Category Archives: doubt

Soren Kierkegaard on Being Completely Sure of the Christian Faith

“No, away, pernicious sureness. Save me, O God, from ever being completely sure; keep me unsure until the end so that then, if I receive eternal blessedness, I might be completely sure that I have it by grace! It is empty shadowboxing to give assurances that one believes that it is by grace—and then to be completely sure. The true, the essential expression of its being by grace is the very fear and trembling of unsureness. There lies faith—as far, just as far, from despair and from sureness.”

— “Resurrection of the Dead,” in Christian Discourses (1848), by Søren Kierkegaard  (Hong & Hong translation)

I first discovered part of this excerpt thanks to a post on the Søren Kierkegaard and Christian Existentialism Facebook page.

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Facts and Doubts

I have doubts based upon indisputable facts, but I do not have indisputable doubts.

‘Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World,” or why no one really listens

The late French Protestant leader Jacques Ellul in his book Living Faith: Belief and Doubt in a Perilous World

“They comply unfailingly with the law and the commandments. They are unbending in their convictions, intolerant of any deviation. In the articulation of belief they press rigor and absolutism to their limits. They precisely delimit the frontiers between believers and unbelievers. They unceasingly refine the expression of their belief and seek to give it explicit intellectual formulation in a system as coherent and complete as possible. They insist on total orthodoxy. Ways of thinking and acting are rigidly codified.”

And a quotation from Daniel Taylor: “Legalism is one more expression of the human compulsion for security.”

Differences within doubt, Part 2

1. I can admit I’m a sinner, and I can realize that a Holy God would demand recompense. I can even say I could not do anything to get myself into the presence of Absolute Goodness. I could easily say after my physical death there’s no good reason for my essence to continue on or for my body to return. For those reasons, I could easily say I need a Savior.

2. I can also say lectures, debates, books, and research from psychologists, neuroscientists, historians, and other thinkers seem to offer better explanations of human problems than the available Christian explanations, and better explanations of why Christianity captivates people.

Postscript: Oddly enough, when Christians hold up their hands at available information (see Sources section below) and refuse to wrestle with it, that refusal plays into the theories of social psychologists — in two ways. First, “social proof,” or the testimonies and beliefs of the people one knows, tends to weigh more heavily in decision-making than evidence-and-reason. Second, as research suggests, when confronted with strong reasons for an opposing point of view, people tend to redouble their dedication to their original point of view.

Valerie Tarico cites Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman in her video series; here are two quotations from them:

From Valerie Tarico’s video series.

From Valerie Tarico’s video series

Sources:

Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion by Robert Cialdini

Prophetic Charisma: The Psychology of Revolutionary Religious Personalities by Len Oakes

Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena by Daniel Dennett

Willpower: Rediscovering the Greatest Human Strength by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney

Psychologist Valerie Tarico’s video series, Christianity and Cognitive Science

Michael Shermer’s news feature on religious experiences and the brain, Out of the Body Experiment

Andy Thomson’s lecture, Why We Believe in Gods

Jill Bolte Taylor’s TED talk here.

Kathleen Norris: Pursuing an adult faith

“…in order to have an adult faith, most of us have to outgrow and unlearn much of what we were taught about religion. Growing up doesn’t necessarily mean rejecting the religion of our ancestors, but it does entail sorting out the good from the bad in order to reclaim what has remained viable.

“It’s a balancing act: to recognize the blessings, even the ones that come well disguised, in the form of difficult relatives who have given you false images of Jesus with which you much contend. And it means naming and exorcising the curses — not cursing the people themselves, who may have left you stranded with a boogeyman God, but cleansing oneself of the damage that was done. The temptation to simply reject what we can’t handle is always there; but it means becoming stuck in a perpetual adolescence, a perpetual seeking for something, anything, that doesn’t lead us back to where we came from.” — Kathleen Norris, from Amazing Grace: A Vocabulary of Faith (1998)

In light of that last sentence, I’ve been asking myself why, really, I’m reading Breaking the Spell: Religion as a Natural Phenomena by Daniel Dennett this summer.

The price of admission

About a year ago, Rob and I were talking about a community event that was being planned by Trinity. Rob said he wanted to make sure there was absolutely no admission cost to the event, which I thought was great.

