Is Doubt a Sin?

Is Doubt a Sin? July 26, 2018

A clip of Elevation mega-pastor Steven Furtick on faith and doubt has generated much discussion recently. My friend and Patheos colleague Owen Strachan wrote a strongly worded response piece to this clip here, which has since been picked up by the Christian Post. The question of the day: Is doubt a sin? For Furtick, the answer is a resounding “No,” for Strachan a resounding “Yes.” While I find much to agree with in Strachan’s response, I believe there is room for a third way.

L: Furtick, R: Strachan

I’ll confess, when I first girded my loins to watch the Furtick clip, I was expecting something a bit worse than what I got. To say Furtick is not my style would be an understatement. (The whole “white guy in skinny pants pretending to be a black pastor” thing… should we tell him?) He first censures a pastoral colleague for encouraging people to pray without doubt, which strikes Strachan as pretty high-handed. I see Strachan’s point here, but I also understand Furtick’s desire to discourage the setting of what may seem an impossibly high bar for people who are literally praying their first prayer. And for his part, Strachan begins by stressing that he doesn’t mean to deny the experience of doubt that even Christians will inevitably feel this side of the Jordan. As imperfect, fallen creatures who still see through a glass darkly, we can expect to have many occasions to pray, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief!”

There then follows a stretch of the clip where, shockingly, things aren’t completely terrible. One line, “Faith is not the absence of doubt; it is the means to overcome it” actually struck me as rather nicely put. For a moment, it seems that doubt is given its proper place.

Unfortunately, the center doesn’t hold. By the time Furtick is holding up his Bible and declaring, “If you don’t doubt it, you’re not reading it or you’re reading it with no intent to live it. See my doubt is the evidence of my growth. The closer I get, the more questions I have,” this train has well and truly gone off the tracks. And here is where Strachan and I agree: This is neither healthy nor biblical.

Here I am reminded of a Twitter exchange I once had with Christian musician Audrey Assad, who has recently varied her musical output with attempts to do theology and politics on social media—a dicey enterprise, to say the least. I bear Audrey no ill will and still happily recommend her music, but I can’t say the same for her theological musings. In one thread, she said that one of her big recent revelations was the realization that uncertainty was acceptable. I chose to engage and ask what she meant by “certain.” (As a philosophy nerd, I think “Descartes” when I hear “certain,” so it is always helpful to calibrate such things.) She defined it as “a feeling of assurance about the truth of an idea—with no need to further examine it.” I agreed with her that there are things on which the Bible can be less than perfectly clear and that questions are not problematic in and of themselves, but still, I asked, was there nothing of which she felt she, as a Christian, could be assured? She answered, “Maybe it’s just a phase, but right now I don’t feel sure of much at all. However I’ve chosen not to look at it as a bad thing, but to practice faith and be curious.”

It is precisely this distinctly millennial phenomenon against which Strachan is rightly sounding the alarm. Whatever doubt is, it is certainly not a thing to be embraced or baptized as a sign of spiritual maturity. I chose not to press Audrey for more specifics, but if I’m to take her at her word, a phrase like “I don’t feel sure of much at all” would seem to put essentially everything up for grabs.

Where I begin to part ways with Strachan, however, is where he says that doubt is not merely a weakness, but a sin. It is not merely a manifestation of our imperfect, less-than-omniscient human nature. It is an act of rebellion against God, to be repented of as soon as committed.

To me, this has a similar flavor to sermons that condemn worry as a sin. I feel about worry as I feel about doubt: While both can become unhealthy obsessions, the mere feeling of worry or feeling of doubt is not necessarily a thing one chooses. Often, it’s a thing that simply is. It finds us whether we seek it out or not. One might say it is an affliction. But one can be afflicted and sin not.

Here I think the Lutheran concept of tentatio is helpful. As distinct from oratio (prayer) and meditatio (meditation), tentatio is the process of wrestling painfully with life and Scripture. However, it is a process God can use to refine our hearts as we return to His Word and choose to place our trust in it regardless. Again, to give Furtick his due, he reaches for something like this concept when he talks about trusting God through valleys and walking through to the promise on the other side. (Although to people familiar with Furtick’s Word Faith, prosperity-tinged brand of preaching, the language of “promise” should raise antennae. But that’s a different discussion.) The grain of truth here is that suffering does have a refining effect, a character-building effect. We can tell the people who have wrestled with God by the fact that they walk with a limp.

Still, there’s something off-puttingly exhibitionist about the way Furtick builds and crescendoes into an almost triumphant declaration of doubt. “I HAVE MY DOUBTS!” he thunders. “IS THAT ALL RIGHT? DO YOU NEED TO FIND ANOTHER PASTOR, BECAUSE YOU’VE DISCOVERED THAT THE DUDE WITH THE MIKE HAS DOUBTS?” No, just a pair of ear muffs, thanks.

Here’s the problem: Furtick either can’t or won’t recognize that for some people, doubt is an idol. Too many people, instead of maturely searching Scripture and seeking God in prayer through their doubt, will use it as an excuse to wallow and manipulate those around them. (Some of you have known that person who spams your inbox with questions and announces that unless you answer them right now, he’s going to walk away from the faith, and it will be your fault, he’ll have you know.) They will allow themselves to become those double-minded men James writes about, who are buffeted about by every wind and positively welcome it. Because the longer they can prolong the state of being in self-centered doubt, the longer they can escape putting in the hard work of investing in faith-strengthening relationship, with God and with neighbor.

