O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith


Is Doubt an Eraser?

posted by Jason Boyett

eraser-heads.jpg
“Eraser Heads” by David Heyward at Naked Pastor

We often think of doubt and faith as opposites. Either you have one or the other. The presence of faith means you’ve victoriously shoved doubt aside. The presence of doubt means your faith is on the verge of crumbling.

We think doubt means taking the stuff you once believed and erasing it.

We’re wrong about that.

Today I finished reading The Hopeful Skeptic, an excellent book by Nick Fiedler about re-evaluating his childhood faith and not being afraid to ask hard questions of it. Fiedler, who is the cohost of the popular Nick & Josh Podcast, wraps his discussions about Christianity in the metaphor of taking a long journey. He has to decide what he keeps and what he throws away. What essentials are worth saving? What gets left behind? What things are most valuable and what things are just cultural baggage?

He walks the reader through his personal process of asking and trying to answer those questions, and it’s a revealing book about finding the core of Christianity — and true faith — using honest doubt as a tool. Acknowledging doubt isn’t the same as erasing. It’s not abandonment. It’s simplifying and uncovering the truth from within a lot of external packaging.

Fiedler comes to the conclusion that faith and doubt are not exclusive. One doesn’t erase the other. Why not? Because “we have options,” he writes.

Not only do we have many options on what to believe, we have many great, logical and scripturally based options as to what to believe. There is rarely, if ever, a single perfect belief on our planet. So when you get to that snag in your personal beliefs, you don’t have to jump to the polar opposite position. If you find an error in your version of Scripture, you don’t have to declare Scripture to be worthless. If you find that you doubt the complexities of God, you don’t have to become an atheist.

Faith and religion, as most things in life, do not always come down to a simple either-or conclusion — even though there are plenty of bumper stickers and sermons that would have you believe that.

The Hopeful Skeptic: Revisiting Christianity from the Outside (p. 164)

You can be skeptical and hopeful at the same time. You can believe and doubt. In fact, those two things — faith and doubt — tend to work together.

Thanks, Nick, for the reminder.



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Sue Widemark

posted May 19, 2010 at 7:29 am


I so agree with you Jason and feel that on the contrary… if we do not acknowledge our doubts (and comeon, we all have them) it can actually weaken our faith. I loved your book “O Me of Little Faith”. It was honest and made a lot of sense and was one of the most inspiring books I’ve reviewed. (for my review, click the URL associated with my name on this comment). Thank you for your honesty and your wisdom, Jason!



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Jason Boyett

posted May 19, 2010 at 7:46 am


Thank you, Sue! I appreciate the review and your very kind words.



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JamesBrett

posted May 19, 2010 at 9:44 am


alright, i’m one of the same guys that commented yesterday with complaints about the feed reader showing only partials of your posts. and i read your explanation, which makes sense. and this will (almost) definitely be the last time i say even a word about it. but scot mcknight’s blog, ‘jesus creed,’ feeds the reader his full blog posts. and he’s also with beliefnet. just sayin’…



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Nick Fiedler

posted May 19, 2010 at 9:58 am


Thanks for these thoughts and the kind words about the book. As I am reading through, O Me of Little Faith, it is good to find others on the same journey.



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JustGuessing

posted May 19, 2010 at 10:07 am


Great Post.
In my spiritual/religious journey, I’ve come to the conclusion that having the “correct beliefs” is not what is important, but following Jesus’s example of radical love is. You can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out if the miracles were metaphorical or literal. I know Jesus would rather us spend our energy on loving people.



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Kathryn

posted May 19, 2010 at 12:55 pm


Thank you so much for this post. I really like the visual of deciding what to “take with you” on your journey.
Many of the blogs i read are talking about simplifying their lives but reducing clutter, etc. I really like the idea of simplifying faith too. “What are the essentials?”
Thank you.
(New blog is fine, but your verification/spam preventer is not fun. Can hardly read it.)



