Human has to deal with bewildering amount of information from their surroundings, they cannot take all of them, so we are wired to have some kind of model or templates to let us process information receive and create our mental model of the world around us -- or our worldview.
This is called "person structure" in cognitive psychology, but we can simply refer to it as our belief system or just beliefs.
We understand our world from our five senses (sight, hearing, touch, smell, taste), from emotional experiences, and finally from our upbringing.
For example we learn what is car, a pen, a chair, what is the color green, red, etc. they are all neutral. We register pain if we fell on the ground or hurt ourselves. These experiences are authentic, in a sense is it is something we experience first hand.
When we learn from school, and able to explore, to evaluate its logical consistence and soundness and evidence to support it, again these are authentic to us.
As we gain more and more life experience, our belief system expand based on authentic experience of the world as we see and perceives it
In general if we are open-minded, if we think with logic an reason, we allow the knowledge, facts etc we gain from our experiences to shape, refine and modify our beliefs so that the belief and the experience are correlated -- in cognitive psychology this kind of correspondence (or overlap of authentic experience and belief) is all congruence. Nobody's belief is in 100% congruence with his/her experience. Those that fall outside of congruence is called cognitive dissonance.
If our minds are open, rational and evidence based, the cognitive dissonance will be relative small.
In contrast, Christianity basically asked the believer to adhere to a set of "beliefs", and fight hard to preserve.
It is a virtue to "keep your faith" in terms of Christianity -- to put it in laymen terms, you are required not to alter believe, or not to alter it drastically that it no longer fits the Orthodoxy and thus damning you away from the "precious salvation". The motivation to preserve faith cause the process of shaping world view to be reversed, instead of allowing the the knowledge, facts etc we gain from our experiences to shape, refine and modify our beliefs so that the belief and the experience are correlated, the process of preserving our belief forces the believer to reject information and knowledge that contradicts the beliefs.
This process of rejecting information and knowledge that contradicts the beliefs arises from our own need of preservation. We know there are some experience, that is NOT from our own experience.
We learn say from a very young age that "sex" is dirty, or certain social taboos. These are not from our own experiences or senses, but from figure of authority, and most of all those who we depend upon for survival, and social connections. Our instinct of self-preservation caused us to accept those dogmas/absolute truth so that we gain approval, love and care.
If we do not accept those views as dogma and absolute truth, we will punished with rejection and disapproval, or risk being ostracized.
Our deprivation from emotional bonding and love may also cause yearning for love and approval, to be accepted socially, to bond/connect with a community, therefore as a kind of internalized reaction, people will accept those certain religious views as absolute truth/dogma in order to become part of a community -- as opposed to those knowledge / worldview we formed through authentic experiences, these dogmas/absolute truth are not from authentic experiences.
Christianity in particular appeals to our deep emotional yearnings -- to be able to join our loved ones in an afterlife and live happily ever after, to have a loving "Father" watching over you, to have somebody who loves you uncondidtionally, the emotional appeal magnifies the amount of emotional investments one puts into the belief.
Moreover, these dogmas/absolute truth (plus the assumptions around it) is not like the other authentic experience we gained ourselves, these dogmas/absolute truth involved a lot of our own emotional investment.
For new information we are able to reason through it and there is no opposing/resisting emotional or social pressure, we can easily change our minds, but for the dogmas/absolute truth we accepted (in order to avoid ostracization, rejection etc. and gain approval and love), the opposing/resisting emotional or social pressure is much greater.
Human is both resistant to change in their beliefs, but at the same time is a seeker of truth and fact -- the latter is actually crucial for our survival as much as the opposite (to gain love, approval from the ones who are our caregiver when we are vulnerable) for if we cannot tell what is truth and what is deception, it may become our own undoing.
However with the strong opposing/resisting emotional or social pressure, plus the high regard Christians place on "keeping the faith", Christians turn their experience and world view on its tip.
Instead of by the natural way of allowing what we perceive, we feel and we learn by experience/experimentation, the Christian faith required Christians to look at the world via the view of the dogmas.
Anything that conflicted with the established set of belief either fails to register (denial/ignore) in the believer's mind, or being distorted to fit in to the worldview of the believer.
A person cannot go on like that forever, for it is evident that the Christian world view is based a the very lack of understanding of human being, nature and the world, and a feudalistic society, and is outdated, and over the years, the overlapping of the belief and the reality diminishes -- when belief and reality matches there is congruence, and less cognitive dissonace.
However, for Christianity, the more we subscribed to the Orthodoxy or "Fundamentals" the sharper is the conflict and we have greater cognitive dissonance.
Christianity asked us NOT to base our belief on what we see, hear, feel or touch, but by "faith" -- we say we "know" by faith, but in reality, we simply have nothing solid to support the belief so we have to "accept" it with "faith" -- we did not KNOW the truth, we did not KNOW Jesus or God -- all of them are dogmas/absolute truth which are totally from unauthentic experience -- we have to accept to satisfy our many deep yearnings -- or else we faces the pain of reality.
I did not suddenly become an atheist in short time -- my first step, ironically is me trying to refute all kinds of challenges to Christianity hurled to me in the Internet -- books and materials in the church were soon proven inadequate, I researched on the Internet, acquire more and more Christian reference books, read more and more different kinds of theology. Today I have at least 4 boxes of books on Christianity and with the knowledge gained I can become a fake preacher if I want to.
Over the years of finding convincing answers to questions from non-believers, I clearly cannot ignore the many questions put forward to me by non-believers anymore. Others could have ignored them and hide behind "faith", but I cannot. If Christianity is such a body of truth, surely there will be answers available that don't require twisting of logic, fabrication of data or evasive answers -- I was wrong -- logic is often twisted, fabrication is widely practiced, and evasiveness is actually a tactics in apologetics (i.e. to bring the questioner of faith to the Bible).