That sort of behavior, that nursing of doubt, that idolatrous clinging to doubt, I will fully grant Owen, is a sin. But the mere experience of doubt? I must respectfully differ. And in fact, I would caution those who read certain verses to be condemning doubt not to fall into the trap of the very prosperity preachers they rightly reject. We are familiar with the false and damaging teaching that Christians who suffer are only suffering because they haven’t prayed hard enough, or prayed with enough conviction that God will remove the suffering. We call out preachers who say God will rain blessings on us if we only believe. And it’s not that such preachers don’t have their proof-texts they can wave about. You can find individual verses where Jesus or a gospel author seems to make a prosperity promise, provided you ignore the surrounding Scriptures that flatly contradict the prosperity message. I worry that by plucking out and applying certain Scripture verses to say that those who doubt must be in sin, Strachan falls into the same trap.

Then there are those verses that are commonly interpreted in an over-rigid way, such as Jesus’ words to Doubting Thomas. Strachan reads them as a straight-forward, purely negative “rebuke.” In fact, the story of Doubting Thomas has always been a favorite of mine precisely because Jesus does not refuse Thomas’s request for evidence. Indeed, he welcomes it, and more than meets it. Yes, there is also gentle correction in his words, particularly since Thomas had persisted in doubting the good faith testimony of honest witnesses. But to glean from this story that doubt is sinful would be quite a stretch.

Towards the end of his piece, Strachan affirms a binary “light-switch” model of faith (one minute you don’t have it, the next minute you do, by divine fiat), and says any other model will necessarily lead to error, including the error he sees in the Furtick video. I do not share Strachan’s Reformed brand of soteriology, but I pride myself on having a quite well-tuned heresy spidey sense. Reformed voices have been some of the only voices holding the line on sound doctrine in Protestant Christian media spaces for a long time, and for that I am grateful. I am particularly grateful for the fine work Owen has been doing in his space. However, I would like to see if a broader discussion could be opened up, one that includes conservative, Protestant Arminian voices like my own. We may disagree on some things, but I hope and think we can also agree on much that is essential and right and true.

I close with a song that, to me, perfectly encapsulates that tentatio I referred to earlier. Beloved Christian musician Rich Mullins was no stranger to dark nights of the soul, and indeed quietly battled clinical depression throughout the duration of his short life. His song “Hard to Get” was written after a particularly painful bout of wrestling, where he regaled his long-suffering friend Ben Pearson with a rant that made Pearson check the sky for lightning. The next morning found a chagrined Mullins knocking on Pearson’s door way too early to say, “I’m sorry. I wrote a song. You want to hear it?”

And so you’ve been here, all along
I guess

It’s just that You and Your ways
Are just plain hard to get

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  • chemical

    By the time Furtick is holding up his Bible and declaring, “If you don’t doubt it, you’re not reading it or you’re reading it with no intent to live it. See my doubt is the evidence of my growth. The closer I get, the more questions I have,” this train has well and truly gone off the tracks.

    This line really struck me for its intellectual honesty. Furtick is on his way to becoming an atheist.

    I’d argue that a bit of doubt is a good thing. Remember the Dunning-Kruger effect: The less people know about a particular task, the better they think they are at that particular task. This is because at a certain level, people lose the ability to correctly assess their own competence and knowledge of the task. Basically, there is a level below “knowing absolutely nothing”, where you still know nothing, Jon Snow, but you think you know everything.

    That’s because, at the end of the day, the easiest person to lie to is yourself, and the easiest lie to tell yourself is “I’m an intelligent person who makes rational decisions”. Doubting that is an important step towards learning anything.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    At least some times, doubt is a sign that one is in the middle of thinking something through; it is like the minimum in the Dunning-Kruger effect. Here, it is something to be embraced; through it one avoids the over-confidence of ignorance and eventually find appropriate confidence through expanded knowledge. While on a given subject, it may (and hopefully will) be only temporary, yet because it is a necessary part of the learning process, it should not be put down. If one is to grow, one will become unsure.

  • Lacunaria

    I agree with your general sentiment — a bit of doubt can be good for humility (learning).

    If Furtick is not resolving his doubts on the Bible, then you are right, he is probably on his way to becoming an atheist.

    If Furtick just means that the more he learns, the more questions he has, then he’s probably solidifying his faith with his answers. Doubts are only evidence of growth when they are resolved.

    But O’Reilly focuses on the case where people wallow in doubt and are stuck or constantly wavering on how to live.

  • chemical

    If Furtick just means that the more he learns, the more questions he has, then he’s probably solidifying his faith with his answers. Doubts are only evidence of growth when they are resolved.

    But that’s the main rub of learning. When you learn something, that can lead to more questions, even more difficult to answer than the one you just answered. What I’ve learned from this is this Furtick person is going to be an interesting one to watch.

  • Kishan Aria

    A good article on this in my opinion. Is is a sin but that is ok we are redeemed by the blood of the lamb for those who believe Christ is saviour, Lord and God!

    https://www.gotquestions.org/Bible-doubt.html

  • The only thing that might derail his progress is if he compartmentalizes his religious beliefs from his real-world observation and experience. The pressure builds as doubts pile up, and the inherent conflict between dogma and reality can make it difficult to function, so one tends to relegate religion to “church” on Sunday (or whenever, depending on the religion), allowing the nominal adherent to behave and function more or less as anyone in a secular society might while still claiming to be faithful.

  • David Hill

    If your faith is not be challenged at time to accomplish what appears to be impossible, then you are not growing in faith. We should all face Jesus from time to time with the words of the father in Mark 9 – I believe, help my unbelief. John the Baptist had doubts. Having doubts and being ruled by doubt are two different things.

  • against_the_wind

    Certitude is the problem, not doubt.

  • Dave Again

    If you don’t have some doubt on the “truth” of the Bible, you are either illiterate, living in a bubble or haven’t actually read it. Try reading Leviticus from beginning to end and ask yourself if you can honestly follow every tenet exactly as written.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Is Doubt a Sin?

    Sin is defined as a transgression of a divine law.

    For the word sin to actually mean something, two things must be accomplished.

    1) prove a deity exists

    2) prove what that deity’s laws are

    Until those 2 things are accomplished, the word sin is meaningless.

