Doubt in Faith’s Clothing

I found myself thinking today that what fundamentalists call “faith” looks surprisingly like “doubt”, and what they consider “doubt” at the very least demonstrates a greater amount of “faith” than their own so-called “faith”.

Let me explain. (And, by the way, I hope none of those “quotation marks” were “unnecessary”)
Fundamentalists increasingly take measures to try to insulate themselves, and in particular their children, from other viewpoints, and in particular discussions of topics related to science or the academic study of the Bible. Where, in such actions, is any expression of faith that God will watch over them, or even faith that honest seeking after answers and consideration of the evidence will lead to the truth, and that that is a good thing? Where is faith that there is power in their message and the gates of hell cannot withstand it?
Instead, the behavior of many extreme fundamentalists reveals what they really have, deep down: doubt, fear, and uncertainty. If there is one thing that they seem in general to be certain of, it is that exposure to intelligent, rational discussion is something dangerous. Their faith, when they have any, is in insulation of themselves into “holy huddles” as protection against the onslaught of reason, discussion, investigation and even honesty. Is it any wonder that apocalyptic is so popular in such circles?
Honest investigation, on the other hand, involves faith. Faith that it is worth getting to know the Bible better, even if it turns out to be a far more human and far less perfect collection of writings than we had hoped. Faith that seeking after the truth is a good thing, even if it doesn’t lead us to places we would have foreseen. Faith that when we change our minds as we learn, grow and mature, this is healthy and helpful.
To allow the simplistic understanding we had as children, and the childish and immature attitude that went along with it, to be shattered and transformed, involves great faith, in the sense of trust in a process of growth, in the sense of confidence in the ability of honest inquiry to lead to truth and understanding, and also in the sense of courage.
On the other hand, avoiding exposure to other views, and attempting to insulate and isolate ourselves, is as clear an expression of doubt as I can imagine.
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  • Chris

    One of my own favorite quotes: “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me than in half the creeds.” – F. D. Maurice

  • Chris

    Oops! That was Tennyson, not Maurice.

  • Stephen

    I believe it was Henry James remarked “…men of vigor will bravely accept doubt in their faith….”The quote is certainly inexact. I have been unable to find it again.Quietly, to myself, I say to fundamentalists, “oh, ye of little faith.”

  • Hugh

    Isaiah Berlin once described the same phenomena in his own field of philosophy via the tale of the FOX and the HEDGEHOG .The HEDGEHOGS were those who thought they already had the truth as in one big idea and they guarded it vigourously with the sharp spines of rhetoric and obscufication. When this truth was particularily threatened from outside enquiry ,they curled up in a ball immovable in they’re rectitude .The FOXES are those who wander through the vast domains of human experience hunting down the truth . They are opportunists . For real truth is very scattered , involving many small meals and requires much diligence searching it out . However the hunt is all wortwhile , as real truth is the ultimate nourishment upon which to feast .Cheers …

  • benjdm

    Where, in such actions, is any expression of faith that God will watch over them, or even faith that honest seeking after answers and consideration of the evidence will lead to the truth, and that that is a good thing?That’s not they mean when they use the word faith and you know it. To most people, faith is believing without good reason (or even in spite of having good reason to believe otherwise.)Honest investigation, on the other hand, involves faith.And honest math involves fudging your answers. (By fudging, I mean carefully calculating correct answers in accordance with the rules of math. I just use the word differently from most people.)

  • James F. McGrath

    It is certainly true that “faith” has come in modern English to mean, first and foremost, believing in spite of lack of evidence or even in spite of evidence to the contrary. This makes the irony all the more poignant, as we realize that the “faith” fundamentalists claim to have is a departure from the historic meaning of the term, and yet they claim not only to have faith, but to be the perpetuators of an ancient faith!As for the second point, if it is not an expression of “faith” (i.e. committment, allegiance) or a value judgment, then what precisely is the conviction that our beliefs ought to be based on an honest and open investigation of the evidence?

  • Country Parson

    I would urge a certain degree of humility and caution. Various gangs of fundamentalists each seem to have their own unique core of absolute truth, and anyone who does not adhere to their particular core is obviously not one of them. That means that it’s all but impossible to talk about fundamentalists as if they all believed the same things. It also opens up the possibility of ‘Foxes’- those active and doubting truth seekers – to unearned hubris and condescending contempt for those less enlightened than themselves.CP

  • benjdm

    As for the second point, if it is not an expression of “faith” (i.e. committment, allegiance) or a value judgment, then what precisely is the conviction that our beliefs ought to be based on an honest and open investigation of the evidence?ISTM that it is a value judgment. Or derived from a more general value statement of desiring an accurate mental model (set of beliefs) about reality and seeking out methods that do this.Hmmm…yes, I’d definitely label that a value statement.

  • Reformed Baptist

    Those dreaded fundamentalist… With the pithy quotes and misrepresentation aside, I am one of those stupid sum bitches to the right of you that has read his Dennett, Bultmann, etc.

  • Pete

    I very much expect the reality of the Christian story in history to have as much evidence or more then any other posited question (I only say more because I assume God would want to make it abundantly clear). I assume most Christians assume there is plenty of evidence for such events as the flood. But as I explore and learn there isn’t (indeed there is plenty of evidence on the contrary), I find it a non answer from my piers when they declare I should just be trusting those things on faith. I guess I never defined faith that way, for me it was trust, dependence on the mercy and work of God, not a belief in the absence of any evidence. Throughout the Bible God went out of His away to evidence His existence and action and declaration of the identity of Jesus. Explicit statements are made regarding the last one.I agree with what is said about faith and doubt regarding those more conservative then I, as I wasn’t afraid to look. But I think the evidence they see that learning is dangerous comes from the one typing this response, ie my belief in the innerrancy of scripture was eroded and for them that is non-acceptable. If they see a repeated pattern of their sons and daughters going off to secular universities (or even Christian Bible institutions who take academic study seriously) starting to doubt some of the historical narratives of the Bible, that in itself gives them the answer about what their sources of information should be. Young children, keep yourself from education.

  • Stephen

    I get the feeling that so many times “faith” translates to “accept as fact this thing for which there are no facts”. But that is not the faith in which I was reared.My father is a pastor. The flavor of my parent’s faith was more a choice to live as if what was hoped was true, but knowing one could be wrong about it. I know my mother was strongly influenced by C. S. Lewis, and I also owe him a lot for the nature of my faith. I know that I could be completely deluded, that there may, truly, be no god. If I am wrong, however, I do not think it will be harmful.

  • atimetorend

    The fundamentalist is so excited to exhort people to explore their faith, test it, see if it is true, search the scriptures, and experience it. But these things are on the emotional level, the subjective level. And books are written filled with chapter after chapter of that which cannot be tested beyond one’s emotional experience or submission to blind belief in the ideas themselves.But when I have asked if the texts themselves can be critically examined I am met with blank stares at best, but typically blank responses. The wall comes up, the wall that says, “I am unwilling to contemplate your question.” And responses attacking means by which evidence can be weighed are brought up, without my even bringing up any information which could contradict their sense of biblical inerrency. It is very frustrating, I feel like I am in a vacuum chamber.