What would make me believe again? I encounter this question often. It's an important question, but it's also a simplistic one.
It's important because it demands a substantive answer. If the answer is “nothing,” then I'm as unreasonable as the believer who says that nothing can shake them from their faith. To say that I arrived at my current position rationally is to say that I have weighed the evidence for and against my position, and have concluded that the evidence for it outweighs the evidence against it. If there is nothing that could convince me I'm wrong, no evidence this could get me to believe again, then I can't say that I have fairly weighed the evidence for and against my position, and I can't say that I rationally arrived at my current conclusions.
It's simplistic because the person asking the question, ”what would make you believe again?” Is usually looking for a single, simple answer. Yet the question is not nearly so simple as it seems. Believe again in what? In the supernatural? In God? In the literal truth of Judaism's tenet's? In frumkeit? Each of these would have different answers.
it's simplistic also because it assumes that there could be some single experience or piece of evidence that could, on its own, convince me that from frumkeit is the truth. Someone recently asked in a facebook group, “if God appeared to you personally and told you that Orthodox Judaism is true, would you be frum?” I answered no. If I experienced God speaking to me, I would assume that I was hallucinating. I think that the person who asked the question took this to mean that there was nothing that could shake me from my disbelief . I think it seemed to him that I was irrationally certain that Orthodoxy is incorrect and that there is no God, and so I would disregard and explain away even what he regarded as overwhelming evidence. But that's not why I would think I was hallucinating. I wouldn't assume I was hallucinating because I'm obstinately refusing to accept overwhelming evidence. I would assume I was hallucinating because there's no slot for God my cognitive schema, the interconnected webs of information, inferences, rubrics, and heuristics that I use to make sense of the world.
Cognitive schema are a conceptual model from cognitive psychology that explains how we organize information about the world:
“schema…[are] mental structures that an individual uses to organize knowledge and guide cognitive processes and behavior. People use schemata (the plural of schema) to categorize objects and events based on common elements and characteristics and thus interpret and predict the world. New information is processed according to how it fits into these mental structures, or rules. In social science, particularly in cognitive science, it is understood that humans retrieve knowledge from various areas to draw conclusions about missing or non-evidential information, such as during decision making or political evaluation. Schemata represent the ways in which the characteristics of certain events or objects are recalled, as determined by one’s self-knowledge and cultural-political background. Examples of schemata include rubrics, perceived social roles, stereotypes, and worldviews.”[i]
A single experience, no matter how grand and overwhelming, is not enough to restructure the entirety of one’s cognitive schema. In order for me to accept that God exists, rather than that I was hallucinating, I first would need to have many small experiences that restructured my cognitive schema and open a slot for “God” to fit into.
In the same way, “ God” is woven through believers’ cognitive schema. It takes many small experiences, many bits of information learn over a long time to unweave God from the way one perceives and process the world, and even longer until God no longer fits into one’s schema at all.
This is why there is no single knock-down argument that can convince a believer that their faith is mistaken, or which can convince an atheist that God is real. It's why even world shattering, life-changing experiences rarely cause people to lose their faith, and why a personal experience of God speaking to me and telling me that Orthodoxy is the truth wouldn't convince me to be frum.
Encyclopedia Britannica. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/science/schema-cognitive