Some believers find it hard to accept that reasonable questions can be asked about most things their churches tell them never to doubt. For these believers and for their churches, to doubt is to sin. And the only atonement for it is to go and doubt no more.
The problem is that we cannot simply will sincere doubts away. They must be countered with evidence better than whatever raised the doubts in the first place. But that means taking the doubts seriously and trusting that doing so can make faith stronger.
For many inquirers today, the struggle is already over with religious traditions inimical to questioning, doubting, and choosing beliefs carefully. They have gone on to put in the place of faith a secular/liberal dogmatism that stifles the sense of mystery just as thoroughly as fundamentalist theologies do. Some are even scientists, who should know better.
In Brian Greene’s latest book, The Hidden Reality, there is a particularly arresting (as in cardiac arrest) example of this ideology. Initially confessing as a “bias” his view that physical systems are completely determined by how their particles are arranged, Greene then went on to declare as fact — a pretty big fact — that mental characteristics (the habitat of both faith and reason) are “nothing but a manifestation of how the particles in one’s body are arranged.”
It’s the “nothing but” here that got my attention. It reminded me of language hurled at me once by a liberation theologian who insisted that every interpretation of a scriptural text is determined by the social context and status of the interpreter. Conditioned? Sure. Determined? Hmm… At least neither Greene nor my theological colleague added “and let all who think otherwise be accursed.” But then again, they didn’t have to.
Many Christians today are every bit as certain of their theological liberalism as their antagonists are proud of their conservatism. One thing both groups hold in common is an antipathy to taking seriously any doubts raised from standpoints different from their own.
I’d love to get their reactions to something a former student of mine said to me the afternoon of his graduation from seminary: “When I got here my faith was so weak I couldn’t allow myself to doubt anything my church had taught me. Now, I believe in God so much that I’m willing to doubt everything.”