Kay Warren’s Struggle with Doubt

Kay Warren is the co-founder of Saddleback Church, along with her more famous husband Rick. As the Warrens are now dealing with the soul-crushing fact of their son’s suicide only days ago, the Washington Post has re-posted an interview from last year that Mrs. Warren gave to Sally Quinn, and it’s extremely revealing — and rather touching, even for a heartless atheist like myself:

The video below concentrates on the subject of doubt — doubt in oneself and doubt about the very existence of God. Indeed, Warren is very open about her struggle with faith, owning up to feeling as though existence is “all a big cosmic joke.”

It’s remarkable how frank this is, a kind of confession of dalliances with atheism — to Quinn, an atheist, no less. Warren speaks of moments in which she thinks:

If you are there, [God,] you’re just moving us around like pawns on a chess board. And then other moments, of like, I’m not even sure that you’re there. Maybe I really am just talking to myself, and I’m, you know — nothing up there at all, it’s all emptiness. Absolutely, I’ll admit to that.

I don’t mean at all to tie this to what she’s now going through. As a parent, I can only begin to imagine the agony of the loss of her child, much less what might be the theological byproduct of that loss. But I do think it’s good for us to see how even those whose lives revolve around faith, and promoting that faith, do not always come by it easily or without doubt.

About Paul Fidalgo

Paul is communications director for the Center for Inquiry, as well as an actor and musician. His blog is iMortal, and he tweets as @paulfidalgo, and the blog tweets as @iMortal_blog.
The opinions expressed on this blog are personal to Paul and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for Inquiry.

  • busterggi

    Cruel as it is of me I’d tell her that her son’s death happened for a reason, that its all part of god’s plan, that he was needed in heaven and that he’s in a better place. In short, all the crap she & her husband have been telling others for decades so maybe she could see how hollow it is.

  • Lee Miller

    It’s fascinating that she’s so frank in the interview . . . I wonder how that goes over in her church circles? Although as The Pastor’s Wife she probably only really has close contact with a select few, not with the average church member.
    I often wonder if these people in high leadership positions in religious organizations (including the Pope, the Mormon leaders, etc.) don’t all know it’s a load of crap and sit around chuckling about the big sham they’re pulling on all the sheep.
    And I do agree it’s entirely fair to give back the “words of comfort” that they have generously dispensed over the years.

  • http://www.facebook.com/alessandrovenice Alessandro Bernardi

    Just shows that theists do realise it’s for comfort and not real. That’s why they cry at funerals rather than rejoicing, they understand but can’t admit it.

  • Kingasaurus

    What I find interesting is how some of these people are taught (to some degree) that doubts are normal, that their theology accounts for it, and part of doing the job of being a Christian is to overcome your doubts and simply continue on as you are. It is the morally right thing to acknowledge some doubt, but just as morally important to push past it.

    It never occurs to some of them that perhaps the reason they’re having doubts is because the belief system just isn’t true, and they should abandon it because it’s false. But you’re never supposed to even put that option on the table. The ones that do are ex-Christians.

  • J-Rex

    I completely disagree. Even if I knew for a fact that there was a heaven, I would still cry about losing someone I love because I would know that they wouldn’t be there with me for the rest of my life.
    And at the funerals I’ve been to, they cry and smile because they are very happy thinking that whoever has died is experiencing perfect bliss in heaven.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    I agree, but I don’t think it’s at a conscious level. I think in their minds they are convinced there is an afterlife, but they (like all humans) have a deeper, more basic understanding of the finality of death.

    What’s strange is that our culture recognizes this. Even with the vast majority of people professing belief in an afterlife, death is treated like the final separation that it is. If your child moves to another country, no contact allowed, that would be seen as sad, but an actual death is treated extremely differently from long-term separation.

  • Greg

    There’s a part of me that gets that, and another part–I hope the bigger part–that thinks, No, let’s be better than that. Let’s do the human thing rather than the goddy thing, and say we’re sorry and ask if there’s anything we can do. And that’s it. The moment I saw this, I was in fear that some atheists would try to use it for point-scoring, but I have seen very little of that, thankfully. It’s not that I don’t hate religious bromides and don’t want to see false comforts shown for the Mr. Turtle Pool comforts they are. I just think, yeah, it’s not just hypothetical–we actually are better than you people, and we can prove it by not saying stupid stuff.

  • A3Kr0n

    Walk in darkness with God? I though you walked in the light with God? This is seriously screwed up.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    Yes, there’s a huge emphasis on the right kind of doubt. There’s tolerance for that, but not for the type that would actually call into question their foundational assumptions.

  • CT

    Truth be told, in the real world of real humans who don’t live on the Internet, there are few who don’t doubt. As an agnostic, I had many doubts as I saw the goodness of people of religious faith, the brilliant believers I knew, the profound arguments and the holes in my own side’s perspectives. I know many non-religious who share such doubts. Most thinking people who are in the real world have such doubts. Likewise I know of many religious believers who at times have thought themselves in Cool Hand Luke: looking up at the sky and wondering if they’re talking to themselves. It’s the real thing. I think it’s also what breeds fanaticism and zealotry on both sides: an inherent insecurity that people simply can’t face up to, and rather than admit ‘yeah, I could be wrong but I believe I’m not and here’s why’, it’s to the mattresses, and the typical ‘Me and my side is the beautiful people, and those people are always stupid, wrong, evil, etc.’ It beats grappling with the thought that we could be wrong about the most profound truths in the universe. So a good story. And a very common story.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    As an agnostic, I had many doubts as I saw the goodness of people of religious faith, the brilliant believers I knew, the profound arguments and the holes in my own side’s perspectives.

    Really? That’s never made any sense to me at all. If I had doubts about atheism, then I wouldn’t be an atheist. The fact that there are good and brilliant believers is completely irrelevant to the question of whether their religious beliefs are true. The existence of such people has nothing to do with that question. It’s entirely irrelevant.
    As for “profound arguments” and “holes,” what exactly do you mean? If I thought there were profound arguments in favor of theism, then I would be a theist. If I had encountered holes in the atheist perspective, then I would not identify as an atheist. I just don’t see anything that would make me doubt that we live in a purely material world.

  • CT

    So you are 100% sure you are 100% right? And that separates you from religious believers who sport the same assuredness how? Because even such notables as Harris or Dawkins admit there is really no way to disprove the divine. By definition, you can only believe there is nothing beyond the material. And that’s fine. But to say you have no doubts at all simply makes a different level of fanaticism, unless you can demonstrate your viewpoint with proof.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Invisible_Pink_Unicorn Anna

    No, I’m not 100% sure that I’m right, just that I’ve never come across anything that would make me doubt. If I thought there was credible evidence for gods, then I don’t see any way that I could identify as an atheist. Since I have not encountered such evidence, being an atheist is what makes logical sense to me.

    I think the burden of proof is relevant here. It’s not up to atheists to disprove “the divine.” The burden of proof is on those who claim that such a thing exists in the first place. I feel the same way about deities that I feel about all other supernatural creatures: ghosts, fairies, mermaids, spirits, unicorns, etc. I don’t believe in any of them because it seems obvious to me that they were created by human beings.

    I don’t think it makes sense to put gods in a special category simply because they are popular and viewed as real in many human cultures. Our society makes a claim that one particular god is real. I do not think there is evidence to support that claim. As someone famous once said, “What is asserted without evidence can be dismissed without evidence.”

  • Lee Miller

    My intent wasn’t that “we” should say those words, just that it seems fair to me that she would be hearing them (as she surely is, from various church people). If you make your living dispensing imaginary words from imaginary gods, be prepared for that to come back to plague you.