The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

Doubt Your Doubts

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Doubt that doesn’t matter much

Some of our beliefs are mundane and they really don’t matter too much. We are happy, in these cases, to be corrected. I believe I have a dental appointment coming up in September. I believe that if I leave campus after 4pm, it will add 10 minutes to my drive. I believe that I save some money shopping at Costco. Any time I’m asked to consider joining a business venture that resembles a pyramid scheme, I believe it is not worth trying (FYI). I believe all these things but I’m not losing much sleep thinking about them. In consequence, they are minor.

Doubting important beliefs

There are other beliefs in which we find ourselves much more deeply invested. I am, for example, deeply invested in beliefs about my children’s health and well being. I believe that my kids are, on the whole, healthy and well. But something happens to me intellectually when they, as it sometimes happens, come down with some sickness or health issue that is a bit unusual. My mind begins to play out various scenarios about what the future could look like in case this is the beginning of some serious health issue. I sometimes lose sleep. I pray…a lot. I begin to seriously doubt that my child is okay.

So far, when this has happened, our kids have thankfully been fine and the doubts were, to some degree, unfounded or at least premature.

Christian doubt

This seems to be similar to the experience of Christians when they doubt. Christianity is not a set of ordinary beliefs. It is a set of deep beliefs about the world, and our purpose and place in it. They are literally beliefs about how we should live our lives. And it involves a belief about eternal hope.

Sometimes we may encounter a challenge to our Christian beliefs and we worry that we may be wrong. We worry that what we’ve believed in and given our lives to is a big lie. We sometimes think we may have stumbled over the smoking gun of Christianity- the objection that cannot be answered that others have either ignored or missed.

What should we do when we doubt?

I’m convinced that we sometimes allow our doubts to have their way with us. That is, we let our imagination run too far in front of the evidence. When I’m worried about my kid’s health, I’m letting my “what ifs” cause me to lose sleep and worry about something that is not yet warranted.

What should I do in these times of struggle? I’m probably always going to have concern for my children. That’s just the deal. But intellectually speaking, I need to be reminded there’s not yet reasons to doubt my beliefs. In other words, I shouldn’t stop believing that they are okay until I have reasons and evidence for this.

Likewise, when it comes to our Christian faith, it’s perfectly okay and normal to doubt from time to time. But we shouldn’t let those doubts simply have their way with us. Our doubts don’t win by default. We need to investigate the doubts. We should, in a way, doubt our doubts. We need to hold our doubts up to the fire and determine whether these doubts are genuinely a problem.

The injustices of the church

Here’s an example:

Let’s say someone comes up to you and says Christianity is a terrible view because Christians have done terrible things. Let’s say this hits home for you and you are challenged by it. You certainly do not want to align with a terrible view and you agree that Christians have done terrible things in the past.

But instead of letting this doubt have its way with you, you should doubt the doubt. You should begin to reflect on this challenge and read what others have said on both sides.

For me, what I find helpful on this issue is to realize that any crackpot can call themselves a Christian and do things in the name of Christ that are horrific. And this is true of any and all views. But this doesn’t mean the views are thereby wrong or terrible. A genuine injustice is only a problem for the Christian view if this injustice is specifically supported by the teaching of the Bible. One way to get at this is to look to the life of Jesus. He is, by all accounts, the exemplar of Christianity. If the injustice is supported by the life of Jesus, then it is a problem. If not, then it’s not. It would just be someone acting unlike Jesus, acting unchristian.

There’s of course a lot more to be said, but I find that this provides a blueprint for resolving this sort of issue. The typical injustices that are cited, it seems to me, are always out of step with Jesus. I think we need to recognize that there have been many injustices perpetuated in the name Christ and we ourselves have all probably acted poorly as a Christian. But in these times, we and they act contrary to Christ.

A stronger faith

Now what we’ve done is doubted the doubt and found that it does not defeat our Christian beliefs (or so it seems to me). Other challenges may be more difficult. Some of my doubts have of course caused me to revise my view. But so far, I haven’t found a smoking gun objection that defeats the reasonableness of Christianity.

What I have found is that I come out the other side of this process with an even stronger faith. I’ve not only resolved an intellectual challenge to my beliefs, but I am more confident as a result of it. And that’s a very good thing. My doubts have led me to a stronger faith.

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