O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Options and Doubt

posted by Jason Boyett

Why do we doubt? In my new book, I discuss several of the causes of spiritual doubt, including sin, guilt, depression, circumstances, familiarity/boredom, and intellectual challenges.

But there’s one doubt-generator I’ve been thinking of lately that’s not in the book: options. I had the privilege of hearing Daniel Taylor mention this idea briefly a couple weeks ago at the Festival of Faith & Writing.

Let’s say you’re out shopping for a car. And let’s say it’s 1908. And let’s also say you’re a middle-class American. So if it’s 1908 and you’re looking to buy an affordable car in the United States, you pretty much have one option: the Ford Model-T. If you know anyone else who owns a car, they also drive a Model-T. Except for a few really rich guys with novelty German vehicles, all the cars on the road came off Henry Ford’s assembly line. And all of the Model-Ts are black.

If you wanted a car, you’d buy it and no one would think anything of it. Your only choice is whether or not to buy a car. That’s it.

Compare that to today. In 2010, there are countless makes and models of cars on the road. Any color you want. New cars. Used cars. Hybrids. Trucks. SUVs. Hatchbacks. Sedans. We have options. So any time we make a decision to buy a certain car, we’re bound to experience a twinge of doubt as soon as we make the decision. We call it “buyer’s remorse.”

Did I make the right choice? Should I have gone with better fuel economy? Is this one as reliable as that other one? Is the red paint job too flashy? Will we be OK with 10 cupholders or should we get the one with 14?

We have too many car-buying options, and options lead to doubt.

Now let’s step away from the Model-T metaphor, because this is not a blog post about cars. Consider the world we’re living in now. When it comes to spirituality and religion, we have options. Thousands of options. The planet is more connected than ever, and this global inter-connectedness has made the world smaller. We’re exposed to far more cultures, spiritual traditions, and religious viewpoints than ever before. Anti-religious or non-religious viewpoints are gaining traction, too.

Even more, we have all these groundbreaking advances in medicine, genetics, and science to deal with. And we have to deal with them, because they are starting to explain things that, until now, we just didn’t understand. Stuff we used to label Religious, or Mystery, or Divine. (Example: Persinger’s “God helmet”)

And even more, we’re seeing a bunch of global religious upheaval because of the Church’s failures — abuse scandals and sex scandals and political scandals and big human screw-ups.

Today’s religious climate is filled with options and the result is doubt. We might all be suffering from a little buyer’s remorse — with all these options, have I made the right choice? — and this leads to uncertainty.

So we’re living in a time when, if you’re human and you’re paying attention, you’re going to run into some questions. Big questions. Scary questions. The problem is that some of us are encountering these questions in an environment that gets really suspicious when you ask hard questions. Those suspicions can turn doubters really lonely people, because it’s easier just to be quiet. It’s easier to not make waves. It’s easier to just shove the questions down inside and pretend they don’t exist. It’s easier to act like you have it all together.

It’s easier to lie.

But it’s not healthy. We’ve got to find a way to talk about these questions without fear and without having to hide. Doubters need encouragement to work through their questions without judgment. We need the freedom to think critically and use the rational minds we’ve been given. We need to know it’s possible to remain a practicing Christian without being paralyzed by doubt.

We have to remember that doubt can deepen faith. It doesn’t have to derail it, just like it doesn’t have to devolve into bitter cynicism. Faith and doubt can co-exist. They work side-by-side. Because faith only exists when doubt is present. Otherwise it’s not “faith.” It’s certainty.

In a world full of religious options, we have to make the church a safe place for doubters. If we don’t, eventually, our churches will be full of pretenders.

Or they’ll be empty.

——————

Here’s a new O Me of Little Faith interview at Popcropolis. It may or may not mention a stack of yeti.

Fellow doubt-writer Rachel Held Evans reviews O Me of Little Faith, and admits to being afraid we wrote the same book. But good news! We didn’t.

Crystal at Soul Munchies has posted a very generous review and will be giving away two copies of the book tomorrow.



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Muddled Mawkishness and Murky Musings

posted April 27, 2010 at 2:59 pm


It's interesting that I'm reading this just as my husband and I seem to need it. We host a Bible discussion in our home for anyone who wants to talk about the issues you don't hear in church. You brought out some interesting ways of looking at things. I grew up in church hearing that doubt was wrong. But your statement about faith and doubt being connected actually makes more sense to me. Thanks for posting this! :)



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Bryan

posted April 27, 2010 at 8:45 pm


Jason, I really like the thoughts of Peter Rollins on this ("Orthodox Heretic", "The Fidelity of Betrayal" etc.) I heard him say in a video just today that Christianity is the only religion where God doubts God. (When Jesus says "My God, why have you forsaken me" on the cross.) He points out that the moment that Jesus was doubting was the moment that God was the closest. Maybe in a way our doubts bring us closer to God.



