When Doubt is Terminal

When I was deep in the Evangelical fold, doubt was sometimes discussed as a temporary and seasonal necessity. Doubt was talked about as a period of testing, in which we just had to lean in to prayer and trust, even in the face of an insurmountable void of evidence. Inevitably, they said, this season would come to an end, the winter would turn to spring, and you would know without a doubt that God is real. In other words, doubt was understood as a sort of spiritual flu — a seasonal disruption that builds our immune systems.

Now that I’ve undergone my own painful deconstruction of faith, I can’t help but feel that the doubt I experienced was very different from the sort my Christian community spoke about. My doubt was terminal. My doubt was cancer — eating away the life of my faith over many years. I think I always knew it would kill my faith in the end, but I put my head down and tried not to think about it. I could learn to cope with it, to ignore it, to medicate it, but I could never get rid of it.

I tried everything: every apologetic, every immersive form of prayer, and leaning into Christian community, but my doubt simply lived on. I wanted desperately to believe that it was a season, like my friends and mentors said — a time of testing. But no matter how much I wanted it to live on, I couldn’t keep it alive. It finally died in 2017, and by that point I was so exhausted from the fight that I simply let it die.

I now understand that the evangelical world had no remedy for my terminal doubt. They spoke of doubt as a season because that was the only sort of challenge they could handle. They had no way to treat my dying faith, and they had no way to talk about it or contextualize it.

Now, I’m on the outside. I’m still figuring out life out here, and it’s hard. Yes, it’s lonely, and yes, I’m presented with existential questions which previously didn’t trouble me. I’m uncertain of my place, now, as someone who used to communicate the life of faith to thousands of people a week at the height of my blogging days. I’m having to rebuild a lot, but I can only say this: the relief of not having to carry the dying body of my faith is worth it.

What is your experience with doubt? Is your doubt terminal? If you are still a believer, how would you respond to terminal doubt? Let me know in the comments below.

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6 thoughts on “When Doubt is Terminal

  1. Hello Stephen, ‘doubt’? I guess I was lucky. I was always doubtful about what I was told about “the church”. In my case the Mormon church. “The one and only true church.” never quite cut it. So after many years of semi-disbelief I wanted to figure out what I believed and why. My conclusion: Religion is a scam based on belief in the supernatural. The scam is resurrection and an afterlife. I think everyone believes in a human spirit but to believe that the spirit continues to exist after death in that supernatural realm is delusional. The monotheistic belief in Armageddon, the final battle between good and evil, is insanity. For centuries they have been promised a savior who will never come and still continues. Take heart, there are many who have let go of this belief. Good luck. GROG

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  2. My own experiences with doubts led me not from belief into disbelief, but from one belief to another. Depending on your point of view, that might mean it’s terminal or it might mean it’s not. It was certainly quite the ride and quite the change.

    I’ll also note that the change also included a change in how I see doubt. I no longer see doubt as the enemy of belief or faith — though I admit the two can still seem to conflict — but merely another part of the whole journey. Doubt is now what enables me to say “this is what I currently believe and think at this moment in time, but that may change sometime in the future.” I find that this allows a certain level of comfort with doubt and acceptance, even of the fact that doubt may someday lead me to yet a different belief or complete disbelief. (I personally think the latter is unlikely, but I can still be open to the possibility and okay with the fact that it is a possibility.)

    Having said that, doubt can also be uncomfortable even after all that. After all, re-examining what it is you believe is never easy and admitting that the answers you once thought you had are clearly wrong can be a bit of a kick to one’s pride and ego. And then there’s, as you noted, all the questions about where that leaves you know in terms of questions of who you are and where you fit into the wider world. The only comfort for me there is that I now consider those questions uncomfortable, but perfectly okay to ask and not have answers to.

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    1. Hello Jarrad. I have no doubt. I can say that with a true heart. There can be a tinge of hubris, but that is quickly whisked away. I have no doubt that there is no afterlife, no resurrection and there was never anything to be saved from, save ourselves. The dream of a spirit world is totally a human thing to believe, but it is a dream. Once the scam is realized, freedom rings. GROG

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  3. Thank you Stephen. I enjoy reading your posts, and taking away things to ponder. This one had me looking up the meaning and people’s perception of ‘doubt’ in various contexts. So far, it’s made for an interesting week of asking myself how I perceive the term and how I’ve engaged it in my life.

    The dot jot: I like doubt in some contexts. As someone who enjoys puzzles and problems to solve, I live a lot of my life in a state of questioning and observing many things day to day. I’ve lived a lot of my faith life that way as well. On the one hand believing in the existence of God and enjoying ‘butting heads’ with him over a number of questions that come up. On the other hand, very much not enjoying some conversations I’ve had with people. In an actual, respectful, debate or just plain fun ‘toss around some ideas’ context, yeah, i do enjoy people, but being bullied is not good. Stepping out of an actual abuse situation, I’m still thinking through some of my dynamics in that place as they apply to life, faith, belief, and freedom to question things and doubt them without having to be quick about it.

    I appreciate your honesty and respect for others, and your ability to make me laugh while thinking things through. That’s all I’ve got for now.

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