On the Subject of Doubt

Yesterday A, M and I had a conversation about faith and religion. (J’s phone has been screwing up and refusing to connect to her wi-fi when she’s at home, so she wasn’t present for it).

All 4 of us have been severely damaged by religious indoctrination. All 4 of us have had at least one major crisis of faith (most of us several over the course of our lives). A, M and J eventually resolved those crises in favor of keeping some kind of faith and spiritual belief / practice within the Christian religion. I’m the only one that walked away from Christianity, religion, and spirituality.

I’m functionally an atheist, but won’t use that label. I call myself agnostic.

There are multiple reasons for that.

My deconversion involved realizing that I could never have all the answers, and that I was okay with that. If there was a loving god that created and oversees the universe, that god would understand why I left religion behind.

Growing up, doubt was treated as sin by most of the evangelical Christians and Christian media I interacted with. The implication was that if you doubted, it was because you weren’t fully committed to God. If you weren’t fully committed to God, were you really saved? Blessed were those that believed without seeing, after all.

Doubt is a valuable tool. Without doubt, we would never question, never require evidence, never test for the truth. Doubt is simply worry-flavored curiosity.

I’ve embraced doubt.

I’m not fond of the atheist label primarily because of certain associations with a particular type of vocal atheist that can be as militantly zealous as any conservative evangelical Christian. They often exhibit the same behavioral traits and attitudes. They’d be just as likely to look down on me for proclaiming myself an agnostic as would a Christian. No room for doubt.

I’m not antagonistic towards the concept of faith, or towards people that feel faith. A man I otherwise very much despise said one thing that I do agree with – even if you think religion is a crutch, why would you want to kick away someone’s crutch?*

I was raised with theological attitudes that said I shouldn’t seek happiness, that I must accept suffering in service to a greater goal. It has made me sympathetic to other people’s happiness and joy. If someone chooses faith, and that faith brings them happiness and joy, and they are not wielding that faith as a tool of authoritarian or manipulative control, I see no reason to try and put an end to that.

This might seem at odds with the virulent rhetoric I’ve directed at Christianity, particularly conservative evangelical Christianity, but I find no tension in being at peace with other people’s faith, and being at war with toxic, authoritarian, manipulative theological beliefs and practices.

I’ve read the Bible. Jesus went to war against toxic, authoritarian, manipulative theological beliefs and practices, too. He supported belief, and supported doubt.

Regardless of whether or not I believe the story to be true, the story of Jesus and Doubting Thomas is not a cautionary tale to be used to shame people for doubt. Instead it’s a story of love – Jesus didn’t refuse Thomas his proof, instead he delivered the proof and then said ‘blessed are those that believe without seeing’ the way we might say ‘people that can eat anything and not gain weight are lucky.’

For many people, faith is easier than doubt, and Jesus recognized that and showed Thomas compassion.

Most humans seem to like and prefer answers. Steady ground beneath their feet. They prefer to feel secure in their place in the universe, whatever place they’ve decided that is.

For me, being told I had to feel secure paradoxically caused insecurity.

That’s why even if I don’t feel belief in a god, gods, or any sort of spiritual force, I prefer to stay with doubt. Because I can. Because it’s my choice, now, and it’s a choice that brought me peace.

*The statement may not have originated with him, but it was the first place I saw the sentiment.

12 thoughts on “On the Subject of Doubt

  1. A lot of my LGBT friends have been put into a position of choosing between love and faith, though thankfully the UK is for the most part a bit less orthodox/evangelical than the US. One couple joined a church that completely changed its position from never talking about LGBT issues to becoming a place where they hold annual Pride events – all because a young girl committed suicide because she was so ashamed of her sexuality.
    I’ve never had any belief, but think personal faith is a lot healthier than organised religion. Much more room for people to figure out who they are without having to fit into a narrow box of acceptability.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, unfortunately organized religion has a tendency to be overtaken by people that see it as a tool of control – and once they get the ball rolling, it can spiral out into something vicious, an institution that believes people are made to serve it, rather than that it exists to serve its community. With Christianity, that process began within a hundred years or so of the religion’s birth, iirc. Ancient dead guys shaped the beliefs that would one day wreck my life, that was a fun realization.

      Although it’s sad that they didn’t see the need to change sooner, I really am heartened that the church you mentioned chose to change at all. Here in the US, there are many churches that would simply blame the person that took her life and never think to examine their own role. 😦

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think the vicar of the church found it unconscionable that his decision to stay silent on a contentious issue contributed to the girl’s death. The transformation of his church meant a lot of people walking out, but a lot of new people walking in. And my friends were able to be blessed before their wedding 🙂
        It helps restore some of my ‘faith’ in the power and courage of people.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. You say that you are functionally atheist (you do not believe in any gods), but reject the title because some atheists are arrogant jerks (indeed, as are some agnostics and many believers). Thus, you claim agnostic so as not to be stereotyped with militant hard-headed non-believers. You seem to be confused, conflicted, and perhaps ignorant about religion. Doubting skepticism is good, but denying truth and reality is not.
    Have you ever read the blog posts at “Godless in Dixie”? In my opinion he is not offensive.

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      1. I chose to comment on your post content regarding why you identify as agnostic. As far as your non-antitheist (religion coexistence) position, that is why I suggested Carter’s blog. I felt your position may be similar to his. If I ‘largely’ missed your point, my apologies. I will read it again.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Your title for this post caught my eye because my atheist blog is titled ‘Dispassionate Doubt.’ I did read it again. While I see things a little differently, I don’t think I missed your point.

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      3. My point is that I’ve chosen to use agnostic deliberately, because I don’t intend to have either side of things tell me I must toe a particular line. Because I don’t think doubt is something that should be feared, scorned, or treated as something that must be dispelled.

        Liked by 1 person

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