Doubting belief

A Pew survey examining doubt and belief in God has been making the rounds the past few days, with headlines claiming that the generation dubbed “millenials” is fleeing from belief in record numbers. Take this example from Talking Point Memo:

The younger generation is abandoning God in droves.

A new survey by the Pew Research Center finds that belief in the existence of God has dropped 15 points in the last five years among Americans 30 and under.

Pew, which has been studying the trend for 25 years, finds that just 68 percent of millennials in 2012 agree with the statement “I never doubt the existence of God.” That’s down from 76 percent in 2009 and 83 percent in 2007.

But rejecting the notion that you "never doubt the existence of God" doesn't necessarily mean you don't believe in God, as the TPM post, among others, suggests.

Never doubting the existence of God is a strange concept to me, and smacks perhaps of a faith that is still maturing. I remember the feigned controversy that surrounded the revelation that even Mother Theresa struggled to understand how God could permit so much suffering. I enjoyed Karl Rahner’s musings about why God remains hidden, and the doubt that stems from that.

Doubt has been an essential part of my faith since my freshman year of college when I encountered the Bible in a serious manner for the first time. It was also in college where I came across this quote from Thomas Merton:

Faith means doubt. Faith is not the suppression of doubt. It is the overcoming of doubt, and you overcome doubt by going through it. The man of faith who has never experienced doubt is not a man of faith.

Does doubting the existence of God signify an exodus from faith, or is faith bolstered by doubt? Can one doubt and still be a believer? What is your experience with doubt?

4 years 11 months ago
What’s a “fool?” According to the first definition in my dictionary, a fool is “a windbag.” What’s a “windbag?” My dictionary says it’s “a person who talks much and says little.” I guess a lot of us tend to be fools! Scripture calls unbelievers “fools” so I guess unbelievers are also “windbags.” So, I’m going to express my experiences with “doubt, versus belief, in an under-detailed way, to avoid being a “windbag” which my wife of forty-five years says I am and she should know! Keep in mind I’ll be talking briefly about the “Unutterable” and “Illusive” God!

 In my eighty years, I’ve had experiences of God that should forever eliminate doubt, but it hasn’t – it has just made doubt, doubtful! And belief stronger! So for me doubt has been very helpful in confirming Faith. Yes, Faith is often best understood using the microscope of doubt, which on focus starts with apparently nothing, or unseen “somethings” but soon brings into focus hidden “many things.”

 Doubt also knocks Faith around and toughens it. Paradoxical? Yes. God himself is an incredibly mysterious Divine Paradoxical Being, untouchable, yet yearning to be touched. There comes a time when one removes the gloves of doubt to touch God barehanded in Faith. But soon again, the gloves of doubt go back on and the process repeats itself, until finally one discovers that the gloves are getting increasingly tight, and one happy day they no longer fit. Faith has won the battle!

 I think I’m there – until the next time, that is, until Faith shrinks and the gloves of doubt fit once more. And the prayer of the Gospel’s Centurion becomes a life jacket in life’s turbulence. “Lord, I do believe, help my unbelief!” This process teaches why for God, “Light and Darkness are the same!” Let me suggest, if you really want to find God, expect his Darkness! A Darkness that enlightens. Paradoxical?
J Cosgrove
4 years 11 months ago
I had a conversation several years ago with a Jewish professor who was very secular and we started to discuss faith.  He said doubt is a necessary condition for faith as the OP above implies. Our belief in God is not the same as our belief that the sun will rise in the morning. In fact it has to be this way to be meaningful. 
Few ever ponder what life would be like if knowledge that God existed was a certain as the movement of the sun and the earth.  We would live a completely different life, and a lot less meaningful one, if all was certain.  There would be no real freedom to choose as nearly all choices would be removed by the certainty.  Thesef other choices would be eliminated not because they were forced but because there were no alternatives to consider.
So doubt is essential.  Otherwise our acceptance of God is a meaningless decision.  But by the way science points very clearly to a creator but all one has to do is watch the scientists of our day ignore the obvious and cling to absurd ideas to cater to their choice that God does not exist.
joseph o'leary
4 years 11 months ago
Doesn't sound like a trend towards atheism. More like the growing "spiritual, but not religious" self identification found in other recent polls. I agree with Merton, but I'm hesitant to call those who've claimed to have never doubted (68%!) "not a man of faith."
Jim McCrea
4 years 11 months ago
Bruce #2:  This sounds a bit like you:  
Sometime I like to put sands of doubt into the oyster of my faith. Brother Cadfael

