Here We Go with the Rollins

Doubt as virtue

…if God cannot be adequately grasped, then how can we know for sure that what is grasping us is God? It is argued that if the emerging community follows this line of thinking, then it will ultimately find itself hacking away at the tree under which it shelters, for surely everything is radically undermined by the uncertainty that ensues from the idea of God as hypernonymous.

The problem with this objection is not that its main insight concerning the introduction of doubt is incorrect but rather that it fundamentally misunderstands the role of that doubt within religion. In contrast to the modern view that religious doubt is something to reject, fear or merely tolerate, doubt not only can be seen as an inevitable aspect of our humanity but also can be celebrated as a vital part of faith. Doubt has often been disparaged, or merely tolerated, because it is seen as leading to an inert state of undecidability in which nothing can be believed or acted upon. Yet in reality it is only in the midst of undecidability that real decisions can be made.

For instance, take the example of two people getting married with the firm conviction that the union will last as long as they both live. In this state of obvious delusion no real decision needs to be made. The future is believed to be so certain that the decision to marry requires no decision at all. Yet if two people understand that their relationship will face various hardships, that the future is uncertain and that there are no guarantees, then far from preventing a decision, this is the very point when a real decision needs to be made. The vows of marriage are not so much affirmations of what one believes will take place but rather promises that one will work towards ensuring that it will indeed happen. To decide for marriage knowing that all manner of things may conspire against the union is to make a truly daring and authentic decision – the only type of decision worthy of the name. Here we can see that doubt provides the context out of which real decision occurs and real love is tested, for love will say ‘yes’ regardless of uncertainty. A love that requires contracts and absolute assurance in order to act is no love at all.

In the same way, the believer who encounters serious doubt does not renounce his or her faith but rather uses it as an opportunity to affirm it. We may call this acknowledgement of doubt a Holy Saturday experience (a term that refers to the 24 hours nestled between the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ). This day marked a moment of great uncertainty and darkness for the followers of Jesus. Yet it is precisely in the midst of a Holy Saturday experience that the decision to follow Christ becomes truly authentic. A faith that can only exist in the light of victory and certainty is one which really affirms the self while pretending to affirm Christ, for it only follows Jesus in the belief that Jesus has conquered death…If one loses one’s life only because one believes that this is the way to find it, then one gives up nothing; to truly lose one’s life, one must lay down that life without regard to whether or not one finds it. Only a genuine faith can embrace doubt, for such a faith does not act because of a self-interested reason (such as fear of hell or desire for heaven) but acts simply because it must. A real follower of Jesus would commit to him before the crucifixion, between the crucifixion and the resurrection, and after the resurrection.

The end of apologetics

The fear and rejection of doubt as a legitimate part of faith can be seen at its most stark in the twentieth-century Church’s obsession with the area of apologetics (a term which refers to a formal justification or defence of doctrine). Legal terminology is often employed within this apologetic discourse so as to give the impression that Christianity can be proven beyond all reasonable doubt by a cold and objective analysis of the empirical evidence for its claims…

These power discourses…attempt to present faith in such a way that rejection, if not impossible, is utterly irrational. In this way, the acceptance or rejection of the system is based, not upon a love for the system or a feeling of overwhelming seduction by it, but rather upon the accumulation of evidence that stands secure, regardless of the motive and desires of the individual…

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