Can you choose what to believe?


I have sympathy for atheists who say they simply *cannot *believe in Christ (I was in the same position for quite a few years before the grace of Christ intervened). Similarly I always have an inward smile when someone says what we must believe as Catholics. My belief never has been under conscious control. I can make myself be objective about things; I’m not bad at getting rid of preconvictions and tackling a topic afresh. But I’ve never been able to *choose *what to believe and so issues such as infallability and dogmatically-defined beliefs tend to wash over me as my mind simply has never worked in that way.

But what about you? Can *you *choose what to believe? Could you accept anything that is defined as dogma?


By the Catholic Church, yes.



I think we need to be able to make a distinction between belief and conviction. Belief is simply the assent of our intellect to some particular idea or teaching. It does not mean that we don’t have doubts; it simply means that we would agree to the proposition.

Too many people, I think, proceed from the assumption that they have to be absolutely convinced that something is true before they actually will assent to a belief in something.



Not only can you, but you must make these decisions with full awareness of their eternal consequences. I am afraid that they are many of those who think they will stand before Him on Judgment Day and say ‘you didn’t give me enough information’. I believe the answer will be ‘All of the information necessary was there, you just choose not to accept it!’ You see, He can see your heart, you are not going to be able to fool God!


Chose is probably not quite the correct concept. I doubt that anyone has full knowledge of even 10 percent of what the Church Holds and teaches. The real decision is one to trust that God/Jesus through his Church can neither deceive or be deceived when it comes to matters of faith and morals. After that it is all an easy down hill ride. The only answer is yes Lord. I may not understand. I may not fully grasp, but its so easy once that trust is established. Think about things, ruminate on things, try to understand, have doubts? Surely. But pick and chose. Not me, thankyou.


Yes. It’s called “a leap of faith.” :slight_smile:

If the Church teaches me something that I didn’t know before, I make a conscious effort to say to myself, “From now on, I will assume that this is true.” I then base my opinions on the idea that this particular thing is true.


We are called to believe not only in the Trinity but also in all the teachings which were revealed to the Church and proclaimed by her as true. This faith comes to us the same as faith in Jesus, by Gods’ grace. Until then, remember that conversion is a process which takes place over time. Often I’ve given assent to a teaching which I later came to be convicted of personally but we should defintely be in agreement with the Church on the basics.


This is one of the challenges that I am having with my Faith. Quite frankly, much of it doesn’t make sense to me. I too have a very analytical way of looking at things. Maybe this is why I decided on a career as a scientist. But, in the end, whether it makes sense to be or not, I am told that I will believe it or I’ll go to hell. Not a lot of room for discussion there.

I don’t know how people can be sure about the Church without studying. If fact, are we not oblided to study? Jesus said that there would be wolves in sheeps clothing. How do we know the wolves aren’t in the Church today? Yes, God said that he would never leave his Church, but the Lutherans, for example, believe they are the true Church with the true Apostolic succession and that the the RCC is the one who left the true Church. You see, a lutheran would say that they are the true Church and that they have never left.

These are some of the questions I’m having difficulty answering. I will say that I’m learning a lot by reading this forum! And I appreciate the thoughtful responses given by you experts as I learn and study.


Keep asking, seeking, and knocking and God won’t lead you astray. One of the best pieces of advice I received from a Pentecostal leader was “Study!”, when I talked to him about issues like this. I studied my way right back into the CC!


My profession is also a scientist. Trying to find a way through science and faith was very difficult for me for a long time (and I spent many years as an atheist). I think this is one area where it’s actually easier to be a Catholic than a member of some other churches because of the maxim “truth cannot contradict truth”. But, as you have found, the same skills God gave us as scientists present a challenge when it comes to being instructed to believe something (and that is just not possible for many scientists).

However God came to me at a very unexpected time and my faith blossomed again. At that point I was not in any particular Church (and so I don’t link grace to any particular church, or indeed a requirement to be in any church; though that of course helps us very much in our journeys).

