What is the Role of Doubt in Faith, Part 1?

Today we’re continuing Tuesday’s thoughts on how belief and faith are oftentimes confused.  It doesn’t matter what faith background you come from (and this includes nonbelievers, as we mentioned on Tuesday).  Everyone questions a little.  The reason I used the word “doubt,” though, in the title is because some people, like me, go past the questioning and off the cliff into serious doubt or outright unbelief.  Is there a place for this in faith?  How much doubt is too much?  What if it leads us away from where we thought we should be going?  Do we squelch it or forge ahead?

Remember how we defined belief as the tenets we hold to and faith as our practice?  So we may believe something, but have no faith because we’re not putting hands and feet on that belief?

I propose there are four great reasons to doubt.  We’ll deal with two today.  Feel free to disagree.  If anything, it’ll get us talking.

The first reason doubt is vital is that it sets us upon an unpredictable journey. If we’re asking honest questions and not trying to channel our answers, then we’ll end up in places least expected.  In other words, we can’t know the conclusion before we get there.

When I taught high school biology, I required my students to come to their labs, having prepared a lab write-up beforehand.  This included their hypothesis, their procedure, and a summary of what they were hoping to accomplish.  What always tickled me was how they would pencil in the hypothesis, allowing for future changes, once they found out what their conclusion was.  You can’t do this if you’re asking honest questions.

Here’s where I differ with C.S. Lewis.  I’ll read the quote first, then explain.  “If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is…eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is…answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God…more deeply.”

Lewis gives us only two choices—either our doubt was ill-founded or it brings us back to a stronger faith in God.  Not necessarily.  I think there’s at least another option and that is not ending up with God at all (or with a vastly different version of God).  You can’t channel your results, if you want the truth.

Let’s try something.  Some of you may have doubted before, but not gone to the extreme, for fear of damnation or whatever else you may be afraid of.  This exercise in no way proves anything.  It simply allows you to feel what it would feel like to ask a serious question, then live in that question, honestly, for a few moments.  I’ll state a belief, then rephrase as a question.  Focus on your internal thoughts.  We’ll do this for 30 seconds, since it may be extremely uncomfortable for some of you.  Keep in mind: I’m choosing the most heretical thought I can think of (at least in my tradition).


God does not exist.  What if God didn’t exist?  How would your life be different?  Whom would you call on?  Where would your comfort come from?  Where would your meaning of life come from?  How would you make sense of disasters or illnesses, or on the flip side, happy events?  No longer are they rewards or punishments.  What will happen to you when you die?  Why be good?

Okay, coming out of that experience, evaluate how you felt.  Did it feel uncomfortable because the experience was new, or because God wasn’t present for you?  Notice we didn’t prove the existence of God.  We gave ourselves the experience of asking a tough question.

The second reason doubt is so vital is that it means there’s more to know. Are you absorbing the same sermons, the same books, without asking yourself if they’re true?  Do you read outside your faith, to learn how others see truth?

We ridicule the Church that put Galileo under house arrest for believing that the Earth revolved around the sun.  We snicker when we think of all the people who thought the earth was flat.  We’re horrified that George Washington died of blood-letting, a very common and accepted practice of the day.  And yet, there are so many scientific findings, especially in the last 200 years, that the church still resists.  It seems we’re continuing the tradition.  We just don’t want to see it that way.  What don’t we know yet?  And why aren’t our beliefs changing with these discoveries?

I’m going to end today with a sampling of questions you’re not supposed to ask, at least in my religious tradition.  Thank goodness if you’re already asking them (or have already wrestled with them).  Needless to say there are more where these came from.

Why can’t the universe have been created with the Big Bang?  Why does it have to be God?

So what if we’re descendants of apes?  We still have the ability to reason and love and care.  It doesn’t mean we aren’t worth anything.

Is religion about finding truth…or acquiring comfort?

What about the Trinity?  Not once is it mentioned in Scripture.  The first mention was in 170.  If it took centuries to figure out, what makes it right?  Couldn’t there be other ways of thinking about it?  Is it a flawed theory?

The gospels—Matthew, Mark, Luke, John—were not written by the disciples.  They were written by Greek scribes much later.  Based on each other and an earlier source called Q, they profess to know the exact words of Jesus.  We all know what happens seconds after saying something to someone.  Who’s to say these accounts, overheard through various groups and written down 50 to 90 years later, are accurate?  How might we distinguish between a scribe’s political and religious agenda vs. the reality of what Jesus said?

What if Jesus were simply another one of Israel’s prophets, pleading with the Jewish people, to please turn back to God.  It might mean Christianity as we know it might disappear, but wouldn’t we still heed Jesus’ words?  This would free us up to honor others in ways not possible before.

If there is a God, are we all worshipping him/her/it in our own VALID ways?  As ex-Catholic priest Matthew Fox said, “What if God is like groundwater, and we, as various cultures, are using our own methods to access Him?”

Jesus never mentions homosexuality.  Could it be that it’s a non-issue, or at least falling under the same rules as heterosexual faithfulness?  Just as racial discrimination was preached from the pulpit in the 40s, 50s, 60s, might this be our battleground for today?

Why do we think genocide is wrong today, but God was one of its biggest advocates in the Old Testament and/or Torah?

Are you feeling pretty comfortable now…or are you a little squeamish?  Or are you the type of person who says ignorance is bliss?  Or maybe you’re an I-don’t-carist.  I’m here to tell you that by asking, you’re enriching your life.  Who knows where you’ll end up…and that’s a good thing.

[Post image: Abandoned church by Jascha400d on stock.xchng]

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