Doubt and belief

From the Wall Street Journal’s Houses of Worship column, by the author of When God Talks Back:

in more experientially oriented evangelical Christian communities . . . people expect to have a personal relationship with God. They go for walks with God, have coffee with God, ask God what shirt they should wear in the morning and even what shampoo they should buy. They expect God will talk back. . . . Looking at your closet and asking God whether he’d prefer the black shirt or the blue one is a way congregants [learn which of their thoughts] they should treat as God’s communication with them.

But wait:

evangelical Christians doubt, too. Doubt is part of the experience of faith . . .  People doubt that they understand God rightly; they doubt that the promise of joy they hear from the pulpit really applies to them. And in a world in which they know wise, good people who do not share their faith, they may doubt divinity itself.  [Emphasis added.]

Oh, well, that’s OK, then. 

Why does having doubts about an arguably absurd belief—that the same God who let five people die in this month’s Oklahoma tornado, say, or 16,000 in last year’s tsunami, nevertheless cares about your clothing choices or is worth praying to because you are the center of his multi-centered universe—why does doubt make that belief more respectable, or, in many formulations of the meme, even admirable and courageous?

I consult my horoscope each morning to find out how I should conduct myself or what I should expect from the day, but I occasionally doubt whether the person who authors it actually has done a close reading of the star charts, and, on my despairingly skeptical days, even whether there really are astral influences from some intangible celestial substance that determine human characteristics on a monthly basis and that govern our fate.  But then after wrestling with my doubt, I conquer it.  That’s success?  I realize that the presence of doubt is supposed to show that belief in a loving God is not simply reflexive but rather fully compatible with reason.  But it’s not as if the doubting believer has gone out and done some careful experiments. 

The mother of Trayvon Martin credited Jesus for the indictment of George Zimmerman.  Was she right, in the eyes of conservative believers? And if not, why not?  How can a believer avoid making such mistakes? 



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3 Responses to Doubt and belief

  1. Aleph One says:

    I was at a family event once, and two Fundamentalist aunts were discussing travel arrangements:

    Betty: “You should drive me home so I don’t have to ride the bus.”

    Sue: “You live in Fort Smith. It’s 150 miles out of our way!”

    An argument ensued. They parted ways. Then an hour later:

    Betty: “I prayed, and God told me that He wants you to drive me home.”

    Sue: “Well I prayed, and God told ME you should ride the bus.”

  2. Shlomo Kaminkovitz says:

    The assertion that matter is all-in-all is not the conclusion of any conceivable experiment or reasoning based on any observation or series of observations. It is a methodological assumption that precedes, and serves only to limit, open inquiry.

    The preacher always depended on God. Flood warnings didn’t move him. Sheriff couldn’t get him to leave. As the water rose, the Natl Guard couldn’t get him off the roof in a boat, and he refused the helicopter. When he cried out in bitterness that his God had failed him, a voice came from the clouds. “I sent warnings, deputies, a boat and a helicopter.”

    Too many have been indoctrinated with very uncritical notions and unreasoning prejudices against the Supreme Person in the name of Reason. Hop out of the well and take a look around at the rest of reality.

  3. cynthia curran says:

    Well, this is more typical of blacks than whites or hispanics. Blacks tend to be more religous than either whites or hispanics. Personality, I think the whole affair is pure demogoguery-Zimmerman was hispanics. Granted, some times blacks and hispanics fight more often than whites and blacks these days. I’m on the side of Zimmerman myself. I’m tired of the black as victim mentality.

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