Responding to Doubters Inside and Outside of the Church


There have been some recently-in-the-news people who are famous for being Christian, who have “left the faith.” One of these is Josh Harris. When I was dating age (decades ago), he wrote a book called, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye.” I never read it. Marty Sampson, a member of Hillsong, also publicly announced his loss of faith. I avoid Hillsong as much as I can while still attending an Evangelical church.  So I don’t know much about either one in terms of who they were or who they are. So I won’t deal with them directly here.

I have read a few responses to these announcements. Some call them guilty of Apostasy (perhaps a bit premature). Some Christians appear to be genuinely angry. Not really sure why. Perhaps they are wrestling with theological issues surrounding eternal security. Perhaps there are some who have emotionally invested themselves in these people and now feel betrayed. Others were bothered, seemingly, that they chose to express their rejection of faith so publicly. But if they weren’t given a forum in church to express their doubts, it is hardly surprising that they chose a medium outside of the church. I think I would argue that it is quite refreshing that they had the confidence to share their struggles with others. I wish all of us in the church had such openness.

A more constructive response I have seen is the note that apologetics is important. One of them, Marty I think, had mentioned that a lot of the questions he had were not being dealt with in church. People have honest questions and Evangelical churches often pride themselves (“hubris themselves”?) in an anti-intellectual perspective. I remember when a Mormon roommate of mine hit me with the old classic, “If God can do all things, can He create a rock too big for Him to lift.” That did not bother me very much because even back then when I was something like 22 years old I already knew enough Christian theology to be aware that Christians believe that God is unlimited in power, and that is very different from believing that “God can do all things.” That old chestnut that my roommate shared falls apart if one understands this difference. (Of course, it is also damaged a bit if one rejects the “anthropomorphized” god of Mormonism.) But I can understand its effectiveness in dealing with Christians. That is because the phrase “God can do all things” and its ilk are so commonly used in churches, and these commonly go unchallenged and unreflected upon. I mean, if “God is good all the time, and all the time, God is good,” how does one reconcile that with experiences that show that God does not respond in a manner that you and I would consider normal for a “good God”?

Good theology and good apologetics can help. Some think that apologetics is a primary tool of evangelism. I don’t think so generally. Few come to Christ by being intellectually overwhelmed by Christian apologists. More modest goals are that apologists:

  1. Demonstrate that Christianity is a safe place to be for the rational seeker.
  2. Demonstrate that Christianity is a safe place for the doubter to remain faithful.

This leads to the second point— Churches are NOT generally a safe place to be a doubter.

Consider the following experiment:  Go to your church some day and when people are sharing struggles speak up and share something to the effect,

“My family has been struggling both financially and with health. This has led me to struggle with the idea that God is good. In fact, often I wonder if there is no God out there or maybe I am just praying into empty space.”

There may not be an immediate response by the group… but keep track of the different responses you get afterward.

  • How many play the apologist and try to “prove” to you that God exists and is good, showing that your reflections on your situation are invalid? (I have had friends put on FB things that essentially say that if you doubt God due to circumstances your faith is based on feelings rather than on truth… so it you YOUR FAULT. In my mind that is both wrong, and unhelpful. If the church doesn’t helps a person reconcile God’s truths with the truths of human experience, it is the church’s fault as much or more than the one who is struggling.)
  • How many will seek to pray with you that your doubts about God will disappear (without addressing the underlying concerns)?
  • How many will express their concerns, either to you directly or indirectly to others, about the validity of your salvation? (How many will suggest you need a real salvation experience, or a new baptism, or a new second blessing, or a new exorcism, or something else new that demonstrates that you have a problem that the rest of the church lacks?)
  • How many will appear to avoid you as if you have a disease that must be quarantined?
  • How many will come up to you after and say something like, “I often struggle with doubts about God as well so I appreciate you sharing this with us. Maybe sometime when you have time we can sit down and you can share with me more about this struggle.”?

My feeling is that the last one will be pretty rare… yet I think we all struggle with doubts at times— Faith is not the absence of doubt, but a matter of trust that acknowledges uncertainty.

