Doubt.

First of all, many apologies for my prolonged vacation. I wanted to get my life in order so I wouldn’t feel quite so hypocritical posting calls to holiness. It’s not in order, but it’s better, which is really the story of holiness, and what it means to be a bad Catholic. It’s all screwed up, but it’s better. That sounded depressing. My bad.

Anyhow, this post is for a girl who has a profoundly special place in my heart, to the point where I cannot recall a day spent in the last two years without some time spent thinking about her. She is wonderful. In fact, stop reading and pray for her, it’ll be a better experience than reading this.  BUTCOMEBACKAFTERWARDS!!

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Doubt. It’s a lame experience, and creates all sorts of confusion. The standard view of it, as far as I can tell, is that it is a Very Bad Thing, and should be avoided. That it is somehow the anti-faith, faith’s enemy, faith’s destroyer. Like most standard views, I would love – absolutely love – to flip it around for you. Doubt requires belief. It is not doubt but skepticism (in the modern sense) that is an enemy to faith, for skepticism is the disdain for a religion held by those outside of the religion. Whereas doubt is the fear of those within a religion. And let me be the first to tell you, if there is no solid fear within your religion, it’s not a religion, it’s a yoga class.

Doubt requires belief. That much is obvious. But in many ways, belief requires doubt. It is precisely the doubt I feel when I’ve looked at the Eucharist that makes my belief valid. It is the fact that the abyss opens up all around me, that the words “all lies” are whispered into my ears that makes belief possible. Otherwise I have not belief but a truth force-fed to me. If there were no doubt I would not be free to choose God, rather He would be forced upon me. Indeed, there are days when I ask for God to do exactly that, for after all, aren’t the doubts too much to bear? Isn’t the notion that this could all be the most brilliant, terrible lie ever conceived, isn’t that too heart-breaking to justify the faith that comes as a result? Couldn’t he just throw Himself at me, whether I liked it or not? The answer is yes, but love is greater than all that. Love freely given is all that will fulfill us, love freely chosen is what will end doubt, not a God who gives us no choice in believing Him. If I know human nature, all a forced belief would lead to is resentment.

The kind of doubt I often experience, and the most common doubt I’ve heard my friends talk about is actually quite holy. “I don’t want to go to confession because I don’t think I believe it forgives sins” or “How can I receive the Eucharist if I doubt that it is truly God?” There is a hidden reverence here, a flower of hope so small and beautiful it might go unnoticed by the doubter. What a great reverence it is to to the Eucharist to avoid it for fear of not believing it. What high esteem the sacrament of reconciliation is held in the words above, that it should not be visited unless fully grasped? Skepticism would say that the thing is a wash and can thus be visited freely. If it is a cracker, eat it. If baptism is just a bath, then have a bath. Only doubt is rooted faith. Only if it is true should there be a reverent avoidance. I immediately think of my favorite piece of fiction by Chesterton, The Ball and the Cross, in which a certain Turnbull explains to a lady he is in love with that he will not receive the Eucharist because he is an atheist.

“I want you to hate me!” cried Turnbull, in agony. “I want you to be sick when you think of my name. I am sure there is no God.”
“But there is,” said Madeleine, quite quietly, and rather with the air of one telling children about an elephant. “Why, I touched His body only this morning.”
“You touched a bit of bread,” said Turnbull, biting his knuckles. “Oh, I will say anything that can madden you!”
“You think it is only a bit of bread,” said the girl, and her lips tightened ever so little.
“I know it is only a bit of bread,” said Turnbull, with violence.
She flung back her open face and smiled. “Then why did you refuse to eat it?” she said.
James Turnbull made a little step backward, and for the first time in his life there seemed to break out and blaze in his head thoughts that were not his own.
“Why, how silly of them,” cried out Madeleine, with quite a schoolgirl gaiety, “why, how silly of them to call you a blasphemer! Why, you have wrecked your whole business because you would not commit blasphemy.” [...]
“You come down here,” continued the lady, with that female emphasis which is so pulverizing in conversation and so feeble at a public meeting, “you and your MacIan come down here and put on false beards or noses in order to fight. You pretend to be a Catholic commercial traveller from France. Poor Mr. MacIan has to pretend to be a dissolute nobleman from nowhere. Your scheme succeeds; you pick a quite convincing quarrel; you arrange a quite respectable duel; the duel you have planned so long will come off tomorrow with absolute certainty and safety. And then you throw off your wig and throw up your scheme and throw over your colleague, because I ask you to go into a building and eat a bit of bread. And then you dare to tell me that you are sure there is nothing watching us. Then you say you know there is nothing on the very altar you run away from. You know——”
“I only know,” said Turnbull, “that I must run away from you. This has got beyond any talking.” And he plunged along into the village, leaving his black wig and beard lying behind him on the road.

The book is bloody fantastic. And obviously the message applies to both the doubtful Catholic and the hardened atheist. Do not be disheartened by doubts so reverent. God works through them. All this is not to say that doubt is a good thing. It is merely to say that doubt is not the end of all things, In fact, it is very often the beginning.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10740611327082314715 Sean

    About darn time you posted! I'm not sure if doubt is THE greatest show of reverence. Having faith through, perhaps. But it's a strong argument you have for it; there's a PhD in theology I need to ask. Thanks for sharing. It seems I'm missing a lot by putting off G.K. Chesterton.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10740611327082314715 Sean

    Thanks also for posting "Doubting Thomas". Nickel Creek has joined the list of bands I need to listen to more often. Thanks also for promoting Future of Foresty in the past. I nearly cried hearing "Traveler's Song".

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/14522717761555622461 Michael Francis

    Doubt, I find, in my life, when I have my wits about me and grace in my heart, is the opportunity to decide to believe. It is the opportunity to realize that I cannot do anything without the grace of God, can see but nothing, and to lay down all my attempts at understanding, that I might be shown all I need to be shown. That I might receive the Eucharist simply because Jesus tells me that it is his body and that I should take and eat of it. That I may go to Confession simply because I know that I've done something wrong and because He said that His Church has the power of the ministry of forgiveness."I came into this world for judgement, that those who do not see might see, and those who do see might become blind."I think that doubt is the second part. It is the purifying fire.We must say, to our Teacher,"I believe, help my unbelief"

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10740611327082314715 Sean

    I talked to my dad, who has a PhD in Theology. He said it's indeed better to pretty do what Michael's saying: trust and stick with it. Thanks again for bringing that up, though.

  • http://openid.aol.com/mayahee13 mayahee13

    Marc, I can't thank you enough for this post – it is beautiful.

  • http://badcatholicblog.blogspot.com/ badcatholicblog

    @SeanDang, I didn't realize that I said it was THE greatest show of reverence. That's not what I meant at all. It is A great show of reverence. Thanks for pointing it out.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12679230722483582032 Marc

    And I want to disagree with you.I don't believe doubt ONLY has intrinsic value as a chance to believe (if that's what you're implying). I believe that in of itself it is a moment of honesty and reflects a heart seeking truth. Not that one should seek out doubt, of course…but perhaps we given a gift in doubt, just a harder gift to recognize.

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/10740611327082314715 Sean

    @Marc, I didn't intentionally imply that. I like how you put that, and I think I agree with it. How natural is faith without doubt?

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/12679230722483582032 Marc

    oh excellent.!God bless you brother!

  • http://www.blogger.com/profile/16036670273788375590 RED

    I'm so glad I found this blog! It's totally awesome, and rather providential timing for me.And it's splendid to find someone else who loves "The Ball and the Cross", which is also my favourite Chesterton novel, and is sadly neglected.


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