For me, I hope this is true: 
If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.     Sir Francis Bacon

Tim O'Leary
4 years 11 months ago
Doubt certainly doesn't equate with atheist, more with faith. In any case, the data from the Pew study, commented on recently by CARA here is revealing. Born Catholic has the least falling away of all Christians accept the Eastern Orthodox. The least stable is born atheist as only 30% stay that way. And CARA points out that there are a lot of Reverts (Catholics coming home) every year. Rather good news for our Church, I'd say. Certainly less dire than some predict.
4 years 11 months ago
#2 Bruce Snowden,  thanks for sharing your thoughts.
J Cosgrove
4 years 11 months ago
''#2 Bruce Snowden,  thanks for sharing your thoughts.''


I particularly love:

''it has just made doubt, doubtful! And belief stronger!''
Gregory Lynch
4 years 11 months ago
I find this article fascinating.  Like many others who have posted previously, my personal journey to faith traveled through the desert of doubt, which in my case lasted 20 years (only half the time of Moses and the Israelites:-).  Pope Benedict has a fascinating discussion on the intersection of doubt and belief in his book ''Introduction to Christianity'', which is linked below

Please forgive the spartan nature of the blog; I am just getting set up.
Jim McCrea
4 years 11 months ago
Gregory - is this to what you referred?

"However vigorously the non-believer may assert that he is a pure positivist who has long left behind him supernatural temptations and weaknesses, he will never be free of the secret uncertainty whether positivism really has the last word. He is troubled by doubts about his unbelief, he remains threatened by the question whether belief is not after all the reality which it claims to be.

Just as the believer is choked by the salt water of doubt constantly washed into his mouth by the ocean of uncertainty, so the non-believer is troubled by doubts about his unbelief. Anyone who makes up his mind to evade the uncertainty of belief will have to experience the uncertainty of unbelief.

- both the believer and the unbeliever share, each in his own way, doubt and belief. Neither can quite escape either doubt or belief; for the one, faith is present against doubt, for the other through doubt and in the form of doubt.

Perhaps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer."

Introduction to Christianity
, Joseph Ratzinger (1968)
Jeanne Linconnue
4 years 11 months ago

The Ratzinger quote in #9 surprised me - that's Ratzinger I asked myself?  Then I looked at the publication date.

Perhaps in precisely this way doubt, which saves both sides from being shut up in their own worlds, could become the avenue of communication. It prevents both from enjoying complete self-satisfaction; it opens up the believer to the doubter and the doubter to the believer.''

This was written by the other Ratzinger not the man who became pope after many years working to shut off all communication with ''doubters'', with ''questioners'', with ''dissenters'', indeed, with thinkers - as head of the CDF. This was written by the progressive and open-minded, creative theologian who supported and defended Vatican II, the Ratzinger that was - before the student riots. Those riots changed him from being open to being closed, from being forward thinking to being backward thinking it seems. How sad. He is a case of someone reacting - becoming a reactionary - because of the fear the student riots instilled in him. Now he is shut up in his own world and has no desire to open avenues of communication -  real communication - with those who doubt in his own church. He calls them ''dissenters'' and silences those he can silence.
Gregory Lynch
4 years 11 months ago
To Jim in #9:  Yes, that is part of the quote.

To Jeanne in #10:   Benedict / Ratzinger is indeed an enigmatic figure.  While I scratch my head at some of the publications when he was head of CDF, he is no doubt a first rate intellect and very hard to categorize along idealogical lines. 

I used to have the stereotypical view of him as JPII's bulldog until I read more of his writings.  For example, his preface to the 2000 edition of "Introduction to Christianity" is outstanding and of the same quality as the original work.  His first papal encyclical "Deus Caritas Est" is the best summary on what it means to be a Christian that I have read.  His strong statements, backed up by very real and visible actions by the Vatican, on global warming and the damage that Western society is doing to the planet because of overconsumpation and hyper-materialism is very progressive (regretably, this receives very little attention by U.S. Bishops and mainstream press). 