  • Good_Lt

    Do you doubt that plants were created before the sun existed, or that creationism bests biology, or that female human beings came from the rib of Adam, or that the story of Noah’s Ark literally happened?

  • Roger Morris

    You people have an unhealthy obsession with sin and transgression.

  • Roger Morris

    I think unwarranted certainty and overconfidence in one’s belief is itself a sin. A sin of arrogance and narcissism.

  • Mary Sexton

    I don’t even know who Steven Furtick is, but a few folks seem to be trying to psychoanalyze the man in this post. Talking about “knowing absolutely nothing” about what you are talking about – that would be a good example. Furthermore, I can’t believe the writer brags about having a “well-tuned heresy spidey sense”. How dishonoring to your Christian brother. Everyone experiences their journey of faith differently. They always have and they always will. You know nothing of Mr. Furtick’s heart. I just can’t get over the gall and glibness of that statement. Finally, I often wonder if many Christians really believe it when they say that Jesus was fully human as well as divine. I mean, how could he have been experiencing anything but anxiety (worry) when he was sweating drops of blood in the garden, or doubt when at calvary he asked the Father why He had forsaken him? I know what I believe, but I’m wondering how those who feel that anxiety and doubt are sins or even weaknesses can feel that way? Aren’t they just a part of being human, including Jesus?

  • Lacunaria

    Words have meaning even without proof of correspondence. But in this case, “divine law” actually does have correspondence — it roughly denotes the Bible. So you can meaningfully engage on that level.

    You could also meaningfully engage on the moral pros and cons of doubt, and wallowing in it as O’Reilly describes, using the primary definition of sin: “A transgression of a religious or moral law, especially when deliberate.”

    But you don’t do either. Instead you keep trying to pick a particular fight that is not at issue. You might ask yourself why that is and why you have no takers.

    I encourage you to meaningfully engage in the conversation.

  • Widuran

    Yes

  • Kyllein MacKellerann “

    If there is no Doubt, there can be no Faith; as Faith is persevering in the midst of doubt.

  • MarshaG

    I must say the doubt you describe in your young musician Twitter friend, “this distinctly millennial phenomenon,” is not distinctly millennial at all. I believe it’s a product of the sweeping changes that the past 15-25 years have brought about in our society. Rock-solid faith, faith without doubt, is hard to come by when everything you were taught growing up as right and wrong is swept away, and you must decide what the Bible says about particular issues. I move forward in faith, with many doubts, and much curiosity. Also, I understand that to write about Steven Furtick is to face temptation, but giving in to the temptation to be snarky isn’t becoming.

  • gimpi1

    I guess I’m one of those “wallowing in doubt” people. The thing is, I truly don’t see this as something I can just stop doing. I can’t will myself to believe something anymore than I can will myself to fall in love. I have grave doubts because I simply don’t find the evidence I’ve seen convincing.

    Now, that said, I don’t regard my doubts or challenges as anyone else’s problem. I wouldn’t dream of demanding someone address my issues right now or I’ll run away forever! Generally, mostly all I would request is a reading list or an honest talk over lunch.

    As to doubt as sin, all I can say is that if I were a deity and I regarded doubt and questioning as sins, I would have provided much more in the way of clear, obvious and unmistakable evidence… but perhaps that’s just me.

  • gimpi1

    Interesting thought… I don’t think anyone has ever started a war or mounted an atrocity screaming, “I could be wrong! ” Doubt can stop us from jumping off cliff that we really shouldn’t leap from.

  • tyler

    if the road to hell is paved with good intentions, does that make doubt the potholes?

  • @EstherOReilly

    To clarify, I meant to refer to people who are already Christians but are knowingly cutting themselves off to nurse their doubts. You would be in a different category coming at these questions as someone who is already skeptical.

  • DDRLSGC

    Without doubt, you think that science would have come this far if people blindly accept things such as the world is flat?

  • gimpi1

    Ah, OK. I see. Thanks for the clarification.

  • gimpi1

    Maybe more like speedbumps. Doubt can stop you from running down a road that you might be better off ambling down, or perhaps shouldn’t be on at all.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “But in this case, “divine law” actually does have correspondence — it roughly denotes the Bible. ”

    And the Hindu Vedas, the Torah, the Quran, and any other religious book from any other religion.

    That being the case, all claims of a “divine law” can be dismissed until it is proven the deity or deities the law are claimed to come from exists.

    ” Instead you keep trying to pick a particular fight that is not at issue.”

    It is an issue if someone wants to have a discussion and employs meaningless words.

  • Lacunaria

    You keep misusing the word “meaningless” which invalidates your argument. Even fiction has meaning.

    And you can, of course, dismiss whatever you want, but most of the world does not dismiss it, because it turns out that God is useful, as are moral discussions, such as O’Reilly presents here.

  • JohnMC

    Humans are capable of believing anything. So, faith and belief have no significance. Doubt is very significant because it indicates that cognitive processes in humans are not paralysed by dogma and illegitimate claims of knowing. Claiming to know what you cannot know is the default human cognitive state. Doubt is the symptom of the presence of confused contrary perceptions. Doubt is also no mechanism to guarantee the resolution of confusions. Debates about varieties of doubt, this one is good, that one is bad, are specious.
    Doubt cannot be used as proof of the legitimacy of claimed knowing, as you are de facto saying that absence of knowledge is proof of knowledge. The most pertinent observation about the psychology of such insistent ‘look-at-me’ ranters as Steven Furtick is to ask: Who are they really trying to convince?

  • Terrell Carter

    Hello. Fellow Patheos blogger. I recently wrote about the difference between doubt and disbelief and the validity of questioning our faith. I would be interested in hearing your thoughts. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/cbf/2018/07/its-okay-to-have-doubts/

  • TinnyWhistler

    Lol that’s probably me. Grew up Christian but slowly realizing the only reason I ever called myself one was a combination of following after Mom and Dad and hedging my bets, Pascal style. I think Christianity has a lot to offer the world but I’m finding it increasingly difficult to align myself with other people who call themselves Christians while not sure enough in my own belief to feel super comfortable trying to confront people I disagree with, at least irl.

