In many people’s eyes, religion is simply meant to be accepted. That is why it is called faith. To these people, questions and doubts belong firmly in the secular realm. To question religion is to question God, and questioning God is, of course, far beyond the rights of any mere mortal. Those who do have questions about their religion are seen as lacking faith. If they were strong and certain in their faith, if they truly followed God, then they would have no questions. As such, the only way to deal with questioning minds is to encourage them to focus more fully on God. If they strengthen their faith, they will no longer need to question it. This often backfires. Someone who is asking serious questions about their faith does not want to hear platitudes and trite answers. They do not want to feel as if their honest concerns and sincere questions are being brushed aside. They want honest and truthful answers even if the answer is “I don’t know.” More importantly, they need to either be given their answers or given direction how to find the answers to their questions if they are going to continue practicing their faith.People who are questioning their faith are not usually looking for excuses to leave religion behind. In fact, they are often doing the opposite. Many people who question their faith are desperate to receive answers that allow them to continue practicing their faith. They want to stay faithful, and they should be treated as such. Rather than being cast as weak in faith, they should be recognized as those who continue to trust that their faith does have the answers they seek if someone would just help them find those answers. Unfortunately, that perspective does not yet seem to have taken hold.
Regardless of the way many religious communities react to people who have questions about their faith, there is actually nothing wrong with a person questioning their faith. Curiosity has a bad reputation in many religious circles. Curiosity may occasionally be given lip service, but in practice, many religious organizations seem deeply opposed to people practicing true curiosity with regards to their faith. Those who claim to support curiosity often only support surface curiosity. They want people to ask questions about faith that spiritual leaders can answer. What they do not want to deal with is the hallmark of true curiosity: the follow-up question of “why?”
Curiosity is one of the greatest virtues a person can possess. Curiosity leads to empathy as a person wonders why someone else feels the way they do, and it often leads to improvements in the lives of others. Questions, after all, are the most common expression of curiosity, and few people volunteer in their community without first asking themselves “how can I help the people in my community?”
When it comes to faith, curiosity is often seen as getting people into trouble. People are curious about sex, vice and sin. Their curiosity led them astray when they should have simply listened to those who knew better than them. While this can be true in some circumstances, this bleak picture of curiosity leaves out the good that comes of questioning faith. A person who has questions about their faith will want those questions answered. To get those answers, they will begin to investigate their own religion. While that idea may send some people aflutter, a person who investigates their own faith often starts by digging deeper into the texts they grew up reading and talking to the spiritual authorities they were raised to respect. For example, far from running off into the night screaming about idol worship, most Christians would start investigating Christianity by doing a closer reading of the Bible, the Christian holy text. They would dig deeper into the meaning of each verse and try to glean a better understanding of what Christ taught. The curious Christian might then make it a point to learn more about the time Jesus lived in so that they have better context for some of the events that take place in the Bible. This could lead them to works such as the writings of Josephus which would then give them an even better understanding of the Old Testament. Thus, far from abandoning their faith, a simple question backed by true curiosity could lead the Christian to a deeper understanding of both the New and Old Testaments. Given how curiosity feeds itself, the Christian could also likely formed new questions which lead them to dig even deeper into their faith.
Questions lead to investigation which leads a person to become more knowledgeable about their faith. Answering questions also leads a person to grow in their faith. Someone who has never questioned anything about their faith is rather like a tree that grows where the weather is always gentle. They may stand tall but their roots are shallow. Someone who questioned faith and found satisfactory answers, on the other hand, is a tree that survived many storms. Each answered question led them to believe in their faith even more. After all, their faith had answers for this question, why not another? So, to continue the tree metaphor, their roots grow deeper and stronger. Now consider these two trees. Which is more likely to survive when one of life’s hurricane rolls ashore, the shallow rooted tree that was never truly challenged or the tree that has been tested and grown deep roots?
Overcoming challenges makes something stronger. This is true whether it is a person’s mind, body or faith that is challenged. That which can survive struggles will last, and that which can hold up under scrutiny is more likely to continue to be believed and trusted. As such, there is nothing wrong with a person questioning their faith. It is through questions that a person learns and grows. It is through finding answers that a person gains the confidence to say without fear or reservation, “I believe.”