For as long as I have had faith in God, I have also known doubt. My doubt and I have been in a dance for years, now, growing apart and then coming together, sometimes fighting, sometimes talking, sometimes choosing to understand one another.
As I struggle with navigating the faith I love so dearly, I turn to the internet for guidance, and I find a great deal of cerebral talk with little soul. I hear Sam Harris and Dawkins and Christian apologists talk about the pros and cons of faith, but what’s missing for me in almost all discussions about doubt is humanity.
I watch people rage about the irrationality of faith and how we should all just get over it already, and I watch the godly rage against the godlessness and hopelessness of a faithless world.
It leaves me feeling more desolate – the human experience of doubt seems to be missing from these discussions, and that is what I need the most.
In response to this atmosphere of absolute certainty, here are a few things I need you to know about my struggle with faith and doubt.
1. It Hurts
Doubt hurts. This is what is missing the most from discussions about belief: the excruciating human suffering that accompanies existential crisis.
As I’ve sat with the fire of doubt, I’ve tried to explore it, to examine all the ways it hurts, and why.
It hurts because the Christian faith is my home, my center, the star around which I orbit. It feels like my meta family. It’s my identity. To be pulled away from it feels like an amputation, or worse, a vivisection – there is no anesthetic here.
It hurts because I don’t know what to replace it with. What could possibly take the place of Christ in my life? Losing faith makes me feel like an astronaut in the film Gravity, lost in a void with no direction, no up or down.
It hurts because I am terrified of death. It’s the not knowing that gets me – the natural human horror of the mysterious. It’s an old, well-worn fear, but I can’t shake it.
The fire of doubt is a pain I live with on a near daily basis, now. Sometimes it blazes to a devastating forest fire, other times it is a candle. It hurts either way, and I see no way through the pain but through, at the pace my subconscious chooses.
If you fail to understand that pain, I have no time for you. If you lecture about the necessity or irrationality of faith, but fail to see my suffering, I will not listen.
I’ve heard your words – I’ve heard them a thousand times over: variation upon variation, layer upon layer. I yearn for humanity, not for answers. If you have no time for empathy, I have no time for you.
2. I Need Time
Over the past year of blogging I have encountered a few atheists with messianic complexes eager to swoop down and rescue me from the clutches of religion.
In general, people seem to be made uncomfortable by the slowness of this journey. For it is a slow journey – a Lord of the Rings sort of journey, creeping across a sometimes forbidding, sometimes wondrous landscape. There is no quick resolve; there are no easy answers.
Frustrated atheists email me telling me to give it all up and be an atheist already. I will do no such thing. I will take my time, and I will clear the space to take as long as this needs. Because – need I remind you – this hurts like fuck.
I also just don’t do things quickly. I deliberate, meditate, daydream, read, and study. It can take me months or even years to come to a conclusion, as I did with my moral stance on homosexuality. That’s just the way I am.
Please respect the process, and if you find that impossible, please be quiet and please go elsewhere. I am interested in traveling companions who are long-suffering, who are comfortable with dissonance, and who are okay with unknowns.
3. I Still Respect You
If I’m doubting my faith, it does not mean I disrespect yours. If I’m not an atheist, that does not mean I believe atheists are lawless, corrupt, irrational people.
Life is hard – excruciatingly so – and we all get through it as best we can. We find faith, or we lose it. Our minds are tragically fragile, easily deluded, and utterly, hypocritically convinced of their own rationality.
We live our lives crawling upon this rock, finding what meaning we can. When I contemplate the harshness and brevity of life and the fragility of our frightened minds, I find that kindness is the only decent response.
Kindness, respect, and compassion – regardless of our beliefs or journey through life – this is my attitude towards all of us struggling to find meaning in our confounding world.
The psychological battles of survival, the trials of living with other people, the ability to get out of bed in the morning – these require respect and honor. I honor you, regardless of what belief you hold.
Whether we like it or not, we are all hurtling through space on this rock together.
11 thoughts on “Three Things I Need you to Know About Struggling With Doubt”
Great article. I am quite comfortable with my doubt. It takes me places across the faith spectrum, and I often find myself on the edge of Christianity.
I doubt (haha) that I will ever lose faith in a greater power, so I will probably never call myself an atheist.
All of this is beautiful (and very true of me as well), and I especially appreciate the bit on taking time. American culture rushes everything—grief, decisions, faith, love, forgiveness, etc—and it’s not human. Slow is beautiful. There are no skip-aheads or fast-forwards in life. I appreciate so much you saying it so well.
Last year for me was emotionally heavy. I had never felt some of the emotions that I did, in my life. And as they came, I wasn’t sure when they would go. In a couple of instances, I questioned everything and everyone around me. And I really did not know. I talked a lot about things in certain places, much to the consternation of some, that I kept running over the same things, over and over.