    I spent a few years agonizing over this before I kinda just concluded that I was just hurting myself from a mental wellbeing perspective and chose to move on. I’m certainly not an atheist but I’d have a hard time telling you whether I still call myself Christian because I have some belief left or if I’m just not willing to take the plunge and admit that I’m agnostic at best at this point.

  • TinnyWhistler

    Which Christian traditions teach that Leviticus is 100% applicable to Christians today?

  • Dave Again

    White Southern Baptists will often say the Bible is totally the word of God.

  • TinnyWhistler

    Right, but they don’t actually follow Leviticus. I’m pretty sure they explain away the pork restrictions.

  • Dave Again

    I rather think many would follow Leviticus but ‘unfortunately’ is is against the country’s laws. Remember, they used it in the past to justify slavery. I’m sure many would love to go back to the ‘good ol’ days’.

  • TinnyWhistler

    My point is that this line of argument doesn’t actually get anywhere. It’s more important to ask which parts of the Bible should be interpreted literally and why.

  • Lacunaria

    It doesn’t sound like you are wallowing (indolent or reveling) in doubt, just struggling. It’s not just you. It’s important to address why God might not provide clear, obvious and unmistakable evidence of himself. My view is that it would mess with free will.

  • Lacunaria

    I think wallowing would require indolence or reveling in doubts which doesn’t sound like you. Your approach is reasonable in the face of uncertainty. My suggestion is to align yourself with other Christians like you, even if you are heretical relative to mainstream Christianity.

  • Lacunaria

    Is blind acceptance the only alternative to doubt?

  • Lacunaria

    The Bible was also used to oppose slavery. Abolition was a Christian movement.

  • DDRLSGC

    I don’t know. Do you have an answer to your own question?

  • Lacunaria

    Haha, good response and question! I don’t think anyone was proposing never to doubt, but instead to resolve our doubts rather than wallow in them.

    Aside from blind acceptance, that can be accomplished in two other ways: (1) becoming convinced given the evidence, or (2) realizing that the question isn’t actually relevant.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “it turns out that God is useful”

    Belief in god can be useful if someone wants to find justification to do what they want.

    ” I didn’t WANT to kill that homosexual/adulterer/atheist/person that worshiped a different god… but god said we have to”.

    “as are moral discussions”

    According to the Bible, these are some of god’s laws:
    – kill homosexuals
    – kill adulterers
    – kill atheists
    – kill people who worship a different god
    – kill disobedient children
    – kill your wife if she was not a virgin on your wedding night

    do you think these are moral laws?

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Which Christian traditions teach that Leviticus is 100% applicable to Christians today?”

    Are you suggesting that god handed down a lot of tenets/laws that were a mistake & so god had to fix up his major screw-up?

    “Which Christian traditions teach that Leviticus is 100% applicable to Christians today?”

    Jesus said so, according to the new testament.

    “For truly, I say to you, till heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass the law until all is accomplished. Whoever then relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches men so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but he who does them and teaches them shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:18-19 )

    “It is easier for Heaven and Earth to pass away than for the smallest part of the letter of the law to become invalid.” (Luke 16:17)

    “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest part or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” (Matthew 5:17 )

  • DDRLSGC

    I have no question of being convinced with evidence as long as the evidence is reliable, truthful, and not subject to manipulation like Dick Cheney did with the CIA intelligence reports in order to get us in Iraq.

  • Obscurely

    Just curious what exactly made it “increasingly difficult to align myself with other people who call themselves Christians”?

  • Lacunaria

    How do you measure the reliability and truthfulness of evidence for moral frameworks?

  • gimpi1

    Firstly, thanks for your response. I really appreciate it when people take the time to think about my questions.

    That said, here’s a (hopefully not wallowing:-) question; how does clear, obvious evidence stop people from exercising free will? Consider the comment below; in spite of photos from space, a global satellite network and information garnered as we’ve left our planet, there are still people who believe the earth is flat. Clear, incontrovertible evidence hasn’t prevented a small, silly group of people from exercising their free will to be wrong. Another example; my husband is a geologist. He occasionally deals with people who, despite mountains of evidence (some of which are actual mountains) don’t accept Plate-tectonics. Impeccable evidence hasn’t stopped these folks from asserting their free will to deny basic geology.

    How does offering clear, impeccable evidence that can be objectively verified prevent the exercise of free will? It makes it much less likely people will be mistaken, but it sure doesn’t stop them making errors. Am I missing something? I’m sure that’s highly likely…

  • Lacunaria

    Disbelief in God has also been used to justify someone doing whatever they want. At least religion establishes a standard to live up to.

    But I was referring to pragmatic moral utility in daily life, such as pervasive gratitude, intentionally articulating, analyzing and sharing petitions (prayer), a focus on repentance, accepting forgiveness and forgiving others, hope in seemingly impossible circumstances, peace that passes understanding, etc.

    Torah’s holistic, decentralized law and punishment functioned differently from our legal, judicial, and executive system today, which is why you will find, for example, that children were never actually killed for being disobedient to their parents. The specific processes were also relevant, such as taking someone outside the town to stone them, the possibility of escaping to a city of refuge, etc. It’s instructive to consider how the Talmud developed over time.

    I don’t have all the answers, but you are asking the wrong person if you want to debate a more literal or acontextual interpretation of the Bible.

  • Lacunaria

    You’re very welcome! 🙂 And I detect no wallowing at all. Let’s compare:

    What are the consequences of believing the Earth is flat? How does their defying the objective evidence and experts affect their daily lives and actions?

    What are the consequences of defying the arbiter of ultimate justice? If God incontrovertibly told you to do something, would you feel compelled to do it?

