Thursday, May 25, 2006

Uncertainty

Doubt is one of those inevitable parts of life I wouldn't mind living without. Lacking the traits of omniscience and infallibility, there's always a chance that I could be wrong - about God, the nature of reality, my strongly held opinions, or even whether taking that shortcut will actually get me home sooner.

Doubt is also one of those things that I hate admitting to, since it potentially creates an opportunity for anyone who may view me as an adversary to leap in for the kill, like a lion on a wounded gazelle. And yet to deny that I experience doubt is to be dishonest and no better than anyone else who claims to have all the answers to everything.

About the only thing I feel pretty confident about is the existence of the God I claim to have a relationship with (though I do sometimes question my lack of questioning on that particular point). Everything else, from the nature of said God to my perceptions of Him to the reliability of the Bible to anything and everything the church has ever said, is subject to periodic reexamination.

And really, what need would we have for faith if absolute certainty were possible in this lifetime? The process of acknowledging those doubts and asking difficult questions (as often as needed) gives us the opportunity to make corrections to our beliefs when necessary, and to strengthen those convictions that deserve strengthening.

Some years ago in a Bible study, our group leader asked us how certain we were of God's existence. I answered 98% - and aside from the one relatively new Christian in the group, I was the only person there who didn't say 100%. Nobody made an issue of it at the time, but later on another group member approached me and asked why my confidence level was so low, as if being only 98% certain was tantamount to being agnostic. When did it become a bad thing for a Christian to admit to being fallible?

As counterintuitive as it may seem, I experience less anxiety and insecurity than I did back when I dutifully avoided rocking the boat and kept my questions to myself. There may be other factors that are more directly responsible for my current confidence level, but in any case admitting to doubt seems to be healthier than denying it.

And the questions never completely go away. What if life really is nothing more than a product of random chance? What if this whole journey that I find myself on is a trip in the wrong direction? What if God really will cast me into hell if my beliefs don't line up exactly with whichever denomination is lucky enough to have it all right? What if nobody really likes me and I'm just kidding myself when I claim to have friends?

Okay, that last one doesn't last long under even the most casual scrutiny, but even my sillier doubts can represent opportunities to press into God and ask (for the millionth time) what he thinks of them and what (if anything) I should be doing differently.

Not that I spend all (or even most) of my waking hours second-guessing myself, of course; there is a time for stepping out in faith, even though one can never be 100% certain of the outcome. But there's also a time for reflection and for refusing to take anything for granted, no matter who told you what, how strongly they believe it or how many biblical proof texts they can line up behind it.

Exodus would tell us to "question homosexuality." I agree, but don't stop there. Question Exodus, too (whether they want you to or not). And then question everything else you've ever been told. God is not fragile; he can handle our scrutiny. Any deity who can't tolerate the questions of his/her/its/their followers isn't worthy of devotion.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

Well said Eugene. What is faith's journey without adventure and an uncertainty or two?

jasmine said...

so glad i stumbled on your blog... you put so many of my own questions/concerns about the relationship between christianity and homosexuality into words...

nonsequitur said...

It is very human to doubt, and many of us have experienced guilt trips because of this natural tendency. Questioning/doubting isn't the horrible lack of faith that many of us (who have been raised in fundy/conservative backgrounds) have been made to believe. Repressing scrutiny in any form can be likened to a totalitarian dictator who throws political dissidents in prison. Within government, politics, and religion questioning should be allowed and supported because it contributes to more transparency and honesty from those who lead us. If one stands on the truth, then why should they be so nervous about those who question their stand?

nonsequitur said...

We would still be living in the dark ages if not for those doubted and chose to question the popular version of truth. It may have brought persecution at the time, but their scrutiny contributed to the greater good and they went down in history as revolutionaries.

SteveSchalchlin said...

Myself, I have grown spiritually to the point that I welcome doubts and embrace the questions. Your fears expressed about "what if I'm wrong and I'm going to burn in hell..." are very common symptoms of the very careful brainwashing that has been inflicted upon people who are trying to free themselves and their lives from fundamentalism.

Take peace in the fact that you are not alone in this.

In my journey, not only do I not worry about "doubts and fears," but I am deeply suspicious of people who do NOT have them. Think about this, my friend--and I've only recently discovered your blog through Christine--examine the lives of religionists who absolutely have no doubts and "know" they are right. Have you ever met one you liked? We could start with Jerry Falwell and Fred Phelps and James Dobson.

The people of faith I have the most respect for are the ones who live with and struggle with doubt. Indeed, those are the only people I actually trust.

Think about it. :-)

Jason said...

I will let Lord Alfred Tennyson speak for me:

You tell me, doubt is Devil-born.
I know not: one indeed I knew
In many a subtle question versed,
Who touch’d a jarring lyre at first,
But ever strove to make it true:
Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.

There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.
He fought his doubts and gather’d strength,
He would not make his judgment blind,
He faced the spectres of the mind
And laid them: thus he came at length
To find a stronger faith his own;
And Power was with him in the night,
Which makes the darkness and the light,
And dwells not in the light alone,
But in the darkness and the cloud,
As over Sina├»’s peaks of old,
While Israel made their gods of gold,
Altho’ the trumpet blew so loud.

-Samb

averagedrinker said...

faith is supposed to fill in for the spaces that uncertainty has created. man is inquisitive in nature. it's just natural that we become curious or doubtful on something unless we've seen it with our own eyes. i remember a friend i met on webdatedotcom who used to be a preacher told me that God is existent in all aspects and in every walk of life. faith is different from believing.

Wombat said...

Thanks, this really resonated with me, and coincided with some thoughts from another blogger and Ann Lamott. I finally got a chance to record what thoughts this sparked in me in my LiveJournal. I hope you don’t mind me quoting you!