If the church is an unsafe place for doubters, and

If most Christians doubt (whether they admit it or not), and

If most Christians pretend to live a doubtless faith (whether or not such a faith exists)

Then, church is an unsafe place for Christians

I would recommend:

  • Normalize doubt. We don’t believe in God because it is impossible to rationally believe otherwise. We respond to doubt with faith, NOT negate doubt with faith.
  • Treat doubt as a healthy thing to address in church. Don’t destroy it, or quarantine it, or shame it (or the doubter). Doubt is a part of the human experience— and we are all humans.
  • Delve into tough questions in church— fairly and without bumper sticker “Gotcha” one-liners or ad hominem attacks.  (No “People who think like that are a bunch of liberals/apostates/sinners/etc.”) Babylon Bee has a great satirical take on this. You can click HERE.
  • Don’t stifle doubters and minority opinions. In practice, one may have to decide which person is honestly struggling with doubt and which are actually proselytizers of a different belief system. I have met a few people who act like they doubt, but in actuality use every opportunity to evangelize their the new belief that they lack doubt in. There is a need for boundaries there. But people who honestly struggle with their faith should always be honored in church. Church should not a a place of “Groupthink” where people espouse the same aphorisms while hiding their real thoughts.

I don’t pretend to be perfect, or even good, in this area. Back a few decades ago I was in the Navy and my roommate had two friends visiting. Both of them were raised in church and both expressed to us that they they struggled with doubt about God and the Christian faith. My response was that I had no such doubt. They both expressed the desire to have no such doubt. In practice, however, it was a dead end for this part of the conversation. They opened up to me, and I responded essentially that I cannot relate to their experience. They expressed a desire to be like me in this situation, but that was impossible, since they DID have doubts. Desire does not change things. And if I was more honest with myself back then, I would have to admit that my faith was on choosing to trust in the God of the Holy Bible, rather than a certainty that I could not possibly be wrong.

A Leading Cause of Atheism? Not Allowing Dialogue and Disagreements | Jackson Wu

Please click on the link at the bottom of this post for an article from Jackson Wu that then links to the related article in Relevant Magazine. It is an interesting case study of a Christian who gradually moved to atheism. The seeming cause was a lack of openness in his church to dialogue and range of thought.

You can decide for yourself. But as for me, I think it is on the mark. A lack of dialogue, and the lack of freedom to disagree leads to FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt). I will leave uncertainty and doubt to Wu’s posting, but let me give an example of fear.

Fear.  Consider this story– Years ago I was leading a Bible study, and some of the members wanted to study the Book of Revelation. Sure. Why not. But one of the members was very nervous about it. I asked him why. He stated that there were so many different viewpoints out there that he was worried about the group breaking down into a big fight. He was also afraid that the group may push only one orthodox view. (More recently I was in a group discussing prophecy and when I expressed my doubt, not rejection, of the future narrative provided in the materials, I was offered yet more materials to “help me.”) Anyway, I told my friend that when we go through Revelation, we will focus on what we can say with confidence (it is a book of comfort, hope, and warnings after all) and then give freedom  for diverse opinions on the rest. It was good I did this. One family, who were American missions who serve in Africa expressed belief in the interpretation of a Kenyan Theologian regarding Revelation that is rather allegorical and places the United States as the Antichrist. I was wondering at the time whether I had made a mistake in establishing such a “freedom of thought” zone. Looking back, I was glad I did. And surprisingly, although I still do not think that Kenyan Theologian is correct, I do rather see the interpretation as probably being stronger than the “Left Behind” narrative.

Being in a church environment where a forced orthodoxy does not allow for honest questions and disagreements creates an atmosphere of fear. That certainly does not aid faith.

via A Leading Cause of Atheism? Not Allowing Dialogue and Disagreements | Jackson Wu

A Paradoxical Faith

One of my favorite verses in the Bible to meditate on is Mark 9:24.

Immediately the father of the boy cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief!”

The context is a father of a boy who is described as demon-possessed. The disciples of Jesus have been unable to provide help. Jesus questions the father, who then asks Jesus to heal his son “if He is able.” Jesus notes that “Everything is possible for the one who believes.” 330px-healing_of_the_demon-possessed

The father’s response to this, “I do believe; help my unbelief!” may sound wishy-washy. In fact, I have seen commentaries that look down on this response as weak compared to the wholehearted confidence of some others in the Bible. The response was viewed as poor… but just good enough for Jesus to respond.

The commentaries could be correct, but I guess I just really don’t see it that way.

There is an honesty to his response. He is struggling with doubt, and that is really okay. Some see the essence of faith being an absence of doubt. However, when one gets to Hebrews 11,  we find the paragons of faith as those who acted with firm resolve. That resolve doesn’t necessarily suggest ZERO doubt. In fact, Moses and Gideon showed signs of considerable doubt. Yet in the end, they resolved to obey God. James also describes faith in a similar manner. Faith is evidenced by its expression of will not cognitive certainty.

The father came to Jesus. If he could fully express his thoughts, it could be something like this:

“I believe you, Jesus, have the ability to save my son. But I also know that I could be wrong. I do have doubts… but I refuse to act on those doubts. I will act on what I believe and what I hope. I come to you, Jesus, to save my son.”