    Bonus question: if you were God, alone before creation, what would you do?

  • Dave Again

    You are correct in stating many Christians were in the Abolition movement. However, they did not use the Bible to argue against slavery. Indeed there are no passages which speak against slavery. They were disgusted at the many ‘christians’ who were involved in slavery. Check out the Society branded slaves. Indeed, one could argue that they were humanitarians horrified at the brutality and disgusted the Bible was used as justification. They felt no God could support such violence. Effectively they were saying the Bible was wrong.

  • gimpi1

    Well, someone who believes the earth is flat won’t want to fund astronomical research. If enough people vote to defund research, we may not see the next killer asteroid until it’s too late. Likewise, if people don’t accept Plate-tectonics, they may choose to develop unstable areas, with the attendant tragedy when the earthquake hits or the volcano erupts. When people deny the science behind vaccines and overemphasize their small risks, disease outbreaks occur. Facts matter. In the past, we didn’t have access to these facts and we suffered for it. Today, we don’t have that ignorance as an excuse.

    I don’t know about being God, but when I have an employee that I need to do a task, and it’s vital that it’s done right, I’ll make sure the documentation is crystal clear, explain each step, ask if they understand, follow up on any confusion and check in with them along the way. I wouldn’t give them confusing, possibly mistraslated and contradictory documentation, avoid face to face meetings, have my representatives tell them contradictory things and then blame them if they got things wrong. If I take that sort of care with a website rollout or ad campaign, I have to assume any benevolent deity would take great care with higher stakes than low orders on Zulilly’s new products.

    Perhaps that’s why the whole idea of doubt as sin confuses me. I’m in the communication business, and if I communicate badly and people don’t understand me or reject my message, it’s my responsibility, not theirs. Because I have the microphone, I’m accountable. I guess I don’t understand why that appears to not be the case where religious beliefs are concerned. Does that make any sense?

  • Lacunaria

    Most moral matters were debated through the Bible, so it’s odd that you think slavery would be an exception. Here’s one example that I quickly found from 1864: The Bible Against Slavery.

    Bear in mind that the “slavery” of the Bible included limitations that were incompatible with chattel slavery, so you can’t just equate them on the basis of the English term itself.

  • gimpi1

    I missed your second question, but for me, the answer is easy. Since there’s no way to be sure God is telling me to do something because I could always be insane (some friends would tell you that’s fairly likely:-) I would never do anything objectively awful like kill my child or wipe out a tribe because I thought God told me to. One truism I’ve always liked is, “If you’ve never wondered about your sanity, you probably should.” Now, if I thought God was telling me to sponsor a child or donate to a food bank, I’d likely do it. There’s no harm, and probably some good. If I thought God was instructing me to make nachos and binge watch “Stranger Things” I’d wonder about Divine priorities.

  • gabebogdan

    “In this case, for example, I came to understand this law was one of the great moral leaps forward in the history of mankind. In this law, the Torah brilliantly preserved parental authority while permanently depriving parents of the right to kill their children, a commonplace occurrence in the ancient world and even today (for example, “honor killings” in the Muslim world). The law permits only a duly established court (“the elders”)—not parents—to take the life of their child. And we have no record of any court in Jewish history ever executing a “wayward” son.”
    Denis Preager, “the Rational Bible”

  • Lacunaria

    Great example, thanks! 🙂

  • Lacunaria

    The basic question was, how would a clear and obvious God affect our free will?

    So, “there’s no way to be sure God is telling me to do something” avoids the whole premise.

    Facts can be important and my point is that the more they affect people’s lives, the more controlling they are. That’s why your examples have shifted from weak impacts to greater impacts.

    To go even further, if it was clear and obvious who would die without a vaccine, then they would not feel free to refuse it if they want to live. Likewise, if God was clear and obvious, then we would not feel free to choose otherwise in any way.

    The purpose of my bonus question was to ponder whether you would create deterministic machines or beings with free will and why.

    Also bear in mind that, at least according to Christianity, man began in closer relationship with God and it is through rebellion that man obtained greater freedom from him.

  • DDRLSGC

    I don’t know. Do you have an answer for it?

  • TinnyWhistler

    American politics (:

    Big stumbling point for me was when I went on a trip to DC with my Christian home school group and we walked past a group of people protesting Guantanamo Bay. Comments made by some of the chaperones to the effect of “so what if they’re being tortured, they’re terrorists!” kinda made me stop and think about how often I saw an intersection between Christian community and hateful politics, which then expanded into how often I saw an intersection between Christian community and hatefulness toward “the other” in general. It’s rather frequently in my experience, and “No true Scotsman” arguments can only go so far. I believe the American Christian church *can* distance itself from various forms of “hating/ignoring ones’ neighbor” but it doesn’t seem super willing to, at least in my area. I don’t know that I really have a right to lecture Christians about how they should be doing better, considering my own struggles with faith, but that’s why I find it hard to just take the path of least resistance and be “culturally Christian”

    Not interested in getting into a political argument here, but here it is.

  • gimpi1

    Interesting.

    I guess I simply see things differently. I do think that some of our thought processes are hard-wired, and that we’re not all hard wired the same. I’ve always been intensely skeptical, even of my own thoughts and experiences. The idea of not doubting that I was personally hearings from God boggles my mind.

    It also may have something to do with my upbringing. My dad survived a bad industrial accident. He sustained significant brain damage that left him unable to form short term memories. After my mom passed, I was his caregiver. Taking care of someone like that gives insight into how our minds work. In my case, it made me hyper responsible and cautious. I think everything through carefully, perhaps overthink things before committing to anything.

    That may be why I can’t address the questions you raise the way you do. Our minds simply work differently. I can’t imagine not doubting anything that I don’t see hard, objective evidence for. You seem more philosophical and focused on beliefs. And that’s fine. Having people who view things differently is important. It keeps innovation and problem-solving processes working. It would be a boring and unhappy world is we all thought alike.

