“A sincere faith is often full of legitimate doubts.”
So said someone on my Facebook page the other day. I’ve heard this idea many times before, and you probably have too. If you Google the phrase “doubt is part of faith” you get 15,400 results — 93,600,000 if you don’t use the quotation marks. William Lane Craig has written that “You should expect that by growing into a mature faith, even though you are a Christian, doubt will come into play at some point.” Rabbi Mark Greenspan, in a piece titled “No Faith Without Doubt,” has written, “We sometimes forget that doubt is as much a part of religion as faith. In fact the two are brothers.” Lesley Hazleton, author of a biography of Mohammed, has said that “doubt is essential to faith” and has argued for “a new appreciation of doubt and questioning as the foundation of faith.” Etc., etc., etc.
And you know what?
It’s not “doubt” if you already know what answer you’re going to get. It’s not “doubt” if you’re unwilling to come to any conclusion other than the one you started with. You are not “doubting” your faith if you’re looking for ways to hang onto it despite your questions and concerns — rather than sincerely questioning whether your faith has any basis in reality.
“Doubt” means uncertainty about the answer. If you’re loading your mental dice to come up with the same answer you started with, that’s not doubt.
I am quite sure that many believers have dark nights of the soul (or the soul-less, since I don’t think souls exist). I am quite sure that many believers have bad, bad feelings about their religions. And they should. But I really wish they wouldn’t call this “doubt.” It’s a misuse of the word: watered-down at best, total self-deluded bullshit at worst.
Doubt is important. Being willing to doubt our settled opinions is how we open our minds and move forward with our ideas. This religious pseudo-doubt defangs the entire idea, and sullies its good name.