Jesus seemed satisfied with the response, and healed the son. It is as if He was saying, “That’s really all I ask.”  Much of the Bible shows faith in this way… trust me in your doubts, and you will be rescued–

Taste and see that the Lord is good;
    blessed is the one who takes refuge in him.” 

Psalm 34:8

This seems to be a paradox in faith that we need to get comfortable with. Many of the best examples of faith, have a paradoxical twist built into them.

  1.  An example of faith that caused Jesus to marvel was the centurion in Matthew 8.  

    Jesus said to him, “Shall I come and heal him?”

    The centurion replied, “Lord, I do not deserve to have you come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, ‘Go,’ and he goes; and that one, ‘Come,’ and he comes. I say to my servant, ‘Do this,’ and he does it.”

    This is an amazing example of faith, understanding something about Jesus’ ability to heal that even His disciples may not have realized. However, there is nothing in the passage that suggests that the centurion knew what Jesus would do. He had great faith in Jesus’ ability to heal if Jesus chose to do so, but expressed no such confidence that Jesus would choose to act.  Is that a problem? I don’t believe so. Certainly Jesus did not think so.

  2. Another example is in Daniel 3 in the story of the fiery furnace. 

    16 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to him, “King Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. 17 If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to deliver us from it, and he will deliver us from Your Majesty’s hand. 18 But even if he does not, we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.”  (Daniel 3: 16-18)

    Again, their faith was demonstrated in their decision to obey God, even though they did not know what God would actually do.

  3. The quintessential example of faith in the Bible is Abraham and his willingness to sacrifice his son Isaac at the command of God. The Bible says that Abraham’s faith was counted unto him for righteousness. Paul expands on Abraham’s example to note that no person is declared righteous via the Law, but only through the grace of God that comes from man’s faith in God. The writer of Hebrews expands on this point, but adds an interesting note to it. In chapter 11,

    17 By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, 18 even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” 19 Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.

    It is interesting that Abraham’s faith in God had a flaw in it. His faith seems to be that God would make him kill his own son, and then God would raise Isaac from the dead. So if Abraham’s faith was in cognitive certainty, then it was certainty in something that wasn’t actually true.

In the above three numbered examples, faith a flaw, or paradoxical twist. For the centurion, there appeared to be uncertainty whether Jesus would respond to his request. For Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, there was uncertainty as to whether God would act to save them or not. In the case of Abraham, his belief as to what God would have him do and what God would do after was mistaken.

What made the faith of the above three marvelous was not their lack of doubt or confusion as to the future, but their commitment to God in the present.

The man in Mark 9 came to Jesus to have his son healed. And despite the fact that Jesus’ disciples utterly failed to heal the child, the father stayed. When Jesus questioned the man as to his belief, the man was honest enough to express the (quite reasonable, under the circumstances) doubts he had, and yet he still believed and would still call on Jesus to save his son. The man did not know for sure, but he was willing to “taste and see that the Lord is good.”

It may seem a bit paradoxical, but that is exactly the faith we need— uncertain of the future, but certain of our intent to come to Jesus for mercy.





Instilling Healthy Doubt

I saw on FB another bit of foolishness. Okay, there has been a LOT of foolishness on Facebook lately. A recent  post claimed that Satanists utilize “LOL” to mean “Lucifer our Lord.” So if we use “LOL” in our posts, we are endorsing Satan. Let’s have a reality moment here:

  1. I don’t use “LOL,” so if all Christians stopped using the term, it is entirely possible that the world would be a (slightly) better place. Who knows?
  2. It is possible, I suppose, that SOME people who call themselves Satanists do use those letters that way. The last time I had an insightful discussion with a self-described Satanist was 25 years ago. In his case, he did not believe in a literal Satan, but appreciated a “satanic” philosophy… not so far from Hedonism. In his case, and those like him, since he does not believe in Satan per se (ontologically), such a use of “LOL” would be humorous or ironic, rather than worshipful or respectful.

There is some serious foolishness here. It is not about the doubtful use of the term by Satanists. Rather the foolishness springs from:

  1. The thought that the term inherently endorses or empowers Satanism. There may be two different beliefs here. One belief may be that a symbol can only have one meaning. For example, reading comments on FB, there are serious questions regarding the Confederate Battle flag. Two different segments of society argue about what the flag REALLY represents. In fact, it represents two different things to two different groups.  If a symbol means something to Group A and something different to Group B, each can use the symbol as they see fit… without being affected or tainted by another groups use. (I am talking about meaning here… not political affects. Two different meanings can lead to problems, like if a red octagonal road sign means “STOP” to one group of people and “SPEED UP” to another.) . A symbol is always culturally determined. A symbol is not inherently “tainted” by another group. However, the second possible belief is in the power of incantation. That is, that words, if used in the right circumstance in the right order have special magical powers. Even though there are some examples of blessings or curses in the Bible, they appear to be tied to a direct appeal to God to act (relational call) rather than due to the power of formula (incantational or magical call).
  2. Failure to check sources. Frankly, the FB post might have been put up as a joke to test the gullibility of “Christians” or anyone else who would read it. Lot of Gullibility Tests on the Web. Alternatively, it could be “clickbait”… articles that are designed to be provocative and lure people to click on the article to make advertizing money.
  3. Having poor sources of authority.  I read it on the Internet is like saying you heard it on the telephone, or read it spray painted on a wall. It says nothing about its veracity.