If you are struggling in faith (as many scientists do) then personally I would encourage you to keep hold as much as you can to the foundation of faith in God and Christ, see science as a way of finding out more about God’s creation, and trust in Christ and prayer.



Amen to that!

That is always one of the first things I pray each day; that God should search inside my heart, soul and mind and give me any guidance that I need.

An aspect of Catholic spirituality that I find inavluable is the contemplative/meditative side. It is time when I try to be completely open to the Father, the Son and to the work of the spirit, so that God may give me the guidance I need that day or in my life generally.

Maranatha :gopray2:


I think I may not have communicated things clearly enough. I’m not advocating people pick and choose. I’m questioning how much any can choose once they start earnestly looking into any particualr aspect of faith. People who pick and choose, in my mind, have not thought about their faith very deeply. That is very different however from sincerely studying a particular area and coming to the conlcusion “this I believe; that I don’t”. I’m not aware at any time *choosing *what I believe. The belief develops (or doesn’t) as I read and pray. I never chose to stop believing in God (if I could have chosen at that point it would have been to keep believing; it was difficult loosing faith); likewise I never chose to believe in God again (but thank God it happened!).


Laudatur Iesus Christus.

Greetings, Michael:

“[The] Church has always considered the act of entrusting oneself to God to be a moment of fundamental decision which engages the whole person. In that act, the intellect and the will display their spiritual nature, enabling the subject to act in a way which realizes personal freedom to the full. It is not just that freedom is part of the act of faith: it is absolutely required.” (John Paul II, Fides et Ratio 13)

The “fundamental decision” and “personal freedom” mentioned in the above quote from John Paul II seem at odds with your description of belief as passive. Certainly, a belief based on will alone, without reason, does not engage the whole person, and is not how God wishes men to believe: He works too many miracles as proof of His Divinity for that to be the case. I suggest that there is another theory of belief that includes both reason and choice.

In the Profession of Faith said at every Mass, the Church says “I believe in One God”, in Latin, “credo in unum deum.” The Latin word “credo,” related to the English word “credit” was used originally in business, meaning, “I give a loan.” When a person makes a loan, he entrusts his own things to another person, with the expectation of a good return. Thus, credo is what we’re willing to risk acting on.

When a person believes (credits) someone else, he does the same thing. If my car is having problems, and I bring it to a friend who is good with cars, I entrust my car to my friend with the expectation of good results. If he tells me to let the car run for five minutes every time I start it, then I either take his advice and entrust that small piece of my actions to him, or not. Either credo or non credo. I act based on my trust in the person, not because I, myself, understand why it works.

There is a further point that ought to be made about belief in Christ and His Church. When we trust that the Church is divine, on the reasonable basis of Christ’s promises, and the Church’s enduring goodness and unity and miraculous power, we admit that she has more foresight and knowledge than we do. Thus, when Mother Church proposes something for belief, we act on what she proposes, not because the belief itself is something we understand, but because she is credible. We do the same as children of Mother Church that we did as children of our earthly mothers – trust her judgments even when we don’t understand them.

On this theory of belief as credit, belief is a thing that is taken up actively, on the basis of the credibility of the person believed, not on one’s own understanding of the thing to be believed.

Pax Christi nobiscum.
John Detwiler


Thanks John; I think that’s an excellent summary of the way some people can and do approach faith. And I certainly don’t want to criticise it in any way; I’ve nothing against it at all. I’d only say that’s not the way some our minds do and can work. In the same way I can’t choose to believe something, I can’t choose to believe someone because of their authority; all I can do is to choose to be as open as I can (which is what I do).

Taking this a little away from Catholicism, can people choose to believe in God? I wanted to believe but couldn’t, even though I’d experienced strong faith previously. And then I regained faith; it “felt” like I was led back to studying scripture again and then praying and then faith built.

My personal experience fits with an action of God’s grace bringing me back to faith. The conscious part was really just being open to reading scripture again and then praying (while spending time quietly in church). I was ready to go where it (the spirit?) led me but that’s as far as my conscious thoughts went in the process.