    Good talk. Thanks.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    “Disbelief in God has also been used to justify someone doing whatever they want.”

    Steven Weinberg addresses that very issue when discussing religion: “With or without it you would have good people doing good things and evil people doing evil things. But for good people to do evil things, that takes religion.”

    “At least religion establishes a standard to live up to.”

    And the Bible’s standards include:

    Kill People Who Don’t Listen to Priests Deuteronomy 17:12
    Kill Homosexuals Leviticus 20:13
    Death for Hitting Parent Exodus 21:15
    Death for Cursing Parents Leviticus 20:9
    Death for Adultery Leviticus 20:10
    Death to Followers of Other Religions Exodus 22:19 Deuteronomy 13:7- 12 Deuteronomy 17:2-5
    Kill the Entire Town if One Person Worships Another God Deuteronomy 13:13-19
    Kill Women Who Are Not Virgins On Their Wedding Night Deuteronomy 22:20-21
    Kill People for Working on the Sabbath Exodus 31:12-15

    Slavery is OK: Leviticus 25:44-46 Exodus 21:7 Ephesians 6:5 1 Timothy 6:1-2

    Because your slave is your property, you can beat your slave to death without consequences as long as your property doesn’t die from the beating for a day or two. Exodus 21:20-21

    “But I was referring to pragmatic moral utility in daily life, such as pervasive gratitude, intentionally articulating, analyzing and sharing petitions (prayer), a focus on repentance, accepting forgiveness and forgiving others, hope in seemingly impossible circumstances”

    Other than the praying, you can do all of that without the need for religion or belief in a god.

    As for the ” sharing petitions (prayer)”, can you present any evidence for any prayer that requires divine intervention ever being granted? ( in other words, praying you get that promotion at work or that a loved one survives risky surgery do not count)

    ” peace that passes understanding”

    Can you define what you mean by that vague phrase?

    “you are asking the wrong person if you want to debate a more literal or acontextual interpretation of the Bible.”

    Actually, what i want is for someone that publicly claims a god exists to present evidence that the god exists. It is possible a god does exist but that the Bible is all wrong.

  • Lacunaria

    Fascinating. So you can’t even imagine a clear, obvious God?

    Well you could always approach it by analogy. It’s like standing in front of a judge or a cop looking over your shoulder and telling you what to do. It’s going to affect your decisions.

    I’m so sorry to hear about your father’s accident and your mother’s passing. It’s good to be skeptical but that’s traumatic.

  • Obscurely

    Don’t worry, you’ll get no political arguments from this (progressive) pastor! 🙂 Stories like those Gitmo remarks in DC (esp in the presence of children) absolutely appall me — I just wonder what they would have thought later if they knew you had been so discouraged in faith by their cruel UN(anti?)-Christian comments. It’s none of my business of course, but I’m curious why you haven’t considered migrating (as I did years ago) to a more “progressive” precinct of the church instead of being a merely “cultural Christian”?

  • TinnyWhistler

    Mostly the effort involved. The doubts (or rather lack of beliefs) are still there. It’s still really easy for me to remember what felt like an awful gerbil wheel of arguing with myself in my head about what believing really means and whether my own apathy (or at least it feels this way…here we go) toward religion could possibly count enough for me to still honestly call myself a Christian. It feels dishonest to put too much effort into plugging back in when I’m not really intending to follow it up by earnestly seeking.

    The politics weren’t why I’ve moved away. They’re just why I’m less comfortable pretending I haven’t.

  • Obscurely

    Gotcha — YES, it’s hard enough believing without all the pesky hypocrisy we see among Christians 🙂 — although it has been wisely said if your problem with the church is there are too many hypocrites, the answer is there’s always room for one more! Being an obsessively self-reflective introvert, I can also relate to your “gerbil wheel” comment, a condition I’ve heard described as “the paralysis of analysis” (lol) …

  • TinnyWhistler

    It’s one of those things I’ll probably come back around to when I’m feeling a little less “raw” emotionally and spiritually. It’s been a tough few years.

  • Lacunaria

    Other than the praying, you can do all of that without the need for religion or belief in a god.

    Theoretically you can but realistically people tend not to. Why be grateful for something you yourself did? Who reminds you to repent and forgive? Why should you? It’s useful to idealize and personify goodness, and God wraps them all together into a neat integrated package.

    As for the “sharing petitions (prayer)”, can you present any evidence for any prayer that requires divine intervention ever being granted?

    Divine intervention is beside my point. Articulating, analyzing and sharing your prayers is useful in and of itself, even if they aren’t answered.

    “peace that passes understanding”

    Can you define what you mean by that vague phrase?

    It means having peace even through tumultuous times when you have lots of good reasons to lose it.

    “you are asking the wrong person if you want to debate a more literal or acontextual interpretation of the Bible.”

    Actually, what i want is for someone that publicly claims a god exists to present evidence that the god exists.

    Oh, good, because it’s not worth debating Scripture with someone committed to misunderstanding it.

    But I can’t prove God exists because the evidence is second-hand. All I can do is provide pragmatic reasons to believe God exists regardless of whether he actually does or not, and argue that God is consistent with our reality.

  • John Gills

    Could those decrying doubt be on a power trip in that as soon as one evinces doubt, the power tripper could claim superiority in the, “Now I’ve got you, oh ye of little faith!” sense?

  • Dave Again

    You mean this article includes quotes from the Bible against slavery? It doesn’t. Debating moral matters using the Bible is often fraught with problems because of the many contradictions it contains. A good Christian is also a humanist and uses their inbuilt moral compass where necessary.

  • gimpi1

    Thank you for your kind words. I honestly don’t view my upbringing as traumatic. My parents handicaps (my mom was a polio survivor) made my early years difficult, sometimes frustrating and scary, but on the whole, my childhood was pretty good. My situation taught me a lot. I’ve learned about brain function, developed empathy, have a good grasp of both independence and interdependence and am pretty self confident. All good things.

