Feelings and experiences might just have more to do with conversion, and de-conversion, than critical thinking.
“The truth is my personal experiences forced me to do what I should have been doing all along, critically examining my faith. It took these experiences because the power of delusion is that strong. So just because many of us leave the faith after some bad experiences, it does not follow that experiences alone caused us to leave the faith. The bad experiences merely caused us to wake from our dogmatic slumbers. They force us into actually thinking critically about our inherited faith for probably the first time in our lives,” writes John W. Loftus in Why I Became An Atheist: A Former Preacher Rejects Christianity (italics in the original).
Loftus also notes that people usually have a conversion experience or conversion feelings, and then set out to try to justify them rationally.
And, Loftus says if feelings and experiences are grounds for conversion, they can be grounds for de-conversion, too. Or maybe he was saying feelings and experiences kind of cancel each other out in the faith-versus-skepticism debate.
Maybe all that isn’t surprising. Hume said reason is, and ought to be, slave to the passions.
But it’s more than just Loftus’s perspective on bad experiences. Consider, too, this video by Dr. Valerie Tarico, a former evangelical, and watch at least to the 3:49 mark. Tarico considers the nature of conversion experiences. If you watch about the first four minutes, you might be surprised by the research Tarico presents, at least if you consider similarities in conversion experiences to be a kind of evidence for the type of belief system you have.
So what’s the point? The point is: our way of assessing feelings and experiences tends to be central to our appropriation or rejection of a belief, and feelings and experiences are shaky grounds in light of our best available understanding of the brain.