Now I am sure other people have a different approach to their faith and I want to be clear I’m not wanting to knock that at all. I was interested in how many other people feel they can choose their belief; interestingly it was another scientist who has had the same struggle as I have had (but in terms of faith in Christ luckily I’ve come out the other side even if there were years of doubt and disbelief in that journey). I am interested to find that the majority here do feel that belief is under their control. I wonder if that’s the same across the spectrum of Christians (but this obviously is not the place to deal with it); I know the Lutherians would say that it’s entirely under God’s control of predesination (but my experience wouldn’t fit with that extreme because I’m pretty sure I could have stopped myself re-exploring faith).

It’s very interesting to see the different approaches; and God bless you all in your journies whatever your approach :gopray2:.


If you are not in control of your mind, then who is? How do beliefs just show up in your mind, without you consciously choosing them?


Hi jmcrae

Well I would say our brain/mind works on both conscious and subconscious levels. Some things are under the direct control of our conscious mind (the cerebral hemispheres), and others are not under simple conscious control. For example I can choose what to food to think about but I simply can’t choose what food to like. Another example is that I love music but I cannot love all music; I have tried to educate myself in some forms of music that I think I ought to like (some forms of Jazz) but in the end I still can’t enjoy it.

Both are “me” and so in one sense “I” am in control of all my likes/dislikes/loves/fears/beliefs/unbeliefs/dreams/desires on one level (so I hope we can agree on that). But some of those things are not under a simple conscious control of “choice”.

Hope that helps to explain where I’m coming from.

God bless


Did you know that you can train yourself in mental self-discipline, to make conscious decisions about what to like and what not to like? It’s the same process of decision making about what to believe, and what music to enjoy, and so on. At some point in your life, you made a conscious decision not to like certain foods, and you simply have not changed your mind about them, which is why you still don’t like them. The basis of your original decision probably wasn’t rational - you may have decided not to like something because someone you didn’t like was eating it, or because of its appearance, or because someone was over-enthusiastic about trying to make you eat it, or simply because your mother never chose to expose you to it when you were a child, and thus, somewhere in the back of your mind, you consider it “not food.”

But it is possible for anybody to choose to like any kind of food that is edible. People in public life do this all the time - Prince Charles, for example, is exposed to foods that many of us would consider “not food”, in his travels around the world, but he chooses to like these foods because he has to eat the stuff anyway at these big public state dinners, and he might as well enjoy his dinner, rather than not.


Tx for the reply jmcrae. God bless.



When I consider faith, it just looks to me like a work of grace. But grace which can be accepted or resisted. We’re asked to contribute our part in the choosing but we know that we’re believing in something we can’t prove or see so it is a very individual act between God and ourselves and requires humility and is in opposition to our own pride. We can’t possibly do it on our own and yet God doesn’t do it without our cooperation.
I think these two quotes point to this:

John 6:44
No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.

St Augustine
**He who created us without our help will not save us without our consent **

As children we believed based on the authority of others-and maybe some fear they instilled in us-but as adults we are called on to come to a personal belief. In any case, whether the faith is in Jesus or His Church I think it’s impossible for us to come to believe without Gods’ help and this is the Churchs’ teaching on the matter from my understanding. Another related point is that conversion is a process which takes place over time.


Laudatur Iesus Christus.

Greetings, Michael:

Thank you for your response. I still think that we have a disagreement. You claim an inability that I don’t think human beings often, if ever, have.

You wrote: “In the same way I can’t choose to believe something, I can’t choose to believe someone because of their authority; all I can do is to choose to be as open as I can (which is what I do).”

All men must choose to believe things based on the authority of the person who reveals them. As children, we believe things based on our parents’ authority, and a child who does not (drink his mother’s milk, brush his teeth, shower, eat, avoid running in the road, and so on) will not do well. We trust mapmakers when we look for directions, and our friends when they tell us what they would like for their birthday.

Since this is so, what makes belief in God and His Church different?

Pax Christi nobiscum.

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