    There was even a benefit to the world at large. I’m in my 60’s; my dad’s accident happened decades ago. My family pretty much pioneered the physical therapy that helps survivors of traumatic brain injury regain use of their limbs. When he regained consciousness, my dad was mostly unable to move. By moving his arms and legs for him, over and over, new patterns in the brain can form, allowing the use of the limbs to be recovered. This treatment was in its infancy when my dad was hurt. My family essentially helped develop it, and today it aids in the recovery of thousands of people all over the world. It’s been especially helpful for injured military people, because the sort of injury my father endured was common in the Iraqi war.

    It’s an ill wind that blows no good, right?

  • Lacunaria

    Yes, the 1864 book The Bible Against Slavery includes quotes from the Bible against US-style slavery, for example:

    I think God’s fundamental law is laid down in Exodus 21:16, (I render from the Hebrew,) “He that steals a man, or sells him, or he be found in his hand, shall surely be put to death.”

    This is the law of the old Testament. The law of the New Testament could go no further, nor do we desire that it should go any further. This law plainly makes enslaving, selling, or holding a human being as a slave, each to be a capital crime.

    So, “they did not use the Bible to argue against slavery” is obviously false and it’s bewildering why you are doubling down on your error after I provided a book from 1864 plainly contradicting you.

    All law has problems which are debated and Torah is no different, other than that we are thousands of years beyond Torah’s original meaning rather than only hundreds of years beyond the US Constitution, for example.

    Of course, it’s really not worth debating either laws with someone who benefits from merely claiming contradictions and taking them out of context.

    A good Christian is brought up in good Christian morality, conveniently like most good humanists, so it’s not surprising they would have similar moral compasses. I do think that a moral compass can be rationally developed, but we are not born with sufficient rational thought or knowledge to call that “inbuilt”.

  • Lacunaria

    What a wonderful testimony! Yes, it’s heartening that such good came out of your challenges. Thank you for sharing! 🙂

  • swbarnes2

    So you believe in an objective morality that you can determine with zero reference to God? Many Christians would object quite vehemently to that idea. Especially in light of the fact that the Bible is quite clear that God did order people to do exactly what you deem to be “objectively awful”.

  • TinnyWhistler

    And many Christians whole-heartedly cling to it (objective morality) as a reason for their theism! If I remember correctly, C. S. Lewis argues that humans universally share a natural law (what he calls the Tao) and in Mere Christianity argues for theism citing that natural law.

    I’ve certainly seen this line of argument (humans share a common “natural” sense of morality, thus this innate morality was put into humans by God) in several lists of apologetics arguments, starting with various “reasons for God” worksheets handed out in childhood Sunday School.

  • TinnyWhistler

    There are Christian traditions that believe that God judges people based on what they reasonably could be expected to know about him (ie, never had contact with a Christian, wouldn’t be sent to hell for not knowing about Jesus) but that’s a bit of a can of worms because no one likes thought experiments like “Is it better for one Christian to kill many non-believers so that they all avoid hell at the cost of his disobeying God’s instructions to spread the Gospel and not kill?”

  • Dave Again

    Notice how carefully the quote from Exodus has been manipulated. My Bible says, ‘He that steals a man and sells him…” This tells us kidnapping a free person and selling him into slavery is a crime, not that slavery is a crime. However, the majority of this section of Exodus deals with the rules govern slavery such as allowing prisoners of war to be sold as slaves, that children of your female slaves become your property etc.
    Any debate using the Bible was most likely for show. The old ruse of cherry picking passages or manipulating them to convince others one way or another. The Abolitionists were humanitarians who were clever enough to use any media that slavery was wrong.
    Modern day Abolitionists have a greater range of media to fight slavery. On line petitioning, mailing campaigns etc. What is clearly missing from their campaigns is the Bible because of the mixed messages it sends.

  • C_Alan_Nault

    Me: “Other than the praying, you can do all of that without the need for religion or belief in a god.”

    Lacunaria: “Theoretically you can”

    No, it isn’t theory it is fact.

    “but realistically people tend not to. Why be grateful for something you yourself did?”

    Why be grateful for something a god did without evidence that a god did it?

    “Who reminds you to repent and forgive? ”

    My guilty conscious… IF I feel guilty. I do not feel guilty ( to give 3 examples) for not attending church, working on the sabbath, not believing in a god. I may feel guilty for something I have done to another person or for something I did not do for another person, I feel no guilt for something I did that a religion says is wrong or for not doing something that a religion says I should be doing.

    “Why should you? ”

    Why should you feel gratitude towards a deity you cannot present any evidence for? You might as well be grateful for your toaster.. you can prove it exists & it gives you toast.

    “It’s useful to idealize and personify goodness”

    That is an interesting claim. Do you have any data to support the claim?

    ” and God wraps them all together into a neat integrated package.”

    Or ( since you have presented no evidence for the existence of this god) you COULD say “and belief in the deity or deities I have chosen to believe in wraps them all together into a neat integrated package.” . And wraps it up as neatly as claiming the pixies in your garden did it.

    “Divine intervention is beside my point. ”

    It isn’t beside my point. If someone is praying to a deity they believe in & they get the same result they would get by praying to their toaster, then no deity is required.

    “Articulating, analyzing and sharing your prayers is useful in and of itself, even if they aren’t answered.”

    And analyzing your prayers & reaching the conclusion that none of your prayers that would require divine intervention have ever been answered should tell you that either your deity does not exist or your deity doesn’t care enough to answer your prayers & you have been wasting your time praying.

    “”peace that passes understanding”

    Can you define what you mean by that vague phrase?

    “It means having peace even through tumultuous times when you have lots of good reasons to lose it.”