4 years 11 months ago
5 Norma, Thanks for your kind comment on my post. #6 JR, I thank you too, for your kind comment. #7 Jim, Yes, “sands of doubt in the oyster of faith” does produce what?  the “Pearl of Great Price” as the Gospel promised.  How? Irritatingly! secreting a healing substance on the irritation caused by the grain of sand subsequently becoming  a pearl And yes, quoting Francis Bacon, “Certainties do lead to doubts and doubts can lead to certainties.”  Another  one of those Divine Paradoxes of which I spoke in my post? Again to all, thanks
Jeanne Linconnue
4 years 11 months ago
#11. He may be ''progressive'' on environmental issues, but on many justice issues he is anything but. He continues to teach that women are second-class, that God has ordained that women are to be forever and always subservient to male authority.  As a result of his midaevil views of women, the church has developed a whole body of teachings that have shut out women, even though women are the most greatly impacted by them and these teachings cause real harm to real people.  By shutting out women, the governance of the church suffers, leading at times to immoral actions that cause tangible harm to millions.  This wrong could be easily righted, and positive actions to help the people of the planet would almost immediately follow - the continuing damage done by church teachings are far more immediate and pressing than long-term climate change really.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 11 months ago
Jeanne #13
A lot of fear and hate in your words. And certainly no hint of open-mindedness to the other ''progressives'' on this blog who actually read the words of the saintly genius, Pope Benedict XVI. Do you feel the same way about Jesus because he didn't pick a female apostle? Or is your hate only of present-day church leaders? This post was about doubt and faith, not even about women priests. Please lose the hate and stop grasping at power.

Jeanne Linconnue
4 years 11 months ago
Tim, you read a lot into a short post that is not there. Is that your habit? To read into other's posts what is not there so you can attack them? Could you please define explicitly what in my words convey either ''hate' or ''fear''?  I do not fear these men - they are powerful only over those who choose to let them have power over them - nor do I hate them as people. I do hate the harm they cause, both directly and indirectly through the clerical structures and some of the teachings.

My post does discuss the ''hatred'' (if you like that word and its derivatives) that some men have of the very notion that women might dare to believe that they are equal to them underlies their attempts to keep women ''in their place'' - a place defined by men.  Sadly, many of the men who ''lead'' the church may fall into that camp because that is what their ''teachings'' do. I do not ''hate'' them, or the pope. ''Hate'' is personal. I do not know any of them personally, but they are public figures both within and outside the church and they are hurting people through their teachings. As an abstract concept, not personalized, you could say that I ''hate'' the harm they do through their teachings. They do great harm but they may lack full understanding of what they do and the harm they cause, and so perhaps they might confess them as venial sins rather than mortal.

I am however, sad that these men who could do so much good through the power of their offices instead choose to use their power and bully pulpits to promulgate ideas that not only do no good, but can indirectly harm millions.

Men who choose to go with scriptural interpretion to formulate teachings that declare that women are subservient to men are manipulating scripture to suit their own agenda.

I would also ask that you cease your attempts to put words in my mouth and emotions in my psyche and instead discuss  the content of the posts, rather than any wild leaps and conclusions you might make about me and my emotions (hate and fear are emotions).  You can't read my mind and I can't read yours.  You did not ask anything about which teachings I am referring to, nor anything about specifically defining the harm that has been done and continues to be done due to the culture of patrarchy that underlies many teachings. I did not go into those specifically as I could write an entire article about them - a very long article. Clearly this forum is not meant for that.
Jeanne Linconnue
4 years 11 months ago
Tim, p.s. - if you read my first post, #10, you will find the link to the topic of doubt and faith. - and Benedict.  If you continue to read, Mr. Lynch raised some points about how Benedict is ''progressive''.  I then brought up the fact that he is not progressive in a very important area - and that his lack of understanding, as expressed through church teaching and governance, can harm the people on the planet as much as the environmental problems can do.  Perhaps you might want to chastise Mr Lynch also for going off topic and discussing the pope's ideas about environmentalistm and materialism instead of doubt and belief?

It makes me sad that a man who became pope has forgotten the man he once was. A man who once warned against the harm that can be done by shutting oneself into one's own world has done what he once understood was dangerous.  A man who once wanted to keep communication open between those who believe and those who doubt instead silences and condemns those who doubt in his own church.  That is the point you missed.
Tim O'Leary
4 years 11 months ago
Jeanne #15 & 16
My reference to “fear and hate” was a little tongue in cheek, since you and so many others on the left use these terms so frequently to explain any fidelity to the Church or the Truth of Revelation.

You can’t understand why Pope Benedict could be both open-minded and orthodox, so you put it down to “the fear the student riots instilled in him,” that shut him up in his own world (the world where most Catholics live, by the way, just not the retro-progressives). How do you know that? Yet you complain I read fear into your words.  In your next post, you describe this exemplary intellect as having “midaevil views of women.” So, you pepper your statements with insults and obvious disdain for the pope. Stop complaining and look in the mirror.

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