Why do Christians fall into such a trap? Of course, we are not alone. Weird reactions appears to be pandemic– a universal sociological phenomenon. But Christians have had their share of such… sociological phenomenon.

  • When I was younger, I was told that one should not say “Good Luck” because “luck” has (supposed) etymological roots to Loki, the Norse God of mischief (perhaps SLIGHTLY similar in very limited ways to the Christian concept of Lucifer, or Satan). So to say, “Good Luck” is a positive Satanic blessing. Ridiculous! No one uses the term that way, and probably never did. Frankly, Christians might prefer to not say “Good luck” because it seems to reference a non-Christian view of providence, although, one would have to define “luck” in context before one could say whether or not it is Christian. But to tie it to an irrelevant reference to the past, and then tying it to an equally pointless cross-religious reference, makes no sense whatsoever.I believe the Luck and Lucifer connection has been made by Kenneth Copeland. I believe Luck and Loki was connected to some statements by Pat Robertson, back when I worked for him. Neither Copeland nor Robertson should be considered competent, reliable sources for… well, much of anything.
  • More recently, people have been trying to pick a date for Christ’s return. It seems to be more a cynical ploy to get people to “choose to follow Christ” or, equally bad, for self-styled “prophets” to gain an audience. But I have to think that more people are turned off by the foolishness of making claims that prove to be ludicrously false. This is done sometimes by “Bible Numerology” (a doubtful practice more in line with the Kabbalah than with Christianity) or by making up false phenomena and that rigging the data (such as the “Blood Moon” thing). Why make up dates anyway. Each of us is a couple of skipped heartbeats from the “abyss.” That is a much more solid prediction.

Why don’t Christians do better? Some argue that it is because Christians (especially Evangelical Christians) have a tendency to be anti-intellectual. But, in truth, I haven’t noticed that intellectuals do any better (or at least not much better). We all, as finite human beings, choose who we hold to be in authority. Intellectuals are as likely to choose poor authorities as non-intellectuals.

I would like to suggest that Christians should Have Faith in God and God’s Word, and Follow Christ. In other things maintain a healthy doubt.

What would be the implications of that. We would doubt authority figures, Christian or otherwise. So…

  • We would separate between God’s Word and human interpretations of God’s Word.(question human wisdom)
  • We would separate between following Christ and following people who claim to follow Christ (question human authority)
  • We would spend less time worrying about the intensity of Christians’ faith, and be more concerned about the true object of their faith.
  • We would spend certain critical moments of our lives doubting ourselves… since each of us are often the most effective in leading ourselves astray.

It matters. We all need healthy doubt.

Belief vs Doubt vs Disbelief V (Welcome 2013!!)

Here is another quote from “In Praise of Doubt” by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld:

“In his classic study When Prophecy Fails (1956), Leon Festinger argued that people who are deeply committed to a belief and its related courses of action won’t lose this belief when events falsify its assertions, as when a prophesied event fails to occur. On the contrary, they will experience a deepened conviction, and start to proselytize in order to receive further confirmation of their belief. The more people embrace their belief, the truer this belief must be– or so their thinking goes. However, Festinger adds, in most cases there comes a moment when the disconfirming evidence has mounted to a degree that obstinate doubt creeps in. That doubt, as it grows, eventually causes the belief to be rejected– unless, that is, the believers succeed in a solid institutionalization, as has been the case with Christianity. The dissolution of apocalyptic movements is more likely when a precise date for the end of the world has been given (and has passed). Sooner or later, after this date has expired without any apocalyptic disaster having occurred, such a movement generally collapses (though one must not overlook the capacity of human beings to deny disconfirming evidence).”

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It seems evident that Festinger (I have not read his book) sees primitive Christianity as teaching an immediate form of apocalypticism, but eventually was able to deal with the fact that Christ did not quickly return. As one who holds to Scriptural authority, I don’t see it quite that way. To me, the statements and narratives of the Apostles (Paul, Luke, and John) that questioned a quick return are as authoritative as statements that COULD be interpreted as a quick return of Christ. As such, both must be seen with each other rather than one being a cautious reappraisal and reinterpretation.