But I had to do that. It was part of my process I guess. I had it out with God as well, and I threw my towel down and walked away for a time because at that moment, I really did not know God at all. I doubted.
When I don’t know, I tend to hang around with people, whom, I think do know. I found that sometimes that worked, and other times it did not work. I hung a star on one too many people in the past year, and was terribly disappointed in the end.
When all these questions and doubts arise, there is one place I can go, daily, and see, in real time, answers to questions, light in my darkest doubts, and once in a while, I see God move around a room.
You can’t rush life, learning and emotions. I am learning to take my time, even today. I still don’t know how it all works, sometimes.
You have a way, a routine, a job, a career, yoga, people who love you. All those things ground you to the earth, so you can seek for yourself the truth you need to see.
Nothing wrong with questioning and doubting. I think we learn more by doing so. Religion wants to give us all the answers but it is only their views based on their particular doctrines. God will never leave us. Jesus said let us reason together. I think by that he means let us doubt, let us question, let us meditate on things while seeking for answers. All the while listening for that inner voice of the Spirit that will continue to lead us and encourage us.
One of the things that struck me reading this post is that not experiencing doubt is in itself a form of suffering. I say this because this keeps me from fully entering into the journey with some one who is. As a minister I’m simply thrilled that despite great hatred and abuse their are those in the LGBT+ community and elsewhere that are still asking the questions. I cannot ask more of people than that. You mentioned kindness, respect and compassion for me this is the essence of my religion. Beautiful post from a beautiful soul.
Beautifully written, as usual. I agree with #1 wholeheartedly. I needed #2 as well, and am happy to give you all the time you need to come to a conclusion that makes you feel at peace, or at least resolved. I’m not sure what that is or will be. I think it’s different for everyone. For me, it’s been recognizing that agnosticism/atheism is easy for my mind to conceive of. I was once deathly afraid of becoming an atheist, largely because of many of the fears and pains that you articulated in #1. I had a bit of an epiphany one day in the shower (which is where 90% of my great epiphanies occur): I don’t HAVE to believe in God–I can be perfectly happy conceiving of a world without one; but I can CHOOSE to believe in God/Christianity. And that’s what I do. I choose to believe (even though much of my mind doesn’t), simply because I think it’s a better story than nihilism (Think “Life of Pi”). One day, I hope you find your own sort of epiphany that makes sense for you. In the meantime, #3 is key for us all.
This is a beautifully written and intelligent description of the pain that we feel when we are labeled by others.It is important ,I think,that we each follow our own road. Some believe one thing and some believe another,but belief shouldn’t separate each into individual boxes . We need community ,and communities are the place where we discover all the pains.So, the answer must lie in teaching others to accept their individual differences .This is a hard challenge,but it is the goal of all artists to describe their challenges and ask for others to accept those pains as the beauty that makes them special. All special things deserve applause.
Unlike DJ (comment Jan. 9), I do not find that “I can CHOOSE to believe in God/Christianity.” Despite what many writers say, for me it has never felt like a choice. While it’s not quite at the level of “The world exists,” or “I exist,” the proposition “There is a God,” is something that I find so reasonable, so necessary — there must be a first cause — that I can’t dismiss it.
Of course, there are moments of doubt, in the sense that I can see that the proposition, “There is no God,” is not logically self-contradictory. And as I learned from the writings of Eric Voegelin, we have to live in the uncertainty of what he calls the “metaxy;” the condition of tension between the immanent in which we live and the transcendent. It is, he thinks, the psychological discomfort of this tension which many people find intolerable, leading them to demand certainty — a certainty found in forms of Gnosticism, including the totalitarian movements of the 20th Century. I think that same unwillingness to accept the uncertainty of faith is what leads to forms of fundamentalism and other theological rigidities, including an apologetics which assumes that all the doctrines of faith are incontrovertibly proved, so that failure to accept Christianity can only come from stupidity or stubbornness. In other words, he thinks that doubt, or better perhaps, uncertainty, must be part of the mindset of the fully aware believer. In other words, you’re in good company as you endure your struggles with doubt. In fact, now that you’ve arrived at doubt, you’ll never be able to get back to an absolute, childlike certainty. Hang in there, and take all the time you need to deal with your own doubts.
This is so beautiful written and so moving. Thank you for sharing. I can certainly empathize… I’ve certainly had my fair share of doubts. Sometimes I feel like I’m barely clinging to faith by my fingertips – but that comes and goes; sometimes I feel much more certain. And I think this must be something everyone experiences, some time. God bless.
So very, very well stated… for all of us… no matter where we fall on the (for lack of better terms) conservative/liberal spectrum.
Your words go deep, there is much to process, to me reminiscent of Richard Rohr, another recent discovery of mine as I venture tentatively from my theological cave. As you say “it is a slow journey.”
Thank you for speaking with us.
Marv, thanks for sharing. It’s the work of mystics like Richard Rohr that keep my faith on life support.