Monday, April 20, 2015

Teaching Faith Relative to Doubt and Uncertainty

When I teach about faith, I draw a distinction between doubt and uncertainty - and between doubting and questioning / seeking.

To me, "doubt" is used in the scriptures often as a verb ("to doubt") or to describe an orientation/mindset ("Doubting Thomas"), and it doesn't mean to be uncertain, to question or to seek. It means to have a disbelieving mindset - to start from a foundation of, "I have to see to believe," rather than, "I can believe while I question and seek, until I find evidence that leads me not to believe." Doubt is the suspension of belief amid uncertainty; faith is the suspension of disbelief amid uncertainty. Viewed that way, they are polar opposites.  Uncertainty isn't bad or evil in any way - unless it becomes a default setting that hardens into intractable doubt and removes one's ability to move forward amid uncertainty.  Acting on hope amid uncertainty is the non-religious term for the principle of faith.

Thus, I'm not a doubter; I'm a believer.

When I try to understand and decide what I believe and don't believe, I don't focus first on trying to figure out what I don't believe; I focus first on figuring out what I do believe. Once I figure out what I do believe, I don't doubt everything else. Rather, I simply don't believe it at that time - with the understanding that I might believe some of it at some point in the future as I continue to hone what I do believe.

I see doubt as restrictive and constricting; I see faith as liberating and empowering; I see questioning and seeking as essential - and doubt undermines that process. It's a subtle difference, but it's an important one to me, since it influences my attitude more than just about anything else of which I'm aware.