As I’ve grown older, one of the important elements of my faith has been doubt. In my experience, it’s almost required to be a member of a community of faith with any kind of strength. I constantly question things, from the very existence of Christ to the role of women in the early church; doubt is what spurs me to learn more about my faith.
Now, the Catholic Church has wonderful, self-reinforcing instruction on the dangers of doubt for those of us who need our thinking done for us.
“2088 The first commandment requires us to nourish and protect our faith with prudence and vigilance, and to reject everything that is opposed to it. There are various ways of sinning against faith: Voluntary doubt about the faith disregards or refuses to hold as true what God has revealed and the Church proposes for belief. Involuntary doubt refers to hesitation in believing, difficulty in overcoming objections connected with the faith, or also anxiety aroused by its obscurity. If deliberately cultivated doubt can lead to spiritual blindness.”
For the record, I would like to say that my doubt, when it was at its worst led me to Nihilism. Which, is a story of hopelessness, meaninglessness and suicidal ideation for another time. But, suffice it to say, when I came out of my doubting period, I accepted the core tenets of my Catholic faith; the finer points, as always, have and continue to be, worked out with priests, brothers and others stronger or more knowledgeable in the faith than I. So when I say that I doubt things, it’s never in the vein of “I have accepted these things to be true, but I’m going to dispute them anyway,” because that’s a torrid self-imposed torture that only makes oneself miserable.
My doubt has generally been an exercise in seeking the hope and miraculous things, which in my short existence, god provides in god’s own time whenever I seek it. I believe in god, I believe in Christ, I believe in the power of the natural world, I believe in the connection and relationship of all creation, I believe in the White Buffalo Calf Woman, I believe in all things that lead us to god, however god expresses itself to us. Some more conservative elements of the faith tend to think of that as moral relativism at worst or a cop-out at best. And they may be absolutely right … that is the gift that doubt gives one, the ability to concede the possibility that one is completely wrong. Time and experience with others has taught me that the absolutist worldview is often cradled by those whose belief is so shaky, that it threatens them if it falls and crashes into the reality of human existence.
What doubt has given me is the ability to reconcile. How can one belief be true if I believe something else? My doubt is always, “how can only one belief be true when god is the source of the belief?” It’s a question which, so far, no one has really given me a spiritually fulfilling answer. It’s always self-reinforcing catechism and fragmented scriptural precedent. What I don’t do a good job at explaining is that my understanding and belief in god is that god is beyond human understanding. That’s what makes god, god. We have instances where we latch onto what we think god is, but frankly, it turns into an outline of a reflection of a shadow in a dark room, at best. It doesn’t mean we’re stupid or unworthy or sinful or idolaters, it means simply that we’re human.
This is why I affirm my belief in Christ in the same way I affirm my belief in the White Buffalo Calf Woman and every other religious figure in human history. They came to redeem, teach and offer new ways of living and interacting with other humans: to see the humanity in everyone. They gave law, they gave knowledge and they gave a challenge to rise to those laws and knowledge, to fulfill them as best we can. No one is perfect, in fact that is the nature of humanity: imperfection and that’s as it should be.
So on this Epiphany, I am grateful for the stars that god has sent me throughout my life, guiding me to knowledge, wisdom and strength in a faith that, while replete with its contradictions and doubt, helps me to see god in others.