However, it did get me thinking.  There has been a lot of noise from the “prophets” and date-setters in the last few years.  Consider the quote above

1.  Harold Camping came up with a date for Christ’s return. He did not come. Camping came up with a second, and then a third. Christ did not come. It would seem pretty reasonable for people to discount Camping the first time. After all, he was using a numerological method for coming up with the date that is more akin to the occult than sound Biblical hermeneutics. Certainly after the first date was proven false, those that grabbed hold of the date should have rejected Camping and his methodology. But many many did not… it wasn’t until after the 2nd failure that people seemed more willing to question Camping. However, I am not convinced that there is a thoughtful consideration of his methods, nor a thoughtful review of what the Bible teaches about date setting. Of course, some groups, like the Jehovah’s Witness religion, has come up with numerous dates, yet has managed to survive and sometimes prosper by redefining their predictions after the fact. The problem we see with these examples is that even when a prophecy is proven false, often the prophet is not rejected… or the underlying assumptions from which the predictions are drawn.

2.  There is a tendency to reverse engineer prophecy and “spiritual battles.” Peter Wagner’s group “New Apostoloic Reformation” has done some curious activities in this area. First coming up with a curious Christianized theological paganism (territorial demons and the stuff you read in Frank Perretti’s fictions), they go to to places “spiritually mapped” as supposed centers of some sort of demon or power or other. Then they pray and pray and pray, built on the assumption that doing such will bring down or weaken the evil power emanating from that location. The general lack of Biblical support for this method of Christian ministry (as well as the underlying theology) is troublesome. One might assume their methods could at least be tested to see if it is effective. The problem is that it is hard to imagine what empirical facts could attack the underlying beliefs of the group. Reading some of their “successes” seems to be little more than grabbing newspapers for the next few months and circling all of the stuff they like and ignoring the stuff they don’t like. Using the circled items as proof of their method is hardly impressive to an outsider of the group (shouldn’t the uncircled items be considered as evidence against their beliefs and methods?). However, to a strong believer, the circled items are proof of their activity, while the non-circled show that they must continue what they are doing but with even more vigor.

3.  Here in the Philippines, national prophecies have been popular. When we arrived in the 2004, people were telling about an American “prophet” who talked about how the Philippines was going to be a great and powerful light of God in the world (wish I could remember the exact quote). It was curious some of the people who were quoting this person, since many of these people would not share much of anything of the theological beliefs of this person. Why believe the prophecy then? Because they wanted it to be true. Cindy Jacobs has made a prophecy for Eddie Villanueva that he will be president of the Philippines. She was clever enough to add a caveat in case it doesn’t come true (his poll results have been absolutely dismal the first two times he ran). A look at that prophecy with commentary is at Tinubos. In this case, the failure of prophecy is covered by the caveat (if he wasn’t elected, it is the hearers fault, not the “prophet”), and if not elected this time… maybe in 6 years, 12 years, … . Looking at a website of a church here in the Philippines, they note lots of prophecies like Prophet Robert Misst who prophesied that the Philippines is destined to be a “Prince Nation to Asia in the millennium.” Dr. Chuck Pierce prophesied that the “Philippines is a dragon slayer of seven headed dragon”.  In these cases the prophecies tickle the ears of the hearer without actually saying anything particularly meaningful.

So we see that in some cases,

  • prophecies that fail may eventually discredit the individual but fail to undermine the underlying belief structure. Or
  • caveats are added to protect the “prophet” while potentially blaming the hearer. Or
  • selective analysis of events can be reverse engineered into fulfillment of vague prophecies. Or
  • prophecies can be so desirable to the hearer that they will be accepted regardless of their veracity.

Why does this matter to me? First, bad theology tends to lead to bad results, so I am not comfortable with methods that are used that come from bad theology, and am even more concerned when the bad results don’t lead to reevaluation of the theology and methods. Second, as Festinger noted above (as quoted by Berger and Zijderveld), eventually a point may be reached where obstinate doubt pops up and adherents toggle from Belief to Disbelief. Third, related to the second point, since often these questionable beliefs are described as being Christian and inseparable from Christianity, toggling from belief to disbelief may not just involve a specific theology or method, but make them doubt the Christian faith as a whole.

I believe we should be better at teaching our confidence in Christ, but with

healthy doubt of his follower

Belief vs Doubt vs Disbelief IV

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I was doing some lookups on doubt on the Internet. Very little good information is available. I took a class called “Faith and Doubt” at Asia Baptist Graduate Theological Seminary. Our two main texts were “Doubt: A History” by Jennifer M. Hecht and “In Praise of Doubt: How to Have Convictions Without Becoming a Fanatic” by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld. Both were interesting books, although neither was really good at categorizing types of doubt (at least in a clear fashion). The Internet doesn’t do a good job either. Perhaps this is because of the general disinterest in the topic.