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Robert

posted April 27, 2010 at 9:28 pm


Jason- great thoughts on this post!! I asked you and Rachel a question in her comments following her review of your book if you would like to take a peek. Did you by chance use *The Thomas Factor* by Gary Habermas in researching your book?? He does a good job dealing with emotional doubt and what-if?? Can't wait to read your book. Oh btw, sorry about that american idol parody in your comments previously, semmed funny at the time lol



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Matthew H. John

posted April 27, 2010 at 11:33 pm


This is me being jealous that you got to hear Daniel Taylor speak.I look forward to reading the final product … when I'm not reading for grad school. I have two fingers crossed for next month.



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Bernard Shuford

posted April 28, 2010 at 7:16 am


To a big extent, I'm convinced that those on the highway of perfect faith that you talk about in the book are largely pretenders. Those who claim to KNOW in ways that I find impossible are either ignorant or they haven't had to stop at the rest area to see the "You are HERE" map that tells them there is trouble ahead. And we teach ourselves that when we doubt, we should pretend so that we don't lose our faith.



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Nicodemus at Nite

posted April 28, 2010 at 7:58 am


I wish we as Christians would see that the world might be more attracted to Jesus if we were honest about our doubt rather than acting like we didn't have any. Unbelievers can see right through us, and that's a major turn off.Shameless plug, I'm still doing a book giveaway also. Enter at:http://nicodemusatnite.blogspot.com/2010/04/1st-book-giveaway.html



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Kristian

posted April 28, 2010 at 11:40 am


The "no longer just black T-model Ford" analogy is something that I came across when I was a wee lad, in a conversation between my grandmother and me. I was probably seven or so.Pretending to be concerned about my soul (she was fairly uninterested in matters of faith, much like everyone else where I grew up) for the sake of conversation, she threw her own version of Pascal's Wager on the table. Why not play it safe, and subscribe to a religion? You have nothing to lose.This troubled me slightly, so I thought about it for a bit. My response eventually was something like, "With thousands of different kinds of religions out there, what are the chances of me picking the right one?". Probability mathematics weren't my strongest area of expertise at that age, but I was smart enough to know that one out of thousands weren't good odds.The next night, I was thinking about this a bit further. What if, assuming that God exists, he rewards faith and punishes for picking a non-existent god to service, while being ambivalent about those who didn't pick anything? There was no logical reason to believe this was any less likely scenario than the kind of God the Bible describes, or any other option in the near-endless sea of gods and beliefs. I felt that I'd be best off not picking anything at all.Furthermore, if a god would indeed exist, and assuming he'd be somewhat benign being, it would be logical to assume that if life is somehow rewarded, it's based on how well you lived your life rather than your faith or lack of it. Otherwise what you're dealing with isn't really benign, and why worship something that's evil?And these thoughts have been keeping me worry-free in my non-commitmentness for close to thirty years :)



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Jeff Chapman

posted April 28, 2010 at 12:15 pm


Doubt leads to questions which leads to understanding which leads to more faith. That's how it has always worked for me although you can get stuck in the questions part a long time before you reach the understanding part. In her book Walking on Water, Madeleine L'Engle talks about learning the "faithfullness of doubt," which the judgmental among us assume is "faithlessness, but it is not; it is a prerequisite for a living faith." L'Engle sums up her argument with a neat quote from Francis Bacon: "If we begin with certainties, we will end in doubt. But if we begin with doubts and bear them patiently, we may end in certainty."



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Jason Boyett

posted April 28, 2010 at 2:16 pm


Robert: No, I didn't read Habermas' book, but it looks like I need to add it to my reading list. Thanks!Matthew: Not only did I get to hear Taylor speak, but I got to have breakfast with him and talk about our books. Major thrill!Kristian: While I can't exactly argue with your logic, I'm not sure it would leave me worry-free. Maybe that's a personality thing.Jeff: I love that Francis Bacon quote. Thanks for sharing.And thanks to the rest of you for the kind words and encouragement.



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Kristian

posted April 28, 2010 at 3:34 pm


Well – Pascal's Wager and its derivatives (like the Atheist's Wager) are built on fallacies and they make pretty arbitrary assumptions, so their worth in realistic terms isn't really anything beyond being little thought experiments.For a kid, it seemed like a reasonable argument.As a grown up, the huge amount of all kinds of religions and spiritual systems serves as a reminder why any single one of them is very likely to be untrue.



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