O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Can Doubt Bind Us Together?

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.

Read the full article.

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?


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posted March 17, 2011 at 9:45 am

Well. Wow.
This statement from Sweeney: “I also embrace doubt because the older I become, the less interested I am in belief and the more interested I am in practice,” and the paragraph that follows – that pretty well sums up the past three years of my life, the first time since I Walked The Aisle when I was six years old that I allowed myself to surrender to doubt.
I’ve experienced the way sharing doubt can bring people together in the pages of books like yours and Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town as well as in the comment boxes of blogs where those of us with doubt sense that we have found a safe place to gather.
I’ve also experienced the way admitting to doubt has allowed me to foster friendships with people of all spiritual faiths (or those with none at all) in a way that preaching fundamentalism never can. Doubt makes us approachable, and that is just one of many gifts it brings us if we can stop suppressing it and welcome it in.

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David N.

posted March 17, 2011 at 11:01 am

Doubt can absolutely bring people together, because people who broken and doubting recognize their need for other people. It has been since I have started questioning much of my faith over the last 5 years that I have truly begun to understand humility and community. I would be lost without the support of other doubters.
I think practice keeps the planks of the bridge connected when the belief feels distant, so we can keep walking forward.
I thought I had God figured out before doubt, and since then I have had to break down and admit to God, “I don’t get it. I believe you are good but I don’t know anything else for certain. Help me.” I have had to depend on Him more than ever since doubting, so for me it has served to bind me to Him, yes.

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posted March 17, 2011 at 11:49 am

I suppose I’ve always viewed faith and doubt as categorical opposites. If I doubted, then faith was absent; if I believed then I was bereft of doubt. His article suggests that they can co-exists, and that’s odd but not implausible to me. Can curiosity exists, or is it doubt disguised; can questions arise from something other than uncertainty?
We connect with people via doubt because it’s a universal experience less defined than particular beliefs presented. Others connect with that revelation of our humanity easier than they do with our specific beliefs. So, I suppose I see it as a segue, but I can’t envision a shared doubt as an end in itself.
Sweeney also said, “Doubt shows a person wrestling God. What could be more important than that?” I can think of quite a few things. In the same way I like wrestling with my friends, occasionally, I also enjoy simply being with them and enjoying their companionship. I feel the same about my relationship with God.

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Mike Gantt

posted March 17, 2011 at 1:49 pm

I find it difficult to see doubt as a virtue. I do see how it can bring people together. In fact, it is the basis of much Christian fellowship. Since, however, it is the antithesis of faith, I don’t see how that helps. On the contrary, uniting with others around doubt seems to only compound the problem.
Doubt is distrust of God. When our faith is weaken, we need to strengthen it – not weaken it.

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Chris M

posted March 17, 2011 at 8:14 pm

Loved this quote, “The believer will fight another believer over a shade of difference: the doubter fights only with himself.”
Once I began to admit that I had true doubts, I became so much less inclined to fight with others over belief. When I thought I had it all figured out, I was a heresy hunter. Now, doubt helps me realize that maybe I’m the heretic. It’s humbling. And it gives you so much more grace for those who have taken a different path. One day I might find myself on that same path. After all, I never expected to be on this one.

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Jarrod Haggard

posted March 17, 2011 at 8:51 pm

@Mike Gantt
I understand your perspective, but you are incorrect in stating that “doubt…is the antithesis of faith”. The fact is, the antithesis of faith is certainty. Without doubt, faith would simply cease to exist.
Uniting others around doubt does not compound the problem. It encourages the solution. It builds relationship, it lets the doubter know that they are not alone, not lost, not without hope. The only reason to fear doubt is if you fear that your God isn’t strong enough to answer the big questions in life. And i think he certainly IS big enough. He has nothing to fear from the questions of man.
The FIRST definition of doubt is “to be uncertain and undecided about”. It does NOT have to include “distrust of God”. In fact, it is our trust of God IN SPITE of our doubt that allows us to move forward in our practice of faith.
Give the doubters a voice, give them your support, and encouragement. Because at the end of the day, you will rarely see a more devoted person than a doubter. For the doubter CARES enough to seek truth, to seek answers, to ask the BIG questions in life. If the doubter DIDN’T have a heart for God, he would merely be an athiest.

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David Edmisten

posted March 29, 2011 at 4:55 pm

I would say first that doubt is not a faith – it’s a questioning of faith. Jesus said that God will prune us so we bear more fruit. Sometimes, doubts about our faith, about the character of the God we love, are the means by which we are pruned. Even the disciples questioned, got it wrong, and deserted when it got heavy. This is natural in the Christian experience and can serve to bind us to those who are in the same place, or through the help we receive from those more mature than us.

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