Religionists reject doubt commonly. But anti-religionists commonly do as well. At most, doubt may be seen as an unpleasant transition towards the more positive state of belief or disbelief. After all, disbelief is simply the belief in the antithesis of what someone else believes. Doubt tends to dissatisfy disbelievers and believers alike. True believers (or True disbelievers) are often likely to be more angry at doubters than those who truly oppose them.

There seems to be a need for better categorization of doubt. I think this is well beyond me, but I can list a few common categories and a few ideas. Maybe something will develop from there in future work.

1.  Methodological Doubt: Cartesian Doubt. Starting from a position of doubt in an reasoning argument. In philosophy, one seeks to separate between the dubious, the probable, and the certain. Such doubt may not say anything about the beliefs of the individual… it is simply a position to start from in a logical argument. This can be a useful tool in analysis. Sometimes it bothers people. I have an Apologetics Study Bible. In it, it argues for the authenticity or reliability of the Bible. Often it will argue from historical, textual, or logical positions. Some react to this. “The Bible says it! I believe it! That settles it!” But that is not good enough for some people, so the writers of the study Bible develop arguments from a starting position of doubt to make their arguments relevant to a broader audience.

2.  Existential Doubt: The values and meaning I have… are they what I SHOULD have? This is axiological. What OUGHT I believe, think, value, and do? Paul Tillich considered existential doubt as foundational to faith. Major changes in one’s values and motives (such as in a religious conversion experience) requires existential doubt. It is necessary most likely for 2nd order changes… ones that involve basic change of belief, not simply change of method or action.

3.  Skeptical Doubt: I never did find a great definition of this. Seems to be more of an attitude than an actual doubt. Doubt that pushes one to disbelief. Of course, disbelief simply means belief in something else.

For example, if one goes to the website for Sceptic Magazine:

The Skeptics Society is a scientific and educational organization of leading scientists, scholars, investigative journalists, historians, professors and teachers. Our mission is to investigate and provide a sound scientific viewpoint on claims of the paranormal, pseudoscience, fringe groups, cults and claims between: science, pseudoscience, junk science, voodoo science, pathological science, bad science, non science and plain old nonsense. “

It is clear here that the Sceptic Society has a large number of things that they have sceptical doubt (not just methodological doubt) about. But they also have some areas that they have very strong beliefs about. The name “The Skeptics Society” seems to be at least 50% misnamed.

4.  Pathological Doubt:  Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) is often called a “disease of doubt” because it involves an inability to distinguish between what is possible, probable, and unlikely to happen. Doubt can be healthy but at least some doubt needs to ultimately be resolved.

5.  Radical Doubt:  Term coined by Arne Unhjem and is defined as “the recognition– often implicit, rather than explicit– that there is no truth and no meaning that deserves man’s unqualified acceptance.” It seems to be true that man needs meaning in life. Radical doubt, whether justified or not, hardly seems to be healthy… not how we were made.

6.  Guilty Doubt:  I made up this term… but I am sure that the term exists, or a similar term exists for this. Like “skeptical doubt” this is an attitude or response. Doubt can generally be healthy, but some feel that it is wrong to have doubt. This can be exacerbated by systems (religious, cultural, academic, corporate) that seek conformity of view. Often guilt or shame is used within the social structure to deny doubt. Guilty Doubt can lead to conformity of members and the maintaining of the oppressive structure. Paradoxically, it can result in a complete rejection of the original belief. Two reasons: First, the person who finally acknowledges their doubt may feel that doubt is the same as disbelief. Second, the system does not set up a healthy environment for addressing doubt.

I am sure there are other categories worthy of listing, but if one looks at this list, the first two are certainly beneficial in faith (or at least can be). However, there are other ways to look at doubt. One way would be to look at it from a position of source.

A.  Cognitive Doubt would then be doubt of facts. This is an intellectual doubt.

B.  Emotive Doubt would then be a feeling of doubt. Perhaps the doubt can’t be put into an intellectual form.

C.  Volitional Doubt would then be a feeling of doubt about choices (kind of like existential doubt).

Perhaps one could add something like Self-doubt. We think of self-doubt as negative, but in this case, I mean the recognition of our own limitations as a human (limits in time, space, knowledge, wisdom). From this perspective, self-doubt is very useful… even necessary. Failure to recognize these limits is the realm of the fool and egoist.

Anyway, these are just some thoughts. Would love to hear more on doubt and categorization of doubt.