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Inspiring Quotes

posted May 19, 2010 at 1:31 pm


Doubt completely eliminates chanes of success. Especially when you know in order to get what you want, you have to move forward. It is better to seek clarity through contrast. Removal of doubt is always a step in the right direction.



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Kevin Leggett

posted May 19, 2010 at 4:40 pm


Doubting God is such a foreign concept to me and believe this largely has to do with my raising. I was raised by druggies and alcoholics, having a Jeremiah like experience of being drawn to God despite the daily opposition of such a harsh and dysfunctional environment (see link above).
When it comes to doubt, I tend to doubt myself more than anyone. I can honestly say I don’t know what it feels like to doubt God (his existence, providence, grace, rightness and righteousness, love, etc.). He was such a real experience (read: shelter) for me growing up, that doubting Him is like doubting my wife and kids exist.



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Drew Smith

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:00 am


Hi Jason,
I’m brand new to your blog and just thought I would briefly post a response. I totally agree that that doubt is compatible with faith. I think a deep and responsible faith can and perhaps should have a healthy dose of cautious skepticism. I have consistently remind myself that doubt is not antithetical to faith, unbelief is. I have recently finished a book you might enjoy called In Praise of Doubt: How to have convictions without being a fanatic by Peter Berger and Anton Zijderveld. I think it is an important book, especially for reflective and thoughtful believers like yourself. It sounds like you and I share a similar path. I would love to check out your new book. I’m glad that there are outlets out there like this one. Thanks and keep up the good work.



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Jason Boyett

posted May 20, 2010 at 11:08 am


Drew:
Thanks for the kind words and book recommendation. I haven’t read Berger and Zijderveld’s book, but it sounds like something right up my alley.



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Drew Smith

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:40 pm


Jason,
Another good book I thought of is called The Sacredness of Questioning Everything by David Dark. Might be helpful as well. Also here is a quote from one our former professors at the Christian College I attended. It might voice some things you are wanting to say or have said already. I don’t know. Besides some of the bitterness, I think he has some good points. The quote is a little lengthy so please bear with me.
“I have doubts. I think I know too much for it to be otherwise. And I think I’m far too honest with myself about the best that unbelief has to offer. I have not mastered the blissful ignorance or self-deception that so many conservative or evangelical Christians manage to shelter themselves with. I don’t mean that to sound perjorative, but the fact of the matter is that I find it very difficult to convince very many “Bible believing” Christians that the case for unbelief has a single shred of intellectual strength, and that really bothers me.
Nonetheless, I do not consider myself to be on a road to unbelief, or in danger of “abandoning the faith” anytime soon — or ever, for that matter. I decided a long time ago that the issue really comes down to which set of bothersome, unanswerable questions you’re more at peace with — those you’re left with when you believe, or those you’re left with when you don’t. (One of my gripes about unbelievers is that they so often give the impression that the choice is between belief and lots of stubborn, unanswerable questions, or unbelief and full intellectual satisfaction.) Always I have been of the opinion that the unanswered questions of belief are much easier to live with than those of unbelief. For example (and this is a huge one for me), if I choose naturalism (which I see to be the only real alternative to theism), then I must accept that somewhere, at some time, something came into existence out of absolutely nothing. (For all the efforts of contemporary atheists to escape what Frank Hoyle saw clearly as the implications of big bang cosmology, this consequence still stands undefeated.) And this is a claim I don’t even know how to begin to get my mind around. The perplexities (and they are many) of the problem of evil pale into nothing by comparison. Which is harder to conceive, that one powerful enough to create a universe might have plans too complex for us to fathom that somehow make some kind of sense out of the state we find the world in, or that everything from quarks to DNA to dwarf stars to the whole of the cosmos came out of absolutely, positively, indefinable emptiness??? Sometimes, when my doubts are raging, this is the only place my faith has to stand. But, even at those times, it is enough.
I do have to say that my faith has evolved in recent years to something that most conservatives or evangelicals might not consider “true Christianity.” That’s okay, though. I long ago stopped worrying about what anybody else thinks of my faith. I have withdrawn from most forms of church leadership — I am honestly tired of the hassle, tired of the crap, and just plain tired. Furthermore, I find it harder and harder to sanction the bigotry and hard-heartedness that so often goes under the guise of redemptive behavior. Also, I’m much more inclined to a broadly inclusivistic respect for and even openness to other religious traditions, to the point that I am not ready to express anything like the quasi-exclusivistic “There is no other name” xenophobia that most conservative Christians insist on as a sine qua non of the faith.
When you add all of this together with the fact that several years ago I was divorced and remarried, I do tend to fall well outside most circles that many Christians are comfortable with. But, like I said, I long ago stopped worrying what anybody else thinks of me. It’s a very serene way to live. I’m very happy, I’m very much at peace. Like Tillich, I meditate; unlike Tillich, I also pray. I’ve learned a great deal lately from the Pali Canon and the Tao te Ching. I’ve also gotten to know Jesus perhaps better than ever. I still know that the intellectual case for faith is good, but not overwhelming. But I’m becoming more and more convinced that the existential case for faith can be — for those who seek it — downright irresistible.”



