Doubt

The Only Certain Thing

I have taken an account of my doubts, and I have found as many as an atheist might. They course through my veins, saturating my being. They scream out against faith, such that my own beliefs burn me in every place that they touch me. I often wonder, when I hear stories of “overcoming doubt,” whether the doubters have truly experienced it. They assuage each other’s doubts with the sort of talk that drives me to doubt in the first place. True doubt is not a mere feeling to be overcome. It entails the actual possibility of abandoning what has always seemed true. It is standing on the edge of a great precipice, at the very boundary between here and there–like dreams of falling, whereby the ground seems to rush up towards you again and again, as if you have fallen anew each time. You wake up with a start, on level ground until you next dream.

I cannot hope to escape too easily. Many great thinkers of the modern have become atheists or agnostics, and the great understanding of these people seems to force on them the same conclusion that my lesser understanding merely tempts me with. In them, also, I find an honesty that is missing from the most militant detractors and supporters of faith alike—having addressed the questions respectfully, they acknowledge uncertainty. But they do not make much of it.

The Christian may say that doubt masks deep-seated issues, and that intellectual objections are actually moral outrage, and an unwillingness to surrender one’s life to God. I cannot accept this as a universal explanation. I believe in intellectual doubts. I also believe in impenetrable human bias, however, and so cannot even claim certainty in this matter.

I see no value in expounding the full inventory of my doubts, for laying them out on the table does not reduce their number, and thinking about them does not make them more palatable. I am convinced, presently, that many of them are permanent things, and my feelings towards them on a given day are a function of a myriad host of factors.

I do not doubt the existence of God, but what does this count for? The pantheism of Einstein and the agnosticism of Carl Sagan are just a short ride away. There is little meaningful effect in this belief per se. At best, it allows me to intellectually justify an ineffable feeling of lightness and awe at the worst of times.

My belief has taken on the appearance of a choice; a path wandered down. I do not feel, presently, that I can tell anyone why they ought to believe as I do. To be religious—to believe in particulars—is too much to expect of someone who does not feel the need. Such a person will not do it. A friend of mine did not think this was such a terrible thing; when I told him that it troubled me, he said “Why? Just believe it yourself.”

Wherever there is commitment, there is doubt. As a believer in any one thing, I would be racked with doubts of an even greater magnitude. This much I know. The only thing that could rescue me from this is an absence of belief altogether, and enough pleasurable distractions to mask the dissonance. I am a naturally happy person when I am playing the game of life, but I cannot play it incessantly.

When in doubt, we seek assurance. The materialist spouts acerbic incredulity at the first sign of anything transcendent, waving his hands madly in the air. The Christian prays an endless stream of childlike beckoning, asking for even the smallest sign of this same transcendence. The approach is unsatisfying. The unbearable discomfort of intellectual commitment is the reason for the word “faith.” It is not the denial of real uncertainty, but the decisions one makes about it.

Some of the impossible questions in life are deeper and darker than any human perspective can cope with. They cannot be answered, but they must be dealt with. I know that my faith is a human interpretation of something that I believe is greater and incomprehensible, but nonetheless true in essence. I know that there is no obstacle to my beliefs so great that it wholly denies me access to them; moreover, there are few such obstacles that do not also block every other door in sight.

When we speak of “yielding to doubt,” there is misdirection—we are rejecting a position of faith, but we are not accepting an alternative. When Jesus asked his disciples if they wanted to leave him, they did not blithely answer in the negative. They asked: “To whom shall we go?”

Doubt in and of itself is not an alternative, but the vague promise of alternatives.

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One Response to “Doubt”

  1. Stephanie Says:

    For me, intellectual objections and moral outrage are one and the same. There is also a difference between “God” and *God*: one is a humanly constructed idea, and the other does not require a man’s surrender in order to rule his life. The person who claims that doubt may be conquered by trusting in the former has missed the boat (yet I believe this is the case with nearly all who say such things). Those few who rely on the latter circumnavigate the doubt issue altogether: not that doubts don’t exist, but that they carry no meaning in light of God’s sovereignty.

    I doubt that God can create a rock that He can’t lift, but it’s really none of my business, and has little enough to do with what I know He *has* done (as for how I know that, I refer to the ontological argument–I know some people don’t like it, but I don’t know why).

    Seeing how facts, truths, concepts can lead to another system of belief is different than ascribing worth to that system on the whole as the basis for a relationship with one’s Creator. Buddhism and Hindi make sense to me. Scientology makes sense to me. Evolution makes sense to me. None of these, despite any potential degree of veracity in how they present reality, affects my appreciation for Christ above all–I don’t speak of His death any more than His life–and the manner in which I ought to live. And what I expect of and for myself, I expect of and for others. If I am at my best in holding these beliefs which lead to this way of life, while yet I contemplate the possible alternatives, so should they be.

    I don’t ask for a sign of reassurance when in doubt, or a change in circumstances that effectively eliminates the doubt, like bleach on a stain; if I ever did, I never got it, to my recollection. I prefer to acknowledge the doubt as it is: in this way the victory has some substance when the doubt’s import is voided. It is the black box in the room. You know that if you opened it, the contents would spill out and change how you perceive everything else in that room–like a wine stain on a white rug. But it is foolish to open the box just to see how the contents might distract me from the value of everything else in the room. So I don’t. And when I do, and I can’t scrub the stain out, I just get new carpet–not because the carpet has ceased to function, but because the doubt now distracts me from its use.

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