    I would say that despite what you may think, if you have not lost this peace (despite thinking you have lots of good reasons to lose it) the reason is either you are mistaken & you do know of a reason not to lose it or you are mentally & emotionally tougher than you think you are & the take away from that should be to give yourself more credit & say “kudos to me” NOT “kudos to this god I have no evidence for”.

    ” because it’s not worth debating Scripture with someone committed to misunderstanding it.”

    And let me make an assumption here….

    Your definition for someone who misunderstands it is a person that reads what the scripture says & thinks that is what the scripture means instead of someone who reads it & interprets it the same way you or your particular sect of whatever religion you are a member of interprets it.

    “But I can’t prove God exists because the evidence is second-hand. ”

    If it cannot be examined & verified it never was evidence second-hand or otherwise & was just claims.

    “All I can do is provide pragmatic reasons to believe God exists regardless of whether he actually does or not, ”

    Please do so.

    “and argue that God is consistent with our reality.”

    If god is a supernatural force/entity, then god can in no way be consistent with our reality.

    https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/supernatural

    Definition of supernatural
    1 : of or relating to an order of existence beyond the visible observable universe; especially : of or relating to God or a god, demigod, spirit, or devil
    2 a : departing from what is usual or normal especially so as to appear to transcend the laws of nature
    b : attributed to an invisible agent (such as a ghost or spirit)

  • Lacunaria

    “Slavery” was permitted as voluntary servitude or as punishment for a crime, including war. The Thirteenth Amendment to the US Constitution likewise makes an exception for punishment for a crime. The part I quoted highlights the moral problem of divorcing slavery from a crime — it’s kidnapping.

    If you study the Bible, you will find that there are lots of translations and debates about proper interpretation of Ancient Hebrew and Greek. They aren’t dishonest. They don’t do it for show. They do it to honestly resolve conflicts because they believe Christianity and the Bible are basically a good foundation. In any case, your claim was wrong.

    Perhaps the modern day abolitionists you are familiar with do not appeal to the Bible because modern day slavers are not Jewish or Christian.

  • gimpi1

    Yes, I absolutely I believe there is an objective morality that is not related to any deity. Morality to me is based on harm. It’s always bad to cause harm – to injure or cause suffering. Now, sometimes it’s unavoidable, and then the moral choice to me is whatever option causes the least harm or pain. Because of these beliefs, I would never do something objectively awful because I believe a deity told me to. I’m aware this belief isn’t Christian.

    Again, I believe the idea that one might be wrong – even insane – has to be in the window. If I thought God was ordering me to shoot up a mosque or kill people working at Planned Parenthood, I truly hope and believe that I would check myself into a mental health facility. I know some people would see this as a lack of faith. I can only say I hope the next mass shooter has similar doubts.

    The events described in the Bible that you refer to are one reason I can’t regard the Bible as a definitive moral guide. Now, that may or may not have bearing on the Christian idea of God. If someone regards the Bible as inerrant, some parts of the Bible make the God it describes out to be pretty awful. For me, that’s not a problem. I’m not a scientist, but I married one – a geologist. What I’ve learned about the age of the earth and its geologic processes make it clear to me that Genesis isn’t literal fact. Now, to me, that means many things in the Bible may be allegory, mythology, parable, history or fact. I can (and do) choose to regard stories of a God that demands sacrifice, that endorses slavery and bigotry, that orders genocide as myth, the history of a specific tribe and propaganda. I realize this view is not Christian, too.

  • gimpi1

    Yeah, that does seem, well, kind of twisted.

  • Dave Again

    Time for a reality check. You say modern day slavers are not Christian. Try telling that to the thousands of predominantly women and girls enslaved each year in countries like Angola, Madigascar,Malawi and Zimbabwe. These countries are majority Christian. Take a guess at what religion the slavers are most likely to be. Thank heavens organisations such as Amnesty International are doing something, other than arguing from the Bible.

  • Lacunaria

    I’m incredulous that you know the religion of the slavers! Citation please?

    What’s funny is that if you are right then that is all the more reason to argue from the Bible in those places, as abolitionists successfully did in the US.

  • Dave Again

    You really do live in a bubble don’t you? If a country is eighty percent Christian, and crimes are occurring, it is reasonable to conclude some of these crimes are committed by Christians. Your ‘Bible arguments’ are probably the reason many so these slavers are committing these crimes, rather like American slavers committed similar crimes centuries ago. Maybe it’s time to reach out beyond your comfort zone and contact an organisation like Amnesty International to help eridicate modern day slavery. The Bible I’m sure gives you comfort but it isn’t helping these people.

  • Sarah Flood

    I see Furtick as honest. Anyone who never doubts has never self-examined. Some of us doubt more than others. Some of us doubt longer than others. That’s not a sin; that’s just life.

  • Sarah Flood

    Mmm. The people I’ve known with the fewest doubts were also the people who I found the most arrogant. People who doubt and question themselves and their perceptions learn humility very quickly.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    This is true. On many subjects, we seldom get past the point of awareness of some complexity and nuance, but with insufficient depth to well-support a conclusion of our own. When in those positions, accepting doubt is very good.

    And even when we are on the other ends: only knowing at just the beginning, or knowing to a great depth, humility through recognition of our limitations is something, I think too, worth valuing.

  • ThoughtIntrigue

    It’s good that he acknowledges doubt and has a kind of value for it, but I have a hard time taking his hyper-masculine persona, with all of his bravado, exuberance, and words lacking in shades of uncertainty, to run a little counter to such statements.

  • David

    I like this line “Towards the end of his piece, Strachan affirms a binary “light-switch” model of faith (one minute you don’t have it, the next minute you do, by divine fiat), and says any other model will necessarily lead to error, including the error he sees in the Furtick video”. The question is this: “Do Christians ever have a perfect faith, totally and completely free of any trace or hint of doubt, uncertainty, hesitancy or apprehension?. I dont think so. Does that make or faith ineffective and useless? Enter God’s grace!