Belief vs Doubt vs Disbelief III

42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Lif...
42, The Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life according to The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy. Русский: 42, Ответ на главный вопрос жизни в произведении Автостопом по галактике. Deutsch: 42, die Antwort auf die große Frage nach dem Leben, dem Universum und dem ganzen Rest, bezogen auf Per Anhalter durch die Galaxis von Douglas Adams. Italiano: 42, La risposta Fondamentale alla Domanda sulla Vita secondo la Guida galattica per gli autostoppisti. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Summarizing. Doubt is a necessary and healthy part of faith. Doubt is necessary because faith is necessary. Faith is necessary because we are finite and no knowledge or logic is, in itself, compelling. At some point in time we have to bridge the gap from “reasonable” to either belief or disbelief (at least in some things). Faith that is not empowered by doubt will not likely stand the test of intellectual or cultural challenge (if it would even be correct to call it faith). Loss of faith in God often comes when doubt is squelched instead of addressed openly.

A challenge here is obvious. If faith is necessary, even a common part of human existence, how can it be the determining eternal existence? One challenge is that we are dealing with faith on two levels… a logical level and a Biblical level. Biblical faith includes the logical level but goes further.

Faith, as a logical concept, is the necessary bridge between a reasonable idea and a personally compelling idea. Of course, faith has to have an object. One does not simply “have faith.” One must have faith in something. For example, one might consider using their credit card on an Internet purchasing site. There is clearly a risk of sharing information that can be abused with strangers. Yet there are reasons to trust the system as well. In the end, one must decide one side is compelling. This is faith. The object of that faith is belief in trusting or not trusting a website for financial transactions. There is clearly an active component to faith. Faith gives direction.

So far then,

  •      Faith is universal. It bridges reasonable and compelling
  •      Faith, in its essence, is volitional rather than cognitive
  •      Faith must have an object.
  •      Faith demonstrates itself in action.

This is logical faith. Biblical faith is built on it, but…

  •      The object of faith is trust in God

So Biblical faith is the reasonable (but not undeniable) conclusion that one can live a life trusting God, as God is revealed in History and the Bible.

One should never apologize for faith. Everyone has faith on one form or another. In “The Restaurant at the End of the Universe” by Douglas Adams, we discover that the Ruler of the Universe, is a man in a shack who has no faith. He comes to essentially no conclusions about his own thoughts or sensory inputs. A very difficult way to live.

Faith in God has been found reasonable by lots of people throughout history. Faith that is unprepared by doubt to handle the rigors of opposing beliefs and arguments is a weak faith. Such a faith, perhaps, one might feel a bit apologetic about.

Religious leaders should never seek to instill that type of faith in its members.

Belief versus Doubt versus Disbelief II

Spaulding and Wilkeson Quad at SUNY Buffalo
Spaulding and Wilkeson Quad at SUNY Buffalo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

An article in the New Statesman, “The Social Cell” by Daniel Dennett (April 13, 2012) is an interesting work on the effects of information on some social systems. One of these is religion. The writer believes that the free flow of information challenges religion (most certainly) and will likely lead to its extinction (most “doubt”-ful). To me, the thesis seems a bit simplistic, ignoring the fact that information does not compel. Faith is needed in steering toward both belief or disbelief. Modern Physics may lead one person to believe that God is unnecessary… a “god in the gaps” until the gaps close. Another person may see the wondrous complexity and beauty of the Universe as viewed through the lens of modern physics and gain greater conviction of the power and wisdom of the Creator. Likewise, as Dennett noted, religion seems to develop spontaneously, so the death of religion seems unlikely, because out of death it springs anew in different forms.

But that is not the interesting part of the article. Of greater interest is the section regarding unbelieving clergy. These are people who started out as firm and committed believers. However, as they went to seminary, and as they had access to information and theories of others, doubt drifted towards unbelief. At some time, they drifted fully into disbelief, but did not lose their religion. Their ties (and occupation) within the religious community were too strong. They teach and preach a belief that they lack.

Why does this happen. Is it because information exists that would compel disbelief? No. Neither side has completely compelling information or logic. I suppose here are a few components that cause problems for seminarians.

1.  Upbringing that focuses on unchallenged belief. Many seminarians are brought up in a sub-culture of sorts. This sub-culture encourages belief without acknowledging the healthy role of doubt in this.

2.  They are uprooted into a broader skeptical culture, or a high culture of unbelief. Raised in an sub-culture that praises faith and sees doubt as sinful (or worse) individuals often do well until they begin to interact in other cultural settings.  Unprepared for this skeptical culture shock/disorientation, these people feel they must either deny doubt or deny belief.