I am no longer willing to distort the reality because it is against my conscience -- if it is not right, it doesn't make sense, I cannot say the opposite or deny what I see, feel or evaluate from logic -- but Christianity requires you to do the exact opposite -- so long as it is against the faith, you have to deny what you see, feel or reasoned. This is when many Christian scholars display dire anti-intellectual behavior. They can have PhD in Philosophy, eloquent in "logic", but the reality is they are intellectually dishonest, they do not respect truth, fact and logic -- they use knowledge, facts, logic to serve their religious agenda.
That conscience of me was what changed me -- I let reality in and follow wherever reality, evidence and reason leads, instead of using my faith to guard my mind or so called God's words, prayer -- I place reliance on reality, evidence and reason which are solid and can be objectively evaluated -- and as the increased reality I accumulated, it started to conflict with my belief more and more -- instead of trying to hang on, I follow the lead of evidence, reason and reality, even though it is not comforting -- and I departed further and further away from the Fundamentalist/Evangelical Christianity views.
I start noticing Bible passages, dogmas (Calvinism or Once Saved Always Saved) that are at odds with each other or unreasonable, or contradicting to historical accounts and scientific facts.
Then I was deeply troubled by many preachers lack of integrity greed and lust, believers narrow-mindedness, and hypocrisy (those who proclaim love of God but can hurl the most hideous abuse over the Internet at me).
I saw good people who were ostracized, abused because of their sexual orientation, I saw Christians willing distort facts or fabricate "scientific studies" to justify their agenda
Initially the contradictions are trivial and I can find "standard answers" from Christian apologetic materials, but very soon I found that those materials are logically flawed, they side-stepped challenges, try to come up with lots of further arguments without evidences, and I found myself began looking at Chrsitian answers very critically -- I said to myself, the answers were just not good enough -- they are logically flawed, factually wrong and has no evidence -- I started to push harder to find answers, only to discover that my attempts to explain away these contradictions require me to give up intellectual integrity, reasoning or freethinking -- I cannot bring myself into doing this.
This is the turning point -- between the sweet, warm loving "salvation" /"heaven" and intellectual integrity, reasoning or freethinking I found myself choosing intellectual integrity, reasoning or freethinking -- I gradually experience deep alienation from my Christian friends.
My effort to try and reconcile faith and reality with good answers (logically robust, evidence based ones) leads me to find out more and more flaws about Christianity, and more and more flaws about the apologetic answers.
In reality if we saw inconsistent witness accounts about an event, say a crime, we immediately will say the witness accounts cannot be relied upon, but the Christian agenda to maintain faith will twist our sense of consistence -- instead Christians say "inconsistency" is proof of the trustworthiness of the accounts (e.g. the conflicting accounts of Jesus' resurrection in the Gospels) -- I find this silly and really disgusting -- but many Christians passionately say it makes sense!!!! I gradually found the worldviews of Christians greatly distorted and even turn morality upside down when it comes to God -- God can torture his children in the name of giving a test that His children can endure, God can drown men/women/children/babies alive, sanction genocides, justify slavery, justify hate crimes (killing of homosexuals) -- had it been a human doing all these he/she would have been sentenced to hundreds of times of life-imprisonment and be called a psychopath -- why am I calling this God all loving and just ?
I gradually realize the horrid distorted morals of Christianity and feel deeply disgusted about all of it.
Over the last 2 years of my "Christian" life, I found myself beginning to quarrel with Christians on the Internet, then being labelled as the apostate or the follower of the "Whore", little did I know that the contradicting evidence I accumulated over the years is now reaching a critical mass, waiting to tip over.
I watched the Christian answers failed one by one, then the tenets of Christianity collapsed slowly, then one night it became clear I can no longer call myself a believer.
The facts, knowledge and reality I learned via the authentic experience tell me that this belief system is not valid -- it cannot make sense of the world I am in.
I did not experience deep loss after I quited Christianity, for during the last 6 months before I quit, I did not attend church at all -- the Sunday service homilies are just pointless, talking about grace, submission and faith etc. and that in return God will reward the believer -- so self-absorbing and self-serving -- they say thanks and grace believing that a God will watch over them and make special provisions for them, just for them and ignore the rest of the world!!!! It is a kind of self-indulgence and somehow really offends -- it is as though God revolve round them and even can bend laws of nature so that a Summer camp can proceed, a children can recover from a cold to attend Summer Bible classes etc. when half the world away people are dying from natural disasters or horrible disease -- and they can shameless say that God take special care on them -- it sickens me.
When confronted with sufferings in the world, Christians further deceive themselves by saying that offered prayers for them -- in fact they did what is equivalent to nothing to make them believe they have helped others -- and derive so much "satisfaction" from these kind of self-deception.
Many asked me, why do I give up Christianity and the circle of friends for decades -- for me truth, reality and authentic experience are what makes me feel real and living -- the warmth, care and kindness of Christianity are genuine but is conditional, if I don't believe I am not one of them, and to become one of them I have to give up intellectual integrity, reasoning and freethinking -- and I must not speak out against these acts by Christians -- it is against my conscience -- and I decided to choose conscience, intellectual integrity, reasoning and free thinking.
Those who asked you to give up intellectual integrity, reasoning and free thinking are not friends, and I don't feel a bit pity to loose these kinds of friends.
Theramin Tree videos on his road to atheism:
Valeria Tarico's blog posts on "Christian Belief Through the Lens of Cognitive Science"
Christian belief through the lens of Cognitive Science Part 1 of 6
Christian belief through the lens of Cognitive Science Part 6 of 6 which contains links to the 6 part series of posts on her analysis of Christian belief