The mind inclined toward doubt is in for a rough ride in an evangelical childhood. I recall vividly my many, many hours struggling against doubt, trying, crying, praying for certainty and faith. Many, many dark nights of the soul. Attending college and seminary I learned of the others in history who struggled the same way, or at least similarly. I also learned that doubt is natural and healthy, it protects us from falling headlong into the many snares and traps the world continually sets for us. Blind faith, as I recently quoted from Kurt Vonnegut, is dangerous to everyone. I was thinking about this again the other day as there was something I fervently wanted to happen but I just couldn’t bring myself to believe would actually come to pass. My mind isn’t built for blind faith.
Given that, it probably isn’t any surprise that I went into religious studies as a field, even though it’s a dead end. I still believe it’s vitally important, but that’s a belief much of the world doesn’t share. It’s one of the few fields of study where a doctorate leaves you without job prospects if you don’t get a teaching post, if you’re not ordained. And should doubters be wearing clerical collars and preaching to those who want to believe? Belief is malleable. It changes over time and it does so via its constant interaction with doubt. It leads to a life of second-guessing and constant reassessment. I suppose that’s why I’m baffled to see politicians with less education being so cock-sure that they’re right about things. I doubt they know what they’re talking about.
Institutions take on lives, like people do. Although I disagree with the treatment of corporations as individuals by law, still, I understand the thinking behind it. The church, for example, grew to be a very powerful force in the fourth-century Roman empire. These collective individuals had vested interest in keeping that power as the church grew more and more influential. That dynamic still exists where even a small, non-denominational group gathers and asserts that it alone is right. All you have to do, it tells its members, is believe. Don’t doubt. And if you do doubt you’ll be excluded. Exclusion is difficult to bear. But even doubting Thomas has hundreds of churches named after him. Each, no doubt, has many true believers as members. And on the outside mingle the doubters.