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Last week, writer and editor Jon M. Sweeney published a thought-provoking essay about religious doubt in the Huffington Post. Sweeney is a publisher at Paraclete Press and the author of the new Verily, Verily, a book about the King James Bible.
The essay, called “Doubt is the Faith That Binds Us Together,” explores the ways religious doubt may be good for you rather than something to avoid.
From the piece:
It is increasingly clear to me that doubt is, in fact, the most
important faith of all. Doubt invigorates faith, demands more of it, and
causes us to ask more of each other. Doubt connects us to each other.
Doubt binds my faith to yours. It makes me reach out. Discover. Explore.
Question. Challenge. Learn. A person who doubts is one still on a
Sweeney discusses the role of doubt in Graham Greene’s novel Monsignor Quixote, and quotes the book’s narrator in describing the relationship between the priest Quixote and his communist friend Sancho:
“It’s odd … how sharing a sense of doubt can bring men together
perhaps even more than sharing a faith. The believer will fight another
believer over a shade of difference: the doubter fights only with
Then Sweeney dips into his own experience of doubt:
I also embrace doubt because the older I become, the less interested I
am in belief and the more interested I am in practice. A spiritual life
endures even when I doubt, misbelieve, or refuse to believe. Doubt
engenders practice. I may not know for certain what I believe, but at
least I can pray. I can give. I can love. I live in hope. I observe what
is holy. More than belief ever could, these practices structure my
life, and as Ludwig Wittgenstein once said, “You can’t argue with the
form of a life.”
Belief comes and goes. It is fleeting. It is a state of mind. Belief is
far too ephemeral upon which to rest something so important as faith.
Instead, it is doubt that truly binds us together, and to God.
In my book and here on the blog, we’ve discussed practice and action as an antidote to doubt — that uncertainty shouldn’t paralyze someone from acting on what they hope to be true, or from moving forward in religious faith.
I appreciate the thoughtfulness and hopefulness of Sweeney’s position. Now it’s your turn:
Do you agree or disagree?
We’ve seen how shared faith can foster community among people, but have you seen shared doubt bring people together?
In your experience, is practice more important (and lasting) than belief?
What do you think about Sweeney’s statement that “doubt is the most important faith of all”? Can it really bind us to God?