Being reflexively (and usually too much) afraid that my church will mimic certain manipulative aspects of the evangelical subculture, I brought up a news report I once saw, from somewhere in America: A Christian minister had set up a skateboard park for the kids in his neighborhood, and they were invited to play and have fun on one condition. They had to take some time out to listen to the minister preach. The images caught by the camera were both hilarious and devastating: the kids obviously were bored as they sat through the sermon, with some facial expressions bordering on resentment.

Rob said, for those skateboarders, suffering through a sermon was the price they paid for admission to the skateboard park — exactly the kind of thing he wanted to avoid at the community event we were talking about. That’s something I really admire about Rob — he wants to treat people like people, not like numbers and statistics. No gimmicks. The agenda is clearly stated.

(Along those lines, I also think of the Christian professor I had at a state university who thought the crowd-drawing techniques of a popular evangelistic organization were “devious.” His own son was a leader in the organization, and he still said, “devious.”)

Lately, I’ve been thinking about that conversation with Rob in a somewhat different context: in relation to work I’ve been doing with the online project that I frequently mention on this blog.

When I decided to change the mission statement of LiturgicalCredo to “contemporary stories of faith and doubt,” a Christian gentleman I’ve known all my life was incredulous and even a bit condescending: “And doubt?” he snorted.

In fairness to the Christian gentleman, doubt is not considered the hallmark of a passionate, strong faith, as noted here.

In fairness to me, I think that particular gentlemen believes too much, and believes far too quickly.

Either way, as I invite writers of all stripes to publish in LiturgicalCredo, I’ve been thinking about the price of admission, and my thoughts about the conversation with Rob have become braided with a vision I had a few years ago for an alternate Sunday morning service: instead of a worship service, an open, public forum, in which anyone could come for a civil discussion of beliefs, faith, religious affiliation, and skepticism.

Bring your lapsed Catholicism; bring your unassailable logic; bring your energy fields.

Heck, bring your UFOs.

I thought such a public forum would be better than church, because there was (is) so little clear thinking and honest discussion — little conceptual clarity, either — when it comes to varied beliefs and convictions and the various way we seek to apply them. In my mind, there seemed to be too much going on intellectually and religiously in our culture, too many assumptions just trucking along with abandon and no mechanism for critique. It seemed like the right thing to do was to examine and test rather than to entrench.

Much of that thought process reflected my frustrations with my adult experiences of glib evangelicalism. Today, I would not want to regularly replace Sunday morning worship with such a public forum.

However, as I look at LiturgicalCredo, I think the way to keep the price of admission free is to offer a place where anyone can share his or her literary expressions of the very-human experiences of faith and doubt; odd pathways to belief and resounding statements of skepticism; salvation and falling away.

It’s not to make relativism out of pluralism — that’s not where I’m coming from. The conceptual confusion between those two terms, relativism and pluralism, is a worthy conversation, but one for another field.

Literary and artistic works usually have experiences and emotions as their subjects, even when memories and feelings are being evaluated or questioned. I don’t think we should expect systematic theology or philosophical perfection from art (although it’s great to find them). How events happen, and how they make us feel, aren’t always shaped by rational, logic, deliberative thought.

No one would place C.S. Lewis’ A Grief Observed in the same category as his Abolition of Man.

Sharing emotions and experiences, broadly, we can know the emotional and experiential weight behind other perspectives. To let someone speak individually and tell a tale that counters my own is one way to offer a literary, artistic forum in which the price of admission remains free.

I do, however, want to lean toward literary expressions. I’m not sure if UFOs fit in there, but hey, I’ll take a look.

Daniel Taylor: Doubt as the process of faith

“T.S. Eliot sees a certain kind of doubt as inevitable in matters of faith and correctly suggests that one’s attitude toward doubt is more significant than one’s having doubt: ‘Every man who thinks and lives by thought must have his own skepticism … that which ends in denial, or that which leads to faith and which is somehow integrated into the faith which transcends it.’ The notion of transcending doubt by accepting it into faith, rather than by suppressing it (for it can never be destroyed), is crucial. Perhaps doubt, rather than something to be crushed, can be made to serve faith.

“Doubt can only be robbed of its paralyzing and destructive qualities when it is admitted for what it is — which isn’t nearly as much as it appears when not admitted — and is accounted for in the process of faith. Normally doubt is seen as sapping faith’s strength. Why not the reverse? Where there is doubt, faith has its reason for being. Clearly faith is not needed where certainty exists, but only in situations where doubt is possible, even present.”

— Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment

See this book on Amazon: The Myth of Certainty: The Reflective Christian & the Risk of Commitment