3.  Having been taught that doubt is the opposite of faith, the individual finds the first feelings of doubt as a scary thing. At first the doubt is denied. But if the doubt gets to a point where it cannot be denied, there may be a feeling that they already are an unbeliever. If you think about it, there is a bit of dark humor to this. Because the individual begins to doubt one part of their doctrine (salvation, God, supernatural, whatever), a different part of their own doctrine (doubt is sin and the opposite of faith) is left unchallenged by doubt to tear down their own belief.

I remember being in college. I attended a fairly conservative Christian college (Cedarville University). While I did disagree with some things they said, it did help me to mature in a belief-friendly environment that was still academic and challenging. I then transferred to a very secular university for my Junior and Senior years. I noticed that there was a strong attempt to challenge and change the belief systems of students at SUNY at Buffalo (No, I have not found all secular schools to be this way). However, by the time I got there as a 20 year old, I was prepared to see the weaknesses and strengths of both my own beliefs and those that were seeking to challenge those beliefs. I was mature enough to know that my doubts could equally drive me in either direction. I felt sorry for the freshman, right out of High School dumped into such an environment, ill-prepared (commonly) to doubt and evaluate the “expert opinions” of those in charge.

There seems to be several fairly obvious things that could help nurture a young believer (or even a not-so-young believer).

1. Churches and families should not be so quick to squelch or ignore issues of doubt and faith. A church should be a safe place for both belief and doubt. Doubters of all types should always be welcome without fear of abuse.

2. Young believers need to be nurtured in their faith… but not by people who are sort of “Name it and claim it” or “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” These people may have their positive qualities (as well as negative) but they do not position the young believer well for the culture shock of faith in the Modernist or Post-Modernist world.

3.  Faith, doubt, and belief are important parts of seminary training. To teach the JEDP Theory of Pentateuch development as fact (a pretty doubtful theory, do be honest) will challenge faith. But even if one believes it to be fact, one should never teach it without considering how information would be integrated into the student’s faith structure.  Again, faith and doubt should be dealt with freely and honestly (not an easy thing in seminary).

4.  Ideally, seminary students should not be young (physically or spiritually). Preferably, students should already have gone through a trial of faith. That could either be a struggle that takes one from unbelief to belief, or one that challenges the faith that was there, and was taken through the fire.

Belief that is unchallenged, unquestioned, flabby… will not survive long in a culture that promotes unbelief or at least a biased skepticism.

Belief versus Doubt versus Disbelief I

People always like to contrast Faith and Doubt. I think that this is in error. I believe (and I am not alone in this assessment) that faith is empowered by doubt. Doubt is simply honesty… and honesty is not bad. We are limited in knowledge (we don’t know everything). We are  limited in time and space (we have not experienced and cannot experience everything). We are limited in wisdom (we lack the software to unerringly process what knowledge and experience we do have). We should doubt. Not to doubt is simply self-delusion, self-denial, or hubris.

If doubt is not bad in itself… perhaps even unavoidable… what is the result? In truth, the result is our choice… to some extent.

Doubt can empower belief. Is it even accurate to say that one has belief if one does not doubt (or if one is blind to the doubt)? Belief is volitional, doubt is cognitive. Personal experience, analytic statements, and syllogistic /deductive logic can only take one so far. As Lewis Carroll noted via Achilles and his friend, the Tortoise, no logic can ever be truly compelling. Such an attempt would result into an infinite number of logical steps. At some point in time one has to step back and say that they find the evidence they have to be compelling. This is faith. Obviously, pretty much everything in life requires faith of one sort or another. Belief requires faith that is empowered by doubt.

However, doubt can also empower disbelief. The process is not essentially different. One may be faced with the same evidence, the same concerns, the same experiences, the same logic. However, in the end, one finds the counter-argument to be compelling. This is still faith, but faith that leads to disbelief.

In missions, one should not seek to squelch doubt. Rather one should work with people to come to terms with their doubt. In my case, my father helped me process my doubt. My father was the head deacon of our church. Even though we came from a very conservative church, my father did not mind questions that evidenced doubt, or challenged set thoughts. My dad would let me come to my own conclusions (I would anyway) but would do his best to give his own opinion, thoughtfully, and fairly. My dad was also a very smart man. Years ago, when people talk about something being easy, they might say “It’s not rocket science.” My dad actually was a rocket scientist, along with mechanical test engineer, and ‘human computer’ (back before electronic computers were available). This was helpful. Because when I went to High School and some of the teachers challenged my beliefs, I remembered my dad. He was the president of the school board, so why should I be bothered by teachers. When I was in college and in the Navy, I was also challenged by others, encouraging me to have my doubts be channeled towards unbelief. Again, my father helped me direct my doubts towards belief.

Not everyone is so fortunate.