tell ourselves otherwise, we can tell the world otherwise, but deep down we believe what we believe and we have no choice in this.
So what can we do? Is there then no way to change our belief? If we are now a theist, will we remain this way forever? If we atheists, are we forever doomed? No, there is one thing we can do. We can open our minds and look for new evidence. Be open to the possibility of a God and listen for his word. Or consider what may seem a scary possibility that there is no God. You do not know what will happen when you try this. Maybe your theistic or atheistic beliefs will be confirmed. Or perhaps you will begin to doubt what you have always known. At any rate, we believe what we believe and we cannot change this. We can gather evidence, but we cannot know upon which side this evidence will lead us. Hence, in this respect, atheism is not a choice. If we are atheists, then this is the only conclusion we could come to given what we knew. Similarly for theists. We may wish to deny our theism or atheism, but we are only fooling ourselves. We have no choice in what we believe, so we had best admit to it.