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Jason Boyett

posted May 20, 2010 at 3:55 pm


Drew:
Yes, David Dark’s book is excellent. I recommend it.
Your professor’s words are fascinating. I especially like this: “I have not mastered the blissful ignorance or self-deception that so many conservative or evangelical Christians manage to shelter themselves with.” Bingo. The hard thing for doubters like me is that even though I’ve been wrestling with these questions for years, not everyone can identify. To some, I just look like a weakling who can’t/won’t believe. My personal doubts don’t come from sin or spiritual rebelliousness (at least, I don’t think), but from a passion for learning. And the more I learn about history, the Bible, theology…the more questions I seem to have. I’d love to return to that state of ignorance — it’s a lot more comfortable — but you can’t unlearn stuff. You can’t unring a bell. And I’m too committed to honesty and the truth to just ignore the continued ringing.



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Drew Smith

posted May 21, 2010 at 12:05 am


Jason, you said “The hard thing for doubters like me is that even though I’ve been wrestling with these questions for years, not everyone can identify.” I feel pretty much the same way. My wife serves as a children’s minister in an evangelical church and there are only a few people I can actually have an honest, open, and thoughtful discussion with. Just wanted to let you know that I share a similar journey with you.



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Kathryn

posted May 21, 2010 at 12:36 am


Something just occurred to me, Jason, in your last response:
Maybe questioning makes us the very children of God.
Who asks more questions than children? “Why is the sky blue?” “Why does the wind blow?” “Where does the sun go at night?” “Why do wars start?” “Why did that boy hit me?”
On & on. Maybe being willing to ask questions & not insist that we are “adult enough to know it all” is a good thing. We’ve graduated from questions science can answer or parents can give comfort for, to questions that stretch us more.



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Drew Smith

posted May 21, 2010 at 9:26 pm


Kathryn, Dr. Peter Enns in the preface of his book Inspiration and Incarnation said:
“I believe with all my heart that honesty with oneself is a central component to spiritual growth. God honors our honest questions. He is not surprised by them, nor is he ashamed to be our God when we pose them. He is our God, not because of the questions we ask (or refrain from asking), but because he has united us with the risen Christ. And being a part of God’s family is ultimately a gift to us, not something to be obtained by us. God has freed us in Christ and made us his children. And, as all children do, we ask a lot of questions”
I really try and take this to heart



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Nick

posted May 22, 2010 at 8:44 am


After establishing that we are almost all doubters, my follow up question would be, ‘Is the church really the best place for doubters?’ In my experience, no.
Now there is always the exception, but when the doubt gets heavy or something substantial is doubted, the church get’s antsy.
Do you guy have a church that is good for doubters?



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