Part of The Guardian’s series, “Can we choose what we believe?”
Are we responsible for what we believe? Do we have a choice in the matter? This is not just a philosophical question but one that has considerable relevance to modern life.
At every point throughout history we have treated people as if they choose to believe. The Spanish Inquisition’s treatment of its hapless victims assumed that they could have avoided their heresies. The Chinese government treats Falun Gong practitioners as if they freely flout the law. More controversially, if US authorities end up executing Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, a Pakistani accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks, they will imply that he chose to believe he was on a mission from God and that he could have chosen to believe otherwise – and this raises issues about the alleged use of indoctrination in the spreading of extremism and the training of suicide bombers.